a way of looking at the Bible

A week ago Sunday, 8 September, was Pentecost 16, Proper 18 and the gospel reading was Luke 14:25-33, which includes some harsh language:

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

BibleFr. Phil had an interesting take on this. He reminded us that the gospels were written in a time of tumult, when the followers of Jesus were being thrown out of the synagogues. The readers of the gospel of Luke and the other gospels were under a lot of stress and no doubt confused. He suggested:

So how are you and I going to read these hard words attributed to Jesus?  We can read them as intended for one specific circumstance in history; some things do not bear to be repeated.  Some words never need to be applicable again.  All of the Bible does not have to have future application; many of the words can simply remain the historical record of a single event in the history of a particular group of people.

That can relieve a lot of stress for us today, ya know?

in support of our U.S. Catholic nuns

On Monday I wrote about my perspective on and respect for the Catholic faith. I made a brief mention of the U.S. Catholic nuns and their battle with the Vatican. If you’re not aware of what is going on, the Vatican has accused the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), to which the vast majority of U.S. Catholic nuns belong, of not properly adhering to church teaching. The LCWR insists that the Vatican is misinterpreting their words and actions. A meeting between the LCWR and representatives of the Vatican on 18 June did not go well.

One of my all time great heroines in the world of religion and spirituality is Sister Joan Chittister, who lucidly and energetically articulated the position of women religious in the U.S. in a superb interview with Christiane Amanpour. If you didn’t see this when I posted it on Facebook, do watch. It’s great.

Meanwhile, a group of nuns is touring the country by bus to protest the cuts to services for the poor in the budget that came out of the U.S. House of Representatives. Bill Moyers has two members of his team on board. Read the introduction and the ongoing blog chronicling the trip.

To all of those dedicated women I say thank you, and please, keep fighting the good fight!

conversion is a living process

I wrote yesterday about the Catholic perspective as described by a recent convert, Julia Smucker. One the points she made is that conversion is a living process. She says:

What Catholics might call the “conversion process” is similar to what some of the Mennonite circles I grew up in, and still deeply appreciate, would call the “faith journey.” To tell of my conversion would be to tell of my whole life.

and then goes on to say:

I’m grateful that I wasn’t required to pinpoint one “conversion moment.” For us it’s not about one decisive moment when you “get saved” so that you can someday go to heaven, but about being in the process of being saved so that, to borrow phrasing from my days in RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults], your whole life is God getting you in shape to “do heaven” – because “heaven isn’t just a place you go, it’s something you do.”

Oh yes! That is one of the things, probably the main thing, that made me crazy about the church of my high school days. I always hated the altar call, and was never prepared in one specific moment to give my life to Christ. I hated the pressure that you were supposed to have that one moment of conversion.

That’s not what it’s about. It is a process. It is a lifelong journey. And like the Catholics, the Episcopalians take the same view. One reason among many that I am where I am today.

thoughts on the Catholic perspective

My friend Fran is a devoted Catholic who works in a Catholic church and writes multiple Catholic-themed blogs. She expressed frustration one day on Facebook that some people were calling her too Catholic, while others were calling her not Catholic enough. (Seems to me that means she’s doing something right.) In response to that Fran pointed to a blog by Julia Smucker, a Mennonite who converted to Catholicism. Smucker gives a number of reasons for sticking with the Catholic faith. I commend the whole blog to you, as she has salient comments on each of these points.

  • The very long view
  • The both/and
  • Tradition is a living process
  • So is conversion
  • Held together by ritual
  • Liturgy is plurality

I would say that all of these points apply to the Episcopal Church as well. Certainly there are differences in the interpretation of each of the above, but I belive these are shared values.

There are a lot of reasons why I would never become a Catholic: their positions on birth control, abortion, woman priests and celibacy in the priesthood, and so on. Yet as Clayton, then Associate at All Saints’ Palo Alto, pointed out in our confirmation class, Catholic theology is internally consistent. Their anti-abortion, anti-birth control, anti-death penalty positions all stem from the same belief that we are obligated to preserve life at whatever stage. I’m not sure that I can explain any consistency in my standard, left-leaning, bleeding heart liberal positions of being pro-abortion and anti-death penalty.

Of course I also have to give a shout out to the American nuns who are standing up against the unwarranted criticism by the Vatican.

So I continue to respect and enjoy my Catholic friends and I know that there is much I can learn from them.

belonging, behaving, and believing

A word for our churches in today’s world.

A larger task, however, is required: we must turn around the order in which the questions are asked. Instead of believing, behaving, and belonging, we need to reverse the order to belonging, behaving, and believing. And therein lies the difference between religion-as-institution and religion as a spiritually vital faith.

—Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening

the kingdom is here, now

My Unitarian minister (Facebook) friend Peacebang always has something thought-provoking to say. I think she has this one right.

Great collegial conversation today about the humanist version of
“the kingdom is here, now” (because humans are capable of saving the world)
vs the Black church version of “the kingdom is here, now”
(because God is real, God is good,
and God is blessing us all the time:
getting up in the morning and being able to walk to church is a blessing.
Having food on the table and clothes on your back is a blessing, etc.).
I find the first iteration not very compelling, ultimately classist and irrational.
The second iteration is the one I share. “God is good… all the time.”

remind me: why am I at church?

Since the Choral Eucharist at St. John the Divine was moved from 10:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. last November, it has required commitment on my part to get to church. Before, I could sleep in and still go to church. Now I have to force myself to keep my rear from getting back in bed when I get up at 7:00 to feed Tasha. But I’m glad to be there once I get there, and I miss it when I’m not there.

But when I learn about the history of the church, I question why I am a part of an institution that has such a history of being disingenuous and sometimes flat-out corrupt.

My current reading includes Gathering Those Driven Away by Wendy Farley. She has filled me in on the truth about Athanasius, the mastermind behind the Nicene Creed. Turns out he was not a nice guy at all.

The intense focus on technical precision [of the language of the creed] arose because the positions were so close that they required sword-like language to parse theology ever finer, lest a common ground was accidentally discovered. Conflict requires an opponent. Where one does not exist, it must be invented. The very idea of an Arian “party” reflects the success of Athanasius in transforming an intellectual debate with a respected fellow Christian teacher into a struggle against a heretical school. Through skillful polemics, those who opposed him at Nicaea became a single heretical party.

Of course in this context the Protestants really weren’t that much better.

The construction of the Christian narrative of redemption through the doctrine of original sin and substitutionary atonement narrowly aligns divine presence and ecclesial power. Everything outside the institutional church is stripped of significance. This is no less true after the Reformation, which continued to affirm that the primary benefit of Christian belief was that it enabled us to avoid eternal torment. Protestant churches continued to be committed to these doctrines and to the singular power of orthodox belief, mediated by churches, to save us from perdition. Nature, other religions, and even other forms of religious practice within the church are either irrelevant or demonized. The attack on Arius, like those on Valentinus, Origen, and Porete, reflect a perennial hostility to forms of faithfulness less dependent on clergy to mediate salvation.

In a video course I am watching on Medieval England I learned that Thomas Becket, though later made a saint, was not that nice of a guy either. He was a social climber who became best friends with King Henry II until Henry made him Archbishop of Canterbury. At that point he decided he could do his own thing, which eventually caused him to have to flee into exile. Brought back from exile because the Kind needed him for a royal wedding, Becket chose to side with the Pope over the issue of Henry wanting to have his oldest son named king while he was still alive, and having the consecration done by the archbishop of York. Becket’s actions seemed to be motivated by politics and ego, and not by conviction. But, when he was murdered by some of Henry’s knights, as course instructor Jennifer Paxton says, “Overnight Becket went from first-class troublemaker to saint.”

Henry VIII, of course, never intended to start a new denomination, he just took control of The Church in England so he could do what he wished to do with his own divorces and marriages.

Our modern era and my own denomination are not much better. It took the irregular ordination of eleven women in 1974 to break that issue open in the Episcopal church in the United States, and official ordination of women was finally approved in 1976. (The year after I graduated from college!)

Across the Atlantic, the Church of England will vote on allowing woman bishops in July (yes, they’re just now getting around to that), but a last-minute amendment to the resolution by the House of Bishops would allow parishes which object to a woman bishop the power to choose one who shared their theological convictions. Supporters of the resolution say the amendment undermines the intent of the resolution.

So why am I here? Because there is something important to me about being present with others, hearing the Word and partaking of “the gifts of God for the people of God.” Despite the humanness, the politics, the need of those in power to hold on to power, Sunday morning worship helps reconnect me with who I am and my relationship to God. My week ahead needs that moment of kneeling with my brother and sister parishioners and receiving the Bread and Wine.

And getting back to Athanasius and Arius and the debate over the incarnation and the Trinity, Wendy has a new perspective.

Marcella Althaus-Reed claims the holiness of this underside: though authorities claim that God has “declared us, made us, irredeemably lost in the eyes of the church and Christian ethics, yet it is not we who are lost.” We are not only not lost, we are called to interpret the incarnation as a witness to the nonviolent and unlimited efficacy of divine love. This love is the self-manifesting beauty of nondual Divine Eros: from the infinite and mysterious depths of Divinity, beauty emerges. Nonduality expresses something of this mystery; love expresses its healing efficacy. The incarnation reveals and heals because it expresses the nonduality of love in the world. Lovers of the Divine in the past and the present, many of whom are despised by the institutional church, bear witness to this nonviolent love.

I like where she is going with this.