Tuesday, December 10, 2013

0-40; 40-200; 200-450; 400-800; 800-1800+

       What do these numbers mean to you?  To those of us familiar with Church Growth methodologies we recognize that they represent church growth sizes: House Church, Small Church, Medium Church, Large Church, and Mega Church.  We are told that the Mega Church is the sought after dream and we are told that they are successful because they satisfy the following needs: Excellence in quality of programs, Wide choices of programs and styles of worship, Openness to change that attracts younger people, Low pressure on visitors, and Being Multi-Cultural.

       The first and most obvious observation is that this Church Growth analysis is not biblical.  The assumption that God wants each Church to grow numerically is too simple.  God wants His Kingdom to grow, but the prevalent New Testament pattern is the multiplication of smaller Churches, not necessarily the growth of Mega Churches. 

       Second, there is considerable arrogance in the assumption that small churches cannot have excellence in their worship and programming, or that they are not open to change, or that they are not multi-cultural.  What is true is that each individual small church will of necessity not provide a wide variety of options; unless of course they are related to other small churches that have access to “diocesan” programming.  The other thing is the implication that low pressure on visitors is necessarily a positive value.  I would venture to suggest that the prevalent Church Growth philosophy is determined by American cultural triumphalism rather than by biblical theology.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Apostasy of Division

           There is a great misunderstanding being promoted by conservatives who have left The Episcopal Church, a misunderstanding that is the flip side of the revisionist heresy of the liberals.  Conservatives think that by forcing a change they can re-establish old truth.  Liberals think that that by forcing a change they can establish new truth.  Neither side has theologically, or biblically, thought the issues through. 

In part the mistake of the revisionists is that you can’t drive out the impurity by expelling conservatives from your midst.  You will, in your own way, become the new conservatives, a new cast of fundamentalist liberals. That is already clearly happening and in some dioceses those with conservative views are not tolerated and have been driven from the church.

The great misunderstanding of some of the conservatives who have willingly, perhaps even eagerly, left The Episcopal Church is that you can’t come out from amongst them and be clean; you take your sins with you.  If they have left a diocese with a godly bishop there is no excuse for their actions, nor should they glibly slough off the words of Jesus, “Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11). 

Trapped in the middle is the greater part of what used to be The Episcopal Church.  Some have been driven out with the conservatives who have left seeking purity; some have stayed to struggle in the midst of a church which is increasingly in danger of becoming apostate.  All are wounded and grieved by the actions and attitudes of rigid militants on either side.

Both sides of the coin are reacting emotionally rather than rationally, establishing on either side what they “feel” as the foundation on which to build a new purified church. 

The hope for health for the Church is in those who are trapped in the middle.  It is not enough to wait passively.  Waiting passively will only contribute to the current decline in the Church.  Those trapped in the middle must find their voice and let their views be known.

Not only that, but what they say must be based on a sound biblical theology that is informed by the tradition and history of the Church.  This voice must reflect not only a love of the truth, but a love of Him who alone is the way, the truth, and the life.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Acceptance AND/OR Approval

We have a serious problem within the Church that healthy parents of children usually don’t make.  There is a difference between acceptance an approval.  In the current debates on sexuality there is a strong lobby in the media and in the Church, not defending, but propagating alternate life styles.  

From the viewpoint of this intense pressure we are told that if we don’t approve of alternate life styles we are rejecting those who practice them.  That is a bald faced lie!  Many within the Church do actually accept sinners of all stripes because we know that we are cut from the same piece of cloth. 

What we don’t accept is that either our sins or the sins of others are acceptable before God.  It is not a matter of sexual orientation.  That is pure malarkey.  It’s a matter of what we think and what we do.  If our sexual orientation is towards fornication, adultery, pedophilia, sodomy, or any of the other varieties of sexual practice, we should not be surprised; after all we are all fallen creatures. 

So you have discovered that Scripture proclaims that you are a sinner?  Well and good, the question is “What comes next?”  St. Paul said, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).   Scripture is quite clear regarding sexual immorality in all its forms, but the world and the world within the Church does not accept the clear word of Scripture. 

The offer is acceptance, not approval, and the gift and grace of transformation.  But the children of world and the world within the Church say, “I don’t want be transformed.  There’s nothing wrong with me. Don’t just accept me, approve of me; I’m not doing anything wrong.” 

The problem posed for faithful Christians is simply this: If we accept our own need for repentance and transformation how can we say to others that Scripture doesn’t matter; you don’t need to be transformed?  A common and no longer unique form of judgment is allowing each other to wallow in our sins without offering the grace of forgiveness and growth in transformation.  That in itself is an exceptional cruelty.  

The world and the world within the Church militate against the call to sanctification because is cuts rudely across accepted social practices and viewpoints.  What the Church should be saying is, “We accept you; come and be transformed with the rest of us sinners!”

Dietrich Bonheoffer observed:

The old world cannot take pleasure in the Church because the Church speaks of its end as though it had already happened—as though the world had already been judged.  The old world does not like being regarded as dead.  The Church has never been surprised at this, nor is it surprised by the fact that again and again men come to it who think the thoughts of the old world—and who is there entirely free from them?  But the Church is naturally in tumult when these children of the world that has passed away lay claim to the Church, to the new, for themselves.  They want the new and only know the old.  And thus they deny Christ the Lord.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, translated by John C. Fletcher. (New York: Macmillan, 1959), p.11

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A GAFCON Observation

I am deeply troubled not only by the growing apostasy of the American Episcopal Church, but also by the influence of American Evangelicals and Charismatics who have exported their theologies to the African scene.  

The problem is this: 

Many of us who had significant conversion experiences and experiences of the Holy Spirit in the sixties and seventies had our basic theological training in American seminaries with little exposure to classical Systematic Theology or Church History, and in some cases no Ascetical Theology whatsoever.  The positive work of the Holy Spirit fell upon those who did not have enough of grounding in the theology and history of the Church to understand what had happened to them.

Some of these men have risen to positions of leadership in the Church and I know personally of some who have had, and still have, a strong influence on the African Churches.  Some of the ones that I have known personally have demonstrated serious problems with authority and when I see them leading the fray I am disheartened.  It is enough that we are exporting the Prosperity Gospel to Africa, but we are also exporting a shallow view of the Church along with a “come out from among them and be ye clean” mentality.

I have some familiarity with Uganda and Nigeria and enough experience to know that by and large, where they are unaffected by us, they are soundly orthodox; but often their orthodoxy rests on the same shallow foundations as that of their American advisors. It is fashionable among American Evangelical Christians to view the African scene through rose coloured glasses.  In point, the East African Revival is a movement of the Holy Spirit in the past and what we are now looking at is the heirs of that Revival who are strongly influenced by American theology with all of its problems.  Do not idealize African seminary training; guess who they have been trained by.  

When GAFCON meets it runs the danger of perpetuating a divisiveness born in the American Church scene.  There are some good reasons why many of us with Evangelical of Charismatic backgrounds have remained within the Episcopal Church.  Despite all claims, the grass is not greener on the other side.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Reflections of an Immigrant

I had a student visa when I married my wife Diana who is from Philadelphia and I had received my Green Card, when we moved to Watertown, Massachusetts where I became the rector of an Episcopal Church.  During our time there, the height and the fall of the Nixon era, I realized that to continue to minister in an American setting I needed to take a greater responsibility by applying for citizenship.  The process was somewhat onerous.  Among other things I had to return to Canada and apply at the United States Embassy in St. John, New Brunswick.  Never having been to that part of Canada it seemed odd, but one does what one has to do.

            I remember four questions from the interview for citizenship.  One was the question, “Are you now, or have you ever been a Communist?”  Like many young Canadians in my generation I voted NDP [New Democratic Party] because it was the Socialist-Communist coalition and I was a Fabian Socialist, but I also realized that I had never joined the Communist Party; so the answer was, “No!”  Putting that in context for today, voting NDP was like voting for Obama.  I felt like asking, “Why don’t you ask, ‘Are you now, or have you ever been, a Fascist?’”  Experience shows that many of us who voted socialist in those days slid to the right the longer we were employed and the saner we became. 

The second question, stemming from my application form that included questions on memberships was “What is Foreign Missions?”  My answer was not at all interesting to the interviewer.

The third question was “Are you now, or have you ever been a habitual drunkard?”  It was clear from my application that I had joined AA several years before.  So I said, “Alcoholism is a disease, not a habit.”  The interviewer said, “Just answer the question.”  So I answered, “No.”  By the way as of this July I have been sober for 44 years, so I guess my answer was right. 

The fourth question, or rather demand, was, “Please say in English “I would like to become an American citizen.”  I retorted, “I speak better English than you do!”  The interviewer was not happy and said, “Just say it!”

When Nixon was pardoned by President Ford I wrote Ford a letter explaining that as the Rector of an Massachusetts Episcopal Church, and as a Democrat who had voted for Ted Kennedy, I was of the opinion that although Nixon was pardoned rather than brought to the bar of justice that the country had had enough of the whole painful saga and that Ford had done the right thing.  I was amazed to receive a thank you letter from Ford who also let me know that he had forwarded my letter to Ted Kennedy.  Subsequently I received a scathing letter from Kennedy asking how, as a man of God, I could take such a sinful position?  To which I replied that as one who had voted for him, but was not as wealthy as him, I wasn’t sure that justice had been done at Chappaquiddick, and if I were he I wouldn’t say anything.  Shortly after that two men in conservative blue suits turned up during a Sunday morning Eucharist, took notes through the sermon, and left at the passing of the Peace.  My guess was that, like many dissenters during that era, my name was on a list somewhere.

I was never really asked where my true allegiance lay.  My allegiance lies with the Kingdom of God and with its King, Jesus Christ the Son of the Living God.  That allegiance determines the nature of my response to citizenship in the United States.  By the way, yes, The United States of America is the land of opportunity, and for immigrants who are willing to go through a legitimate application process, speak the language and work hard the rewards are great.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Lecher Priest

God save us all, we have a lecher priest
Whose every word and smile is oily sweet,
Whose love denying love is just a cheat,
Whose words and actions show his inner beast.
He did not start thus, no, not in the least.
He once longed with ev’ry trembling heartbeat
To be a star, to be a true athlete,
Presiding at the altar and the feast.
His heart was never silver, only tin,
His feet were partly iron, partly clay
When he began to show the beast within.
Hidden within his heart was sad dismay
And all alone he faced his inner sin.
Where was the Church upon that fateful day?

Relax.  It’s nobody you know! Or is it?  Everybody is going to wonder who I have in mind.  Nobody specific, well at least, nobody in the same time zone.  Be careful before you try to apply this to someone you think you know.  Always remember that for priests, ministry is a contact sport that's not always fair.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Re-examination of Contextualization

If we learn to “read the Bible with the eyes of los pobres”[i] [the poor], as well we ought, there is an inherent danger.  That danger is a backlash effect in which the truth we are attempting to communicate is altered by the very context in which we communicate it.  That dynamic comes into play today as the Church wrestles with the challenges and claims placed against it by alternative sexual life styles.

Now truth is not in fact malleable.  By its very nature truth is stable so that as contextualization attempts to mold it to an acceptable form in the immediate context, the truth itself will resist, even as the truth, as it is in Jesus, resisted the contamination by the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and even the leaven of the hoi polloi, the common people.  At that point the effort of contextualization will bend, crack, and shatter.  It is the old problem of pouring new wine into old wineskins.  Something has to give, and it won’t be the new wine of truth. 

At the back of my mind are John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius, one emphasizing the sovereignty and keeping power of God, and the other emphasizing the freedom of the will and the responsibility of choice.  There is truth in both, but contextualization creates for both Calvin and Arminius a new problem.  How does the new wine of truth shatter both Calvinism and Arminianism? 

On another level the question has to be asked: was the context of either Calvin or Arminius the only consideration, or even the primary consideration, in their attempts to contextualize the truth in a meaningful way to the children of God?  There is an unspoken problem.  The eyes with which I read the Bible are inevitably my own eyes, my presuppositions and oft un-examined personal context.  The attempt to read the Bible with the eyes of los pobrés is only one element in the problem of contextualization. 

I am another element, I and my own salvation history, the record of how I personally both found and perceive the truth.  The Lord says to Ezekiel, “Receive in your heart,” your inner man, before he says “See with your eyes”.  Then he says “go and say to the people.”  Initially the order in Ezekiel seemed wrong to me, but the order is a tacit acknowledgment that receiving in the inner man is prior to seeing and/or perceiving with the eyes that which has been received.  Here the truth spoken to my heart in the morning lections comes into play” “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for out of it springs the issues of life (Prov. 4:23).  My encounter with the internalized logos is a formative part of the proclamation. 

In this sense Marshall McCluhan was getting near a truth because the medium has, for good or ill, become part of the message.  We are called not to proclaim paradosis [tradition], but to witness to what we have internalized in our own encounter with the living God.

[i] Obispo Adrian Caceres on contextualizing the Gospel in Latin America, 1988

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Therapist's Boots

I am reminded of a therapist at Yale who always turned up for sessions with his clients wearing green rubber boots.  When I asked  him why, he explained that every morning he cleaned out his dog run, then he hosed off his boots and came to work; and I knew, as sure as I’m sitting here, that after talking with me he was going to hose off his boots one more time before going home.  His whole life was wading in crap from morning to night.

Many of us from the more liberal seminaries received no training in the theology of worship and prayer, or in systematic theology. Instead we received enough training in psychology and counseling to become cheap therapists. Got ordained, gonna get me some green rubber boots, and get to work. I hear tell from them what knows that this is still goin' on. When you think of it, it's kinda terrifying.

What were we trained in?  Altizer and Hamilton’s “Death of God Theology”, Joseph Fletcher’s “Situation Ethics,” that bloodless theologian Paul Tillich, biblical skepticism and social relevance.  There wasn’t enough weight to save a soul, not even our own.  What are the seminaries teaching today?  “Foundations for Theological Praxis,” “MCC Polity and General Convention,” “The Role of the Debates of Human Sexuality in Global Christianity and Mission,” “Third World Feminist Theology,” and “The Social Gospel and the New Social Creed.” 

There was an old bumper sticker seen around Harvard Square that advised “Eschew Obfuscation.”  If you don’t have a grasp of the simple basics of the Christian Faith and can’t apply them to yourself, you don’t have anything but obfuscation.  What is amusing in a sad sort of way is that the American Episcopal Church doesn’t understand why it is mistrusted in much of the two-thirds world.

"You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to have mercy upon her; indeed the appointed time has come.  For your servants love her very rubble and our moved to pity even for her dust," [Psalm 102;13,14].

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Purple Fever: A Retrospect

The honour I never almost had:

Purple Fever is an awful disease, it was candidate’s night, and the next day was the election of a Bishop.  I who was never nominated, and did not desire to be nominated, am somewhat chagrined that not only will I not be elected, but I will not even have bragging rights of saying; “Back in two thousand and something I was nominated for Bishop.”  Even the possibility of a small self-glorifying exaggeration is clean cut off, I fortunately can’t even say, “I was almost elected.”

I looked over the slate of candidates.  There were two obviously good men who were willing to let themselves be lured into a greater suffering on behalf of the church.  Of the others, two had been afflicted with awful forms of purple fever.  One of them eventually would end up in legal problems of the financial type, the other was just a sad individual.  At least they had bragging rights.   Come to think about it, at an earlier election one devout and holy candidate, or so we were told, was eventually defrocked for child abuse.  Purple fever can, and does, infect the most unsuitable candidates.

This purple fever is an insidious disease that has led some to leave The Episcopal Church in their lust to become bishops.  I know one “bishop” duly consecrated by somebody, somewhere, who has no diocese, no churches, no priests, and works as a gardener, and another who admitted to having only 12 people in his congregation, and six similar sized congregations under his shepherding care; but he’s a bishop and he holds wonderful ordinations for his poorly trained disciples.  I know another who left The Episcopal Church with great fanfare and great expectancy hoping to become a bishop in one of the African dioceses, only to discover too late that they don’t consecrate divorced men as bishops.

It’s a terrible thing, this irony of not being nominated for a job I wouldn’t want and wasn’t even nominated for. It’s somewhat akin to being a guardian cherub desiring ultimate enthronement and then being summarily forced out of heaven by those insufferable angels.  “I, the Morning Star, I have fashioned for myself a coat of many colours, I do not have to dress in white.  I do not want to be dressed in white kowtowing to His royal goodness YHWH.  I almost seized the heavenly throne; a throne I could have had if only, so at least I have bragging rights.”

The great mistake in all this is the attempt to affirm one’s value by becoming a human doing instead of accepting the humiliation of being a human being.  In this unrestrained ambition the greater the doing, the greater the power, the emptier the soul!  The truth is that it is a fatal error to say, “I do, therefor I am,” and perhaps René Descartes missed the truth, “Je pense donc je suis,” “I think, therefore I am.”  It is closer to the mark to say, “I love, therefore I am.”  Ultimately our human identity is defined by our relationships.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Roots: A Prayer

Heavenly Father: Over the years I have often said, “I am an Anglican first, and an Episcopalian second.”  That declaration and awareness has comforted me in the past, but what if the Anglican Communion itself is torn asunder?  I am saddened, but not shaken by the prospect, because the fact is that my roots are sunk even deeper than the few centuries of our specific Anglican history.

I am on the Canterbury Trail to the defaced shrine of the Holy Martyr Thomas á Becket.  Well he understood the problems of royal privilege and its potential for contaminating the Church in England.  As an old colonial boy I find it frustrating that the royals and parliament have so much say in the life of the Church, but you know I love the pomp and ceremony, the skirl of pipes and the rumble of drums

My roots reach back through the long history of the English Church, through Milton, and through Blake who prayed, “And did the Countenance Divine Shine forth upon our clouded hills?  And was Jerusalem builded here Among these dark Satanic Mills?”  Through John Jewel and “ the Coming Down of the Holy Ghost and the Manifold Gifts Thereof,”  through Cranmer and the Book of Common Prayer, through Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, through Walter Hilton and Richard Rolle, through blesséd Anselm who teaches me that the strength of my salvation is the strength of Christ.

My roots reach further back through Augustine of Canterbury, through Saint Benedict and the ancient Monks of Nursia, through Antony of the Desert and the wild-eyed desert hermits.  My roots reach back through Canterbury, past Roman paving stones to ancient Celts and Britons by their smoky fires smouldering in the damp of an English spring.

My roots reach even further back through wandering missionaries, Christian tradesmen, and Roman soldiers who bearing the cross on their hearts first tread upon the soil of the land of my forefathers. 

My roots reach even further back through the long and dreadful glorious history of the martyrs of the early church, through the letters and missions of Paul and Peter, Jude and James and John and all the Gospellers now radiant in glory.  “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-20).

It is actually that last declaration that binds together the whole of this tumultuous history of the Church catholic and militant that I have loved, and still love with every fibre of my being.  My Father it is immersion in your Spirit, poured out upon the Church through the hands of Jesus our Head that makes sense of the whole.  It is one of your miracles that the Church in all its brokenness over the centuries still survives. 

Time and time and time again you gather the broken shards together and craft again a golden vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the Master of the house, ready for every good work (2 Timothy 2:21).  I find that instead of grieving or despairing, I am excited by the shaking of the foundations of our beloved Anglican Communion.  When “the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the well” (Ecclesiastes 12:6), nothing less than your holy hands are at work.  My Lord, let me see!  Show me the new golden vessel as it rises like the Phoenix from the ashes.  Break us, mold us, make us, fill us again most glorious Lord and Father.  We are yours, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

WingDing Theologies


There are a number of wingding theologies out in the ether; glory dust, holy laughter, the superstitious use of blessed salt, and other marginal teachings based, not on Scripture but on experience, and on fervent desire.  One of the more pleasant manifestations was the sudden pervasive scent of roses stealing upon the gathered faithful.  In visiting one church I was surprised by animal noises ostensibly given by the Holy Spirit.  Either barking in the Spirit, or barking mad!  Frankly, some of it is just good fun, but the danger is that people will seek the manifestations rather than seek the Lord Himself.  The underlying problem is a lack of familiarity with systematic theology and tradition.  That deficiency leads to a misuse of biblical texts to support all kinds of strange innovations.  

Experience is not the proper basis for the formation of Christian doctrine.  Doctrine should be formulated on God’s self-revelation in Holy Scripture, and in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Doctrine should be also formulated not only with both feet planted firmly on Holy Scripture, but with one eye on the centuries of tradition within the Church.  Years ago, Dennis Bennett, a Charismatic leader in the late 20th Century observed that, “The Charismatic Movement is recreating all the ancient heresies as though Church History never existed.”  A simple way for the average Anglican to check the authenticity and safety of any of these manifestations is to ask two questions.  1.  Is it biblical? 2. Does it square with The Book of Common Prayer.

Of course the same standard should be applied to any of the innovations from the more liberal side of the Church.  Applying to a special revelation of the Holy Spirit justifying homosexual behavior, as Gene Robinson did at one point, is not a basis for developing a theological view of human sexuality.  Just because so-and-so is doing something claiming that they have the Holy Spirit, doesn’t make it right.  The first response is this, “Show it to me in the Bible.”  One current problem with this is that some theologians are not above justifying sexual gymnastics with textual gymnastics.  As for the second check point, that of The Book of Common Prayer, there is the persistent movement to change The Book of Common Prayer by adding additional services to ‘sanctify’ their position, making what amounts to A Loose Leaf Book of Common Prayer.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mary’s Challenge

            As a Scottish Protestant boy I had found understanding Mary to be a challenge.  Long ago, too long ago, a fine oil painting of Madonna and Child was donated to my very Scottish Presbyterian Church creating a dilemma for the elders.  After some deliberation the painting was placed upright on the floor of the boiler room, facing the wall.

            The problem of course was the Roman Catholic adulation of Mary.  We instinctively felt that was out of balance, but it would never occur to us that there was some middle ground. 

            That there was some middle ground wouldn’t occur to most Episcopalians either.  With the revision of our last Book of Common Prayer all the saint’s days and the days commemorating Mary were shuffled from our consciousness.

            Who is Mary? Who are the saints?  We hardly know.

            The Anglican Charles Williams, a friend of C. S. Lewis, and one of the Inklings, writes,

'We begin then with the Birth and with the Mother of God...  

To her, for example, may be decently applied all the titles of the Litany of Loretto...  She is     the Mother of Love, purissima most pure, inviolata inviolate, admirablilis admirable; she is the Maid, virgo veneranda venerable virgin,  potens powerful, Clemens merciful, she is the mirror of all mystical titles—speculum iustitiae mirror of justice, sedes sapientiae seat of wisdom, causa nostrae laetitiae cause of our joy, domus aurea house of gold, stella matutina morning star, salus infirmorum health of the sick: Unless the identification of marriage love with Christ be accepted, to press the similarity farther would seem profane.  

But any lover to whom the application of the titles we have quoted seems natural and right may ... may so dare to apply in a very real sense the titles which remain—Mater divinae gratiae Mother of divine grace, Mater Salvatoris Mother of our Savior, Rosa Mystica mystical Rose, Refugium peccatorum refuge of sinners, Regina Prophetarum Queen of Prophets.  Not certainly in herself is she anything but as being glorious in the delight taken in her by the Divine Presence that accompanies her, and yet is born of her; which created her and is helpless as a child in her power.  

However in all other ways she may be full of error or deliberate evil, in the eyes of the lover, were it but for a moment, she recovers her glory, which is the glory that Love had with the Father before the world was.  Immaculate she appears, Theotokos God-bearer, the Mother of God.”[i]

That is a mouthful for an old Protestant boy, but Williams' understanding is orthodox; so I go to the boiler room of my memory, take the picture from its dusty corner and gently blow away the cobwebs of my Scottish antipathy and hang the painting on the wall of the sanctuary of my mind.

[i] Charles Williams, Outlines of Romantic Theology, (Berkeley: The Apocryphile Press, 2005), p. 14

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Invisible Knight: The Assassin in the Church

In the realm of King Arthur there was a knight called Garlon; a dangerous and murderous man who rode invisible. Many a knight he slew as he rode with the thunder of unseen hooves approaching furiously, his invisible lance piercing the body of his victim, and occasionally leaving the broken spear, now fully visible, behind, as he rides away unseen. The stories of Garlon appear briefly in Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur.

The knight Sir Balin rides from King Arthur’s court in the company of a fair damosel whose only love has been slain by Garlon, this despicable knight who rides invisibly. As they journey they are joined by another knight. “As they came by an hermitage even by a churchyard, there came this knight Garlon invisible, and smote this knight, Perin de Mountbeliard, through the body with a spear. Alas, said the knight, I am slain by this traitor knight that rideth invisible.”

Garlon rides off seeking another victim. He is an example of deadly, arrogant and cowardly power. Some in churches sit in the saddle in place of Garlon, riding invisibly, piercing their victims with the lance of their tongue and thundering off unseen into the knight seeking another victim; or perhaps, in repeated heinous acts they circle around the same victim piercing them again and again. One of the characteristics of Garlon is that he is oblivious of the pain that follows in his wake. He is a law unto himself. Everything in his world circles around himself and he takes pleasure in being the arbiter of life and death. He is quick to take offense. His deadly invisible attacks are a manifestation of the lie. He is the worst kind of backstabber in the most graphic kind of way. Garlon has a severe form of narcissistic personality disorder, or to be quite blunt, he is evil. Some who sit in the seat of Garlon ride side-saddle. Garlon, and those like him, will continue to ride invisibly until they are clearly seen in the cold light of day.

The death of Garlon is instructive. Sir Balin encounters him at a great feast provided by King Pellam. Garlon, and others like him, can always be found quite visible in the midst of our celebrations. Where else are they going to select their victims? Garlon is arrogant and seeing Balin’s sudden interest in him he smites Balin on the face with the back of his hand and tells Balin to do what he came for and eat his free meal. Balin replies, “this is not the first despite that thou hast done me, and therefore I will do what I came for, and rose up fiercely and clave Garlon’s head to his shoulders.”

Garlon was found enjoying himself at a banquet and even though others know who he is, and what he does, no-one has the courage to intervene until Balin comes on the scene. There are those who are in thrall to Garlon and vicariously enjoy his exploits; and there are others who participate in his evil by not resisting it. Those who support Garlon actively or passively have made “self” the center of their lives and are afraid of anything that will threaten the needs of the self. Give Garlon a chance and he will continue to ride unseen, circling round again and again thrusting his hapless victims through. For Garlon, each unconfronted secret attack is a power trip that feeds his ego and reaffirms for him that he is the center of the universe. He lives to control, and enjoys it best when he can do it unseen.

Why is Sir Balin successful? Balin has not made self the center of his life. In fact his whole quest is a quest to gain King Arthur’s favor. His power is drawn from his desire to please his king. The most noble of the Knights of the Round Table live for another.

The lesson here is obvious. Once Garlon is uncovered he is vulnerable. Thinking himself invulnerable he is even arrogant enough to launch an attack on Balin in public. There is only one way to deal with Garlon. If you fail to meet his attack when he is seen, he will attempt to slay you when he is invisible. Turn your back and there will be the thunder of unseen hooves approaching from the distance. Garlon cannot be reasoned with and the only solution is a power encounter. Garlon must be publicly identified, confronted, and vanquished, before he has a chance to disappear and do his deadly work again.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Canterbury: On the Enthronement of Justin Welby as the the Archbishop of Canterbury

            For many of us in the Anglican Communion, Canterbury is our spiritual home.  It is a grief to us this day to see so many in our church move away from the centrality of Canterbury in both our affection and continuing history.  The long history of Canterbury down through the centuries testifies to the power of the Gospel and the frailty of the men and women everywhere, and in every denomination, who profess it.  To call for separation from Canterbury is to sever the flowering branches from the root that so long ago was rooted in Christ, and to this day, through that root, draws grace and strength to proclaim the Gospel in this complex and wicked world.

            “Return, return, O Shulammite, return, return, that we may look upon you. Why should you look upon the Shulammite, as upon a dance before two armies?” Song of Solomon, 6:13.