The radically cynical understanding is that the ravenous Leviathan-state is offering the illusion of complete sexual freedom (“oh! yummy”) as a narcotic to distract us while it consumes more important freedoms. Or, that all this is just another part of the prolonged adolescence that our consumer-entertainment culture desires to impose.
Denial is a River in the Heart
The heart is deceitful above all things, saith Jeremy, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?. Now here’s an instance we where we need no assumptions of the veracity of Scripture to agree with it; it’s truth is declared every day as we behold seething deceit, insatiable greed, violence, sudden and unaccountable lusts, selfishness amounting to clinical narcissism, betrayal, murderous anger; is there an end to the list? Nor are our own hearts exempt, though we spurn the knowledge. We are very happy loudly to proclaim the failings of others, but we exempt our selves. But none are exempt, and that’s perilous to ignore.
Awareness of our deceit should make us cautious.
Sounds like a 20s novel, Nashotah being a slightly wayward young lady of the author’s acquaintance. Which is how some conservative Anglicans are treating Nashotah House seminary. Let’s keep this simple in the event any of my two or three readers are unfamiliar with the characters in this pageant.
1. Katherine Jefferts Schori is the top bishop of The Episcopal Church (TEC). They call her, “Presiding Bishop and Primate,” but if she had a Secret Service code name it would be “Red Queen.” She likes to sue people. It’s more than a hobby, it’s a way of life.
2. Nashotah House is a seminary, not quite a property of The Episcopal Church but almost sort of but not really. It is quite willing to train priests from The Episcopal Church and from its rival, the Anglican Church in North America (yay, underdogs).
3. The Chairman of the Board of Nashotah House and it’s Dean are both members of the House of Bishops of TEC. They’re both good guys, for TEC Bishops.*
4. Red Queen has received an offer to preach at Nashotah House. Consternation arose. Attitudes were struck. I believe imprecations were tossed.
5. #4 is not surprising, given #3.
Some of those who, like me, have with various degrees of delight left TEC, now fear that orthodox students at Nashotah will contract Episcopal Bishop Contamination Sickness (EBCS) and become little Spongs (see, Spong, John, and Spong’s Ego). I doubt this is a substantial danger.
Now were I a student at The House, as it is fond of referring to itself, I would certainly have been up to the wee hours memorizing the Acta of the 23rd DemiEcumenical Council of Arles (813 AD-902 AD)** and St Macer Adhaeresus’s Commentary on the 22nd Council,*** fueled by virtuous coffee and cookies. The presence of Presiding Bishop Schori would mean nothing so much as “nap time.” The ability to sleep with eyes wide open is essential job skill, for many will be the meetings these protoclerics must attend at which nothing is said, often in a mumble, at great length. Also, for those happy folks who have never had a progressive TEC bish talk at them, falling asleep is the first and most natural choice for personal survival.
If detected, it is best to feign nausea (feigning may not be needed) or, in dire circumstances, madness. In any event, EBCS is unlikely if the teachers have done their jobs.
However, as usual, the debate began to turn to the question, “why on earth would an orthodox Anglican Christian remain within TEC,” and that’s a contentious one that tends to exhaust the kindliness of either side quickly. To many who have left, remaining within TEC is as unimaginable as volunteering to be a judge at a Vogon poetry festival. I’m quite happy to acknowledge that there are those who believe they have a vocation to remain in TEC, or whose theology of the Church prohibit them from leaving, and to let them be, but then I am tired all the time and my lifetime supply of indignation is nearly exhausted and the remaining minims should be conserved. It’s better used on those who devise such phrases as “gorgeous glowing Flutterfield Flutter Flower” for grandfathers to read. That one destroyed by ability to compose for several days.
*It is tempting to go all Jeremiah on the TEC HoB, as a group. “Strutting peacocks of damnation” comes to mind. But Lent is nigh, temptation must be avoided, and I shall restrain myself by confining invective to footnotes.
* *The 23rd Council was convoked to deal with a controversy regarding the varieties of beer suitable for consumption by clerics. It was prolonged by the frequent tastings of various brews, as well as the introduction of issues of ceremonial. The Germanic delegates are said to have found the climate pleasant. They prolonged the conference with the serial introduction of additional matters to deliberate, so much so that the final Acta ran to 1738 items.
***The Acta of the 22nd Council are lost, and are known only in Macer’s Commentary. If it is a commentary. It might be a sheep herd book. Opinions vary. St. Macer’s Latin is so ungrammatical as to be nearly incomprehensible.
The task of the Christian Church in ever-more secular western societies is murky. What is it that we’re doing? I suspect that lots of us ask that. Without the Christian consensus -however murky, inconsistent, and poorly formed – that pervaded Western culture until after World War II – it’s becoming increasingly hard to speak to a non-Christian culture, even before taking into consideration the various fractures and faction within Christianity. *bigsigh*
There are a lot of theories about what the Church may be, some of them rather grand if not grandiose. I find most useful St. Paul’s almost throwaway image that we are Christ’s ambassadors (II Cor 5). He tosses that out after a complex and deep discussion about our real home, our real place, and the image gains more depth the more you look at it. But it’s also one of Paul’s handy rules of thumb, I think. And I would like to refer to that while considering the Church of England’s now notorious “revision” of the Baptismal rite for children.
It’s first of all notable that the public discussion (and screaming and finger pointing) has largely been shaped by the British press, the first piranhas in the water, and that there is a context to the trial rite that should be considered. And maybe tossed overboard.
I wish I could say something like, “the baptism of children should mean the baptism of children of Christian parents, with Christian sponsors who will undertake to superintend the child’s Christian education, and who are members of the local community.” That would be nice. Happens less and less, I suppose, and maybe all the less often in the CofE. The motivation for the trial service is, according the its preface, to find more “accessible language” to explain baptism to an audience – scarcely a congregation – that is unfamiliar with Christian thought. Or so the preface states.
“Accessible language.” There’s a term that has so often been a Trojan horse for theological change that you would think that the revisionists would find another, one that was not such a klaxon. When I see “Accessible language” I sit back, fold my arms, and say “let’s see what you’re trying to get away with.”
The preface to the alternative rites has it that the impetus came from some clergy who have to deal with the situation of strangers who wander in demanding “christening” for their child, and who present as “godparents” folks who have even less connection to the Christian community. “In some instances there are few people present who have any real understanding of the Church’s language and symbolism. For the majority of those attending on such occasions, the existing provision can seem complex and inaccessible.” And this is of course one of the hard questions of pastoral ministry. Should one deny the benefits of baptism to a helpless child who may not have the opportunity again for many years (and one does think of Charles Williams’ novel in which a secret baptism of an infant helps to frustrate an evil man’s long plan many years later). In baptism we put a child into the hands of God; we may, collectively and individually, be privileged to be His agents, but, chiefly, we put the child into His hands.
So, puzzling over this situation and, maybe (or maybe not) hoping to make some sort of hay out of having in the church building some people who are not in the Church spiritually, one of those very English committees put together some language that, they say, is more “accessible” than that in Common Worship. Now so far this is very reasonable. Let’s see what is so incomprehensible about the baptismal rite in Common Worship, shall we?
The controversial bit seems to be as follows:
In baptism, God calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light.
To follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him.
Therefore I ask:
Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?
I reject them.
Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?
I renounce them.
Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?
I repent of them.
Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?
I turn to Christ.
Do you submit to Christ as Lord?
I submit to Christ.
Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life?
I come to Christ.
This is certainly simple language. It’s simple, clear, and “accessible,” without posh language or ambiguity. It’s hard to see what is “inaccessible” if the audience speaks English at all.
Oops. Three little words, maybe. “Devil,” “sin,” and “submit.” Ah. Words that some folks might consider – fuddy duddy. Old fashioned. Unfashionable. Its hard to choose the word that is most repellant to the modern progressive. In fact, I wonder if the Baptismal vows have been even slightly incomprehensible since 1549, when they began (modernized) “Do you forsake the devil and all his works?” That was pretty clear.
Back to the trial rite.
The questions above are changed to this:
In baptism God calls us to new life.
We die with Christ to all that destroys,
and rise to live with him for ever.
Therefore I ask:
Do you reject evil?
I reject evil.
And all its many forms?
And all its many forms.
And all its empty promises?
And all its empty promises.
The candidates, together with their parents,
godparents and sponsors, may now turn to face the
font, a cross, or the large candle.
Do you turn to Christ?
I turn to Christ.
And put your trust in him?
And put my trust in him.
And promise to follow him for ever?
And promise to follow him for ever.
So we don’t have “the devil,” we don’t have “sin,” and we don’t have “submit.” “Do you reject evil” has gotten all the attention and hand-wringing, but I think that the change from “Do you submit to Christ as Lord” to “And put your trust in him?” is sort of bigger, and the absence of “sin” is bigger still. “Sin,” however one understands it, clearly refers to our own actions. “Evil,” well, not so much. “Sin” is at least sort of defined from some sense of God’s law, some sense of His Kingdom. “Evil” can be almost anything.
One form of traditional Christian narrative (metanarrative? Do we still speak of metanarratives? I am so behind. If we do, can I has a metanarrative?) might be, “We are born into the kingdom of Satan and sin. Sin arises from listening to and acting upon the lies of the Father of Lies. To be freed of that grim kingdom and that heavy bondage, we must be born again in Jesus Christ, and the first step and first signifier of that rebirth, that change in allegiance, is baptism.”
So then I ask, what do we want to say to a bunch of people who only rarely come within range of a Christian voice? How do we, as His ambassadors, represent Jesus to them? Surely we find a way to tell the truth to them that does not set their teeth on edge. But remains true to the Truth. And the very first truth to bring home is that we are in pretty desperate straits, for which the only remedy is a new life in Jesus. Does the trial baptismal rite do this? I don’t think so. Is it better in any way than the rite in Common Worship? I doubt it. Is it more socially acceptable? Well, maybe by a little. Is being more socially acceptable a good thing? Probably not, in this case. The point should be to wake people up, not lull them. Is the uproar justified? Maybe. The alternative rite is only slightly more dilute than that in Common Worship.
Good bye old year, you oaf
The year now ending has been more oafish than usual, and I shall view it’s departure without nostalgia or regret.
It is something of a fashion, in some places at least, to expect a certain cheeriness from Christians; I am not sure why, temperament and faith being somewhat different things. My own temperament is at least sober, though not melancholy, as regards human things, though I laugh often (who could not, when listening to one’s minute granddaughter play the role of the troll in The Three Billy Goats Gruff?). After all, this year has brought us further degeneration of American culture (e.g., Miley Cyrus, all things Kardashian, Peter Jackson’s version of The Hobbit. I shall refrain from mentioning Rachel Held Evans) and even more evidence that those who govern us wish to transform us all, every and every one, into mewling, sucking infants. Such islands of creativity and joy as exist seem apt to be flooded, rather like Atlantis. The forces of intolerant inclusion campaign to silence anyone, even elderly comedians, who might say something to distress them. We have come a long way from
sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me
and not a good way, not at all.
It isn’t a pretty picture. Someone really needs to speak up for the Christians of sober mien and grim aspect.
The poet goes on to say,
Every New Year is the direct descendant, isn’t it, of a long line of proven criminals?
Well, yes. To be sure. At the New Year we resolve to do better (or, in the case of some appalling folks I’ve heard of, we resolve that other folks will do better), though we know we probably won’t. I have books I would like to write, and to read; gardening I would like to do; weight I would like to read? Shall I? Perhaps, by God’s good grace and my own effort. One can only persevere.
So we hope, restrainedly, full of confidence in the Lord but doubt in ourselves, aware of the soft veto that the disinterested so often levy. We take a deep breath, and plunge.
The other day, I was in conversation with a younger person (*sigh* These days, a “younger person” is anyone under 45) about Jesus. No I didn’t start it! Anyway, she trotted out the “Jesus was a good man who wanted to help people but never wanted to be worshiped as a god.” Old stuff, of course. I asked how she understood “I and the Father are one (John 10:30)” but that didn’t go anywhere. Since I was concerned to keep the emotional temperature low, I didn’t pursue it. The follow up question, “Do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead?” went unasked.
In retrospect, I realized that this old, sort of humanist, sort of Deist, sort of Enlightenment, minimizing of Jesus lets those who hang on to it to simply write him off. This is Jesus the social worker, a nice guy who doesn’t have an unusual or specific message. It allows a quiet life, I suppose, and undisturbed pursuit of one’s own goals. Rather nifty evasion, it is.
If the issue comes my way again, I might try, “Why not try reading the biographies written by those who knew Jesus best?” I wonder how that might work for the lamentably underinformed. In the last election, we heard a lot about “low information voters.” I wonder if we might borrow something similar to describe the victims of modern eduction?
DOMA was never a very good law, nor adequate response to the attack on marriage. Justice Kennedy needn’t have loaded his opinion with so much animus toward Congress, and Justice Scalia was right to be scandalized by that animus, and the majority opinion will be a problem for the future. But as law, DOMA was poor. Prior to DOMA, the rule of thumb for all of us bureaucratic pencil pushers (chorus of right wing boos and hisses) was that a marriage legally contracted in the jurisdiction of origin was legal wherever else the couple might go. This usually meant thinking through the more typical situation of a couple, one or both underage in their home, who cross state lines to marry in a jurisdiction with a lower legal age of consent. And that meant looking at the state law on that sort of subject. It wasn’t hard, though it did get amusingly convoluted from time to time. The situation altered when the SSM movement got off the ground. DOMA was simply not a good response to it, but there wasn’t the political force of will to federalize the matter via a constitutional amendment.
Proposition 8 is a somewhat more challenging matter. In terms of media response, one need only make a simple thought experiment: supposing the good people of California became weary of armed gangs in their cities, and by popular initiative overwhelmingly passed a well-crafted gun control Proposition, one that successfully targeted gangs, illegal gun transactions, and the like, while leaving undisturbed the right of innocent citizens to self defense or hunting or other appropriate use. Let us assume that the elected officials of California loathed this Proposition, refused to enforce it, and actively encouraged litigation to overturn it. After wending its way through the court system, the Supremes state, as they did in Proposition 8, that the rank and file citizenry have no standing to seek enforcement of a validly passed Proposition. The media firestorm would be immediate, though the matter of standing would be identical.
More generally, our culture generally has swallowed a lot of whoppers. The Father of Lies managed to persuade a couple of generations that a child in utero was not human. Once you get that one down, SSM is just dessert.
It also seems that our institutions are failing us, from the once beautiful program of public education through the court system. Right-wingers of a certain type will (not incorrectly, but maybe assuming too much intentionality) refer to “the long march through institutions.” I myself suspect that a great wind is coming, one that will prune away a great many fruitless branches. Here and there you can see the stirring of that wind in the grass and tree tops. We’ll see.
So what do Christians do? Be very fundamental, preach and teach Christ, crucified, risen, and Lord. If Jesus is at the center, the lies wither and vanish.
And, lastly, if we insist on electing scoundrels and incompetents to high office, we must assume that they will act as scoundrels and incompetents. I’ve said before and will say again, that Terry Pratchett’s finest bit of satire may have been when he located the office of the Prime Minister of The Last Continent in jail.
I was born smack in the middle of the last century, and, like many of my cohort, I’ve bobbed around on the whole Satan thing. We’re modern, right? We’ve got science. We don’t need superstition. But Jesus cast out demons! What about that? Ah, our teachers (and if you want to find out how our culture got into this mess, don’t look just at the Boomers, but also their teachers, the Professors Jennings) offered various weak ways around that little problem (“just mental illness, you know”). “Science has proven . . .” Well, no.
The longer you live, the more inexplicable horrors you see. On the one hand, you sure don’t need demonic power to explain some of the truly horrible things that people do. We’re selfish to the point of narcissism, violent, greedy, lustful, and by and large will do anything to dodge God. We have seen nations inexplicably give themselves over to mass murder and genocide. That we can also be generous, loving, and self-sacrificing just adds to the confusion.
I finally came to the conclusion that Jesus would not mislead his followers, us included in our time. There was no hidden rolling of the eyes as He cured the schizophrenics of his time, no muttered, “I’d better give them the line about demons here.” I’m sure that really advanced progressive Christians can come up with a way around that.
“Advanced Progressive Christians” like the Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church (you knew I was getting here, didn’t you?). Recently while in Venezuela, she for some reason felt obliged to preach on Acts 16:16-19. Others, many others, have dealt with the uniquely bizarre way she chose to interpret this section. I’m going to content myself with the small – I can’t possibly do better than Pewster, Fr. Tim, or CJ. But the approach, the filters she has used, are of interest.
First and most important, there are no demons. That’s right out. So the ability to discern who Paul and Silas were, and Who they served, had to come from some gift they girl possessed. So, on to No. 2: at all times, find a way to emphasize the Ministry and Gifts of Women and how they are better than men (this is a minor example of this principle, of which the nonpareil is that Jesus “learned” about His mission from the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:25-30)). A corollary is principle No. 3, Whenever possible dis St. Paul, he was a benighted and repressive fool whose sole purpose in life was to repress women.
Whether demons exist or not is not especially relevant or important at this point – only that rather than elucidate the actual text, the Presiding Bishop has essentially rewritten it to mean something entirely different from its author’s intent. Well, she wasn’t elected to be a theologian. She was elected to be a hammer, and here she has smashed anything like meaning to bits.
One does have to wonder, though. The Peeb and her associates have been taking actions which cannot possibly lead to anything other than the collapse of their church, and don’t actually seem to have any other outcome in mind. Eventually, not even the resources of Trinity Wall Street will keep the wreckage afloat. So perhaps, just perhaps, they are all (no doubt unwittingly) doing the will of their own deceitful master. Hm. Have to think about that one.
We don’t know much about St. Joseph. We can guess that he was probably relatively prosperous, we can speculate that he was possibly older than his wife, and we know that he lived through Jesus’s twelfth year. Then he kind of vanishes from the story.
Engaged to Mary, maybe established in his profession as a carpenter, he looks forward to a certain kind of life, only to find that God asks him to take on an incomprehensible burden, to be at risk of sudden and violent death, to be at any time ready to flee to safety. He could have refused; he could have quietly ended his betrothal, moved away, left Mary to face the questions that would come her way. But, like Mary, he accepted the burden, even though he hadn’t a clue about where it would take him. Maybe it’s the open ended trust we can take away from his story.
Justin Welby has gotten his tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury off to a rollicking start with the appointment of “Director of Reconciliation,” whose job, it seems, will be to keep the bickering Anglican fragments talking to each other. The action, and its somewhat Orwellian title, has been greeted with a certain amount of mockery, but it is not surprising. This sort of thing is part of the inheritance of the Church of England, though not necessarily that of the Anglican offspring.
The Church of England was always viewed by the English Establishment as an instrument of national unity, and the various Actions of Uniformity made participation in the worship fo the Church of England necessary for full participation in the political and economic life of the nation. This was a prescription for hypocrisy, of course, and also for constant blurring of the borders of the Church’s teaching. In recent times, Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple – who is still greatly revered in Britain – made a specialty of what he called “synthesis,” the art of talking to make opposing sides come to some sort of agreement. We’d call that “reconciliation.” Michael Ramsey tells an anecdote somewhere about Temple coming out of a meeting, rubbing his hands with some degree of eager anticipation, saying, “Well, we have a lot of synthesizing to do.” Incessant palaver is just a part of the Church of England’s nature.
There are limits to this of course. Much of the current tension is between those who think that the God of Christianity is a self revealing God, who it is our job to listen to, understand, and perceive on His terms, and those who think that somehow we define God. As Tom Wright has sagely pointed out, the latter group is inevitably going to become enthralled by the old gods of our fallen nature, Sex, Greed, and Force, or, to give them their ancient names, Aphrodite, Hades, and Ares – and how insightful of the ancients to make Aphrodite and Ares lovers. The leadership of The Episcopal Church is almost entirely dominated by this decrepit trinity. The domination by Aphrodite is obvious, but it is also greedy for property, and will use the force of law to obtain it.
How Christians generally, Anglican Christians especially (from my point of view), conduct their witness and their lives in the modern (post modern, post post modern) culture is a vital question. Ministry and witness to those who have fallen away is also important, and conversation may be a part of that. I doubt that it can be done in the sort of formalized chat sessions envisioned here. The manifestations of disagreement may or may not be of great importance, but the underlying problems are not really susceptible to discussion.