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DEMONS

My first attempt to send out the last blog omitted the last paragraph and then some of you didn’t get notice that I had written. You would think our father below’s workers have enough to do in the Communion without worrying about my blog.

I edited the bog and now you can read it all.

AMYLOIDOSIS

Until a few days ago I’d never heard of Amyloidosis. On or before March 16th an incision will be made under my left eyeball and a tool inserted to scoop some tissue from behind the ball. The idea of all this is to do a biopsy to discover whether I have another incurable disease. Surely one incurable disease is enough even for a Brit! Well it’s Lent after all. Amyloidosis is basically all about a protein we all have which cleans up our organs and then dies, but, in this case refuses to die and begins to destroy the tissue it has entered.

About three weeks ago, my eye lids began to get red and the pouches under my eye filled up. My eye lashes became coated in a light brown substance. This has happened before and gone away. But this time my vision became blurred and the other eye area followed suit but to a lesser degree. Then I began to see double. This helped in tallying the numbers in the pews.

One of my parishioners, a doctor at the eye center of the University hospital arranged for me to be seen. My oncologist ordered an MRI. It was then decided that I have a CT scan. As a result it was determined that the tissue behind my eyes and to some extend the optic nerve had something wrong with them. The suspect: Amyloidosis. Look it up on Google.

Once the biopsy is done, it will take a week for the results to get back and then a search begun to see if this wretched condition is in other organs or areas of my body. Then a form of treatment will begin together with continued treatment of the Waldenström macroglobulinemia I’m fighting. Neither disease has a cure, but treatment and monitoring can keep the beasts in their lairs for long periods of time. After all,people on death row can remain alive for years with sufficient appeals!

At the same time I’d been getting weaker and losing my appetite even though my blood tests are mostly positive.. My oncologist gave me two choices. I could be admitted to hospital and “worked on” or sent home to begin a regime of steroids until the new course of treatment is determined. So after being given a four hour IV of liquids and potassium, I came home. The steroids are working!

Do keep praying for me. My blurry eyesight makes writing and reading a chore. If I have to give something up, please God let it not be my vision.

Talking of “giving up” our Presiding Bishop has asked us to use Lent as a time to surrender up to God the requests the Primates have made to our part of the church as a sign of our intent to live within the Anglican family. This has let loose a barrage of comment from emailers, bishops and even seminary heads, some agreeing with the request, but most fighting the same old battle. The most extraordinary letters, at least to me, come from “liberal” bishops whose ecclesiology sounds rather like George Bush’s world vision. In a few words they suggest that we have no need to listen to those foreigners who don’t have our democracy. There are those on the right who sense that this is all a conspiracy. However for once I can report that the right is being better behaved.

It is being suggested by some that a Lenten season of prayer and reflection by all in some manner betrays gays and lesbians. But if we are all asked to pray, reflect and offer up the various issues surrounding our identity, our relationships, our calling and mission and our future, as Christians we are all being singled out. Lent is the time of self-oblation. We sing “Nothing in my hand I bring: simply to thy cross I cling.” No one was fair to Jesus.

At the end of a lenten sermon I wrote for SERMONS THAT WORK this morning I concluded:

All too often we grasp a “users’ faith”. “God loves me unconditionally and therefore in justice I should get…..” “I got saved and therefore I should have money.” We want a God who takes us as we are, lets us become even worse that we are now, and loves us despite who we have become. We want a God who gives. Do we want a God who dies?

THE PRIMATES SPEAK

If this whole sorry story were about winners and losers, the “Windsor compliant” bishops would seem to have won the first round. They did so, I would suggest, because their attitude and mode of operation sounded Anglican. They didn’t sound like politicians or go for the headlines. Nor did they seem to be engaged in an opportunistic grasp for power. Their reticence must have appealed to +Rowan Cantuar and the primates who still prefer to use the language in an understated manner.

In that our own primate signed the final statement there may be hope that a similarly moderate liberal response will be forthcoming. Certainly the appearance of unity -if a less than total expression thereof- may enable TEC to care for all our parishioners and parishes rather than merely those who agreed with majority votes in General Convention. It will be interesting to see in what manner General Convention will function in a two room house. One welcomes the moratorium on law suits. I’ve written before on the scandal these law suits present to the watching world. In that 815 has encouraged legal proceedings, the ability of our Primate to be a shepherd to all, rather than the leader of a party has been greatly damaged. Ecclesiastical parties come and go. It is to be hoped that the primates have enabled moderates in TEC to have the courage of their convictions.

On the other hand, TEC may be prepared to walk away from the Communion in September, arguing that we must all wait for the next General Convention. That would be an utter tragedy. The draft Covenant defines accurately classical Anglicanism. Mention of the 1662 BCP
and the Articles of Religion as authoritative documents may need some further drafting. Perhaps the Historical Documents section of our Prayer Book provide sources and language which speak to who we are and whom we serve.

The House of Bishops and the Executive Council are being given perhaps the most difficult and most important decision in the history of Anglicanism in America. At least the Canadians have now ample warning to prepare themselves to respond to the WWAC.

Surely if it is in God’s will that gays and lesbians may marry, or bishops in same sex relationships are the thing of the future, we can all wait to see if this revelation becomes apparent more widely across the world before we break ranks with our family and tradition?

In the meantime perhaps those on the right can practice good manners and the language of Anglican diplomacy. We are not living in the reign of Edward VI or George III. Evangelicalism is an important aspect of Anglicanism, but, except for a few years in Edwardian and Elizabethan reigns, the sort of evangelicalism we’ve heard from recently has never defined our tradition. It is for this reason that the Windsor bishops have been heard. They represent different traditions within our church and lack the shrillness one reads in certain blogs!

Certainly TEC has been taken to the Principal’s study. I think that to be a thoroughly good thing. We’ve all been much too arrogant to the point that some of us think that our financial gifts abroad should have bought us support. Americans constantly moan that nations we have supported show little gratitude. Gifts with strings are no gifts at all. Claims that General Convention has a direct and unique link to the Holy Spirit sound remarkably like the claims made by Mormons and Christian Scientists.

Perhaps the proposed Covenant will bring us back to reality?

NOT A PROPHET

Someone wrote to me the other day asking me to speculate on what will happen at the Primates’ Meeting. Well, I’m not a prophet nor the son of a prophet. I can only take comfort in believing that whatever happens eventually God’s will is to be done on earth as it is in heaven. In the meantime things look bad. Except in a script for a Monty Python movie. Primates self-segregated, armed guards, cabals and groups, threats of schism, expulsion, journalists hungry for news; it’s all farcical and bizarre.

I was struck by these words in the second lesson at Mattins today: “..if I am delayed, you may know how one is to behave in the Household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”

I may well be accused of temerity in suggesting that our Primates take this injunction to heart. Despite Ruth Gledhill’s suggestion that schism may be a good thing, it is nevertheless true that schism weakens the church in its witness, in its worship and in its message to the world.

I entered the Episcopal Church in 1999, abandoning my miter, in part because I believed that being part of a world-wide, historical Communion made it possible for me to rejoice in a fellowship and witness more effectively to the faith once delivered to the saints. I had no illusions about the Episcopal Church -or thought I had none -but I was convinced that to obey our Lord’s command that we love one another requires unity. No, I am not being sentimental. Loving is not primarily an act of emotion, but rather a deliberate and self-sacrificing act of love. In other words we are commanded to intentionally act love, even if we don’t feel love and can find a million splendid reasons for walking away.

Schism denies who we are in worship. Eucharistic worship supposes unity, unity through baptism, unity in our intention to believe that which the Church believes and unity in Christ and with the whole Church in heaven and on earth. Disunity crucifies Christ. Schism is an act of agnosticism, suggesting that God is powerless and we have the answers. For the Church is not the sum total of living Christians, or of Anglicans, or of Episcopalians. The Church IS. It is for this reason that claims to autonomy or the claims of coalitions of Primates are heretical. No meeting of Primates, or General Synods or Conventions may claim final authority let alone the right to dismember the Church either by active or passive schism.

The Church speaks in witness to the unity God the Holy Spirit is bringing to the world. We are no longer the West, or the Global South, or African, or English, male or female, gay or straight, we are one and we demonstrate that unity in love and mutual submission. We are all sinners saved by grace, under the mercy, not as mere individuals, but as “members incorporate in the mystical Body of Christ.” When we seek, on our own behalf or for others a special recognition based on tribe or caste, race or behavior, we deny the work of the Holy Spirit, or that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures. That we are all, despite our sins, through baptism heirs of the Kingdom doesn’t imply that we don’t sin or that we are virtuous. No group may claim, by self-proclaimed membership in a group, automatic absolution. The Church has the right and duty to speak to the world against discrimination of all kinds. The Church may not absolve a group facing discrimination of their besetting sins. Nor, according to our own rubrics may we shun anyone unless they cause scandal – notice I said “they”, not the parish gossips or, -and note this, unless they cause division.

When we divide or cause division, because we believe we must defend the Church against something or other, we presume too much. God can look after the Church. Our task is to be obedient in conscience, to the faith of the Church and to our ministries, positively living out the faith in the bonds of unity. It was for this reason that Anglicanism developed it horror of schism: that schism is heresy and heresy schism.

If our Primates have come together in order to demonstrate their mutual willful love for the Church, the Communion and each other, then we can be sure God will do His good work among us. If they remain in their camps, intent on getting their own way or walk, then sulphur is in the air and more will reject Christianity as a temple for humbugs. All the chatter about second provinces, expulsions, claims of particular inspiration by the Holy Spirit, provincial autonomy have no basis in Scripture, the Tradition or sanctified Reason. They are based on political models and driven by the secular model of some Western cultures. Who, in their right mind prays for disunity?

So I pray, almost I despair in prayer,for the peace and unity of the Communion. And if TEC is expelled? I shall carry on as best I can in loyalty to the oaths I took when I was received into the Episcopal Church, hoping that in God’s good time unity in love may be restored.

OG THE KING OF BASHAN

The psalm at Evensong today (136) was one of my favorites as a boy. As in most English parishes then, Evensong was a weekly occurrence, and the congregation knew the tune and the pointing without aid of the music or a pointed psalter. I had no idea who Og was, but the name was wonderful.

By attending Evensong I was following in a tradition begun by Thomas Cranmer himself. His ambition was to turn England into a monastery in which all recited the Offices daily and were immersed in prayer, the psalter and the annual reading of the Bible, divided into days. At the same time, by use of the Christian Year, the people were to pray into the great deeds of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. England was to become a holy nation. It is easy to dismiss such an ambition, because we abhor State Churches, believe in separation of church and state, the virtue of choice and thus dismiss the prayer that the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord Christ as poetic hyperbole.

No lesser “Catholic” than +Michael Ramsey wondered whether the Parish Communion movement, by placing the Eucharist at the heart of Sunday worship, took away from the less committed and occasional conformists an opportunity to pray in and with the parish without totally committing themselves to the beliefs of the church. Be that as it may, the demise of Evening Prayer in the form of corporate worship ( and perhaps Morning Prayer earlier on Sunday morning) takes us a long way away from a vision of a holy people.

Add to this the growth of denominationalism in the Episcopal Church, and even the vision of an inclusive holy church tends to disappear. A denomination has an agenda, and may embrace its own approach to what it means to be a church. Contrast this with the older Anglican notion that we become the church corporately through baptism and we grow into being the church as, in corporate worship, we are immersed by the Church, taught by the Church as the Word is heard and absorbed and fed by the Church in the sacraments. (a denomination may contemplate administering the sacrament to the non-baptized: the church may not.)

Note also that our Reformers and their Elizabethan successors were much more intent on the Word being heard in the context of public worship than in preaching. Preachers have the liberty of the pulpit and may depart from examining the assigned lessons, a habit of the Puritans, and expand on almost anything. They were prophets warning about modern Episcopalian preaching!

Our loss, or failure to employ the gifts we have been given contained in the Prayer Book, Calendar and Christian Year makes us ill-prepared to evaluate the issues of the moment.

The concept of a “holy” church sounds to many as something like a collection of self-proclaimed “righteous” folk. That’s off-putting, and so it should be. Nevertheless we continue to say that we believe in a holy church every time we recite the Creeds. The word “holy” has in its origin the idea of a people separated to a task, and specifically a people called by God to be an example to the world to whom God would minister and restore to unity with Himself. God called Israel to that status and ministry as recorded in the Old Testament. It was an uncomfortable identity and mission and thus Israel often tried to escape such a calling, or interpreted it in terms of being better than non members of the God club. In short they became chauvinists and chauvinists usually become corrupt and amoral.

The Gospel invited all peoples into such a calling and mission. I’m not sure we have done better than Israel. A denomination certainly doesn’t fill the bill, for a denomination, by singling out its special identity adds to or replaces elements of the Gospel and denies thereby the right of all who hear the call to be “Catholics” rather than sectarians. Every time I hear our church described as anti-fundamentalism or Roman Catholicism I shudder. Being “anti” something is a poor and meager “Gospel”. When I hear our church described as a denomination I cynically contemplate the lamentable accuracy of such an accusation.

On the other hand, as long as the Prayer Book is used regularly -I use the term “regular”in both its meanings – Cranmer’s vision of a holy church and a holy people isn’t entirely lost. Indeed the liturgy is a wonderful antidote to novelty, however persuasively articulated from the pulpit. The power of God to speak to us in corporate prayer, as we hear the Word and are incorporated into the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church is actual and powerful. It is for this reason, among others, that those contemplating schism, however tastefully defined, should think again. A religious body identified by its opposition to another even if it retains episcopacy and the liturgy, is something narrower and exclusive than the holy church. It is a sect, however right it may seem to be about an issue or issues. It is a sect if it leaves the church in self-proclaimed virtue. It is a sect even if it is expelled from Communion and fellowship because it refuses to live in mutual submission with others because it regards its mission to be virtuous. Neither option demonstrates faith in the God of the church who again and again has lifted up the Church in the midst of the years and whose Son was much more clear about unity than about heresy.

If we were a holy people we wouldn’t be at this moment of crisis. If we exercised patience and honored those with whom we disagree we might go forward to discover that God’s purpose is quite different from our own agendas. It is high time we made it our vocation again to live into our historical vocation, to be merely the church placed in a particular place for all people.

OF PRIMATES and the VIA MEDIA

We live in a democratic country. I realize that purists will dispute such a description of the republic, but there we are. Hardly a day goes by without our being bombarded with “news” about the next general election. In the meantime candidates and those waiting in the wings damn each other with faint praise. I suppose then that it is inevitable that our church is similarly engaged in “politics” with its groups and parties, lobbies and blogs.

As we get closer to the Primates’ Meeting in Tanzania the rhetoric gets more shrill and the predictions dire. +Katharine will be expelled or treated badly. The proposed Covenant will enslave TEC and bind the Holy Spirit. There’s little notice of the letter or spirit found in today’s reading from St. Mark 9: 30 – 41. Modern disciples still dispute who will be greatest in the Kingdom. “Greatest” means control. Who will really have God’s ear? Will we be enslaved by Canterbury or have the power to have our own way? Have we been given the power to teach others the new truths we have received?

It looks very much to me that those who want to harshly discipline TEC and those who are unlikely to want to do much more than give us a slap on the wrist are evenly divided. That leaves about six Provinces whose primate may go one way or the other, but probably wouldn’t support the blustering of the Archbishop of Nigeria. Indeed it is not at all clear that the Global South leaders are as pleased with +Peter Nigeria as they once were. Those who have set up shop in the United States are equally liable to receive a purple hued boot in their archiepiscopal posteriors. Whats sauce for the goose…

Nor do I see any evidence that a proposed Covenant is going to be adopted unless it is able to pass muster in Provinces like Ireland or Australia let alone Canada and the US.

Certainly our primate is going to have to explain why our Canons seem to repudiate Eames 1, why it is that we are so organized that no real answer to questions may be forthcoming unless debated by General Convention in the atmosphere of secular legislation and a winner take all system. It is because we can’t represent our whole constituency when asked to answer questions posed to us that minority bishops have to be invited to a Primates’ Meeting. Our politics make us state our case based on the winners’ vote, rather than our being honest and saying that we are divided on these issues. Politics make us dishonest and “parties” which exercise power for years are naturally prone to arrogance.

Hyperbole is a great weapon for politicians. It is easy to damn the rest of the Provinces in the Communion for being less “democratic” than we are. I have a feeling that consciously or not, the charge suggests that African Primates are prone to be dictators and that summons up visions of Mugabe or Idi Amin. I bumped in to the Primate of the Congo at 815 the other day. He didn’t look or sound like a Prince Bishop. I haven’t met an aristocratic bishop in England for years. But their titles sound undemocratic. We are not in Victorian times and today, as then, bishops and archbishops are as limited in authority as our own, and some of our own get away with forms of idiosyncratic and personal power no English bishop would dare to attempt. I dare say that those who damn preletical Provinces don’t really know much at all about their systems of government. At any rate the “dog and pony show”of pre-election hype we now use in the run up to choosing a bishop has to go.

I would love to read a theological and ecclesial defence of the proposition that the church is a democracy. In our church we may elect bishops but once that’s done who pastors and guides and limits our bishops? We’ve been so busy demolishing our traditions and precedents that little is left to describe and limit episcopal function except for “systems” theory, a discipline whose times has left.

And that brings me to truth in advertising. If the group called Via Media is really an association of middle of the road Anglicans then where do the other 70% of Episcopalians fit in? This group needs to justify its title and cite historical, theological and ecclesiological precedent to explain how its shrill rhetoric, so like that of conservative extremists, is at all moderate and reasonable. OK one doesn’t approve of +Bob Duncan, +Jack Iker or +James Stanton if one is in the Pittsburgh or Dallas/Fort Worth dioceses. Fine. Term oneself “Liberals United Against Networks”. But Via Media? Come off it. I don’t doubt that we need some sort of an organization for people of the via media and if founded it would be a sane, patient, moderate and thoroughly boring institution! Lovely. I’m all for some patient boredom in our church.

I don’t expect any real news from the Primates’ Meeting. Maybe Akinola will walk out. Maybe not. Maybe we will be asked to inform and hold discussions with the Communion before we adopt extremely controversial measures like giving communion to the unbaptized: a thoroughly generous, sentimental and theological nonsensical idea. Maybe the test for us all will be the language of the proposed Covenant if and when it emerges to be discussed at Lambeth?

In the meantime it’s useless to ask people to be calm, but it might be splendid if we all pray for all the Primates, how ever elected or whatever their power or positions might be?