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Archive for December, 2003

The Gospel of Inclusion VIII

Today’s Gospel of Inclusion comes from the Diocese of New Westminster (Canada)

Praise to you, Power-Bestower on Purse-String-Holders.

An Anglican church defying its bishop by refusing to support same-sex unions has been “terminated” only days before Christmas. . . .

Ronald Harrison, executive archdeacon of the Diocese of New Westminster, said Holy Cross brought the closure upon itself by seeking episcopal oversight from another bishop. He said that a result of the church declaring itself “independent” was that its funds had been stopped and eventually the bishop was forced to close it. . . .

Holy Cross, a mission church that relies on its funding from the diocese, is part of a group of breakaway churches in New Westminster that was seeking episcopal oversight by Bishop Terry Buckle of the Yukon [Ed.: The same Anglican Church of Canada in which Bishop Ingham is a bishop].

In October, the Diocesan Council of New Westminster voted to close Holy Cross but needed Bishop Ingham’s approval. However, funding was withdrawn from the church.

In a letter dated Dec. 18, Bishop Ingham informed Mr. Wagner that he had decided to close the church. . . .

After the task force was set up, Bishop Ingham wrote to Holy Cross offering to restore their funding if they accepted his authority.

Mr. Harrison said the bishop had never had a satisfactory reply except from Mr. Wagner to say that he was consulting his lawyer.

“We support and fund all kinds of things, including mission initiatives, but if they have openly declared their hostility to the diocese and the diocesan bishop and will not rescind that even when the bishop has stepped back from the plate, the question is: ‘Why would we fund that?’

“The decision was made months ago and the bishop withheld his decision while he waited for the parish to respond favourably. They didn’t correspond with him. It has nothing to do with Christmas. We have been waiting for their response for some time.”

This is the Gospel of Inclusion.

Glory to thee, He-She-It Who Giveth and Taketh Away.

[More examples of the Episcopal (and Anglican) Gospel of Inclusion can be found here.]

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This is the season of Incarnation. And, aside from Anna’s pregnancy and Sofie’s birth, this bedrock dogma of the Christian faith has not been felt quite so keenly as during this holiday travel.

First of all, let it be said, Sofie is a major-general trooper. The last two or three days have been a bit rough as the accumulated travel and new surroundings have taken a bit of a toll. But the great blessing is that though her days have been messed up, she’s maintained her normal nighttime sleep patterns. She is an amazing four-and-a-half-month-old daughter. God blessed us last year with news of her little advent. And he has blessed us again this year as we celebrate with kisses, hugs and laughter, what we could only anticipate last year.

It’s been great to be back in our native lands. Driving through the rolling plains of northcentral Oklahoma and southcentral Kansas is not, like some travel snobs like to put it, boring. I can’t tell you how my soul breathes in these wide-open spaces. I’m not crowded and hemmed in by ugly cement and steel boxes that block out the sunrise and sunset. The twenty-four-by-seven city lights don’t veil the night sky here, so the stars are ever available for awe and contemplation. I saw Orion for the first time since I can remember.

And I’m quickly assimilating my native “accent” (such as it is). I have one of those voices that unconsciously picks up on the intonations and inflections of my surroundings. My “i’s” are now “ah’s” and my “ohr’s” are “errr’s”. I both love it and hate it. But it won’t take me long to “lose” it again when I return to Chicago and start teaching.

All of this just simply reminds me that patrimony is not a bad thing. One’s homeland is more than just a marker of birth and years of living. I am, in ways I’ll probably never fully understand, as much this Kansas soil as I am anything. Though I grew up a “city kid” (Augusta, Kansas, population 7000), my late paternal grandfather (Clifton Fitzroy Healy) was a farmer all his life. My holidays and summers were marked by wandering his acreage, setting fenceposts, and watching dad brand cattle and, from the vantage point of the front seat of a pickup, drill winter wheat while the November wind blew and whistled underneath a grey sky.

Though I prefer monastery retreats, this journey through the heartland has been something of a retreat for me. The oil fields near Tulsa, then the sprawling ranchland further north, the small farming communites along K-15 in southcentral Kansas, this is an openness not just of geography but of character. There are bastards and rascals galore here, of course, but for the most part people are honest, hospitable, accepting.

If creation reveals the strong character traits of God, then my native state says that God loves you and welcomes you wherever you are. There’s hard discipline here. God loves us but doesn’t bless our every whim. I noticed on the drive here that many wheat fields have been replaced by, of all things, cotton. You plant and harvest what you can sell, not necessarily what you’ve planted and harvested all your life. There’s a lot of work to do: when others are enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, you may be out drilling into the cold brown earth what will keep the lights on and the house warm. But God is as open as a Kansas sky, and as full of blessing as a winter wheat harvest.

I thank God I’m from here. And that I’m here today. Say what you will about Kansas–and I’ve heard all the jokes and slights–this is place full of the revelation of God. I’m glad he’s given me the eyes, after thirty-odd years, to see it.

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Christian Foundations for Faithful Thinking: Truth is Personal

If knowing is communion, then the other side of that is Truth is Personal. But this is not such a leap, after all, Jesus calls himself the Truth. St. Paul says of Christ, that “in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Truth is absolute, because Truth is a Person: namely, Christ; or more broadly, the Holy Trinity.

But we are not used to this understanding. Ours is an inheritance from the Enlightenment, and for us, truth is exclusively propositional, intellectual. But this conception has led to the Cartesian problem of the split between mind and body. This semi-Gnosticism has made its way into modern Christianity as well. On the one hand there are the mainline liberal churches which boil Christianity down to a few main propositions–keeping them as vague and general as possible for the sake of ecumenism–which have no real connection to morals and ethics, aside from some nice slogans. For example, the Episcopal Church officially has no doctrine on sexuality. The concept of love for one another gets bandied about, but when it comes to what one does with one’s body, it doesn’t matter. On the other hand, in the more conservative evangelical world, there are, indeed, moral truths, but once again, these things are relegated to intellectual propositions and moral codes, for the most part.

But if Truth is Personal, then it is also Incarnational. If Jesus is the Truth in his Person, this has to mean that Truth is embodied. So in faithful Christian thinking there is no mind-body dualism. There are intellectual truths, to be sure, just as there are truths about one’s person and body. But these are not split, but are joined together in perfect union. So when Paul exhorts us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, he calls this our “reasonable worship.”
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The Fatherhood Chronicles XXVI

I had just started into the litany of intercessions for morning prayers (along about “Be mindful, O Lord, of all civil authorities . . .”), when I heard Sofie cry out and Anna sleepily mumbled for me to come and get her. So, I headed back to the bedroom, continuing the prayers (“. . . that in their tranquility we may lead calm and peaceful lives in all godliness and sanctity”), and grabbed Sofie up out of the co-sleeper, and said, “Let’s go finish our morning prayers.”

Holding my daughter in my arms, I continued the Church’s prayers, praying for family members and friends, travellers, the captives and the needy poor, for myself, and for the dead. Between the litany of intercessions and the concluding prayers, I interject several intercessory prayers both formal and extemporaneous, and troparia and kontakia for several saints, including my patrons.

In my prayers, I call upon the Mother of God to intercede for my wife and daughter. As I invoked the intercessions of the Theotokos this morning, I held in my arms the very daughter for whom I prayed.

And that got me to thinking again about something that’s been on my mind for some time. You see, this isn’t a reflection on fatherhood, per se, nor a resume of my prayer practices.

Rather, I want to reflect on the vocation of motherhood.
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What an interesting juxtaposition of events today.

First, I’ve been reading from the book, Letters from Father Seraphim, edited by Hieromonk Ambrose (formerly Fr. Alexey Young). He makes these remarks regarding St. Seraphim’s understanding of suffering and the faith:

[H]e believed that when suffering comes as a result of our own immaturity and mistakes, it has value only if we learn from that suffering. To embrace the sorrows and difficulties that result from our own fallen human nature, or those which are sent to us from “outside” by persecution and misunuderstanding, must not entail self-pity, but should soften our hearts hardened by sin and refine our spiritual nature, making us depend more and more on God alone. One must accept these sufferings without complaining or they have no spiritual value. Often Fr. Seraphim spoke of the need to “suffer through” some particular problem or difficulty. By this he meant that one should endure, again without complaining–which is one of the best tools for spiritual growth. (p. 163)

And about a person who had come to the monastery for guidance, Fr. Seraphim writes to Hieromonk Ambrose:

He accepted everything I said, including the necessity to put off his habit of self-justification . . . .

My general impression is this: his habit of self-pampering and self-justification is so deep that humanly his case is almost hopeless. But there is God. We should continue to help and support him–and firmly insist that he change, persistently working on himself. . . .

I think this whole thing is given you by God to give you insight into how deep is sin in man, and how stubborn is human self-will and resistance to amendment of life, even in sincere converts. (p. 194)

Then, because I have no permission to share details I will have to be vague, in a series of email exchanges on a particular group to which I subscribe, I found myself in the position of responding to allegations as to my honesty and integrity. Admittedly, I now see how diametrically opposed are some of my theological beliefs with those of most of the ones in the group. But I little suspected that I would be made to look like some cyber troll or agent provocateur. I’m used to defending my beliefs. I’m not so used to having my motives impugned and maligned. How does one respond to allegations that one has bad motives? I did it the only way I could, by highlighting how my actions demonstrated my integrity.

I doubt it swayed those who were suspicious to begin with.

But all this got me to thinking. Dare I take on the Lenten discipline of not justifying myself in anyway for anything for 40 days during Great Lent? (Gulp.)

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[Eugene, the future Father Seraphim, briefly commented later in life on his attending his first Orthodox worship service: ] “. . . [W]hen I entered an Orthodox church for the first time (a Russian church in San Francisco) something happened to me that I had not experienced in any Buddhist or other Eastern temple; something in my heart said that this was ‘home,’ that all my search was over. I didn’t really know what this meant, because the service was quite strange to me, and in a foreign language. I began to attend Orthodox services more frequently, gradually learning its language and customs.” . . .

After his first experience of an Orthodox service, Eugene attended services in a number of Orthodox churches. Above all he was attracted to the Russian tradition. In San Francisco, three overlapping “jurisdictions” of the Russian Orthodox Church were represented: the Russian Church Abroad, the American Metropolia [N. B.: Later to become the Orthodox Church of America (OCA)], and the Moscow Patriarchate. Eugene went to services in the church of all three.

In 1957 Eugene was profoundly moved while attend the Holy Week and Pascha (Easter) services in the various Russian churches in San Francisco, espeically in the Holy Trinity Cathedral of the American Metropolia. At that time the Metropolia’s ruling hierarch in San Francisco was Bishop John Shahovsky. A highly regarded and influential church figure, Bishop John had grown up as a prince in pre-Revolutionary Russia. He was tonsured a monk on Mount Athos, Greece, in 1926, and served as the dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York before being appointed Bishop of San Francisco and Western American in 1950. . . .

Eugene’s experience in the Russian Cathedrals–both of Archbishop Tikhon and Bishop John–did not bring about an immediate change in him. A seed had been planted, one that would grow inside of him and later transform him into a new being. Almost three years would pass between his first entrance into an Orthodox Cathedral and the time when he would come to know Him Who was depicted in the Cathedral’s icon.

Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works, pp. 83-84, 86

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The Gospel of Inclusion VII

Today’s Gospel of Inclusion comes from Bishop Clark Grew of the Diocese of Ohio.

Praise to you, guarantor of our judgment.

I think the tension I feel is, and I don’t want to devalue the authenticity of scripture claim that people make that this is a matter of scriptural authority, but I think, deep within that posture is a deep-seeded homophobia and an inability for people to see gay and lesbian people as children of God. But I think it’s an issue that comes down to how we feel about our own sexuality and how we feel about our relationship with other people and there’s a level of acceptance and comfort that people just can’t get to yet.

You who are considering leaving the Episcopal Church, you need to know what the repercussions are. You may be putting yourself in jeopardy, and for people who say, I don’t want to be a part of the Episcopal Church anymore, if you’re a clergy person, you know you have to renounce your orders and you’re deposed as a member of the clergy. It’s not punitive, you just can’t have it both ways. You’re either in the church or out of the church. If you leave the church then you’ve left the church and then there are canonical consequences to that.

People who want to leave the diocese can leave the diocese but they don’t leave with their building and they don’t leave with their assets so…the endowments and the church building itself stays within the diocese.

This is the Gospel of Inclusion.

Glory to thee, who makes us not like that Pharisee over there.

[More examples of the Episcopal Gospel of Inclusion can be found here.]

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