A question for Arkansas Senatorial candidate Tom Cotton concerning “once-a-week-Christians”

July 15, 2014

Let me tell you that things down in Arkansas are a mess and I find the pending November elections to be an awful puzzle. The candidates are terrible, which is such a departure from the time that this small southern state produced national figures like Joe T. Robinson, J. William Fulbright, and Dale Bumpers.

Republican candidate for the United States Senate Tom Cotton recently accused incumbent Mark Pryor of being a “one-day-a-week-Christian.” Such accusations have no place in political campaigns in the first place, and the Constitution clearly says that government may not require religious tests of office holders. Yes, I do get the distinction, but I also understand the background and what should be a rule in all elections.  Furthermore, I am willing to stipulate that Pryor’s response was tepid, shallow and absolutely dreadful.

Since Mr. Cotton has taken it upon himself to publicly question the religious faith or another candidate, and presumably somebody he would count as a brother-in-Christ, I am wondering what steps Cotton went through before using the nuclear option. Did he follow the procedure laid out by our Lord, Savior, and Living Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, in Matt 18?

Did Cotton go in private and outline his concerns? (18:15)

I’m not making this up. If Cotton had done so, He might have won his brother. That is what Jesus says. If Prayer would not listen to Cotton, did the GOP candidate go again with others and address the issue in front of Witness? Again, Jesus says this is what Christians with disagreements are bound to do. (18:16) Some churches actually follow these steps. No foolin’.

The final step is to bring it to the Church. My reading on the subject, which is not exhaustive, SUGGESTS to me that Cotton should bring the issue before Senator Pryor’s church. (18:17) Some might hold that Pryor be questioned in Cotton’s Church. I doubt it, but this is an area in which I am open to instruction.  I should add that my readings about the following aspect of proper order, point to the purpose of church discipline as eventual restoration. I might mention here the writings of John Calvin and the Anglican Articles of Religion in support of my opinion. Looking at the words of Jesus in v. 17, it seems that even tax collectors and Gentiles are capable of repentance.

Since Mr. Cotton apparently holds himself out as something more than a Sunday-only kind of guy, it would be good to hear about his theological and biblical reflection on Mark Pryor’s alleged shortcomings. There are one or two further questions that need Mr. Cotton’s attention.

Why did he take church business, stuff that Jesus himself instructs to be kept inside the church, into the political arena?

Does Tom Cotton believe that the name of Jesus is glorified by the public airing of accusations among Christ’s followers?


Duke’s Final Day: A Reflection

July 15, 2014

Thee is a set of photos concerning a black lab’s last day that has gone viral. I have seen it and you probably have too. It is beautiful and at the same time it is hard. If you have recently lost a pet, watch at your own peril. This is a great story told with powerful images. Here’s the link.

This Dog’s Final Day Proves We Should Live Every Day Like It’s Our Last.

We lost Molly a year-and-a-half ago, so this subject is still upsetting. Who cannot be moved by a dog enjoying the things dogs enjoy, especially poured out in abundance. Two thumbs up for these striking photographs because I only have two thumbs.

It is possible that we do ascribe too much humanity to animals. There is a tendency toward sentimentalism in modern life and it is not one bit pretty. Still. dogs know when they are seriously ill and they understand when the end is near. It is very possible that a well-socialized dog like Duke would realize that the time has come for farewells.

Duke’s story certainly reminds us of God’s goodness in creation. Everything in the material order is good. It is my opinion, and this is probably no earth shaking piece of theological insight, that animals who become our pets foreshadow a time when everything will be reconciled and put in perfect order. This marvelous relationship of a family and Duke hints broadly that someday we will live together in peace. Humans will be at peace with their neighbors, at peace with the cosmic order, and finally  in God’s favor.

As to the rainbow bridge, I tend to doubt that our pets are waiting anxiously to meet us on the other side. I don’t know if we get out pets back in the Kingdom of the Heavens, but I sure hope so. Since we will be resurrected and reigning with Christ on earth, it would be difficult to imagine a world without dogs, so why not our favorites? It is just a thought and whatever God has in mind is right.

Good boy, Duke.


Should lay people study theology?

June 17, 2014

It is obviously a loaded question. What am I going to say? Heck, no! Why bother? It all turns out the same one way or the other. (By the way, that is a better argument than you may think!) If you come down the line of Anglicanism or some other liturgy-heavy form of worship, you have been confirmed (usually around age 12) and that is the PhD of religious studies for regular folks. Study is a load of work and, if you are not careful, it might change your mind. If could change your life. If things are going well, that is the very last thing you might desire.

In Matt 25, the Lord describes the Last Judgment and the process of handing out final grades. There is not the first hint of academic achievement but plenty about taking care of the least among us. So there! Case closed! No more Christian Education (and most of us hated it anyway!).

But how are we to know in advance of the Last Day? What source tells us that kindness towards the sufferers is one of the final manifestations of our Christian life? And what’s all this business of eternal punishment anyway? And, beside the fact that he is a really nice man, where did Jesus get that kind of authority?

Christians are obliged to take up the cross and follow Jesus (Lk 9:23). That does not sound very appealing. You can be darned sure that Jesus’ public relations consultant sat him down hard after that little slip-up. Most people do not have much of a stomach for executions, especially their own. What if Jesus really meant it? If the Christian life that hard? Why would anybody follow Christ, except to avoid that eternal punishment thing.

Is it possible that Christ has in mind something more than the avoidance of spending all time in a burning pit of suffering. If God has something more in mind for his righteous people, something very good and beautiful, we could only learn about it by study. That would take time and effort and the guidance of a knowledgable teacher.

God has a good future for his holy people. He intends for each of us to become students and to make students of others (Matt 28:18-20. Jesus set the example. Look how he quotes the scriptures and teaches from the law and the prophets. See how Jesus both teaches the written word but lives it out. That is what we must do in this world today.

 


The Sacred Page: God Mounts His Throne with Shouts of Joy: The Readings for Ascension Day

May 28, 2014

Our Roman Catholic friends have some fine analysis of Ascension Day, which is properly celebrated on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter. Not many RC jurisdictions celebrate the correct day, moving it over to the following Sunday. Anglicans use the same readings which are discussed in detail on the Sacred Page blog.

The Sacred Page: God Mounts His Throne with Shouts of Joy: The Readings for Ascension Day.

And, by the way, I double-dog date my Anglican clergy friends to read the traditional, and amazingly beautiful, Collect for the feast.

GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

 


Supremes weaken church, strengthen state, damage wall of separation

May 6, 2014

The consequence of the unfortunate high court ruling to allow prayers before town meetings will not be a good thing for those who take prayer seriously. The triumphalism of the most vocal and obnoxious Evangelicals will place Christianity in an even worse light as seeking the power and privilege of a class ruling by divine right. It is as if these Christians have never heard of gay marriage. This small supposed victory will be paid for at a dear price.

Some of us traditionalist Christians think the Supreme Court was completely wrong, that prayer is, in one sense, part of a sacred relationship between individuals and their Creator and, in another sense, between the Church and its head and redeemer, Jesus Christ. We understand that civil religion is no religion and serves only the state interests. Christianity suffers because of the inherent trivialization of our practices. Justice Kennedy says the prayers should be seen as “ceremonial” and part of the national tradition.

That sounds good, unless one believes that there is an Entity on the other end who cares, listens, and acts upon our supplications. “The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers,” Kennedy said.

The decision echos the mega-church notion of ego driven and materialistic mega-preachers. And do not think that any other less colorful religious leaders will be called up on except in the rarest circumstance. I grew up as a Roman Catholic in Alabama, so I know what the underside of a Baptist’s thumb looks like. Although Roman Catholics must make up a substantial portion of Mobile’s population (40% ?), I never recall any Roman Catholic clergy ever being allowed to lead a public prayer – not even once.

And some of my friends actually call that a victory?

What if the purpose of public prayer (we Anglicans call it Common Prayer) is to give glory and worship to the One who is the King of Creation, a being who reigns far above Supreme Court Justices? What if prayer is intended to request good weather, bountiful harvests, safety in battle, good grades, physical healing and a host of blessings that only the Triune God of orthodox Christianity may mercifully grant.

But Justice Kennedy is a modern man whose public positions could never conceive of an all-powerful God who sets up and brings down nations. Kennedy’s God is an artifact of culture, an idol. This bad ruling is a sorry reflection on our system of constitutional interpretation.


Christian life and the sacraments

May 5, 2014

A former vice-presidential candidate is in some trouble because of a comment that many have taken to be disrespectful of sacraments. Some have called the statement blasphemy, but that seems unlikely. It was in poor taste and disrespectful, both of which fall well inside the American understanding of permissible free speech. I am not worked up against the offending party and you can scroll immediately down to find out why. This is about a religious idea and not part of the wide world of vicious political attacks.

Those of us who attend churches with a “high” sacramental comprehension find that this outlook leaks into every aspect of our world. There is no need to call the plumber. It is a good thing. Many believers cringe at the word, apparently fearful that admitting to such things as sacraments might turn them into Roman Catholics. It is not a biblical word, but has to do with “mystery.” It is a “sure and certain” sign that God shows his favor toward believers. This gets pretty deep. Roman Catholics and some protestants (Anglicans and Lutherans, for example) do not quite agree on the finer points. God uses his stuff (bread and wine, or water) as symbols to show the good things he does.

This is foundational in worship that celebrates the Light of the World with candles, rising prayer with incense, and strengthening with oil. In Baptism, the believer is buried with Christ and rises with him. The old man is put to death and the new person rises from a watery symbolic grave. It’s in the Bible (Rm 6). In Communion, Christians are fed with the “bread of life.” We become one with Christ and he dwells in us.

The sacramental idea is that we live in a good world in the care of a good God. This is not a naive viewpoint. Sacramental Christians watch the 10 o’clock news and we know that things are a mess. God took on our human form to bring peace with man. Jesus lived in a real human body, had real friends and enemies, ate regular food, experienced pain, died a human death and ascended bodily into heaven. He is coming back to reign over this earth and his people are coming with him. That is the Christian hope.

In the meantime, the Church’s job is to preach the word of God and rightly administer the sacraments. This is a demonstration of God’s work in the world today. God deals with his people in his church and we do his work in the world by living out the gospel. Sacraments remind us of God’s generosity, so it is a little unnerving to hear them misused.

 

 


Why I am not jumping up and down over Sarah Palin’s comments on Baptism

May 1, 2014

Have a seat and this won’t hurt a bit. Let’s be quick about it too.

Everybody who follows politics (which is really not good for your brain, but that is another essay for another day) knows by now that the former Republican Vice-Presidential candidate popped off an ill-considered comment concerning terrorists, torture and one of what Anglicans would call Dominical Sacraments – a sacrament instituted in form and matter by Christ.

The most offensive part of the event was the audiences’ laughter and cheers. I suppose this will label me as one of Sarah Palin’s despicable liberals, but it is hard to imagine what anybody might find funny or agreeable about torture. Those who go along with this kind of yahooism are moral cowards. There is no reason to be surprised by such indifference. Every instinct of modern American culture and most of our institutions point to and encourage moral weakness. The reaction to Palin, both at the event and afterwards by supposedly sober observers, is astounding.

Now let us turn to Mrs. Palin, Follow me carefully because this has several steps in the discussion. Palin attends a Bible church up in Alaska and one might easily presume that it does not teach or practice very much in the way of sacramental theology. I am not trying to offend anybody.Anglicans have a high view of sacraments and a fairly well articulated doctrinal position in the 39 Articles. I have a hunch that a large number of the people who attend my rather large Anglican church in Little Rock, Arkansas could not tell you the first thing about sacraments. So, one should be careful about coming down too hard on Palin’s innocent display of ignorance.

I wonder if they ever read the Old Testament in Sarah Palin’s Bible church. The young men who would become the patriarchs of Israel got in quite a bit of trouble over a bloodthirsty act of vengeance (Gen 34). This was a mass murder responding to the rape of their sister Dinah. The sons of Jacob required that the men of Shechem be circumcised as part of the negotiated settlement, but the real intention was to murder the whole bunch of them during the recovery period. Simeon and Levi carry out the acts of violence and, as a result, are demoted in the tribal inheritance (Gen 49:5-7). One of the most important aspects of this passage is the misuse of God’s covenant ordinance and symbol, circumcision. There are certainly similarities between this story and Mrs. Palin’s outrageous suggestion, or joke, or whatever it was.

God’s “stuff” is important and people who give such marvelous lip service to serving some sort of higher power might know better than to make light of the Christian sign of initiation. This is the level of public discussions in the United States. It is a darned shame.

 


Oklahoma’s failed Execution raises serious legal and moral questions.

April 30, 2014

As a former member of the ACLU National Board and one-time recipient of the Abolitionist of the Year award from the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, it is not possible to stand by silently after last night’s hideous mishandled execution by lethal injection in Oklahoma. The procedure used is an unspeakable offense against human dignity and out status as bears of teh image of God. You can read the grisly details on the link below and, if you look around, you will see that last night’s scheduled double execution was a political farce and an opportunity for an ambitious office holder to gain some sort of advantage.

Oklahoma Botches Clayton Lockett’s Execution.

I have developed an interest in Britain’s most famous executioner, Albert Pierrepoint. He came from a family of executioners and was personally responsible for over 200 hangings of German war criminals after WWII. There is a movie, “Pierrepoint: the Last Hangman” on YouTube that gives a generally accurate version of the Pierrepoint story. The most interesting aspect of this life is his devotion to the once ultra-secret English procedure of carrying out the death penalty. When Mr. Pierrepoint stepped into your death row cell, you already had less than a minute to live. Every time. This man lived in a fascinating and dark world.

One may wonder if hanging would be a better alternative for the American system. Two observations. Washington State horribly botched a hanging about 20 years ago and it scared the daylights out of everybody. Secondly, Pierrepoint’s execution journal contains the physical information of each condemned prisoner. Relying on personal memory, I do not believe there was a 200 lb man on the entire list. Modern Americans are quite a bit heavier than the Brits prior to 1954, when Pierrepoint did his last “job.”: The British chart of drops, and the executioner’s professional observations, are directed to a concern that the prisoner’s head not be ripped off (as apparently happened in Washington State). A professionally conducted hanging takes a lot of experience and a sharp eye. We are not up to that.

I do not want to be gross about this, but please note that ,when things got really nasty in the Oklahoma death chamber, the blinds were pulled down. In other words, the witnesses were prevented from performing the single task for which they were present. There are witnesses for a reason. The correction department said a lot when it chose to conceal the inmate’s death. If it is too inhumane to be viewed by witnesses, it is unconstitutional.

But what about the bible? Does not the holy scriptures demand the death penalty. There are two answers, “yes” and “no.” The demand to take the lives of killers is clear in the covenant between God and Noah. Even though the Creator did not demand the life of Cain in exchange for Able, things changed. Whether this demand for blood vengeance should be transferred into the New Testament may be an open question. I refer you to Stanley Hauerwas, now retired from Duke. I would not presume to state his argument here, but it is a good and measured bit of scholarship.

Here is what I do know. The Old Testament law demands there be no distinction in the administration of justice (Deut 16:19, Mal 2:8). The principle is even carried to the point that we may not favor the poor (Ex 23:3). This country is a very long way from these standards and has no business putting anybody to death.


UPDATE: Donald Sterling’s alternatve universe #NBA #racism #DonaldSterling

April 27, 2014

Donald Sterling ain’t living on the same planet with the rest of us. This has been  exposed in a tape recording which is nothing less than a set up job. Listen to the dialogue. Catch how the “girl friend” leads the conversation. You don’t need to be a senior NASA jet propulsion engineer to figure out that the female employee (sex slave?) is on her way out and getting the final gotcha’ in on Sterling.They are both worthless pieces of trash fallen human beings in need of a Savior.

Forget about Donald Sterling for just a moment. This kind of personal betrayal of trust makes me very uncomfortable. Even if Sterling is an irrelevant old man with more money than brains and hopelessly detached from the circumstances of everyday life, the getting of this evidence is part of a growing practice of personal destruction that ought to make everybody a little sick.

One certainly cannot ignore the high-powered owner of the LA Clippers, although you have to wonder if he has ever glanced down at the court to observe the flesh tones of the talent that makes him millions. He says he knows, but the disdain for black people is unbelievable. Still, he is a pathetic load of ignorance. Sterling’s employee tried to trick him into comments offensive to Jews and even attempted to draw him into some gross sexual discussion. She must feel a little disappointed, but it seems the older gentleman never fails to go off on his distaste for African-Americans.

There is no appropriate punishment for deliberate stupidity. I regretfully suggest that Sterling’s correction consist of having to live with his own abusive, selfish, deluded, disconnected and completely wretched personality until the day God mercifully writes the last line of this dismal biography. Formal sanctions are a bad idea, even though that will certainly be the outcome of this episode. Why should everybody with an impure heart be held up to public chastisement for every poorly considered outburst. Besides, people like Donald Sterling set the standard for unacceptable behavior and it is healthy to know that such corrupt users wield far more power than they should.

Jesus was crucified between a pair of lowlifes. During his earthly ministry, Christ dealt with hookers, tax collectors, foreign military officers, government officials, lawyers, religious leaders, and all sorts of regular folks. He taught, healed and and led by example. One of the bad guys on that Good Friday understood that he was getting the just outcome of criminal conduct, and he was forgiven on the spot. The “good thief” was even promised a place in paradise. We have on this dreadful tape recording the voices of two human beings and each is created in the image of God. None of us can claim to be any better. Either one of these two bad actors could repent.

This leaves two things for the serious Christian. First, we pray that the two offenders find a change of heart and seek forgiveness and mercy. Second, those who follow Christ are careful not to fall into anything as bad – or even worse. Be on guard. The enemy never misses an opportunity to take advantage of our selfishness and prejudice.

UPDATE: The NBA has done the inevitable and made itself the policeman of good taste. The free market was performing well, but the NBA apparently thought more is better. Now, they will suffer the just consequence of interfering with the natural  course of events. The practical downside is substantial. Now, this throwback gets to continue working his racial mischief from the sidelines. Keep in mind that Sterling has loads of money and his hatred for blacks will only increase. Had he remained in his NBA position, he would have moderated his comments and even tried to show how he has (supposedly) changed. Insincere as hell? Maybe so, but the guys would at least be pointed in the right direction.


The rise of two saints and the demise of authority #JPII #JohnXXIII

April 27, 2014

Can this be me? Is it possible to be sticking up for the heavy-fisted oppressors of the meek. When that hamy hand falls hard, it hurts. When one is robbed of livelihood and reputation by the sinister forces that seem to control the means of survival, it is final. There is no human court of last resort. The wrongful verdict stands and the weak is brought low by the strong. The self-centered world of individual purgative is a garden of delights for the wealthy and well established, but lesser individuals just suck it up. That is why endorsing the notion of authority comes with all the comfort of a sudden leg cramp. This really hurts. One reason we hate authority is that it is so frequently abused.

For those of us who believe in the church, authority is an idea that is held up with the highest optimism. After all, the church is the body of Christ. It is his living presence in the world. Should the church not, therefore, behave itself with as much kindness as is possible when dealing with fallen humans? Should the church not be an example of justice properly understood and mercy for those who turn from evil? Instead, we find bishops devoted to covering up the criminal misdeeds of clerical child molesters. It is not just the Roman Catholics either. The female students at presumably orthodox evangelical schools are not safe from the lewd advances of professors, but these so-called Christian educators are secure from any hint of scandal. There will certainly be no real consequences for the sexually immoral instructors. And then there are the regular crooks and liars. Let us not forget the greedy! They all bring such shame upon the church.

God knows that the wheat grows amongst the tares until the day of judgment when angels will toss the bad ones into the flames of eternal damnation. The church is a very human organization. Sometimes, God must be completely speechless at what the disordered body parts of Christ are doing to his faithful people and the disrepute we bring upon him in society.

Much has already been said about the two newest arrivals in the heavenly court of officially designated saints. Perhaps they get smoking jackets and admission to an exclusive club. You know. It is something similar to the cool digs enjoyed by those who have several times hosted Saturday Night Live. These deceased bishops of Rome are probably good guys and deserve to be luxuriously rewarded. The question of the day is this; among all God’s people, could we have done better? Do John XXIII and John Paul II really set a fine example?

I am not a Roman Catholic and if you want to know what I think of the Church of Rome, check out the 39 Articles of Religion. Still, the Pope occupies an important role as the most important Christian in the western church. These two men have done a great deal of harm to the religious institutions. One may not believe in certain aspects of Roman doctrine (check the Articles!) but, darn it all, Christians need the Roman Catholic Church. Who else can muster an intellectual army that defines and defends our commonly held beliefs? There is no other similar international organization of believers.

John XXIII was wrong. There is no need to open the windows to worldly influences. The people of the church meet the world in everyday life and attests to the resurrection of Christ by the quality of their good works. The worship of the church is directed to the Almighty God who has made us all and became one of us so that we might be saved. Worship is about salvation. It has nothing whatever to do with how one feels, whether we enjoy the music, whether the sermon has satisfied the high standards of lay critics. The decline of Roman Catholic ceremonial is the first movement in the fall of Christianity.

Now, there is a distinction that must be made here. Ritual performed for its; own sake becomes mere entertainment and is meaningless. The Roman failure is not the use of ritual, but the inability or unwillingness to teach the meaning of liturgical worship. All of the little gestures mean something and have a historical context. Anglicans are equally as guilty of tearing down liturgical worship. Since Gregory Dix was an Anglican, my people may be more guilty. Dix took the liturgical movement forward into outright consumerism. The older rites of churches following ancient patterns were centered on the idea of salvation. The newer rites are centered on human experience of worship.

The concept of teaching authority is very much part of this conversation, first, because liturgy teaches theology and, second, liturgy reveals the dignity and respectability of the church. There is an unworldly quality to liturgy when it is correctly presented. This quality is what the world needs to approach the wicked influences that surround us. Liturgy is part of the active work of God on earth through the agency of the body of Christ. Genial John XXIII started the ball rolling on the destruction of his own ancient style of worship, and the subsequent harm done to the rest of Christianity.

And then there is JPII. He did much to change the world in a positive sense. Give him credit for going after the godless Commies. What a shame that his record is so marred by mediocre appointments and the criminal conspiracies to protect pedophiles. It may be that many will be thrilled by the elevation of these men, but no amount of spinning can conceal the sorry record of devaluing an essential expression of Christ’s presence.

 


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