Wednesday, December 30, 2009
It struck me a few months ago very powerfully that there is one more place: “And he said, ‘Abba, …’” (Mark 14:36).
Abba is usually translated “Father”, and is presented as such in the three places where the word is used in the New Testament, but teachers often explain that Abba really means “Papa” or “Daddy”, i.e. what a small child would say to his own father. [However, see the first and second comments to this blogpost.] It is a term that demonstrates personal and familial, trusting intimacy. When we consider that it is how Jesus addressed the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane at the beginning of his Passion, it is deeply moving. He prayed tenderly to his Father that he might be delivered from “the Cup”—and the Father refused. It is only a chapter later that the words, Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani are recorded. Yet we also know that even this experience was an expression of the Father’s love for his Son and the world into which he had become incarnate in order to save it.
When we are taught that Abba is the term that believers may also use to address God, it proclaims a reality that is nothing less than breathtaking. We find this teaching in Romans 8:15 (“You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”) and Galatians 4:6 (“Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’”). To think that we sinful human believers can address the Creator of the Universe with such a term tells us something extraordinary about God, and something indescribable about ourselves in relationship with him. It tells us that we are children of God—not just in some sort of sentimental way, but in a reality that is immeasurable.
I don’t think that the term Abba can be adequately translated into English. To address God in prayer as “Papa” or “Daddy” just seems to me so insufficient. Yet how can one “claim” the unique reality of the relationship that is the birthright of the born again? “Father” is truly a very rich form of prayerful invocation, often used both liturgically and personally and rightly so, but Abba means so much more than that. It struck me recently that the word needn’t be translated at all—one may simply address God as Abba. And so I have, when I needed comfort or sought guidance in times of stress, pain, and trouble. It was in such a time that Jesus himself addressed God as Abba. There is nothing inadequate about Jesus’ own word. If it cannot be translated, it can, perhaps, be pictured. To the right is a photograph of one such occasion.
So many, many people were not sufficiently held and hugged when they were children that it shows in their adult lives—sometimes dramatically. My blogpost of over three years ago, Hugs and Kisses, is one of my favorites. It really provides the background to this blogpost. I realize now that genuine, pure affection in Christ’s Name is one meaning of Abba as expressed in this life. In so many ways, it tells us who we really are in Christ. To pray Abba is to know that one is safe, loved, accepted, warm, and fully content in the arms of the One who loves us truly, fully, perfectly, unconditionally, and eternally. Even the best parents, spouses, or friends cannot give that message consistently. When we pray as Jesus did, Abba, when we need it most, we may catch a glimpse of that world where we are truly, fully, perfectly, unconditionally, and eternally loved.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Judge for yourself:
On Friday, November 6, I began a two-day trip to the mud caves (see my previous posts here and here) with three other adults (Kevin, Leslie, and Joi) and five preteens (seen below, left to right, Phillip and Olivia, Emeth, Tabby, and Zinnie).
(The photos in this blogpost were taken by Joi Weaver.)
We traveled in two vehicles: a borrowed Jeep and a borrowed Ford F-250. After a drive of several hours we arrived at the turnoff from the asphalt of S-2 to the dirt road that begins the seven-mile drive that culminates at our customary camping spot at the site of the mud caves.
The Adventure Begins
After driving slightly more than a mile, the Ford (which I was driving) got stuck in sand. Although the road has always had sand on it, I have never seen it as unpredictable as it was this time. There were pockets of sand in ruts level with the hard road so that it was very difficult to tell where soft ground was located. The fact that we entered the road near twilight made discernment even more difficult.
At first I thought that it would be easy to grind out of the sand, but a little work and observation showed me that I wouldn’t be able to extract the vehicle without help. Putting branches under the tires and pushing didn’t help at all.
Things became more complicated when I noticed that the front tires were pointing in two different directions; the right tie rod had snapped. Aaargh! We weren’t going anywhere without some professional mechanical attention. The adventure had begun, especially since we were about 35 miles from the closest town and it was rapidly becoming dark.
So we unpacked what we needed for dinner, built a fire and roasted hot dogs. I surmised to the group that we would probably have to camp right where we were. I checked my cell phone and noted, to my surprise, that it had coverage. Just a short distance away, a little farther into the desert, coverage is nil. I called the Automobile Club for assistance, and was told that my policy did not cover me if I were “off road”. I replied that I was on a road that even had a name, although it was a dirt road; I wasn’t driving pell-mell across the desert. The dispatcher I talked to wasn’t quite convinced but said she’d send a truck out anyway.
So the nine of us gathered into a circle and prayed something like, “Lord, we are in your hands, as we are in all things. You know our needs. We pray that you will deliver us from our situation safely, quickly, and in the best way. Give us patience and build our trust in you; in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
Not long after that, a truck came toward us from the direction of the mud caves. A young man and his girlfriend stopped and asked if we needed help. When we told him our situation, he smiled and said that he could pull us out. “I do this all the time,” he said. “He does this all the time,” echoed his girlfriend.
He had a thick strap in the back of his truck, attached it to the rear of our Ford, and slowly pulled. We watched the front of the Ford to make sure that the wheels would handle the towing okay. As soon as the Ford was free of the sand, he stopped towing. We thanked him and I asked their names, “Chris”, he said, and his girlfriend was Katie. After some more pleasantries, they drove off.
Chris, I thought. Short for ‘Christopher’—meaning, ‘one who carries Christ.’
Next, the tow truck driver called me and asked for clearer directions about our location. I provided them and then said that I would meet him at the turnoff. Kevin and I got into the Jeep, turned around, and headed back toward the asphalt. Less than a quarter mile from the Ford, I quipped, “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the Jeep got stuck in the sand?”
Kevin, driving, looked at me out of the corner of his eye, unamused. Within ten seconds were we stuck in the sand.
A couple of minutes later a pickup truck carrying eight or ten highly elated young people, probably in their early twenties, came by. Most of them were in the truck bed. Later, we came to call them “The Exuberant People”, for they had been partying and were probably heading into the desert for more partying.
When they saw Kevin and me standing outside the Jeep and looking disconsolately at our vehicle, they stopped and asked if we needed anything. When we explained our predicament, they said that they could help. They all leaped out of their truck.
In the meantime, the tow truck appeared in the distance, the row of amber lights atop its cab shining across the road in the dark. The driver was creeping forward and finally stopped where we were gathered. He dismounted and I approached him and explained how the situation had become more complex.
He shook his head. “This truck weighs eight tons. If I get stuck in the sand, it’s all over. I don’t think I can do this. I can’t even turn around.”
“We’ll do it!” shouted two or three of the Exuberant People. They asked to borrow the tow truck’s shovel and chains. The dug around the Jeep’s wheels, tied the chains to their own truck, and began to pull. About six people got behind the Jeep and pushed. Dusty sand spewed back into these folks as the Jeep inched out. When it was free, the entire crowd whooped, hollered, and danced as if they were at a football game and their side had just scored a touchdown.
Then Kevin drove the Jeep back to the turnoff, where the asphalt was. The Exuberant People followed him to make sure he made it there safely, and then drove him back to us. Kevin was electric with excitement at driving in the back of the pickup with a crowd of such party-driven young folks. During the drive he told them that I was a priest. Shocked, they immediately told Kevin that they were all going to hell because they do such bad things. “But you just did a good thing,” Kevin rejoined, and added, “besides, I bet the priest will pray to God to bless you.”
“Really?” they gasped, “He’d really do that?”
Meantime, I’d been talking to the tow truck driver. “Naw,” he apologized. “I can’t do this. I can’t go any farther. This truck weighs eight tons, and if it gets stuck in sand it’s all over.”
“That’s okay,” I said. I signed his work order, noting that his name was “Kris”. Hmm, I thought. Some form of Christopher, maybe. Again, one who carries Christ. He helped in the way he could but he was probably right. He backed out (literally) from our situation, with the parting advice that “there are professionals who can come get you out, but they charge $180 per hour.”
“Thanks!” I shouted, waving toward his vanishing headlights. The only professional in the group, a friendly fellow with good intentions and wanting to help, had been influenced by fear not to continue. Maybe he was right. I had no complaints.
By this time, an orange moon just past the full had risen over the black ridge of mud hills to the east. Its beauty made me catch my breath. Stars were appearing in the ever-darkening sky. It was cool but not too cold—just very pleasant. It stayed that way all night.
In the meantime, another truck full of young people had come by. These were about four or five young men. They’d passed the tow truck and stopped when they saw our crowd, and had overheard the final conversation. The driver leaned out the window toward me and confided, “He could have made it. He could have turned around on this road no problem. Well… where is your other truck?”
He followed me the three hundred yards to where the rest of our party had been waiting, and pulled to a stop. He leaned out the window again and said, “It happens that I am a Ford mechanic. I’ll look at it. I’m in no hurry. We don’t have any place to be, except our own camp.” He stepped down from the cab and lay on his back under our Ford’s right front fender. A friend held a flashlight for him.
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s a tie rod. Not really a big deal. You can get these in most auto parts stores and probably put it in right here. But…” He slid out, went over to his truck, and came back with some wire, plastic ties, and a couple of tools. “Hold the light right here,” he told his friend. I heard the sound of metal against metal. Our party as well as all of the Exuberant People watched. One of the Exuberant People called her mother to say, “We just pulled a priest out of the sand.” She was floating with excitement over our adventure that had become her adventure.
Five minutes later the fellow slid out again from under the Ford. “Alright,” he said. “You can probably drive it back to S-2. Don’t drive any farther than that. As long as you drive forward the wheels should naturally hold their position, but if you go backward, you’ll twist them.”
“Right,” I said, and got in, thinking that now I’ll have drive forward, find a place to turn around in the dark, and then come back. I was thinking about how the tow truck driver had said that if he turned around, he’d get stuck in the sand for sure. I started the engine and drove about ten feet.
“Wait a minute,” interrupted the mechanic, putting his hand on the door. “How about if I turn it around for you?” I tried not to appear too eager as I leaped from the cab. He managed to do a careful three-point turn, backing it up with a steady hand and then pulling it forward. “There you go,” he said.
I thanked him and everyone else, and felt we were all but delivered. I ensconced myself in the cab with four passengers and drove off, churning forward slowly but steadily and without changing speed once I got the vehicle going. The Exuberant People and the young men continued their journey along the dirt road. I thought to myself that we had prayed in a place far from civilization, and within an hour three different groups with a total of at least 15 people had shown up to help us, the largest group convinced that they were hell-bound.
I made it to the highway without incident. Both vehicles and all supplies were now safe at the roadside. I left my passengers and walked back along the road to meet the rest of our party who’d had to walk the mile or so from where we’d been stuck. Before too long our entire party was together again.
We set up camp and in an hour or so everyone was bedded down.
An hour or two later, the Exuberant People came roaring by, whooping and hollering as before. When they saw our trucks, they shouted, “Everybody okay out there?” I wasn’t quite asleep yet —I think—and I smiled wryly when I heard the shout.
“Yeah!” someone shouted back—I think it was Kevin.
“Great!” they shouted back. “Be sure you don’t drive that truck any more, or you’ll kill yourselves!”
“We won’t!” responded Kevin. “Thanks again!”
Their truck continued out to S-2, and off they drove with a series of whoops that didn’t stop, but merely faded with distance.
The Adventure Continues
On Saturday we woke to a bright day already well in progress.
After breakfast I tried to call the Auto Club again and arrange for a tow, although I didn’t know where I could have the truck towed. I toyed with the idea of driving the Ford “slowly” to Julian, the lovely gold-rush town we pass through on our way to the mud caves. A quick look under the truck showed me that I could probably have made it at least ten or fifteen feet before the makeshift job would quit on me.
I turned my cell phone on and noticed that 1) I had no coverage and 2) my battery was flashing low. I’d figured I had maybe half a charge before leaving home but knew that at the mud caves there was no coverage whatever, so I just brought the phone as it was, thinking I’d only need it for when I was driving.
I began to walk around the desert, looking for a place where the phone would work. I finally found a live spot and called for another tow. While the tow truck was on the way, I had to figure where to have the Ford towed. The previous tow truck driver had said that he didn’t know of any garages in either Julian (population about 1,600) or Borrego Springs (population about 2,500). Borrego Springs was somewhat back in the direction we needed to go, but on another road that swerved out of our way. I was a little familiar with Julian and didn’t know of any place there where I could get the truck fixed, so I decided to try Borrego Springs. The Exuberant People had shown me a flyer the night before and I had written down the phone numbers for both the Ranger Station and the Visitors’ Center in Borrego Springs.
The Ranger Station was closed. I called the Visitor Center and a man answered the phone. I quickly explained our situation and asked, “Do you know of any mechanic in Borrego Springs who is open on Saturday and does a good job?”
“It just so happens, I do!” he said. “Call Tito’s. He’s even got my car right now. He’s good and honest and inexpensive.” He provided the number. I called, and Tito said I could bring the truck in. I breathed a sigh of relief. I could now almost see the end of the tunnel. With every problem, we had to do three things: 1) get the facts about our situation, 2) consider our options, and 3) make a decision and act on it. There was always a solution.
An hour or so later the tow truck arrived and pulled the Ford onto the flatbed. Can you guess the driver’s name? No—it was Bobby. The two vehicles got started, caravanning north on S-2 to Borrego Springs. Bobby dropped us at Tito’s. Tito looked under the truck and said, “I’ll have to order the parts. I can’t get them until Monday.”
I agreed, of course, and then called a member of the parish who owns a home in Julian. Her daughter was one of our party. We made arrangements to meet someone who had a key to the place. With that, we had a place to stay.
There was only one more problem to solve. I asked Tito if he knew any place in Borrego Springs where I could rent a car. Not likely, I thought, in a desert town of 2,500 population.
“Sure,” he said. He called someone. “They have one car left,” he reported back. “I’ll drive you there.” There was an airstrip about the size of a band-aid a mile to the east. Tito drove me there where I made arrangements to rent a Saturn Ion—pretty banged up but drivable.
“Sometimes the ignition won’t let the key go,” said Louise, from whom I rented the car. She gave me a second key in case I needed it. In a few minutes I was back at Tito’s and we loaded up what we needed from the Ford into the Saturn. Then we drove into the center of town for lunch.
Then we drove the 35 miles or so from Borrego Springs to Julian, and arrived in the late afternoon. I made several necessary calls, noting that with each call the battery got lower and lower. We unpacked and, for the first time, relaxed. About 5:30 p.m. I said Mass for the group.
During the Mass we prayed, thanking God for delivering us from the desert and asking a blessing on all the people who had helped us—especially the Exuberant People, who had been so surprised that someone would pray a blessing upon them.
And then we ate dinner. After dinner, the kids watched the movie “Annie”.
The next day four of our number departed after breakfast, driving the Jeep back home where those four had commitments that couldn’t wait overnight. Leslie and I were left with three preteens—Zinnie, whose mother owned the house in which we were staying, and Leslie’s son and daughter, Phillip and Olivia.
My phone went totally dead in the morning, and wouldn’t even turn on. Leslie had been using her phone sparingly since its battery was also low. It became our only way to make or receive calls.
We spent the afternoon in Julian. The key to the Saturn did in fact stick in the ignition a couple of times, but I managed to work it loose after a minute or two of patient jiggling. When we got home at night, however, the key wouldn’t release from the ignition no matter what I did. After fifteen minutes I finally gave up, concluding that that was why Louise had given me two keys for the car. I could leave one in the ignition, lock the car, and then unlock it the next day with the second key. We watched “Annie” a second time that night.
The Adventure Continues Again
The next day we cleaned up the house thoroughly, repacked the car, and loaded ourselves into it, planning to drive to Borrego Springs to pick up the Ford about 5:00 p.m., which is the time that Tito said it should be ready. I turned the key, and the battery was the deadest battery I have ever seen. There wasn’t a sound, not even a click. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
I pursed my lips and borrowed Leslie’s phone to call the Auto Club for the third time. I had to walk to the end of the block to get coverage.
An hour later another tow truck showed up. A man who looked like Santa Claus in the off-season got out and opened the hood. The Saturn battery was unlike any I’ve ever seen, and it appeared to puzzle the driver too. After a few minutes he managed to put his cables into a workable position and asked me to try to start the car. Nothing happened. He repositioned the cables, and this time I got a click, but no more. He said we should just wait five minutes for the battery to charge and then try again. After five minutes the engine started.
He removed the cables, advised me not to turn the engine off for at least fifteen minutes, got into his truck, and headed out. We all piled into the Saturn again and reversed down the driveway. I realized immediately that the power steering had gone out. It was like trying to steer an elephant as I made the three-point turn to head toward the highway. (I found out later that it was a blown fuse. Easy to fix.)
I parked the car with the engine running, and flagged the tow truck driver down, who had made a U-turn down the street and was passing by us. He pulled over. I explained the problem and he responded that power steering was outside his area of knowledge. He asked for the owner’s manual, which I found. We looked up power steering and read that if there is a problem we should call the dealer. Fortunately the dealer’s number was in the front of the manual. He advised us to drive into Julian and park there, then call the dealer and ask what to do. He wished us luck and drove off.
I followed him and realized that driving wasn’t so bad now. Instead of driving like an elephant it was more like a hippopotamus as long as I was going fairly straight. I quickly conferred with Leslie and we decided just to try to drive all the way to Borrego Springs rather than turn the car off after just a few minutes and then probably need to call the Auto Club a fourth time. We made it along the winding roads through the hills east of Julian to the desert floor and all the way back to Borrego Springs without mishap.
We’re okay now, I thought. We’ll pick up the truck and be home in three or four hours.
The Adventure Continues Even More
We pulled up at Tito’s in the early afternoon. He came over and said, “I called your cell phone. I can’t get the parts until tomorrow. They have to come from another source.”
Leslie and I turned to each other and said, as we had before, “the adventure continues.” I used Leslie’s phone to check with Zinnie’s mother, who said we could stay a third night in her home. We’d turned her house key in and now had to arrange for it to be left for us a second time. I called the fellow who had it, and he was on his way out of town to get his car fixed! Well, at least that confirmed my suspicion that there were no garages in Julian. He said he’d be back later that day but not too quickly. Well, that was okay.
I used Tito’s phone to call the airport to see if they had another rental car by now, and they did. I drove the Saturn back and traded it for another one. The new one, equally old and banged up, only had a trunk whose lock couldn’t be worked with the key, but the engine worked fine. I took it. We had to open the trunk from inside the car.
We packed up again, had lunch, drove to the Visitors’ Center for an hour’s relaxation, and then returned to Julian. We ate dinner out, and then drove back to the home well after dark, where the key fortunately was where it was supposed to be. Then, leapin' lizards, the kids watched “Annie” for the third time.
Well, after that things went rather smoothly. The next day we cleaned the house a second time, drove into the Anza Borrego Desert for a picnic lunch on top of Ghost Mountain (see this previous blogpost), where Marshal South had lived with his family from 1930 to 1946, and then back to Tito’s in Borrego Springs. Work on the truck was completed about an hour after we arrived, we returned the Saturn to the airport, and drove home. We got back to the church about 8:45 p.m.
Lewis wrote, “In [prayer] God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary—not necessarily the most important one—from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is.”
We never made it to the mud caves on this trip, but we had an adventure that bound the travelers together as we worked to solve our problems. We saw our prayers being answered repeatedly; we are convinced that there were far too many “coincidences” for them just to be chance. Even a blogpost this long does not recount everything that happened and all the blessings we received. Yet there were no “miracles”, and we certainly had to live with the consequences of our decisions, such as not charging our phones before leaving home. At no time did any child wonder where we would eat, where we would sleep, or how we were going to get home. No one was ever afraid, no one got impatient. No one complained. Throughout all, there were confidence, joy, and deepening love for one another. We were blessed far more than we had even asked for in our prayers.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Not too long ago I found out that eunoia is the shortest word in English that contains all the vowels—unless you want to count iouea which is a genus of creataceous fossil sponges, which is the shortest four-syllable word in English. However, I don’t count it; it’s too obscure and eclectic. Of course, eunoia is neither.
When I found out that eunoia means “beautiful thinking”, my devotion to the word was sealed. I suppose it could be translated “good thinking”, for its component Greek words are eu (good) and noia (thinking).
The first word is found in eucharist—thanksgiving, another name for the Mass; it literally means “good gift”, eu charism. It’s also found in the word Tolkien coined: eucatastrophe—some awful thing that happens that turns out to have been a necessary occurrence for a tremendous blessing. If eu goes beyond “good” to meaning “beautiful”, though, what new meaning is put into these other familiar words: “beautiful gift” and “beautiful catastrophe”.
Noia, according to the very smart Micah Snell, is the participial form of the Greek verb noeo, which means to perceive, to think, to suppose, etc. It is a very deep verb obviously related to nous—which is equivalent to “mind”.
Micah points out that metanoia is thus an “after-thought”, whence it readily becomes “repentance”; and paranoia is “beyond thought”, or derangement/madness.
Good thinking can mean thinking logically or maybe even being able to add inspiration or creativity to logic, thereby coming to a result that not only makes sense but is pleasing. Beautiful thinking, though, says that and more. It recognizes that “beauty” is a quality or virtue in things themselves—that the concept of “beauty” is not merely a subjective evaluation, i.e. a matter of opinion, but is a reality inherent in the order of things. The difference is of incalculable significance.
To think “beautifully”, then, is to be able to use one’s mind in harmony with the order of things. It’s a great Buddhist or Taoist concept, but best of all it’s a striking Christian concept. It means laying aside the “sin which clings to closely” (Hebrews 12:1), which is “crouching at the door” (Genesis 4:7), whose desire against us must be ruled over. The mind is the first spiritual battleground, for whatever evil we commit must begin by being thought about and then consented to.
We regularly confess that we have sinned against God and our neighbor in “thought, word, and deed” (Book of Common Prayer, pages 331, 360); I hope that most serious Christians are able to identify sins of “word” and “deed” pretty effectively, but sins of “thought” may be more difficult to identify, for they occur only within our own minds; no one hears them and no one is affected by them—at least not directly or observably. Sins of thought include inner pride, lustful fantasies, contempt of others, dreams of wealth and luxury, “what I would do if I ruled the world”, whining and self-pity, daydreams of manipulating people to suit our wishes and pleasures, entertaining vortices of thoughts of self-righteousness and holding grudges against people, refusing to forgive others or ask forgiveness from them, attributing attitudes and motives to others that permit us to hold them in contempt, and the like. These things are all muddy thinking that lead to perverse and wicked thinking and mental acts of the rebellious will—decidedly unlovely and unattractive. Ugly.
Eunoia, then, beautiful thinking, is where virtue begins, for eunoia cannot abide ugly thinking. Beautiful thinking is what results in genuine love and strength. Paul commended eunoia when he wrote, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). This does not mean, “daydream about these things,” but rather, “put these things into your mind as the basis of your life,” for when whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise is at home in one’s mind, there cannot be much room for anything that is false, underhanded or manipulative, prejudicial or partisan, debased, ugly, perverted, exploitative, rapacious, or shameful.
Eunoia is the shortest word in English that contains all the vowels. Vowels are sounds that are neither truncated nor hard. Vowel sounds can last as long as there is breath to make them. Select the “voice” option in a synthesizer and you get the vowel sounds of “ooh” and “aah” to express wonder and joy and excitement. “Eunoia” has all the vowels wrapped up closely. I’m committed to it.
Friday, October 16, 2009
For any traditional believer or traditional congregation in the Episcopal Church, these are dark and grievous days. News is abundant and widespread of persecution of traditional believers, and continuous and progressive rejection of traditional beliefs and practices by the leadership of the Episcopal Church. Many traditional Episcopalians are well-versed in these apostasies and travails, and have developed facility in doom-saying and disparagement.
Nevertheless, it is unbecoming of Christians to let these things be uppermost in our life, for life in Jesus is always joyful and full of hope that does not disappoint. It seems good to me to remember and recount some of the great strengths of Anglicanism. Though they have not always been foremost in our tradition, and are mostly the exception today (at least in the Episcopal Church), these strengths are fundamental to the heart and life of Anglicanism.
At the time of the Reformation Anglicanism succeeded in actually “reforming” itself, i.e. it maintained the riches of the undivided Church while purifying its doctrines and practices. Because of this, for example, Anglican laity have a place in leadership; we recognize saints in the original, “old fashioned” way; we permit pious opinions to differ on lesser doctrines; and we allow priests and bishops to marry. Anglicanism is neither authoritarian nor congregational. Anglicanism was one of the first Communions at the time of the Reformation to restore the liturgy to the language of the people and the only one to emphasize and balance both Word and Sacrament. Its liturgy remained Catholic but became accessible to the laity.
Anglicanism is known for beautiful liturgy; there are few services more beautiful than Anglican cathedral Evensong. Anglicanism is known for producing good music and has produced some of the best hymn writers and musicians in the history of the Church. Anglicanism is known for “good taste”, at its best being neither too maudlin in its prayers, nor too shallow in its teaching, nor too sterile in its theology.
Anglicanism has the humility never to have claimed to be “the” Church, but rather has striven to be the via media, the “middle way” that is attractive to Christians of many different styles and backgrounds. Therefore Anglicanism was able to recognize the strengths and gifts in each of the fragments of the broken Church, and was the first to exercise leadership in ecumenical matters, striving to bring Christians of differing churches, backgrounds, and convictions into unity.
Anglican missionary practice is to move leadership to indigenous people as quickly as is practical. Anglicans are consistently good financial givers. The best Anglican theologians are parish priests and educated laity rather than academics or monastics—that is, our understanding of theology is grounded in daily life rather than “ivory towers”. At its best, Anglicanism does not compromise the truths of revealed and received Christianity but lives them out in pastoral situations—that is, in the daily lives of the faithful.
Anglicanism is truly comprehensive, able to live from time to time with anomaly for the sake of truth. Anglicanism values moderation in all things, thereby becoming able to see the “whole picture”. Anglicanism values the place of the human mind and reason in educating and shaping people into sanctity. Questioning is encouraged not to make a virtue out of doubt, but to provide the occasion for deep conversion and formation of individuals and communities.
Anglicanism is centrally Scriptural without being either unthinkingly, rigidly fundamentalistic or tolerant of a disregard for Scriptural authority. Anglicans produced the King James Version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. Most of the great renewal movements of the past few centuries that have influenced many other churches originated in Anglicanism. Many of the greatest preachers of past centuries have been Anglicans. Many of the most influential and effective teachers, writers, and workers of the Christian world over the past few centuries have been Anglicans. Off the top of my head I can think of C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Charles Williams, T. S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Florence Nightingale, William Wilberforce, William Law, Richard Hooker, John and Charles Wesley, John Donne, and George Herbert.
There may be some readers of this blog who will want to post a response listing the many exceptions and violations of these principles, or postulate that what I have written is mostly a nostalgic remembrance of past glories that are no more. They may be right; time will tell. Even if they are, however, I think it is good to remember the glories of our heritage, for what is not of God will fade, and what is true will be preserved. There is much in Anglicanism that is true for all time, not found very often in other churches, and which we must make sure that traditionalists do not permit to slip away because we are too busy complaining.
Friday, September 18, 2009
The strength of the Anglican Communion is its diversity and inclusivity, as well as the freedom to dissent from the powers that be. Schism, even if based on conscience, is inconsistent with that. In reaching the accomdation that you did, you failed in your duty as a leader and rector. You can - and should - vociferously express your disagreement with TEC policies. You also can - and should - encourage your parishioners to express dissenting views from yours. Your job as Rector is create an atmosphere of unity through enforcing respect for the differing opinions that will always be present in a truly Anglican communion. It is that diversity, that tolerance of disent, that makes us Anglo, and not Roman, Catholics.
The writer was a parishioner of Blessed Sacrament for several years, and moved away roughly twenty years ago. Although he stated that he was responding to the blogpost, the assertions and accusations he put into his comments show that he’s not familiar with what we have published or what we are doing—and not even aware of what the blogpost said. As I read what he wrote, I scratched my head wondering if he had even read what he claimed he’s responding to.
His comments tell me what I can and should be doing; these statements puzzle me since I have been doing these very things in the parish for over thirty years. He should know this first-hand from his time as a member of this parish; I DO encourage parishioners to share their convictions when they differ from mine and from each other. This individual was certainly allowed a place in our parish life without being muzzled in any way, and stayed with us for many years—comfortably, I believe, and hope.
Read my print: This parish is NOT going into schism, and we have consistently rejected that course of action, and repeatedly explained why. Further—along with most of the Anglican Communion—this parish has vociferously and publicly rejected the escalating and continuing apostasies of the Episcopal Church. We will not accept them and we will continue to protest them, though it is evident that the leadership of the Episcopal Church is swelled up with monstrous arrogance and determined to keep the pedal to the metal as the institutional juggernaut (not the same thing as the Church) hurtles along the downward slope toward unrecognizablity. A report on the state of the Church prepared for the General Convention provides a number of telling points: 1) The Episcopal Church is rapidly losing members; 2) The Episcopal Church has to cut back its budget severely because of diminished income; 3) the biggest reason for this is conflict in The Episcopal Church over its revisionist policies and practices; 4) full speed ahead!
The writer mentioned “freedom to dissent” and “tolerance of dissent” as a strength of Anglicanism. “Tolerance of dissent” can mean a number of things. When it means living charitably with anomaly as things settle out, it is a vital Christian virtue well described in theory and practice in the New Testament. If it means letting people hold beliefs and maintain practices inconsistent with the faith of the Body, then it is abdication of leadership, which is powerfully condemned in both Old and New Testaments. Genuine leadership must show both clarity and mercy. This is notably different from espousing “inclusivity”.
Further, the often-touted “inclusivity” of the Anglican Communion in general and the Episcopal Church in particular has rarely existed in real life. From the days of the English Reformation, Anglican authorities have consistently and strongly persecuted every renewal movement that arose from its ranks. (For details see the article I wrote for “The Living Church” years ago called “The Myth of Anglican Tolerance”.) Unless I am wrong, the term “inclusivity” has not been claimed by or applied to the Anglican Communion; it is a term only recently devised in the Episcopal Church to apply to itself. Watching recent history unroll leads me to conclude that this term, dubious from the beginning, was used to hoodwink the trusting faithful and manipulate them into thinking of themselves as “open minded” by tolerating the “revisionists” who sought positions of influence in the Episcopal Church. Once the “revisionists” had enough votes, one didn’t hear about “inclusivity” much any more—instead one heard about “conformity”, with serious consequences for not adhering to the “doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church”, which obviously meant whatever those who had the votes could install without regard to any recognizable elements of generally accepted and authoritative Christian doctrine, discipline, or worship.
For a decade or two or more, many Episcopal bishops and other authorities have persecuted bishops, priests, parishes, missions, and lay leaders who disagreed with their revisionist ideology, and violated canon law and even basic principles of fairness and ethics to do so—none more openly, egregiously, and arrogantly than the current leadership. A genuinely liberal and charitable bishop, such as Bishop Jon Bruno, is the rare exception.
Moreover, the sloganistic words “diversity” and “inclusivity” have little or nothing to do with the Christian faith of the New Testament, which is the foundation of our life. Diversity and inclusivity are valuable principles only when they are expressive of the much richer and deeper Christian virtues of firm adherence without compromise to revealed truth, lived out in powerful charity. When these convictions are held, then “diversity” and “inclusivity” do not need to be mentioned, for they are already being done. I don’t think you can even find these words in the New Testament—you find much more powerful and richer words than “diversity” and “inclusivity”. How can one be more inclusive than to “preach the Gospel to every creature”? When one is committed to preaching to every creature, one doesn’t have to repeat how “inclusive” one is being. The very appellation “Evangelical” requires “inclusivity”. And how can one be more diverse than “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female—you are all one in Christ Jesus”? Being incorporated into Christ does not obliterate or ignore these real differences, but rather affirms the uniqueness and value of each believer and revels in the differences that make up the one Body. The very appellation “Catholic” requires “diversity”.
If “diversity” and “inclusivity” are not part of the evangelical and Catholic Gospel, then they are little different from masks for allowing people to believe whatever they want without standards of discernment or authenticity. Recently the principles of “diversity” and “inclusivity” have been the catchwords of narrow and tyrannical ideological rigidity: “The Episcopal Church is inclusive, and the authorities will tell you what that means; if you don’t agree, you will be put out.”
If holding to these principles implies “failing in my duties as leader and rector”, then I am unrepentantly guilty. However, I call it “keeping the faith”, and the good fruits of that faithfulness are abundant at Blessed Sacrament—a parish that welcomes and accepts all people, and holds up a standard of the fullness of faith and the call to holiness without compromise.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Electronic communication is, or can be, very exciting and beneficial. I’ve definitely been extremely blessed by email, websites, online searches, etc., in ways that I could not have known without electronics. I’ve made new friends, found old friends, collaborated on and written books, and studied online. But electronics are like the sea, at once incredibly wonderful but also unrelenting and destructive, pounding even rocks into sand. For months, I have been sleepless well into the night, my mind whirling with messages I’d read or needed to respond to or to initiate, not to mention what St. Paul calls the anxiety of the church(es). (I only have one, he had dozens.) Ministering to people, administering the ministries of others, wielding the sword of the Spirit, jumping into crises, teaching, nurturing the weak and fallen, lamenting the departure of both pilgrims and victims, welcoming neophytes, evangelizing the searching and the resistant, etc. etc. Not to mention seeing to my own spiritual health.
During this past week I realized that there is a lot in my life that is under my control—probably a whole lot more under my control than most people have the privilege of enjoying. I realized that I had allowed myself to become too busy, too pent up with too many things that demand my attention. Too many emails logging in at both home and church, more than I can give proper attention to. Etc. This is not a new lesson, by any means; there have been previous occasions in which I’ve learned that lesson and changed myself because of it—but stuff has a habit of creeping in, and patterns of life change, so that “accumulation” looks different from what it did before.
I took on this blog almost three years ago at the request of a number of people who wanted to see what I’d write, and while it was (and is) fun and cathartic and (I hope) useful to some, it also took time. I like these entries to be reasonably well written, even though if they’re read at all, like a newspaper they’re quickly out-of-date and rarely if ever referred to again.
Then I took up Facebook a few months ago. Not so much “quality writing” is expected, but a lot of information can be put out there and a lot can be read in a short time. Facebook is shorter and busier than a blog. I like it.
But when I found that Twitter is about 144 characters at the most (or whatever) to allow people to whip snippets of information to crowds of other twitterers, I snarled and refused to participate.
Then a day or so ago this verse from Job came to me: “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed” (Job 38:11). The “you” in that passage did not refer to me but to the things that would overwhelm me if I let them. So I drew a line and took back some control. I realized that sometimes what God wants is for us to NO into all the world.
So now I will refuse to let things overwhelm me. Here shall their proud waves be stayed. I’m taking this on as my new “Job” description. Sadly, some emails will not get answered—not because I don’t want to answer them but because I just can’t. Those that do get answered may not get the polished writing I’ve tried to maintain. Even this blogpost is not going to be carefully sculpted and polished. Twitter can go blow. I won’t read church emails on my day off, and whenever possible I will shut down the electronics early in the evening.
My favorite time of the year is autumn. The nights are mild, often there is a very light breeze. There is beautiful music to be listened to in dimness. There is a wife to spend time with. There is a God to be simply enjoyed. Enjoying him is better than constantly serving him. Jesus called it the “best part”. I hope that by committing to this new direction I am being a better pastor than before; I think it’s good Christian living and a good example to set for others. If anyone doesn’t think so, be sure to send me an email about it.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Blessed Sacrament Church in Placentia, California is an active and healthy Anglo-Catholic congregation in the Diocese of Los Angeles. Our membership of roughly 350 people includes many who have been in the parish for decades, as well as a considerable contingent of young families with children and dozens of college students from missionary and evangelical backgrounds. We have had about half a dozen vocations to ordination in the past four years, with two more currently in process. At the moment there are six priests (five of them part-time non-stipendiary) and one vocational deacon on staff. The theology of the parish is generally that of Forward in Faith or the American Anglican Council. Several people of decidedly different convictions are also active members. For us, holding to the revealed truth of the Gospel is an uncompromised principle, and unreserved love for all people is a standard. In these times of the hijacking of the Episcopal Church we have always rejected discouragement and defensiveness. On the contrary, rather than see ourselves as a place beleaguered, we are intentional about being a family where love, truth, joy, and light in Jesus prevail regardless of circumstances.
The Discernment Committee of Blessed Sacrament was formed well over two years ago. The Committee was comprised of about twenty volunteers. They were to be members of the parish who took the issues seriously but had not already decided what we ought to do. I charged the committee to make a recommendation for our future and provided several axioms for their work: they were to pray through their labors; all meetings were to be open; our Bishop, Jon Bruno, would be kept informed; only verified first-hand sources would be used; everything would be done in charity; no action that could involve lawsuits would be contemplated (since Scripture forbids that course); individuals representative of various convictions in the Episcopal Church would be invited to share in face-to-face discussions; and there would be no deadline.
In the course of the discernment, our Vestry met twice with Bishop Bruno, who offered us another bishop to serve as our pastor under the provision for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight. We accepted that offer, and the Bishop of Northern Indiana, Ed Little, began to serve us in that capacity about a year ago. Bishop Bruno also suggested that we redirect our Mission Share Fund to causes both he and the parish could wholeheartedly support, and we accepted that offer as well with the understanding that we would be given credit for paying our Mission Share Fund in full. Without going through the diocese we now support international missionary work, the scholarship fund at Nashotah House seminary, and local charities.
When the Discernment Committee drew near to the completion of its work, it had emerged that three courses were open to us: to remain in the Episcopal Church, to align with the emerging Anglican Church in North America, or to seek some sort of arrangement with the Roman Catholic Church. Most members of the parish were drawn to one of these three options. On the one hand, it was quite evident that no one of these three options appealed to the entire parish. On the other hand it was also quite evident that nearly all the people were determined to retain the unity of the parish family—that is, most wanted to remain at Blessed Sacrament. We had come to an impasse.
In December of 2008 I suggested to the parish in a sermon that we adopt a plan in which all three options could be followed to the benefit of all. Three general meetings of the parish this spring responded to that sermon and applied the Committee’s work into setting a direction.
We recognized that putting the decision to a vote would be disastrous. Voting assumes from the beginning that there must be a division with “winners” and “losers”. We rejected any decision in which there could be winners and losers. We determined that, rather than voting, our model for decision-making would be that of the New Testament—to come to the point where we could say, “It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28). By that, we meant that we must come to a godly consensus in which everyone could say, “I can live with that.” With that commitment, clarity emerged. We believe that our decision may be unique in the cheerless and escalating stresses of these times.
The way forward came to look like this, although details still have to be worked out: most of our people will remain in the Episcopal Church under the DEPO arrangement. A significant number of others will remove themselves from the Episcopal Church and align with the emerging Anglican Church of North America but continue to connect—as Anglicans—with Blessed Sacrament. We are currently investigating several attractive ways of doing this that will strengthen all the faithful rather than weaken either group. A few people—perhaps fewer than a dozen—will enter the Roman Catholic Church (some have already done so) and receive sacramental ministrations there while also retaining their participation at Blessed Sacrament. When all three groups have settled in to who they are, the parish will deepen and expand its ministries, especially those of education, evangelism, fellowship, and outreach, to ensure that we remain bound together in spite of the different courses our people have chosen. All ministries will continue and be done jointly/ecumenically.
One Episcopalian from a local parish said to me recently, “I hear that you’re dividing your parish up into groups.” I responded, “No, it’s not that at all. We are intentionally not dividing. What we’re doing is diversifying.” We remain a single family with an expanded sense of membership. The canonical key to the success of this approach is the recognition that the property of a parish is in the exclusive hands of its Rector. If a Rector can permit groups not connected with the parish to use the facility for a number of reasons, then certainly he can allow a group of non-Episcopal Anglicans to use the facility for worship and ministry. And if that group worships at the same time as the “Episcopalians” and shares the same ministries, there is nothing whatever in the canons that forbids it—and nothing that can prevent it, either.
I have been clear that those who follow what we are calling The Stand Firm Option—remaining in the Episcopal Church—must refuse to appear as if they are merely “accommodating” to the apostasies of the Episcopal Church or are hesitant to “make a stand”. Rather, those in the parish who “stand firm” are bearing witness within an apostate body; they follow the example of Amos and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and other prophets whom God called to bear a witness of fidelity and challenge to a rebellious house. “Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ezekiel 2:5).
I have also been clear that those who follow what we are calling The Anglican Option—leaving the Episcopal Church for the Anglican Church of North America—must refuse the choice merely to “quit”. From the earliest years of the tensions, I have consistently rejected the sadly common but always ill-fated rationale, “their heresy demands our schism”. Schism is not an answer to heresy; it is in fact one form of heresy itself, just as heresy is one form of schism. Those in the parish who follow the “Anglican option” are like those who “remove the dust from their feet” when they depart from those who refuse the Gospel. With those who are creating the Anglican Church of North America, they are building an ark for the faithful before the storm comes.
With such an understanding, both “stayers” and “leavers” bear effective testimony—“speaking the truth in love”. Both courses are clearly Biblical, and it is obvious (I hope) that God calls different people to different vocations so that his will overall may be achieved. Both courses require courage and conviction, and both work best when they work together.
The decision has not satisfied every member of the parish. A few have expressed their regretful intention to leave the parish toward the end of the summer. One can never please everyone; though I believe that the reasoning I have heard from those who are leaving the parish is seriously flawed, I do not know everything about how and when God speaks to people or what his complete will is for them, so I shall see that the partings are amicable.
There are a few individuals who are troubled or grieved by the course we have chosen, yet the time to choose had come. “Not to decide is to decide”—and not to decide is usually to decide poorly. I think that the great majority of our members are confident of a new beginning and a more solid parish than we have been, and I am hopeful that those who are not will find that their fears will not be realized. The influence of the General Convention Church has pretty much been stopped at the borders of Blessed Sacrament, except for those concerns brought inside by our own members. At the same time, such influence as we have goes forth and bears fruit. I am delighted that attendance at Blessed Sacrament is significantly up over last year at this time, the money’s not too bad, even during the summer, and the morale seems good. I am feeling quite positive personally.
One young member of the parish wrote to me in mid-June, “I was doing lectio one morning last week in the Ephesians 6 passage about the armor of God, and the part about spiritual forces of wickedness made me think about the spiritual wickedness at work behind the actions of the Episcopal Church, and how the current mess is a spiritual battle playing out. And I had this image of Blessed Sacrament, tiny amid the black clouds that were swirling about her, but bright and protected by a bubble that the darkness could not penetrate, standing firm against it as Paul exhorts us to do. And I felt this sense of calm, like I didn’t need to worry about the future of Blessed Sacrament because God was taking care of her. I know you've basically been saying this for years... but now I think I believe you :-)”
It was intensely gratifying to receive this message. It was, I think, at least in part, a sign that the strategy I had described in this post was bearing fruit. Discernment is rarely, if ever, easy, and there are many alluring but false paths that appear throughout the process that must be carefully weighed, identified, and rejected. Having avoided a number of pitfalls during our discernment process and come to a decision that I believe is Scriptural, godly, logical, and unassailable, after the way forward was set I was filled with an overwhelming calm.
In that place I was ready for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which met July 8-17 ten miles from us in Anaheim. (General Convention is the body that sets course and policy, etc. for the Episcopal Church. It meets every three years. It is the General Convention that has made so many decisions over the past few decades that have caused immeasurable harm to the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion.)
Our parish provided about ten or a dozen volunteers to work either at Convention or in one of the exhibits. I myself served seven shifts as a volunteer. One reason I wanted to volunteer was to acquire first-hand information. Although I didn’t witness any of the decision-making process, I read many of the proposals that were acted on, and participated in several “behind the scenes” discussions as I worked. I was also an usher for four of the Convention Eucharists.
At the end, I drew a few conclusions. On the positive side, I was impressed at the effective organization. The Convention was well run. I also met many friendly people. Some of the Eucharists I attended were, to my surprise, well done, and the preaching I heard was mostly good. One sermon in particular was excellent. It was full of Jesus and a traditional interpretation of Scripture.
The main purpose of the Convention, however—to make decisions and set policy for the Episcopal Church—was predictably disappointing. With many traditionalists no longer present, it was a foregone conclusion that the Convention would follow the same direction as the injudicious decisions it has made in previous decades. A new and significant insight began to come to me in one discussion I had with a group of volunteers; it came out that many of them had gone to very prestigious universities: Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Stanford, etc. Yet it was apparent that not one of them knew how to think critically, much less theologically. One priest even said, “Well, I’m not an expert in the Bible.”(!) (“Logic!” said the professor, half to himself. Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?” —C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, chapter five)
Even the official statistics provided in the Blue Book for the General Convention—the manual of information and business matters—show that the Episcopal Church at large continues to diminish in size, and those same statistics show that the primary reason for the waning of the Church is decisions the General Convention has made over the past thirty years and the resulting conflict in both congregations and dioceses. Further, the same statistics show that many faithful congregations and dioceses are thriving. Yet very few deputies or bishops seem to get the obvious lesson. The General Convention Church’s budgets are being cut; it continues its commitment to litigation against other Christians without accountability for the funds spent for the purpose; its “gospel” is reduced to incantatory “justice” issues and “building God’s
kingdom reign on earth”. What may be called “the General Convention Church” appears to be lurching into free fall.
At the risk of drawing a conclusion from anecdotal data, I surmised from the discussion I heard and (much more so) from the result of the votes, that the General Convention is so unaware of the realities of both world and Gospel that it has become pretty irrelevant and therefore powerless. I found it ironic that as soon as the revisionists had finally achieved nearly complete control over the decision-making process of General Convention, they lost power to affect or do much. Who really pays attention now to what decisions the General Convention of the Episcopal Church makes? Just about no one but the revisionists themselves. While admittedly some very good ministry is being done, generally the Episcopal Church is a faltering juggernaut of the liberal 1960s with traits of coming collapse: rapidly diminishing membership most of whose youngest members are about in their forties, and declaiming ideals that are increasingly ossifying. One deputy wondered if they were becoming the “fundamentalist left”; they are certainly no longer genuinely liberal. Only ruin awaits if they “stay the course”—and there is no sign that any other option is even envisioned, much less considered. [NOTE: For an excellent comment on this paragraph and my response to it, please see the second and third comments on this blogpost.]
It struck me that my remarks to the Convention of the Diocese of Los Angeles in 2006, about being prophetic to those who had claimed to be prophetic, were coming true. The Church that had touted itself in 1992 as being a Church of “no outcasts” has self-contradictorily engaged in “theological cleansing” of traditionalists to the point that its inherent fatal flaw has become obvious. While publicly proclaiming a commitment to “inclusivity” and “valuing a variety of views”, etc., the revisionists are put into a bind whenever that means actually making a decision in support of any traditional position. I.e., “inclusivity” as a party line in the “new Episcopal Church” is really an untenable position for them since, in fact, the General Convention Church is intolerant of traditional positions and therefore cannot be inclusive as they define inclusivity. To put it another way, those committed to a partisan position (i.e. “the General Convention Church”) in spite of a claim to be inclusive, etc. cannot really be generous, i.e. cannot live with anomaly and be true to their own partisanship. By cleansing themselves of traditionalists, they have put themselves into a position where they cannot survive except by repentance.
Orthodoxy, in sharp contrast, is truly generous and can live with anomaly as truth is being discerned. This means that only the orthodox can be truly liberal. Any attempt at liberalism without orthodoxy will fail in both. Whatever is true and loving will always remain. That’s why I named this blog JohnOneFive: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not overpower it.”