31 October 2006

All Saints', All Souls' & Our Prayers.

he past is not dead,” wrote William Faulkner, “it is not even past.” Similarly, in the Church, we can say, “Our dead are not past, they are not even dead.” And they are not. This is much of what we mean when Sunday by Sunday we confess our belief in the “communion of saints” and as we pray in the funeral rite’s Eucharist, “For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal bodies lie in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens.”

At the beginning of November, we pay particular attention to our Christian dead with two days of commemoration – the Feasts of All Saints on Nov. 1st (or transferred, as our custom is, to the following Sunday) and All Faithful Departed, more traditionally “All Souls’ Day,” on November 2nd. In the Bible’s way of speaking, all the redeemed are “saints;” the Biblical writers make no distinction between those Christians whose lives of “heroic sanctity” are gratefully recognized and remembered throughout the whole Church, and the “faithful departed,” whose sometimes more and sometimes less holy lives are dear to us personally, or who are remembered no more – all these, in New Testament terms (and in the courts of Paradise) are saints, too. But for pastoral purposes, the Church makes a liturgical distinction between these groups. It has become common practice to conflate these two commemorations, but at St. Joseph of Arimathea we maintain this distinction between All Saints’ and All Souls’.

On All Saints’ Sunday we pay homage to and celebrate those giants whom God has raised up among us, to give thanks for their witness and to “consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13.7). On All Souls’, we likewise come together to give thanks, but this is a bittersweet commemoration. Bitter, because we yet mourn the loss of loved ones; sweet, because we know that though departed this life, they are “with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil. 1.23), and await that great Day when all who have died in Christ shall rise again. This, of course, is the pastoral distinction between the two days: Francis of Assisi and a departed loved one may both be saints in the New Testament sense; but while we need to be humbled and strengthened by Francis’ example, we do not mourn his death as we do that of a lost parent or child. To put it starkly, I admire Francis, but I do not miss him.

In both cases, though, we offer prayers for the departed, as we do at each celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Such prayers are a point of some controversy among protestant Christians. As an example, the Westminster Confession of Faith (c. 1643), the basic doctrinal statement of traditional Presbyterians, states in its Larger Catechism that “We are to pray for…all sorts of men living…but not for the dead” (emphasis added). Suffice it to say that the Reformer’s rejection of prayers for the dead was tied largely to the Catholic practice of saying Masses for the dead which were intended to help speed the departed through Purgatory and on to Heaven, a practice which was in medieval times horribly abused, especially in the sale of indulgences. Nonetheless, the Anglican tradition has retained prayers for the dead, choosing not to throw out the baby despite how filthy the bathwater may once have been, and we may justify and embrace the practice without reference to Purgatory, but by reflecting instead on the nature of life (for the saints and faithful departed are not dead) and on love, which “never faileth.”

The life of the “saints in light” is no static state, and this is not to say that they are undergoing some purgation to fit them for the life of heaven. Instead, it is merely to recognize that God is uncreated and infinite, and we are created and finite. For this God has redeemed us, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2.7). So, the life of the faithful departed in the nearer presence of God is always and ever “higher up and further in.” Which is to say, there is, and will always be, growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord. To be sure, theirs is no longer a struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil, but is rather the enjoyment of the beatific vision wherein the saints are changed, transformed “from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3.18; cf. 1 Jn. 3.2). But prayer may aid enjoyment and rest as well as struggle and trial, and why should not our prayers help in this growth? God will do what he determines to do, and needs no help. But God ordains means as well as ends, and he has ordained prayer as a means by which he will accomplish his purposes. Indeed, St. Paul rejoices that God has made us his “fellow workers,” and one way we enter into this privileged status is by our prayers.

It may be objected that the faithful departed have no need of our prayers – their transformation from glory to glory is a “sure thing.” But God is no less sovereign on earth than in heaven, and still he commands us to pray. Every purpose of God is a “sure thing.”

Beyond all this, love itself demands that we remember in our prayers all those “whose rest is won.” We do not cease loving when the beloved dies, and for Christians praying is included in loving. E.B. Pusey said it well: “Unless there were, in the word of God, an absolute prohibition of prayer for the departed, how should we go on praying for those whom we love until they were out of sight, and then cease on the instant, as if ‘out of sight, out of mind’ were a Christian duty?”

Similarly, C.S. Lewis makes an important connection between the necessities of love – prayer, in this case – and honesty with God: “Of course I pray for the dead… At our age the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I loved best were unmentionable to him?” (Letters to Malcolm, 107). To pray is to open our hearts to God. As Lewis says, it is our intercourse with him. Refusing to pray for the departed is to close a portion – for many of us a very large portion – of our hearts off to God; it is to say that some of our deepest hopes and longings we may not to tell to God, which is dishonest. And silly, because he already knows.

Which brings us finally to the other side of the question: if we may (must!) pray for the faithful departed, may we hope that they pray for us? While it is not given to us to know to what extent the saints are aware of our needs, certainly they are still themselves; they retain their identity. And who am I? Well, any answer that does not include “Ashley’s husband, son of Jim and Elizabeth, brother of Jimmie and Jennifer” would be less than complete. We are incomplete if we are not in relation, not loving: “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gn. 2.18). It seems to me that to say the saints do not or cannot pray for us is to say one of two things, neither of which rings true: either that they are no longer themselves, their identity erased, or that their communion with God is less perfect than in their earthly lives. Again, E.B Pusey:

That we have for the time no more to do with those who loved us here, and whom we loved, must be false, because it is so contrary to love. It belongs to the Communion of Saints, that they, in the attainment of certain salvation and incapable of a thought other than according to the mind of God and filled with his love, shall pray and long for us, who are still on the stormy sea of this world, our salvation still unsecured; and that we, on our side, should pray for such things as God in his goodness wills to bestow upon them.

Are there dangers here to be guarded against? Yes, of course, and we can name them: sentimentality, morbid obsession, superstition, and probably more besides. But these or other dangers accompany all God’s good gifts, and perhaps especially our religious offices. The problem is not in those things themselves but in our own hearts. But we should not be afraid to pray, to pour out the entirety of our hearts to our loving God on behalf of those “whom we love but now no longer see” and to be encouraged by the good hope that they yet love and pray for us.
(c)Patrick S. Allen

A Collect for the Faithful Departed:
Grant, O Lord our God, that the souls of thy servants and handmaidens, the memory of whom I keep with special reverence, and for whom I am bound to pray, and the souls of all my benefactors, relatives, and friends, and all the faithful, may rest in the bosom of thy saints; and hereafter, in the resurrection from the dead, may please thee in the land of the living; +through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Fine How D'You Do.

Jefferts-Schori tips her hand?

"On the eve of Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s investiture as the 26th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, her chancellor, David Booth Beers, has written identical letters to the chancellors of two traditionalist dioceses demanding that they change language “that can be read as cutting against an ‘unqualified accession’ to the Constitution and Canons of the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. . ."

Charming. Here's the whole thing. Over on TitusOneNine, comments ensue.

Dealing With Zombies.

Or, as the "Christian Supply" firms would say, Halloween Resources.

To prepare for this evening, you might want to warm up with the De-Animator.

Also, consider watching the best zombie love story ever.

Of Napping.

". . . In most of the industrialized world, a nap is seen as a sign of weakness, either physical or moral. The very young and the very old nap. Sick people nap.

Bums nap. Healthy, productive adults do not nap.

We are a culture that celebrates action, doing, achieving, an attitude that leads to a disdain for sleep in general. We stay up late and get up early. We pull all-nighters. We'll sleep when we're dead, and in the meantime there's always a Starbucks on the corner.

It's a misguided attitude. A good nap is one of life's great pleasures, and the ability to nap is the sign of a well-balanced life. When we nap we snatch back control of our day from a mechanized, clock-driven society. We set aside the urgency imposed on us by the external world and get in touch with an internal rhythm that is millions of years old. . ."

Here's the whole thing.

Via Arts & Letters Daily.


30 October 2006

Singing The Faith.

n his Commentary on the American Prayer Book, Marion Hatchett considers the use of hymns in Christian worship and the profound effect they may have in the sort of Christians we become: “Hymns sing themselves into people’s souls and so become primary influences in the theology and spirituality of the worshiping congregation.” And this is indisputably so. Very often (and, I must admit, somewhat to my chagrin) when I meet with families to prepare for the funeral of a loved one, they will not have in mind particular passages of Scripture they would like read at the service (much less particular expositions of mine they would like to hear reprised!), but they will know exactly what hymns they want sung. In the time of crisis, in the time of grief, it is the music of the Church, its sung theology, that comes to mind as balm for the soul.

I have read that psychiatrists have concluded that it is the sense of smell that is most strongly associated, through the daedal synaptic pathways of our brains, with memory. A particular odor can take us right back to an exact place, time, and feeling from our childhoods. I think music works much the same way. And words of grace, when set to well-crafted music and sung over a lifetime’s Sundays, imprint themselves on the mind and form our hearts so that, when sung again, their truth – and our experience of that truth – becomes immediately present. Is that not why a large portion of Scripture is given over to that ancient hymnbook we call the Psalter? And is that not why, over and over again in the New Testament epistles, bits of the first Christian hymns peek through (see, for example, Eph 4.5,6; Phil 2.5-11; Col 1.15-18; 1 Jn 4.7-10)?

All of which is an overly long introduction to what I had intended as simple, heartfelt, and public “Thank you” to Sandi Hughes, our organist and choir director these last five years. As most of you will have heard by now, Sandi has tendered her resignation so that may she pursue other professional opportunities; November 5th will be her last Sunday with us. As members of the choir know even better than I, Sandi has been a pleasure to work with – talented, enthusiastic, cheerful, and flexible. Most especially I’m grateful for her deep faith and prayerfulness, and her concern that the music she plays and leads is not mere performance but actually enables worship; that is, that the choir’s anthems and the congregation’s singing take us to the throne of Jesus Christ, where we can join the ceaseless worship of “Angels, Archangels, and the whole company of heaven,” who forever sing the praises of our loving, merciful, thrice-holy God.

So, again: Thank you, Sandi.

Finally, I ask that all of you be in prayer for the Vestry and me as we arrange for short term fill-ins and seek a permanent replacement for this vital ministry.

*From the November issue of The Grail, our parish newsletter.

A Weak Faith Lost.

The National Review's John Derbyshire is not a Christian, and he tells us at some length why. Some of it manages to be intellectually feeble and patronizing at the same time (i.e., reduces to "Christians are just not as smart and well-informed as am I."), and some is very thoughtful and even poignant and deserving of a gentle and respectful answer.

The faith I was brought up in — my “faith tradition,” as Al Gore would say — was Anglican Christianity. This is an English, very English, variant of the great old Catholic tradition, with most of the intellectuality and authoritarianism of the Roman church stripped away. English people don’t much like intellectuals — to an English ear, the very word “intellectual” has an obnoxiously continental sound to it, cliques of self-absorbed Bohemian mischief-makers arguing about nothing important in smoky Left Bank cafes — and the Reformation convinced the English that intellectuals are especially pestiferous in matters of faith.

I was once hanging around in the National Review offices talking to an editor (since departed) who was also an Anglican, though an American one — which is to say, an Episcopalian. We got to talking about the Thirty-Nine Articles that define Anglican faith. Did she actually know any of the articles, I asked? No, she confessed, she didn’t. I admitted that I didn’t either. We looked them up on the Internet. There we were, two intelligent and well-educated Anglicans, a fiftysomething guy and a thirtysomething lady, gazing curiously at the articles of the faith we had professed all our lives. That’s Anglicanism. In England it is quite a common thing for some Anglican bishop to get into the news by saying publicly that the Virgin Birth, or some other point of doctrine, is most probably false, and worshippers shouldn’t feel bad about not believing it.

Working in America, and especially exchanging e-mails for several years with National Review readers, I lost my Anglican innocence. Take a fish out of water, it dies; take an Englishman out of Anglican England, his faith takes a blow. It doesn’t necessarily die — I know plenty of cases where it didn’t — but people of really feeble faith, like mine, need every possible support, and emigration knocks one prop away. In America, at any rate for most conservatives (taking my Episcopalian colleague as an exception), you are actually supposed to think about your faith, and even, for heaven’s sake, read about it! With the keen immigrant’s desire to be more native than the natives, I did my best with this, but found I constitutionally couldn’t. The books sent me to sleep; and when I tried to think about Christianity, it all fell apart.

That bit is probably the most subjective and personal of his reasons - and thus likely the least incisive for others - but of special interest to us Anglicans.
Links in the excerpt are Derbyshire's, not mine.

28 October 2006

Pray, Brethren.

I'm off to the Diocese of Tennessee Episccopal Election. Please pray.

I believe ballot results will be reported here.

27 October 2006

Jody Howard's Impressions.

Jody Howard has now posted his "first impressions" of each of the nominees for Bishop of Tennessee:

All Saints, All Sinners.

Today on Opinion Journal:

"This Wednesday is All Saints Day, the holy day when Roman Catholics commemorate the lives and virtues of all the saints. The word "saint," of course, has long since entered our broad cultural lexicon, implying virtue of the highest sort even to nonbelievers. But in practice, saintly virtue is rarely a lifelong possession. Indeed, it sometimes emerges only after a good deal of sin has gone before.

Can a cop killer be a saint, for instance? In recent years, certain Catholics have debated precisely that question. The retired archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Jean Marie Lustiger, thinks so. In 1987, he began the formal process by which Jacques Fesch, a convicted murderer guillotined by the French state in 1957, might be declared a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

Fesch's case has generated widespread interest in France. Amazon.com's French site lists a dozen books about the repentant felon, including editions of his letters from death row, where he returned to the Catholic faith. In the U.S., Fesch is virtually unknown, but last month a popular Catholic blog's reference to Fesch as a candidate for sainthood set off a lively debate. Some of the blog's posters argued that as long as Fesch's conversion was sincere, he was eligible for sainthood. Others insisted that his scandalous life disqualified him from canonization. . . "

Here's the whole thing.

26 October 2006

I Am My iPod.

Actually, I must be nobody, because I ain't got one. But, on the subject of shopping-to-be and identity markers in a consumerist culture, here's Alan Jacobs reviewing a history of the iPod called The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness -

". . . Levy skillfully tells the story of the iPod's development, with any number of memorable anecdotes. My favorite: it was Levy who gave Bill Gates his first look at an iPod. Gates grabbed it and immediately tried every button in every combination. Says Levy, "I could almost hear the giant sucking sound." Eventually he handed it back to Levy and said, "It looks like a great product. It's only for Macintosh?" Along the way Levy explores various themes that seem to radiate from the little white box: the question of what makes something cool (Gates makes a return appearance here, insisting on a connection between coolness and market share—of course); how the Sony Walkman inaugurated the history of the portable music player; and, perhaps most intriguingly, why so many people see their iPod playlists as essential markers of their identity.
This tendency—mon iPod, c'est moi—is irrational, perhaps, but irresistible: having just noted the last ten songs played randomly by my own iPod, I am deeply disappointed to see one of U2's most famous songs there, and even a little annoyed that the Beck song it pulled up is one of his more accessible. I would feel much cooler if it had pulled out something by the Dirty Three, or Charlie Patton, or Yo La Tengo. But as things stand I feel ordinary. This little electronic gadget, like a pocket-sized Freudian analyst, has somehow revealed—worse, allowed me to reveal—my inauthenticity, as though its famously fingerprint-attracting polished metal back had lifted itself before my appalled face and cried, Behold!. . ."


Live To Shop.

Print and T.V. advertisements for the local high-end shooping mall end with the tag line: "It's where you thrive." Jan Whitaker brings us a history of the rise of the consumerist lifestyle, Service and Style: How the American Department Store Fashioned the Middle Class.
From a Washington Monthly review:

" . . . Today, Americans shop for necessities, shop for status, shop to socialize, shop to escape, shop to people-watch, shop to educate, and shop as therapy. But it was not always a foregone conclusion that a nation of hardscrabble pioneers would become a nation of shopaholics. Jan Whitaker’s history, Service and Style: How the American Department Store Fashioned the Middle Class, helps shed light on the origin of the genus mall rat. A social historian whose previous book examined the 1920s tearoom craze, Whitaker here looks at the role of the department store in creating the modern consumer. She details how department stores, which dominated American retail in the early 20th century, helped give “material expression to vague ideas of what success, femininity, citizenship, and popularity might mean,” then put the identifying accessories (briefcase, lingerie, top hat, tennis racket) within reach of most customers. The secret to the stores’ success was that they were always selling more than the thing itself.

You might ask whether, on balance, Americans have been liberated or enslaved by the endless parade of newer, cheaper stuff. Historically, department stores have helped blur class distinctions (anyone can own a fur coat), unburden housewives (clothes come off the rack, not the sewing machine), assimilate newcomers (to attract new business, New York stores once hired translators for the Ellis Island crowd), spread culture (the living-room piano is a household fixture thanks to marketing), and keep hometown newspapers afloat (ads, ads, ads). On the other hand, you might wonder, do I really need to count the days of Christmas with shopping carts, renovate my wardrobe each season, purchase appliances every nine months (they just aren’t made to last), and squeeze into the latest cut of jeans to feel sexy? . . .


25 October 2006

Culture Of Death, English-Style.

". . . Addenbrooke's Hospital, in Cambridge, said it was no longer able to afford the dignified disposal at a local crematorium of foetuses from unwanted pregnancies.
Instead, they are being burnt in the hospital's main incinerator--which is normally used for rubbish and clinical waste.
The revelation sparked anger and distress among church leaders and pro-life groups, as well as women whose pregnancies were terminated at the hospital. . . .
One local woman, who asked not to be named, said after the heartache of deciding to have an abortion she was mortified to find the hospital had used the same furnace they burn rubbish in to incinerate her terminated baby.
She said: "I am furious and very hurt. Imagine my horror when I discovered that my baby was incinerated in the same furnace as the hospital rubbish."

At least they're honest about what they're doing. Via Best of the Web Today.

Good News.

Culture & Consequences.

Below, I excerpted a couple bits of Jody Bottum's fascinating (to me) swallow's-eye view of the decline and fall of Catholic culture in America, and the prospects and, perhaps, conflicted beginnings of a renewal of the same - a renewal for which I pray and in which, I believe, a catholic Anglicanism may play a salutary role (the point not being that the novels and music would be better - though that's important - but that we would be better-formed Christians). Certainly trying to form Anglican disciples is a hard row to hoe in the absence of any supporting culture. Anyhow, I see now that Amy Wellborn has critiqued Bottum's piece, and offers some interesting insights:

". . . We’ve discussed this frequently before, pointing out the mystery that things probably couldn’t have been so perfectly great if, in a matter of 5 years, we went from Tridentine liturgies to consecrating bread in baskets with Blowin’ in the Wind wafting around our heads. Things don’t happen that fast without some foundation, ironically, for the collapse. (I would suggest, though, if you read some honest accounts of most of the priests, and particularly diocesan priests, and many of the women religious in those decades preceding Vatican II, it will become clearer. The rules were many, with little rationales offered or built into the system. In that context, it is a little easier to see how poorly understood structures could be quickly tossed aside. Even Frank Sheed, in The Church and I fretted over the abysmal level of theological and spiritual knowledge among American religious women, for example.)

But Call to Action and other political moves aside, here’s what did it. Here’s the moment that expresses the point of departure, and a piece of the puzzle of what laid the groundwork for the present. A seemingly small thing, a minor point of Catholic identity: dispensing with the obligatory abstinence from meat on Fridays. I am actually rather surprised that Bottum doesn’t even mention this.Does it seem too trivial? It’s not, as Eamon Duffy quite eloquently writes in his book Faith of the Fathers. You can say all you want that no, it’s not that Friday penitential practices were eliminated - we’re still obligated to perform some act of penance on Fridays, and it just is left up to us to determine what that should be, and oh, no people weren’t told they were going to Hell if they ate meat on Friday, that’s just a myth, and it really wasn’t such a big deal.

Duffy’s words on abstinence are worth repeating:

In abandoning real and regular fasting and abstinence as a corporate and normative expression of our faith -- by making it optional -- the Church forfeited one of its most eloquent prophetic signs. There is a world of difference between a private devotional gesture the action of the specially pious, and the prophetic witness of the whole community, the matter-of-fact witness, repeated week by week, that to be Christian is to stand among the needy. ...


The Tennessee Nominees According To Jody.

Very helpfully, Jody Howard is posting his impressions of the nominees for Bishop of Tennessee. His thoughts on Fr. Bauerschmidt are here, and on Fr. Burns here. We await his reflection re Fr. Paden.
Update: Here are Jody's Paden comments.

Getting It Right.

Jordan Hylden went to hear Gene Robinson give a talk. Jordan got a little satirical:

". . . Bishop Robinson’s talk was, on its surface, all about LGBT inclusion, but he said it actually was about much more than that. At its most basic level, it was about the end of patriarchy, which to him explained why he met with such opposition. The audience nodded approvingly—civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and the sexual revolution were all part of a single struggle for liberation, from the Man, or something like that. Freedom, justice, and sex were all the same thing! I liked this idea. Being an Episcopalian, I thought, was going to be fun.

[But later . . .]

I was pretty depressed, and I started walking glumly back to my apartment. On my way home, I passed by an old Episcopal church that seemed sort of different from normal churches—it didn’t say anything about services, but there was a back door open, with loud music playing inside and a bunch of kids standing out front. I looked closer, and realized what had happened. Why, it had been turned into a nightclub! Loud and exciting music thrummed from inside the sanctuary, where young people like me were dancing and drinking and having a good time. I thought back to what I had learned earlier that night, about how freedom and justice and sex were all the same thing, and how being the Church meant joining the world in the struggle against patriarchy. Finally, I started to feel good again. It was going to be a tough fight, but there would be lots of fun along the way. I smiled, looking up at the nightclub-church, and thought that maybe we were starting to get it right after all."

Here's the whole thing.

A "Call" Considered.

A few weeks ago, I noted the appearance in Christianity Today a document called, "A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future." I only gave it a once over at the time, but it struck me as an attempt to have the post-modern cake and eat it too.

Now Touchstone has put together
a symposium responding to the "Call" by a string of the usual Touchstone suspects from various Christian traditions. They are Gillis Harp, D. G. Hart, S. M. Hutchens, Wilfred M. McClay, David Mills, & Russell D. Moore.

Stipulating that I've only given the "Call" a superficial reading, and likewise that I've only barely skimmed this one of the respondants' critiques, I think Wilfred McClay nails it:

". . . The use of concepts like “narrative” and other such academic terms is not necessarily self-undermining, so long as it serves merely to aid and amplify. But when the concepts of “story” and “narrative” appear as frequently and centrally as they do in this document, one cannot help but conclude that they are being used as a way to evade questions about what is actually there, behind the story—about the actual referents of the Christian faith, the things that the story is about.

Nor is the language of “narrative” the vocabulary with which the biblical God narrates. There is no glimpse here—not a one—of the actual and authoritative language of Scripture as generations of Christian worshipers in North America have known it and experienced it and proclaimed it.

Arguably the single greatest strength of Evangelical Christianity is its reverence for the Word, its lively attention to the text, its loving embrace of the actual words and verses of Scripture. But we don’t get any of that here. Instead, we are being offered a boatload of stale seminary talk: the “story” of “Creation, Incarnation, and Re-creation,” the notion of “Christ’s recapitulation of history,” worship that “enacts God’s story,” and so on.

As I read the document, I found it curious that the authors repeatedly spoke with such abstractness of the “Triune” or “Trinitarian” character of God. Then it dawned on me why. They were doing so to avoid using the inflammatory word Father—another word that never once appears in this document. Nor do they ever use the masculine personal pronoun for God.

The authors have done this self-editing skillfully, even tastefully. You might almost not even notice. But they have done it quite intentionally, and their doing so shows why they have not yet come to grips with what is entailed in appropriating the authority of the past—which means the whole history of what the Church has been, and not merely what has been going on in a few North American seminaries since 1968.

If one radically edits the past before appropriating it, then it is no longer the past that one is appropriating, but a version of the present. Language matters, and the preference for academic over Scriptural language in this document is powerfully indicative of which worldview actually gets to do the trumping.

How will one utter the Nicene Creed when the word Father has been proscribed? But if one substitutes some other term— Creator, or Mother, or Dominatrix, or whatever word is in fashion this week—how is one doing anything other than rejecting the past, and extending the sway of the status quo? That indeed is what I would call a very serious form of “cultural captivity.”

Again, here's the whole thing.

24 October 2006

The Gospel In New Orleans.

Fr. Jerry Kramer sends this update from the Church of the Annunciation in New Orleans (via ACN-SE):

17 October 2006 AD

Dear All,
Thanks for your continued prayers and support; we need greatly. On a personal note, Stacy and I were finally able to see a tropical disease specialist this past week. Lots of blood work, etc. going off to the CDC in Atlanta. We've both lost ten percent of our body weight (in my case a good thing but Stacy at 94 lbs not good). Apparently something interesting and resilient followed us home from Madagascar. Stacy has mainly GI issues and my issues are related primarily to chronic fatigue.
On a brighter note, after 13+ months the Kramers finally settled with our insurance company. We bought our home in June 2005 and evacuated August 28th. Hope to be back for Christmas; we now have a temporary power pole hooked up. Our neighbourhood, Broadmoor, is making steady progress. About 1,500 of our 2,400 homes are presently under some measure of repair. Not bad for an area that the City had designs on bulldozing back in January.
Annunciation is chugging along. We're seeing upwards of 150 - 170 people an hour at the relief centre in the parking lot. I must sound like a broken record. But this is our reality. We wonder what people think when they see the shiny new Super Dome on TV. There is widespread anxiety and depression here (although the Saints being 5 and 1 does help). Unless you visit, it's simply impossible to comprehend the depth and breadth of destruction. Our sense is that people around the country, for the most part, think we're either done with Katrina or should be by now. When mission teams come in to help us dig out, they cannot believe their eyes: "That's not what we've seen on t.v.!" They also see a lot of people working their tails off trying to rebuild their homes, neighbourhoods and lives.
There are only 187,000 of us back in New Orleans by the latest door to door count. Sixty percent of all churches in Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes are gone. Of the forty percent remaining, my guess is that half will fold in the next few years. Annunciation is only alive today by God's grace and the generosity of so many. But we're not victims.
We hold firm to the promise that God honours those who honour Him. So we're on the offense, refusing to play defense. Every able body is working and giving as generously as they can. The dedicated folks who serve at our parking lot relief centre are amazing. We're able, while funds hold out, to give them a little stipend to buy food and cover utilities.
The house we purchased behind the old church for office space should be renovated and ready in about six weeks. This means we can ditch another trailer that is costing us each month. By Christmas we hope and pray to be in our modular church building. Next up will be renovating our old rectory and turning it into a coffee shop, building a much needed community centre (one of our greatest road blocks right now is the lack of places for neighbourhoods to meet and plan) rehabbing a badly flooded house for a youth center, and then, hopefully, we can begin on turning our old facilities into a dormitory/dining hall etc. for mission teams. Our insurance settlement, when it finally comes through, won't be nearly enough to cover all of this. But God seems to send us volunteer labour as needed so we plod and plow forward stubbornly by faith.
Annunciation's new plant church, All Souls in the Lower 9th Ward, is a beacon of hope in a neighbourhood where many died and the flood waters reached 12' feet. Some of our youth group had to swim from roof top to roof top to survive. Our youth minister, Wendy, is doing an amazing job with these very at times difficult young people. In addition to counseling and discipling and spending endless hours with them, we run an after school homework centre where they are actually learning to read and write and do basic math. These kids voluntarily come up to the church every afternoon to study, along with some basketball and worship time.
We're working on a new church plant reaching out to the Hispanics moving here in droves. Some projections are that New Orleans will go from 70 percent Black to 60 percent Hispanic in short order. Annunciation's goal is to become a truly missional church, reaching a changing mission field for Christ.
The work here is seemingly endless and we're praying for more mission teams to come and help us rebuild our community and beyond. There's not a skill or gift that wouldn't be helpful. One of the gifts we have to offer is a powerful missional experience and opportunity where people can see immediate results that impact the lives of others and advance the Kingdom.
You can keep up with our daily "circus for Jesus" (in Wendy's words) at [our website].
Pray for us. We pray for you daily. Blessings from South Louisiana,
jerry+ op et al.
The Rev'd Jerry and Stacy Kramer
Free Church of the Annunciation
New Orleans, LA USA

23 October 2006

Bowens Island Burns.

Sad, sad news:

JAMES ISLAND - Flames that soared 50 feet high Sunday destroyed a famous Lowcountry eatery where graffiti covered the dining room walls and oysters were served by the snow-shovel-full.

The early morning blaze gutted Bowens Island restaurant, but the 60 years of fond memories at the "American Classic" will remain.


Pardon The Mess.

Like a fool, I allowed the Blogger thingumajig to switch to a knew "improved" software/interface, which means I've lost my blog template and links and all the rest. I haven't time to mess with it now and I've already expended they day's allotment of foul language.

Anglican & Uppercase "C" Catholic?

Contra my cynicism, Professor Tighe intimates that something substantial is in the wind:

"I have no idea what is in the works, if anything; certainly, I have not been informed by the Vatican or Abp. Myers. But I know that one major Continuing Anglican body's bishops have formally sought sacramental union and communion with Rome, either as an "Anglican Catholic Church" (a "uniate" body with its own hierarchy) or as an "Apostolic Administration" -- and that there have been consultations between certain Anglican Communion bishops (stalwart opponents of the ordination of women) associated with the Forward-in-Faith organization and Roman officials and Catholic prelates. It has been intimated to me that certain "proposals" are to be presented to the pope in November that will deal with Rome's "stance" toward catholic-minded groups and organizations within the Anglican Communion, Continuing Anglican churches of a "Catholic" orientation and even catholic-minded Lutheran organizations and bruderschaften in Germany and Scandinavia and an ex-Lutheran body such as the Nordic Catholic Church in Norway; and that since these proposals have been formulated specifically at the pope's behest they have a good chance of being implemented."


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Celebrity Salvation.

Which self-absorbed celebrity said this:

"I don't have to worry about what people think of me, whether they hate me or not. People hated on Jesus. They threw stones at him and tried to kill him, so how can I complain or worry about what people think?"

  • Karl Rove
  • Tom Cruise
  • Terrell Owens
  • Snoop Dogg
Terry Mattingly ruminates at GetReligion.

Blessed Flannery, Scare Us.

As Halloween approaches, it's good to know that Flannery O'Conner is still freaking people out:

". . . I couldn’t move for about a minute. My eyes were so wide, I thought I might be blinded by the low-hanging red winter sun. The only words I could formulate in response to my husband’s bemused look were, “Oh my God.” And then, “Did you see that?”

I was a little shaky getting back in the car, but when I shut the door, the release of my held breath seemed to scour out the last of my fear; with my next breath, it was replaced with a numb daze. I had taken the wheel; Gary took out the map, and I obeyed all his directions to get on the highway with no argument—not a word. I noticed my glassy-looking eyes reflected in the rearview mirror.

As the adrenalin subsided, I was filled with a sense of wonderment. It wasn’t until we got to Macon and told the story to our friends that I realized: Flannery had indeed blessed me with a deeply personal (and quite proper) scaring. . ."

Here's the whole thing.
If she'd been shadowed by creepy peafowl, then I'd really believe it.

19 October 2006

Evolution On The March.

Is 6'0" tall? Other than that, I might be an evolutionary loser.

". . . The descendants of the genetic upper class would be tall, slim, healthy, attractive, intelligent, and creative and a far cry from the "underclass" humans who would have evolved into dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like creatures... "

Here's the whole thing.
Via Arts & Letters Daily.

Christ & Counterculture.

Here is the latest in the Christian Vision Project's series of commissioned essays responding to the question, "How can followers of Christ be a counterculture for the common good?" Political philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain takes on the question in terms of the categories elucidated by H. Richard Niehbur in his work Christ & Culture, a classic treatment of the subject and a seminary staple. For Elshtain, the question seems to presuppose either a "Christ against culture" or "Christ as transformer of culture" paradigm. But, she avers, not so fast:

". . . In our time, these are not mutually exclusive. As a stand-alone posture, against too often turns into brittle condemnation, a stance of haughty (presumed) moral superiority, wagons circled. Transform on its own may degenerate into naïve idealism, even utopianism, a stance concerning which Dietrich Bonhoeffer reserved some of his most severe words. The radical begrudges God his creation, Bonhoeffer insists, for the radical seeks a self-sovereignty incompatible with recognition of our indebtedness to others in the past as well as the present. The radical is all ultimacy, prepared to sacrifice the penultimate, the here and now, for some eschatological goal.

Avoiding these extremes, we must see Christ against and for, agonistic and affirmative, arguing and embracing. This is complex but, then, Christianity is no stranger to complexity. One of the glories of the faith historically has been its wonderful intricacy, the way in which it engages the intellect, helping us to "serve God wittily, in the tangle of our minds," words uttered by the St. Thomas More character in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons. What can Christians embrace in the here and now? The blessings are all around us. In my book Who Are We? Critical Reflections, Hopeful Possibilities, I tell the story of one of our grandsons, who, when he was but two years old, exclaimed one beautiful sunny morning as he was swinging in the backyard: "Grandma, everything is everywhere!" I loved those words then and I love them now. They remind us of how much there is to be grateful for and how easy it is to take it all for granted.

I don't want to wax romantic and sound like Wordsworth extolling daffodils, but it is hard not to sound that way if one attempts to describe the beauties of creation. Even St. Augustine, wary as he was of worldly pleasure and beauty, couldn't help himself. Why is everything so beautiful? he asked. It is as if the very trees and flowers long to be known; indeed, the flowers lift their faces to us. Augustine's great biographer, Peter Brown, notes Augustine's "immoderate love of the world." That love includes friendship and family and the canny ways human beings craft and build and care. . ."

I notice, by the way, that the estimable Brazos Press's new list includes has a reassesment of Niehbur's paradigms - Christ and Culture: a Post-Christendom Rethinking, by Craig Carter.

18 October 2006

Take A Break.

And see if you can get a foot (or 12) in the door. Enjoy.

17 October 2006

Rebelling To Tradition.

". . . Rich local cultures may produce great works, but few people in the United States have that kind of cultural wealth anymore. Certainly not many Catholics. The number of Americans who grew up in a profoundly Catholic setting is smaller than it ever has been before—which creates a problem for a new culture. If Catholicism is something elected rather than received, can Catholics achieve what earlier cultures did?

Their children, perhaps, will come from a thick-enough world that they can write the kind of strong Catholic novels, make the kind of strong Catholic art, prior ages knew. But in the meantime, a rebellion against rebellion doesn’t escape the problems of rebellion, and a chosen tradition is never quite the same as an inherited one. . ."

Jody Bottum in a melancholly consideration of a re-emerging Catholic Culture in America. But let us not make the perfect the enemy of the good.

And There Was Much Rejoicing.

Looks like a new Christopher Guest movie (Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind &c.) is on the way, For Your Consideration. Not a mockumentary, but a "film within a film" about self-absorbed (what else?) Hollywood types making a movie. Here's the trailer.* All the reviews are here, and the official movie site is here. Looks like all the usual crew are there.
*As this is a family blog, I'll forewarn that the trailer contains an hysterical but PG-13 or so joke.

16 October 2006

Will The Real Anglicans Please Stand Up?

Over on Pontifications, Professor William Tighe has provided a brief "nutshell" taxonomy of Anglican presences in America. Why? - I don't know. But here it is.
Update: according to Mere Comments, Prof. Tighe prepared this at the request of the Vatican and the Archbishop of Newark. One wonders about the significance of these requests. Is the Vatican being proactive about receiving into communion an Anglican body, or (and I think this is more likely) are Catholic officials looking for a little help upon finding themselves inundated with letters and emails from a zillion different "Anglican" prelates with impressive titles (Archbishop of Lodi & Metropolitan of All the Americas!) seeking formal ecumenical dialogue? Anyhow, Professor Tighe's work is a helpful guide to the morass.

Swimming The Bosphorus.

Rod Dreher, author of Crunchy Cons, has left the Catholic Church for Orthodoxy, and has explained his decision, laying bare the sad reality of too much of American Catholicism - the scandals included - and his own sins as well. It makes for painful but important reading.

". . . When I told Julie what Father's true background was, we were both shattered. I mean shattered. Given all that had come before, and given that we finally thought we could let our guard down, that we were among orthodox Catholics now, and we could trust them -- well, something broke in us.It would be months before we realized how broken. We returned to our old parish, and spent months going through the motions. It's hard for me to express how spiritually depressed we were. The only strong emotion I felt about faith in those days was ... anger and bitterness

. . .

In fact, the further I moved from Catholicism, the more I was able to love it. I think it's because I felt somehow released from feeling responsible for the Scandal. It's important for me to say, though, that at no time in this journey did anybody at St. Seraphim's speak ill of the Catholic Church (in fact, one new friend there, a Russian, once told me that there are too many sins and scandals in Orthodoxy for the Orthodox rigorists to spend their time carping about Rome). They only bore joyful witness to what they had discovered in Orthodoxy. This made an impression on me.

Julie and I put off converting as long as we could, but we finally had to admit to ourselves that we loved these people, that we loved this faith, and we didn't want to leave it. The only thing keeping me personally away from making the decision for Orthodoxy was love of my Catholic friends, whom I knew I would disappoint. And, to be honest, I didn't want to leave Rome because it is all I've ever known as an adult Christian. Some will doubt this, but for all the pain, I will always love the Catholic Church, and I sometimes get a little emotional thinking about that. And yet, staying there was killing me spiritually. Leaving was like chewing my own leg off to get out of a trap.

And this bit is a salutary warning to those of us embroiled in the Anglican difficulties:

". . . What's more, I had become the sort of Catholic who thought preoccupying himself with Church controversies and Church politics was the same thing as preoccupying himself with Christ. Me and my friends[*] would go on for hours and hours about what was wrong with the Church, and everything we had to say was true. But if you keep on like that, it will have its effect. One night, some Catholic friends left after a long and vivid night of conversation, and Julie and I reflected that we had all spent the entire evening talking about the Church -- but never mentioned Jesus. Julie said, "We need less Peter around here, and more Jesus." Her point was that all this talk about the institutional Church was crowding out our devotion to the spiritual realities beneath the visible structure. And she was right. But I didn't learn that until it was too late. . ."

Here's the whole thing. Fr. Neuhaus comments here (second item).
*I just couldn't help pointing out this egregious sin against English grammar coming from an editor of a major newspaper.

Growing "Up".

Here's a bit of James Bowman's review of the latest in the long-running and fascinating "-Up" documentary series. The films follow a group of English children of differing socio-economic backgrounds from age 7 until, now, they are 49, looking in on them once evey 7 years. Notice where the subjects find happiness.

". . . For the 7-Up series looks with each installment more and more like one of the most remarkable cinematic projects there has ever been. This is not only because of the intrinsic interest of the life stories it tells. Even more interesting are the reflections in those stories of slow-moving changes in our world that we might not otherwise notice. One of these is in the premiss of the series itself. Pretty obviously it owed its existence to a typically 1960s and British obsession with social class. Now that titanic mid-century struggle looks ever more like a non-event, while its familiar social divisions have given way to a unitary and post-modern celebrity culture. As one of these 49 year-olds says, the series now looks like a reality show from long before anyone had dreamed up such a thing. . .

. . . Looking at the original film now, Bruce can hardly recognize himself at age seven. That child looks so lost to him, he says. Cue his seven-year-old self at boarding school saying to the camera: "My heart’s desire is to see my daddy" — who was 6000 miles away. It’s enough to break your heart all over again. Small wonder he is surprised to be so happy and content a father himself all these years later. His life is one of several which illustrates the general proposition that the focus of the -Up films has tended to shift away from work and money and social class and towards marriage and family. More and more, what unites these people across their class boundaries, making all other considerations seem minor — and what moves us again and again about 49-Up — is their still undiminished heart’s desire to be happy in love.

For a surprising number, the wish has come true. Next to Tony, perhaps, the most attractive of all is Suzy, the upper-class girl who is shown again — as she has been in each of the last four films — looking morose and chain-smoking at age 21 as she tells the camera that she is very, very cynical about marriage and children. And once again, too, we see her seven years later absolutely transformed into a lovely and radiant young woman. "What happened to you?" the Michael Apted of 21 years ago asks in astonishment. The answer then was Rupert, her husband, and it still is. Suzy and Rupert are as happily married as ever, and one suspects that it is partly on his account that she seems to grow prettier and younger-looking with each new installment. Yet she tells us that, with this film, "For the first time I actually feel happy in my own skin. . ."

Here's the whole thing. More reviews here.

13 October 2006

The Grand Finale.

Admit it, you've always wanted to watch a fireworks factory blow up. Now you can.

Via Galley Slaves.



Mark Steyn has a new book, America Alone, which takes as its subject (according to the reviewer) the fact that "our civilization is facing a crisis of confidence and demographic vigor just at the moment when a jihadi world movement stands poised to upend us." From the review:
Here is his rejoinder to an Episcopal priest who told his congregation after the London bombings “There are no Muslim terrorists. There are terrorists.”
“It’s not the perfect fatuousness of the assertion so much as the meta-message it conveys: we’re the defeatist wimps; bomb us and we’ll apologize to you.” Later, he warms to the subject: “Most mainline Protestant churches are, to one degree or another, post-Christian. If they no longer seem disposed to converting the unbelieving to Christ, they can at least convert them to the boggiest of soft-left political clichés, on the grounds that if Jesus were alive today he’d most likely be a gay Anglican bishop in a committed relationship driving around in an environmentally friendly car with an ‘Arms Are for Hugging’ sticker on the way to an interfaith dialogue with a Wiccan and a couple of Wahhabi imams.”
From a review on NRO, and here's an interview with Steyn.
I have to point out that in fact Jesus is alive today and manifestly not an Anglican bishop, gay or otherwise.

A Distant (And Receding?) Hope.

From an interview with Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, following his audience with Pope Benedict XVI; the context is the prospect for unity between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion:

Q. You have been in the whole ecumenical dialogue for many years now, in fact for most of your life as a bishop, so I wonder do you feel sad and disappointed that, apart from the fact that relations are probably better now than they have ever been, nevertheless there is now such a block to moving forward to unity?

A. I have to admit it has been a great sadness for me. As you say, I have spent quite a lot of my Episcopal life in work for ecumenism, especially with the Anglican Communion because I was co-chairman of ARCIC for 16 years and when you pray together, when you meet together, when you become friends together it is very moving and there was nothing I wanted more than full communion, corporate unity with the Anglican Church. But that does now seem to me to be very far distant, and I don't know what is going to happen.

But I do know, as I have often said, ecumenism is like a road with no exit. In the ecumenical document, the Vatican Council said we must all be engaged in the ecumenical movement to try and achieve the visible unity for which Christ prayed. Now that is my mandate and I will continue.


12 October 2006

You Can Take The Girl Out Of Tennessee...

Kathryn Jean Lopez interviews Nancy French, author of Red State of Mind: How a Catfish Queen Reject Became a Liberty Belle:

Lopez: What’s the biggest difference between NYC and Paris, Tennessee?

French: Dolly Parton put it best. In the south, we sleep several to a bed because we ain’t got no money. In the north, they do it because they ain’t got no morals.

. . .

Lopez: Why do “Conservatives living in blue cities have to blend in, be extremely kind, and have the wisdom to know when to keep their mouths shut”?

French: When we lived just a few blocks from the Liberty Bell, we sent our kids to public school, played at the park every afternoon, and had play dates with neighborhood kids. For many months, I kept my conservatism “in the closet,” lest I alienate all possible playmates for the kids. (When we lived in Ithaca, New York, parents asked if we were gun owners or allowed “pretend gun play” in the house. That eliminated quite a few pals right off the bat.) So, I tried to blend in — not wanting to fight the culture war every time some one criticized President Bush. Eventually I realized this wasn’t quite possible, the Left being more evangelistic than Billy Graham on speed. On the day of the 2004 election, someone with a Mothers Opposing Bush (“MOB”) button asked me if I’d voted. Then, she narrowed her eyes at me and asked, “Who are you voting for?” She must’ve detected something in my eyes — sanity, perhaps. Finally, I started writing for the City Paper, feeling that if was going to be defending myself, I might as well have a larger audience than just the moms and nannies at Three Bears Park.


11 October 2006

Culture Of Death, Russian Style.

From a huge L.A. Times series on "The Vanishing Russians":

". . . Russia is rapidly losing population. Its people are succumbing to one of the world’s fastest-growing AIDS epidemics, resurgent tuberculosis, rampant cardiovascular disease, alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, suicide and the lethal effects of unchecked industrial pollution.

In addition, abortions outpaced births last year by more than 100,000. An estimated 10 million Russians of reproductive age are sterile because of botched abortions or poor health. The public healthcare system is collapsing. And many parents in more prosperous urban areas say they can’t afford homes large enough for the number of children they’d like to have. . . "

Here's the whole thing, and comments and questions from GetReligion's Terry Mattingly.
This puts one in mind of Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart's comments (cited by George Weigel in The Cube and the Cathedral):
" . . . [It seems] fairly obvious that there is some direct, indissoluble bond between the desire for a future and the imagination of eternity...This is why post-Christian Europe seems to lack not only the moral and imaginative resources for sustaining its civilization, but even any good reason for continuing to reproduce."

10 October 2006

October In Words And Pictures.

Kiersten Casella considers the Signs of Autumn in her garden.

Of Marriage, Celibacy, & the Priesthood.

Fr. Ray Ryland reflects in the latest Crisis:

You're a married priest? I didn't know we had married priests. I think the Church should let all her priests marry.”

Words like these have greeted me frequently since my ordination to the priesthood in 1983, with dispensation from the rule of celibacy. I always assure those who favor optional celibacy that both my wife and I strongly support the Church's discipline of priestly celibacy. While I'm deeply grateful that the Church has made an exception for certain former Protestant clergy like me, the exception is clearly a compromise. The priesthood and marriage are both full-time vocations. The fact is, no one can do complete justice to both simultaneously. . .


You-Tube Stuff.

I know that YouTube was all over the news yesterday for some feat of cyber-business acumen, which feat is well beyond my ken, but it reminded me that arts critic Terry Teachout has acumulated an incredible list of musical/arts gems available thereon. There is the Emmylou Harris performance covering Steve Earle above (from a concert which likely saved the Ryman), and, inter a great deal of alia, these:
Count Basie in the ‘40s
Vintage Beatles
Booker T & the MG’s from 1967
Johnny Cash
Ray Charles
Thelonius Monk
Charlie Parker
Doc Watson
And it just goes on and on. For the full list, go to Teachout's blog "
About Last Night”; the list is on the sidebar - scroll down till you see the "Video" list. A similar list of audio links follows.

09 October 2006

Tennessee Withdrawals.

Levenson and Dyson have withdrawn themselves from consideration in the Diocese of Tennessee Episcopal Election:
The Episcopate Committee has received two letters of withdrawal from the process, from the Rev. Russell Levenson and the Rev. Thack Dyson. We are disappointed they could not continue with us, but their statements, attached to this email and also found on their web page at www.tnbishopsearch.org, explain their reasons very well. As we all know, calling of a Bishop, like a rector, is a discernment process that requires both the caller and the respective nominees to search for God's will. God does not act according to our expectations or desires, but we know that God always serves our greatest good. We believe that is as true today as it was when we first announced our slate of nominees. Both Rev. Levenson and Dyson assure us of their regard for the diocese and the work of the Episcopate Committee, and we very much appreciate their faithfulness in pursing God's will. Two nominees withdrew in our last process, though that was before the public announcement of the slate, so this truly is the way the process proceeds. Our attention now focuses on the three outstanding priests who continue with us, knowing that among these three is the next Bishop of the Diocese of Tennessee. Please continue to pray for them, for the electing delegates, and for our church in what is truly an exciting time in our church life.
The Rev. Canon Anne Stevenson
Dr. David L. Rowe