In the Parable of the Sower and it's accompanying allegory, we see two different emphases on the same story. This is part of the richness of scripture and both can be informative for our lives as Christians.
Paul preaching at the Areopagus translates the Gospel into the language of Greek Philosophy. In order to reach the world today, we are called to emulate him and speak the language of the day. In our case, scientific skepticism.
In the Gospel from last week, the visit of Nicodemus, and the gospel from this week, the Samaritan Woman, we see a contrast of responses to Jesus. The world of the disciples is turned on it's head as Jesus chooses to reveal himself to one they would consider beneath his notice.
Outside the situation in Japan, The big story in religious circles this last week has been the release of the book “Love Wins: A book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person” by Evangelical pastor Rob Bell. Bell's thoughts about the afterlife are nothing new, but they challenge us to think about how we speak the Gospel. A true proclamation is based in John 3:16. (The low sound at one point followed by laughter is a thunderclap with impeccable timing)
"We long for that direct experience of God. But he Holy Spirit’s presence does not rely on our ability to perceive it, thanks be to God. Yes, the three disciples had a mountaintop experience, and these theophanies were part of being around Jesus. But in the approximate three years of Jesus’ active ministry, there were a lot more days of traveling dusty roads, begging for food, managing crowds and finding a place to sleep than exalted spiritual experiences."
"But if you have not thought about it, spend a minute on this. What WOULD Jesus do in Madison? This is important - we cannot partition off this part of our lives from the living God who sees and judges all, saying, “it’s just politics.” God does not allow politics to be held to a different standard. Part of the command to not fear is to constantly remember that we belong to Jesus’ kingdom, not to the kingdom of this world. "
As we pass the 12th anniversary of Matthew Shephard's death, we face a new wave of violence and bullying that is leading to the death of teenagers. Hate is a subtle and pernicious thing. When we talk about people of any group as "The Other" or label them as threats to our way of life, we give our children permission to hate. Hate is simply not an option for those who follow Jesus.
In the story of Jesus restoring the bent-over woman, Jesus demonstrates his compassion by removing her social stigma. Jesus calls us to search ourselves and our society for the places where we are denigrating others to boost our ego and secuirty. Is it possible that Muslims are our current scapegoats? Recent events and studies suggest so.
As Ann Rice's recent renunciation of Christianity on Facebook indicates, people often assume that a religion built around Christ's teachings should be a place of peace and unity, but Jesus' own words in the Gospel today tells us otherwise.
Although the doctrine of the Trinity as articulated in the Nicene Creed seems to cause people problems, it does not have to be so. We need to look at the creed as praise to the mystery of God rather than as a scientific statement of objective fact.
Worrying about Membership assumes that everyone thinks the Church is something worthy of membership. If we are to reach the younger generations, we have to convince them of that, and the way we do that is to show them Jesus.
On this first Sunday of Lent, we hear the story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. His temptations are archetypes for the temptations we all face. There are traditional Lenten disciplines that help us remember who we really are - the beloved children of God.
What is the mission of a church? While statistical indicators are good for us this past year, the real question is, "How well are we following the mission as set forth by Jesus?" A State of the Parish address for 2009.
The Episcopal Church of today is not the church of power and influence it was a generation ago. This is a natural consequence of the Church beginning to see the Gospel as something that requires us to take positions on issues of human rights. We are still in the process of rebuilding who we are.
The book of Job is not only about the question of why bad things happen to good people, but is an important corrective to the idea that humanity is the center of the universe. After understanding his place in the wonder of creation, Job becomes a more generous, loving and kind person.
Jesus' criticism of the then-current divorce practices does not set aside one legalistic code to create another, but neither should we allow ourselves to be blind to the spiritual problems of modern divorce.
Jesus warns his disciples sternly about adding on requirements to the faith that might cause some to reject it. In a culture where Christianity is so ingrained, it is important that we heed this warning.
At our church's General Convention, I experienced a hopefulness that we are finally getting over our penchant for running the church through legislation and working to heal the liberal/conservative divide. As Paul said in Ephesisans, there is no place for hostility between us.
In one atonement theory based in Julian of Norwich, Jesus death is to satisfy our wrath, not God's honor. Following this thought, we must work to give up our wrath so that we can live fully into Christ.
The first commandment tells us we are to have nothing that separates us from God. This even extends to our participation in our political processes. We are to participate and to take into account our faith in our decisions.
"Abraham Lincoln, as he looked out south across the battlefields and graveyards of the Civil War, somehow had an instinctive understanding of these Christian principles as applied to American government – perhaps a better understanding than most Christian clergy of the time."
It is human nature to Judge others. In the Gospel readings from the last few weeks, Jesus shatters many of his Disciples' religious expectations and shows that what God judges to be good is not necessarily what we judge to be good.
The incredible success of Frances Perkins in Lent Madness has had the Episcopal Blogosphere talking the last two weeks. Derek Olsen
and the Crusty Old Dean have done some in-depth reflection. Much of the debate has to do with modern vs. older saints, and how modern saints seem to do better. Some have put forth a preference for the more hagiographic saints of the past. The problem probably has more to do with how we write history than the saints themselves. The difference between Perkins and, say St. Brigid, is an issue of cultural norms of story telling rather than content. The chroniclers of St. Brigid lived in a culture where resurrection of livestock was considered quite possible, if fantastic. But what Perkins and Brigid accomplished economically was in many ways very similar. Brigid seems more “Numinous” due to the way the Irish wove her story and her historical distance. But while we can certainly debate how we should go about “making saints” and what the criteria should be, I think “the ”numinosity" is in the eye of the beholder. For me, Frances Perkins is pretty numinous.
When I was a seminarian at Virginia Theological Seminary, I did my field education under Fr. Richard Downing at St. James Capitol Hill (Now St. Monica and St. James). SMSJ is an old “Gin and Lace” Anglo-Catholic parish that has always considered itself socially progressive. It puts itself in the tradition of the Anglo-Catholic “Slum Priests” of victorian England and has old ties to St. Boltoph’s, Aldgate. One evening when we were having dinner in the rectory, Fr. Downing related, “You know, Social Security was designed at the very table you’re sitting at.” He then related the story of Frances Perkins.
I’ll let former secretary of Labor Hilda Solis describe her experience at SMSJ. This is from a Labor Day speech she delivered in 2011. She first talks about her experience growing up admiring St. Bernadette. Then she continues:
More recently, another saint came into my life.
On a weekend shortly after I became the nation’s 25th secretary of labor, I was exploring my new Capitol Hill neighborhood. I came upon a small Episcopal church, St. Monica and St. James, just a few blocks from my home. I decided to check it out.
I liked the services very much. The music was beautiful. The sermons were thought-provoking. The congregation was engaged and friendly. I felt very much at home.
On my third visit, as the service ended, one of the ushers introduced himself and took my hand. He smiled warmly and said, “We know who you are. We’re so glad you are here. We knew you’d come.” I was taken aback. I had no idea what he was talking about. And then he explained.
It turns out, back when it was just called St. James, the church was the spiritual home of my predecessor and the most influential labor secretary in U.S. history, Frances Perkins. Appointed by Franklin Roosevelt, she was the first woman to serve in a president’s cabinet. During her 12-year tenure, she was the heart and soul of the New Deal. She led the effort to create Social Security (some say she wrote the legislation in the St. James rectory). Unemployment insurance, minimum wage and overtime pay are just a few examples of her legacy. The federal building where I work is named after her, and her portrait hangs outside my office. She was a woman of great accomplishments, and of great faith—a pioneer in what we now commonly refer to as social justice.
But most extraordinary: Frances Perkins is a saint in the Episcopal Church, welcomed into the calendar of lesser feasts and fasts in 2009. Her commemoration (or day) is May 13.
Frances Perkins knew the power the faith community had in making a difference in the lives of working people, and enlisted their support and involvement during the Great Depression. I think she would be very pleased to see how her department is working with that community today.
For the people of St. Monica and St. James, Frances Perkins is not just a New Deal bureaucrat, but is a living, breathing saint who worshipped with their predecessors and put the incarnational theology of their Anglo-Catholic liturgy into concrete social action. She is the very embodiment of all that our Anglo-Catholic tradition teaches. I’ve never forgotten that night when I heard of liturgy and action meeting in one person. While Frances Perkins certainly did not make the Golden Halo in my bracket, I think of her as numinous as Brigid, or Julian, or Margaret of Scotland. I will not find it amiss if she makes it all the way, and one parish in DC will celebrate their local girl who does well.
As they strode towards the armory , the knight thought about his time in the Castle. how long had it been? Weeks? Months? Years? It had been a time of being stretched way beyond his areas of comfort. For one who had been trained for war, the disciplines of the castle had been so different. He had been forced to confront all of the ideas his birth, upbringing, and training had impressed upon him. The assumptions he had brought of the world due to his class and profession - of his own superiority - had been shattered like glass. Walking next to him was the kitchen maid. She had also faced a similar stretching, finding her own self-worth and struggling to convince herself that people needed to hear her voice. She now spoke up in conversations rather than demurely assuming her opinions were of little worth. The two had become unlikely friends in the Guild Hall. Stripped of class distinction and trained to listen and speak, they now saw each other as equal servants of their Courteous Lord, though their functions in the household differed.
In the armory, the Knight stood with his mouth agape. He had actually been looking forward to this - something familiar and grounded in his upbringing. But this didn't look like an armory at all. Instead of rows of armor and helmets, swords and pole arms, it was full of common stuff. Blankets, clothing, foodstuffs, even an area with coin in careful stacks. The maid looked at the knight and laughed in sympathy with her friend's bemusement. "You expected a worldly armory, didn't you? But this is the armory of our Lord." "Yes." And he laughed at himself, "Nothing is ever what we expect here, is it? But of course, the armory of our Lord would be filled with instruments of comfort, rather than that of harm." A portly man approached them, "Ready to sally forth, are we? I assume your guides have sent you?" "They have," replied the maid, "But what are we to take, and what are we to do?" "As for what you are to do, that will become apparent when you leave the castle. As for what you are to take, use the equipment you are most skilled with."
The Maid looked around the armory, passing between rows of goods. Finally, her eyes alighted on a set of cookware. Beautiful and gleaming, they looked finer than anything she had ever used. These were not the instruments of kitchen drudgery, but objects of art made to give comfort. She picked them up and put them into a sack, then went to the foodstuffs and took several staples and a selection of savory spices. Meanwhile, the Knight had passed through the armory and come to stand before the exchequer's table with the stacked coin. He looked at them in a different way than he ever had before. In the world, he had seen coin as a way to guard security or to provide personal pleasure. Now as he looked at the table, he saw them as gifts from his Courteous Lord, intended to provide relief and build places of refuge. The armorer came to stand beside him, "Take as much as you think you will need. You are a trusted servant of our Lord." The Knight pondered, then swept one coin into a purse. The armorer smiled, "Good. You take what is needed, not more. You learned well the lessons of the Guild Hall."
The two friends stood at the small sally port in the armory. The armorer unbarred it and opened it for them. "Do your work in the name of our Lord. Do it well and with compassion. Return when you require respite or refreshment. You are of both the castle and the world now." The Knight and the Maid instinctively clasped hands and stepped outside.
It was a beautiful spring day, and they stood outside the castle near the Emerald gate. Hundreds stood rooted, looking into the gates. Others wandered listlessly from gate to gate, peering in each one inquisitively. The friends headed back down the valley. As they reached the field full of tents, a light moaning could be heard emanating from one of the splendid pavilions. The Maid looked at the Knight knowingly, then headed towards the entrance to the tent.
The Knight continued to walk into the village. As before, everyone pushed past, but no one stopped to talk or even acknowledge him. He made his way to the tilt-yard. The constant tournament continued, with knights breaking lance after lance on each other. The Knight watched for several hours. Every once in a while, a knight would be unhorsed. That knight would then beckon to his squire to come forward with a purse and pay a single coin to the victor. As he watched, a contestant was struck from the saddle and collapsed on the ground. When the herald of the lists stepped up to him, he shook his head sadly. The herald made a motion, and two men-at-arms stepped into the list and took him by the arms, dragging him towards a stone building at the far end of the field. The Knight followed with interest.
The building was a Gaol, made of stone and with windows for each cell that were barred. As he watched, the men-at-arms took the defeated knight and placed him in a cell, where he went to the barred window. Most of the cells had defeated knights in them, and they all stood at the windows, yelling as victorious knights galloped past, challenging them to pay their coin and meet them on the field. As he walked past, he noticed one cell with a defeated knight in it who did not stand at the window, but only sat on his pallet and stared at the wall. "Good Sir. Why don't you stand and challenge the victorious knights as the others do?" "I used to," said the defeated knight, "but there's no point. Very seldom is one freed when there are more lucrative battles to be had with others. Besides, I no longer wish to fight." "What is it you wish to do?" The defeated knight rose and came to the window and stared at the castle in the distance. "I wish to go to the Castle. When I came here, I went to the field and stood for two days wishing to enter the gate, but the idea of no longer being a noble with servants under me made me unable to take the step. I finally turned in despair and came here, where I could indulge in that pointless game out there. " He gestured to the tilt-field. "Although I was proud, I was never particularly good at jousting. My money got me so far - several weeks - but I have been here for the past two months. After the first month, I stopped challenging passing knights. After six weeks, I seemed to come to myself, and noticed the Castle in the distance again. Now I long to go there, but I am a captive of my own pride and folly. I deserve my state, but how I wish it were different." The Knight surveyed him carefully, then reached into his purse, drawing out the single coin. "Here is your freedom." The defeated knight looked at the coin in his hand incredulously. "And who are you, Sir Knight, that I may thank you?" "My identity is not important, but I free you in the name of The Lord of the Castle. He bids you come and be his servant as well." That afternoon, the Knight of the Castle led the defeated knight back through the village, the field, and up through the gate of the castle. Celebrations broke out throughout the Castle as the news spread.
The maid walked to the entrance of the tent. "Excuse me." She called, "May I come in?" There was no answer. She remembered her Lord and boldly walked in. The inside of the pavilion was squalid. On a pallet in the corner lay an older noble lady, dressed in what must have been fine clothing once. "Go away," she croaked, and rolled onto her side facing away from the Maid. "I'm here to be of service. What ails you?" The lady rolled back over. "I stood day by day in front of those castle gates for years, never able to gather up the courage to step in. Every time I try to take the step, I'm held back by shame." "Shame? What could be so bad as to keep you out for so long?" The lady winced. "I was a horrid person. Outside the valley, I was a countess, and I lived an opulent life. I took my position for granted and the people around me even more so. I was especially horrid to the kitchen staff. I would send back dishes repeatedly if I didn't think they were perfect and ordered punishments for repeated mistakes. When I heard about the Castle, I was intrigued and packed my entire household to come here. In my pride, I thought the Lord of such a castle would ride out to meet me. When he didn't, I joined the seekers around the Castle, thinking I would surely be able to get in. Every time I tried to take a step towards the gate, I would be reminded of something particularly nasty I had said or done to one of my servants and be unable to finish. After a couple of years, I couldn't even look my remaining servants in the face and dismissed the last one. I haven't been back to try to get into the castle since then." "So you have no one here with you?" "No. I don't deserve company." "And what have you eaten?" The woman pointed at a loaf of moldy bread that was almost out. "My last servant, a sweet girl, left me that when I dismissed her. I couldn't even thank her in my misery." "I will return" said the maid. She turned and went outside, finding the fire ring. The servants had left some wood and kindling, so she soon had a fire going. She pulled out her cookware and supplies from the Castle and soon had a savory dish of potatoes and beef broth cooking. Finishing, she put some of the prepared dish into a bowl and took it inside to the woman. The woman looked at her incredulously. "Why did you cook for me? You're not my servant." "No, I'm the servant of The Lord of the Castle. I cook for whom he desires me to, and that is you." "But I've never met your Lord." "You've met him through me." The woman looked longingly at the dish. The Maid pushed it towards her. "Go ahead, take and eat."
The Maid tended to the woman for several days, watching her strength and manner improve. She cleaned and laundered, remembering, as she had been taught in the Guild Hall, that every time she did it, she did it for her Lord. Soon the pavilion was well-kept again. As they days passed, the woman wanted to know more about her, and the Maid told her about her former life in the kitchens of the baron and her new life in the castle. After a week had passed, the Maid said to the lady, "I need to return to the castle, and I want you to come with me." The lady paled. "I'm not sure I can do that. So many years of shame and hesitation outside the gates. I can't take that happening again." The Maid reached out and took her hand. "This time, it will be different. I will be with you." The lady considered for a moment, then nodded.
When they reached the gates, the lady stopped, transfixed by a bad memory, overcome with remorse. Then she turned and looked at the Maid, smiled, and stepped forward. As they both approached the gate, the Maid kept waiting for a guide to come and meet them, but no one appeared. Finally, when they reached the gatehouse, the Maid saw her guide waiting there with a large smile on her face. "I kept waiting for you to come out to guide us." said the Maid. "There was no need," said the woman. "You are her guide now." She turned to the lady. "Welcome, sister, to the castle. We have waited long for you to join us. When you faltered, we sent out our very best to guide you." The three women moved into the gatehouse to allow the lady to have her first glimpse of the valley and the castle. And there at the top of the gatehouse stairs, the Knight of the Castle welcomed them both, beaming from ear to ear.
From holy scripture:
Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.
Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now we know only in part; then we will know fully, even as we have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
They sat on benches across from each other in the foyer at the entrance to the guild hall. The knight in his noble clothing, and the kitchen maid in her simple dress. Both of them had been dropped off by their guides a while ago with little explanation as to what they were supposed to do or how long they would need to wait. That had been, what, hours ago? Time was something hard to measure in the castle. They had both learned the value of silence in the audience hall, and how some of the most profound communication from the Lord of the Castle came during that time. But this was an expectant silence, as if something was anticipated. They had briefly met in the audience hall, but it had been in passing, and their class difference had made it difficult to even meet each others' eyes.
So they sat. From time to time, they would cautiously glance at one another. Several times, each made as if to speak, but shied away. The maid looked at the large double doors to the guild hall, which were shut and locked. No one seemed to be coming to get them. She thought about that other portal that she had passed through all that time ago, the gate to the castle, and about how it had been so hard to prick up her courage to take the step. Finally, understanding seemed to bloom in her mind. She spoke out. "We have to take the step again." "What?" asked the knight, snapped out of the silence. "To get into the Guild Hall - we need to step forth in faith again." The knight glanced at the double doors. "But this is different," he said, "The doors are shut. How can we take a step?" "Perhaps something else is required." They both sat, absorbed in a more thoughtful silence. Finally, the knight got up and moved over to the bench beside her. For the first time since entering the foyer, they looked at each other intently. The knight started, "Did I know you in the world... outside?" The maid replied, "You do seem familiar. In the outside world, I was a servant in the kitchen of the baron of the coastline." The knight's eyes widened, "We must have met each other then. Many are the times when I accepted the hospitality of the baron. I slept in his castle and ate at his table. You must have helped prepare the food I ate many times." The maid blushed. "But then again," continued the Knight, "I have to admit I didn't often notice servants in those days. I was preoccupied with so many other things that seem less important now." The maid chimed in, "And I ought to remember you as well if you were a regular in the Baron's castle. But then again, we were taught we were unworthy to raise our eyes to the nobles we served. It has been hard for me to overcome that - even in this place where our Lord's courteous presence bids us treat each other equally." The knight nodded, "It HAS been hard, unlearning the lessons of a lifetime. Forgetting class and status, learning to serve people I used to think of as lesser than me .. no offense meant." "No offense taken. I can imagine it must be hard to learn to notice you have been trained to ignore. As hard as it has been for me to accept that I am worthy of receiving someone's notice and service." They sat in a more companionable silence for a while, thinking back on their training up until now. An insight flooded the knights mind. "The step required. It's not into the castle or towards our Lord. It's towards each other. We are to honor each other as beloved servants of our Lord. We cannot go further unless we accept ourselves and our relationship to each other."
After another minute, the maid spoke, more to the air than to the knight. "We know we are to take the step. How shall we accomplish this?" As she looked around, she noticed something on a table nearby. She could have sworn it was empty a moment before. The maid and the knight rose and walked to the table. On it was a washbasin, a pitcher of water, a towel and a scrap of parchment. The knight picked up the parchment. "Wash." he read. "Wash what? Hands? Face?" "No," said the maid, "feet. Think about it. We have been on a long journey. According to custom, the guest's feet must be washed before entering the home. I've done it many times for the baron's visitors. Take a seat, and I will wash." The knight made to sit down, then reconsidered. "No," he said, "I must wash YOUR feet first." "My feet? No, that wouldn't be right. You're noble and I'm common. I'm not worthy.... Oh." she said "You're right." Then she laughed, "You must serve and I must accept. That is the required step." The knight looked helplessly at the towel and basin and grinned sheepishly, "I could use some instruction."
With the Maid's directions, interspersed with her stifled giggles over his fumbling awkwardness, the knight washed her feet. "I'm a deadly expert with a sword in my hand," he remarked, "But I'm like a first time squire with a towel." After he had finished, she thanked him with a smile and they switched places. The knight had had his feet washed many times at the end of a journey, possibly even by the maid when he had visited the Baron's castle, but this was different. It wasn't just a cleansing. It was something deeper, something outward that signified something inward. A connection to both the maid and their common Lord. It was like when he had taken an oath of fealty to his liege lord in the outside world, only the ceremony was clothed in homeliness instead of sumptuousness. The maid finished, and they placed the pitcher, basin and towel back on the table.
They turned around and heard the lock click open on the doors. The doors opened wide, and there stood their guides, smiling at them. "You figured it out," said the man. "The step was towards each other, and towards all of the subjects of our Lord." The woman gathered them both into her arms, "You cannot truly learn to serve the Lord of the castle until you have resolved to serve all whom he loves. It's sometimes a much harder step to take than the one into the castle. The Lord is sometimes easy to love. Other people - not as much." "But you have made it," exclaimed the man, "come into the Guild Hall. We have made all the arrangements. You are ready to learn how to live your lives as servants of our courteous Lord."
The maid's companion shielded her eyes as she looked towards the gatehouse. "Another person has taken the step. Looks to be a knight." Then they continued to walk around the battlements of the castle. The maid looked again at the noble woman who had met her when she had finally stepped towards the gate after months of wavering. The woman was still beaming, as she had been on that day... how long ago had it been? A week? A month? Time seemed to stand still here. When she had first met the woman in front of the gate, she had bowed low to her in deference to her obvious nobility, but the woman had taken both her hands in hers and raised her up. "There is only one noble we bend the knee to in the Castle. While I shall be your guide, you shall not defer to me except in matters of instruction. Call me, 'sister.'" It was hard for the maid to accept after years of servitude, but after looking in the woman's eyes, she thought she could handle it. After all, hadn't she been able to overcome her personal sense of unworthiness to step forward to the gate? "Where, then Milad.... I mean, sister, are you taking me today?" The woman smiled at the slip, then said, "You seem to have recovered well. It is time for you to go to the audience hall to learn how to converse." The maid paled, "Converse with Him? The Lord of the castle? I'm only a maid, I'm not worthy to do that!." The woman looked at her sternly, "We have discussed this. Our Lord knows no class or birth. We are all unworthy of his countenance, but made worthy by his courteous action."
The maid paused, then said, "I have a question." The woman laughed not unkindly, "Of course you do. You all do. Endless amounts of them. What do you wish to know?" The maid blushed and smiled lightly. "Our Lord knows what it is we want to talk about before we ask, is it not true?" "Yes, it is. Our Lord knows our every thought and action down to the lowest functions of our being." "What, then, is the point of conversation?" The woman paused, "When you worked in the baron's kitchen, did you talk to the other servants?" "Oh yes, all the time." "Did anyone ever tell a story twice?" "There was a huntsman who would tell a story about a bull and a miller that was really funny." She blushed, "It was a little off-color." The woman smiled back at her. "He told it to us at least twice a week!" "Did anyone laugh after the first time?" "Oh yes! We rolled on the floor. It was funny every time!" "But you knew the information in the story. You knew how it began, continued, and ended. Why would you want to hear it again?" The maid thought, "Perhaps because its not about the content, but about the relationships between the teller and the listeners." "Exactly. Relationship is based on communication. Without communication, there is no relationship. The effectiveness of conversation is not based solely on facts, but on the quality of the relationship." "So even though the Lord already knows what we wish to communicate, the conversation still has value?" "Yes. And more than that. The process of conversing quite often clarifies in our heads what we want and desire. In some ways, that is the true value of conversation with our Lord. It does not change Him, but it changes us and how we see our world." They walked a bit while the maid considered this.
"How then do we converse with our Lord?" "There are many ways, almost as many ways as there are people. We can converse with words, or with thoughts, or with action. Some ways are quiet, others are loud, some are simple and spontaneous, others are complex and ritualistic. Tradition teaches us many ancient ways and the Spirit teaches us new ones." "Am I really ready for this?" The woman turned, took the maid's face in her hands, and spoke clearly and directly. "As servants of our Lord, we are ALWAYS worthy, and always called to pick up our conversation with Him. You start with a simple conversation, and then add complexity as it is called for. And you, my dear, are ready - nay - long overdue - to start this conversation."
After stabling his horse, the man who had escorted him in took the knight up to the roof of the gatehouse where they could overlook both the castle and the valley outside. The man waited patiently, regarding the knight with an untroubled expression. "My lord, may I ask questions?" Asked the knight. "You surely may," said the man, "but do not call me 'Lord,’ we have but one Lord in this castle." "My apologies, sir" replied the knight. The man indicated it was of little consequence and a common mistake. "Ask me your questions." The knight looked down at the open gate. "This could be an impregnable castle. If there were strong gates, it would take months for siege engines to breach the walls. But the castle has no way to bar entry!" The man replied, "The castle indeed has walls to define the here from the there. Boundaries are important for people. They help define who they are and provide identity. But unlike fortresses of human construction, our courteous Lord has decreed that the gates of this castle shall never be barred. The only person that can deny entry to this castle is oneself."
The knight looked out beyond the castle to the mass of silent people around the castle. They stood there, looking at the gates. Every once in a while, one would make as if to take a step forward, but then would draw back. "Who are they, and why do they stand there?" The man looked out and smiled lightly and sadly, "They are the seekers. They wish to enter the castle, but they cannot pluck up the courage, either because they feel they are unworthy to enter, or because they are afraid of being changed upon entering. They are right to do so, because no one leaves unchanged, even though it is a change for the better. Sometimes it is easier to hold onto the guilt, shame and feelings of unworthiness one has made a part of oneself than to let it go and step into the unknown of the castle. Every once in a while, a seeker will finally pluck up the courage and step forward. On those days, the whole castle celebrates, no matter how noble or common that person is. Just yesterday, a cook from a local baron's kitchen 'took the step' as we call it." He gestured to a young woman in common clothing walking the battlements with a companion.
The knight turned outward again and looked beyond the field to the village. Even from this distance, he could see the people frantically bustling to and fro and the knights lining up at the jousting field in their endless contest. "And what of the village? Why are they so obsessively busy? And why do the knights tilt endlessly?" The man looked out towards the village, and he sighed. "There are those who are seekers for so long that they lose hope, and go back to the village in despair. There are also those who come for the wrong reasons, seeking power or fame or glory. The peace and equality of the castle makes it impossible for them to come closer." "And why do they not acknowledge one another or the castle?" The man paused, "When you cannot 'take the step' for long enough, or the peace of the castle threatens your self-identity, a retreat into constant activity promises escape. Real rest and meaningful interaction with others would bring them face to face with their true selves. Many of them come to tell themselves that the castle itself does not exist and that their busyness is all that exists, because it's easier to deny that it is there than to admit that they cannot currently enter."
The knight paused, then spoke, "Will it be thus forever? Will people be always unable to enter the castle because of pride, or despair, or pain? " The man was thoughtful, looking out over the village and the field. "I do not know. We in the castle are taught that there is judgement, but also mercy. Many of us believe that at the end, our courteous Lord will perform a mighty act that will reconcile all things. We do not speculate how this can be or what form it will take, only that it will happen. But now, good sir, you have come into the castle. Let us survey where you have come to."
They turned and looked inside the castle. The knight's practiced military eye went over the towers and the walls, then looked at each of the gates. He noticed that they each had a different colored gem inset into the inner wall of the gatehouses. "Why are there four gatehouses, each with a different gem?" "The people that seek the castle are diverse. They each come with different strengths and weaknesses. Each gate is easier for some and harder for others. Those seekers who find the correct gate for them have an easier time 'taking the step.' You came in through the gate of action, of emerald, which is best suited for you. There are also the gates of diamond, which is clarity or learning, ruby, which is closeness or relationship, and sapphire, which is depth or contemplation.
The knights eyes fell from the defensive buildings to the interior keep, where he discerned three main buildings. The most prominent had the look of a great hall. "What is that building there in the center of the keep?" "That is the audience hall, where our Lord keeps court. It is there you will learn conversation." The knight looked at him quizzically, "I have spent my life in gentle conversation. Have I more to learn?" The man replied, "Conversation with our Lord is different. It is deeper, at the level of our very being. Sometimes courteous, and sometimes very... direct."
The knight's eye moved on to a quadrangle with a large courtyard. "And what is that?" "That is the guild hall, where you will learn how to live. You know much about life outside the castle, but so do the villagers. You must learn how to live inside so you can return outside and take the learnings of the castle with you." "And that?" asked the knight, looking at a smaller keep near the wall of the caste. "That is the armory, where we equip ourselves to Sally." "Sally? Thats a raid. You said this is a castle of peace. What do you mean by that?" "While we believe that our Lord will reconcile all things at the end, there is much we can do in the meantime on his behalf. Many seekers and villagers who cannot move themselves can be moved by a gentle word or kindness from others. We learn to converse and live so we can serve the world. As he shows compassion to us, so we show compassion to those gathered around the castle. But now, gentle sirrah, you must be exhausted. Let us see to your horse and make sure he is provided for, then you can eat and sleep. The teaching can wait while you recover." The knight took a last look about him - the village, the field, the audience hall, the guild hall, the armory. His eyes dwelt on the maid walking with her companion on the battlements, then he followed the man downstairs.
This Lent, our 5:45 Wednesday night program will be
titled, “A Castle with no gate.” A Christian Community is like any other
community, in that there are norms and boundaries that delineate out our common
life. It might be likened to a castle. The difference between our community and
other human communities is that the gate to the castle is always open and
cannot be shut. God is always inviting all to deeper community. Over the course
of Lent, this program will be examining the castle and the life within in the
areas of Being, Praying, Living and Loving. I will be challenging us to look at
our life together as a congregation less in terms of an organization, and more
of a Community based in the ancient Christian spirituality of the Benedictines,
which lies under the Anglican ethos. On the Sundays in Lent, My sermons will be
presenting a series of stories that underly each one of these sessions. This
first one simply sets the scene - the meaning of what the character sees and
does will be laid out over the next several weeks.
The knight rode slowly up the winding road into the
mountains. The clink of his chain mail and click of the hooves made their
familiar rhythm on the worn path. He didn’t know how long he had been out in
the wilderness at this point looking for the castle of renown, but it seems as
if it had been forever. He rode lower in the saddle than he had years ago, and
his trusted warhorse was starting to show its age. He was weary beyond fatigue.
Soon, he hoped, they would be at the end of the quest. They moved over a gentle
rise into a mountain pass, and all changed. There, in a cleft was a gentle
green valley filled with human habitation. Here, at the nearest end of the
valley, farm fields spread out with various crops. Further in, it appeared a village
of goodly size was built. Beyond that, he thought he could make out a field
covered with tents of various colors and types. At the end of the valley stood
the castle itself, it’s towers and spires gleaming in the noonday sun, banners
flying from its parapets.
Both the knight and his horse took courage from the
sight, and they moved forward at a gentle trot, taking in the sights, sounds
and smells. Soon, they cleared the fields and moved into the village. The
village itself was a strange place. It was well kept, ordered and filled with
industry. In fact, it seemed to the knight that the people were a little TOO
industrious. They hurried from place to place doing various tasks, barely
noticing their neighbors as they pushed past each other. In the middle of the
town, a jousting field had been set up, and a large line of knights in full
plate arrayed themselves at either side of the list and took passes at each
other in rapid succession. No one was in the observer stands. He paused and
watched this for a little while, then attempted to engage several of the
knights in conversation. They were all intensely focussed on their own
preparations. No one seemed interested in talking about why things were being
done this way, and when he mentioned the castle, they looked at him
quizzically, even though the towers loomed at the end of the valley in plain
He moved on out of the village into an area closer
to the castle. In a large field, tents and temporary shelters of all kinds were
erected. The were fine tournament tents of the nobility mixed with rough
wattle-and-daub shelters that obviously belonged to people of lesser means. No
one was in the shelters - they were all deserted.
The castle towered over the end of the valley, with
impenetrable walls of fine stonework reaching high into the sky. Multiple
towers broke the line of the walls, some of them ending in crenelated
platforms, others in narrow spires. It was the most impressive castle the
knight had ever seen, and seemed impossible to assault. Directly in the wall in
front of him was one of the gatehouses. From what he could see, there were
probably four total - one on each of the sides of the castle. The gate opening
was huge and open. There was no moat, no drawbridge, no portcullis that the
knight could see - nothing that would seal off the opening into the castle. A
gentle, golden light diffused through the gate opening, which was empty. The
area in front of the gate, however, was not.
The castle was surrounded by people, gathered near
the gates. All sorts and means of people were gathered in huge numbers. There
were noble ladies in fine gowns and fishwives in humble dress. There were other
knights in full armor, tradesmen in merchant clothing, and serfs in peasant
garb. They all stood silently, looking at the gate and not moving. Every once
in a while, one of them would look as if they were ready to take a step
forward, but then would seem to check themselves and pull back. The knight
dismounted and slowly and carefully led his horse forward. He reached the front
row of the motionless people, He hesitated. As he thought about entering the
castle, a sense of unworthiness overtook him. He thought about the things he
had done and the things he had left undone. They almost kept him from moving
forward. But he had been questing too long, had invested too much to stop now.
After a moment more of hesitation, he stepped forward.
After a few steps, he discerned that a shape was
taking form in the golden haze of the gate, someone in the shape of a man. As
the man drew closer, it was clear that this was no ordinary man. His face was
both friendly and terrible, pleasant and frightening to look upon at the same
time. Wisdom sat upon his brow, and understated power was in his hands. His
raiment was cloth-of-gold, noble and shimmered in a manner that made him seem
fey. The knight trembled as the man approached, but when the man spoke, all
fear was removed. “Welcome, friend. We have been expecting you. Come into the
castle. One quest is at an end, and the other is beginning.” He turned, and the
knight followed him to the gatehouse.
My passion for Tolkien is pretty well known to my parishioners - I'm bound to get a chuckle whenever I mention his works. So it's pretty natural for them to ask me my opinion on the first of Three films to adapt The Hobbit.
I'm gonna keep it short and sweet, ignoring the new film technology (which is interesting) and the score (which was awesome) and concentrate on the adaptation of the story.
First of all, the choice to take such a short book and spread it over three movies is interesting. What this indicates is that the studios are so convinced Jackson is going to make buku bucks that they are giving him creative reign to do whatever he wants to tell the story. This is good news. Jackson and his team are excellent story tellers, so it should be a good ride over the three movies.
Second, The text of The Hobbit was one in flux during Tolkien's lifetime. It was his first book written as a children's story, and he revised it after the publication of The Lord of the Rings to bring it into better sync with the rest of his legendarium. In addition, there are additional writings, most notably an appendix in LOTR, that show that Tolkien was constantly re-thinking the material.
While being somewhat lighter in tone than Jackson's LOTR trilogy, it is notably darker than the book, and deserves its PG-13 rating. Instead of being a stand-alone adaptation of the book, it impresses the esthetic of the film trilogy on the text, making it more of a prequel. Jackson and his writing team freely adapt Tolkien's additional materials and come up with text of their own, weaving a meta-story around the original text. In effect, they manage to create one vision of what Tolkien might have done had he continued to revise the text to bring it into line with his mythology. It's simultaneously very different from the text, but seems very true to Tolkien's intentions (with some notable exceptions.)
I find this similar to the Jewish tradition of midrash, a method of scriptural interpretation that uses story to explore difficult passages of scripture. Jesus' parables are a prime example of this. If one is looking for an exact adaptation of The Hobbit, you won't find it here. But if you are looking for one that is true to Tolkien's themes and maintains consistency with LOTR, you've found your movie.
Overall, I was extremely happy with this first movie. I'll give my biggest gripe and my biggest cheer (Can't decide which category Radagast would be in, so I'll leave him out).
Biggest gripe: OK people, Pipeweed is TOBACCO! It's stated explicitly in both The Hobbit and LOTR. The continued portrayal of Pipeweed as marijuana is a holdover from the "Frodo Lives" movement from the 60s. Hey people, Tolkien was not a hippy - he was an uber-conservative Roman Catholic with an ecological bent. More of a Teddy Roosevelt than a Timothy Leary.
Biggest cheer: How in the name of Aulë did they manage to make Thorin hot? Dwarves in the book are sometimes comical, sometimes dangerous, but never attractive. But here we have a capable and worthy leader of a nation that makes feminine hearts go a patter. I think Richard Armitage's portrayal is amazing, and his character should give hope to shorter men around the world.
All in all, I really liked this movie. I'll be taking Brendan to see it, and I can't wait to see how much rich depth Jackson and his team pull out in the remaining two movies.
The incredible success of Frances Perkins in Lent Madness has had the Episcopal Blogosphere talking the last two weeks. Derek Olsen and the Crusty Old Dean have done some in-depth reflection. Much of the debate has to do with modern vs. older saints, and how modern saints seem to do better. Some have put forth a preference for the more hagiographic saints of the past. The problem probably has more to do with how we write history than the saints themselves. The difference between Perkins and, say St. Brigid, is an issue of cultural norms of story telling rather than content. The chroniclers of St. Brigid lived in a culture where resurrection of livestock was considered quite possible, if fantastic. But what Perkins and Brigid accomplished economically was in many ways very similar. Brigid seems more “Numinous” due to the way the Irish wove her story and her historical distance. But while we can certainly debate how we should go about “making saints” and what the criteria should be, I think “the ”numinosity" is in the eye of the beholder. For me, Frances Perkins is pretty numinous.
This reporter has come across disconcerting news after intercepting personal correspondence to Scott Gunn, President of Forward Movement. Lent Madness, supposedly a tool for learning about the saints during the time of Lent, is actually a front for a startling ecumenical power grab! A Methodist pastor in Waukesha, WI narrowly avoided bodily harm from a booby-trapped Lent Madness mug! To quote the Rev. Kris Androsky of First United Methodist Church:
"However, when my mug arrived, I was appalled that my ecumenical sense of duty was not reciprocated. I simply could not believe that you, personally, would do such damage to a new and budding ecumenical relationship! The mug was wrapped in approximately 25 layers of bubble wrap, yet the handle was still broken off of the mug. I've attached a photo for you to see that I am telling the complete and utter truth. It is very clear to me that you, personally, chose to send me a mug that obviously had an explosive device planted on it. I cannot think of any other possibility considering all the bubble wrap yet damaged goods. I can only thank God that the mug did not explode after I had opened the box as a shard might have flown into my eye and made me blind, like Lucy."
It is apparent to this reporter that Lent Madness is nothing but a front for an Ecumenical Junta, with the Supreme Executive Committee as the evil puppet masters! The Crusty Old Dean was right! Ecumenical colleages, DO NOT OPEN YOUR LENT MADNESS SHIPMENTS!
Here we have an exclusive photo of the evil masterminds of the Supreme Executive Committee of Lent Madness in their secluded lair plotting to bring the Methodist Church back into the Anglican fold by their infernal mug-based Coup de Main.
Tim Schenk is staring into a lucite replica of Asbury's skull (It's transparent, so you can't see it - but he's clearly holding it), representing the nefarious plan. Scott Gunn is saying "Word!" which is the keyphrase which touches off hypnotic suggestions planted in Forward Movement employees to start shipping explosive mugs by their tens of thousands.
(I have also learned that it was extremely difficult to keep everyone at Forward Movement Publications from using the term "Word" and accidentally setting the terrible plot in motion early. Fortunately for their evil schemes, Scott holds that kind of mind-bending power.)
"My question is do you have any advice for how to raise kids in a spiritual sense when both parents have very different beliefs?
I was raised in the Pentecostal tradition. My husband was raised loosely Catholic, but when I met him he was more agnostic. Now he has said he is almost sure he is an atheist. This problem didn't come up until my father wanted to take my son (5 yrs old) to church with him. My husband has flat out refused saying he doesn't want his kids indoctrinated at such a young age.
Now there is a tug of war between my parents who try to teach him bible stories and my husband who tells my son that Jesus doesn't exist, and it's all in your head."
That's a really difficult position to be in as a parent. It used to be that an "Interfaith" marriage meant one between a Roman Catholic and a Protestant. But these days, it is likely to be between a Christian and a non-Christian theist or even, as in your case, an atheist. How do you handle a conflict between parts of your family as you describe? It's going to be different for each family, but here are some pointers:
The Child's welfare comes first. Children are sometimes used as pawns in family conflict, and faith conflicts are often covers for deeper things. Make sure the conflict is really about what they say it is. If it's something else that's actually causing the conflict, none of the rest of this is going to have any impact. Also, make sure that if one party is talking about the others faith or lack therof in front of your son, it's not in a derogatory way. A child will benefit from watching adults resolve conflict, but only if it's carried out in an adult fashion.
Determine what it is you want for your son. What do you want out of religion for him? Do you want him being raised within a faith community, or do you want him to just learn the stories? What level are you comfortable with? What do you think he wants?
Determine how to achieve that. If you want the support of a faith community, what would work? Catholicism and Pentecostalism are probably both out. Can you find a faith community that will encourage critical thinking? Use the Internet to look around.
Plan on how you are going to approach each party. Try to put yourself in each party's shoes and see what is important to them. What's negotiable and non-negotiable? Writing down talking points is a good idea.
Approach them in love, not in anger. Try to be reasonable and find something that works. This can be achieved, assuming that there's not an underlying problem as in point one.
In your specific situation, here are a few things that might help:
For your husband, emphasize the value of a Biblical education. Completely apart from the spiritual content, the Bible is one of the most important literary influences of western culture. English literature is full of references to both Old and New Testaments. Not understanding the stories puts one at a distinct disadvantage in appreciating literature, art and music. Also, determine whether the problem is faith itself, or uncritical faith. There are several denominations that see no conflict between critical thinking and faith. I'm partial to mine, but there are many others as well.
For your parents, make sure they understand that you are the parent of your son. You have to negotiate this situation and not them, so make it clear that whatever compromise you arrive at needs to be respected. Your son is WAY below the age of accountability, so even from their perspective, salvation should not be an issue at this point. I suspect it has more to do with them wanting to share what is important in their life with him.
My prayers are with you. This is one of the stickiest wickets of parenting.
An old friend of mine, noticing the press the Episcopal Church has been receiving over the approval of Provisional Same-Sex Blessings asked me a question about how I would go about preaching Ephesians 5:22, one of Paul’s famous passages about the place of women.
Eph. 5:22 For example, wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord. (CEB)
How you interpret this passage has a lot to do with how you read scripture. The “Common-sense” approach is the default American method of scriptural interpretation. As Mark Knoll writes in The Civil War as a Theological Crisis:
By 1860 a substantial majority of articulate Americans had come to hold a number of corollary beliefs about the Bible-specifically, that besides its religious uses, it also promoted republican political theory, that it was accessible to every sentient person, that it defined the glories of liberty, that it opposed the tyranny of inherited religious authority, that it forecast the providential destiny of the United States, and that it was best interpreted by the common sense of ordinary people. [loc 308, 1]knoll
That last sentence is the part that can be especially problematic in the context we are exploring. While scripture usually has a “plain sense,” it’s a plain sense in the culture of the time in which it is written. "Common Sense" readings of scripture are an attempt to box the Bible into the cultural framework we are comfortable with. For instance, in the context of the theological arguments around the Civil War, “Common Sense” readings of scripture heavily supported the institution of slavery. The entrenched nature of the “peculiar institution” as well as a near universal belief in white superiority (even among abolitionists) made the anti-slavery argument difficult. To quote Knoll again:
(the) nuanced biblical attacks on American slavery faced rough going precisely because they were nuanced. This position could not simply be read out of any one biblical text; it could not be lifted directly from the page. Rather, it needed patient reflection on the entirety of the Scriptures; it required expert knowledge of the historical circumstances of ancient Near Eastern and Roman slave systems as well as of the actually existing conditions in the slave states; and it demanded that sophisticated interpretative practice replace a commonsensically literal approach to the sacred text. … In the culture of the United States, as that culture had been constructed by three generations of evangelical Bible believers, the nuanced biblical argument was doomed. [loc 647, 1]knoll
Writers on this subject routinely point out that the Christian anti-slavery argument never got a lot of traction until after armed conflict broke out and people needed to make sense of the vast slaughter. The abolitionist argument made sense if you considered the sweep of the Bible towards mutuality and respect, but it could not overcome the entrenched “common sense” interpretation that supported the status quo, as such interpretations invariably do. Yet yesterday’s common sense is today’s folly. You would be hard pressed to find a modern biblical literalist who would support the idea that American slaveholding was a Biblically just institution. This is because a “common sense” interpretation has more to do with us and our context than the Scripture and its Sitz im Leben (That’s Biblical geek speak for the original cultural/historical setting of the passage).
There are two ways to read Ephesians that do this passage a grave injustice. Both of them involve this “common-sense” reading that ignores literary and historical context. One is the “literalist” interpretation that insists that this passage requires a wife to be subordinate to her husband in all things. Feminist theology has rightly criticized this reading as being a tool of repression. A more basic criticism might be that using it in such a way completely ignores the rest of the chapter (see below), as well as assuming that Paul is writing in a universal sense without examining his Sitz im Leben.
A second way to do injustice to this text by a “Common-Sense” reading is to try to judge what Paul is saying by our vantage point, which has been shaped by postmodernism, marxism and feminism. To be condescending to ancient writers because they didn’t have the same default point of view that we as postmodern Americans have is just as destructive as a literalist position and would result in the loss of much of the world’s collected wisdom were it universally applied.
To do justice to Paul, we need to ask the questions of context:
What is the literary context of this verse? What happens in the letter around it?
What is the cultural and historical context? What is he saying to HIS culture?
Only after answering these questions can we begin to ask interpretive questions for ourselves. If Paul was saying this to his culture, what might he say if he was writing within ours? Scriptural interpretation in this full sense is not of direct application. Let’s think of this in pseudo-algebraic terms. X would be the application of Galatians for us today. A is the cultural setting of Paul’s time. B is the scripture. C is our cultural setting. A literalist might say that there is no algebra. Scripture is universal and timeless and all you need is a direct correspondence:
B = X
Those of us who believe scripture is the Word of God, but are literary works that bear the imprints of culture and personality would say it is more complex. It’s more like solving the proportion:
A/B = C/X
So if we avoid the so-called “common sense” position (although that’s really a misnomer. It’s not common-sensical to think that Paul’s culture and ours are similar.) and use this approach that is more sensitive to context, what can we say about this passage?
Where does Paul get his position that wives should submit? The Epistles are older than the Gospels, but anything that wound up in the Gospels would be circulating as stories and proverbs of Jesus at the time of Paul. It’s hard to find anything attributed to Jesus that would support such an assertion. In fact, Jesus seems to be surrounded by “uppity” women, such as the Syro-Phonecian woman, Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany who don’t seem to know their “proper place” and routinely scandalize the disciples. Did Paul invent all this?
As he would say, “By no means!” There is a long tradition in Greco-Roman and Hellenized Jewish writing (such as Philo and Josephus) of “Household Codes.” These codes lay out how a male head of household should manage his affairs. The Roman head of household (Pater Familias) was an absolute ruler within his domain. The Household Codes instruct a young Pater Familias on how to conduct his household in order to preserve honor and avoid shame in a culture in which such things were paramount for survival. The failure of a householder to abide by these codes could mean ruin and ostracization from the culture for him and his entire family.
When Paul states that wives are to submit, he’s not stating anything new. He’s stating anything that any writer of Household codes in his culture, Roman or Jewish, would agree with. Most members of a household in Ephesus hearing the letter read aloud, be they male or female, would have been nodding at this point. But look at what comes later. This is where Paul goes way off track from a standard household code.
Eph. 5:25 As for husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. (CEB)
Non-Christian Household codes of the time do not speak of the duties of the Pater Familias to his “subordinates” at all. Paul goes on for six more verses exhorting husbands to show the same respect to their wives as Christ does for the church. Think about that. Paul goes to great pains in his letters to show how much Christ sacrificed for his church. It is an absolute, self-sacrificing love, completely incompatible with the self-centered idea of the householder as absolute monarch.
I think Paul is using the household code as a subversive rhetorical device. He uses some throwaway lines, such as 5:22, to lull the hearers into a receptive state, then hits them with something demanding and new (the rest of the chapter) where women are given the same value as the church. Paul is by no means an egalitarian in our terms, but it’s unfair to criticize him by those terms. To discard Ephesians because Paul does not articulate perfect egalitarianism would be like discarding the Emancipation Proclamation because Lincoln still retained ideas of white superiority. We are all products of our culture, and I have no doubt that some in the future will judge US with harshness.
However, holding up Paul’s writings as scripture does not mean we have to come to it uncritically. Paul’s instructions to wives in Ephesians does not support domineering, abusive gender relationships any more than Peter’s parallel instructions to slaves (1Peter 2:18) supports modern human trafficking. Paul’s culture and assumptions were very different than ours, and our reading of his writings need to reflect that reality. While not a modern egalitarian, Paul’s views of both slavery and the place of women was much more progressive than those of contemporary writers. He was a careful but passionate rebel, and he upset the establishment enough that he was eventually executed for it.
It is for this reason that even though some continue to use Ephesians to repress, I think that if we read it with eyes open to context, we can find an example of someone transforming his world bit by bit for Christ. God’s plan does not happen in one lifetime, or even in a hundred. This is not a failing of God, but a result of human intransigence. As Jesus said to his disciples, “I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now. However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth. He won’t speak on his own, but will say whatever he hears and will proclaim to you what is to come.” (John 16:12–13 CEB)
Those of us who claim to follow Jesus in the church continue to seek the guidance of the Spirit together as we read our scriptures. God can indeed be found in the Bible. There are those that claim that this should be an easy endeavor, and that the Bible reads like some sort of instruction manual. But many of us believe that the Bible is a complicated work that requires study, work, thought, prayers and discussion in community to begin to understand.
One of the questions everyone is asking about the approval of a provisional rite for same-sex blessings is how it changes our understanding of marriage. It's a complex question, and I'll start with defining "Marriage" and "Matrimony. " These are often used interchangeably in both the culture and the church, but I'm going to define these just for use within this post.
"Marriage" is a civil affair binding two individuals together legally. This is the ancient definition of marriage which predates Christianity.
"Matrimony" is a sacrament, or sacramental rite, or has no religious status at all, depending on your time period and which strain of Christianity you belong to. It's important to note that matrimony can be seen as kind of a "Junior Sacrament" due to its relative newness.
Jesus spoke of the of the permanence of marriage, but not the moral goods. Paul saw marriage as a poor second to celibacy, as did most early Christians. Gregory of Nyssa (d. 385 or so) was one of the first to see a possibility of divine work within marriage equal to that of celibacy, in that it trained people in impermanence.
The role of the church in marriage only began to pick up when it became the established religion of the Roman Empire. As ministers became civil officials, they took on civil roles, including solemnizing marriages. The church slowly began to develop a sacramental theology of matrimony. By the early Middle Ages, marriages begin to be celebrated in churches. By the late Middle Ages, marriage and matrimony combined as the church took over many of the civil functions of the defunct empire and became the sole purveyor of marriages.
This is the confused understanding of marriage and matrimony that we inherit - one born of a confusion of religion and civil government. Clergy in the United States that perform marriages function simultaneously as religious and civil officials. It's important to note that the center group of one of our most cherished American myths, the puritans fleeing religious persecution, believed that marriage was a purely civil affair and rejected any sacramentality around it.
In the modern situation, we face our old confusion. While Europe has separated civil marriage from religious matrimony, The United States continues to conflate the two. This gets especially difficult as the civil authorities redefine (or one could say refuse to define in specific gender terms) what marriage is. In many states, same-sex marriage is legal, while in others same-gender unions are legal, while in others constitutional amendments make such civil recognition impossible.
It is into this morass that the Episcopal Church wades. There is a cultural expectation that when you celebrate the sacramental rite of matrimony in church, you are married in the eyes of the state. Our canons state that matrimony is between one man and one woman. So what exactly is happening in a same-sex blessing? Is it matrimony or not? Is it marriage or not?
The response of the church with a proposed rite allows us to address the varied situation in the United States. It seems to me that the rites are clearly NOT matrimony. For them to be so, we would have had to alter the canons. There are those that say, "if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck." This line of reasoning points out that since there are vows and an exchange of rings, it looks too much like matrimony to be anything else. But this completely disregards a regular part of our religious life in the Episcopal Church, namely that of monastic vows. Those rites within the various religious orders of the Episcopal Church also have vows and sometimes include a ring but almost always include some token of the vows. While matrimonial language is sometimes employed metaphorically (I.e. "Bride of Christ") no one would claim that such vows are the sacramental rite of matrimony. Saying that liturgical similarity implies sacramental correspondence ignores this important part of our tradition. Saying that monastic rites are not sacramental just because they are not matrimony would be a rather startling assertion. The same could be said of same-sex blessing rites. Just because they don't fit the category of one of the sacramental rites does not mean they are not sacramental in nature.
What the rites definitely are is a recognition of a covenanted relationship between two people, of which there are many precedents in history. How they interact with marriage and matrimony will vary from place to place. In places where same-sex marriage is legal, it will mean that a clergy person will not be celebrating matrimony, but MAY be solemnizing a civil marriage. In places when same-sex marriage is not legal, a Clergy person will neither be celebrating matrimony, nor solemnizing a civil marriage, but simply blessing a covenanted relationship. In many places, the rites will not be used at all because the diocesan bishop will not authorize their use. This flexibility is necessary at this time, not only due to theological diversity, but due to legal issues with civil marriage in many states.
There may be those, both for and opposed, that will insist that this really IS matrimony. There could be truth in that, since matrimony is a sacramental rite in which the couple itself are the ministers. The priest only adds the Church's blessing to their sacramental action in the vows. Thus, it could be matrimony whether the church believes it or not. (Though technically, if the church does not recognize it, it may be sacramental, but it is not a sacramental rite.)
What the church will do in the future is unclear. We may move towards accepting same-sex rites as being matrimony by adapting the Prayer Book rite and changing the canons. Or the GLBT community may decide that what they are doing is something other than matrimony (A position I have heard articulated by several GLBT individuals.) In any case, the current rites provide something for a time in which we need to address various needs in multiple contexts.
This removal of baptism as a prerequisite to communion echoes a practice that is already (non-canonically) widespread in some parts of the Episcopal Church and is common practice in some other denominations. The theology behind it is that in the name of inclusivity, we should extend open table fellowship to all, regardless of baptismal status. Without getting too much into the theology here, I wish to raise an issue that does not seem to be addressed widely, namely the ecumenical implications of such a change.
We are in a new age of connectivity. The technologies that have given us the personal computer and the internet are creating as large a sea change in our society as the Gutenberg press did. While the Protestant and Roman Catholic Reformations formed and were formed by the new technologies of the printing press, whatever the church is heading into at the end of this emergent “Rummage sale” (as Bp. Mark Dyer puts it) is being fundamentally shaped by these new communications technologies that were unthinkable just a few decades ago. One person recently pointed out that if a modern teenager were to be handed one of Captain Kirk’s communicators, they would play with it for a minute and then ask, “Is that ALL it does?” (Click link below to go to full article)
"I am a lifelong Episcopalian and spend a lot of time with a diverse group of people from different branches of Christianity. As the lone Episcopalian in this setting, I am hoping you can answer a question causing confusion for me. My question is this: They (non-Episcopalians) are insistent that everyone must accept Jesus as their own "personal Lord and Savior". I was always taught that He is our Savior but that He belongs to everyone and is not our "personal" God. Which is correct, according to the church as Episcopalians? Thank you."
The language “accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior” is indicative of certain traditions within Christianity in America. Evangelicals and revivalists often speak of conversion using these terms. By “personal” they mean you as an individual as opposed to you as a member of a group. By “accept” they mean to emphasize you choosing, you deciding (or not) to be a disciple of Jesus and verbally and publicly acknowledge Jesus as your “Lord” (the master of your life) and “Savior” (the one who rescued you from sin and death). Once you have made such a public profession of your faith, then you are a candidate for baptism (called “believer’s baptism”).
Most Episcopalians don’t use the jargon of evangelicalism (but there are a few who do). Tell your evangelical friends that you are a follower of Jesus and you are putting yourself in God’s hands, trusting in Jesus, and receiving God’s mercy, love, and grace. They are apt to be skeptical. Generally, unless your spiritual journey mimic’s that of an evangelical and you are skilled in the use of the jargon of evangelicalism--they will be skeptical of your relationship to Christianity. Don’t let it bother you. Neither the thief on the cross nor Paul on the road to Damascus had read the “Four Spiritual Laws” (an evangelical pamphlet) nor prayed its “sinner’s prayer.” Yet, it is correct to say that both were saved. Tell them you are depending on Jesus to save you. Speaking their language may calm their fears for your soul.
To answer your question more directly: the emphasis on the individual has more to do with American individualism than it does biblical faith and Episcopalians try not to fall into that way of thinking, emphasizing instead the community of faith, the people of God, and the Church. Likewise, the emphasis on the decision of the individual and the importance of making a choice, sounds to our ears like a “salvation by works.” That is to say, that you are only saved because you did something. We tend to want to place the emphasis on what God does regardless of our lack of appropriate response (we call it “grace”). Finally, at some points this way of talking and thinking can move from religious to magical. If you don’t say just the right words (the “sinner’s prayer”) and have an emotional experience, and then follow it with baptism by full immersion, then you are not a real Christian. Thoughtful evangelicals would never say such a thing. But, people who are naturally superstitious and engage in magical thinking and who are evangelicals are apt to speak that sort of nonsense.
A Track from Monstrance’s Triumphal concert at Dekoven.
Did she walk and did she talk and did she come to preach?
My home church low church angel Always pulled me from my seat
She was low as a rattlesnake, no one could ever claim
Her reading of the rubrics would ever cause them pain
Years go by I’m lookin’ through that Wipple magazine
And there’s my low church angel on the pages in-between!
My blood runs cold, My liturgy has just been sold
My angel wears a maniple.
Ritual Notes on her desk, she’s chanting Benedictus Es Surplice trimmed in too much lace really caught my eye
I was shakin’ in my shoes – she’s giving me the K Street blues
I caught a whiff of incense, When angel passed close by
The bishop’s fancy crozier – Too magic to touch
Too see her in that vimpa veil Is really just too much
My blood runs cold My liturgy has just been sold
My angel wears a maniple
It’s okay I understand This here is James DeKoven land
I hope that when the bishops gone you’ll get that low church preaching on.
Take your thurible, Yes we will, We’ll chuck in in the closet
We’ll take your Sarum Missal out and make darn sure you toss it.
My prayer book pages have been been ripped The rubrics from my mind are stripped
Oh no, I can’t recollect, Oh yea, I guess I’ll genuflect!
My blood runs cold My liturgy has just been sold
My angel wears a maniple.
As the countdown to Rockage begins, more fan mail pours in:
The Rectors of Rock have become so important to my spiritual well-being that I feel compelled to skip the Packers in the playoff tonight in order to have their monster-rock sounds in my ears. I also hereby commit Trinity Church, Wauwatosa to a new lighting rig for the Fab Fathers…
We approach the count down for blast off of the Rocket of the Rectors of Rock tomorrow evening at DeKoven. Prepare yourselves for the G-Force adrenaline of Lyrical Lift-Off and the pure pleasure of Guitar Gravity. I also hereby pledge a new Korg keyboard for Don as a love offering from the people of Christ Church, Whitefish Bay.
While everyone knows that the event on the 12th at the DeKoven Center is all about unleashing the pure power of rock with Monstrance, some also claim that Monstrance is only the “Entertainment” for another event put on by the Racine Episcopal Churches to raise money for the Hospitality Center to the Homeless. Monstrance spokesperson The Rev. Seth Deitrich was quoted:
“While this is clearly all about the awesome rocking power of Monstrance, it is nice that the churches of Racine have put together a backstage pass package to supplement the incredible magnitude of earth-shattering rockitude that is Monstrance in concert. I applaud their efforts in providing proper promotion for the Fathers of Funk, the Padres of Pop, the Reverends of Rock that Monstrance is. Also, I hereby pledge a new drumset for Fr. David as a love offering from the people of Christ Church Whitefish Bay.” (or something like that….)
If you wish to take part in the Backstage Pass (which some are promoting as the main event – whatever) please contact email@example.com by Monday the 7th. The cost is $22. The schedule is as follows: