Archive for August, 2014

The great unhappiness of Fergusson, Mo. #Fergusson

August 25, 2014

Thee seems to be a recurrent cycle in the development of news stories. Version A, trumped by Version B, none-calling and personal attacks. scapegoating,  Version C, Version D, more name calling, best story wins, and the poor people catch hell. So it goes in Fergusson, Mo. For the moment, it is America’s unhappiest. town.

If one is a little bit Reformed, the cause is obvious. Yes, three is racism for sure and you can easily find economic inequality. There is a prideful part of humanity that requires not only victory but the destruction of those holding different positions. The hyper-Calvinists call this disorder of the soul “total depravity.” For us Anglicans, that kind of language is awfully strong. We prefer talking about “the fall.”

So what?

The Reformed (include properly schooled Anglicans) know that the Civil Rights Movement may have passed some laws and changed a few customs, but human nature remains the same. We continue to be the same judgmental, power-hungry, greedy, and diligent guardians of the privileges bestowed on the fortunate. Yes, there is racism, and to admit its existence, like a rotting corpse concealed in the basement, is to expose ourselves to accountability. It is to deny what we say about ourselves when the flags are unfurled. We would rather turn our eyes away from the lingering consequences of slavery than get our nominally Christian hands dirty fixing anything.

The “fixing” part is difficult because, as was the case in the Civil Rights Movement, there is only so much even an entire generation can accomplishment. Human nature is still a mess and that can only be addressed  by putting on the new man of conversion and Baptism into the Body of Christ. That means being open to the leading of the divine Spirit. Too easy? Not if one is actually led into a new set of behaviors that walk away from the old cycle of suspicion and wishing the destruction of those that look, act and think differently.

If this individual change (some of us call it “regeneration”) is insufficient, then the gospel is a lie and the atheists are right. Even though the good outcomes of following Jesus are not immediately visible, we take up the cross anyway. Friends, it is a cross – an instrument of our own pending executions. It is faith and the power of God’s grace that moves Christians to act like Christians anyway. It is forgiveness, turning the other cheek, and taking up the cross. That is completely opposite from the name-calling and personal destruction that is Fergusson.

The Christlike version of change takes time. It takes so much time that it is typical to think that one has failed. This notion of success is a something that runs deep in the culture. It is the same strain that looks upon the poor as failures. The dominant American idea is that those who have less deserve all the bad things that happen to the powerless. Christians know that we are tested and one’s attitude toward and treatment of the less fortunate is a measure of character and part of the criteria on which we will be judged. That is God’s grace delivered by the hands of men.

 

National Group Goes After Preacher For Canceling Gay Man’s Funeral #gayfuneral

August 14, 2014

This story has been brewing for a few days now and I may, or may not, have a solid grasp of the facts. It would appear that a Florida man, Mr. Julion Evans, died and his family sought to use the facilities of a local church for funeral services. Here is where a little bit of nagging detail work would come in handy. It seems to me that the church granted permission for a non-member’s family to use the building. When the pastor became aware that the deceased was involved in a same-gender marriage, he cancelled the services. Then, as you will see from the link below, there were objections.

Fast-Growing Christian Organization Goes After Preacher For Canceling Gay Man’s Funeral.

It is hard to work up much sympathy for a preacher and a church that has such a shallow understanding of the Doctrine of the Church. I would bet good money that nobody ever asked any number of fundamental questions. That might include the following; was the deceased a baptized Christian? Did the deceased attend some other house of worship? Was he a Trinitarian? (Yes, it matters. I was about to say “sweat the small stuff,” but that is not small stuff.)

The Preacher, Rev. T. W. Jenkins probably thinks of his place of worship, New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa, as nothing more than an auditorium. Under the circumstances, one can readily see how the mourning family might have the same opinion of the facilities. Nonetheless, churches are sacred spaces and set aside for divine worship. It is a well-established principle that all of the dead are worthy of proper burial, but not everybody is entitled to a “church” funeral. Catholics, by the way, include proper burial as one of the “corporal works of mercy.”

The Church is more than a building. It is the mystical body of Christ The Church includes “good” Christians, sinners, and those who are publicly and obstinately sinful. The Church takes a hard position against the latter. It seems here that there is nothing obstinate about the deceased, he was just a regular garden variety sinner. This is a nightmare of shallow theology and incompetence.

Considering that he had already granted permission for use of the church building, the church has caused a lot of inconvenience. Friends of the family are bound to show up at the wrong place at the wrong time. Jenkins should have offered to be present at the funeral and to offer some words of comfort. That is just a little short of a real “church” funeral, but it would provide some comfort. Yes, an apology is apparently due. Mr. Evans was no better or worse than you or me, a fallen sinner in need of God’s grace. If we are recipients of grace, we should also be dispensers of grace.

Let us not be fools. Rev. Jenkins was almost certainly hoodwinked. He was snickered by a group with an agenda and it worked. I think it needs to be clearly understood that a church has the absolute constitutionally protected right to decide who may receive the spiritual services of the house of worship. The group taking a lead position on this, Faithful America, resorts to simplistic arguments. “Love thy neighbor – no exceptions,” is the twisting of an Old Testament text and the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel. We are commanded, first, to Love the Lord completely and neighbors as ourselves. I prefer grace and truth, two qualities that are perfectly combined in the person of Jesus.

Truth includes the unpleasant reality of my sinful condition and my need for repentance. Because I am such a terrible sinner, it is easy for me to go a little easy on any homosexual. After all, the tendencies of the flesh are so powerful and we are so inclined to give in to wrong actions. The Good News is that Jesus put on human flesh and died so that we could be forgiven. Because he is fully human and fully divine, Jesus understands our temptations and is a merciful judge.

Robin Williams, suicide and Hell #robinwilliams #suicide

August 12, 2014

Two close friends have committed suicide, so this is no theoretical conversation to be conducted over cigars and Brandy. The wounds are still very raw. Knowing that I can never “recover” from another’s final act of desperation has taught me the depth of suffering that must be experienced by those who end their own lives.

Our society takes questions concerning life too lightly and suicide is generally seen as one more private decision for which each private and sovereign individual has exclusive responsibility. If that is the way you see it, no amount of argument is likely to prevail against so mighty a fortress. Before I give this to you straight, let me urge you to read every last word. This is no easy thing and I do not approach it lightly, nor in the spirit of judgment.

Suicide is a grave public sin. It is an offense against God’s generosity and an insult to those whom we should hold dear. According to the authoritative 1662 edition of the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, those who have laid violent hands upon themselves are not to receive the public funeral service of the church which is due believers. Such persons are denied burial in a church graveyard. When I was in first grade (1956?), the parent of a fellow student died. There was never another word said, but I learned later that the secrecy surrounding this death was because it involved suicide. There was once a very strong public attitude opposing this awful act, but we have changed.

You are probably saying right now that you are mighty pleased that our attitudes are much more enlightened and that we are not bound by the cruelty of a previous time. You are, to some extent, correct in your understanding. Let’s walk through this and sort things out.

The Prayer Book editors were correct to put a high sanction against the taking of one’s own life. They did not know it all, however. There are real facts concerning mental illness that are known and understood. To sanction a formerly depressed member makes as much sense as punishing somebody for having diabetes. There is a pastoral issue at work here and things will get a little dicey. Somebody who is known by his clergyman to be under a doctor’s care, getting therapy or taking drugs is plainly ill and entitled to the public rites accorded to those who are joined to the Body of Christ. While that probably does not apply to Mr. Williams public profession (I am deliberately being excessively generous), It could. His medical situation certainly tells us that the decision-making process was not working correctly.

Murder-suicide is another area and you can probably imagine how one might want to escape responsibility for taking life. No person who has done such a thing should receive a funeral or burial by the church. How can one say that the departed is laid to rest “in sure and certain hope” of the resurrection, except that they do not believe the words in the first place. Let us be clear that a minister may conduct services designed to comfort family and friends of non-believers and those who have committed serious public sins, but they should not pretend that the deceased is a believer or commended “in sure and certain hope.” As the church enters a difficult phase, it is most necessary to publicly profess the apostolic faith and to maintain integrity.

No matter Robin Williams’ attitude toward God, the Lord above is full of grace and mercy. None of us are fit to judge another person.

Passing on the Faith: Anglicanism’s advantages

August 1, 2014

One of my projects involves providing parents the theological and cultural background to help young people fit into the increasingly unfriendly American scene. I have been involved in planning a number of very exciting Sunday school classes on the topic. Such gatherings seem to be deliberately designed to be anything but exciting and rarely useful, but this was the big exception. One thing that made the programs “work” was the inclusion of college students and those who have graduated within the past decade. They were great! There were also a number of “expert” speakers on psychology and culture. All the  presentations were relatively brief. You might try it at your church. I can help.

One thing did get left out, and this might not apply to your congregation. It is my belief that Anglicanism has a tradition and set of practices that makes it especially relevent to these darker times. Anglicanism as we know it from the middle 1500s has passed through a good deal of persecution and civil war. Sometimes, to our great shame, Anglicans have represented the heavy hand of oppression. Who do you think the Pilgrims were running from anyway? In the United States around 1790 what group would be more excluded than the Church of England?

Anglicans have kept a catholic liturgy alongside a Reformed theology. Anglicans have a sense of the essentials and can also recognize the “extras.” At least, thoughtful Anglicans have this capability. Our capacity for disagreement and “tension” is almost scandalous. Clear thinking Anglicans are in possession of the skills to nurture and spread the gospel in the good times as much as the bad. This is what I am trying to teach. One does not have to be grumpy or nostalgic to be a traditional Anglican. It only takes a little knowledge and the Holy Spirit’s leadership.

Virginia church may look Anglican, but it’s fully Baptist

August 1, 2014

Here is the story of a Baptist church plant that is both liturgical and sacramental. What do you think. Give it a read and make a comment. We’ll rap.

Virginia church may look Anglican, but it’s fully Baptist | Virtueonline – The Voice for Global Orthodox Anglicanism.