Anglo-Catholic Identity–Again

The last couple of posts (Anglo-Catholic Future in the Episcopal Church and its follow-on A Response to Josh) have raised some comments and questions that I’ll try to address. On one hand, Brian has questioned my use and appropriation of the term “Anglo-Catholic”; on the other, Susan, Greg and others have located themselves in the final paragraph of “A Response to Josh” but neither see nor understand themslves as being particularly “catholic”…  As different as these questions are, I think there’s a common thread here that makes me reckless enough to try to tackle them both in a single post.

I’ll start with Brian’s comments:

I am challenged by your self-description as an “Anglo-Catholic” only because, in the history of this blog, I have never seen you cite, or even mention having read about, the Tractarians, especially Newman and Pusey, the Ritualists, the founding priests of the SSC, the slum priests of the late 19th century, the “martyrs of ritualism” who were jailed for violating the Public Worship Regulation Act, the early AC religious orders, the Anglo-Papalists of the early to mid-20C, the participants in the Anglo-Catholic Congresses, the work of Frs. Huddleston, Raynes, and other CR priests in South African missions during apartheid, and so on. I think those of us who were steeped in that tradition, by the priests who formed us, chafe at your description of historic Anglo-Catholicism as “extreme, regressive, and eccentric,” and at your reference to “the sins of the fathers” in your response to Josh. Your vision of Anglo-Catholicism seems historically myopic, and I think it is easy to dismiss those of us who differ with your understanding of the movement if you lack a full knowledge of that history. I say this in good faith after a few days of bemusement.

I know Brian fairly well from our online interactions and, I think, have a good sense of where he’s coming from. Lineage is important. (There’s an additional subtext here around lineage as both of us enjoy martial arts and if there’s one thing martial artists like to argue about its lineage and the implicit connection between lineage and effectiveness…)

When I first started actively attending an Episcopal parish it was one in Ohio headed by a former Presbyterian who was high as could be with smells, bells, and Rector’s forums on Anglo-Catholic topics. When we wnt back to Atlanta, M had a parish placement but we were unofficially affiliated with an Anglo-Catholic parish there. The priest was a member of the SSC and highly placed in Forward in Faith NA. I learned quite a lot from him, his liturgies, sermons, and spiritual direction. (He was the one who introduced me to Martin Thornton.) Bouncing from Atlanta to New York, we alternated between Smokey Mary’s and St Luke’s in the Village and I got up to the Church of the Resurrection a few times. On moving to the Main Line, M got her start in a parish with an incumbent raised at St Clement’s who maintained a prayer-book parish with an Anglican Missal altar party. I could go on, but I don’t feel the need to…

What’s my point in this rehearsal? The Anglo-Catholic movement within the Episcopal Church is a living tradition. And, as a result of being a living tradition, it’s a rather broad one—indeed, much more broad than some would desire.  As you can see, there’s quite a span: Tridentine ceremonial to Vatican II style, those affirming women and queer folk and those not. Which is why there’s also an Anglo-Catholic movement outside of the Episcopal Church. Furthermore, in the time since I’ve started blogging, the span of Anglo-Catholics within the Episcopal Church has narrowed quite a bit. Between the formation of ACNA, the mass departure of Forward in Faith, and the establishment of the Anglican Ordinariate, there has been a lot of shifting around and many who described themselves as Anglo-Catholics left. For those whose ultimate desire was union with Rome, they have left and gone to Rome. Indeed, the FiFNA priest mentioned abve is now a priest of the Ordinariate. For those who were too Anglican (or too remarried) for the Ordinariate, ACNA provided a option.

If you’ll note, I carefully specified my remarks around an Anglo-Catholic movement that wished to be taken seriously within the Episcopal Church. So—I’m speaking to the living tradition of Anglo-Catholism that has chosen to remain within the Episcopal Church and wants to have an effect upon it.

Having talked a bit about the “living tradition” thing, I’ll switch gears slightly, shift to the topic of self-applied labels in identity politics and directly address the points that Brian raised. As I read his comment, Brian is suggesting that I don’t belong within the Anglo-Catholic tradition and have no business claiming the label because I do not have the proper intellectual foundations within it.

So, let me sketch a little bit of my intellectual formation with regard to 19th century Anglicanism. I’m a biblical scholar with an interest in the use of Scripture in liturgy and its application in ascetical theology. That means I do a lot of reading, only some of it related to Anglican topics. I have read the entire contents of Tracts for the Times in my early days as an Anglican and learned a lot from them. I’ve read a lot of John Mason Neale and his circle. I’ve read some from the Ritualists. I’ve read, in particular, liturgical and ceremonial material from the time, focusing on the early history of Ritual Notes and the Directorium Anglicanum and others. Fr. Rock’s Church of Our Fathers in three volumes lives on my Kindle. I’ve read broadly through Hierurgia Anglicana. Those are the folks who fall narrowly within your canon.

No, I’ve not read much from the early SSC founders or their hiers.

I’ve no doubt departed from the narrow way in reading more of J. Wickham Legg, Vernon Staley, Percy Dearmer, and those who I would regard as my best conversation partners, Walter H. Frere and his friend and correspondent Evelyn Underhill. And I’ve been guilty of reading and being formed by other people you didn’t mention like Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, John Donne, and George Herbert.

My take-away from this reading is that the Anglican way is a liturgical spirituality informed by patristic interpretation and practice understood in such a way to speak to the spiritual yearnings of our times. So I spend more of my time reading Augustine, Cassiodorus, John Cassian, Benedict, Gregory, Bede, and the desert tradition generally (that also being the roots of real “Celtic theology” which learned much more from the Desert Fathers than Greenpeace.)

So—am I a real Anglo-Catholic?

Those who have been reading this blog from the beginning will recall that I have a love/hate relationship with the Anglo-Catholic label. Indeed, over the past decade(!) that I’ve kept the blog up, I have attempted to explicitly disavow the label and distance myself from it at least twice.

Once was here back in 2005: Anglo-Catholic.

Another was here in 2008: faux catholic.

I’ve tried to go with different alternatives too. Here was an attempt from 2006: Sarum Anglicans? and another from 2007: What is in a name?

But, like a dog returning to its vomit, I have returned to the Anglo-Catholic label partly because that’s how I am perceived by the wider church. I’ll talk more about this in a moment, but for the sake of completeness let me link to this piece from 2006 where I specifically recant the position that I took in that first link up there from 2005: An Anglican Moderate.

“Anglo-Catholic” to the best of my knowledge—and I’m sure folks will feel more than free to correct me on this if I’m wrong—does have a narrow meaning in which it refers to a particular group of writers and thinkers in late 19th century England who suceeded the Ritualists. However, very few people use it with this narrow referrent. Its far more common usage is a general term for those who insist on a catholic continuity in the Anglican churches. (For instance, check out the authors collected in the mid-ninteenth century “Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology“!) As such, the general term “Anglo-Catholic” is a synthesis. I explore my understanding of such a synthesis in this post from 2010: Tradition: Between Synthesis and Historicity. At the end of the day, such a synthesis is a set of ideas and perspectives enshrined by a current living community, and this is where we really get at the root of things. Brian’s community will not regard me as a true Anglo-Catholic. Why—because I have not read the intellectual canon within which Anglo-Catholicism resides? No—they would tell me that I am not a true Anglo-Catholic because if I were formed properly in that canon I would recognize that women cannot be clergy and that queer folk should be kept in their closets. And—by and large—most of the people who make up Brian’s community have left the Episcopal Church. (As has Brian.)

I, on the other hand, recognize a synthesis largely contiguous with that of Brian’s community (!), that not only has a home but has an important voice to offer the Episcopal Church—and that there is a living community here that embodies and sustains it.

(I identify the two major differences between my position and positions like Brian’s as these: 1) I don’t believe in an infallible church and thus see some matters as open for discussion that they see as closed, and 2) I don’t see the point of the movement as corporate reunion with the Roman Catholic Church. I’m certainly not against corporate reunion with the Roman Catholic Church but, let’s face it, they’ve got some work to do before I’d be willing to sign off on it.)

But there’s another piece here too. Up to now, I’ve been talking about self-applied labels. As my friend Robb noted in a comment on one of the pieces linked to above, there’s a point where a subculture’s navel-gazing breaks down…

The funny thing is that – the more I am engaged in debates about what is truly Catholic – the more it feels like other debates about meaningless subcultures: is Green Day punk in the same way as The Ramones; can you be a true Goth and listen to Marilyn Manson; who best represents country music, David Allen Coe or Kenny Chesney? (btw, there is only one right answer to that last question!!!)

Anybody remember the Goth Code (or the Geek Code)? I’m sure there’s an Anglo-Catholic variant somewhere. If the seventh letter is an “f”, it means you’re for the use of folded chausibles in Lent; if the 12th is an “m” then you think the maniple should be removed for the sermon—but if you do, you’d better be ready for the severe verbal whoopin’ from those who think it should stay on and have three sources older than yours to cite as evidence!!

But these are points that—however significant they may be to insiders—are completely ignored by those outside the subculture.

Here’s the thing. When someone sees me cross myself at the Elevation and genuflect on the way out of the pew they’ll say, “What are you, an Anglo-Catholic or something?” I could say, “Well, no, actually I’m a Reformed Patristic Prayer-book catholic Anglican within the Episcopal Church—not technically an Anglo-Catholic. When I crossed myself, I was following the tradition of the vernacular devotions for the Sarum Mass which is totally different from the use of ‘Anglo-Catholics’ simpliciter as they were simply borrowing the Roman Catholic customs of their day without a whole lot of reference to historical analogues…” but the person making the remark would have wandered off after the third word.

The Episcopal church calls me an Anglo-Catholic. I can disagree, isolate myself because of a concern for terminology not shared by 99.9% of people in or outside the church, and in the process cut myself off from a community of people who may or may not share my terminological scruples with whom I share a great deal in terms of theology and practice. Or, alternatively, I can embrace the label despite my hedging and potential scruples and lend my voice to those who love the church and want to support it in its mission by reminding it of our core beliefs and principles.

This, then, is where we get to the final point I want to make: what a catholic movement (and yes, I do prefer to use this term and to use a lower-case “c”) has to contribute to the broader Episcopal Church. Several people saw things they liked in the final paragraph of my previous post. But—they don’t see themselves as being “catholic” let alone “Anglo-Catholic.” So what gives?

I don’t think that there was anything distinctively catholic in that last paragraph; I think it is something that Anglicans of any stripe ought to be able to get behind. However, I do think that catholic Anglicans (and Episcopalian Anglo-Catholics) may have a clearer perspective on some of these issues because of our chosen theological conversation partners and patterns of life.

Reading the Church Fathers is a manifestly useful exercise. All sorts of discussions and arguments were had in the first several centuries of the Church’s life as we were hammering out language to wrap around our understanding of God in the Scriptures, the experience of the Risen Jesus in the Sacraments, and participation of the Holy Spirit in the life of our communities. The Fathers (and Mothers) got a sense of what thoughts led to skewed practice. And that’s the real problem with heresy—not that someone is thinking an unapproved thought, but that someone has construed who and what God is in a way that will have tragic consequences if we try to live it out. That’s why Arianism, Gnosticism, Pelagianism, Montanism, and others are problems: they live badly. In some way, their communal expression undercuts the abundant life with God and the reconciliation between God and his whole creation promised in the true Gospel.

We who read these writers hear what they were struggling against and are more ready to identify it in our own time.

We who have chosen to lead a self-consciously liturgical and sacramental life will have both different thoughts and different instincts—whether conscious or not—around the sacraments, their relationship to a life of discipleship, and how the church deploys them than those who don’t. Are these thoughts and instincts “better”? I wouldn’t say “better” myself, but they may well be more thought through or more organically integrated in a spiritual life.

Personally, I think the Episcopal Church could stand to learn quite a lot about sanctity, holiness, and the connection between the sacraments and the sacred from the catholic movement. As I’ve said before and will no doubt expand upon, “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” is not the document I wish for the church—but it meets the church where the church is. I hope it serves as a starting place for a set of discussions that can eventually get us to a clearer place.

No, I don’t think the catholic movement is the sole location of faithful Christians in the Episcopal Church—there are myriads who aren’t and have no need to be catholic. No, I don’t think that catholic devotions should be made mandatory or imposed on the prayer book. I’m quite happy having the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book to use alongside my BCP. No, I don’t think that being an Anglo-Catholic in the Episcopal Church is the only way to be one. There are different syntheses recognizably within the tradition. I can honor that and respect those who hold them even while I don’t agree with them.

So—that’s where I am today. An Anglo-Catholic in the Episcopal Church who believes that we have much to offer the church. You may not agree—either that I’m an Anglo-Catholic, or that the church needs to listen—but I don’t plan on shutting up and going away any time soon…

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A Response to Josh

This post started out as a response to the comment that Josh left on the previous post but ballooned beyond the size of a proper comment…

The Church is not about “winning” or “losing” (your language, not mine). I fully believe in the Episcopal Church as a big-tent movement and am committed to it remaining so. One part of that big-tent, though, covers those of us who believe in the creeds without any finger-crossing, and that voice needs to be heard and taken into account.

Yes, the broader church will often ignore what we say because the Anglo-Catholic side has historically been guilty of oppressing and suppressing women and those not in the closet. And the irony of that position is that there were more closeted gay priests in the Anglo-Catholic movement than probably anywhere else in the Episcopal Church put together. The points that I’m making here are these: 1) those of us who do identify as catholic within today’s Episcopal Church need to commit ourselves to fully including LGBT folk, women, and children. I bring this up because I’m addressing an issue I see in my own community. (You may not be seeing it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.) In my experience, there are gay-friendly churches who still limit and suppress the legitimate ministries of women and children. 2) It’s not enough for us to act in these ways, we also need to communicate it broadly so that we can no longer be dismissed because of the sins of our fathers 50 years ago that we have since put behind us. 3) Welcoming women to the altar (as with St Paul’s K Street) is a strong visible step forward, but is not sufficient to say that women—and children—have been fully included.

You haven’t seen these things? I’m not surprised. You’re not an Anglo-Catholic father of two daughters married to a female priest. This situation gives me a very useful perspective from which to observe and comment upon my own community (which is what I’m doing…). I never understood sexism in the church until I was married to M and heard, saw, and experienced the sexism that she did and continues to encounter; I never reflected thoughtfully from an informed perspective on the place of children in church until I had my own.

Is the issue of children in church an issue throughout the church? Most certainly. But an important difference between my community and others is our understanding of the Eucharist. If Communion is just a time to think pleasant thoughts about Jesus while we have a snack together, than kids may well be better served somewhere else coloring pictures of Bible stories. In my theology, though, the Eucharist is the rite through which the whole gathered community most fully embodies myriad and multiple aspects of the Body of Christ as we bring together the mystical, social, eschatological, and sacramental Bodies of Christ into one shared experience. If the children are not there they miss something important; if they’re not there, we miss something important too: the Body of Christ is visibly diminished at the point where we are attempting to enact it most fully.

That deals with the points that I was raising in my previous post. Now, I do need to address a piece of baggage that you felt the need to insert (that I neither said nor intended) and which perfectly illustrates the kind of projection that hapens when an Anglo-Catholic speaks up.

You wrote in your comment:

Maybe if Anglo-Catholics stopped holding themselves out as practicing a superior version of the faith, they’d face less discrimination; I don’t know. . . . Instead, what I see denomination-wide is that the Catholic movement has won (but thinks they haven’t), thanks by and large to the rubric in the ’79 Prayer Book mandating the Eucharist as the principal Sunday service. . . . Meanwhile the “evangelical wing” has been thoroughly routed and/or has walked out. We are all catholic now, we are all evangelical, and thanks be to God. . . . It’s true that Derek and I disagree about the usefulness of pious add-ons (my term) to the liturgy, and that TEC as a whole will never adopt them for general use *unless they appear in the Prayer Book.* But as I survey all the changes in this Church in the last 40 years, in which Protestors have moved almost entirely to the Catholic side, I’m astonished at the persistence of these distinctions, as if the Catholic movement cannot rest until every pious add-on has been adopted by every last one of us. . . . Can Catholics never simply declare victory and throw a party? Apparently not; it really is about all those pious add-ons now, isn’t it. Anything to continue dividing us.

So—I post about making sure that my community is including children in worship and suddenly it becomes “Derek wants to make Josh say prayers to Mary.” Really? What a fascinating reaction…

First off, weekly communion is not a “Catholic” thing, it’s an “Anglican” thing. The celebration of the Eucharist on Sundays and Holy Days was the pattern laid down by both the English 1549 BCP and the English 1662 which has since formed a template for most of the rest of the Anglican Communion. Whether these patterns were actually followed is another thing entirely, but to call them “Catholic” rather than “Anglican” is to misrepresent our Anglican origins.

Therefore, and second, the fact of a weekly Communion does not mean “the Catholic movement has won” as you put it. The Disciples of Christ (some background here) have weekly communion; are they therefore “Catholic”?  You have fallen into a conventional mistake of confusing ritual with theology. Just because a church does a certain thing does not establish what they believe about it. I would suggest that since the convergence of the Ecumenical Movement and the Liturgical Renewal Movement the broad middle portion of the Episcopal church has adopted a number of practices that were seen a century ago as “Catholic”—but that does not mean that the beliefs of these Episcopalians have changed or that they hold to the catholic theologically grounded logic of why some things are done and not others. Indeed, this is a key to our big-tent system: we can participate in the same liturgies yet understand them and what we do in them in some very different ways.

Third, I care not one whit whether you or anyone else uses “pious add-ons.” I use some of them because they feed me spiritual. I have no interest in imposing them on anyone else. You’ll note that they are entirely optional in my edition of the Offices. I’ll even go out on a limb and wager that the catholic movement as a whole doesn’t care if you use them or not. Your knee-jerk assumption about my agenda says more about you than me.

What do I care about? Resurgent Arianism in the church really bothers me; approval and promotion of teachers who suggest that Jesus was just an enlightened revolutionary teacher rather than God Incarnate bothers me. Casual modalism bothers me. Indeed, causual modalism implying that Jesus has no role as Creator or Sanctifier further reinforces Arian tendencies. Insidious Gnosticism and the notion that the faith is about an individual’s intellectual assent to a set of ideas rather than the communal living of embodied beliefs bothers me. Disconnecting the sacraments from a life of discipleship bothers me. The Eucharist is a sacrificial meal of reconciliation that draws us deeper into our baptismal vows and commitments. It is a sign of and for the baptized community and those who wish to receive it should be invited into the community through the font. Concerns about Christology have real, practical, pastoral implications; sacramental theology matters in how we see God at work in the world around us. This isn’t a “superior version of the faith”—it’s the faith as we’ve been taught it. I have a duty to teach it to my children and, by extension, to have confidence that the other members of the church who are teaching my children hold it too.

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Anglo-Catholic Future in the Episcopal Church

The news appeared in my Twitter feed yesterday that St. Paul’s K Street has gone through a process of discernment and is welcoming women clergy to their altar as well as same-sex blessings. I know with regard to the first that this was a move that had been in process for a while. There had been some discussions a bit ago about M being in residence there, but those did not come through at that time.

Serving on the SCLM has been a good experience in many ways; one is the opportunity to get more involved in church discussions at the broadest level. I get to see and hear things from a different perspective than what I just see in the life of one or two parishes. In particular, I have come away with two strong convictions.

First, the Episcopal Church needs a strong voice within its deliberations that will continue to champion a classical understanding of doctrine and a disciplined approach to the alteration of the church’s discipline. That is, we need advocates who are willing and able to teach the doctrines of the creeds and to champion authentic Christian discipleship rooted in the sacraments and spirituality that have been handed over to us. The church’s discipline—those things that are not doctrine but around which the church orders its common life—needs to be carefully thought through and alterations to it should be backed by solid theology and connections into our core doctrine. A catholic movement within the Episcopal Church ought to be able to make this case with credibility and conviction. It shoud have a clear sense of why we do what we do and be able to speak sensible with those who disagree and those who are undecided.

Second, there are many in the councils of the church who are quick to dismiss anything coming from an “Anglo-Catholic” source as inherently problematic because of an assumption of bias and irrelevance. Almost every time I opened my mouth in meetings or offered a proposal, there were those on my committee who would immediately suggest that my recommendation was somehow anti-women and anti-lay. As a layman married to a female priest, I found this bizarre! Or, alternatively, that what I proposed was of no interest to the broader church because it only addressed the needs of a shrinking “boutique” spirituality that had no connection or application to modern church life. They had slotted me into a mental pigeonhole and, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, were ready to dismiss me beause of biases they assumed I held (but didn’t).

If the catholic movement wants to be a relevant force in the church, if it wants to be listened to, to have its arguments taken seriously, and actually have an impact upon the decisions made by the Episcopal Church going forward, I believe that we need to both enact and communicate broadly three basic principles in our local parishes and beyond:

1) that openly gay and lesbian people are full and welcome members of our communities and should exercise their ministries among us,

2) that women are full and welcome members of our communities and should exercise their ministries among us, and

3) that children are full and welcome members of our communities and should exercise their ministries among us.

Now—I’m well aware that there are those who identify as catholic Anglicans who will take issue with 1 and 2 in light of what has been said above and identify them as changes of doctrine rather than discipline. I disgree and have written about both explaining my reasons in the past. Rather than get stuck rehashing arguments about 1—as the church is wont to do—I’d rather focus on 2 and 3.

The irony, as I see it, is that many of the catholic parishes that I know personally that do the best with 1 fail on 2 and 3.

What specifically do I mean about point 3? Case in point: removing everyone under the age of fifteen from the sanctuary at the beginning of the service and giving them coloring sheets in another room is something very different from seeing them as full and welcome members who have ministries to exercise in our midst. I’ll go so far as to say that any church that holds Sunday School during Mass (catholic or not) is failing on 3. When we don’t allow our children to be in Mass or suggest that they be somewhere else, we have failed. Now—there is a range here. At the parish where we attend now, small children are invited out after the Gospel for a children’s time that extends through the end of the prayers. I have far less of an issue with this because 1) Sunday School happens at a different time—this isn’t the only child-focused education on offer, and 2) it’s quite optional. Many children don’t go out; my children have never felt any pressure to do so.

(This is quite different from one broad-church parish we visisted. They were almost anxious to remove my children from the service when we walked in and were taken aback when my girls refused to go. Then, after the service, a number of adults came up expressing their surprise and delight that the girls were “good” in church…)

I understand that some parishes, particularly those of a more solemn bent, want to minimize distractions and disruptions. I get that some people—particularly those who aren’t parents—don’t want to deal with noise from other people’s kids. Three things: 1) it’s a gathering of the Body of Christ, not a classical concert, 2) parents should have an awareness of when it’s a good idea to remove a noisy child from a congregational situation—shaming them doesn’t help, 3) if your solemnity is so fragile that it can be easily shattered by the mere presence of a child, it’s more likely to be pretence and pretentiousness rather than true solemnity. (If it were true solemnity, the kids would be caught up in it as well!)

My experience, though, is that the kids who are “good” in church are those who are most used to it. Kids who are in church learn—and are taught—how to behave properly in church. They are taught by seeing how others behave, and by being hissed at and prodded by their parents.  Trust me: I’ve done it. Communities teach children what is expected. Too—and more to the point—children tend to be far less squirmy when they’re engaged and assisting! My girls always choose to sit up front where they can see what’s going on, but they’d much rather sit in the chancel helping out.

I have no issue with nurseries. There was a certain age between 18 months and 3 when I would often put H in the nursery when I was juggling G, but once G could sit properly by herself and participate, I brought H back in. (Because M is usually in a chancel somewhere, I’m used to being a single pew-parent.) Too, there are some children who have genuine difficulties sitting still and being quiet for whom additional arrangements may be necessary—but these are few and far between.

The reason why this matters is because it ties into both relevance and catholic evangelism. Children are just as moved by deep ritual and sacramental experience as anyone else. If we are unable to preach the Gospel and serve the sacraments to our own children, then we’d be better off packing up the place and shuttering it now.

Another piece here is that when 3 is not done properly, when children are not fully incorporated into the worship and formational life of the community, it inevitably impacts 2 as well. When children are not in the service, those who give care to them—usually their mothers or grandmothers—get marginalized as well. I was once in a parish where the Senior Warden and several other vestry members did not attend Mass or a hear a sermon for months on end. Why? Because they were the women teaching Sunday School which took place during Mass.

How a self-described catholic parish treats female clergy is one thing—and an important thing. But don’t forget female laity either. Don’t congratulate yourself for the occasional woman in the pulpit if you’re keeping a whole lot of others out of their pews each week.

The other thing about parishes where Sunday School happens during the Mass is that Christian formation is usually seen as something just for the children. There is rarely a separate time for adult formation—and everyone is thereby impoverished. Whole community formation is necessary—formation for children, formation for adults, and formation for adults that happens at other times so that those who teach can be informed as well. (No, I don’t want someone who doesn’t grasp the basics of the faith trying to educate my children in it!)

I want to be part of a vibrant catholic community within the Episcopal Church. I want my wife and my children to be full and equal parts of it as well as our gay friends. I want our voices to be heard and taken seriously when the church gathers for councils and decisions. As long as the catholic movement is regarded as a haven for the extreme, regressive, and eccentric, we will neither be heard nor heeded.

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SCLM Resolutions Posted

The resolutions put forth by the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music (of which I am a member) have been posted on the official General Convention Blue Book site. In all fairness, what has been posted is as much a teaser as the full material. Our resolutions have been posted; the appendices have not—and we have a lot of appendicies and the core of the material resides in those!

So—the actionable items are now out in the public sphere, much of the content to be considered is not yet out there. Some of it has appeared at various points around the web. For instance, much of the material that appears in “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” has been posted here in draft form as it was being developed and also, in a more formal state, on the SCLM’s own blog.

Although I did discuss the collect revision process in this post and included my revision for the feast of St. Bede, there are an additional 80 or so collect revisions not yet published.

In addition to the material around the Calendar, the other material that will no doubt draw much comment is the material around same-sex blessings. Again—the resolutions are posted, the material is not. It will be—but you’ll have to be patient until they do appear…

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Ash Wednesday 2015

I love the way the liturgy functions…

As many readers know, I’ve got two books in the pipeline right now, one on early medieval monastic Gospel interpretation at the final page proof stage, the other on the spirituality of the prayer book in the editing stage. Both of them deal with the liturgy and how it works; I was reminded of elements from both today.

One of the strengths of the interlocking liturgical cycles is the opportunity for “pregnant juxtaposition.” That is, through the regular operation of liturgical mechanics, items and elements are put into relationship with one another. The ones praying have an opportunity to see connenctions between them and, in this process of discovery, to gain new insights into the character of the faith and the identity of the Triune Deity behind it all.

The regular monthly psalm cycle gave us Pss 90, 91, and 92 this morning. As I mentioned in my previous post, Ps 90 is and will continue to be a focal point for my reflections on intentionality and simplification this Lent; its appearance this morning was completely seredipitous. Likewise, Ps 91 is deeply connected with Lent for me. In the medieval cycle, the Minor Propers for Lent I were taken from Ps 91 given its appearance in the Gospel appointed for that feast, Matthew’s narrative of Jesus being tempted by Satan. Medieval monastic interpreters—Aelfric among them—argued that Satan was misinterpreting the psalm in applying it to Jesus. Rather, it applies to those of us struggling towards righteousness. God will allow us to be tempted and tried, but also lends us protection and strength throughout the process. Lines from this psalm will recur throughout the monastic Office for the entirety of Lent, reminding those paticipating in the liturgical cycles of God’s faithfulness in trial and testing.

To close out, I’ll leave with a section I just finished up in the prayer book spirituality manuscript with regard to Ash Wednesday and its liturgy:


The season of Lent engages the affection of penitence. During Lent we consider ourselves from two vantage points. The first concerns the human tendency to sin—individually and corporately. Sin is a reality of human existence. The other unavoidable reality of human existence providing the second vantage point is death. Lent opens with Ash Wednesday’s stark acknowledgement of the reality of death. Lent isn’t about being morbid, or punitive, or tearing ourselves down, or whipping ourselves into a lather of self-condemnation. It is, rather, about that word I’ve used twice now: reality. It’s about taking honest stock of who and what we are in the face of eternity and in the face of God. We are limited; we are fallible. In a short life of uncertainty we make choices that lead us deeper into separation and chaos—cutting ourselves off from those who love us and whom we would love. Lent is a deliberate exercise in owning up.

The Ash Wednesday liturgy has four particular components that serve to focus our attentions at the start of the season. The first is the exhortation to a holy Lent. It sets forth briefly the idea of Lent, noting its dual role as a season for baptismal preparation and also a season for corporate repentance. After the history lesson, it points us to the particular disciplines of the season and identifies elements of a holy Lent: “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word” (BCP, p. 265). Thus, we confront the reality of our inner lives, we do those things that help us love God and neighbor, and re-center ourselves on the vision that God has for the world and our place within it.[i]

The second component of the Ash Wednesday service that focuses us is the imposition of the ashes themselves. This is a liturgical moment of great power—and should be allowed to speak for itself without piling up a bunch of words around it. Some of my most poignant and important memories of Lent are memories from this point in this service. I remember my first Ash Wednesday as a parent when I carried my infant daughter to the rail and saw the priest put the ashes on her forehead. The contrast, the paradox, between her youth and the mark of mortality affected me deeply. Some may think this inappropriate—but I recall how many churchyards through which I have wandered, looking at gravestones, and seeing markers for children (and often their mothers) younger than her. The reality of mortality offends our sensibilities—but to deny plays into our fantasies.

Alternatively, I remember one year when I assisted in the chancel, imposing ashes. As I moved around the rail, I found myself at three figures—in the center was an elder of the congregation, his eyes closed, face to the sky, arms outstretched, gripping the hands of his wife on one side, his best friend on the other. For the previous nine months I had been visiting him weekly as he wrestled with an aggressive cancer that had turned terminal. We all knew this Ash Wednesday would be his last. For him, this moment was a solemn embrace of sister Death within the company of the church, the whole Body of Christ gathered around him.

Here, though, lies one of the brutal truths of Ash Wednesday: he was not closer to death than anyone else in the room. All of us are but a breath, a heartbeat, a moment away from death. The difference between him and us was his awareness of his situation. He knew and chose to face the truth of his mortality, a truth about which most of us would prefer to remain blissfully unaware.

From this point in the service we move to the third component, Psalm 51, the greatest of the penitential psalms. In these words, we are given the example of what full disclosure before God looks like. The psalmist is under no illusions about his interior state; there is an honesty here that we may find uncomfortable, but which speaks directly to the presence, reality, and power of sin in our lives. To my mind, the prayer book gives us this psalm at the beginning of the season. We receive it as a model of penitent prayer. We may not feel every bit of what the psalmist says, but it gives us direction and guidance for our own deep self-examination to which we are called. And, as we pray it and gaze within ourselves, we may indeed find ourselves drawing closer to his perspective than we might have first thought!

The fourth component is the Litany of Penitence which also spurs us to self-reflection. Its beginning mirrors Jesus’ Summary of the Law that classically began Anglican Eucharists and that still heads up the Penitential Order that is especially appropriate in this season (the Rite I version is p. 319; Rite II, p. 351). Jesus encapsulates God’s Law in Mark’s gospel in this way:

Jesus said, ‘The first commandment is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’ Mark 12-19-31 (BCP, p. 351).

By putting this section of Scripture at the beginning of our Eucharists, the architects of the early prayer books were giving this passage a special place in our understanding of what God requires of us and what righteousness looks like: loving God, loving neighbor. This is us as God wants us to be.

The Litany of Penitence starts out with a frank acknowledgement of us as we are in clear and deliberate contrast:

We have not loved you[, God,] with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.

Have mercy on us Lord (BCP, p. 267).

A lot of us are uncomfortable talking about sin, sometimes due to coming from traditions that seem to over-emphasize it, but here the prayer book is laying out clearly its definition of sin. Sin is the failure to love. Where we have failed to love—in thought, word, and deed—we have departed from God’s intention for us and for his whole creation. The rest of the litany goes on to identify and help us recognize concrete ways that we have done this. Having set out the main thesis up front, we are offered further examples of failures to love in which we may find ourselves. Again, the purpose here is not self-flagellation, but honesty about who and what we are. The litany confronts us with the reality that we fail to be the people God created us to be and gently recalls us to that high vocation, reminding us of that second call of the Baptismal Covenant: “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” (BCP, p. 304).

In these ways, Ash Wednesday sets the proper tone for the rest of the season. It’s not a period of punishment, but a sober, honest opportunity to look at ourselves as we are: frail, fallible, and mortal. We need God’s grace. We need God’s love. And we need to live that grace and love for the rest of the world to see. Lent is our time to look into ourselves, our communities and to pray for the strength, the courage and the assistance to live our Baptism like we mean it. In a work such as this, I would certainly be remiss if I did not offer the reminder that Lent is a perfect time to recommit ourselves to the regular practices of the faith—including the praying of the Office and attendance at Eucharist. These are not great ascetic works—they’re actually fairly easy—but are more useful in the long run than attempts at greater feats of penitence. As we move more towards the habitual recollection of God, we are also recollecting ourselves—who we are in the face of the God who created us and loves us (no matter what!).

[i] You may wonder where “love of neighbor” shows up in this list: it’s tucked into the call to “prayer, fasting, and self-denial” (BCP, p. 265). Fasting is not just about going without for as some sort of holy diet. The intention is that you reduce the amount of food that you eat so that these resources can be given to those who do not have it; we abstain from food so that we can take the food or money we would have spent of food and offer it to charity. Furthermore, in the time that we save from not eating, we engage in prayer for ourselves and for the world, loving our neighbors in the passive act of intercession as well as in the active act of giving alms.

Posted in Church Year, Liturgy | Tagged | 3 Comments

Lenten Intentionality

I’ve been pondering Ps 90 and especially v. 12 quite a lot recently: “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a grand pronouncement. The single greatest challenge to lay spirituality in this modern age is busy-ness. Any attempt to engage a decent proportion of the people who are interested in having meaningful spiritual lives has got to tackle this issue head-on.

What specifically do I mean?

M and I have both had a major milestone birthday in the past six months, and that experience is forcing us to take stock of the kind of life we lead and the way we lead it ad to determine if this is the way we want to keep living and, if not, what to do about that.

As I look at the activities that I engage in, I’m starting to sort them into a couple of big buckets. First, there are things that I want to do daily that offer no or little immediate return, but are important for their long-term cumulative impact. So, I lump into this bucket things like:

  • Morning Prayer
  • Medidation
  • Tai chi
  • Stretching/rolling/flexibility
  • Running/Strength training
  • Scripture Study
  • Reading the Fathers
  • Evening Prayer

Add those things up and that’s somewhere around three hours every day. And yet, these are things that I believe are really important—yet each day I’m lucky if I can tick more than two or three of them off my list.

And then there are the things that bring in income:

  • The Day Job
  • Freelance Contracting work
  • Finishing up manuscripts

Then are the things that I have to do to keep things moving with any sort of sanity:

  • Driving girls to school
  • Picking girls up
  • Driving girls to Strings/Ballet
  • Cleaning the Kitchen
  • Packing Lunches
  • Doing Laundry

Let’s not forget:

  • Spend time with kids
  • Spend time with wife
  • Sleep!

Then there are the things that I want to do:

  • Anglican Breviary project
  • St. Bede’s Breviary Tweaks
  • Blog more!
  • Consider and start on one of the several book projects that are waiting in the wings
  • Start a podcast on the Psalms!

As I’ve said a few times before, I’m overcommitted and overwhelmed—but I don’t think I’m alone in that! I think that most of the people at my stage in life are at this point; it seems to be a very common situation as I survey my friends and the parents of my kids’ friends.

This Lent, I want to focus on simplicity and intentionality. Simplicity is often about stuff and getting rid of stuff. But the main stuff I need to deal with is the stuff that sucks up my time—which can be just as (maybe even more?) insidious than what sucks up my space.

My day-job does a lot with metrics: meauring things, tracking to goals, and crunching the numbers to turn them into pretty pictures that senior management is able to comprehend. I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to do a better job of this in how I manage my life… So, a key Lenten discipline for me this year will be a study of where my time really goes. I want to be intentional about what I do, and when I do it, so that I truly can align how I live my life with what I say my priorities are. And have graphs and pictures too!

I’m planning to leverage some Android apps to help me with all of this:

  • I’ve intermittently used MyFitnessPal to be intentional about how I eat; I’m going to try and use that more especially because this app now integrates with the next two items…
  • My awesome sister-in-law got me a Fitbit that I’ve been using a while already. It tracks both sleep and exercise.
  • I usually wear my Garmin when I run but am really bad about uploading the data and using it; hopefully the integration with the above two will help me do this more. I’ve put a training plan in this app to give me some clear direction on this count.
  • Toggl has a great time-tracking app and I’m going to use this to really sort out where my time goes.
  • I’m loving the Logos program for reading Scripture and the Fathers. I tend to use it most on my Kindle and use reading plans–hoping to blog quite a bit more on this tool…
  • And last but not least, the St. Bede’s Breviary serves for the Offices—again, chiefly on the Kindle.

Bottom line: as lives get busier, a sensible Rule of Life is more important than ever to help us stay focused on our true priorities. I have an implicit one—but that’s just not good enough. I don’t feel that I can construct an honest one without a solid baseline that establishes and quantifies the true sources of craziness and time-squandering in my life. Only when I have a good sense of the how can I tackle what needs to be done to live up to my calling. Thus, intentionality with the goal of giving up chaos and embracing a holistic simplicity! I’ll let you know how it goes…

Posted in Holistic/Regular Life, Spirituality | 6 Comments

On Borg

I saw the news last night that Dr. Marcus Borg has died. May light perpetual shine upon him.

I have not actually read many of his books despite that fact that he generally falls into my New Testament (NT) specialty. I have heard him summarized, and have read those who argue with him and with whom he argued. This year I will make it a point to read more of his works.

At this point, my feelings toward him are rather ambiguous. I know that he is widely read within the Episcopal Church, and that he has helped many progressive Christians and Episcopalians to be able to read the Bible again. He presents a perspective and an entre into the Bible that allows it to be read critically and rationally over and against fundamentalistic reading strategies. That he has helped people pick up and return to the Scriptures is a good thing.

However, I have noticed distinctive interpretive trends in most of the people I know who cite him with approval. Modern biblical scholarship of the 20th century (and the latter half of the 19th) focused on Bible as history. Thus, the questions biblical scholars brought and solutions they offered were around sketching the history of the early Christian movement and in the development of its ideas as reflected in the various writings of the New Testament texts.  What I have heard of Borg and what I have read in those I consider his fellow travellers—Crossan, Funk, the Jesus Seminar crowd—is that they apply a hermeneutic of suspicion while they use the NT as a historical data mine. They’re certainly within their rights and privileges as NT scholars to do so; I think they go overboard and their results are skewed because they misconstrue the nature of their data-set.

When this approach passes out of scholarship into the lay realm it takes the form of this sort of narrative:  Jesus was a revolutionary (peasant or otherwise) and was both co-opted and misunderstood by the early church. Thus, to understand him and his message properly, the claims of the early church should be downplayed (or dismissed). Furthermore, potential seams or disagreements within the writings of the NT and in the apocryphal literature are extrapolated into full-blown incarnate communities. The narrative of the formation of the canon of the NT and the emergence of the early church into public view in the 4th century, therefore, is of a supressive and repressive faction that becomes “orthodoxy” by getting rid of all other claimants (particularly the more diverse sorts!). In some variants of this narrative, Constantine is invoked as the one who declares Jesus divine in a complete departure from the peasant revolutionary who kicked off the original Jesus movement.

When this narrative is imported into congregations as theology, the result is a semi- to fully-Arian christology (one that considers Jesus as an exemplary person and teacher, but not a divine being) and a generally anti-orthodox approach that sees the early church and its councils as repressive agents of Empire.

A central problem is that, in our churches, this narrative and its resulting theology is seen as the only alternative to fundamentalism.

And it’s not.

I’m not a fundamentalist; I don’t read the Bible like a fundamentalist. I read it as a poetry of God’s presence and, in doing so, I read it in the company of the early church. I don’t read the Bible as a dead historical site to be excavated for its ideas, but as a living city that invites us to both imagine and live the world that God imagines.

So—I need to read some more Borg. I realize that I tend to respond to something of a caricature of his thought; I’d like to be able to be more fair to him and to be able to speak to what he does say rather than what I hear others report him to have said.

Posted in Church History, Scripture | 13 Comments