Tuesday, December 29, 2015

An Ancient Collect that is Unfortunately All Too Relevant:

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Winding Centuries Have Come and Gone

The winding centuries have come and gone
Still the Christmas song goes on and on.
Some have loved the Babe, some still hate him;
Christmas joy is for hearts that welcome him.
Peace on earth, the thronging angels sing,
Throughout the heavens, hear the merry chorus ring.
Simple shepherds on the hill rejoice to hear
The news that Almighty God has drawn near.
But Herod on his throne feels a deadly chill;
Any who threaten his power he will kill,
Wife, or son, or even little baby child.
There is no safety for child or mother mild.
But Herod is dead; the years have come and gone,
Only Christ will come with the breaking of the dawn.

In the picture is the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the site of the birth of Christ Jesus. All of the beautiful mosaics were stripped out of the church building by the Muslims and used to decorate the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The ancient conflict still goes on today with the murder of the innocents young and old in Israel and in many other places as Islam spreads its black wings.

Today's Lectionary Readings: Psalm 124, Jeremiah 31:15-17, Matthew 2:13-18, Revelation 21:1-7

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Christmas Collects

Our Anglican Theology is formed in part by the prayers from The Book of Common Prayer.

Christmas Day
O God, who makest us glad by the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our Judge; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

Christmas Eve
O God, who hast caused this holy night to shine with the illumination of the true Light: Grant us, we beseech thee, that as we have known the mystery of that Light upon earth, so may we also perfectly enjoy him in heaven; where with thee and the Holy Spirit he liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that we, being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

A Poem from an Anglican Writer, Christina Rossetti (183—1890). Christina Rossetti was an Anglo-Catholic writer. Her brother was a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Rossetti’s best known poem is Goblin Market.

Love Came Down at Christmas
 ~ Christina Rossetti

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and to all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

[The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (later known as the Pre-Raphaelites) was a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The three founders were joined by William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner to form the seven-member "brotherhood". Their principles were shared by other male and female artists, notably Marie Spartali Stillman.]

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Man in the Box

An essay on Fundamentalism

Just who is the man in the box?  Erik Erikson, a Harvard psychologist used the term “totalism” to describe a worldview that is marked by certain characteristics.  A totalism is a self-enclosed system.  Whatever fits in the box is acceptable, whatever doesn’t fit in the box is unacceptable, unless of course you can lop off the arms and legs and conform it to the box.  The box is a safe self-contained system that allows for no ambiguity and tolerates no differences.  In popular terminology we often refer to the man in the box as a fundamentalist.  In the New Testament both the Pharisees and the Sadducees were fundamentalists.  There are Christian fundamentalists and Muslim fundamentalists.  There are Republican fundamentalists and Democratic fundamentalists.  There are Liberal fundamentalists and there are Conservative fundamentalists.  Fundamentalisms, or totalisms, have nothing do with content but refer to an essential life stance. 

Fundamentalism as an American Religious movement proposed twelve fundamentals that most self-styled Christian fundamentalists don’t even know exist.  Fundamentalism, or to use the other term, totalism, doesn’t have anything to do with content.  Just because one believes in the authority of Scripture doesn’t mean one is a fundamentalist or totalist.  Fundamentalism has to do with a narrow and rigid way of looking at life.  Bible believing Episcopalians are often viewed with suspicion by totalists who belong a variety of fundamentalist groups.

There is a set of signals projected by these ardent totalists that are easily identifiable.  First and foremost they are absolutely right and you are obviously wrong.  This can be very painful when it is your Christian faith that is being attacked.  It can be equally painful when you run into the same type of person in a business setting, particularly if they are in a position of authority.  Totalists project an attitude of assured righteousness with some hooks that catch the unwary.  Their chosen victims are flat wrong and somehow deficient.  It is not a mere matter of being in simple disagreement.  It is much deeper than that.  One is untaught, or even stupid, at the very least inexperienced, and the righteous one looms over you accusingly.  Another double barbed hook is the projection of guilt or shame.  Somehow you are to blame because you don’t know or accept their viewpoint.  There are signal words that tell when this is going on, words like, “should,” “ought,” and “must” and all their emotional cousins. 

The totalist takes refuge in community whether visible or invisible, whether real or imaginary.  No matter how small or large their community is, they globalize it.  Everybody knows, everybody thinks.  This is the way it is done.  The man in the box with his source of knowledge, has all the answers.  Totalists use the Bible this way, or the traditions of the Church, or the teachings of some charismatic leader, or the Koran, or some political philosophy, or child rearing books, or business methods, or when they are really weak minded, something they read on the internet. 

The underlying threat is that you are unacceptable.  You may be ostracized, or shunned and expelled.  Sometimes this only implicit, sometimes explicit.  Their voice tones, body language, facial expressions are well practiced to coerce by negative manipulation in order to gain the desired result, your obedience to their viewpoint.   Perhaps most of all, one signal stands out above all others.  The totalist doesn’t love you as an individual with your flaws and deficiencies.  The totalist loves you as you ought to be when you agree with them.  They wear converts to their positions like scalps on a belt.  Jesus said of the Pharisees, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:15).

Jesus says to his disciples, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).  It was never His intention that we be imprisoned by totalisms as rigid as those of the scribes and Pharisees.  The Bible says, “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?  (Galatians 3:2-3).  Totalists are hard to deal with and often impossible to argue with, in part because they are frightened by freedom and thrown into consternation by ambiguity.  In love and constancy, in patience and humility we are called to obey the clear word of Holy Scripture, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).   

Sunday, December 13, 2015

An Invitation to Think

Let me invite you to think! Some Christians don’t like to think, but to me that is like trying to sleep in short-sheeted bed. My own observation is that we first encounter God; then we begin to understand Him. It is the process of understanding Him, and consequently understanding myself and others, that fascinates me; what Anselm would refer to as “de ratione fidei” thinking something out for oneself in prayer. Anselm’s Monologion “supplies a method of harmonizing faith with reason. The subject of the discourse, as (Martin) Rule points out, is not the reason of faith but the being of God; this is first affirmed by faith and then subjected to the method—de ratione fidei—of thinking something out for oneself in prayer: credo ut intelligam.

In the Prosologion Anselm says, “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.” (Martin Thornton: English Spirituality, [1963, Published in the U. S. A. by Cowley Publications], p. 157, 158.  Half a century ago a college friend of mine referred to some of the young Christians in our Christian college as “spiritual dwarfs;” thus causing an uproar of protest. Retrospectively he was right, the Church has many spiritual dwarfs who accept the tenets of faith but don’t like to think about them. ~ Dom Anselm, Oblate OSB

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Lecher Priest

A Call to Repentance and Holiness:

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, at least at the moment. “Where was the Church upon that fateful day?” Some were voting for same-sex marriage, not that it is even possible for that to actually be a marriage.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

No Defensive Faith

Contemporary Christians tend to act as though they are always on the defensive, rather than appreciating the true nature of the battle.  In the panoply of armour in Ephesians, Chapter 6, there is no armour for the back, and Jesus did not say that hell would storm the gates of the Church, but that we would storm the gates of hell. Ever since the Vietnam War years the Church has been unrealistically pacifistic, even to the point of no longer singing Onward Christian Soldiers.

In all of this we have been looking too much at ourselves, and not enough at Christ.  “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ” (Robert Murray M’Cheyne).  Our fears come in part from looking at the stormy waters of our own experience, rather than looking at the One who calms the waters.

When looking at the Sovereignty of God, consider the function of the ancient monarch.  The word monarch refers to the singular, sovereign rule of the One who is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent.  This God of ours cannot be surpassed or denied, all power, all majesty, all dominion is His.

The 17th Century French Bishop, Jacques Bousset unfolds the absolute power of the monarch,

The royal power is absolute….Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, ‘What do you do?’ 

The power of God makes itself felt in a moment from one extremity of the earth to another.

Royal power works at the same time throughout all the realm. It holds all the realm in position, as God holds the earth. Should God withdraw his hand, the earth would fall to pieces; should the king's authority cease in the realm, all would be in confusion” [i]

This kingship, this sovereignty is bestowed on Jesus the Son of God by God the Father.  It is Jesus who is the Commander of the armies of the Lord!  In biblical terms, “He is the Lord of Hosts, and “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.” [ii]

There are times in battle when each of His warriors are exposed to danger, and sometimes wounded, but not beyond redemption, healing, and restoration.  It is a real battle, and it calls for a steadfast faith that keeps its gaze steadfastly on the Commander.

In The Coming of Arthur, Tennyson points the way to a heroic faith:[iii]

Strike for the King and live! his knights have heard 
That God hath told the King a secret word.
Fall battle-axe, and flash brand!  Let the King reign….

The King will follow Christ, and we the King
In whom high God hath breathed a secret thing.
Fall battle-axe, and flash brand!  Let the King reign.

It is not enough to sit passively, hoping that the battle will pass us by. Given the violence that is irrupting in our present world a reticent pacifism may not be adequate to meet the growing crisis; that way lays infinite danger and ultimate defeat. There is a place for armed defense that a Christian leader may exercise, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.”[iv] 

While sharing in the armed opposition to evil in this world is not the call of all Christians, it is for others who are called to lay down their lives in armed combat to defend the God’s people; but note that in a democratic society that the ruler is the representative of the people and that may make things considerably more difficult.

However the responsibility of most of us is to take up the bright weapons of our faith, pray the Daily Office, meditate on the richness of Holy Scripture, particularly on the Psalms, be ready in praise, and constant in worship, and reach out to the world with compassion and good works.  Equip yourself for the battle according to your call and station of life, for the surely the battle will come, it always comes; but to the faithful warrior comes also the victor’s crown as he follows his liege Lord and Master.

[i] (J.H. Robinson, ed. Readings in European History 2 vols. (Boston: Ginn, 1906), 2:273-277).
[ii] Revelation 19:11-16
[iii] (Tennyson, The Idylls of the King, “The Coming of Arthur,” line 481-500)
[iv] Romans 13:3-4   

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Let me pose you a theological principle misunderstood by many. When one is converted to Christ, one is converted to the Body of Christ. He is the Head and He is inseparable from His own Body.

One of our priests has expressed the principle from a Catholic perspective, “Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus—‘outside the Church there is no salvation.’ There is also no peace, no rest, no Gifts or Fruit of the Spirit, no victory, no discernment, no hope and no growing up. There is no...Christ.”

From an evangelical perspective one’s salvation is complete when one is meaningfully incorporated in the Body of Christ as a participating member. Among other things this means regular Church attendance, not periodic appearances.

The church has within it many nominal Christians who have no actual allegiance to Christ and resist incorporation in the Body of Christ and have no desire for accountability; to quote a 16th Century document. “He will never be a Priest to save any who take Him not as well for their Prophet to Teach them, and as their King to Rule them.” Some are not adverse to salvation, but baulk at being taught, and certainly do not want to be ruled, even by Christ.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Living Among the Philistines:

There is an interesting verse in I Samuel. Saul and the people of Israel are arrayed in battle against the Philistines (the Israelites seem to actually be hiding in the hills). Jonathan has gone out with his man servant and has killed twenty men of the garrison of the Philistines and the battle is engaged. Saul calls the army out, they engage the Philistines, and then we have this odd text, “Now the Hebrews who had been with the Philistines before that time and who had gone up with them into the camp, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan” [1 Samuel 14:21]. There are a number of “Christians” who, at the moment, are on the wrong side and are encamped with the Philistines.

What is a Philistine? The Urban Dictionary reveals the nature of the Philistine army encampment around us, and many “Christians” are essentially low-brow materialists who make their home among the “philistines” living solely for bread and circuses; not only that, but they are defiantly happy to do so. I present you the Urban Dictionary definition:

“Philistine = No Culture . A conformist in everything they do. A person who is obsessed with sports, sex … and Motor vehicles. They listen to whatever everyone else is listening to (especially if it is Country Music, Classic Rock, … Limp Bizkit or rap/Hip Hop…) They wear whatever everyone else is wearing, and avoid anything that is in the least bit unusual, unique, or eccentric. They tend to have little to no use for art, [seem to] be of limited intelligence, be obsessed with such things as NASCAR, golf, Hunting and Fishing, and tend to drive gas guzzling vehicles like SUVs and Extended cab Pickup Trucks. They are the fuel behind reality television… (They have) No capability of thinking outside the box or any other sort of critical thinking for that matter. The United States is dominated by Philistines.”

From a Christian perspective the Urban Dictionary, is a classic version of the Philistine viewpoint. It is “cultured” philistinism, and fails to see the greater perspective that there is a whole world outside of materialism.  The American Christian today who emerges from the ranks of the Philistines is often stunned to discover a whole world of beauty and joy in the realm of Christian Life and Spirituality. While they may enjoy the culture, art, music, and sports of Philistia they don’t live there. Their heart’s home and allegiance is the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Church, in All its Diversity, is the Body of Christ.

Until the visit of Pope Francis to the United States, I had forgotten the hatred and bigotry of some who profess to be Christians for each other. There are two identifying marks of being a Christian. The first is doctrinal, the second is practical. First, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” [1 John 4:2]. Second, “If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” [1 John 4:20]. 

A working rule of thumb is this: Apostasy and lovelessness are two sides of the same coin. If the doctrine is wrong, the walk will be wrong. If the walk is wrong the doctrine is likely to be wrong.

Paul says, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” [Ephesians 4:1-3]. 

Why had I forgotten the hatred and bigotry of some Christians for each other? For years I was a member of Full Gospel Businessmen International, and in all the time that I was actively involved with that fellowship I never once heard Spirit-Filled people condemn other Christians. The reason is simple. If you walk in the Spirit you will love one another. The Church is the Body of Christ, and we are all members of that Body, regardless of denomination.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Wheat and Tares in the Congregation

You are probably aware of the parable of the Wheat and Tares. If not you can find it in Matthew 13:24-30. Darnel [Tares in the Gospel of Matthew] appears almost the same as wheat when it is young, but as both mature the darnel stands straight up, and the heavy ears of wheat bend over. This makes it easier to pull out the darnel before you harvest the wheat. The darnel is also mildly poisonous and hallucinogenic. 

Jesus extends the harvest teaching of the Old Testament in his parable about the wheat and the tares.  When the harvest is not yet ready the darnel looks much like the wheat, but when the harvest is ripe the mature wheat bows its head, but the darnel stands straight up and says look at me. 

When you plant a new church you cannot tell whether the people who come are wheat or tares. Most will be wheat, some will be tares; but that presents a problem. Tares are poisonous and can cause divisiveness in the Church.  If you have a long established congregation without doubt you have wheat and tares in the congregation.

Bonhoeffer tells us that “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), 11].

The practical problem that we have in each congregation is that Church members often hear only one side of Jesus’ teaching, “Judge not,” and not the other side; if the offending person refuses to listen to you, “let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” [Matthew 18:17] Sometimes congregations, out of misguided love, give the divisive person a position of leadership in committees, small groups, and on the vestry. In one church the divisive people all sat in one row, and before the service the organist was heard softly singing, "When the Row is called up yonder I'll be glad."

St. Paul gives the following instruction, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” [Romans 16:17, and again, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him” [Titus 3:10].

Sunday, September 13, 2015

He Wants Me to Call Him: The Care and Feeding of Clergy

An old acquaintance, whom I haven’t seen for over ten years, has left his phone number with a third party saying that he would like me to call him. Ordinarily I would be delighted to make a contact with someone from the past, and I have maintained relationships going back over quite a number of years; but there is an interesting background to this request.

            This man, let’s call him Ozzie, mainly because I don’t know anybody named Ozzie. Here’s what happened more than once, twenty years ago. Ozzie would make an appointment with me and come to my office. He would sit down, and with a paternal smile take a list out of his pocket, and then begin by quoting from Holy Scripture, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness…” [Galatians 6:1-2]. 

            Having set the stage Ozzie would read me a list of what he considered to be my transgressions. My first response was concern, then a certain amount of shock, then the realization that he wasn’t only listing what he considered my “transgressions;” but things that he didn’t think that I was doing right. My first response, knowing my human frailty, was to accept his critique.

The second time he did this he graciously added, “I know you have an Alcoholic Personality, but …” I told him that he was out of line. I had been in recovery for over twenty-five years, and I had gone through quite a bit of therapy. One of my discoveries was that I was too willing to accept shame and blame. I realized that this wasn’t really about me, but about him and his need to have power and control over others.

Around that time I discovered that Ozzie was going into the office every Monday morning with a list of mistakes he found in the Church bulletin. As you can imagine Ozzie was driving them nuts. The result was that I had to firmly tell him that he didn’t have a ministry of correction, and that the Office staff didn’t need him sitting in judgment on them. There is only one accuser of the saints.

Ozzie wants to get me to call him by leaving a message through a third party. That by the way is called “triangulation;” the attempt to apply leverage by getting a third party to get someone to do something. Sometimes that’s not important, but in Ozzie’s case it is. Ozzie has easier and more direct options. He can ask his Rector to find my phone number, or he can call the diocese and ask them for contact information; then he can initiate the call himself.

Enough years and geographical distance have separated us that I have gained some perspective. I don’t harbor any bitterness, and I extended forgiveness to Ozzie years ago. That’s not the point. What is the point is, that there are people in the Church who think that it is their responsibility to correct the pastor and keep him in line; but be aware that they think it’s their God given ministry to correct everybody else too, and you might be next.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Prayer for Troubled Times

These are troubled times, and as the international threat of Islam is constantly in the news, the Prayer of Hannah comes to mind. Often for Christian’s the Magnificat gets in the way, because Mary paraphrased Hannah in her own prayer. But for a minute step back into the troubled times of Hannah, the mother of Samuel the Prophet, and listen to what she had prayed.

The Prayer of Hannah: 1 Samuel 2:1-10  

1 And Hannah prayed and said, "My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.

2 "There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. 

3 Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. 

4 The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. 

5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. 

6 The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. 

7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. 

8 He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD's, and on them he has set the world. 

9 "He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail. 

10 The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the power of his anointed."

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Comment on the Cries for Justice in America

A Comment on the Cries for Justice in America: Everybody is crying out for Justice, but how can you call for justice without the whole truth?

Do you know what happened in the Garden of Eden? The simple story is the game of shame and blame; Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent, and the serpent ducked for cover and slithered away, laughing as he went.

The toll was terrible. Adam and Eve, not being satisfied with having everything, wanted their own way, lost Paradise, and sin had entered into the world and God had to send His Son, a blood sacrifice for them all.  All that is, except for the serpent. The last laugh was on him. “He who sitteth in the heavens hath the devil in derision.”

But sin, in the form of bloody murder, had entered into the world and with that, murder…Cain killed Abel…and the cry for justice entered the world. The blood of Abel cried out from the very ground, and the theme of the mystery novel was born. What happened? Who did it? Will justice be done in the end?

Justice is being confused with entitlement. Like Adam and Eve, people want their own way, not accountability. Justice and entitlement are not the same thing. You cannot tell the story of justice accomplished without telling the story of why it was needed. You cannot do true justice unless the justice meted out is commensurate with the bloody crimes that call for it. 

Oh, Yeah!

There are some benefits and some drawbacks to contemporary worship music. It’s simplicity has the benefit of making a good chorus memorable; after all I have occasionally had a good gospel chorus run through my mind in the middle of the night. I don’t wake up in the middle of the night singing Bach, even though I prefer Bach to much of the contemporary worship music that I have heard.

On the other hand there is a difference between being simple and being simplistic. Some of the contemporary worship music is so theologically simplistic that it is like jumping head first into a shallow pool; you just might strain your brain! Recently I was exposed to a contemporary praise song that posed some problems for me, not that the theology was all that bad, but the presentation distracted seriously from the message.

First of all it was lousy poetry. C. S. Lewis objected to some of the hymns in Hymns Ancient and Modern for the same reason, so maybe we can call it a draw, but not quite. Even though some of the hymns in Hymns Ancient and Modern were not very good poetry, at least the lines had some rhythm and rhymed. The same cannot be said for much of contemporary praise music.

The depth of contemporary worship music can hardly be favourably compared with,

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

The real problem with the contemporary music piece was the last line of the last verse; “Such a marv’lous mystery yeah!” Now I understand that the composer’s intention was to present his song in colloquial English, but the word “Yeah” introduced the last double singing of the chorus. Guess which word the music team and the congregation sang with the greatest gusto and unbridled enthusiasm, Yeah?

The Oxford English Dictionary says of the word “Yeah” that it is a “Nonstandard spelling of yes, representing informal pronunciation.” It may be a matter of taste, but I usually prefer a steak to a McDonald’s hamburger. Can you imagine singing, “Come with us O blessed Jesus, yeah! With us evermore to be, yeah!”? Somehow it spoils the effect of a worship song, yeah! even though the chorus of the song might be theologically acceptable, Yeah!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Call to Ministry

In the book of Judges there is a story about a “call to ministry,” or to be more accurate, about hiring a priest. That confusion still goes on today. You don’t hire a priest, you call a priest, and the call must be validated by the Holy Spirit and by your bishop. When the priest arrives he is not a hireling. If he is, you get what you’ve paid for.  

Here is the story:
This guy named Micah steals 1,000 pieces of silver from his mom, then fesses up and gives it back. She says, “Well, bless the Lord!” Then she takes 200 pieces of the silver and has an idol made and gives it to Micah? Why? I can only speculate; that ought to remind him what a twit he is. He then sets the idol up in a worship center in his house, and then hires a young itinerant Levite to be a priest. He pays him 10 pieces of silver, a suit of clothes each year, and board and room.  Then Micah says, "Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest” [Judges 17:13]. Many very faithful priests still get only 10 pieces of silver and a suit of clothes, along with modest board and room.

Now the tribe of Dan found claiming their inheritance too hard so they went looking for a place that was easy prey for their conquest. On the way they come to the house of Micah…and say to the Levite, ‘“Keep quiet; put your hand on your mouth and come with us and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?’ And the priest's heart was glad. He took the ephod and the household gods and the carved image and went along with the people” [Judges 18:19-20].

Now you might think that this only happened in ancient Israel, not so my na├»ve Christian friend. Years ago when I was in a small diocese we called a priest to be our bishop. It turned out that he was a hireling. Six weeks after he arrived he stood in our back yard and told us that now the he was a bishop he was going to look for a larger diocese. Incredible? He became a big name in the larger Church, applied to a number of dioceses but most of them caught on. Years later his persistence paid off and he found a grander “call to ministry” in a much larger diocese.

A call to ministry comes from and God and from the people and is a two-way invitation love and be loved for both priest and people. It is a call to preach the gospel whether or not it tickles the ears of the people. It is a call to be God’s man or woman, in a particular place at a particular time. By the experience of many in ministry today it is also a call to suffer the pains of love.

Now in our diocese we have just called a good man to be bishop, and our previous man was a good man. We took care not to call a hireling; but I wonder if some will try to pay him and treat him like a hireling? Keep your bishop, your priest, and their families in your prayers and remember that they were called and not hired.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Basket of Apples

Churches are like a basket of apples; some are very good, but others so bad that they cannot be eaten. When all the apples are sound the basket of apples is sweet. When one apple goes rotten it has to be removed and the apples around it need to be washed. When several apples begin to rot, they need to be thrown out, and all the apples in the basket need to be cleansed. But that is as far as the parable goes. Unlike apples, people in churches have freedom to choose. Sometimes they choose to honour the rotten apples. Are there rotten apples in all churches? Yes, of course there are. The church is like that proverbial field of the wheat and the tares.

Bonhoeffer said, “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), 11].

The Church is in the redemption business and we should be glad that the children of the world come to the Church; after all “such were some of you.” But care needs to be taken to speak the truth in love to the tares that are in the church, rather follow them. Christians are like salt and are meant to flavor the world, but if Christians lose their saltiness and fail to speak loving words of truth to the grumblers and murmurers in their midst, soon the whole basket of apples will only be fit to be thrown out. In one church there was a row of rotten apples that all sat together in one pew. That is why one morning the minister of music began to sing, “When the row is called up yonder, I’ll be glad.”

“And the LORD said to me, "What do you see, Jeremiah?" I said, "Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten” [Jeremiah 24:3.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Who are the Arabs?

An interesting problem is posed by the King of the Ammonites in the Book of Judges. He declares war on Israel claiming that Israel had taken his land away. (Judges, Chapter 11:1-28). What actually had happened was that the Amorites had taken the land from the Ammonites, and Israel in turn had conquered the Amorites. We have a similar problem today. Muslim Arab claims to Palestine of Israel have at best a shaky foundation.

Muslims make up only part of the Arab World. It doesn't help to lump together all Muslims and Radical Islam with all Arabs, any more than lumping together all Baptists, and all Christians, with Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas.

Who are the Arabs? The “Arabs” are a pan-ethnic group, a culture rather than a nation. As long ago as December, 1938, a conference of Arab students in Europe, held in Brussels, declared that "all who are Arab in their language, culture and loyalty … are Arabs.”

The Arab-American Ant-Discrimination Committee defines “Arab” as: "Arab" is a cultural and linguistic term. It refers to those who speak Arabic as their first language. Arabs are united by culture and by history. Arabs are not a race. Some have blue eyes and red hair; others are dark skinned; many are somewhere in between. Most Arabs are Muslims but there are also millions of Christian Arabs and thousands of Jewish Arabs, just as there are Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Americans.”