Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Whatever Happened to Authority in the Episcopal Church?

We have some na├»ve ideas about authority in The Episcopal Church.  I remember a bishop saying years ago, “The first thing I discovered when I became a bishop is that bishops don’t have any authority.”  I once repeated that to one of the old Anglo-Catholic prince bishops of the Church.  I shouldn’t have said that while he was eating lunch, he almost choked on his soup.  The truth is somewhere in between those two extremes.  That is part of the problem. 

Bishops do have authority, under the canons and constitutions of the Church. Rectors also have authority to protect themselves from bishops, but that has its own limits.  A congregation with a profligate or licentious priest may be almost ruined before authority can be brought to bear to rectify the problem.  On the other hand some Rectors need to be strongly defended against predatory and manipulative lay people.   On all sides people with authority problems abuse authority.  All too often the relationships can turn adversarial.  Part of the problem is that a local church is a congregation that may never become a communion of saints.  Do I sound too glum? Listen to the pain of the Church, and the pain of the Lord of the Church who weeps with his people.

It’s not enough to be converted to Christ unless one’s relationship to authority is also converted.  You know the baptismal questions as well as I do.  One asks, “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Saviour?”   That question was not meant to be separated from the question that asks, “Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?”  Listen carefully.  We are saying that we shouldn’t expect to get our way, unless His way is our way.  Rather we should pray with Augustine, “Give what You command.  Command what you will.”

In current events in the Church there are people on both sides want their own way, and will go to great lengths to get it.  In the Church as a whole and in local parishes, many have been wounded by the stubborn selfishness of other Christians.  You know the old rubber about the Church eating its own wounded?  Did I get that right?  You know what I mean.

What is missing is true surrender to the actual authority of God as it is expressed in Holy Scripture.  Some would tell us that Scripture has no relevance today, and would rather follow the revolutionary principles of Saul Alinsky and force change on an unwilling Church.  Others in reaction would rather come out from amongst them and be clean.  In the middle we have Holy Scripture speaking about mishpat, justice in its old meaning of fair play, give and take, and giving a fair deal to all.  We have Holy Scripture speaking to us about personal integrity and truth in our actions.  We have Holy Scripture speaking about holiness and love in relationships, about such odd things as mercy and compassion.  On all sides we want our own way rather than the way of Love.  Love after all demands integrity.

That is after all what the fall was all about.  God said ‘don’t eat of the tree in the middle of the garden’, the serpent said, ‘eat, and you can be like God’, and Adam and Eve said, ‘that sounds right.’  Our first parents wanted their own way, and often, so do we.  It is time to call the fallen Church to repentance, starting with each one of us.

We need to begin to see things through God’s eyes.  “The Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7).  God is not fooled by the posturing of anyone within the Church, nor was Jesus ever abashed about speaking the truth about inappropriate attitudes or behavior.  Truth speaking must only be done in the context of love, for truth without love is just another form of falsehood.  If something is not right in the actions of the members of Church, regardless of the canonical rights of any party, it should be spoken to by those who can speak the truth in love.         

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Evangelical Hammer

            In a recent discussion on Facebook I witnessed the classic evangelical punch in the nose.  The discussion began with a post comparing current Islamic terrorism with the lamentable behavior of the Westboro Baptists. The contention being that we shouldn’t judge all of Islam by the behavior of Isis, just as we wouldn’t want to judge Christianity on the basis of the Westboro Baptists. By the way the underlying point has some validity, but I pointed out that it was a poor comparison. There are about 45 Westboro Baptists who protest with signs, and about 35,000 members of Isis that are glad to cut the heads of all infidels.
            Here a woman joined in the fray. After a little give and take she declared that she was an agnostic and wanted to live by love and by what seemed right to her. I remarked, “Do you believe that "Amor vincit omnia" (Love Conquers All)?” and adding, “it does, but only through Crucifixion.” She made it clear that she generally tried to listen and see if it made sense to her, and that didn’t make sense to her. She declared all the major religions were dangerous and that for her part she intended to live on the basis of love and her own experience. I pressed the point by remarking that I didn’t always think that I could judge things by my own experience.
            At this point the Evangelical Hammer leapt from the sidelines and entered the discussion and delivered an Evangelical punch in the nose by preaching some strong doctrine at her. His punch was doctrinally correct. The woman countered making it clear that she wasn’t interested in being saved. This was followed up by the Evangelical uppercut; more hard-nosed Christian doctrine. She weaved and ducked the punch and said in effect that she had better things to do. The Evangelical Pummeler couldn’t resist a parting shot, but the woman had already left the ring.

            I don’t mind a little enthusiastic debate, but I was saddened by the insensitivity of the Evangelical Hammer, who although “right,” effectively closed off the discussion. Being adamantly right is not good manners, and it is not always good evangelism. I am reminded of a quote from G. Campbell Morgan, an early 20th Century British Evangelist, “There is a zeal for orthodoxy which is most unorthodox.” Hammering a point home without love leaves no room for further discussion.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

I was asked yesterday what I thought about “same sex marriage.” My basic answer is that I differentiate between acceptance and approval. That is an important principle in raising children. One ought to accept one’s children even when their behavior is unacceptable. One ought to extend acceptance to others, and even to one’s self, regardless of their particular bent. I don’t reject people because of their temptations; all of us are tempted, and I don’t think that there is a nickels worth of difference between the temptations of one orientation or another. But that is a hard principle for some to accept because what they want is approval, not just acceptance.

I am not interested in one’s sexual orientation; orientation is a non-issue, behavior is another matter. I don’t approve of “same sex marriage,” but I don’t reject people because of that. That was obviously the wrong answer to the question. What was wanted not mere acceptance, but approval. You will inevitably be asked the same question in today’s society.

Thinking about it later I realized that my questioner came to me with a common presupposition in the current debate, and understanding that presupposition clarifies the question. There is no such thing as “same sex marriage.” Marriage, by definition, is the union of one man and one woman, and has been understood so ever since the beginning of Creation in Genesis. The phrase “same sex marriage” presupposes that there is such a thing.

Inevitably we are faced with two statements of Jesus, “The one who is not against us is for us” [Mark 9:40], and “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” [Matthew 12:30]. 

When you extend acceptance to others who want not acceptance, but approval, you will be rejected. The underlying question is not whether or not we agree with “same sex marriage” but, “Is Holy Scripture relevant to the issues we are faced with today?”

Friday, May 30, 2014

Saint Anselm: Longing to see God

In the midst of the conflict within the Anglican Communion today we sometimes fail to drink from our own wells; the rich history and tradition of the Church.

St. Anselm followed Lanfranc as Abbot at Bec, and later followed Lanfranc as the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Lanfranc was the first Norman Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm the second.

In his excellent book, English Spirituality, Martin Thornton said of St. Anselm, "“Place any of his books anywhere you wish on the shelves of a religious bookshop and nothing could be out of place.  His prayers are meditative, his theology is prayer, his philosophy is devotion, his letters of counsel are pastoral theology; all is biblical, all is doctrine, all is praise.  That is the whole point”  [Thornton, p. 164].

You may be familiar with one of St. Anselm's basic principles, "Credo ut intelligam." "I believe in order to understand". Anselm wrote, “I seek not, O Lord, to search out Thy depth, but I desire in some measure to understand Thy truth, which my heart believeth and loveth.  Nor do I seek to understand  that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand.  For this too I believe, that unless I first believe, I shall not understand” [Proslogion, ch. 1].

One of my favourite quotes is also from the Proslogion:

Little man, rise up! Flee your preoccupations for a little while. Hide yourself for a time from your turbulent thoughts. Cast aside, now, your heavy responsibilities and put off your burdensome business. Make a little space free for God; and rest for a little time in him.

Enter the inner chamber of your mind; shut out all thoughts. Keep only thought of God, and thoughts that can aid you in seeking him. Close your door and seek him. Speak now, my whole heart! Speak now to God, saying, I seek your face; your face, Lord, will I seek.

And come you now, O Lord my God, teach my heart where and how it may seek you, where and how it may find you.

Lord, if you are not here, where shall I seek you when you are absent? But if you are everywhere, why do I not see you present? Truly you dwell in unapproachable light. But where is unapproachable light, or how shall I come to it? Or who shall lead me to that light and into it, that I may see you in it? Again, by what signs, under what form, shall I seek you? I have never seen you, O Lord, my God; I do not know your face.

What, O most high Lord, shall this man do, an exile far from you? What shall your servant do, anxious in his love of you, and cast out far from your presence? He is breathless with desire to see you, and your face is too far from him. He longs to come to you, and your dwelling-place is inaccessible. He is eager to find you, but does not know where. He desires to seek you, and does not know your face.

Lord, you are my God, and you are my Lord, and never have I seen you. You have made me and renewed me, you have given me all the good things that I have, and I have not yet met you. I was created to see you, and I have not yet done the thing for which I was made.

And as for you, Lord, how long? How long, O Lord, do you forget us; how long do you turn your face from us? When will you look upon us, and hear us? When will you enlighten our eyes, and show us your face? When will you restore yourself to us?
Look upon us, Lord; hear us, enlighten us, reveal yourself to us. Restore yourself to us, that it may be well with us, yourself, without whom it is so ill with us. Pity our toilings and strivings toward you since we can do nothing without you.

Teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me when I seek you, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, nor find you unless you reveal yourself. Let me seek you in longing, let me long for you in seeking; let me find you by loving you and love you in the act of finding you.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Rosa Mystica

Rosa Mystica:
in Outlines of Romantic Theology by Charles Williams

Charles Williams held that the principles of Romantic Theology can be reduced to a single formula: which is, the identification of love with Jesus Christ, and of marriage with his life. This again can be reduced to the single word—Immanuel.”[1] That is to say romantic love between a man and a woman carried out to its normal end in the rite of marriage and married life is a participation in Him who is Love himself. Such love is not the only incarnation of Love, but it is in our experience the most central one. In working the principle out he turns to the very act of the Incarnation and the enfleshment of Love in the womb of the young Virgin. Here he finds the root understanding of Love in human experience.

“We begin then with the Birth and with the Mother of God. And it is with her that the parallel becomes first apparent….It is in its earliest moments rather a delight of contemplation than a desire of union; being its own satisfaction and asking for nothing more. And though this desire is probably necessary, in order that contemplation may become ever more rich and full, the heart is often so shaken by the mere contemplation of the beloved that it is not conscious of anything beyond its own delight. The whole person of the lover is possessed by a new state of consciousness; love is born in him. “They have changed eyes,” says Shakespeare. But in this state of love he sees and contemplates the beloved as the perfection of living things: love is bestowed by her smile; she is its source and its mother. She appears to him, as it were, without human ties of any sort, for she is before humanity, the first-created of God. To her, for example, may be decently applied all the titles of the Litany of Loretto (and it is the business of Romantic Theology to urge and prove that they may justly be so applied).

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 believe from that in the Godhead of Incarnate Love, and 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.”[2]

Williams presses the idea to its logical conclusion is saying that Dante, speaking of the beatific gaze of Beatrice that her eyes are “the eyes from which Love shot her earlier arrows, the eyes which … have the power to clear his blindness, the eyes which are in heaven so full of love for him, the eyes in which the two-natured Gryphon of Christ is reflected, the eyes of the Florentine girl—there are the eyes which in the end change only into the eyes of the Mother of God. This is the unique and lasting Mystery of the Way.”[3]

Williams carefully retains the humanity of Mary saying “in all other ways she may be full of error or deliberate evil, in the eyes of her 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.” [4] This is in effect an acknowledgement both of her humanity and of the fact that her glory is a derivative glory that comes from Love Himself. The same theme is picked up in his discussion of Dante and Beatrice. Of Beatrice he says, “in the end it is he only at whom her eyes gaze before they plunge into the mystery of God himself. She is a divine thing, but she is also, still and always, the Florentine girl.” [5] It is important to bear in mind that when all is said and done that Beatrice is still and always the laughing Florentine girl. It is that understanding that reveals that this Love is Incarnate Love revealed in very human form. It is in fact Romantic Love enfleshed. Ultimately through the eyes of the Florentine girl Beatrice the eyes of the Mother of God looks, and in and through her the Divine Presence of Love Himself gazes. But this is not a distant, nor even a peculiar thing, but rather the heart experience of every lover who so beholds his love and marvels and the brilliance of her gaze. Through the gaze of my own true love, Mother Mary smiles on me, and through her eyes, the Christ in love beholds me.

[1] Charles Williams, Outlines of Romantic Theology, (Berkeley: The Apocryphile Press, 2005), p. 14
[2] Ibid. p. 15-17
[3] Ibid, “Religion and Love in Dante”, p. 111
[4] Ibid, p. 16-17
[5] Ibid, p. 99

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Wanderer: A Poem of Love and Longing

There is an Old English poem called “The Wanderer”[1] dating from somewhere around the 6th or 7th century that I find quite moving. The poet writes long after a disastrous battle. The lord and leader of the comitatus has been slain along with most of his followers, save for one young warrior who is cast adrift wandering lonely over the sundering seas. The comitatus is a warband, a brotherhood of warriors whose love and loyalty is focused on their lord who in turn rewards them with gifts, and a sense of belonging and purpose. The intensity of that bond is voiced in “The Battle of Maldon” where facing certain death, a follower of Brytnoth cries out,  

Our minds must be stronger, our hearts
Braver, our courage higher, as our numbers
Shrink. Here they slew our earl
And he lies in the dust. Whoever longs
To run from this field will always regret it.
I’m old. I want no other life.
I only want to lie beside my lord,
Near Brytnoth, who I loved so well.

The wanderer, filled with grief, “follows the frost-cold foam . . . sailing endlessly, aimlessly in exile,” looking for a home, for a new lord, for a new warband to belong to and give his life meaning. In poignant words he expresses his grief and longing,  

Sometimes it seems I see my lord,
Kiss and embrace him, bend my hands
And head to his knee, kneeling as though
He still sat enthroned, ruling his thanes.
And I open my eyes, embracing the air,
And see the brown sea-billows heave,
See the sea birds bathe, spreading
Their white-feathered wings, watch the frost
and the hail and snow. And heavy in heart
I long for my lord, alone and unloved.”

There are many in the church who are wandering today, lost and alone, adrift on the sundering seas. They have lost the church of their youth and they are filled with grief and longing, looking for a home, a comitatus, and a stable leader who will not be tossed to and fro by the stormy winds of the times. What is tragic is that while the church splits apart there are those who are dismembering the church by the failure to embrace what has been believed always, everywhere, and by all, and are busy suing those they have driven away.  

There is a recourse for our predicament in the very nature of the comitatus. One of the saints said, “Militia probat Christianum”[2], “The warring one is the Christian.” Warfare is a necessary part of Christian life, but it is perilous to strike out alone by yourself on the perilous seas. You may be surprised by the fact that warfare is a necessary part of Christian life, but consider the situation of ancient Israel as it struggled to establish its claim over Canaan. In Judges we find this remarkable assertion, “Now these are the nations that the LORD left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. 2 It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before” (Judges 3:1-2).   

Such is the nature of fallen humankind that we really don’t learn much without the stimulus of conflict. The problem usually is in how we feel about the conflicts that so often surround us. It here that the quality of our faith is revealed, and it is here that we can find our growing edge if only we will. It is precisely here that the genius of David is revealed as he prays, “Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; he is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me (Psalm 144:1-2).

There is a hidden danger that needs to be recognized. Sometimes we get so used to conflict that we see it even where it is not, or perhaps even produce conflict where it doesn’t exist. In all moments of fear hear the words of Jesus as he says so frequently, “Fear not!” Conflict real or imagined calls for fresh surrender to the God who redeems our human experience.

Our comitatus, the Church, is broader and deeper than the warband lost by the Wanderer, as even the Wanderer himself was aware.  At the end of his poem he prays,

It’s good to guard your faith,
nor let your grief come forth
Until it cannot call
For help, nor help but heed
The path you’ve placed before it.
It’s good to find your grace
In God, the heavenly rock
Where rests our every hope.

The Wanderer bids us not to let our grief overpower us so that we cannot call for help, but instead he bids us to place our faith in God our heavenly rock. There is a proverb that says, “a man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Proverbs 25:28). While it is occasionally helpful to share our griefs and burdens with each other, as Christian we are called by grace through faith to rule our emotions, not to let our emotions rule us.

Unlike the predicament of the Wanderer we have some realistic options for fellowship. One of those options is the possibility of making an Oblation of one’s life in an abbey or monastery of the Order of St. Benedict, or here in the Dallas area the option of joining our own group of Oblates and Companions of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. Whether you are an Oblate or Companion, or just an interested friend you have the opportunity to live by a simple Rule of Life. A Benedictine Rule of Life reminds us to pray the Daily Offices, to practice the awareness of the perpetual Presence of  God, and to gather with the Church in frequent Eucharist. The Daily Offices include Morning and Evening Prayer from The Book of Common Prayer. Even praying just one office a day will add great stability to your life.

There is a distinct benefit in affiliating with an ancient comitatus that goes back for centuries; a fellowship that was foundational in the beginning of the Anglican Communion. After all St. Augustine of Canterbury was a Benedictine. That provides us with a double anchor for our lives with one anchor firmly in the Anglican Communion and the other in the Order of St. Benedict.    

Even in the midst of the stress of these days do not sell the Anglican Communion short.  The theologian Karl Barth reminds us that one of God’s miracles is that the Church still survives. The Anglican Communion has been around for centuries and throughout the centuries it has had its times of struggle and its seasons of unbroken peace. Frankly the problems of this day in the life of the church are pale in comparison with the antics of Cardinal Wolsey who was the almoner for Henry VIII. When you get worried over whether or not the Church will survive, read a little Church History; it’s quite refreshing. The stuff that’s going on will eventually go by. As long as you are firmly grounded in the faith and history of the Church you will be secure.

[1] Wanderer quotes are from  Burton Raffel,  Poems and Prose from the Old English, (New Haven: Yale University Press) 1998.  Burton is fine translator with considerable poetic skill.
[2] Johann Arndt

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bloody Warfare: The Christian and the Graphic Depiction of Violence


 Who on earth could take pleasure in a graphic and bloody depiction of war?  Some do.  At what point does violence exceed the bounds of propriety? I know that such things happen and that at times ordinary men and women have to face horrible things, but I do not consider that the depiction of blood, guts, and death to be a valid or safe form of entertainment. 

There is a moral issue involved. How does the depiction of graphic violence affect the soul, the interior man? Does it harden him against “what is whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable?” [Philippians 4:8]. 

For some it may create courage, for others terror, but for others it creates a distaste bordering on disgust. Some by sad experience have become inured against the horrors of war; after all, after you have watched several people die a bloody death, what’s a few more? For the average person is such a process of hardening a healthy thing, or does it draw him needlessly into a dark place where he ought not to have gone without special preparation?

Take for instance the movie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Emotionally and spiritually defenseless people who feed on the violence and immorality depicted in that type of film will eventually come to accept it as within the bounds of normal morality.  During the Vietnam conflict we saw on the evening news the first video cut of a kneeling soldier being shot in the head. Now that kind of violence is the everyday bread and butter of American moves and media news. Let me quote a friend of mine who walked out of a showing of a war movie and said, “That’s too violent for me. I don’t need to expose myself to that.” That is a wise man with a healthy respect for his everlasting soul.

There is violence in many books, but you are not subjected to it visually. Word pictures are only words and the pictures they invoke in the imagination are only those that can spring from your own imagination. In a graphic and violent movie you are subjected to terrible things that extend far beyond word pictures. You know the old adage; one picture is worth a thousand words?  The question is; do you really want to do that to your inner person, your soul?  Eventually we become what we continually behold.  That is a sound spiritual principle.