23 October 2007

Of The Beloved Physician.

My homily for the St. Luke's Day Mass at the Church of the Holy Communion:

St. Luke
Lk 4.14-21

oday we give thanks for the witness and the prayers of St. Luke, the Evangelist and chronicler of the Apostolic Church – Luke, whom St. Paul refers to as the “beloved Physician.”

It is interesting, in light of St. Luke's medical vocation, that in this lesson we have just read, the first public teaching from Jesus that Luke records, he presents Jesus to us a healer, albeit in broad terms. Our Lord takes for his first sermon text the 61st chapter of Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim release to the captives and the recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

Luke the beloved physician shows us Christ the Great Physician. In fact, as Luke presents it, immediately after this sermon in Nazareth, Jesus goes on something of a healing spree. He heals a man diseased in his mind, possessed by an evil spirit. He heals St. Peter’s mother-in-law of a high fever (no word from Luke as to whether Peter’s feelings were mixed). And after that, Luke tells us that “all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them.

We may ask, why? To be sure, these miracles of healing, public and verifiable as they were, had the function of authenticating the authority of Jesus as God’s Son, as the Messiah coming into the world. But they don’t just tell us who Jesus was and is, they tell us what he came to do. He did not come to accomplish some airy-fairy enlightenment and liberation of souls from the body’s prison house. No, he came to redeem and heal the entirety of God’s creation, chiefly God’s own image-bearers, human beings, body and soul inclusive.

This means that physicians and those in the healing and health-care professions have the high privilege of joining Christ in his work – of becoming, as St. Paul says, “God’s fellow-workers” in the great task of redemption.

Of course, physicians must do so in a way that is necessarily limited. The redemption that Christ accomplished in his crucified, dead, risen, and ascended Body is not yet consummated in our bodies, though some day it will be. We will be like him, St. John says, for we shall see him as he is. In the meantime, things fall apart. Peter’s mother-in-law died eventually. Even Lazarus returned to his tomb for a longer visit. And the best a physician can do is to apply a temporary fix. But even that is a glorious thing, because it is taken up into Christ’s work.

And even beyond that, Christ has told us that when we minister to the sick and suffering, when we ease pain and provide comfort to the last and least, we do it to him. Mother Theresa said that when she and her sisters went to minister to the dying poor in the streets of Calcutta, they did not go to do social work, but to adore Christ in the least of his brethren. The call to healing – to binding up wounds and setting captives free – is ultimately a call to adoration, adoration of him whose body was broken that we might be made whole.

O come, let us adore him.

+ + +


Consuming Jesus.

Naomi Schaeffer Riley responds to James B. Twitchell's Shopping for God:

In the early 1980s, the People for the American Way ran a television commercial in which actors were made to say how they preferred their eggs--e.g., scrambled, poached or fried. Everyone should be free, the ad implied, to choose as he wishes: That's the American way. The punch line, Richard John Neuhaus wrote in "The Naked Public Square" (1984), was aimed at moral majoritarians "who allegedly would impose one way on everybody." But of course, as Mr. Neuhaus noted, the matters over which the moral majority felt strongly--e.g., abortion and the death penalty--were not exactly comparable to breakfast fare. The ad amounted to a "fatuous trivialization" of moral concerns.

In "Shopping for God," James B. Twitchell resurrects the spirit of the egg analogy to make an even broader claim. Choosing a religion, he argues, is much like choosing any other product--from breakfast food to beer. He sets out to determine why the "spiritual marketplace" in the U.S. seems so hot right now, and, more pointedly, why evangelical megachurches have become, well, so mega. His theme can be summed up in one of the book's smug chapter titles: "Christian Consumers Are Consumers First."

. . .

But what is it about the evangelical "product" that makes it so desirable? Any number of scholars have noted that, in recent years, it has been the churches that demand the most of people--tithing, bowing to firm doctrines, observing strict rules of conduct--that have grown the fastest. There seems to be something in our nature that requires from religion not just feel-good spirituality but strong moral direction. We are willing to make sacrifices to live by the dictates of a religiously grounded truth.

Mr. Twitchell manages to reduce this profound idea to the dictates of basic consumer theory. Sacrifice, he says--not least, tithing--signifies value. The more you sacrifice, the more you visibly value the product for which you are giving something up, and the more you show other people that you value it, too. "Why do true believers sometimes puncture themselves, walk on their knees until they bleed, fast until they are skeletal or join a monastery and go mum?" Mr. Twitchell asks. "Brand allegiance."

Oddly, this sacrificial principle doesn't easily apply to megachurches. As Mr. Twitchell acknowledges, most don't have "high barriers to entry"--that is, they don't demand a lot of their congregants. They're often referred to as "seeker" churches because they appeal to nonbelievers--and not always successfully. It's easy to get in; but it's also easy to get out.

Here's the whole thing.

22 October 2007

Of Modesty.

Kathryn Jean Lopez on Wendy Shalit's Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It's Not Bad to be Good.
Shalit says that in a culture where “being publicly sexual has become the only acceptable way for girls to demonstrate maturity,” it’s heartening that it’s not so much the older folks — like Tipper Gore and other politically connected angry moms — who are fighting back, as it is the young girls themselves. The smut is still out there, and it’s often in your face — even when you’re with your kids. But it’s not going unchallenged.

Girls, writes Shalit, are bringing modesty back — and not in some absurdly unrealistic way that can be caricatured as “repression.” These girls know — because they’ve seen it in their families, on their campuses, in their neighborhoods, or through direct, unfortunate personal experience — that acting “wild,” being promiscuous, is the truly repressive and dehumanizing option. Says Shalit: “Looking ‘wild’ and acting ‘wild’ are supposed to be empowering, but more often they lead to misery, especially for young women who quickly learn to put their emotions in a deep freeze in order to do what is expected.”

Her book is full of impressive young women, and none more so than Rashida Jolley. This 26-year-old Washington, D.C., native challenges urban kids to have a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Jolley points out that “people like to stereotype African Americans as animalistic or whatever,” and registers a strong dissent. It’s “very offensive and very racist,” she says, to imply “that we don’t have control over ourselves.” And she blasts the patronizing ideology of such organizations as Planned Parenthood: “Those same individuals want to target urban schools and set up clinics and they make an assumption that we are just going to have sex anyway, and we aren’t capable of anything else, and to me that is extremely demeaning.”
Here's the whole thing.

18 October 2007

My Brain . . .

. . . is right handed. Test yours.

Culture Of Death, UCC Edition.

From the First Things blog:

On September 18, United Church of Christ minister Kristi Denham announced that a new organization of clergy called the End of Life Consultation Service (ELCS) had been created that would be devoted to ministering to critically ill medical patients. Rev. Denham explained that this organization would “help terminal patients access hospice, pain treatment, and other excellent end of life care.”

At first glance, the ELCS sounds like a charitable Christian group devoted to helping the sick and suffering, or another new ministry devoted to providing spiritual assurance to the gravely ill. Well, not exactly. What makes this organization different from many others is that the ELCS’s main purpose is to assist medical patients in planning their own deaths. And as might be expected, one of the options for a patient’s death offered by the ELCS includes committing suicide.

The new organization plans to man a 1-800 hotline that would provide potential callers with “volunteers [who would] visit patients and families in the home, and together they [could] identify a path to peaceful dying, well-suited to an individual’s illness and circumstances.” After the consultation, the clients would then be free to “obtain and self-administer the means” of killing themselves.

Here's the whole thing.


Matt Labash hilariously goes back-and-forth with A.J. Jacobs regarding the latter's book, The Year of Living Biblically. A very fine example of meaningful Jewish-Christian dialogue:

So, I'm accepting this invitation in order to see what happens when two worlds collide, when Christian (me) and Jew (you) come together, breaking matzo and sipping Jesus juice in the spirit of brotherhood, interfaith dialoguing so that we can celebrate both the commonality and distinctions of our shared Abrahamic traditions. Also, I'm hoping that by the time it's all over and we've fostered mutual understanding, walking hand-in-hand by the flickering lamplight of enlightenment, that you'll renounce your false beliefs and accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.

Or maybe I'll let the proselytizing slide. You wouldn't have much conversion value to my superiors back at HQ. You do, after all, admit in your book that you've been a committed agnostic who "is Jewish the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant" and only says "Lord" when "of the Rings" follows it. So, let me start with a compliment.

I've just finished The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest To Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. I don't want to give too much away about your excellent book, but in it, you strive to follow the Bible as literally as possible for a year. And at the risk of overreaching, I'm just going to say it: It's better than the Bible. Or not better, necessarily. But it is funnier, moves faster, and doesn't bog you down with any of those genealogies. I know that God's ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), but I never understood, with limited space and the pressure of crafting a universal message to resonate throughout the ages, why He would bother squandering valuable chapters telling me that Meraioth begat Amariah, and Amariah begat Ahitub.

And here's Jacobs in installment #4:

As you probably noticed, I spent more time following the Old Testament, first because I am officially Jewish, and second because that's where most of the laws are. I also discovered that—despite my secular upbringing—I do have a surprisingly Jewish and Old Testament way of thinking. For instance: I am attracted to deed over creed. This, as you know, is a handy Jewish catchphrase. The religion places more emphasis on the behavior than on the belief. It's considered more important to follow the ethical laws and do the prayers than to believe in God.

The weird thing is, my creed eventually started to catch up to my deeds. I became more spiritual during my year. I couldn't handle the cognitive dissonance. Which is how I ended up calling myself a reverent agnostic. I was praying several times a day, and it gave me a sense of awe. I'm going to sound like a high-school sophomore who just took his first bong hit, but I'll say it anyway: My prayers helped remind me of the miracle that there is something instead of nothing, of the unlikely fact the world exists at all.

Here's the first installment.

Jesus On The Mainline?

Today over on Opinion Journal, reflects on the new and powerful Evangelical establishment, and the irony thereof:
Once upon a time, a Protestant elite ruled America. Its members were not just any Protestants, though. They came almost exclusively from the "main line," a phrase borrowed from the affluent suburbs lining the Pennsylvania Railroad west of Philadelphia. Mainline Protestantism--encompassing the Episcopal Church, the Congregationalists and other liberal denominations--was far more than a cluster of churches. According to the historian William Hutchison, it "was a personal network" comprising "familial, social, and old-school-tie relationships," including such clans as the Rockefellers and the Niebuhrs. It helped to build such progressive institutions as the University of Chicago and Union Theological Seminary. It was also capable of great bigotry, barring Catholics and Jews from its social clubs and law firms.

In "The Protestant Establishment," E. Digby Baltzell chronicled the "growth and decay" of the WASP aristocracy, describing its patrician families, elite boarding schools and Ivy League universities and noting their waning influence. Writing in 1964, Baltzell saw the election of John F. Kennedy, an Irish Catholic, as a hopeful sign. And, indeed, later researchers documented the opening of the elite to Catholics and Jews.

Missing from most accounts of America's diversifying establishment is any discussion of what happened to the other Protestants--the fundamentalists and evangelicals outside the mainline. A few attained positions of power in midcentury America, but for decades most could be found near the bottom of the economic ladder in the South and Midwest. The victims of class and regional prejudices, these born-again believers had been christened the "gaping primates from the upland valleys" by H.L. Mencken. He wasn't alone is taking such a view.

Yet a funny thing happened on the way to the 21st century. Buoyed by the upward mobility of postwar America, a critical mass of evangelicals made it into the elite. In "Faith in the Halls of Power," D. Michael Lindsay tells their story, drawing on interviews with 360 prominent evangelicals to gauge the rise of a conservative Protestant leadership class in government, business, the media and higher education. Among the voices to be heard in Mr. Lindsay's fascinating book are those of two former presidents, 100 corporate executives, two-dozen cabinet secretaries and White House officials, and a dozen Hollywood filmmakers and actors.

Who would have guessed that a president of Borders, a Juilliard School dean, the producer of "The X-Men" trilogy, the world-wide head of television for the William Morris Agency, a host of TV's "Talk Soup" (now called "The Soup") and a former director of marketing at Tommy Hilfiger were all evangelicals? At a Manhattan gathering in honor of the evangelical author Rick Warren, Mr. Lindsay overheard an editor at a major publishing house ask: "Are there many evangelicals at Yale these days?" The short answer is yes. An update of William F. Buckley's "God and Man at Yale" (1951) would have to acknowledge Yale's dramatic growth of evangelical student groups. The same goes for Harvard, where chaplain Peter Gomes notes there are more evangelicals "than at any time since the seventeenth century."

Here's the whole thing.

17 October 2007

Good News.

The most encouraging (albeit ironically so) headline I've seen from Iraq in a long time:

"As violence falls in Iraq, cemetery workers feel the pinch"

From here.

11 October 2007

Homosexuality & The African Church.

Philip Jenkins has an interesting piece up today on The New Republic website re homosexuality and the African Church:
The Muslim context helps explain the sensitivity of gay issues in one other key respect. In the region later known as Uganda, Christianity first arrived in the 1870s, when the area was already under Muslim influence and a hunting ground for Arab slave-raiders. The king of Buganda had adopted Arab customs of pederasty, and he expected the young men of his court to submit to his demands. But a growing number of Christian courtiers and pages refused to participate, despite his threats, and an enraged king launched a persecution that resulted in hundreds of martyrdoms: On a single day, some 30 Bugandans were burned alive. Yet the area's churches flourished, and, eventually, the British expelled the Arab slavers. That foundation story remains well-known in the region, and it intertwines Christianity with resistance to tyranny and Muslim imperialism--both symbolized by sexual deviance. Reinforcing such memories are more recent experiences with Muslim tyrants, such as Idi Amin, whose victims included the head of his country's Anglican Church. For many Africans, then, sexual unorthodoxy has implications that are at once un-Christian, anti-national, and oppressive.

Here's the whole thing.
Image: St. Charles Lwanga.
Via Rod Dreher.

08 October 2007

Romeward Bound (Some More).

Accounts of six recent conversions to Rome in the Christian Century:
When I ran into a friend from divinity school recently, we asked each other the normal catch-up questions. Then, in the same casual tone, she said, "So are you going to become Catholic?"

It's not that odd a question these days in theological circles. Last year a string of theologians left their Protestant denominations for the church of Rome. The list includes three Lutherans—Reinhard Hütter and Bruce Marshall, theologians at Methodist seminaries (Duke and Southern Methodist), and Mickey Mattox, a Luther scholar at Marquette; two Anglicans—Rusty Reno of Creighton and Douglas Farrow of McGill University; and a Mennonite—Gerald Schlabach of St. Thomas University.

All six all have strong connections to mainline institutions, and several were involved in official ecumenical conversation at high levels. They are also relatively young, poised to influence students and congregations for several decades. They more or less fit the description "postliberal" in that they accept such mainline practices as historical criticism and women's ordination while wanting the church to exhibit more robust dogmatic commitments. All of them embrace what Mattox describes as an "evangelical, catholic and orthodox" vision of the church. They could not see a way to be all those things within mainline denominations.
Here's the whole thing.
Via TitusOneNine.

04 October 2007

Of Reformation, And The Hatred Thereof.

This first month at the Church of the Holy Communion has been a great joy for me in many regards, but perhaps one of my favorite aspects of the experience thus far has been the daily immersion in Miles Coverdale’s translation of the Psalter (the version printed in the Anglican Service Book) as we read the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. No doubt part of my enjoyment is due to the novelty of an unfamiliar translation, enabling me to hear the Psalms “again for the first time.” But also there is no denying the beauty of Coverdale’s phrasing, a mode of expression that swings (without jarring) from a quaint earthiness to transcendent majesty. Often a particular phrase read at the Office will stick in my mind and percolate into my thoughts throughout the day.

One phrase that has continued in my mind (since Morning Prayer on the 10th day of the month, in fact) comes from Psalm 50, wherein the Lord indicts his covenant people because while they are punctilious in their offering of the appointed sacrifices and other “religious” duties, yet their hearts and their daily lives are from God:

But unto the ungodly saith God, Why dost thou preach my laws, and takest my covenant into thy mouth;

Whereas thou hatest to be reformed, and cast my words behind thee. (vv. 16,17)

“Hatest to be reformed, indeed.” I don’t like it at all. Affirmed, yes. Flattered, certainly. Coddled – bring it on. But reformed, no thank you.

This makes no sense of course. Why wouldn’t I want to be reformed by a loving God, why wouldn’t I whole-heartedly turn myself over to his care and say with the Blessed Virgin Mary, “be it unto me according to thy word.” Many reasons, of course, and all of them bad. Part of the damage that sin does in our lives is to blind us to the damage of sin, if I may so phrase it. In fact, this phenomenon is an act of judgment. When we continue in rebellion, God hands us over to rebellion, our hearts are hardened (see, for instance, Rom. 1.28), and, smug and self-satisfied, we hate to be reformed.

But God is determined, and our self-deceptions and rationalizations are no match for his love. And it is his love that wins us, poured out on the cross of Jesus Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way: “Only the cross as God’s truth about us makes us truthful. Those who know the truth can no longer shy away from any truth” – even and especially the truth about ourselves, so that we will love to be reformed, remade into the image of his Son.


From the October parish newsletter.


The High Altar with new reredos at
the Church of the Holy Communion.

The Open, Anxious Space.

From a Books & Culture review of Virginia Stem Owen's Caring for Mother:
For thirtysomethings like me, not yet the meat of the sandwich generation but no longer the bottom slice of bread either, Virginia Stem Owens' new book, Caring for Mother: A Daughter's Long Goodbye, is a possibly unwelcome but valuable portent of things to come. An unflinching account of Owens' seven years spent caring for her mother, who suffered from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, Caring for Mother reads like a map of the territory we may be about to enter. If aging is indeed "Another Country," as the title of psychologist Mary Pipher's book on aging suggests, then caregiving for the elderly is like hiking alongside our loved ones in a foreign land. Death is certain, Owens writes, but the process of dying is an "open, anxious space where we set up camp, uncertain how long we'll be there."
Here the whole thing.

03 October 2007


In Servais Pinckaers' meditations on the Beatitudes (see next item down), he writes about the different kinds of poverty we must endure, including what he calls "the poverty of error and sin":
It is painful to endure a sense of guilt, the thought of having been deliberately hard and wicked. It is miserable enough to have made a mistake or committed some piece of folly through weakness or a trick of the subconscious, but if we have intentionally become involved in evil who can relieve us of this horrible reality which clings to us and attacks our most intimate sense of self-esteem?
That came forcefully to mind today when I came across the following from actress Ellen Burstyn, regarding the abortion she had as a young woman:

At the time I was just young and dumb, I didn't really want to have a baby then. It was the wrong thing to do and I didn't really understand that till later. That was very very painful, that was probably the worst....These experiences are—we make a choice, and they have ramifications for the rest of our life...It's one of the dark threads [in our life's tapestry]. I try not to allow regret to settle over me like a shroud, because I think it's an unhealthy way to live."

Via the Corner.

01 October 2007

Standing On The Promises.

From a wonderful study of the Beatitudes (current subject of the Caritas Fellowship Bible study) by Servais Pinckaers, OP:
Promises of happiness therefore come first in God's Word and designs. They precede the Law and the commandments given to Moses and are evoked in the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount. As St. Paul understood so well, this ordering has enormous consequences for life and for the moral issues of Revelation. Salvation, freedom, justice, and happiness come to us from our faith in the divine promises and our hope in mercy and grace, rather than from the merits we may acquire by our own strength in adhering to the observances of the Law.

Faith, which engenders hope, will therefore come first in biblical and Christian morality, and will become the source of good works. It will lay as the foundation stone of Christian action the humility of the one who knows he has received everything and who joyously entrusts himself to the power of One greater than himself, as contrasted with the secret pride of the one who thinks he can carry out his own obligations by his own strength.

Why are there Protestants? I can't remember.

Schori To Charleston.

In the email box:

To: The Clergy of the Diocese of South Carolina

From: The Rt. Rev. Edward L. Salmon Jr., Bishop of South Carolina

The Rev. Haden McCormick, President of the Standing Committee

The Very Rev. Mark Lawrence, Bishop Elect

Dear Friends,

As was announced publicly on Tuesday in New Orleans, The Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori has accepted our invitation to meet with the leadership of the Diocese of South Carolina February 25-26, 2008. This will give us an opportunity to state with clarity and charity the theological position of this Diocese in a manner similar to when we met with Most. Rev. Frank T. Griswold shortly after his Installation as Presiding Bishop.

An appropriate agenda will be developed after the Consecration.


The Muddle In The Middle.

Jordan Hylden considers the widely varying reactions to the New Orleans House of Bishops' meeting:

There seem to be as many opinions as there are Anglicans, and they do not appear to be coalescing. The optimist, of course, might say that the widespread disagreement is proof of the Episcopal bishops’ success, in that they managed to find a middle ground that dissatisfied the extremes on both sides. Indeed, many Anglicans seeking to be moderates have already made such an argument. The pessimist, however, might just as easily say that the widespread confusion goes all the way down, demonstrating the incoherent muddle at the heart of Anglicanism itself.

Jeffrey Steenson, the admired bishop of the Rio Grande, more or less said as much in his farewell address last week as he departed for the Roman Catholic Church. It all goes to show, he argued, what happens when you reject papal primacy; in essence, it creates a vacuum of authority that, thanks to human fallenness, leads inevitably to doctrinal and moral chaos. And of course Cardinal Newman had said the same thing about Anglicanism more than a century ago. Both the optimist and the pessimist perspectives—neither of which are necessarily the result of mere “optimism” or “pessimism”—are well worth keeping in mind for anyone seeking to understand Anglican events in the days ahead.

Here's the whole thing.