29 November 2005

Monks, Fire, and No Mass Communication

Tonight I cannot help but chuckle at the complete mess of the early Church. I'm knee-deep in the controversies of the 5th century now, when Popes' power is ascending, monks are cantankerous, and emperors vascillate in levels of Christian sympathy. Vandals and Goths and others attack from all sides; alliances are struck between secular and sacred powers to preserve wealth and land. Some bishops call Councils to settle any number of the myriad matters of life-or-death controversy (you know, the really important stuff, like whether Christ's two natures were eternally fused or whether he was divinity enfleshed for a time on Earth) but some of the Bishops invited can't get there in time, and it completely affects the entire outcome of negotiations. People are put on trial in their own absence, people present are condemned without being given the chance to speak for themselves. People are condemned, exiled, anathematized one year, only to be orthodox the next.

What of our own incredibly important disputes are we going to put down gleefully when the next more glamorous controversy comes along? Each of these theological distinctions has its place, but what can determine "orthodoxy" and what is worth dying for, worth being out of communion with sisters and brothers? What differences hinder corporate ability to praise the Lord, or stop me from being in love and charity with my neighbors?

I know its a simple question, and the answers abound from all perspectives. Still, since the 5th century, it seems more, not less, has become non-negotiable. Human condition or Christian curse?

14 November 2005

The S Word

I got sin coming at me from everywhere these days. Today our Anglican Tradition and Life class discussed sin and how the Church conceived of it after the Reformation, and how we conceive of it today. On the Episcopal Seminary Students listserve, we are discussing sin and what qualifies, how to rank them, which ones to really go after. Our Church History class has plowed through Augustine and Original Sin in response to Pelagianism. A classmate and I discussed the powers and principalities of Ephesians 6:2 and spiritual warfare. Our sermon at daily Eucharist today urged us to beware the Church that innoculates members with a mild form of Christianity, making them immune to the real version. This Church would avoid discussing sin as too controversial, so dangerously un-Jesus I don't know how to call it a Church. I see the Church with its inocculating needles out so often, with a Buddy-Jesus smile and a circle of hand-holding, and some sprinkled phrases about concern for the Earth, and then brunch afterwards to wash down that long drink of BS in which we all just participated.


I return again and again to Creation Regained, the book that changed my life, and the idea that the whole Creation was good, the whole Creation fell, and the whole Creation is offered redemption through Jesus Christ. This means that every person, thing, and institution can be restored to its whole created state. This also means that every person, thing, and institution has been corrupted by sin. Everything is broke down to some degree 'round here, I reckon.

I remember that in my Commission on Ministry interview, someone shared with me that through ministry they came to know the depth of their own sinfulness. The depth of my own sinfulness? I thought as he spoke. Where did that come from? But now his words are ringing in my ears, and a healthy dose of sin-talk is right up my alley today for some reason. I found I was hungry to delve into the workings of sin in my own life and in general, and was thankful for the reminder that I am finite, I am weak, and I am incomplete. Discussing sin, confessing it, makes that reality unavoidable. I am becoming aware that in seminary the emphasis on higher learning and theological understanding can draw us away from awareness of our own sinfulness and the personal moral implications of our theology, towards a distanced, general grasp of concepts and worship full of silent theological ponderings rather than confession and absolution. Coupled with this distance is that pesky PC pressure that props us all up on a floor of eggshells in mapping out where sin is, what it covers, and the radical realization in light of pervasive sin that Jesus has the power to redeem it all. Without acknowledging the depth of my sin, what will I conceive of as the depth of my salvation?

13 November 2005

21 Bottles of Wine on the Wall

After a weekend in wine country with the folks, I am staring at the largest collection of wine ever at my disposal. I pray that my life will not necessitate hasty consumption.

I have more people in my life than ever before who hold completely different convictions than I. My father and I got through about 4 hours without starting in on politics. It was a great discussion, though, and we agreed wholeheartedly that the answer to frustrations with the right or left is to keep them as close as possible. In holding ongoing conversations with secular and religious conservatives, I am forced to reconcile opposing ideas without caricature or dismissal. This seems the only answer to moving forward, whether in the Church or in the secular world.

It is so easy to dismiss opposing views in the short run, but devastating in the long run. Each passing co
mment ("The revisionists don't believe in scripture" "Feminists are destroying the Church" "Conservatives are such bigots") puts us farther from true community with those whom we don't understand. I know for myself if I am not in relationship with friends from conservative seminaries and Republicans, I am doomed to miss something important they have to say.

In holding out this possibility, though, I get it from the right and the left.
Fraternizing with the enemy will get you nowhere but frustrated, I hear all the time around here. The discussions I have with people who think women should not be ordained, that being gay is sinful, or that George Bush has the interest of the American people at heart; these are not easy conversations and often bring me much frustration. So, while stretching myself to explain more than once the difference between "feminine" and "feminist," and while getting criticism for "wasting my time doing it," I am growing all the while. It isn't easy, though, and I'm thankful to a handful who don't give me jaw-drop looks but instead share stories of navigating they did in relationship with those who thought differently than they did.

I don't think M. and I are too much at risk for getting out of touch because our families tow the red state line daily. We love them and don't think they're stupid. We think they are older than us, wiser, and with much to offer. Thankfully, they don't think we're stupid either! So, the conversations are hard and have to be entered into prayerfully and with the intention of mutual encouragement. The only models out there are full of bitterness and no generosity of spirit. Committing to these relationships is difficult but life-giving.

Starting with Advent I'm following the New Zealand prayer book for a year for private
devotions. The prayers are beautiful and a refreshing change of language. Get your hands on some of it if you haven't seen it before.

10 November 2005

Light the Fire

A true friend reminded me tonight that people have no reason to fight for a cause if they haven't experienced the accompanying injustice. If you look around the room and you see that racial minorities are missing or silenced, that's the fire lit under ya. If you look around the room and you see that women are missing or silenced, that's another fire. We will see different discrepancies, thank God. The problem comes when we automatically prioritize our observations over others'. In other words, if I was a feminist trying to work up some passion for the cause, it would be the ultimate activist party fowl to expect others to drop their passion for minority involvement.

And so it is with the Church.

Some people here have no fire under them about the way we worship. Some came to the tradition after years of searching and found comfort and peace in the rituals. Some have only known this style of worship and everything else feels downright sacriligious. Some just go along their merry way whistling "All Glory Laud and Honor" and haven't seen any reason for something to change.

This is not me.

There is a fire lit under me, and somebody keeps dumping kerosene on it. This worship feels stale to all my friends and family who aren't self-identified Episcopalians. My friends have no good reason to walk in on a chapel service and experience something. In Anglican Tradition on Monday, we talked about defining ourselves historically as "not X, not Y" rather than as "clearly Z" and this leaving us with an identity that changes as the culture changes. We know we're not "fundamentalist," we're not "evangelical," and we certainly don't "get saved." Beyond this, things seem open for discussion. Our boundaries are negative, rather than positive. People join up because they got burned by the groups we have defined ourselves against. We're the Other Team.

I daresay our Church will die with its aging baby boomers if we don't confront:

- worship that engages the unchurched
- community that defines itself positively rather than negatively

And I daresay I'm not going down with the ship.

Real Presence: The presence of Christ in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. THe 1991 statement of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission notes, "The elements are not mere signs; Christ's body and blood become really present and are really given. But they are really present and given in order that, receiving them, believers may be united in communion with Christ the Lord." A classic Anglican statement attributed to John Donne (or to Queen Elizabeth I) and included in The Hymnal 1982 (Hymn 322) is "He was the Word that spake it, he took the bread and brake it, and what the Word did made, I do believe and take it." In Eucharistic Prayer A of Rite 2, the celebrant prays the God the Father will sanctify the gifts of bread and wine "by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him" (BCP p 363). The Catechism notes that the inward and spiritual grace in the eucharist is "the Body and Blood of Christ given to his people and received by faith" (BCP 859). Belief in the real presence does not imply a claim to know how Christ is present in the eucharistic elements. Belief in the real presence does not imply belief that the consecrated eucharistic elements cease to be bread and wine.

01 November 2005

Sorry, Charlie. You're NOT my Patron Saint.

Why does the patron saint of seminarians have to be...................this guy?

I mean, I was hoping for something a little more spicy. Somebody who was discouraged about the establishment they were wedding themselves to, somebody who turned over the altar in the chapel because it was taken too seriously, somebody who stood up in class and shouted about the elephants in the room (of which, even in the 1500's, there must have been a few). I was biting my nails looking up the patron saint of seminarians. I thought for sure it would be some woman who dressed up like a man and made it through the first 6 years before she was uncovered and expelled. Or someone who got all F's all through their first two years and then discovered their niche and triumphed over academia. Heck, I would even take someone who lobbied for better food in their flippin' dining hall. But no, it is this guy, with this schnoz, and this red yarmulke. Great. Love the collar.

Alas, it is this guy.

Charles Borromeo is about the worst patron saint of seminarians I can think of. Hopelessly of-the-establishment, son of a Medici, nephew of a Pope. Among the other really boring things he did, he helped open some seminaries. Wave your Charlie Borromeo flag, everyone, Woo Hoo for Charlie and his seminary-opening magnificence.

It's just not right.

Our procession in with the icons today at our seminary eucharist was great. The incense smelled good, the music was familiar, and the projector ran all kinds of a goodies in the form of icons and photos of saints, canonized and otherwise. I wanted to flip Athanasius off when his picture came up but I just looked at the floor instead. And I heard a sermon that made me weep, and caused me to drag up images in my mind of the saints of my life. So, I've got some icons of my own. And don't worry your pretty little head, I'm working on a new patron saint of seminarians. So, when Charlie's Day rolls around (NOVEMBER 4th) I will have a substitute waiting to crash his party.

Bobby Dylan: In my life, Bob Dylan is the Patron Saint of Big Dreams and Changing Times. He was a herald of what was coming, in music, in politics, and among the people. Patron saint of all places reminiscent of Greenwich Village.

SC, my Patron Saint of Confidence. My former college roommate has lived on three continents, and currently runs a medical clinic for ex-pats and natives in Shanghai. She has a masters from a French university. She is not intimidated by much at all, and is willing to try anything. She is positive and bright, and determined and hilarious. I will always think of her when I feel like I cannot accomplish something.

MJK - my patron saint of the Teachable Spirit. This woman is beautiful, sensible, and strong, but she is also curious and sensitive, and tries her very hardest to work, play, and live to the best of her ability. She always asks questions at the heart of the matter, and is just about the funniest person you'll meet. A truly inspirational person.

There are endless saints in my saint box. Who is in yours?