Brief Random Thought

I think I’ve thought this out loud before, but it’s worth saying and pondering again…

We have to recognize the reality that the church in America finds itself in.

At the same time that mainline membership is dropping, we get the attendance anomaly reading between the lines of the last big Pew Research study.

  • Only 33% of mainline Christians say that they attend church weekly. But…
  • 54% of mainline Christians say they pray daily and, if you add in those who pray weekly (23%), you get 78%.

Let’s face it—we all know people who are turned off by organized religion. I know people who say they are Christians yet don’t darken church doors because the services don’t occur at convenient times, they feel that people would judge them, or because they feel unworthy/guilty (thinking particularly of some veterans I know). While I’m firmly in the camp that says that Christianity is a team sport and we need to gather together for important spiritual and theological reasons, we also have to ask ourselves about the pastoral and spiritual care of Christian non-attenders.

What can or should churches/dioceses/denominations/people who care/etc. be doing to extend resources to people who want and need them? How do we enable daily prayer or prayer practices to touch, inform, and form non-attending Christians? Sure, it’s be great if they also joined themselves to communities—but if they continue to choose not to, how do we nurture even a nebulous kind of community to support their faith?

Posted in Evangelism, Formation | 2 Comments

Counting Christians

Bishop Martins has a good post up on Covenant about ecclesiometry: how we count the people in churches and what these mean for us as a church. Do read his article as he makes several good points about why and how we measure.

A central point that he makes is that we have to wrestle with the new realities of a post-Constantinian age. That is, in previous decades, we could assume that most of the people we were working with were baptized believers who knew the Christian story and what we were doing was inviting them into our version. That will no longer be the case in a post-Constantinian world and, as a result, a crucial metric will be adult baptisms.

I totally agree with that.

That having been said, I’ve been thinking something slightly different around this same issue… I completely agree with the ideas around the post-Constantinian age and also about the criticality of adult baptism—no argument at all from me on those points.

However, I don’t think we’re there yet. We’re on the cusp of a post-Constantinian age and not yet fully inhabiting it. Instead, I’d suggest that before we come to a true post-Constantinianism, we are currently inhabiting—and have been for the past couple of decades—an intense reshuffling of American Christianity in a Church Marketplace. Denominational loyalty used to be a real thing: you were what your family was. With the collapse of grand narratives and joining patterns, that paradigm fell apart.

The biggest movement was, of course, out altogether. Having less social pressure to stay in churches, many people left. Some, because they never really believed to begin with and felt more comfortable saying that; others, because they had other commitments, other demands, and church didn’t seem that valuable.

I’d argue that the other important movement besides the movement out was the movement across: the reshuffling of people into other denominations based on preference or fit. And, given the heavily political polarization of American Christianity since the rise of the Religious Right in the ’80s, those decisions have been as much political as theological.

I’d love to know if we have been keeping records on receiving and confirming people into the Episcopal Church.

Both M and I were received and from different church bodies at that. Many of my IRL and online Episcopal friends also came from somewhere else. Many are former Roman Catholics who came to a place where women could be ordained; others were Evangelicals or Fundamentalists who came to a place where their sexual orientation was not a matter of continual attack.

The combination of these two movements—movements out and movements across—I imagine that at this point we have the lowest percentage of Cradle Episcopalians (i.e., adult members raised from childhood in the Episcopal Church) that we have ever had.

This matters in a lot of different ways. In the context of ecclesiometrics, it means another important stat to keep our eye on. But—perhaps just as or more important—this feeds into the current identity crisis and the anxiety of identity that I contend is driving so many of our contentious issues right now including the debates around Communion Before Baptism and Prayer Book Revision.

Posted in Anglican, Community, Evangelism, Formation | 5 Comments

For Fear of Fundamentalists

There is a piece from Newsweek on the accuracy of Scripture that is making the rounds. I’ll not link to it here because it needs a bit of prefacing.

It’s quite inaccurate. As I commented on a Facebook link to it, “I find this a very biased article full of mischaracterizations and rhetorically augmented half-truths. And as a biblical scholar who’s focused on interpretation in Late Antiquity and the Early Medieval period, I do know what I’m talking about.”

But here’s the problem—there are a lot of people in our churches who don’t have the benefit of the background, education, and research that I do. Furthermore, the article positions itself within an increasingly common and dangerous rhetorical dichotomy. That is, it starts off by portraying a stereotype of malicious and fraudulent Conservative Evangelicals (who are also political opponents) as people who take Scripture literally. What follows, then, is a take-down of Scripture performed as a strategy to undercut these political enemies.  The problem is that Christians who see themselves as neither Conservatives nor Evangelicals find themselves in the position of agreeing with the article because they know they are not the sort of Christians who do what those other people do.

It’s a totally false dichotomy: don’t fall for it.

I’m not a Conservative Evangelical, myself. My primary issue with them is not the base text they use (the Scriptures) but rather bad interpretive choices that are internally inconsistent and unmoored from the historical bases of the Scriptural text and the community norms by which the Church has read and wrestled with the text through the centuries. That’s what deserves a take-down, not the Scriptures.

In the author’s opposition to Conservative Evangelicals, however, a series of half-truths and falsehoods are liberally sprinkled about in such away that non-Conservative Evangelicals who have not been taught Church History can easily be swayed by them.

I do not have to time to conduct a point-by-point refutation—which I realize is kind of a shame because it desperately needs one. What I can do, though, is offer is a few basic guiding points that must be remembered when people spout off about Church History and the Scriptures:

  • The Church is an organic body that connects from the first followers of Jesus—the disciples and apostles—to the present day. Yes, there has been some drift across the centuries, but the organic continuity here of the Church catholic and orthodox is an important touchstone through time.
  • The Church existed before “the Bible” did. It was a community formed around the experience of God-in-our-midst: the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the empowering of the community by the Spirit. Yes, they relied on the Bible—the Hebrew Scriptures typically encountered through the Greek Septuagint—but understood certain parts of that message to be superseded or clarified by what they had and were experiencing.
  • The Church produced the New Testament. Not the other way around.
  • Our methods for dating the books of the New Testament suck. Hard. There is little internal or external evidence to go on meaning that many of the dates you commonly see are well-established supposition.
    • There is external evidence putting Paul’s writings in the neighborhood of 51 AD. The slight differences between the Little Apocalypses in the Synoptic Gospels are used for dating them based on the assumption that they are not recording the actual words of Jesus but, instead, are narrating how the Roman advance on the Temple in 70 AD is going. Hence, Mark (the demonstrably earliest of the canonical Synoptics) is usually pegged at 70 (before the actual fall) and Matthew/Luke are after 70 (after the destruction).
  • However, Paul’s letters argue very strongly against the philosophical construct that anything with a High Christology (i.e., John, Hebrews) must be late and written at some point in the second century.
  • Quotations from the Apostolic Fathers—some of whom we can date internally and externally—make it far more likely that all of the books of the New Testament were written within the first century.
  •  By the year 200, there was general consensus across the Mediterranean Christian world that the Church recognized the four canonical gospels (and only these), the letters of Paul, and most of the General Epistles. Some books like Hebrews, James, Revelation, and 2-3 John would continue to be argued over into the fourth century.
  • Irenaeus, writing in the 160-70 range, who tells us that he saw Polycarp (not clear if Irenaeus learned from Polycarp or not…) whose teacher was John (i.e., Irenaeus was just one step away from the apostles) clarifies that the faith of the Church is built on three things: the canon (reading the books in church that the Church agrees on), the creed (the basic rule of faith by which and in accordance with the canon is read), and the apostolic succession (the organic continuity of teachers who know what the hell they’re talking about because they heard it from people who went back to the apostles).
    • canon: “Now, that the preaching of the apostles, the authoritative teaching of the Lord, the announcements of the prophets, the dictated utterances of the apostles, and the ministration of the law— all of which praise one and the same Being, the God and Father of all, and not many diverse beings, nor one deriving his substance from different gods or powers, but [declare] that all things [were formed] by one and the same Father (who nevertheless adapts [His works] to the natures and tendencies of the materials dealt with), things visible and invisible, and, in short, all things that have been made [were created] neither by angels, nor by any other power, but by God alone, the Father— are all in harmony with our statements, has, I think, been sufficiently proved, while by these weighty arguments it has been shown that there is but one God, the Maker of all things.” Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. II.35.4. (He was arguing against folks who thought there were multiple gods; chiefly that the OT god was an evil demiurge…)
    • creed: “The Church, though dispersed through out the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father to gather all things in one, [Ephesians 1:10] and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess [Philippians 2:10-11] to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send spiritual wickednesses, [Ephesians 6:12] and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.” Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. I.10.1.
    • apostolic succession: “The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome dispatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, proclaiming the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spoke with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels. From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood, and who conjure into existence another god beyond the Creator and the Maker of all existing things. To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Soter having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.” Irenaeus, Adv. Haer III.3.3.
  • If you bothered to read that middle one it’ll be painfully clear that the notion that Constantine “created” the idea of Jesus as God is total BS as Irenaeus was writing this 150 or so years before the first Ecumenical Council.
  • Ditto on the notion that Constantine “created” the New Testament canon. Constantine did order 50 nice copies of the Scriptures to be made, but this neither created nor closed discussion on the content and order of the New Testament canon.
  • On the “errors” in the transmission of Scripture, yes, there are lots and lots of scribal errors. But most of them are errors like substituting “me” where it ought to be “I”—i.e., minor grammatical errors. Substantive content errors, not so much. We know this, because dozens of German scholars dedicated their scholarly lives to matching up thousands of fragments and manuscripts in order to see where the differences between them all were and it is from these that we get a critical eclectic text from which our modern Bibles are translated. So, yes, many scribes messed up, but since they all don’t mess up in the same way, we can compare the hundreds of ancient witnesses and figure out what the text ought to have been.
  • Similarly while some gleefully point out that the Trinitarian addition in 1 John is a  late addition to the text and extrapolate that to say that all such Trinitarian additions must be equally late totally gloss the fact that Matthew’s ending (Matthew 28:19: “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”) is thoroughly Trinitarian and is lacking in no textual witnesses.

In short, a living organic body—the Church—produced the New Testament, established agreements on how it ought to be read, and passed that knowledge along through teachers. Once the relatively disconnected Christian communities could openly talk together and gather after Constantine’s legalization of the faith, they did get together and Constantine had a vested interest in unity. However, that does not mean that he created or thought up the unity. The idea of the Trinity is found in the Scriptures; and early Christians talked about Jesus as God a long time before Constantine. Yes, the Bible was hand-copied, but that does not mean that its text—especially as reconstructed by scholars working with massive amounts of evidence—is corrupt and unreliable for the teaching and purposes of the Church.

Please—learn your Christian history and biblical basics from somewhere other than Newsweek!!

(And if you absolutely must, here’s the offending article…)

 

Posted in Church History, Patristics, rant, Scripture | 4 Comments

On Language for the Liturgy, II

One of the issues that’s on the table when it comes to liturgy is the balance between poetry and prose. These two are not discrete things that stand apart from one another but, rather, describe two points on a spectrum of language use. On the prose end, the language ought to be clear, direct, and unmistakable. On the poetic end, language should be allusive/elusive and multivalent. Neither option is “good” or “bad”; instead, they serve different functions for different purposes. As a result, every piece of writing can fall somewhere on the spectrum between poetry and prose, some being more on one side of the spectrum than another.

Placing things on the spectrum is a matter of analyzing a number of qualities in a composition. Poetry tends to use ornamented language, elevated diction, archaic or antiquated language or constructions, and figures of thought and speech. Figures of speech include the subcategory of aural figures that most people commonly associate with the purer forms of poetry: alliteration (matching initial sounds), assonance (matching internal sounds), rhyme (matching ending sounds), and cadence (if it has a regular and/or repetitive flow).  A chief function of poetry is to communicate mood, feeling, or expression. Prose at its most prosaic is simple, clear, and direct. A chief function of prose is the communication of data or information. Most forms of writing that modern Westerners encounter tend to be prose or to be on the prose side of the spectrum; we tend to read more for information. However, even basic prose usually has some ornaments to spice it up and make it a bit more interesting.

Out of all of these various characteristics of both prose and poetry, I want to focus us on one in particular: valence. That is, how wide is the range of meanings that a word/phrase/sentence/paragraph can contain without the interpretation becoming strained or overtly non-literal? Another way to say this could be, where does the interpretive work fall? Is it on the part of the author and the text to communicate meaning and to make it clear or is it more on the part of the reader to interpret and find the possibilities inherent in the text?

Valence becomes particularly important when we talk about things like genre (what kind of writing it is) or purpose. Generally speaking, I’m a guy who loves poetry—but I have absolutely no tolerance for it in things like recipes or route directions! I don’t want to have to interpret how much salt I should put in a recipe: I vastly prefer “a teaspoon” to “a moonbeam’s worth.”  However, when I’m reading something that is designed to make me think, to make me reconsider how and why I live, to make me see the possibility in the worlds around me, I crave multivalent language, language that can mean many different things at once. Part of the fun of reading good writing is playing within the act of interpretation and teasing out the possibilities that fill the words and grammar.

So—to approach more closely to the topic at hand, how do we like our religious writing? Because I’m a guy who likes to think in poetry, I want the sermons I hear to have a good amount of the poetic within them. I don’t want them to be too flowery to the point where I have to do all of the interpretive work, but I’d rather have it make me think and consider than be too heavily on the prose side. Other people I know are the opposite. They ask for something different from sermons: cut the crap, tell me what to do. I think my brother is much more this way. And, for that reason, I see this to be—at least in part—a matter of hard-wiring. Some people prefer the more poetic, some the more prosaic. It’s not a value judgement, it’s human difference.

So—what about the liturgy? Where should it fall on the spectrum?

I think that this is one of the arguments that we are having but don’t stop to realize it, consider it, or properly ponder the implications.

As I see it, hear it, and feel it, a hallmark of classical Anglican liturgy is a high degree of poetry. The sound of it is important, the cadences, the assonance, the way words and sounds play off one another, the way the liturgy plays hide-and-seek with the words, meanings, and intentions of Scripture (particularly King James Scripture—a version where the translators were also poets and read it aloud amongst themselves before approving it.) The choice of diction, the vocabulary used is elevated. The language of both the King James Version and the prayer book betrayed some archaic qualities even in the time when they were written. Certainly for the KJV, this is due in some measure to the Tyndale and Lollard versions of the English that the translators looked back upon as they went about their work. The ’79 prayer book’s Rite I feels inherently more poetic to my modern ears precisely because of its archaic character and intentionally elevated diction (paging “inestimable” and “bewail!”)

But it’s not just sound and grammar, either. Consider the kinds of figures of thought that appear: Surely it is no accident that the Morning Prayer confession mentions that “we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep” in a prayer that appears just before the invitatory psalm where we recall that “he is the Lord our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand (Venite)” or “we are his people and the sheep of his pasture (Jubilate).”

Alright—so that’s my contention, that classical Anglican liturgy falls very much on the poetic end of the scale. So, what does that have to do with the present situation and discussion of revision and of the best kinds of language to use in the liturgy?

My own feeling is that one of the arguments that we’re not necessarily aware that we’re having is between those who want a more prosaic, didactic liturgy and between those who want a more poetic liturgy. Those who want to use the liturgy to convey information to be a teaching tool are going to want it more directly communicative and less multivalent. Those who want the liturgy to convey an elevated presence and experience of the mysteries of God are going to want it to be more ornamented and poetic. (This is not and probably shouldn’t be a strict either/or; like the poetic-prosaic spectrum there’s probably a spectrum here too…but I think there are definitely sides and preferences tending in these two directions.)

What should the liturgy be?

For my part, I’ll go back to Scripture to take my lead. Again, there’s a balance of poetry and prose in the pages of Scripture—Genesis and Acts, more prosey; Song of Songs and Revelation, more poetry. But I find our true paradigm in the Psalms. And I have in the past and will in the future make the argument that the Psalter is the first and truest language that the Church chose for Christian spirituality. The Psalms are poetry. The Psalms—given their central place in the Daily Office—have served as the guides for Anglican liturgy for centuries.

If revision happens, if the language of our liturgy changes, we must retain the poetic mode: this is the past, present, and future of Anglican liturgy and we risk altering the linguistic and spiritual balance at our peril.

Posted in Anglican, Liturgy | Tagged | 4 Comments

On Language for the Liturgy, I

There has been a certain amount of discussion in various Facebook groups about revisions to the prayer book. I include here the obligatory reminder that the Episcopal Church is not currently in the process of revising the BCP, there is merely discussion over the possibility of revision…

That having been said, one of the issues that has popped up several times is about the issue of language, specifically, the use of the English language in the prayer book and what constitutes “language understood by the people.”

When these discussions break out, it seems to me that several arguments are going on and within some of these arguments some important distinctions are being either conflated or being ignored altogether.

One of the discussions involves levels of literacy. To what degree should the English used in the liturgy be intelligible to people of various degrees of literacy? What happens when a multisyllabic or difficult vocabulary word appears in a liturgical text? A fine example here would be one of my favorite words in the Rite I General Thanksgiving: “inestimable.” This is a long word that some people do not know and that people with limited English literacy (children, non-native speakers) might have trouble with. The framers of Rite II weighed in by altering it to “immeasurable.” It’s still just as long, but has a more common and easily understood root (measure). To clarify, what is at issue in this kind of argument is literal comprehensibility.

A second discussion involves technical terms. There is a distinct science of Christian theology. Like any other science, it uses technical terms in order to apply linguistic precision to its discussions. Words like “consubstantiation,” “perichoretic,” or “eschatological” or a phrase like “prevenient grace” are examples of technical terms. Generally speaking, these words are not largely used outside of Christian or religious discourse.

A third discussion involves “terms of art,” a phrase that can shade into the word “jargon” used in a technical rather than pejorative sense. A term of art is a word that is used within the wider language but that has a specific and more closely circumscribed meaning when used by a particular field, discipline, or community. An example would be the word “cult.” In standard English, a cult is a negative term to speak about a small religious movement characterized by manipulation and a leader who demands total obedience, often for nefarious ends. When used by scholars of religion, though, “cult” simply refers to the worship practices of a group or worship towards a particular deity; it has no negative meaning. Or, to come closer to the topic at hand, people in the church will refer to a wafer as a “host.” While this word has a given meaning in standard English, its church use differs from the standard usage.

Most of the discussions about language are imprecise arguments around whether Christian liturgy ought to use technical terms or terms of art. Often this is couched in the language of hospitality and inclusion: is it exclusive to use language that non-Christians will not understand?

A key problem here is how we define “standard” English and how we identify when a given term become unintelligible. For instance, I have heard arguments that words like “redemption,” “repentance,” “forgiveness,” “sin,” and “salvation” are insider words that the church needs to avoid. I’m constantly confused by this because I hear these words plenty in popular American music. Can you really make the argument that a word is not understood by regular speakers when it shows up frequently in pop music or mainstream rock? The only way this argument makes sense to me is if you posit—and can demonstrate—that the meaning between a “popular” use and “church” use has drifted so far that the one is unintelligible to the other.

Far more frequently, I think something else is at work here especially as it tends to pop up around works like “sin” and “sacrifice.” These words have a meaning, and it is flavored by centuries of use within the church. When church people suggest that they are unintelligible and exclusive to non-church people, I wonder if the meaning is not clear or if they don’t like the meaning that the term currently has. I wonder if a desire for new language is an attempt to make an aspect of the faith more palatable to the church people who take issue with a term.

Bottom line: if you take issue with the use of the word “sin” in the liturgy, your root problem may not be that visitors can’t understand it…

There’s more to be said about this topic, though, especially around what kind of language liturgies can or ought to be written in. I’ll get around to those shortly.

 

Posted in Anglican, Liturgy | Tagged | 9 Comments

Modern Myths

Continuing the thoughts on engaging a secularized society from the previous post but one, I approach the issue of a secular age from a slightly different direction. Rather than starting from secularity, I start by looking for myth and go from there. If the principal tenet of 20th century secularity thought is that a grown-up society doesn’t need myths and superstitions, then it seems to me that modern society has decisively proven this to be false. The chief refutation is the veritable explosion of the genres of speculative fiction in the past century, and in particular in pop culture in the last fifty or so years.

Speculative fiction is the formal label for genres like Science Fiction, Fantasy, and various blendings of the two.

Once considered the provenance of nerds, geeks, and misfits, the American Entertainment juggernaut has moved them mainstream over the last half century. Whether they have created a market or found one is, no doubt, a matter for debate, that it has become so is not really up for debate. Think about it: Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, the Marvel universe, the DC universe, Dr. Who, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Game of Thrones—the list can go on as these are only some of the major players in America… The embrace of these myth cycles and the obsession of their respective fandoms is telling.

Humans need myth. We need stories that speak to our deep desires around power, around what makes us human, around the true nature of reality and how that truth confirms, denies, or transcends our quotidian experience of the material world.

I’d even go a step further and suggest that these various modern myth cycles have a built-in liturgical component. If we understand liturgy in its broadest possible terms—an engaging experience where we are intellectually and emotionally connected with the myth and its thought world—then the movies, video games, and tv shows that transmit these (even moreso than the books or graphic novels from which they may have been born) should be seen as the liturgical underpinnings of these modern myths.

Now—there are a whole lot of directions we could go in from here. However, let me make just one point… When we consider these modern “secular” myths in relation to something like Christianity, a major distinguishing factor is that the barrier to entry and the myth’s demands on the person are much less.

By “barrier to entry” I’m referring to the faith-claim necessary; it’s much lower for these. No one asks whether Star Wars or Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings “happened,” whether they are historically true. Rational people accept that they are works of fiction—albeit ones that engage in discussion of things that can be both deep and true despite their obvious lack in the historicity department. Likewise, as in the polytheistic pluralism that marked much of the Greco-Roman world, enjoying one does not mean foreswearing all of the others.  There is less to believe, and that belief does not have to be exclusive.

Too, these various fandoms do not require the kind of personal transformation that a religion with a weighty ethical component demands of its adherents. Sure, you can choose to hold certain beliefs inculcated by the various thought-worlds, emulate the deeds of certain core characters, but nothing requires that.

As I said—much more could be and probably should be said around this topic, but this is all I have time for now. I suppose the bottom line for me is this: we may live in a modern age, but I seriously question the degree to which it is secular. We still live in a deeply mythic world because that is the nature and character of the human imagination. The question is how we use that to reflect upon, embody, and proclaim the Gospel.

Posted in Evangelism | 2 Comments

Breviary Update & A Survey

I’ve been working in fits and starts now for almost a year on new back-end code for the St. Bede’s Breviary. I do believe we’ve turned a corner and are in the final stretch. In fact, I’m hoping to be able to unveil something in time for its patronal feast on May 25th…

In addition to the new code, I’ve been considering some new approaches as well, some suggested readers in the past.

The whole reason I programmed the breviary was because I wanted something that was thoroughly faithful to the prayer book, but also allowed a host of configurations, options, and traditional add-ins. Rite I, Rite II; 8-week psalm cycle, monthly psalm cycle—it could all be accommodated with code manipulation.

I like praying from my Kindle, that’s how I do it every day. However, I know that’s not the standard; many people much prefer to pray from an actual physical book. And, I’ve had any number of people suggest that I do a physical form of the breviary.

The idea of producing a physical form of the breviary is growing on me…

However, that means making choices that I’ve been able to leave up to individuals. What I’m considering is a book where the experience of praying the Office would be just like it is in the computer form: straight text, no clicking, no flipping. The Office in an easy-to-pray format. I would include all the bells and whistles—Marian stuff, hymns, 2 readings at Evening Prayer, etc.—with reminders that people feel free to skip whatever they like.

If I were to do this, it would probably be a book for the year: I.e., “The St. Bede’s Breviary: 2017” and would contain everything for the four offices for each day of the year.

But there are three things that determine the shape of the Offices in such a way that they cannot be left optional or variable: the language of the Rite (Rite I vs. Rite II), the distribution of the Psalter (8-week vs. monthly), the kalendar (Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2006 [the official Calendar of the Episcopal Church] vs. A Great Cloud of Witnesses [an unofficial supplement available for use] vs. the House Kalendar [my own crazy concoction which is LFF+other stuff])

I simply can’t foresee creating physical formats for all of these choices. That’s simply too much work to do the formatting and editing and all for each of these. So in order to get a general sense of what thoughts are out there, here’s a brief survey on the matter…

Would you consider purchasing a physical book form of the St. Bede's Breviary?

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Which rite would you prefer the physical book to contain?

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Which psalter scheme would you prefer the book to contain?

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Which kalendar would you prefer it to use?

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Let me know what you think and we’ll see where it goes from there…

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Thinking about the Secular Age and Church Futures

One of the things I find myself thinking about more and more these days is interacting with a culture and society not engaged with the church and does not see the church as a useful source for answers (or even questions!) about ultimate meaning.

This past week I ran across an interesting DMin thesis by Jeffrey Seaton, a minister in the United Church of Canada, who did his studies at Duke. The thesis (available here) is entitled “Who’s Minding the Story?: The United Church of Canada Meets A Secular Age.” I know about the United Church of Canada, but not a whole lot; that’s ok, because he spends some time getting his readers up to speed. Essentially this union of a variety of Methodist and Reformed bodies chose to take a left-turn in the Sixties and consciously embrace both a national identity and a self-understanding rooted in social justice ministry.  I see many parallels to a large swath of the Episcopal Church in the movement that he describes. He connects a lot of the energy and ideas in this turn to the work of John A. T. Robinson (Honest to God) and Harvey Cox (The Secular City) and to some deliberate engagement the UCC conducted with some secularist thinkers at the time. All of this sounds quite familiar.

However, he finds an interesting foil to these thought patterns with Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age.

Taking lessons and categories from Taylor, he looks at two major figures in modern church growth/relevance circles in the UCC who have extended the secularizing premises in enthusiastic but different ways (think Spong-style folks and, indeed, Spong puts in a brief appearance…) , and who offer their strategies as possible futures for the UCC. And, speaking demographically, the current extrapolated future for the collapse of the UCC is just as bleak as that for the Episcopal Church—if not more so.

His fundamental critique—as I read it—is that both of these thinkers fundamentally mistake what is baby and what is bathwater in their attempt to jettison the un-useful parts of Christianity and to retain what they see as useful for a modern, secular age. In particular, both make the error of buying into the maturity model of religious development. That is, one of the ways of understanding how patterns of belief (primarily in the Western World) have changed over the centuries/millennia is to place it in parallel with how children mature intellectually into adults.  Taylor, and Seaton following Taylor, reject this notion: that religion and religious belief are a primitive, infantile stage that a “grown-up” intellectual society “out-grows.”

At the end of the work, Seaton offers a different model of engaging with secular society. Instead of—essentially—a model of capitulation to the culture shown by the two other alternatives he explores, he suggests a model of “progressive orthodoxy.” It is progressive in that it retains strong commitments to social justice work broadly understood, but orthodox in that it holds strongly to the church’s classic belief in the divinity of Jesus. It understands its social justice commitments as neither apart from or parallel with its theological beliefs, but as flowing strongly out of an orthodox understanding of both Christ and the Trinity. While the old model suggested in Cox’s Secular City saw the church as engaging in kerygma (proclamation), diakonia (service), and koinonia (modeling an alternative way of being), the model Seaton recommends adds two more factors, leitourgia (worship and sacraments) and didache (teaching discipleship according to the Way of Christ).

While the last section couldn’t go into details and left me with some unanswered questions about some specific points of engagement between the church and secular culture, I found this a fascinating read. In particular, it reminded me a a lot of the things I have heard out of the Acts 8 Movement and others like that who are committed to growth in the Episcopal Church grounded in solid creedal theology.

There’s a lot of different directions that could be gone in from  here, but—if you are interested in the church’s conversation with secular culture and the missionary enterprise, this work may give you some very interesting fodder for thought!

Posted in Evangelism, Review | 4 Comments

Writing Things Elsewhere

I came to the odd conclusion that my workout schedule has been messing with with my writing… I’ve been doing more weight-training before we head into the racing season, and have not been out on the road much. I realized the other day that my lack of writing seems to be related to a lack of running outside.  So—hopefully as I start doing more outside running that’ll translate to more writing and posting here!

However, I have been doing some writing that’s appearing in other places. I have a piece in the latest issue of The Living Church; I was invited to write a piece on prayer book revision: that can be found here.

I’ve also gotten some writing done on the next volume of the Cassiodorus project. Since the subtitle of that work is “Praying the Psalms with Cassiodorus and the Church Fathers,” I begin with a discussion of what prayer is and then move into how modern people and the Church Fathers understood prayer and the overlaps and differences between the two. The first part of that has appeared over at Grow Christians and indicates the direction I’m going in: that can be found here.

Posted in Administrative, Random | 1 Comment

Checking Things Off!

I’m slowly working my way down a list of things to get done.

I’m trying really hard to not start any new projects this year. Instead, I’m trying to finishing a bunch of things that I had started but never actually completed.

Chief among those are the Anglican Breviary project and the upgrade to the breviary which I started on but got stuck in the middle.

An important part of deciding what to do is also deciding what not to do. The Anglican Breviary domain is expiring, and I’m trying to make the decision whether to renew that and continue that project in the way I had been, or to move it into a different space. We’ll see… I’m also still paying for the podcast service even though I haven’t been actively podcasting for a while. As much as I enjoyed that project, I don’t know if it’s worth continuing in its current incarnation. It served a particular role in my research for the Cassiodorus books. With the first volume done, I’m evaluating whether it’s an effective use of time.

Posted in Administrative, Random | 4 Comments