Monday, July 28, 2008

The Pointy Hat Club

Once upon a time in a far away place called Dar Es Salaam there was a party attended by boys and girls who liked to wear pointy hats, including one girl who liked to wear a pointy hat, but who sometimes wore a rainbow-colored oven mitt on her head instead. The other boys and girls were very polite and never used the words "oven mitt" in front of the one girl because they knew it would make her very cross.

Some of the folks at the party weren't having a very good time. It seems that in some places there were boys who wanted to live with other boys (the way Mommy and Daddy live together) who had been allowed to join the Pointy Hat Club. The people at the party murmured as how this wasn't a good thing, and agreed that boys who wanted to live with other boys and girls who wanted to live with other girls (the way Mommy and Daddy live together) shouldn't be allowed to join the Pointy Hat Club. The girl who sometimes liked to wear an oven mitt nodded her head and said that was all right with her too.

When all the boys and girls got home from the party, the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt said that she had not nodded her head along with the others who wore pointy hats and that, furthermore, she thought there ought to be more boys who lived with other boys and girls who lived with other girls (the way Mommy and Daddy live together) in the Pointy Hat Club.

When the other folks who had been at the party heard this, they were very cross. Other boys and girls who were neighbors of the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt said that they would go elsewhere to play. The girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt said that that was okay with her, but that they had to leave behind their balls, bats, gloves, hockey sticks, tennis rackets, croquet mallets, badmitton rackets, shuttlecocks and nets, and any other game equipment, because it all belonged to her.

When some far away members of the Pointy Hat Club heard what happened to all the boys and girls who refused to play with the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt, they were sad. They said to those boys and girls, "It's okay, we will still play with you. And, even though we are poor and do not have many toys or games, we will still be your friends and treat you as loyal members of the Pointy Hat Club."

The next time the Pointy Hat Club met, it was a Grand Party. Members from all over the world were there--except that nearly one third of the members of the Pointy Hat Club refused to come, because they said that the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt and her friends refused to play according to the rules and could not be trusted.

When the Grand High Poobah of the Pointy Hat Club saw and heard what was going on, he held his head in his hands and wondered why he had ever become Grand High Poobah. When the Grand Party commenced, he got a group of his friends to propose new rules. The rules went like this: The girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt and her friends had to give a really, really solemn promise ("cross your heart and hope to die") that they would not let any more boys who lived with other boys and girls who lived with other girls (the way Mommy and Daddy live together) join the Pointy Hat Club.

The rules also said that those who had refused to play with the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt had to stand in a corner until someone let them out. Those who had become friends of the ones who refused to play with the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt could not let any of the members of the first group out of the corner in which they were forced to stand; and they had to agree to stay home and play in their own yards.

When the boys and girls who had refused to play with the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt heard the new rules, they were quite upset and murmured as to how it was the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt and her friends who had broken the rules in the first place and asked how they could play with someone who could not possibly be trusted. Their friends from far away said that they had only tried to be friends in order to give these boys and girls someone to play with and asked why they should have to give up their new friends.

But the Grand High Poobah averred as to how the new rules were good rules, and how they had taken a lot of hard working boys and girls a long time to come up with, and since every club had to have rules, they might as well use these. The girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt and her friends disliked the new rules, but finally agreed to give a solemn promise ("cross your heart and hope to die")--and only those who looked closely could see the twinkle in their eyes as they promised and the fingers of their other hands crossed behind their backs.

So in the end, the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt and her friends played according to one set of rules. The boys and girls who had refused to play with the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt said that if the Grand High Poobah was going to talk about rules, then they really preferred The Old Rules best of all, and they would continue to play according to them. But the Pointy Hat Club was never, ever the same again.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash

From The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis (Book 7 in The Chronicles of Narnia):

"Please, please," said the high voice of a wooly lamb, who was so young that everyone was surprised he dared to speak at all.

"What is it now? said the Ape, "Be quick."

"Please," said the Lamb. "I can't understand. What have we to do with the Calormenes? We belong to Aslan. They belong to Tash. They have a god called Tash. They say he has four arms and the head of a vulture. They kill Men on his altar. I don't believe there's any such person as Tash. But if there was, how could Aslan be friends with him?"

All the animals cocked their heads sideways and all their bright eyes flashed toward the Ape. They knew it was the best question anyone had asked yet.

The Ape jumped up and spat at the Lamb.

"Baby!" he hissed. "Silly little bleater! Go home to your mother and drink milk. What do you understand of such things? But you others listen. Tash is only another name for Aslan. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now. The Calormenes use different words but we all mean the same thing. Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know Who. That's why there can never be any quarrel between them. Get that into your heads, you stupid brutes. Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash."

You know how sad your own dog's face can look sometimes. Think of that and then think of the faces of all those Talking Beasts--all those honest, humble, bewildered birds, bears, badgers, rabbits, moles, and mice--all far sadder than that. Every tail was down, every whisker drooped. It would have broken your heart to see their faces.


Up till now the King and Jewel had said nothing. They were waiting until the Ape should bid them speak, for they thought it was no use interrupting. But now, as Tirian looked round on the miserable faces of the Narnians, and thought how they would all believe that Aslan and Tash were one and the same, he could bear it no longer.

"Ape," he cried, "You lie. You lie damnably. You lie like a Calormene. You lie like an Ape"

He meant to go on and ask how the terrible god Tash who fed on the blood of his people could be the same as the good Lion by whose blood all Narnia was saved. If he had been allowed to speak, the rule of the Ape might have ended that day; the Beasts might have seen the truth and thrown the Ape down. But before he could say another word two Calormenes struck him in the mouth with all their force, and a third, from behind, kicked his feet from under him. And as he fell, the Ape squealed in rage and terror:

"Take him away. Take him away. Take him where he cannot hear us, nor we hear him. There tie him to a tree. I will--I mean, Aslan will--do justice to him later.

From an NPR interview, by Robin Young, with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

RY: TIME Magazine asked you an interesting question, we thought, "Is belief in Jesus the only way to get to heaven?" And your answer, equally interesting, you said "We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box." And I read that and I said "What are you: a Unitarian?!?" [laughs] What are you-- that is another concern for people, because, they say Scripture says that Jesus says he was The Light and The Way and the only way to God the Father.

KJS: Christians understand that Jesus is the route to God. Umm-- that is not to say that Muslims, or Sikhs, or Jains, come to God in a radically different way. They come to God through... human experience... through human experience of the divine. Christians talk about that in terms of Jesus.

RY: So you're saying there are other ways to God.

KJS: Uhh... human communities have always searched for relationship that which is beyond them.. with the ultimate.. with the divine. For Christians, we say that our route to God is through Jesus. Uhh.. uh..that doesn't mean that a Hindu.. uh.. doesn't experience God except through Jesus. It-it-it says that Hindus and people of other faith traditions approach God through their.. own cultural contexts; they relate to God, they experience God in human relationships, as well as ones that transcend human relationships; and Christians would say those are our experiences of Jesus; of God through the experience of Jesus.

RY: It sounds like you're saying it's a parallel reality, but in another culture and language.

KJS: I think that's accurate.. I think that's accurate.

Here is what I wish the Presiding Bishop had said.

Friday, July 18, 2008

I really never thought it would come to this...

I first attended an Episcopal Church a little over 30 years ago. I joined the Episcopal Church 22 years ago, and I was ordained 19 years ago. Looking at the developments that have occurred over this period, someone might draw the analogy that I was a newly commissioned officer who sailed out in a fast speedboat to catch my ship that had already left port; and I took my place as a crew member on the Titanic just moments before it hit the iceberg.

George Conger has written a piece today in which he asks the question: "Is this the end of the Communion?":
The long foretold crack up of the Anglican Communion appears to be at hand, as political wrangling and media posturing mark the final days before the start of the 14th Lambeth Conference. Though the programme of the 20 day conference in Canterbury is designed to avoid position statements or divisive outcomes—the agendas brought to the conference by the 600 some bishops present will likely push the Communion farther apart, effectively ending the Anglican project. [Please read the whole article.]

While I may wish that this were not true, I fear that Dr. Conger may be right.

Certainly, the Episcopal Church has been in a state of declining membership and increasing departures from historic, biblical Christianity for virtually the whole time I have been a member. But I always thought that the Anglican Communion would be the Episcopal Church's salvation, not that the Episcopal Church would be the cause of the Anglican Communion's destruction. I really never thought it would come to this.

Why did I think it would never come to this? Here are four reasons:

(1) I thought that efforts to renew the Episcopal Church from within, combined with the missionary imperative of the worldwide Communion, would overcome the pernicious influence of liberal theology and western decadence. Thirty years later, the missionary imperative still exists in the Anglican Communion, but only in the Global South and among a few constituencies in North America and Great Britain that are committed to world mission. But the overwhelming tendency has been for those in the liberal church structures of the Global North to subvert any parts of the Global South that they can win, seduce, or buy. I have seen countless times what 30 pieces of silver can pay for when measured in rice, maize, potatoes, clinics, schools, episcopal preferments, project grants, opportunities to study abroad, appointment to international commissions, etc.

I spoke just today with a candidate for bishop in a Global South diocese. I mentioned that it was odd that none of the bishops from dioceses in his province had attended GAFCON, when only a few years ago, his province was looked on as soundly orthodox. He said sadly that his was a poor province and its bishops were "easily bought." In the months prior to GAFCON, each of the dioceses in his province "had been visited." (It was clear he was referring to visits by representatives of the western churches eager to see that bishops there distanced themselves from GAFCON.)

The missionary imperative in the Anglican Communion remains strong. But that is chiefly the case in those dioceses and provinces that are associated with GAFCON, and these are being driven out of the Communion by an agenda with which they realize, for the sake of their souls, they cannot compromise.

(2) I believed that the leadership of the Anglican Communion, most particularly the Arcbishop of Canterbury, would resist and even rebuke the western churches for their departures from historic Christian norms in faith and morals. Why did I believe the ABC would do this?

(a) Because common sense demands it. When the bonds of fellowship have been strained to the breaking point, it is only logical that the one who has strained them should be restrained, disciplined, rebuked, etc. It is not logical that the well being of the whole should be sacrificed in order to indulge the misbehaviors of a few.

(b) Because it is expected. While liberal activists in the west would protest, no one could seriously claim to be shocked that the leadership of a Christian body would hold its members to the standards that Christians have always held.

(c) Because it is easy. The Archbishop of Canterbury only needed to have issued the mildest of rebukes to the western churches in his rhetoric over the past three years and to have disinvited those bishops who were responsible for the consecration of the present bishop of New Hampshire to have made sure that the Global South participated fully in the Lambeth Conference. If Rowan had disinvited a couple of dozen American bishops and the Bishop of New Westminster, Canada, the nearly 300 bishops who have stayed away from Lambeth would have come. A show of strength and conviction on the part of the Archbishop of Canterbury, while unpleasant for the moment, would have insured that American and Canadian churches were a great deal more respectful of the consensus of the Communion in the decades ahead. It would have been an exchange of short term pain for long term gain. It should have been a no-brainer.

(3) I believed that the leadership of the Anglican Communion would be sufficiently concerned for the survival of the Communion not to allow the advance of a controversial agenda that can only divide and weaken it. The (London) Times ran an article this week, which Stand Firm excerpted under the humorous title, "Perhaps the Bishops Are Eating Their Parishioners," which contrasted the decline of active attendance in the Church of England over the last 150 years with the increase in the number of bishops. A conclusion not emphasized by the article (but one that should be obvious) is that, if the current rate of decline continues, there should not be a single practicing Anglican left in England in another 50 years. (Although the signs are not yet as apparent, the situation in the American Church is not much better.)

While, for various reasons, there may still be some practicing members of the C of E in 50 years, it is nevertheless undeniable that the decline in membership and attendance has turned into a nose dive. Divisions within the Church of England over the lack of adequate episcopal oversight for traditionalists will only hasten the Church of England's demise.

Faced with such a graphic reminder of the tenuousness of the Church of England's existence, one might think that the Archbishop of Canterbury would make a greater effort to secure the survival of the Communion as a whole. Instead the same lack of leadership which has hastened the Church of England's demise is now threatening the survival of the Anglican Communion as a unified body.

(4) I thought that the Archbishop of Canterbury's role as the occupant of a historic see would have compelled him to act more strongly for the preservation of the catholic and apostolic faith in his own Church and the preservation of ecumenical ties with the other historic sees of the Christian Church. Instead the apparent sympathies of the present Archbishop of Canterbury have so weakened his loyalty to catholic teaching and practice that he refuses to utilize the instruments open to him (even that of the "bully pulpit") to secure the adherence of the Communion to the same catholic teaching and practice.

It remains to be seen what will come from this Lambeth Conference. But all indications so far are that the Archbishop of Canterbury will do nothing; the assembled bishops will decide nothing; the American Church's publicity steamroller will roll on; and the various churches of the Communion will follow the American Church's slide into apostasy--as, indeed, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales already seem poised to do. Somehow, I really never thought it would come to this.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Moshing for Jesus at "Christian Woodstock"

MOUNT UNION, Pa (Reuters) - A music festival with heavy metal, punk, hip-hop and pop music might seem like an unusual place to get baptized, but Creation is a festival with strict rules: no alcohol, no drugs and no sex before marriage.

"It's like the Christian version of Woodstock, basically, except it's neat and clean," said Victor Gibson, 37, from Manheim, Pennsylvania, who brought his wife and five children aged from five to 14 to the four-day festival.

"Take a look back at the crowd," he said, as thousands of fans held their arms in the air, pounding out the beat of a song by Christian band Kutless, whose sound Gibson likened to Metallica. "No rioting, no fighting, nobody getting beat up."

And from another report:

Dozens of young people at Creation, a Christian music festival in Pennsylvania, wore green T-shirts with the slogan "Young Single Available."

They weren't looking for a date. They were proclaiming their willingness to spend a year as a missionary in Asia.

Read the articles here and here.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Church Times: "Has GAFCON changed the Communion for the better?"

The Church Times (UK) has an overview article on GAFCON with a poll asking the question: "Has GAFCON changed the Communion for the better?" Read the article, then vote here.