Monthly Archives: March 2008

Spider-bite Update

Well, we’re hoping that the spider-bite drama is finally heading towards its conclusion. While I still have swelling in the foot, a really warm red patch where the infection is hanging out and am still going for daily IV treatments, it seems like we’ve turned a corner.

The swelling isn’t nearly as bad as it was–I can see some (ok, a little) definition in my foot now and in a strong light can see my toe tendons when I wiggle them. I continue to keep it elevated and iced and evenings can be rough. More importantly, the foot supports weight now and I can walk around without crutches. I still limp a bit, but that too isn’t as bad as it was. Most encouraging is the results of my blood-work. The doctor said it’s basically back to normal. I have an MRI tomorrow which should tell us if the infection is out of the bone. I’m hoping—and I think all of this indicates—that the infection is no longer in my bone and blood and is just in the soft-tissue of the foot.

If the doctor likes what he sees, this Friday should be my last daily IV session and I’ll be able to move to oral antibiotics!

I never thought this would take as long as it has. I’m thankful that I was in pretty good shape to start with health-wise or this would have taken even longer (or I just might not have made it those first hours in the hospital). As M keeps reminding me, caring for my health and my body is part of our responsibility to care for all of God’s creation. Because I tend toward the lean side I’ve never had to watch what I eat; that will be changing  and once the foot gets better I’ll be working on getting more aerobic exercise…

The Apostle’s Creed

No, I got the apostrophe in the right place…

We had Peter’s sermon in Acts 10 as one of the readings at Easter and I was struck by the content of his sermon. Two things in particular struck me as I heard it this time–here’s a selection of the text for reference:

10:34   And Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I perceive that God shows  no partiality,  10:35 but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is  acceptable to him.  10:36 You know the word which he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace  by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all),  10:37 the word which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from  Galilee after the baptism which John preached:  10:38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power;  how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the  devil, for God was with him.  10:39 And we are witnesses to all that he did both in the country of the Jews  and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree;  10:40 but God raised him on the third day and made him manifest;  10:41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses,  who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  10:42 And he commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that he is  the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead.  10:43 To him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in him  receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” 

My first thought is that this sounds like an early creedal statement. It’s got a number of the key elements the connection between Jesus and God, thew fullfilment of the witness of the prophets, the life of Jesus, his crucifixion, resurrection, and role at the final judgment. (We’d also been listening to this interview with Jaroslav Pelikan on the way to M’s church—so creeds were near the top of my mind…)

The second is that this sermon—and others like it—give us a fascinating glimpse into the mind of Luke because they serve as a shorthand key to how he understood and interpreted the gospel that he handed down to us. Now, you’ve got to be careful with Luke.

Of all the Gospel writers, he’s the most sophisticated in terms of Hellenistic compositional technique (yes, te others are quite sophisticated too but in different ways—Luke excells them in this department.)
 If you want an example, look at Paul’s conversion narrative in Acts: we have three accounts of it and each one has subtle but important differences from the others that help it fit the immediate context of the retelling. He does the same thing when the apostles are presenting their kerygma (the heart of their proclamation)

In any case, it’s an interesting exercise to take this summary and to use it as a lens for the Gospel, thinking asbout how the various elements present here play out in Luke’s Gospel (as opposed to the others. Just as for-instances, note the geographical references—one of the distinctive features of Luke’s narrative is the “travel section” where Luke makes a big deal of Jesus leaving Galillee and going to Jerusalem. Here in the summary you’ve got a clear sense of that movement as well. The life of Jesus (something many creeds are short on) gets an interesting summary here too with a strong connection between doing good, exorcism/healing, and freedom from demonic oppression, all of it introduced by the Holy Spirit and power.

There’s a lot more here to go after too—I’m going to have to think about this for a while. I’m sure someone has taken this tack before, using the various apostolic sermons of Acts to analyze the Gospel of Luke, but I don’t know the minutiae of Lukan secondary literature quite well enough to say who…

Maundy Thursday Vigil Devotion

I’m theoretical in charge of the vigil over the reserve sacrament between the end of the Maundy Thursday service to Good Friday’s Masses of the Pre-Sanctified at my congregation. Due to my bite I’ve mostly been writing bits for newsletters, announcements, etc. instead of doing real organizing work.

I completed my final task here at the last moment; it’s a booklet of devotions for use at the vigil. Two I borrowed with light adaptations from the St Augustine Prayer Book produced by the Order of the Holy Cross some years back. I also edited one myself out of George Herbert poems and hymns. Since, to the best of my knowledge, these are not under copyright I’ll post them here: Herbert-Hymn Devotion

I noted something interesting in the midst of preparing the other two. The St. Augustine’s Prayer Book is an Anglo-Catholic book that runs in line with current (or current then) Catholicism rather than being the medievalist sort of Anglo-Catholicism. My congregation is not Anglo-Catholic. It’s MOTR to low and very broad. The Maundy Thirsday vigil itself is perceived as being “too Catholic” in some quarters. In any case, I decided to tone down some of the elements that might scandalize and disrupt devotion should a MOTR to low parishoner read through one of these. One item I took out was a concluding prayer after intercessions that was a devotion to the Sacred Heart. I substituted instead the Prayer for All Sorts and Conditions from the BCP.  In reading through the final copy, it stood out like a sore thumb; it has a dignity, poise and spare eloquence that the surrounding prayers lacked. I’m not saying they were bad prayers or anything—I’m just saying that they weren’t the BCP. . .

Call for Papers: Daily Office Propaganda

Ok—you asked for it…

One of the purposes of this site is to advocate for liturgically grounded Christian spirituality. Being in the Anglican tradition—particularly the strand that appreciates our catholic and Benedictine roots—that means celebrating the balance of the Mass and the Office. Had I been born in an early time, I imagine I might have been an advocate for the Parish Communion movement that pushed for more common celebration of the Eucharist. I wasn’t, though. With the ’79 American BCP restoring the Eucharist as the normative Sunday liturgy, things (in the States at least) have swung the other way and many current Episcopalians—espeically those not native to the tradition—are unfamiliar with the Daily Office, what it is, and why it matters if we and our parishes do it.

In that vein, I’m inviting submissions of propaganda for the promotion of the Daily Office. I’m thinking of something basic—one page, front & back—that can be handed out, put in a tract rack, discussed, used for a Sunday School/Adult Ed class, etc.

As these come in, I’ll note them here and post them on the Promoting the Daily Office page on the side-bar to maintain a repository of possibilities for printing, replication, and use in YOUR parish.

And while I’ve thrown around the word “Anglican” a couple of times, let’s not forget that the Office belongs to the whole Church and all of the Western Christian traditions have it in their ancestry. Yes, even you Lutherans… Submissions are welcome from all!

Weekend Update (aka Big Rant on the RCL)

Here are two things not to be missed from the weekend…

First is the Lutheran Zephyr’s commentary on two postcards he received from local churches inviting him to Easter services. It seems Jesus is going 0 for 2… I understand not wanting to scare people off, but if we don’t seem to take our faith seriously, why would that inspire someone else to join us?

Second, bls points us to the fresh-out version of the RCL made suitable for your local copy of the BCP. This depresses me…

I’m not a huge fan of the RCL. In fact, I’m of the opinion that all of the “new” lectionaries since Vatican II have missed the mark because they’ve lost sight of—or chosen to ignore—the key issue of function in Mass lectionaries. Yes, it’s good that our congregants are getting more Scriptures on Sunday morning (but huge swaths are still missed—especially the more troubling, complicated, and thought-provoking sections). Yes, it’s good that denominations can share resources across traditions (but we don’t necessarily share theology across denominations and, sad to say, many clergy don’t have a strong enough sense of their own traditions to know when an otherwise good resource contradicts it).

The Mass lectionary is not supposed to be the only place where Christian people encounter Scripture. As I’ve ranted before, the Mass lectionary developed in conversation with the Office lectionary; the Office lectionary worked through the entire Bible every year while the Mass lectionary made selective engagement with the Scriptures to highlight the themes and theologies of the mysteries of redemption embodied in the Temporal cycle. We’ve lost that sense that the Mass lectionary is a pointed return to material that we already know and are re-examining from a different perspective…

The RCL is an attempt to meld the continuous reading strategy of the Office lectionaries with the selected reading strategy of the former Mass lectionaruies. It tries to be too many things and ends up—in my eyes at least—not accomplishing its goals.

One of my biggest frustrations with the scheme Church Publishing has put out is that it keeps both first lesson courses of ordinary time. I think this was a big mistake—they needed to choose one or the other. Either go with the typological set that reinforces the whole point of the Mass lectionary or go with the marginally continuous schema that tries to do what the Office does, but worse. (My prejudice isn’t showing through much, is it?)

Favorite Quotation in Ch. 2

[A]n anonymous monk of Whitby wished to honor with a vita the pope responsible for the conversion of the English; knowing little about Gregory the Great or miracles associated with him, however, he must ask his readers’ indulgence if he simply praises the saint extravagantly, randomly assembling passages from Scripture, references to Gregory’s writings, and some absurd fables.

From Rachel S. Anderson, “Saint’s Legends,” pp. 87-105 in A History of Old English Literature, edited by R. D. Fulk and Christopher M. Cain (Maldon, Mass.: Blackwell, 2005), 90. The particular life mentioned is found in Bertram Colgrave, ed. and trans., The Earliest Life of Gregory the Great (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1968).

I’m revising chapter 2 and ran across thislast night. It always makes me laugh…

Update: I started to answer Michelle’s question but decided that the lazy man’s way is just to cut-n-paste—so here’s the section apparently complete with footnotes:

In addition to Scripture, monasticism was nurtured and spread through the developing art form of Christian hagiography. Athanasius’ life of St Antony had an incalculable effect on the growth of monasticism. In the West, four other lives quickly grounded both the shape of monasticism and the conventions of the hagiographical genre; Jerome’s lives of Malchus, Hilaron, and Paul of Thebes, and—especially central to the growth of Gaulish monasticism—Sulpicius Severus’s life of St Martin. Lives of saints became an enormously popular form of literature. Lapidge reports that “C. W. Jones once estimated that some 600 [saint’s lives] survive from the period before 900.”[1]

These lives fulfill two important functions in the monastic milieu. First, they present examples of virtue and saintliness for imitation. Second, they continually remind their readers and hearers of the end result of such imitation—they record the miracles performed by God through the saint before and after death. Through their power of efficacious intercession on behalf of the living the glorified saints extend divine power into the world of the living, participating in and advancing the eschatological consummation in a manner different but not ultimately dissimilar from Cassian’s vision of Christ made complete in his Body.

Some modern readers seeking historical data or the flavor of local medieval life from saint’s lives are often disappointed to find generic and stereotyped topoi repeated throughout the genre, imparting little data for historical use. In order to accomplish the mimetic and theological functions, the genre followed certain prescribed conventions, conventions that seem strange to us now. The tradition provides a basic template:

the saint is born of noble stock; his birth is accompanied by miraculous portents; as a youth he excels at learning and reveals that he is destined for saintly activity; he turns from secular to holy life (often forsaking his family) and so proceeds through the various ecclesiastical grades; he reveals his sanctity while still on earth by performing various miracles; eventually he sees his death approaching and, after instructing his disciples or followers, dies calmly; after his death many miracles occur at his tomb. Of course, any number of variants is possible within these basic frameworks; but the framework itself is invariable.


As a body of literature, these lives had a specific use in the community; during Chapter,[3] the head of the community would read from the life of the saint on the day of his or her veneration that the monastics might meditate upon the virtues of the saint throughout the day. During the Night Office, the life—or a different version thereof—would be read as one the main reading for one of the Nocturns. Thus, the presence of a life for any given saint remembered in the community’s liturgical kalendar was not optional—these were ecclesially necessary documents. As a result, the framework could be utilized even for saints about whom the hagiographer had only the most scant information: “[A]n anonymous monk of Whitby wished to honor with a vita the pope responsible for the conversion of the English; knowing little about Gregory the Great or miracles associated with him, however, he must ask his readers’ indulgence if he simply praises the saint extravagantly, randomly assembling passages from Scripture, references to Gregory’s writings, and some absurd fables.”[4] Thus, working from the basic framework and resorting to a handful of stock topoi a saint’s life could be easily assembled for any one of the some 300 post-biblical saints venerated in an average Anglo-Saxon institution[5] that would satisfy the liturgical and mimetic requirements of the genre while frustrating historians of a later age.

The mention of Scripture in the above life of Gregory the Great is significant. The construction of sanctity was an important function of these works and that construction had to conform to expectations: “It was the overall intention of any hagiographer to demonstrate that his saintly subject belonged indisputably to the universal community of saints, . . . It is not so much a matter of plagiarism as of ensuring that the local saint is seen clearly to possess the attributes of, and to belong undoubtedly to, the universal community of saints.”[6] The virtues, trials, and especially miracles are very often drawn directly from Scripture. Not only does this create a continuity of sanctity, but it also reinforces that the Christian life in general and the monastic life in particular was understood as an ever-increasing growth into enacting the Scriptures—not only enacting its commandments and precepts, but even receiving the same graces that biblical personages enjoyed. The citation and appropriation of Scripture in hagiography melded imitation of the saints with imitation of the Scriptures, all of it ultimately pointing to the imitation of Christ who is the source and pattern of both the saints and the Scriptures.

[1] Michael Lapidge, “The saintly life in Anglo-Saxon England”, pp. 243-263 in The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature, edited by Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 253.

[2] Lapidge, “The saintly life”, 253. The outline for a passio or death by martyrdom is equally stereotyped but by this point in the life of the Western Church few martyrs were being made, Boniface and other northern missionaries being exceptions.

[3] For more on the Office of Chapter see the section on the daily round in ch. 3.

[4] Rachel S. Anderson, “Saint’s Legends,” pp. 87-105 in A History of Old English Literature, edited by R. D. Fulk and Christopher M. Cain (Maldon, Mass.: Blackwell, 2005), 90. The particular life mentioned is found in Betram Colgrave, ed. and trans., The Earliest Life of Gregory the Great (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1968).

[5] Lapidge, “The saintly life”, 247. Lenker records lectionary entries for 155 sanctoral occasions, many of which commemorated multiple saints.

[6] Lapidge, “The saintly life”, 254.

Traditional Christian Vocabulary, Modern Music, and Mission

We were on the way to my IV treatment when I received a flash of insight. And started laughing. System of a Down was playing on the radio and the next song that came on–by Linkin Park–completely validated the comment I made to M.

“Anyone who believes that youth and folks our age don’t understand traditional Christian vocabulary like sin, redemption, forgiveness, atonement, etc. doesn’t listen to modern metal…”

I’ve got to say that most of the music I listen to: Zeppelin, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, VNV Nation, Metallica, Apoptygma Bezerk, Audioslave, etc. is religious music. It’s not necessarily *Christian* music, but it engages the fundamental issues of faith, doubt, meaning, and existence. And it often borrows traditional Christian language to talk about these issues.

Just thinking about my musical tastes, most of the music I like has two fundamental characteristics: it’s dark, and it has at least a touch of the psychedelic. It’s dark because it’s searching for answers and meaning and has come up short; it’s doubt moving to despair. In a similar way, I see modern psychedelica as mysticism searching for its source. It knows that there’s something true and real beyond the purely material but is still in search of what exactly its true center is.

In a sense, this is what Eusebius understood as preparatio evangelica. He used the phrase in connection with the Old Testament and with certain forms of Classical philosophy and poetry—they set up the culture to be receptive to the Christian message. I see in the music I hear the same searching for which the Church has the answer.

The main missional difficulty is that more often than not both the musicians and those who listen to their music have heard a Christian message and rejected it—or at least the version they were exposed to as adolescents (which is when I’m guessing most decided the Church had nothing to offer…). And to be perfectly honest, the version I was exposed to as an adolescent was pretty shallow and didn’t answer my big questions. What I do find significant though, is the pervasive presence of the traditional Christian vocabulary to discuss and address the big questions.

An invitation to a more adult version of the faith that doesn’t pretend to be able to give all the answers, that takes seriously mystery and the mystical, and that utilizes the traditional language embedded in the traditional liturgies really does have something to offer…

Cat’s in the Doghouse and Other News

  • My cat is so in the doghouse right now. I have two computers by my bed—my work laptop and a PC I use for my other work. Connectivity is made possible by two fifty-foot ethernet cables running down the hall to the library. The cat chewed through one of them… So now I have to alternate between one and the other. And I’m (successfully so far) fighting the temptation to hack one of my neighbors’ unprotected wireless networks…
  • Just returned home from my daily IV treatment at the doctor and got an update. There are still no plans for surgery but the daily IV treatments will continue through the end of March. I think I’m going to have a pick(pic?) line put in. That’s an IV site that is implanted in my arm and snakes through a vein to the heart. It can stay in for up to a year and means I won’t need a new IV site every couple of days like right now. The pick line will be a good thing because I don’t think the veins in my arms will last another month…