Friday, December 30, 2005

A Visit to the Land of Enchantment

Earlier this week I made a quick trip to see my youngest son and his family in Albuquerque. I met my new grandson, Trevor David, who entered this world just last month.

This was my first trip to Albuquerque since I enlisted in the Navy there 33 years ago. We went furniture shopping, so we saw a lot of the city. For a desert town, it is quite pleasant. For some reason, one of their main attractions are hot air balloons. No time for Old Town this trip. Maybe next visit.

I found hope reborn within me as I held Trevor in my arms. I was reminded that in the midst of my personal struggles and disappointments, new life is is springing up, and will continue the struggle long after I have exited this stage. In the Land of Enchantment, I was reminded to not be saddened as I draw nearer the light at my end of the tunnel of life, but to instead rejoice to be able gaze upon Trevor, and see remnants of glory reflected in the eyes of one who has so recently come from the light.

During this time, as we celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation, let's not give in to discouragement and desperation that often attempts to beat us into submission. Allow the gift of hope to fill you with the knowledge that God is doing for you what you cannot do for yourselves. We may perceive our days as a series of sad and happy dreams. The perception may not be the reality. God is moving among us, from glory, to glory, working all things for good.

May the new light of Christ, enkindled within our hearts, shine forth in our lives.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Three sermons this year; all geared to particular segments of the local congregation. Unfortunately, they will not translate well into this medium.

The first one was for the 7:00 Christmas Eve liturgy, which included a Children's Pageant. This year we had the most energetic two-year old angel I've ever seen. The sermon focused on the children, and included the story of my youngest son as the littlest Santa, which I've told before a couple of times at Jake's place, most recently here.

The sermon for the late Mass suggested we might need to lighten our load for this last leg of our Advent journey. To grasp the wonder of Bethlehem required that we let go of some of our baggage; that sack of expectations, trunk full of fear of scarcity, the one wrapped in a flag full of prejudice, bigotry and false nationalism, and the heavy one containing bitterness and failures of the past.

Tomorrow, I'll focus on the shepherds; the strangers in the story. We'll explore how bizarre it is that simple shepherds are chosen to receive the news from an angelic choir of a Savior being born. Then touch on how these ordinary folk changed the rather ordinary scene at the stable by becoming themselves the messengers; angelic shepherds, if you will. And conclude with how the events of that night sent them away so transformed that they could not stop praising God. Not even after the stockings and ornaments are all safely stored away after the Epiphany. I'll mention something about Christmas not being one point in time (thanks Dylan!), but continues beyond the "holiday season," as we find Christ born anew within us each day of our lives, and so are compelled toward a new vocation, an angelic vocation, proclaiming to the world every day, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"

Local sermons, adjusted extemporaneously according to the people gathered.

Considering shepherds this year reminded me of something I haven't read for some time; Henry Vaughan's The Shepherds:

Sweet, harmless lives! (on whose holy leisure
Waits innocence and pleasure),
Whose leaders to those pastures, and clear springs,
Were patriarchs, saints, and kings,
How happened it that in the dead of night
You only saw true light,
While Palestine was fast asleep, and lay
Without one thought of day?
Was it because those first and blessed swains
Were pilgrims on those plains
When they received the promise, for which now
'Twas there first shown to you?
'Tis true, He loves that dust whereon they go
That serve Him here below,
And therefore might for memory of those
His love there first disclose;
But wretched Salem, once His love, must now
No voice, nor vision know,
Her stately piles with all their height and pride
Now languished and died,
And Bethlem's humble cotes above them stepped
While all her seers slept;
Her cedar, fir, hewed stones and gold were all
Polluted through their fall,
And those once sacred mansions were now
Mere emptiness and show;
This made the angel call at reeds and thatch,
Yet where the shepherds watch,
And God's own lodging (though He could not lack)
To be a common rack;
No costly pride, no soft-clothed luxury
In those thin cells could lie,
Each stirring wind and storm blew through their cots
Which never harbored plots,
Only content, and love, and humble joys
Lived there without all noise,
Perhaps some harmless cares for the next day
Did in their bosoms play,
As where to lead their sheep, what silent nook,
What springs or shades to look,
But that was all; and now with gladsome care
They for the town prepare,
They leave their flock, and in a busy talk
All towards Bethlem walk
To see their souls' Great Shepherd, Who was come
To bring all stragglers home,
Where now they find Him out, and taught before
That Lamb of God adore,
That Lamb whose days great kings and prophets wished
And longed to see, but missed.
The first light they beheld was bright and gay
And turned their night to day,
But to this later light they saw in Him,
Their day was dark, and dim.

"...To see their souls' Great Shepherd, Who was come to bring all stragglers home..." Great stuff.

May Christ, who by his Incarnation gathered into one things earthly and heavenly, fill you with his joy and peace; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Life of Risk and Suffering

From the Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas Message:

...There is something about Christianity that always pulls us back from imagining that everything will be all right if we can find the right things to say - because for God, the right thing to say at Christmas was the crying of a small child, beginning a life of risk and suffering. God shows us how, by his grace and in his Spirit, we can respond to the tormenting riddles of the world. And, as we agonise over the future of our beloved church, with all its debates and bitter struggles at the moment, it does us no harm to remember that God will not solve our Anglican problems by a plan or a formula, but only by the miracle of his love in Jesus. If we want to be part of the solution, we must first be wholly and unconditionally pledged to that love, with all its costs. May God who works in the weakness and smallness of the Christmas child work in our weakness and smallness; may he bless and strengthen you all at this season.

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Vocation to Religious Creativity

The Fall issue of the Anglican Theological Review contains an essay by Paul V. Marshall, Bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem, entitled "A Note on the Role of North America in the Evolution of Anglicanism". Here is a brief excerpt:

These observations are offered in service of a larger point: much of what we value about the character of the Anglican Communion grew up in the vacuum created by a lack of interest in things American on the part of the English church and its leaders. Further, for good or ill, the North American churches have had the peculiar ministry of leading change in the Communion in ways that cannot be erased when a new prompting surfaces. This is not to assert that all things emanating from North America are good or progressive; they are not. From the Mayflower expedition on, however, necessity and circumstances have created a vocation to religious creativity in America.6 The fruit of this wilderness has been received throughout much of Anglicanism as a gift to the entire church, a matter that the Windsor Report disregards to our common peril, if our communion-wide vocation is to hear the Spirit of God.
Some of the examples of this "religious creativity" mentioned by Bishop Marshall include lay representation in Anglicanism's synodical structure, the missionary emphasis of the Church and specifically the episcopate, the emergence of what is now known as the Anglican Communion, and evidence that the Church could not only survive separated from the state, but could flourish.

One of the most significant contributions that the Episcopal Church has offered to Anglicanism is the participation of laypeople in our decision making processes. The Windsor Report and the Primates' Communique both seem to give little value to this important aspect of our ecclesiology. Both assume that our bishops alone can implement changes and issue binding pronouncements. The Primates have asserted their presumed authority by insisting that they be appointed to the only body among the four Instruments of Unity that contains lay representatives, the Anglican Consultative Council. By so doing, they have attempted to muzzle the voice of the lay order . Attempts to return to a time when prelates alone rule the Church must be strongly refuted. To acquiesce to such attempts in the name of unity would be a denial of our vocation within Anglicanism.

Regardless of what happens at GC2006 or Lambeth 2008, it appears that North America will need to continue as the vehicle for the evolution of Anglican ecclesiology. Perhaps what we previously referred to as the Anglican Communion will be replaced by various bodies voluntarily entering into "full communion" covenants, similar to the relationship developed between TEC and the ELCA.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Troubled by the Execution

No, I don't believe Stanley Williams was innocent. But my heart is still troubled by what the state of California has done.

I've written a little bit more about what troubles me over on the Christian Alliance.

Did you hear that the President admitted yesterday that 30,000 Iraqis have died since the invasion? Rather surprising, since early on General Tommy Franks stated, "We don't do body counts."

I used to think I understood the phrase "sanctity of life." I'm not so sure anymore. The definition seems to have taken on a form of fluidity that defies rational, or moral, reflection.

There's a cold wind blowing through this nation. May God have mercy on us all.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

AAC: The Network's Covert Operatives

Last month, at the Conference of Disgruntled Episcopalians, David Anderson, President & CEO of the American Anglican Council, attempted to explain how the AAC differs from the Network. I found this segment rather interesting:

...As a non-ecclesial body that has worked within, but never been under the auspices or authority of ECUSA, its constitution, canons or 815 leadership, the AAC has inherent freedom to move across classic hierarchical boundaries within the Anglican Communion...
In other words, the AAC can ignore diocesan boundaries, encourage and enable foreign bishops to poach parishes, and disregard the authority of any bishop with whom they disagree, which allows the Network to appear squeaky clean regarding staying within the bounds of the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church.

If there was still any question as to the role the AAC plays in the larger Network, Canon Anderson quickly dispels all further doubt:

...We consult with a large number of our constituency on a variety of issues including assistance with legal, strategic and communications issues. This includes some covert activity! One of the major problems we face in the AAC is that a large portion of what we do is under the radar or behind the curtain...
Covert activity? Under the radar? Behind the curtain? Unusual language for those claiming to do nothing more than create a "safe place" for conservative Anglicans. Unless, of course, the Via Media folks have been right all along:

Property, not piety is keeping dissident parishes in the Episcopal Church. In the longer term, the AAC expects to use foreign intervention to trump American law and the Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons. Its leaders are assuring dissident parishes that the Anglican primates, a consultative body with no governing authority or standing in the United States, will ride to the rescue of Network parishes, negotiate property settlements and transfer the assets of 2.3-million-member church to a group representing perhaps a tenth of that body. The Chapman letter reveals the AAC's "realignment" for what it really is -- the overthrow of the Episcopal Church by extra-legal means.
Such commentary is dismissed by the AAC as paranoid and reactionary. It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which the Network would end up with everything. I've heard it argued that since the preface to the constitution refers to the Episcopal Church as a "constituent member of the Anglican Communion," if we
were no longer part of the Communion, we would cease to exist. I can't imagine that happening. Certainly no court is going to buy that. It's a pretty weak case.

I'm sure the Network is aware that 10% of the members are never going to successfully convince the other 90% to join them through argumentation or threats. So what is all this covert activity about? If it's not an attempted coup, what is the AAC/Network's goal?

Whatever their intention is, I think it is time to draw back the curtain, open our eyes to the "covert" machinations going on "under the radar", and identify who it is pulling the levers.


Monday, December 05, 2005

Smokin' O.P.'s

The Revealer points us to yet another interesting discussion going on within the Roman Catholic Church; after 700 years, babies may be freed from limbo.

It appears that a fourth Primate has distanced himself from a rather strident letter sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury by the Global South. Mark Harris has more on this latest misstep by Archbishop Akinola and Co.

Thinking Anglicans rounds up some reports on Changing Attitude Nigeria's first General Meeting. Make sure you read the comments. The response of some to this event appears to be to deny it ever happened.

Tobias Haller succinctly summarizes his understanding of the phrase "the plainness of scripture".

Xpatriated Texan offers some thought-provoking commentary on the 1,000 executions in the United States since 1977.

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington has a great online Advent Calendar available.

Karen preaches the best Advent sermon I have seen so far this season.

The RevGalBlogPals are offering an excellent Advent devotional book; A Light Blazes in the Darkness: Advent Devotionals from an Intentional Online Community.

While you're there, check out Spidey's new book of poetry; Through Mist and Shadow.

Final thoughts from Bob Seger;

...And the years rolled slowly past
And I found myself alone
Surrounded bv strangers I thought were my friends
I found myself further and further from my home

And I guess I lost my way
There were oh so many roads
I was living to run and running to live
Never worried about paying or even how much I owed

Moving eight miles a minute for months at a time
Breaking all of the rules that would bend
I began to find myself searchin’
Searching for shelter again and again

Against the wind
A little something against the wind
I found myself seeking shelter
Against the wind

Well those drifters days are past me now
I’ve got so much more to think about
Deadlines and commitments
What to leave in, what to leave out

Against the wind
I’m still runnin’ against the wind
Well I’m older now and still runnin'
Against the wind.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Vatican Scapegoats Gays

On Tuesday, the Vatican released an Instruction regarding homosexuality and the priesthood. There's a couple of segments of this statement that beg for commentary:

...In the light of such teaching, this Dicastery, together with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, deems it necessary to clearly affirm that the Church, even while deeply respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to Seminary or Holy Orders those who are actively homosexual, have deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture...
The impediment is sexual orientation. This is a new development, and one that will most likely prove to be quite problematic. As William Saletan has put it:

...Notice two things. First, deep-rooted "tendencies" are now independent and automatic grounds for dismissal, regardless of whether you "practice" homosexuality or "support" gay culture (whatever that is). Second, even if these tendencies are merely a "situation" in which you "find yourself," they "gravely obstruct" you from relating properly to men and women. Through no fault of your own, you're doomed. The Catechism's paths to perfection - self-mastery, chastity, prayer, and grace - no longer suffice. The church won't settle for your self-restraint, even with God's help.
The implications of this statement go beyond the discussion of holy orders. Consider this piece of the "Instruction":

...As regards to deep-seated homosexual tendencies, which are present in a certain number of men and women, these also are objectively disordered and are often a trial for such people.
If you are gay or lesbian, you are "objectively disordered," even if you remain celibate. There is no remedy offered for this situation. Such a person will remain, in the eyes of the Church, at best, a second-class Christian.

Why is this Instruction being issued now? Possibly it is because, as William Saletan suggests, we now have homophobic pope. That may indeed be a contributing factor. But most likely the primary reason for the timing is an attempt by the Vatican to show it is responding to the sex scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church for many years. The solution appears to be to blame it on the queers. From the Human Rights Campaign:

..."This is a scapegoat scheme masquerading as Vatican decree," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "What is being released today is a decree serving as a diversion that neither keeps children safe nor holds criminals responsible."
Some will argue that it is disingenuous to claim that the primary error here is the refusal to untangle homosexuality from pedophilia. I think that such a differentiation is a necessary part of any discussion of this Instruction, but would require an agreed upon definition of terms, which is unlikely due to the huge chasm between those who hold opposing views on this issue. Let us simply agree that those who prey on children (those under the age of consent) are criminals. What this Instruction seems to imply is that those who are "objectively disordered" in this manner are more prone to be criminals.

By playing the blame game, the Vatican has once again chosen to stick its head in the sand regarding the real issues brought to light in this latest round of scandals.

What might the real issues be? How about a discussion of celibacy? How about some honest conversation about gay and lesbian Christians who are faithful members of the Church?

What the Roman Catholic Church has done so far is to insist that a person who recognizes that they have a different sexual orientation from the majority remain deeply in the closet. What is a young person who loves God and desires to serve God's Church, but finds himself to be "objectively disordered", to do? Maybe by taking a vow of celibacy God can redeem this disorder?

The problem is that celibacy is a unique vocation, to which few are called. Most people cannot neatly surgically remove such an integral part of themselves. Coupled with the requirement to remain in the closet, such frustrated individuals may develop a twisted view of appropriate and inappropriate personal relationships. Twisted teaching resulting in criminal acts.

With this statement, the Vatican has created new victims. Those priests who have served faithfully, and celibately, for decades, but happen to be "objectively disordered" must feel abandoned by Mother Church. Those members who are so "disordered" cannot help but see the direction of the future Church spelled out clearly in the Instruction. If sexual orientation can bar one from holy orders, it is only a matter of time before it will also bar one from the participating in the remaining six sacraments.

South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, sums up the situation well:

For me, to make someone suffer penalties because of their sexual orientation is on the same level as making people be penalized for their gender, or race.
This is a sad development for the Roman Catholic Church and for all Christendom, for that matter. But at least it brings to light the real goals of those who continue to persecute gay and lesbian Christians in the name of God. If you have a homosexual orientation, you are damned for all time, and have no place in their Church.

Those of us who find such a stance an outrage had better start speaking up. The world is watching. The validity of the Christian message hangs on how we respond to such reprehensible scapegoating tactics.


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