I am not a trinitarian kind of guy, as I have more than once noted here. My personal theology is much closer to rabbinic Judaism than it is to a Christian trinitarian perspective. Yet I am an Episcopalian, about as trinitarian a denomination as it’s possible to be.
Nonetheless I do sometimes like the idea of the Holy Spirit, depending on how it is portrayed. Some of the best, most interesting, and fun portrayals can be found in the Facebook page Unvirtuous Abbey. One of my favorites is this one. It reminds me that in those moments when God seems far away one only need wait a short while for the arrival of His (Her!) presence.
Why Religion?: A Personal Story
Ecco Books (November 6, 2018), 244 pages
Kindle edition $14.99, Amazon hardcover $12.08
I’ve long known about the work of Elaine Pagels and have read some of her books. This book is her autobiography with a few summaries of her work thrown in.
Much of her life and work has been informed by loss. Her son died at age ten as a result of a heart defect that he was born with. Her husband later died in a terrible hiking accident, leaving Elaine to raise two adopted children.
I have always been impressed by Pagels and her work in the area of Gnosticism. She is a capable scholar who knows her field well. The fact that she soldiered on in spite of all the tragedy in her life impresses me all the more.
We preempt our regularly scheduled blog to bring you the royal wedding sermon by The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, the 27th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. It is well worth fourteen minutes of your time. You may want to have a Kleenex handy.
We lost Ann Fontaine last week.
Ann was a well-known figure to Episcopalians online. I knew her through her blog, through the Episcopal Café, and through Facebook.
I was aware that she had some lung issues, but somehow I had the impression that those issues were under control. However, Ann announced before Ash Wednesday that she was not going to observe Lent this year – she had enough to focus on with her own health. She, in effect, put herself into self-managed hospice care. Somewhere around Easter she called in the hospice professionals. Her daughter let us know last week that Ann died peacefully in her sleep.
We will miss her.
I loved reading her blog when she actively maintained it. She was a founder of the Episcopal Café and an active contributor until recently. I once wrote an article for the Café in which I described how, though an Episcopalian, I had a big problem with the Trinity and that my theology was much closer to that of rabbinic Judaism. She posted a comment on Facebook saying, “Someone doesn’t understand the Trinity.” That kind of irked me, but she was right. I still don’t understand the Trinity.
Ann was also a Facebook friend. She would occasionally click Like on one of my posts. I appreciated that. She loved baseball, as, of course, do I. She was a big-time Cubs fan. While still in the Bay Area I was a Giants fan, but after moving back to SoCal in 2015 I had no choice but to resurrect my loyalty to the team of my childhood, the Dodgers. There was some discussion a while back about bringing the designated hitter to the National League. Ann posted her outrage to Facebook. A FB friend replied that it wasn’t that big of a deal. And replied, “Yes it is!” I fully agreed with her.
We love you, Ann. We miss you. Rest in peace and rise in glory!
Crucible of Faith: The Ancient Revolution That Made Our Modern Religious World
Basic Books (September 19, 2017), 296 pages
Kindle edition $19.99, Amazon hardcover $19.45
This is a fascinating book by the author of The Lost History of Christianity, which I very much enjoyed.
In the present volume author Philip Jenkins discusses the period between the final books of the Old Testament and the first books of the New Testament. He describes how ideas like our modern conceptions of Satan and the end times developed after the Old Testament was closed out and before the New Testament began to be written. In fact, Jenkins does write both about books of the Old Testament and books of the New Testament. His main focus, however, is the period of these “crucible years,” as he calls them. He defines this as the period between 250 and 50 BCE.
Jenkins takes the perspective that the Qumran sect (responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls) arose in protest against the Hasmonean priest-kings (the Hasmoneans arising from the Maccabees who took back the temple from the Seleucids). He sees the Qumran sect as being different from the Essenes, though many scholars believe the Qumran group was the Essene sect. In addition to Satan and the end times Jenkins points out that angels appear much more frequently in the writing of the crucible years than in Old Testament writings.
There is a lot more material as well, so if this is a topic that interests you I highly recommend Crucible of Faith.
Yesterday was Fr. Rob’s last Sunday at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church. We will miss him. At least I will miss him. But I think it’s accurate to say that we collectively will miss him.
Fr. Rob first joined us on All Saints’ Sunday 2016. He has provided us with some superb leadership. He certainly gave the profile committee on which I served some much-needed guidance. I believe he has done the same for the vestry and the search committee. He has taken a personal interest as I have been developing my web and writing business.
I haven’t agreed with him on everything. We disagree on the dating of certain books of the Bible as well as on Biblical exegesis. I don’t like his emphasis on evangelism. But I love his high church mentality and his respect for the liturgy. He brought vestments out of the sacristy that I believe had sat untouched for a number of years.
It would be good if he could stay a while longer since we have not yet found a new rector, but the mileage we have paid him to come down from Tulare means that his earnings are maxed out in the eyes of the Church Pension Fund. That, combined with the wording of his contract, means that an extension is not possible.
Fr. Rob is one of those people about whom I can honestly say:
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better,
but because I knew you, I have been changed for good.
Days of Awe and Wonder: How to Be a Christian in the Twenty-first Century
Marcus J. Borg
HarperOne (March 14, 2017), 293 pages
Kindle edition $12.99, Amazon paperback $10.80
Marcus Borg was one of the great thinkers in the realm of progressive Christianity. We lost him in 2015, far too soon. He wrote a number of books aimed at helping us fit Christianity into a modern framework.
The present volume is an anthology. It contains book excerpts, sermons, lectures, and blog posts. The themes are familiar: the historical Jesus vs. the post-Easter Jesus, reading the Bible without taking it literally, Jesus’s fight against the domination system, and so forth. There is nothing here that you won’t find in his other books.
Strictly speaking, I don’t know that this book was entirely necessary. However, The Christian Century thought it important enough to give it a featured review. And from my perspective, anything that keeps Borg alive in our memories and thinking is a Good Thing.
I did something old-fashioned a couple of weeks ago. I responded to a postal mail solicitation to subscribe to a physical, paper magazine. It was from The Christian Century to which I was a long-time subscriber. I let the subscription lapse, along with many other print magazines, when I was laid off in 2014. But I always enjoyed the publication, and the price was really good. In fact I looked for an equivalent price online so I wouldn’t have to wait so long for my subscription to start. I couldn’t find one.
So I wrote a check, put it in the return envelope, and mailed it off. Now I still have probably another four weeks or so before my first issue shows up. But it will be good to be seeing the magazine again.
This was originally intended as an email to Fr. Rob, our interim rector. But, I thought, Fr. Rob has enough to deal with. He has two funerals to plan and has to deal with the unexpected resignation of the chairman of our rector search committee. This in addition to all of his normal responsibilities. He doesn’t need to hear me kvetch right now. Fortunately my blog friends normally seem indulgent of my occasional kvetching.
This all has to do with Fr. Rob’s sermon on Sunday. I have noticed that he tends to take the Bible at face value. For example, he made reference to the end of the book of Mark, where Jesus says, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” However, this comes from a passage that is not in the oldest manuscripts we have. Scholarship generally dates this passage to the early second century A.D., a few decades after the composition of the main body of the book.
The second reading for the past few weeks has come from the epistle I Peter. Fr. Rob seems to give the disciple/apostle Peter credit for this work, but modern scholarship generally dates that work to the early second century as well. I have to admit, however, that he is preaching a sermon and not teaching a seminary class.
The more disconcerting issue for me is Fr. Rob’s focus of late on evangelism. The Episcopal Church has long shied away from such a focus, in spite of the fact that the official name of the national church is the The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. Our presiding bishop since November 2015, Michael Curry, is working hard to change this. Fr. Rob, based on what he said in a recent sermon, seems to have long believed in the importance of evangelism. He certainly addressed this clearly and directly on Sunday. He even used the “w” word: “witnessing.” That’s enough to send me running from the room screaming, though I didn’t. Too many memories of the minister and youth group at my Methodist church here in Hemet in junior high and high school.
I have said this before, but it bears repeating as it is something that I struggle with on an ongoing basis. I believe that temperamentally and theologically I fit better into the Reform Jewish perspective than anywhere else. That, however, is not my heritage. It’s not where I come from. And I do love Episcopal worship.
So I just keep on keeping on. And I appreciate greatly the leadership that Fr. Rob is providing in this time of transition.
My Toastmasters group meets at the Menifee United Church of Christ (UCC). We’re not affiliated with them; we simply rent the space. They’re a friendly group of people, and it’s a nice place to be.
One week as I approached the building I saw a sign for a New Birth Church situated beneath the Menifee UCC sign. When I drove into the parking lot I saw that a sign pointing New Life to the sanctuary and Menifee UCC to the fellowship hall had covered up the message board.
Menifee UCC is a something of a maverick congregation. They are a liberal church in a very conservative community. The pastor is socially progressive. He decided to go into the ministry after 9/11, and the church displays the rainbow flag rather than the United Church of Christ symbol. They have a dedicated core group of volunteers if the people we see on Thursday is any indication, but it seems that they don’t have a large enough congregation to maintain the facility on their own.
I applaud them for sticking to their values, and if renting their sanctuary to another congregation helps keep them afloat, they are doing the right thing.