“Atheism, true ‘existential’ atheism burning with hatred of a seemingly unjust or unmerciful God, is a spiritual state; it is a real attempt to grapple with the true God…Nietzsche, in calling himself Antichrist, proved thereby his intense hunger for Christ.”—+Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim Rose (via cercleproudhon)
We can’t go on like this, and if we keep trying to have a church that stands for nothing in its theological past, we will end up with no church at all. We pick saints who are not Christian, say prayers which omit the most basic claims taught from the beginning, and join the Body in communion to those who are more likely to follow Bacchus or even Moloch than Jesus. Our “leaders” hate our buildings, our words, our music, and even a lot of their own members. And there’s no hope that the more orthodox liberals will act to rein this in, because they sold themselves to the high church Unitarians because they thought the latter would be needed as allies against the troglodytes, as though the Unitarian crowd would ever have done anything else. The worst of it all is that the old liberal notion of the church as a force for social good is completely bankrupt. Nobody takes our moral voice seriously, and nobody should. We are too obviously in hock to the mores of our class.
Is there hope? Well, perhaps, but only if priests who cannot get through the creed without crossing their fingers are defrocked, and bishops who cannot do so are deposed. The prayer book should be left alone for another thirty years, and priests who cannot resist tampering with it should be kept out of parish ministry. Preaching social justice needs to give some ground to preaching basic doctrine and personal virtue. We need to recover the old Anglican virtues of common sense, simple orthodoxy, and sensible solemnity (meaning, we do still need to remember how to laugh at ourselves). If we cannot do these, we will continue to fade away, and we will deserve to do so.
But I think [Holy Women, Holy Men] has a very good chance of being passed, because the theological problems don’t have traction in a church where giving communion to the unbaptized is being seriously considered. Increasingly it seems that the church is directed by men and women for whom the religious functions of the church are unimportant; what matters is the church as a platform for carrying out a social program.
Of course, this will eventually destroy us. People don’t need to go to church to feel good about their environmentalism (John Muir) or their patronage of the arts (Bach, Durer) or their resistance to racism or sexism or anti-homosexuality (here I stopped keeping track); even the heathen do as much. Maybe it’s too bloody obvious to be said, but the only way we are going to continue to have an Episcopal Church is to convey to potential members a reason to become Episcopalians! Instead, the additions to the calendar and communing the unbaptized send the message that there’s no need to join the church; we give up having any sort of sacramental or communal reason for being. Eventually people catch on, and they don’t join us.
“One of the real failures in the theological life of the Episcopal Church is the perspective that we can talk about Christology, ecclesiology, eschatology, the theology of death, and the theology of the sacraments and think that we are therefore discussing five different things. We are not. We are discussing one thing: Christology, and are looking at four of its implications.”—Derek Olsen in “On the Sanctity of the Saints”
Of course, many Americans who cite Christianity to justify their economic conservatism may not have actually read the Bible. In that sense, religion has become more of a superficial brand rather than a distinct catechism, and brands can be easily manipulated by self-serving partisans and demagogues. To know that is to read the Sermon on the Mount and then marvel at how anyone still justifies right-wing beliefs by invoking Jesus.
No doubt, only a few generations ago, such a conflation of religion and right-wing economics would never fly in America. Whether William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” crusade or the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s poor people’s campaign, religion and political activism used to meet squarely on the left — where they naturally should.
Thus, the findings from Britain, a country similar to the United States, evoke our own history and potential. They remind us that such a congruent convergence of theology and political ideology is not some far-fetched fantasy — it is still possible right here at home.
Anon asked, "I once heard you say 'come to the dark side, our priests speak English'. I find that really offensive."
Well, anon, since you heard me say that and you’re not my girlfriend, I invite you to ask me these questions at the Didymos Forum.
The only priest I’ve ever made a confession to is Russian Orthodox and speaks English with a thick accent and some difficulty, despite having lived in this country for a considerable amount of time. My first lessons about God were in my mom’s prominent Spanish accent.
That said, the Roman hierarchy is willing to close parishes, force parishes to merge, force parishes to share priests (with the decline in pastoral care that comes with it), force priests to work past retirement age and, yes, subject many parishioners to priests who are basically incomprehensible to preserve its commitment to an outdated clerical law dating from 12th century Europe.
A reasonable command of spoken English is not too much to expect for someone whose major function on Sunday mornings is to speak and read things out loud.
Anon asked, "Why do you harbor so much venom for the Catholic Church?"
I’m just going to assume you mean the Roman Catholic Church, and I don’t.
I have several gripes with the American Roman Catholic hierarchy: for shuffling around pedophile priests, for its attitude toward the victims’ advocates, for its willingness to speak loudly and fallaciously about birth control while speaking softly on other economic and social issues, and for viewing itself as entitled to government contracts to provide social services and complaining loudly when their discriminatory stance causes those contracts to go away.
None of these gripes have anything to do with my disagreements with what they believe, which, for the record, are much smaller than what we hold in common.
“The table fellowship of Christians implies obligation. It is our daily bread that we eat, not my own. We share our bread. Thus we are firmly bound to one another not only in the Spirit but in our whole physical being. The one bread that is given to our fellowship links us together in a firm covenant. Now none dares go hungry as long as another has bread, and anyone who breaks this fellowship of the physical life also breaks the fellowship of the Spirit.”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“It is foolishness and a public madness to fill the cupboards with clothing and allow men who are created in God’s image and likeness to stand naked and trembling with cold, so that they can hardly hold themselves upright. Yes, you say, he is cheating and he is only pretending to be weak and trembling. What! Do you not fear that lightning from Heaven will fall on you for this word? Indeed, forgive me, but I almost burst from anger. Only see, you are large and fat, you hold drinking parties until late at night, and sleep in a warm, soft bed. And do you not think of how you must give an account of your misuse of the gifts of God? … On the other hand, you question very closely the poor and the miserable, who are scarcely better off in this respect than the dead: and you do not fear the dreadful and the terrible judgment seat of Christ. If the beggar lies, he lies from necessity, because your hardheartedness and merciless inhumanity force him to such cheating. … If we would give our alms gladly and willingly, the poor would never have fallen to such depths. … But for him, who prays and calls on God, and beseeches you humbly and modestly, to him you will vouchsafe neither an answer or a glance, but at the most, you will give him a reproach and say: “Why does such a one have to live and breathe and see the light of the sun?” And while God says to you “Give alms and I will give thee the Kingdom of Heaven,” you hear it not. … Indeed, for your charioteers in the circus, you are ready to sacrifice your own children, and for your actors you would deliver up your own soul, but for the hungering Christ, the smallest piece of money is too large for you to give. And if you do sacrifice a penny for once, it is as if you were giving away your whole property. Truly, I am ashamed when I see rich people riding about on horses decorated with gold and with servants clad in gold coming along behind them. They have silver beds and multitudes of other luxuries. But, if they have to give something to a poor man, suddenly they themselves are the poorest of the poor!”—John Chrysostom (via azspot)
“On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realised the new wonder; but even they hardly realised that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of the new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in the semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.”—G.K. Chesterton in The Everlasting Man
A good few years ago, I heard a distinguished American scholar of ancient history commenting on the proclamation of the resurrection as it would have been heard in the classical world. “If an educated Greek or Roman had been told that someone had been raised from the dead,” he said, “his first question would have been, ‘how do you get him back into his grave again?’.”
The point was that most of those who first heard the Easter gospel would have found it grotesque or even frightening. Resurrection was not a joyful sign of hope but an alarming oddity, something potentially very dangerous.
We forget so readily what Christianity brought into the world; we are so used to it that we think it is obvious. In the ancient world there was absolutely no assumption that every life was precious. Fathers had the right to kill their children in certain circumstances, masters their slaves; crowds flocked to see criminals or prisoners of war killing each other in the theatres; massacre was a normal tool of war. Some philosophers defended a theory of abstract human equality, but they were untroubled by the political facts of life in which lives were expendable in these familiar ways. It is a shock to realise just how deeply rooted such an attitude was. And when all is said and done about how Christianity has so often failed in its own vision, the bare fact is that it brought an irreversible shift in human culture. Human value could not be extinguished by violence or death; no one could be forgotten.
“That is why we preach this way. We wish to shake our baptized people out of habits that threaten to make them practically baptized pagans, idolaters of their money and power. What sort of baptized persons are these? Those who want to bear the mark of the Spirit and the fire that Christ baptizes with must take the risk of renouncing everything and seeking only God’s reign and justice.”—Óscar Romero
“The understanding that the resurrection was bodily in the sense that Jesus’ body did not corrupt in the tomb has important theological implications. The resurrection of Jesus was remembered with such emphasis in the church because it explained what God had done for men. Through the resurrection men came to believe in God in a new way; man’s relationship to God was changed; a whole new vision of God and His intention for men was made possible; the whole flow of time and history was redirected. Nevertheless, a stress on the bodily resurrection keeps us from defining this resurrection solely in terms of what God has done for men. The resurrection was and remains, first of all, what God has done for Jesus. It was not an evolution in human consciousness, nor was it the disciples’ brilliant insight into the meaning of the crucifixion–it was the sovereign action of God glorifying Jesus of Nazareth. Only because God has done this for His Son are new possibilities opened for His many children who have come to believe in what He has done.”—Raymond Brown in The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus
Where is the role for moderates in this context? Where is our voice? Once the calm voice of moderation made up the sane and stable middle, a large centrist majority of society. Now the shouting from both poles dominates and prevents the moderate view to get a word in edgewise, let alone to score any points. Extremism is not the monopoly of one religion or one nation, but extremism has become the driving force of the entire Middle East. They would suggest that ideas of living together, of loving the other, of respecting the other, all are futile. These ideas are looked at as if we are living in another world. They promote instead a worldview that denies the rights of the other. When moderates lose power or are looked at as weak or insane, then it is society as a whole that suffers. It is society as a whole that is the biggest loser. This is the reason that some of us find ourselves like the two Emmaus disciples, standing still and looking sad.
The disciples misunderstood Jesus’ teaching. They were being empowered not to rule the world, but to transform the world; to be bridge-builders, not wall-builders.
The resurrection news is that Jesus continues to come into our midst, walks with us, and accompanies us along our road to Emmaus. We often do not recognize the risen Jesus in the stranger who has become our companion. Jesus is there in the ones accompanying us, the young and the old, men and women, people of all nations and ethnicities, people who speak languages so different from our own. Jesus is there in the other—the one walking with us along the road, the one listening to our stories, the one empathizing with our plight, the one lifting up our eyes to see beyond the present moment.
”—The Rt. Rev. Dr. Munib Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Land and Jordan in “Easter Message 2012”
“Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity we shall harness for God the energies of love and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”—Teilhard de Chardin (via nirvikalpa)
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.”—Hebrews 5:7-10 (NRSV)
“When the typical Passover was concluded, and He had partaken of the Lamb with His Apostles, He comes to the true paschal sacrament; that, as Melchisedech, Priest of the most high God, had done in foreshadowing Christ, offering bread and wine, He also should offer the present verity of His Body and Blood.”—St. Jerome affirming transubstantiation in a commentary on the Last Supper (translated by Blessed John Henry Newman)
When the noise commemorating Jesus’ death went off in the pitch-black darkness (it sounded like a cap gun), an older gentleman kneeling in the pew behind me blurted out “Jesus Christ!” then waited a few seconds before muttering “sorry.”
As with all theology, talk of the atonement is conjecture. God’s truth is ultimately a mystery to which no human being is privy. However, as we approach Good Friday, Christians rightly consider the crucifixion and its implications. May we do so with grace and good humor.
For my part, it’s clear. I’m not interested in a God who needs to bargain with the Devil, or in a God who is bound to a legal system, no matter how just it seems to us. The crucifixion was the single most pivotal event in the history of the cosmos. In it, we see that the true character of God is love. God loves with an immensity that is hard to fathom. So much, in fact, that he forsook much of that divinity in order to find solidarity with you and me.
The troubling thing about the Presiding Bishop’s Easter message is that it is conspicuous in that it does not mention Jesus Christ or God. It sounds much like a rather vague message about new life in spring – perhaps an add for seeds, fertilizer, or a non-profit designed to appeal to the vaguely spiritual crowd that follows Oprah’s booklist with devtion. One could read it or a Walt Whitman poem and find similar themes of natural beauty and struggle. I do not see anything about the decisiveness of the Resurrection or the great gift given to humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. One does not see God the Father or the Holy Spirit in the word cloud either. In other words, it is an Easter message without the true, great hope that is Easter.
Resurrection is presented as a theme to be found in the world around us rather than as an act of love that upends the very nature of the world.
I am not one who takes delight in speaking ill of the Presiding Bishop or her office – hers is no easy task. But I opened that Easter message looking for hope and news of God’s great gift and found an Easter message that said much about the day of Easter but not about its source, meaning, or Truth. It focused on resurrection as a process (with a small R) rather than as a victory that destroyed death. What I found was a message profound for what it lacked – news of God’s mighty acts in the person of Jesus Christ.