Prayer As Action: A Day Of Prayer For Syria

Near Aleppo International Airport, May 2013

Near Aleppo International Airport, May 2013

I’m writing today on the international day of prayer for Syria, called by Pope Francis and answered by Christian leaders around the world, including Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I.  The current news in Syria has focussed on chemical weapons attacks, which cause a particularly heinous kind of suffering for any affected by them.  These attacks, though, are only the most recent atrocities in years of increasingly steady fighting – fighting between the government and rebels of varying origins and loyalties.  Throughout the fighting, though, thousands upon thousands of unarmed civilians have been caught in the crossfire or intentionally slaughtered. Continue reading

The Sentinels Of An Epoch

Kirche San Romerio

As an American who’s used to seeing dilapidated ‘historic sites’ no older than four hundred years old, I dream of visiting the numerous thousand-plus year old sites of Europe still standing and often functioning in the capacity for which they were built.  And so many of Europe’s historic sites are cathedrals, parish churches, and monasteries.  A quick image search of historic churches of Europe will yield an amazing amount of breathtaking examples of Celtic/English, Frankish/Norman, Greek, Italian, Kievan/Russian, Kartvelian, and Scandinavian Christian architecture, some dating from the fourth century.  At the center of nearly every ancient or medieval town across Europe stands one of these jewels.  A note on a compilation of historic European churches by the Huffington Post quipped, “Churches seem to be nearly as abundant in Europe as drugstores are in Manhattan.”  A comparison like that once again highlights the obvious difference in the scenery of America and Europe. Continue reading

Be Adjectival

Hiking Trail

The older I get, the more I come to appreciate the character of each season of the year and what each has to offer.  The beginnings of the seasons in particular, when the last season is only just behind us and the new is only just asserting itself, are full of new beauty.  This Spring already is offering up glorious assertions of its presence.  You can become captured in one of these assertive moments at unexpected times and almost anywhere, but sometimes I like to put myself in places where people haven’t asserted themselves on nature so much, and thus increase my chances that nature and her season can assert themselves on me.  I just returned from a trip where I did some hiking in hopes of just such an encounter with Spring. Continue reading

Two Hymns For Lent

Sackville College, East Grinstead - where J.M. Neale lived and did most of his writing.

Sackville College, East Grinstead – where John Mason Neale lived and did most of his writing.

The Church year is centered around Jesus and the redemptive story of his life, death, and resurrection. The Scriptures read in the Liturgy, the various prayers, and also the songs and hymns that are sung all correspond to the seasons of the year, and the seasons themselves correspond to events or periods in the life of Jesus. The season of Lent takes the Church with Jesus both into the desert where he fasted for forty days and also on his last journey to Jerusalem (and ultimately to the cross and his glorious resurrection). Several themes and lessons of the Lenten season are emphasized in the Liturgy, but two of the most prominent are repentance and spiritual struggle. Continue reading

According To The Whole – Epilogue: The Faith Of Monoliths

Ayers Rock

See Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

I have a feeling that many of us, myself included, have a habit of thinking of God as a sort of monolith. (You know monoliths – giant, solid rocks of a single, undivided nature). C.S. Lewis remarked in Letters To Malcolm that in the mind, the stand-in for God is often something like a bright mist, and to this monolithic bright mist I assign monolithic superlatives: God is Great; God is Light; God is Love. The list of superlatives may go on and on, but each superlative is rock-solid, existing forever, like the faces on Mt. Rushmore or the facets on a diamond. This makes defining and relating to the “God” in my mind much easier, as long as the integrity of the superlatives remains intact. Continue reading

Christmastide – The Beginning of the Way

winter light

The season of Advent, I believe, is beginning to grow in the popular Christian consciousness in America.  More and more resources are being made available for observing Advent – or at least I’m finding more and more – , and I’ve been seeing a rise in individuals and churches using social media to [sometimes not so] gently remind the cultures around them that it’s not Christmas ’till it’s Christmas.  Whether from a renewed interest in returning to or rediscovering the ancient and venerable rhythms and way of life for scores of Christians before them, or as an intentional act of resistance in the face of obscene consumerism and “seasonal” marketeering, people have been observing Advent, not Christmas, during Advent.  And as you know when you wait for something good, it’s much better than it would have been if you had snatched it before its time came.  And so it is with waiting for Christmas. Continue reading

Injury, Filth, And Transgression

Return of the Prodigal Son - Rembrandt

The parable of the prodigal son contains depths of wisdom and profundity which, in all likelihood, I will never attain in this life.  Twenty centuries of reflection on this story have greatly profited the Church, and I recommend reading the Saints and Divines for their illumined teaching on it.  I would, however, like to offer my own reflection, not as a supplement to anything lacking in the tradition of the parable’s interpretation, but merely as a (rather impromptu) observation of how I see it speaking into a recurring experience in my own life. Continue reading

To Make The Plebs Sancta Dei

People receiving the Eucharist in Bibiclat, Philippines on the feast of St. John the Baptist

When I first turned to take account of the sprawling landscape of Christian tradition which lay just behind me but of which I had never known, I had a certain sense of alarm, like discovering suddenly I was standing on the edge of a cliff.  The shear size of the landscape spreading out over time and space and encompassing all sorts and conditions of people and places affected my soul, and it changed my whole perspective.  And time and time again, I found, as I read about our Christian ancestors, that the center of their life in God and with each other was what I had grown up calling the Lord’s Supper, though it has more often throughout history been called the Eucharist (Thanksgiving). Continue reading

According To The Whole – Part 4: The Next Step

In this series, According To The Whole, a major theme has been the unity of Christians, the theme of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 “that they may all be one.” If you’ve followed it from Part 1, you’ll recall that my jump-off point was a critique of that hazy, undefined trend among Western Christians called non-denominationalism and how it fails to unify anyone. I introduced the term catholic as a second-century (maybe first-century) description of the universally unified Church, which simply means “according to the whole” ( kata (according to) + holos (the whole) ). That term does not exclusively mean “Roman Catholic,” and that’s not how it’s used here. Continue reading

The Days Are Passing; Do Not Put Off Repentance

As I was growing up, I was taught that because of my own free will, I was responsible for my sins, and that these sins separated me from God.  Though I could never do anything to fix my sins or carry myself back across the chasm I’d put between myself and God, Jesus, through means I could never articulate, has bridged the gap between myself and God and put away all my sins.  All I had to do to accept this gift was to ask that Jesus apply it to me; through a sincere, contrite prayer offered to Jesus, I had to ask that he forgive me of my sins and live in me, so as to assure my salvation forever. Continue reading

To Lay Down Arms

“Now the proper good of a creature is to surrender itself to its Creator—to enact intellectually, volitionally, and emotionally, that relationship which is given in the mere fact of its being a creature. When it does so, it is good and happy. Lest we should think this a hardship, this kind of good begins on a level far above the creatures, for God Himself, as Son, from all eternity renders back to God as Father by filial obedience the being which the Father by paternal love eternally generates in the Son. This is the pattern which man was made to imitate—which Paradisal man did imitate—and wherever the will conferred by the Creator is thus perfectly offered back in delighted and delighting obedience by the creature, there, most undoubtedly, is Heaven …. In the world as we now know it, the problem is how to recover this self-surrender. We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved: we are, as Newman said, rebels who must lay down our arms. Continue reading

According To The Whole – Part 3: A Change In Orientation

In Part 1 of this series I looked at the relatively recent phenomenon of churches who claim no particular creed and hold no allegiance to a particular denomination. They are known as “non-denominational” churches, and their preaching, worship, and even organizational structure are all unbound by any traditional parameters. I noted that even many of the churches within mainline denominations are loosening their external denominational identities in favor of appearing more non-denominational. The great apologetic of the non-denom church is: We’re just christians1. And that’s a powerful apologetic to thousands of Christians in the U.S. and elsewhere who grew up in the sleepy old denominations of their grandparents – denominations that were segregated from the others because of mysterious, ancestral disagreements about faith and practice. Continue reading

The Limits of Love

What are the limits of love?  The phrase “I love you” is one of the most ubiquitous and inescapable phrases in the English language.  I’m sure its counterpart phrases are almost equally ubiquitous in other languages.  I doubt you’ve never heard the phrase or spoken it yourself.  But what does it mean?  Fifteen seconds’ thought reveals that we don’t know what it means.  Or maybe we know parts of what it means but are unable to articulate in one succinct explanation the full gamut of the ramifications that come from uttering the words “I love you” to another person.  And I am talking about those words applying to another person, and not just a thing.  I can say I love my can opener, but this is necessarily an objective (in the grammatical sense) love, since there’s no chance of reciprocity of love with an object.  The distinction between subject and object when it comes to love is important, but I think we regularly confuse the two in our love of both people and things. Continue reading

The Fog of Despair

It’s exactly eleven days since I was ordained as a deacon in the service of The Church of the Advent in Atlanta, GA, under the Bishop of the Diocese of the South, within the Province of the Anglican Church in North America, a part of the global Anglican Communion. Today I spoke (as if into the Void, only partly as a prayer) something to the effect of, “If angels who stood in the very presence of God could rebel, how then am I, who cannot see God with my eyes, supposed to faithfully walk the path of trust and submission without being overthrown by the multitude of distractions, temptations, passions, and hindrances I’ll undoubtedly encounter? How is it reasonable to expect me to carry on tirelessly the endless process of becoming divine [that is, partaking of the divine nature — 2 Peter 1:3-8] when the very opposite of that feels so much more natural. Why was I not created differently, so that becoming divine felt natural? Why was everything not created differently so that sin never occurred? And if that’s to be the reality in the New Creation when people are to experience God’s presence directly, then, again, how could angels attending the throne of God rebel?” Continue reading

According To The Whole – Part 2: Distinction And Dislocation

Before getting into this post, I want to interject this disclaimer. This series on the faith “according to the whole” is a product of my ongoing labor to better understand the nature and significance of the Church. The impetus behind this labor was my realization that there is much more to the Church (its history, practices, and even its own founding understanding of itself) than I had been aware of most of my life. My awakening to this reality put me on a road to learning as much as I can about the Church, a pursuit that has changed and continues to change my perspective on both the nature and significance of the society for which the New Testament writers used names like Body of Christ, Bride of Christ, and House of God. I don’t aim to lay out all my thoughts about this here, but rather I want to present some information and some basic principles that I think are pertinent to American protestants with similar backgrounds to my own. I want to do this in a spirit of camaraderie, not pompousness or pretentiousness, acknowledging my own limited education and experience. So I submit these thoughts, aware of the disunity of Christians of God and of the various ecclesiological perspectives out there, not to present a systematic plan for unity, but just to diagnose part of the problem … and hopefully to give a nudge in a better direction.  Continue reading

Irony And Paradox

I love looking at life, nature, and reality through different lenses from time to time.  If you pick an idea, a “meta-concept,” to look through, you can be amazed at the colors it brings out all around you.  For example, irony and paradox are good meta-concepts.  David Wright, a Fellow at the CIRCE Institute, spoke on these ideas this past February at the (St. John) Climacus Conference in Louisville, KY.  Here’s an excerpt from his opening remarks. Continue reading

Faith And Sight

Today is the 4th of July, the 235th birthday of our nation, as it were.  I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be doing yet, but I anticipate various grilled and delicious foods, a lot of relaxing, and hopefully some illegal fireworks.  Among our current Federal holidays, Independence Day is one of the more straightforward and worthy of the days to close our banks and post offices, I think (Washington’s b-day, Labor Day, and Columbus Day I have my reservations about).  The beginning of a nation, especially one founded on a set of principles and not merely geography or a distinct racial identity, is monumental.  It’s even more so when that beginning is intrinsically bound with the ending of its prior identity as a set of colonies belonging to another nation, hence Independence Day.  Though we often memorialize that set of principles on the 4th as the basis for declaring independence, the holiday is primarily for celebrating the reality of independence itself.  Since independence is a reality, a definite and verifiable situation or condition, and if it were not always so, it must logically have an origin or starting point.  I think it’s interesting that we commemorate that starting point on the anniversary of the ratifying of the Declaration of Independence. Continue reading

Reflection On Lent And Pascha

After observing Lent, and especially the last days of Holy Week, it’s absolutely amazing how exciting the arrival of Easter is. At The Advent, we had a service every night of Holy Week, including a vigil at 11:30 Saturday night in order to celebrate the Resurrection literally first thing in the morning. By the time of our vigil, the mounting anticipation was intense. I was weary from fasting and annoyed at my own shortcomings that the fast had revealed. The powerful Good Friday service the day before had forced me to experience our Lord’s death in new ways. The fact that Saturday itself is part of Holy Week — the fact that I had to observe it too, to think about Jesus’ cold body lying in the dark on a slab, me hiding uncomfortably with the scattered disciples — made me want to jump ahead to the resurrection I knew about from history. The emotions that kept bubbling up didn’t match my circumstances, like when a sad dream affects the tone of the next day. Continue reading

Good Friday

The horrors of the scourging and crucifixion of Jesus, had we the eyes to see them, would undoubtedly haunt us for our entire lives.  Every year on the Friday before Easter, Christians try to have the eyes to see that horror.  Good Friday is the day “to know nothing … but Christ and him crucified.”  Because reconciliation with our loving maker came at the greatest cost imaginable, the Church unites in the personal work of trying to feel that pain as acutely as possible.  We visualize the scenes from the accounts we have — the trail, beating, mocking, and crucifixion of Jesus.  We don’t eat much food, because, since we’ve put ourselves there in Israel on that day, we wouldn’t desire food anyway.  While full time ministers and monastics are more fully able to enact their own presence at and participation in the events of that day in the early 30’s A.D., the rest of us have to try while we’re at work or otherwise interacting with a thoroughly secular world that can’t grasp what this day is. Continue reading

According To The Whole – Part 1: The Phenomenon of Non-Denom

… that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you — that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.      -John 17:21

I was talking with a friend the other day about his church and about how he helps out with the youth program there. He told me about a recent weekend event where the kids had several opportunities to worship in a group setting, and about how enthusiastically they sang and worshiped. He contrasted the enthusiasm of the kids with some older, stodgy churchgoers he’d experienced, noting that there weren’t many of those at his church. And he went on to tell me that though his church has “Baptist” on its sign, in many respects, “It doesn’t look like your typical Baptist church.” By typical, he of course meant that, at least in generations past, most all Baptist churches, or any churches of a particular denomination, all looked alike. This led us to talk about the phenomenon of non-denominationalism, and about how many churches belonging even to the mainline denominations are beginning to hold on less tightly to their denominational identities and distinctives. In fact, my friend disclosed that he would just prefer we do away with all the denominations and titles and just be Christians. I agreed (with a caveat), lamenting that denominationalism is a blight on Christianity. Continue reading