Saturday, July 31

Mary Magdalene, part deux

This weekend our parish is celebrating the feast of Mary Magdalene. Given the recent discussions on multiple blogs and other places regarding the Roman Church, people leaving and general hate and discontent, I would humbly offer this prayer.

O Lord,

For the many today who are lost, who feel hurt, excluded and driven away by a church who means well but is blind to the damage that they have caused, we ask that their faith be strengthened to be like that of Mary Magdalene.

For the Roman Church, we ask that the scales be lifted from their eyes and that they may hear Christ call unto them and see our Risen Lord as Mary Magdalene did.

Kyrie Elieson

Christi Elieson

Kyrie Elieson

Friday, July 30

Deacons and Bishops and Priests (oh my)

I've been doing a bit of reading and thinking (no doubt a great surprise to all) and I came to across an article about the difference between bishops and priests, which led me to digging about such things and looking into the etymology of the terms as an insight into what was meant by them.

Bishop comes from ebiscopus, the latin vulgate version of the late latin episcopus, who borrowed the term from the greek ἐπίσκοπος. The word, literally, means over-seer/over-watcher...thus, someone who watches over the flock.

Priest is handed down from the old english prēost, tracing through the old high german prestar and late latin presbytar to the greek πρεσβύτερος, which translates as 'elder' or 'old man'.

Deacon stems from the old english diacon, further back through the late latin diāconos to the original greek διάκονος, which is interpreted as 'one who ministers' or, literally, servant.

Note that in the apostolic letters, the words episkopos and presbyteros are used pretty interchangeably and, in the 'early church' period (circa 200-500), the bishops were chosen by the laity and ordination into the presbyterate was separate from being a bishop. Meanwhile, the diaconate handled the mundane matters of the church, from money and facilities to tending the sick and donations to the poor.

So...back in the day...a deacon did a goodly amount of what the pastoral care is now... and bishops didn't need to be and commonly weren't priests. That begs the question of the role of the ordained orders today, the differences between them today (especially in light of prior roles) and how we interpret our callings in respect to these things. This is particular interest considering the current discussions in my church about 'hiring on' 3 additional bishops and the differing ideas of the role of the episcopacy in the ECC. Well, ok...that and my own deliberations, but that's another matter entire.

Oh look...a navel. I feel compelled to gaze. Excuse me.

Reflections on the mens meeting

I'd been invited to come to the 'Mens meeting' on Thursday evenings by one of our parishioners. I figured I'd go, thinking we'd do some bible study or talk about parish-related stuff. He he. You'd think that I would have learned by now not to have preconceptions dealing with this group.

About 10 guys showed up, most of retirement age (which tracks with the more active members of our church). We sat around and shot the breeze about immigration, politics and other current events in the news as well as what's going on in our lives without any real reference to the church or what-have-you.

In general, it was really nice. A low-key gathering where people could talk about what came to their mind and hash things out. The overall candor and feeling that everyone could express their opinions was wonderful. One of the points that was returned to over and again was about the U.S. obsession with money and how corporations in particular are designed and required to make their bottom line as big as possible. As donations, public works and social projects negatively affect the bottom line, corporations are averse to doing such things and normally will do so only if their bottom line would be even more negatively affected.

The United States represents approximately 7% of the worlds population and consume about half the worlds resources (depending on how you measure and who you talk to). Nearly 60% of all deaths in the world are linked to starvation, yet the U.S. throws away half of it's food. The average american uses 9 times the needed potable water per day. I could go on and on, but the point is made.

So, what's all of this doing in this blog? Ezekiel 16:49. That's what struck me and stuck with me through the whole rambling discussion.
"Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy."
America as the new Sodom. *grimaces*

Wednesday, July 28

Thoughts about discernment

So, reading over at Thom's fine blog, Ad Dominum, about discernment got me to thinking (as I am wont to do). Not Discernment in the ecclesiastical jargon (being the process leading towards a possible ordained calling in the church), but discernment in the more general definition of being able "to distinguish mentally; recognize as distinct or different; discriminate" (Thank you Mr. Webster).

A common belief when trying to suss things out about life and God and all is to attempt to 'discern' the will of God. I find this to be incorrect and based upon a fallacious assumption, that is that we can know the will of God.

To determine such a thing, we would need all of the information to understand the situation at hand (which, in real life, we never have), recognize all of the effects of the courses of actions (again, something we don't have access to) and then analyze them to derive the course of action which would be most in line with the aims of the Almighty (assuming you're rock-solid on what those aims are). Good luck with that.

For myself, discernment is instead a matter of hearing and understanding what the Divine is telling us. It requires we engage in a conversation with the Almighty. If we're not listening, then all the instruction from above is for naught. Further, if we don't ask questions, and especially the right type of questions, we're not going to get answers which seem meaningful. Finally, if the answers you hear don't fit with where you are or are going, then the question comes do we trust the message and follow it or do we second guess the Divine? This brings me to the above image...our beloved GPS Navigator.

Consider the following analogy. Let us suppose that the Divine is like an infallible and omniscient GPS Navigator (call it a GodPS) which already knows where your destination is but only responds when queried.

If you don't ask for directions, you'll not get any.

You ask it "Do I turn here?" "Yes"
uh....didn't ask in which direction, did ya?

If the GodPS says turn right and you think there's a better way, rock on, but don't blame anyone but yourself when you've spent 15 minutes driving around a subdivision that you never meant to go into.

Sometimes (more often than I'd like to admit), you get directions which seem to lead down blind alleys and dead-ends. Sometimes, it's what's down that alley that is important and transformative, not if it's a shortcut. We need to trust in the directions given, cause they're based on the BIG map which we never see.

God won't steer you wrong if you listen to where he's telling you to go.

Tuesday, July 27

A simple request

I know that there are more folks who read this than say anything. I would ask for prayers.

My former Brother-in-law is...well, they're meeting today with the ethics committee to 'decide' to remove him from life support. He has been ill for many years and it is his wish. Still, that's easy words and hard deeds to, as Daddy Cecil put it, kill your own son.

Thus, I would ask for prayers.
Not for John, for his life is at a close and I am certain his eternal reward is at hand.
Not for myself, for I am at peace with this and, honestly, consider it a sweet release.

Rather, I ask for prayers for the family he leaves behind. His father James, wife Evelyn and sisters Kris and Naomi. May they find the love, compassion and peace that passes all understanding in during this difficult time.

Kyrie Elieson

Christi Elieson

Kyrie Elieson

Weeds and explanation.

Today's reading comes from Matthew and concerns itself with the Parable of the Weeds and the explanation thereof.

Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also.

The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, 'First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.'”

In later passages, Christ explains the parable in spiritual terms, but I wish to first talk about certain things would have been understood by those of the day but may not be readily apparent 2000 years later.

An important and delicate skill of a farmer was the selection of seed, normally done through sifting and picking. It is a painstaking task, but it is vital to the future of the harvest. That the landowner had sown 'good seed' implies that effort was taken ahead of time to ensure that nothing but wheat would be sown. As there are 'tares' in the field, it is not because of the landowner, but from someone else.

The weed referred to above, tares, is known today as poison darnel or false wheat. It parasitises wheat fields and can, as the common name suggests, be poisonous. In addition to any poisonous qualities, the darnel has a very bitter taste, thus even a small amount in the grain would spoil any flour. A unique feature of darnel is that it is very difficult to identify until it and the wheat bear fruit, whereupon the difference is plain, but it is too late to remove the weed from the field without hurting the crop. Because of these features, Roman law explicitly prohibited the sowing of this poisonous weed in even an enemies wheat field. Thus, those who came and sowed the darnel aren't just rivals, but are real 'bad seed' (no, I couldn't refuse).

What do you do, then, with these weeds? To ensure that they do not spread in the coming days, they must be removed. Yet, they have no value in their seed or in their stalk. Yet the frugal master does not discard them, but puts them to what use he can; as fuel for cookfires in an arid land where fuels are in demand.

'Bad seed' can and will enter the field sown with 'good seed', apart from the landowners actions or will and the law.

'Good seed' and 'bad seed' are virtually indistinguishable apart from their fruit.

The fruit of the 'bad seed' will spoil a great amount of the fruit of the 'good seed'.

And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of evil, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels."

Well then.

Monday, July 26

How much for just one rib?

The Old Testament reading this week was from Genesis 18, where the Lord speaks to Abraham as they overlook Sodom. I couldn't help but chuckle listening to this whole section being read aloud, and so I'll share with the class. Jehovah says that He's gonna lay waste to Sodom because, and I quote,

“The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave.** I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.” (Gen 18:20-21)

Hearing this, Abraham sets to bargaining with God.

"Ya wouldn't kill good people with the bad, now wouldya God, wouldya?" "Well, no."
"What if I can find 50 people, would ya save the town for fifty people?" "If you can find 50, sure"
"45? What about 45?" "well...ok"
"What about 35? You'd save the town for 35 good people, right?" "*sighs* fine."
"Do I hear 30? 30 to the man in the long beard."
"Can I have 25 righteous people here? 25 righteous people going once, going...I have a bid."
"Do I hear 20? Twenty...thank you sir."
"10? Can I get the salvation of a city for 10 pious men? Going once, twice...Sold to the wrathful god in the corner."

Seriously. He wheedles God down from 50 pious people to 10. Having read the rest of the story, of course, we know that Abraham couldn't keep his side of the bargain and the whole place gets the works anyways. Still, ya gotta give Abraham credit for some real chutzpah.

Does make you wonder how big a town you could get for some lapsed-but-basically-good-if-you-don't-count-that-one-time catholics? Or do ya have to be jewish? hmmmmm

**As we all know, of course, the grave sin which Sodom was guilty of was pride and greed (Ezekiel 16:49-50), not homosexuality. Just makin sure we're clear on that.

Friday, July 23

ROME - The Catholic Church in Italy, still reeling from the clerical sex abuse scandal, lashed out Friday at gay priests who are leading a double life, urging them to come out of the closet and leave the priesthood.

The Diocese of Rome issued the strongly worded statement after the conservative Panorama newsweekly said in a cover story and accompanying video that it had interviewed three gay priests in Rome and accompanied them to gay clubs and bars and to sexual encounters with strangers, including one in a church building.

One of the priests, a Frenchman identified only as Paul, celebrated Mass in the morning before driving the two escorts he had hired to attend a party the night before to the airport, Panorama said.

In a statement Friday, the Rome diocese denounced those priests who were leading a "double life," said they shouldn't have been ordained and promised that the church would rigorously pursue anyone who is behaving in a way that wasn't dignified for a priest.Those who aren't faithful to their vows "know that no one is forcing them to remain priests, taking advantage of only the benefits," the diocese said. "Coherency would demand that they come forward. We don't wish any ill-will against them, but we cannot accept that because of their behavior the honor of all the others is sullied." ...

One Catholic commentator noted that the problem wasn't that there were "three priests running wild in gay Rome."

"There are plenty of priests - straight and gay - who misbehave sexually with other adults," said Bryan Cones, managing editor of the liberal U.S. Catholic Magazine.

"The problem is that only these gay priests are the news, not all the other gay priests who labor faithfully, honoring their commitments along with their straight brothers as best they can. We don't hear their stories because they can't tell them for fear of expulsion. And that isn't right."

Read more:

Comment: *sighs deeply* This story saddens me in just about every way. I don't condone in any way the actions of these young priests, but their 'employer' demands that either they lead that double life or deny their humanity for the sake of their calling. For an organization which has been so duplicitous in recent times regarding sexuality and sexual abuse to say these things does nothing but further demonstrate their irrelevance to people today. Further, I will agree with Bryan Cones in that the behaviour has naught to do with being gay, but rather has to do with choosing...well...poorly.

Particularly disheartening is the diocese's response of 'they should come out and come clean so we can fire them'. "nobody is forcing them to remain priests". 'Nobody forced' them to become priests, either. Yes, the conduct is reprehensible and those involved should be disciplined, but that really must go hand-in-glove with the reconciliation process. To say that three priests, doing some outré things, tarnishes the 'good name' of priests the world over while the parent organization is rushing towards an authoritarian 19th century theology is...well....some folks in Rome may wish to look in the mirror, I think they have something in their eye.

The Bride of Tradition

I had written at length some time ago about the importance of tradition and how it needs relevance in our lives today. Recent discussions have caused me to re-read what I have written and realize that I didn't fully develop some thoughts at that time which I would have sworn that I had at least scribbled down. Ah well. Thankfully, my beautiful and talented assistant to the right will be happy to assist me.

As you may already know, I have a strong interest in medieval studies. It was this interest which has spurred my interest and love of the medieval church and, in a sideways fashion, has rekindled my interest in spirituality in general.

One of the principal things to know about medieval studies is that everything you were taught about it is wrong. By and large, what we (as the general public) have been taught about medievalism is actually a Victorian recreation of what they thought people in medieval times were about. Piecing out what is Victorian and what is really medieval can be a real trick sometimes and requires a lot of thinking. Key to this sorting process is an understanding the society of the time, the mindset and views of the people and generally recognizing what would resonate with the people of the day. In the field of biblical study, this is commonly known as the historical-critical approach to hermeneutics.

For myself, use of the historical-critical analysis is vital to a deeper and fuller understanding of the source material (any source material). If you understand why [x] was said in such a manner, then one can separate the 1st century levantine-roman traditions from the kernel of immutable truth.

I'm certainly not the first to do this, as Paul has beaten me to the punch by a long time. A good deal of the Pauline letters are about separating the socio-cultural traditions of the people of Judea from the Messianic Judaism which was the 1st century church. Where I would go further is by doing a reconversion; interpreting the kernel of truth in the light of the here and now, putting it back into a context which has meaning to the audience of today.

I would like to take this storied analytic tradition further. For me, it is important to examine the history of the Church in the same manner as the many look at scripture, with an eye to understanding the socio-political context in which decisions of theology and doctrine were made. By getting a grasp on the 'why' of things, one can, more accurately reflect upon the value and applicability of the decisions and make more informed decisions. This is not, in any way, attempting to obviate the place of the Spirit in these things, but rather invoking Poor Richard's axiom "The Lord helps those who help themselves".

I'll not for a moment pretend that there isn't a good amount of heavy lifting there. It's a process that, once embarked upon, can lead you down some dark and bizarre alleys. It can test your faith, especially if you come from a background where so much is given to you without explanation, pre-digested and packaged for your convenience. Finally, the decisions which I arrive at are often different/contrary/heretical to the mainstream as well as being decisions which may only be right for me. Then again, the root of the word 'heresy' is αίρεση, to choose or decide.

Thursday, July 22

Lessons from Saints - Mary Magdalene

Today is the feast of Saint Mary Magdalene and a most troublesome feast it is. Of all those in the Golden Legend and held from early days as holy, Mary Magdalene has been more maligned and misconstrued than arguably any.

In the first, what we know she was not. She was not a prostitute (an error which arose during the 6th century), nor is there anything to suggest in literature (canonical or otherwise) that she was the wife/bride of Christ. There is no evidence that she ever went to France or any of that Dan Brown stuff. The list goes on.

If one wishes to consider the 'alternate' gospels, Mary Magdalene featured prominently. From the apocryphal texts, we learn she was exceptionally important in the formation of the 1st century church. We also know she and Peter had serious interpersonal issues. [Insert discussion of misogyny and biblical canon here ]

What we DO know about her, from both canon and apocrypha, is that she was arguably as close to Christ as the apostles and she is the only person we know who saw Christ crucified, die, buried and risen. She was the first apostle (entrusted messenger) of the risen Christ (known as the apostle to the apostles). She was the only named disciple of Jesus who never lost faith, never ran and was continually devoted.

To quote from a homily of Gregory I:
We should reflect on Mary’s attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tell us: “Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved."
May we persevere like Mary, love like her and have her faith.

Wednesday, July 21

What the......

I had a very....interesting experience that I'm still trying to suss out, so bear with me folks, but I felt that I should put it down to paper.

Our church hosted a discussion regarding the present immigration 'issue' in the US today, with a good number of community leaders who are non-parishioners in attendance. Included in this group was a number of hispanic teens who spoke out about this issue with passion and earnestness. At some point in the near future, I'll discuss the mundane aspects of the discussions, but that's a reflection for another day.

When we started, the teens all said that they were there to meet friends and allies in the 'good fight' as it were.

As the informative and interesting discussion wound to a close, there was a call for final words, especially from those who hadn't spoken up. Now, anybody who knows me knows that I wasn't quiet during the two hours we had together, so I wasn't gonna say anything. Yet, I felt a need to say something....not entirely sure what. And then, things happened.

"I may be talking out of school here, but to paraphrase something we've heard a few weeks ago, 'There is no male or female, no slave or free, no american or immigrant, but we are all brothers and sisters in Christ'. The motto of our church is 'All are welcome' and you are all welcome here. It is not something which is on our lips, but it is something we do."

Thoughout the whole little spiel, there was a building...pressure isn't the right word exactly, but rather a force (energy?) within which is rather inexplicable. Then, it was suddenly gone.

What the.....

Mass has been cancelled due to lack of interest.

This is a substantive expansion of a comment I made on Terence's post regarding the attempted re-evangelization of the West (read Western Europe and North America) by the RC Church. You can read it here at Open Tabernacle. The gist of the article is the decline of the faithful to blindly obey church authority, along with the inability of the Church to deal with the Novo Ordo Seclorum, has left the churches empty.

The first point I believe is a bit of a red herring, at least as it applies to the U.S.. The american faith experience has been firmly rooted in independent thinking since the founding of our nation, with attempts by Rome to squelch such nonsense during the Vatican I period and it's reprise, the V2 retrenchment, being reacted to with anything from cautious disregard to open revolt. This should come as no surprise as the U.S. was formed from the seeds of religious heterodoxy, nurtured with the fruits of the Enlightenment and raised in the reality of rugged individualism.

In regards to the second point, to lay blame the decline of the Roman Church solely on V2 retrenchment is not entirely correct, because there is a certain veracity to the Church's complaint stemming from the growing secularism and independent thought movements which, to the Church's eyes, grew out of the era in which V2 happened (the 1960's). A great deal of the guilt-laden dictates that folks grew up with in the 1950's and before (both in and out of the RC Church) were found to have no clothes and V2 was a positive affirmation that 'modern life' and the ancient church didn't have to be enemies. In truth, much of V2 SHOULD have happened in the 1890's, an acknowledgment and embrace of the fact that the faithful are no longer ignorant, illiterate and incapable of thought.

It is my belief that the majority of the 'blame' on the decline of the Church is a lack of relevance. The big questions of the day are not adequately addressed by the staid positions of 100 (or 1000) years ago. If they were, they wouldn't be questions today. Why go to confessional when I have a shrink who doesn't make me say rosaries. Why go to church for support when I have Facebook who doesn't require a donation or make me feel guilty. Why follow arcane dictates that predate the automobile when I can read for myself what Jesus does and does not say. Why should I believe in an invisible, intangible Being when science has tangible and reasonable answers which are far more compelling to a rational, educated mind.

Are there valid ripostes to these questions? I certainly believe so. The trouble is that many of the mainline faiths aren't really even acknowledging the questions are being asked, sticking their fingers in their ears and saying "Because God said so". That is a grave disservice to both God and man.

It appears to me that, in general, organized Christian faiths have forgotten the value of religion and of the church organization to the parishioners and to society in general.

The doctrine and philosophy of a religion provides answers and surety (even if those answers are questions in and of themselves) for parishioners when their lives have doubt and insecurity. A church congregation/parish forms a social community which primarily supports it's members as well as, secondarily, the local community at large. To be able to function adequately in these roles, a religion must be able to address the questions of the day and the local church must be capable to interact with the community on their terms. For the vast number of churches in the Christian community today they are not and the results are telling. ( I don't know enough about the state of non-christian churchs in the US today to say) .

Tuesday, July 20

Quote of the Day - special papal edition

“Over the pope as expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one’s own conscience which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even the official church, also establishes a principle in opposition to increasing totalitarianism”. - Joseph Ratzinger, Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, 1967

I'd heard this quote when our priest talked about the primacy of conscience, but couldn't actually find it online, which irked me when I wrote about the role of conscience here. The good Terence over at Queering the Church found and posted it. Thanks T.

*P.S. - I couldn't find any free images of His Holiness which didn't make him look either frail or evil (both of which I think are inappropriate here), so here's a kitten instead.

Monday, July 19

Sacraments, part the second

Following the earlier discussion, and in reflection of some valuable and useful dialogue that I have had with some clergy on the matter, I would like to continue the analysis of the sacraments. Sacraments split into two significant and important categories. In the first category are those which invite the Spirit to affect a particular change. The most prominent example of this type is the Eucharist, wherein the miracle of transubstantiation is accomplished. Other examples include the sacraments of Extreme Unction and Penance (which I feel more comfortable referring to as Reconciliation), wherein the mercy of Divine is invited. These are what I would consider to be 'private' sacraments, meaning that, whether or not they are performed in public, they are a mystical experience which is profound and private (between the Divine and the recipient of the sacrament).

The other type of sacrament are those which affirm and acknowledge what has already happened. These are rites which involve all those in attendance (and even those not directly in attendance) and reflect that the congregation recognizes and the work that the Divine has wrought in the recipient(s). Examples of this would be both ordination and confirmation. The Ontological changes which occur in the recipient are real and manifest, but occur independent of the rite proper. These sacraments are 'public' sacraments, a message to those in the parish and beyond that the Spirit is alive and active in these people and what they are doing. The sacrament of matrimony is also a public sacrament, which leads us to same-sex marriage.

I know from personal experience that I was married before we stood in front of the preacher...just like we were no longer married long before we visited the lawyer. In a similar analogy, the degrees I hold did not confer knowledge and if the granting institutions had decided that, for administrative reasons, I should not receive the diploma, that would not mystically 'remove' what I had learned. In a similar manner, if someone has had an ontological change which marks them as confirmed or ordained, then a church denying those sacraments to that person doesn't impact that change in the least. The public sacraments are more about the community and their views towards de facto matters than it is about the 'recipient' and the Divine.

I briefly touched on the 'matter' of the sacraments and mentioned that I have a small beef with the idea that certain things must be present for the sacrament to 'work'. The point behind the materials is that they hold symbolism in the minds of those participating in the ritual and, as such, the validity of the materials is a human, not a divine, limitation.

For the baptists, as an example, the body and blood are saltines and grape juice. To use wine (or actual bread) is entirely outside their cultural heritage and the imbibing of alcohol is taboo in their faith line. For some (including one of our priests), medical concerns prohibit the use of what is standard in our faith, being wheaten bread and wine. Does this mean that cornbread and grape juice invalidates the sacrament? Certainly not on God's side of things, as omnipotence is not constrained by such things.

In a similar vein, my mind runs to the 'forms'. If practical or accidental concerns change the specific form of the ritual, but the essence of the rite is preserved, the only constraint that I see is that on the human end of things. A word changed and a pause altered doesn't prevent the Divine from working. That thought extends to most all of liturgy (IMHO) and provides a much greater latitude for the Spirit to work.

Friday, July 16


There has been a good deal of writing lately about the ordination of women and same-sex marriage. As, no doubt you're aware, the RC Church has put out in their latest polemic that the 'attempted' ordination of women is equal to paedophilia. Reading Bill Linsdey's brilliant article about ordination rang a bell with me and started me thinking about the sacraments in general and the word 'attempted'.

In the first, one must examine terms. St. Augustine refers to a sacrament as "a visible sign of an invisible reality." and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer says that they are "an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible Grace". Further, we should note that these sacraments are effectual independent of the priest, that is to say that they function due to the benefice of the Divine and not due to the innate holiness or value of the officiant. What is required is that the intent of all involved in the rite be pure, the forms of the rite followed and the appropriate materials be on hand. Though I have certain issues with the last, we should leave that for now. In short, a sacrament is a rite by which corporeal actions, words and things are used to signify the conferral of Sanctifying Grace by the invisible Divine.

Given these thoughts as a base from which to work, let us consider the sacraments more specifically. If the sacraments function due to the presence and action of the Divine, and not due to the officiant, then the officiant is naught more (if such can be said) than a conduit for the Divine to work through them to affect the Grace which is delivered from the Divine into the willing recipient. This brings us to the matter of intent and the action of the Divine in the sacraments.

In all of the sacraments, the disposition of Grace and the state of the recipients heart is a matter between them and the Divine. It is not a matter for a priest to question if a penitent is truly contrite, that is between the penitent and the Divine. Likewise, the dying man who receives Extreme Unction is not in judgment by the priest, but is freed from sin and raised up by the power of God. The Eucharist is another point where, assuming that the recipient is of pure intent (which can only be known to them and the Divine) then what mortal man may stand between those who seek salvation and the Bread of Life and Saving Cup My thoughts about matrimony lie along the same lines, but it is a far more complex topic which I intend to cover at a different time. Suffice to say that it is God, not man, which joins together.

There are those who say that both baptism and confirmation create an ontological change in the recipient, with baptism being the initiation into the body of Christ just as it's cognate, conformation, is the fulfillment of the educational promise set forth in the baptism. If that is true, then the ontological character of the recipient can only be altered by the Divine and the officiant or any other temporal body has no weight in this matter. As such, the sacraments of baptism and confirmation are public recognition of what the Divine has wrought more than anything else. Which leads us, ere so circuitously, to the original point.

Ordination is the third sacrament which is purported to create an ontological change in the recipient - a fundamental alteration in the relationship between the recipient and the Divine. If one holds that the action of the sacrament does indeed affect that change, then it is imperative to recognize that it is the Divine which has "set his seal of ownership upon us" and it is the imprimatur of God which is upon the recipient, not that of a bishop or church. If God has called a person, any person, to fulfill the function of the presbyterate (or any other function) within His church and the person has heeded that call, then no mortal man may rightfully bar them from doing so any more than a bishop saying it is so makes it so. The ontological change has happened and either the Church may acknowledge and affirm the existence of this mystery by the sacrament or they can choose to deny and ignore it's existence. Either way does not change one whit the reality of matter.

Upon reading the above it occurs to me at least some of the disconnect. It is the Divine which calls us to work in Her Church. It doesn't belong to a pope or primate or prelate, but to God. If we, in a fit of populist fervor, wish to say that we are all children of God and as such the church belongs to us, then so be it. Some are called to lead and minister, some to serve in other ways, but all honour and glory is to God.

There's probably quite a bit more here to mine, but I'll leave it for another time.

Thursday, July 15

Gospel reading of the day

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

Thank you, brother Jesus. With you, our burden is light.

Wednesday, July 14

This is a lot harder than it looked.

One of my co-workers is out for jury duty this week (she got picked and the case appears to be substantive). I don't know anything about the trial in specific (which is just fine, thankyouverymuch) but her selection has caused others at work to talk about the whole jury thing. One comment which was made went something like this....

"Do you know, there was one woman who said she couldn't be on a jury. Something about being against her religion *snorts derisively* How can that be?"

I had to bite my tongue to prevent the instant rebuttal :

"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. " (Matthew 7:1-2)

Of course, that started me to thinking. If I was called for jury duty, what would I do? Would I do my civic duty or would I say that I cannot. Could I, in good conscience, do either of those? Mayhap Lady Justice is blind because of a log in one eye and a speck in the other.

Who am I to play optometrist?

Who are any of us?

Tuesday, July 13

well, ain't that something

So, I was pulling into the townhouse complex this evening when a thoroughly average and mundane thing happened. There were two LDS elders doing their missionary duty, knocking on houses and proselytizing as they do. What makes this worth talking about is what happened next.

See, I've never been much for evangelization. Blame it on the dour scottish roots of my Presbyterian upbringing or the general courtesy of not discussing religion, but it's just somewhat crass and 'not done'. Combine that with the fact that I'm not much about their particular form of Christianity (which some may not even call as such) and it makes for an unpleasant conversation. Then it hit me.

"For the one who is not against us is for us. " (Mark 9:40)

Now, I never considered it in just that light until that particular moment. As it has been really blinkin hot today (around 40C/100F), I went upstairs to get some ice water for those lads who have been walking around in the sun, but by the time I got back outside, they were gone. Still, I guess I have been paying attention after all. :)

Even more of interest is when I went to look up this verse to quote it, I found this:

"For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward." (Mark 9:41)

Have I ever mentioned about the Divine and his sense of humour?

Playin Hooker-y

A friend that I read was discussing at some length the question of 'authority/supremecy' and the use of that word in regard to reason, scripture and tradition (aka Richard Hooker's famous 3-legged stool, though there's no evidence he actually referred to it as such). I've resisted the urge to comment, but his words (as so often happens) has gotten me reading about the topic and thinking.

The concept of Sola Scriptura is, in my opinion, flawed from the outset due to the actual nature of what is and is not in what most consider to be scripture. Ignoring the question of Divine authorship, a document which has been collated, edited and translated by fallible sources over thousands of years is not, prima facie, infallible. This is not, in any manner, to invalidate the value or usefulness of the document, but rather to look at it in an objective manner.

Tradition is likewise a valuable but flawed source from which to draw authority from. I have written about tradition at length in the past, so I shan't repeat the whole verse, but 'because we have always done so' (under whatever moniker you wish to describe it) without other, validating support has been and still is a straw-man defense much in the same vein as discarding things solely because they had been thusly before.

This brings us to Reason. Reason, in Hooker's description is not an ipso facto authority, but rather an interpretive tool. Put differently, it is a lens through which we may view the above mentioned Scripture and Tradition in an attempt to make ancient and distant concepts relevant and approachable in a modern context (whether modern is circa 1600 or 2010). So, where is this touted reason to spring from? Is it from education or erudition? No.

"There are but two ways whereby the Spirit leadeth men into all truth; the one extraordinary, the other common; the one belonging but unto some few, the other extending itself unto all that are of God; the one, that which we call by a special divine excellency Revelation, the other Reason." (Hooker,Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, preface)

James Kiefer describes Hooker's Reason as "...thought, not as propositional thinking, but as the whole process of experience, and reflection on experience, that issues in knowledge and wisdom, and supremely, the knowledge of God." (cite) bring in my Crone's favorite question "Where's God in all this?" From my own experience and from what I interpret from Hooker, the lens of Reason is focused by the Divine whereby we may understand and interpret the Scriptures and Traditions to best work for His good.

So, which is most important? Which has 'authority'? Scripture and Tradition are the same for different people who have different viewpoints and different lives, but Reason, focused by the Divine, permits each person to draw what is important to their lives from the aforementioned two. As to some authority? Meh, y'all can argue that, I have sheep to feed.

Monday, July 12

Words and deeds

Today's Gospel reading is familiar ground, to be sure.

“Anyone who receives you receives me, and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me. If you receive a prophet as one who speaks for God, you will be given the same reward as a prophet. And if you receive righteous people because of their righteousness, you will be given a reward like theirs. And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.”

See that guy over there? Yah, we've seen that guy and people like him and most all of us are guilty of avoiding or completely ignoring them. Now, consider the words above. If you really mean it when you say you love God, you need to treat them as you would if they were Christ...because they are.

Brother James?
"If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?"

Words without deeds means nothing.

Go, feed some sheep.

Sunday, July 11

Quote of the day

"I believe that we are all made in the image and likeness of God. I believe that each of us is infinitely precious to God. I believe that each of us has the capacity to live out of that recognition, or to turn our backs on that recognition. And I believe that if we really recognize how essentially -- at essence, at core, at heart -- how essentially beautiful we are, we would have a world that looks so much more like the world we yearn for." -Rev. Mpho Tutu

Preach it, sister.

Wednesday, July 7

Presbyterians move toward gay marriage

From UPI newsfeed:

Committees of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have recommended the church allow same-sex marriages and non-celibate gay clergy.

If the first proposal is approved by the General Assembly, the church would be the largest denomination in the United States to marry gay and lesbian couples, the (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal reported. The Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues approved changing language on marriage to define it as between "two people" Tuesday by a vote of 34-18.

The Committee on Clergy approved the ordination of gays and lesbians 36-16.

Both resolutions must pass the General Assembly, meeting in Minneapolis this week. They would then face a tough ratification process by regional synods.

The church is the largest Presbyterian group in the United States. If the resolutions are adopted, observers say some entire congregations might affiliate with smaller and more conservative Presbyterian churches.

The Episcopal Church ordains gay clergy and allows the blessing of same-sex unions in dioceses that decide to do so. The issue threatens to split both the U.S. church and the world-wide Anglican Communion

Comment: If a mainline christian faith with over 2 million members is willing to sign off on same-sex marriage and non-celibate gay clergy, doesn't that put the whole "traditional marriage" argument on shaky ground?

Thanks to the Divine

And Jesus answered saying to them, “Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions". (Mark 11:22-26)

Thanks be to You almighty Father.

Thursday, July 1

Such a simple question.....but not as simple answer

As noted in my previous post, I was asked the question Why?

Why do you believe?
Why Theism?
Why Christianity?
Why the ECC ?

For myself, it comes to direct empirical evidence. I believe (and believe in the Divine, whom I will call 'God') because I have had 'an experience' which I cannot explain by methods other than to say that the Divine was directly involved. That experience has fundamentally affected my outlook on the world.

During my searching for the Divine in philosophy and religion, I found a commonality which rings true throughout all of them in the day-to-day application, with most of the differences between the groups being in the theoretical and/or culture-specific stuff. As I was raised as a Judeo-Christian in a Judeo-Christian society, remaining within general religion that is my socio-cultural norm is comfortable and has no direct conflicts with the underlying philosophy.

As to the specifics, I found and remain with the faith community I am at because I have seen/felt the Divine actively at work in the lives of those who I share this faith community with. Upon investigation, the underlying beliefs of said community accurately reflect the core values and general revelations which I have had regarding the nature of the Divine and how we, as mature members of the world community, should guide ourselves in word and deed from day to day. Finally, I would add that the leadership, both local and distant, official and unofficial, are consistent in their support of a personally directed, individualistic spiritual journey (no matter where it may lead), something which I have never experienced previously.

Such a simple question.....

For those of you who do not know, my partner is an active agnostic. I mean that to say that he thinks about matters of philosophy and religion with some frequency and is honestly seeking Truth, but he withholds belief in any higher power without adequate support or rational basis for the existence of said higher power. As you can imagine, this leads to substantive and interesting discussions which can be highly disturbing to some folk.

He has put to me this question, which I wish to put to you as well.


Why do you believe? Why Theism? Why (general religion here)? Why (specific brand of faith here)?
Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.
Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” - Gautama Siddharta, the Buddha
In a day or so, I will post my answer (if you've not divined it from earlier posts), but I would entreat you all to post your own reflections to his question.

inner conscience vs. outer commandments

Last week, the church bulletin had a short blurb in it, tucked away on page three, which said that our parish priest was going to hold an adult education meeting on Wednesday evening to talk about the role of conscience in the daily life and touch upon his doctoral thesis work (his PhD was conferred just last month). Last night, there were fully 30 people who showed up to listen and to discuss the concepts regarding the primacy of conscience and how it relates to individual parishioners, specifically on the topic of sexuality and contraception. I'll not attempt in 50 words to recount what he outlines in a 300 page thesis, but the ensuing discussion brought out at least one point which wasn't central (or, perhaps, even mentioned) in the document - to wit, the changes in the laity and the affects on the clergy/laity relationship (and the Church/laity relationship).

For a great deal of the history of the Church, the vast majority of the laity had only the most rudimentary of formal educations. They were workers, farmers and tradesmen whose livelihood depended on what they could do, not what they knew. Ergo, the clergy existed as the bulwark of erudition in an otherwise featureless plain. In the last 150 years or so, however, the balance of intellectual power has significantly shifted in the nations of the first world (especially the US).

Particularly after the second World War, the pervasive spread of both secondary and post-secondary education has led to parishes overflowing with men and women who are highly educated in both the arts and sciences. In our county specifically, over 50% of the adult population has at least a bachelor's degree. When a substantive portion of the laity has as much (or more) formal education as the episcopate, let alone the presbyterate, the pre-Vatican II 'Papa knows best' line, as recently echoed by our local arch-bishop "Catholics must accept the Church's teachings", smacks as both offensive and condescending. The days of the Church, any Church, telling people how to think, believe and even vote are a relic of a bygone era (despite what our local prelate may propound) as the parishioners have the mental faculties and education needed to do that for ourselves.
Whenever our conscience condemns us, we will be reassured that God is greater than our conscience and knows everything. Dear friends, if our conscience doesn't condemn us, we can boldly look to God and receive from him anything we ask. We receive it because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. This is his commandment: to believe in his Son, the one named Jesus Christ, and to love each other as he commanded us. Those who obey Christ's commandments live in God, and God lives in them. We know that he lives in us because he has given us the Spirit. (1 John 3:20-24)
I am not saying that those who have devoted their lives to the study and discussion of these things are not experts in their field or that their advice and counsel should be thrown away out of hand. Rather, that it is advice and counsel, rather than edict and commandment...thoughts of mortal and imperfect men about immortal and perfect things, not infallible pronouncements. If the senior leadership is to teach, then they should recall that one learns as much from the students as they from the teacher....and we are all students of the Great Teacher.