Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Eve Revisited

For clergy Christmas Eve is generally hectic. There has to be more than just one sermon for the week. We have our presents to buy and wrap. Some of us have family to see after. But when it comes to the actual service, the liturgy is quite magical. Candles enhance faces to the almost glowing. Familiar carols mean full-voiced singing from the congregation and Lutherans sing lustily as a general course. You can imagine what it is like when everyone knows the hymns! You feel the music rather than hear it!

This year I have enough familiarity now with the Lutheran rite that I could be relaxed as we began the service. The church was full—extra seats had to be unfolded. There were lots of kids to process to the crèche with.

Looking out on the congregation I realized that one family home to grandma and grandpa’s for the holiday took up three rows of seats. Another family took up four. By the time we got to Silent Night there was standing room only. Following the 7:30 service—mid-night mass is not generally practiced by small Lutheran congregations—there was a coffee hour. Kids who had grown up in the parish found Sunday school companions from 30 years before and caught up on what they were doing now. It was class reunion at its best. Children met their parents school chums. They stayed until 10:30 catching up and enjoying their youth through Christmas eyes. It was church at its best.

Most of our parishes are like this in upstate NY. We are the homes that many have left to find employment in other places. But the church is still “home”. Many thanked me for the service, but they had “built” the service many years before. It was deeply internalized even if they no longer attended. The new hymnal and liturgy did not faze them. The changes to the building were taken in and appreciated. There was no pining for what had changed—it was just the being in touch with a reality in their lives that perhaps they had not found anywhere else.

The message of the Incarnation that God is with us and has always been with us is lit in those faces. For all the tensions in the Church, Christmas Eve is the reminder to all of us who live the Church day in and day out that the message is already out there, embedded in the DNA of those who heard the Good News as children.

But the church is not home. It is merely the filling station. It is the place where we practice living the gospel enough so that we can take it to others in our actions. I doubt if anyone cared one hoot if a lesbian was at the altar. I doubt if anyone minded that there were gay folks kneeling next to them at the altar rail. The message was understood: God was there and they could touch him in the Sacrament and see it in the faces of others. That’s enough for me.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

T'was the Day Before Christmas

T’was the day before Christmas. The Church was a mess.
Sermons weren’t written; vestments not pressed.
Bulletins were printed but in great disarray,
In hopes that the Christ Child would …please, be delayed.

I in my snow boots and weather’d long johns
Found the shovel and ice melt all long gone
I scraped off the ice from the frozen front steps .
And hoped that no congregant would slip or upset.

The choir had practiced till blue in the face,
The coffee was perked and cookies all baked,
All was ready, or so we all thought.
But where were the candles that last year we just bought?

How can we have Christmas without candlelight?
How can we sing Gloria and sweet Silent Night?!
Hither and thither we searched and we sought
But no little candles were there to be found.
I could just feel my Neilson rating plunge to the ground.

O Baby Jesus, where are you today?
Can you find us candles right now? we pray.
And to my surprise in a closet most foul,
The wayward tapers came forth from its bowel..

All is ready. The church, finally done.
The crèche is a’ waiting, the sermon is fun.
The Christ Child is coming, Alleluia, Hooray!
May every one have a Blest Christmas Day!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Idols of Orthodoxy

Word comes from Ft. Worth that Jack Iker has resigned his ordination in the Episcopal Church. Hopefully this will save the continuing diocese of Ft. Worth much headache as it sorts out whose property is whose. At least now I can go to Ft. Worth and find a real Episcopal Church that professes what the Episcopal Church professes not fearing reprisal from the local ordinary.

For the past 30 years in some locales there have been those who have ‘gone whoring after other gods’. This phrase has always struck me as funny. But in the day that it was coined, Israel had to guard against participating in the religions of the nations around them. The fertility cults of those Semite peoples around them often employed what we would call temple prostitutes. Their religions often called for participation in fertility rituals. Today we hear the phrase as being distracted by the lures of the world: consumerism, egoism, nationalism, etc. But the present crisis in the Church is just as much a battle between those who adhere to a living God and those who are tempted by the gods of our day.

Karen Armstrong coined a phrase “the idols of orthodoxy”. It conjures the image of the followers of such gods as being in bed with a type of religion that most likely never was and will never be. It is requires an obeisance to an idea of a Church that could never have been a faith. Being subservient to orthodoxy is being caught in a time warp.

Now I have no problem with history and tradition and I am Anglican enough to know that it is in the past that we find the faith for the future. But faith can never be subservient to orthodoxy if it is a faith given by the Holy Spirit.
‘The Holy Spirit blows where it wills.’

Every time I am exposed to a rant from the “orthodites”, (I refuse to call them orthodox because that means ‘right thinking’. That implies that there is thinking going on!) I begin to lose the charity upon which my faith is founded. ‘Orthodites’ seem to only want to prove how ‘right’ they are rather than live out the transforming love that Christ holds out to those who are in relationship with him. It is also difficult to ascertain if the ‘right’ they cling to means ‘correct’ or what side of the aisle they sit.

Worship of the god of orthodoxy demands attention to detail, the constant search for the most historic and the discipline of inerrancy. There can be no dance with the ‘new thing’ that Christ promises, no cavorting with the Spirit that breaths life into an ever-growing Church, no transforming compassion.

The ordination of self-proclaimed archbishops, the development of extra-territorial gatherings that have more clergy than pew-sitters is basically sad. They had hoped that the Episcopal world was as back-ward looking as they. They had hoped to leave with a bang but the noise is more like a whimper. Yes, the loss of those Christians who have followed their bishops because they have not heard anything but what their bishops have told them of the Episcopal Church for a generation will find that there is nothing to their faith when the well of anger and self-righteousness runs dry. The Christian rightist movement will fade as the Boomers tire of the fight or grow too old to whore after their idols of orthodoxy.

Faith in the God of love, the Abba of Jesus Christ, requires our lives and our faith to change. Faith changes us and transforms the Church to be better and more compassionate. Perhaps we need to be less the passionate presence of Christ than the compassionate presence of a God who calls us to live into the newness of the Spirit.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bishop of Washington responds to ACNA

Bishop John Bryson Chane of the Diocese of Washington has written an open letter to the clergy and congregations of the diocese regarding the attempt to form a non-geographical province in North America.

First and foremost, let me assure you that the formation of a non-geographical province within an existing province is highly unlikely. Before the establishment of any such province, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church would have to give her consent, and it is difficult to imagine that she would do so. If consent was given, the Archbishop of Canterbury would then form a committee of primates to discuss the feasibility of forming the new province. If two thirds of the primates felt that such a new province would assist and strengthen the ministry of the Anglican Communion, then the primates would forward their recommendation to the Archbishop of Canterbury who in turn would forward his recommendation to the Anglican Consultative Council for final vote and action. At present, neither two-thirds of the primates, nor the Archbishop seem favorably disposed to this development.
The movers of the proposed new province embarrass themselves, the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion by the self-serving media coverage they have worked so hard to achieve. The news of the proposed province appears at a time when more than 28 million Americans are living on food stamps, one out of every 10 new mortgage holders is facing foreclosure, unemployment is at its highest level in decades, the auto industry is “tanking” and the real danger of deflation or a possible depression looms large on the horizon. In the global south, millions live on $1 a day, and wars, ethnic and religious violence, poverty and the AIDS epidemic continue to wrack the African continent. To learn in this context that Duncan, Minns and their allies think that the most important issue facing the church is the sexuality of the Bishop of New Hampshire suggests a level of self-absorption that is difficult to square with the teachings of Christ.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bare ruin'd choirs

That time of year thou may'st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold;
Bare ruin'd choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

(Sonnet 73) William Shakespeare

If you have ever traveled through the breadth of Great Britain you can see the “bare ruin’d choirs” that Shakespeare speaks of in this sonnet. While he is talking about his own mortality, he makes an allusion to the churches, monasteries and priories that were standing idle in his time a generation past the Reformation.
Henry the VIII had taken over the papal lands when he had separated from Rome in the 16th century. He sold the lands to fill the coffers of the crown. But the buildings remained. They stood only to be taken over by the rain and the birds. Today they can be found still standing, a Romanesque arch here, a gothic stair there. Their stones still can be found in the foundations of barns throughout the country.

The Reformation in England took place in the midst of a fit of pique by a king. But the theology of the Church in England was ready for it. While the divorce was the excuse, the sea change of faith had already occurred. The Church of England went its way and today we have an Anglican Communion, the third largest Christian presence in the world.

The present schism is providing the same “bare ruin’d choirs” in our diocese. Churches are being taken over by the diocese as those who cannot commune with Episcopalians any longer get honest that they cannot continue to worship in Episcopal space or spend Episcopal endowments. The faithful remnants have moved on to other Episcopal parishes that provide continuity, community and faith.
Now numerous Episcopal properties stand empty. No attempts at rebuilding Episcopal communities of faith are being attempted. No new theology is being proclaimed. No reforming effort is being offered the people who cannot attend the schismatic rhetoric.

If the sea change of the emerging church is upon us in Central New York as our leadership proclaims, then why cannot these buildings be places where such kinds of ministry could be started? Need our Episcopal lands be scavenged for spare parts? Need our once consecrated buildings be secularized? Is there no one willing to start anew with a Gospel that the young can hear?