Nov 222013
 

On this day, we seem to have decided it’s appropriate to recall one’s first exposure to C. S. Lewis.  For me, it was somewhere around 1966, not that long after his death, in a brief and laudatory article somewhere – I’ve forgotten. I was bookish, a little sickly with asthma, so any new object of reading was a Good Thing. Every Friday evening brought a trip to our town library, after getting an injection to desensitize me to my various allergens, an injection loaded up with antihistamines to prevent serious reactions (treatments then were brute force, if in my case effective). The antihistamines served to knock me out for the weekend.

If I recall, by this time I had already discovered Dorothy Sayers and Peter Wimsey in the “mystery section,” and had already consumed in a state of ecstatic wonder The Lord of the Rings. I don’t believe that the article that piqued my interest in Lewis mentioned that he had any connection with these writers.

My first run at Lewis in the library misfired. For the life of me I could not remember his name, due to the antihistamines maybe, and picked up something by C. P. Snow instead. Probably The Two Cultures. There was, shall we say, a certain disharmony between the praise in the article I had read and the book at hand, so I went back to the article, returned Snow’s book, and picked up, I think, The Case for Christianity, and maybe Out of the Silent Planet.  And that was that.

Over the next two years I devoured as much as I could find of Lewis’s work, which was rather a lot. Most of his work was in print, and I still have most of the editions I bought then ($1.95?!).  I was not particularly religiously inclined at the time; I had gone through a fairly typical Episcopalian Sunday School education for the mid to late 1950s and early 1960s, but by some oversight of my parents I had been neither baptized nor confirmed. Six months with Lewis determined me to remedy that.

Now, fifty years after his death and not quite fifty years from my first reading of his work, I suppose that the great gift he gave me was an intellectual framework of sorts. Poorly used, no doubt at all, and probably abused sometimes, but nonetheless present; the clarity of his thought and his writing seem to have stood as barriers against sloppiness (and ours is a sloppy age). He set me off on the journey that I’ve followed, by fits and starts, inconsistently, sinfully, erratically, sullenly, resentfully, happily, ever since.

Aug 052013
 

In August, we remember two leaders of English Christianity whose stories are entwined. On August 5, we remember King Oswald of Northumbria, and at the very end of the month we remember Aidan, first bishop of Lindisfarne and the key evangelist of the the north of England. Their stories are worth a look.

King Oswald

We’re dealing with the middle of the 7th century, roughly 630-650 AD.The thing to remember about England at that time is that there was no such thing. What there was, was a confusion of small kingdoms engaged in constant war and intrigue with each other. The “Anglo-Saxon” conquest (if there was such a thing, in fact) was about a century old, and was still bitterly contested by the (more or less) Celtic and (more or less) Christian British population, which had been pushed into Wales and Cornwall. Ireland was a Christian dynamo by then, but Anglo-Saxon England was largely pagan. In the south, Augustine of Canterbury had begun his mission in 597, but that work was very slow.

Oswald was born to one of the pagan kinglets, the first to unify two small kingdoms into a larger kingdom of Northumbria. As usual, his father died in battle, in 616, and his young son took refuge among the Irish monks of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. There he learned Irish and also became a passionate Christian.  In 634 he led a very small army to reclaim his father’s throne and scored, we might say, an upset victory over a much more powerful army. He immediately sent to the monks of Iona for a missionary bishop to convert his kingdom. The first choice, one Corman or Coorman, was not very good at the missionary thing, and he was soon replaced by Aidan. At the outset of his mission, Aidan could not speak the local “English” dialect, so when he preached, Oswald stood by his side to translate.

Oswald seems to have been an effective king, as far as the measure of the time went. That was chiefly, was he a good war leader? And it seems he was. The various kinglets and princelings of England recognized no overlord, but they did sort of recognize a paramount. That wasn’t such a good thing to be. It was like being Number 1 on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Being recognized as the top king meant, “let’s attack him first,” and so it was for Oswald. He reigned only 8 years, dying in battle in 642. He seems to have been trying to make a preemptive strike against the aggressive and pagan king Penda of Mercia, but he lost, and his head was cut off and his body dismembered, maybe as a sacrifice to Odin (I don’t watch Game of Thrones, but from the publicity I don’t think the princelings of Westeros have an edge on the pagan kings of England. In addition to beheadings and dismemberings, we have betrayal, constant warfare, and poisoning – one king seems to have been poisoned by his wife at Easter. The real ones weren’t as pretty, though).

Aidan continued his mission for another decade. His missionary technique was to walk everywhere, conversing with all he met on the way. He would be friendly and open with them, and only after establishing rapport would he gently introduce the Gospel. That he was effective is undeniable. Oswald had given him the tidal island of Lindisfarne as the seat of his bishopric, and Lindisfarne became a center of learning and evangelism in the north of England that had immense influence. It certainly influenced Bede, best known today as a historian of his time, but in his life an extremely influential scholar and teacher in Northumbria. His pupil Alcuin of York was so renowned throughout northern Europe as a scholar that Charlemagne asked him to found, well, sort of a pilot school for Charlemagne’s empire.

So Oswald and Aidan brought Christianity to the north of England as Augustine and his successors did to the south. There were differences of opinion between the “Irish” and “Roman” schools of Christianity, resolved in 664 at the Synod of Whitby, where Oswald’s brother and successor, Oswiu, decided in favor of the Roman way. More or less. “More or less,” and “maybe” have to be attached to almost any statement about the time.

What is as sure as it’s possible to say is that Oswald and Aidan were essential to bringing Christianity to the north of England, and that their partnership had influences well past their lifetimes.

May 172013
 

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.

Feb 212013
 

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.

Jan 282013
 

The Presiding Bishop of The Protestant Episcopal Gay-Straight Alliance, Wine Appreciation, Handfasting, and Swanning About Society, Inc (A Hierarchal Church, you better believe it), recently visited South Carolina to lend encouragement to those who, not happy with a nice, orthodox Anglican diocese, are setting up their own.  This visit is not itself very interesting, since it’s what she does, after all.  But her little speech – not quite a sermon, though she seems to have been vested, but certainly an oration – was remarkable.  I wasted a couple of hours dissecting the dissimulations, outright deceits, outrageous theology, and general vapidity, before throwing it up (that comes too close to a metaphor) as hopeless.  Some sort of award should be forthcoming.

The outstanding image from her speech (read the whole thing here, if you dare; it’s quite short) avers that folks who make judgements contrary to GroupThink are not that far off from the thought processes of terrorists and homicidal maniacs:

Somebody decides he knows the law, and oversteps whatever authority he may have to dictate the fate of others who may in fact be obeying the law, and often a law for which this local tyrant is not the judge.  It’s not too far from that kind of attitude to citizens’ militias deciding to patrol their towns or the Mexican border for unwelcome visitors.  It’s not terribly far from the state of mind evidenced in school shootings, or in those who want to arm school children, or the terrorism that takes oil workers hostage.

It’s this passage that has gotten most attention, but the truly subtle deceit comes in her interpretation of the meaning of the first Council at Jerusalem, the one that largely freed Gentile Christians from observing the minutiae of Jewish Law.  Of course, this Council, it’s meaning and application, are still matters of robust discussion today. That’s not her point.  Her point is to raise the possibility that the debate about homosexual behaviors is pretty much the same as debating the application of the dietary law to Gentiles. That is genuinely  – well.  I don’t know.  It’s possible she’s created a need for a new noun.

But that she says things like this isn’t especially interesting, new, or even diverting anymore.  There are other things to do than gape at this sort of thing.  But I wonder about her role, a bit.  After all, we all serve God, will we or nil we.  Perhaps her role is that of a smoke (fire-and-brimstone?) detector, or radiation dosimeter, for those genuinely faithful Christians who remain in The Protestant Episcopal Gay-Straight Alliance, Wine Appreciation, Handfasting, and Swanning About Society, Inc (A Hierarchal Church, you better believe it).  A hardy bunch, they are, determined to stick it out to the end.  They have an endless supply of last ditches.  Perhaps the Peeb’s function is to make it clear that she will fill every last one of those ditches with fire.

It’s a matter of intense amusement that on the website linked above, the first and most laudatory comment (“Brilliant! As always. . .”) comes from Bishop-in-Waiting Albert Cutié (oh, look him up if you’ve forgotten).  And it’s also worthy of note that this speech may mark the final abandonment of “pluriform truth” (whatever that meant) in favor of an elaborate doublethink combined with a cult of personality.

Nov 152012
 

In the shambles that used to be The Episcopal Church, a purge is heading to some sort of conclusion.  Changes to the disciplinary rules (they’re called ‘canons’ to make them sound nicer than ‘regulations’) allow anyone to accuse anyone else of anything, at any time, and for the accusation to proceed to disposition and sentence without the impediment of defense or trial (I’m abbreviating, but in practice that is what is happening) or appeal.  These changes were designed to suppress dissent over the direction that the current management wishes to take.  They have very tender ears, and the very mild objections they have heard from some of the officers, crew, and passengers aboard the Ship of Faith has hurt them deeply.

The most recent purgey actions have been the Presiding Bishop (or “Queeg,”) actions to suspend (the ecclesiastical term is “inhibit”) the Bishop of South Carolina for . . . well, that’s hard to say.  Being a Christian, one suspects.  Disagreeing with her, certainly.  This, preparatory to firing him (“depose”).  More recently, she has also dismissed that Diocese’s Standing Committee (think, “cabinet”) and declared the Diocese to be salvage.

In another but similar situation, the Queeg and her minions have taken aim at a number of current and retired Bishops for the unspeakably vile offense of disagreeing with her in public about the nature of her authority.  Bear in mind that for the most part these are bishops who have stuck to the possibly naive opinion that they could maintain an orthodox and faithful Christian witness within The Episcopal Church despite the current climate and the somewhat grand conception of her authority possessed by the Queeg.  Their responses are usually a mild tut-tuttery, blaming the court around the Queeg rather than the Queeg herself.  “She is but misled!”  My oh my.  It’s amusing to consider a counterattack – the Communion Partner bishops could unilaterally declare any see vacant where the incumbent has ever said anything remotely at odds with Nicene Christianity, or declare the Queeg’s office vacant for uncanonical acts and misdemeanors.  But that won’t happen.

The Queeg, however, quite obviously sees herself as the hammer of the faithful, a hammer whose task it is to shatter and sweep away all opposition.  She was elected to her position for that purpose, and embraces it happily.

Sardonic commenters, who realize what is going on, amuse themselves by speculating whether this or that lackey is best likened to Felicks Dzerzhinsky or Genrikh Yagoda, but that amusement only serves to mitigate what is a rather sad scene.

Some informative links; they’ll take you to others to give the full picture of this risible mess.

http://themcj.com/?p=37402

http://www.standfirminfaith.com/?/sf/page/29676

http://accurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2012/11/deranged-and-delusional-charges.html

 

 

 

Jun 302012
 

Deny it as they might, there’s a quality of the (self-defined) progressive mind that admires strong-arm leadership, dislikes dissent, and is uncomfortable with the chaotic haggling and discussions of democracy.  Since it is, to them, self-evident that what they want is right, absolutely right, discussion or dissent or questioning is not merely a waste of time, it is nearly treasonous.

As a part of it’s litigation to secure the property of various dioceses unhappy with the Manifest Progressive Destiny of The Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC has claimed that it is a “hierarchal” church to a degree that makes the Roman Catholic Church look like an especially boisterous commonwealth.  This assertion, if accepted by the various courts in which TEC is litigating, would give it certain advantages.  It is, however, a somewhat novel assertion, and one with which not everyone would agree.  The alternative understanding, that TEC is a union of equal partners over which the Presiding Bishop presides but does not rule, has probably prevailed historically, but it is inconvenient for the purposes of the current litigation.  Yet it is a position which has historic roots, and can be held with integrity.

Until today, it seems.  Someone, as yet unknown officially, has lodged complaints against ten count them ten bishops of TEC for agreeing with an amicus curiae brief filed in connection with TEC’s litigation against the Diocese of Quincy.  This brief argued the position that TEC is not nearly so hierarchal.  This seems to have miffed someone immensely, so immensely as to file charges (I’m betting on something to do with “abandoning the Doctrine and Discipline of this Church”) on the eve of TEC’s General Convention.  The investigation and show trial will proceed accordingly.  If we are very, very lucky, the term “breaker” will appear in the prosecution.

Today’s Episcopal Church:  Where Dissent is Cause for Dismissal.

Jan 182012
 

I cannot for the life of me understand why those bishops of The Episcopal Church who by litigation obtain the right to control parish churches for which they have, by and large, paid nothing, cannot find the generosity of heart of then sell the property to the congregations who have cherished and maintained them for many years.  The diocese is unlikely to be able to fill the church, after all.  And the departing congregation and TEC are by and large not in any business sense, rivals.  A mystery, that is.

This story came to my attention because my wife grew up near Bay Village and if we should visit her hometown again it would be at Christ Church that we would worship.  The Bishop of Cleveland felt moved to say (and I don’t know why they do these things.  It seems to be reflexive and automatic)

there is a range of understanding as to whether Jesus is the only way to salvation.

In our belief that God is generous . . . many of us suspect that in striving for intimacy with all human beings, God can achieve it through varying faith experiences and traditions.

This has caused a certain amount of merriment, often along the lines of ‘of course they want to get away from you, you impecunious post modernist.’  The comment itself and those like it should probably replace the Creeds in the next version of TEC’s Book of Common Prayer.  Just for fun, and as a sort of exercise, let’s look at the layers of content in this 46 words.

First off, a lay person does not need to hear a bishop provide reasons not to be a Christian.  We can come up with those on our own.  You are a Christian Bishop, and part of your job is to come up with good reasons to be Christian.

Second, avoiding the whole “I am the way, the truth, and the life” thing plays into the hands of those who like to portray Christians, especially anything like traditional Christians, as chuckleheads whose stock in trade is repression, dictatorial dogma, and narrow-mindedness.  It’s always a mistake to address the straw men.

Going a little deeper, you really have to ask “what do you mean, salvation?  Salvation from what, and why?  And, now that I think of it, ‘Who do you say Jesus is?’ ” If you believe that Jesus is fully man and fully God, in whom the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity became incarnate in the world for the sake of all humankind, then it might be wise not to be so hasty to minimize His mission.  If you do not believe that, well, then say so.  And get honest work.

On the third or fourth hand (I’m losing track), it’s quite sufficient to say that the salvation of those who are not Christians is in God’s hands, but that it is clear from the Gospel that judgment occurs.  It’s the business of Christians and their churches to be witnesses to the saving actions of Jesus, rather than minimizing their importance. And the slight, common, personalization of it all by saying, “God can achieve it (intimacy with all human beings) through varying faith experiences,” makes salvation (whatever Bishop Hollingsworth means by that) more a matter of what one feels from moment to moment rather than something done by God.  And then there’s the icky drippiness of “intimacy with all human beings.”  That sounds more like something coming out of Playboy Mansion West rather than from a bishop of the line of John Jewel, Thomas Cranmer, and Lancelot Andrewes.

And that is the whole sad story in a nutshell.

Jan 122012
 

Valuable reports from the Winter Conference of the Anglican Mission, here.

I have no trouble seeing The Episcopal Church as essentially bankrupt in the important ways. Or that there is much mission work, in the sense of Gospel-proclaiming, Christian-forming, Worshiping, to be done in North America

I have no trouble seeing that there is need for similar work, by someone, throughout Western Europe.

I have no trouble seeing the Anglican Communion as currently rudderless and dismasted, though I think this is a bit of Our Lord’s creative destruction.

But I cannot for the life of me see a need for an independent, global, Anglican missionary society whose leadership has already shown a tendency to be heedless of the authority.  This is heading for toe-stomping territory.  There are Anglican provinces throughout the world, some lively, some less so (the greater TEC’s influence, the more moribund).  In some places, let us say, China, missionary work must be done with care and circumspection; in others, in South America for example, there are already Anglican missionary efforts.  In places like Egypt, Anglican efforts are real but delicately balanced.  A new, global, independent, and unaccountable missionary society makes little sense to me.

Maybe I am hopelessly parochial.  I wait to be persuaded.