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.