Psalmcast Episode 10 Transcription

Introduction

 

Hi, I’m Derek Olsen, creator of St. Bede Productions. I’m an Episcopal layman with a PhD in New Testament and a passion for the intersection of Liturgy and Scripture. Welcome to Episode 10 of the St. Bede Psalmcast, a podcast about the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary, reading them in the context of the Sunday service and alongside the Church Fathers. We had a bit of an unexpected hiatus from Holy Week through the Easter season. This was due to my wife taking a new position as rector of a congregation and all of the various shifts in our family routine that that caused, but also because several major projects I have been working on have reached some major milestones. The two big ones here are a new recode of the St. Bede’s Breviary which is up on my test site now, and also the finishing work on my next book on the spirituality of the Prayer book coming out from Forward Movement next month. So—check out the new release of the breviary if that interests you; I’ll put a link in the show notes—and keep an eye out for the book, and I’ll let you know when that shows up on Amazon and other places. Before that happens, though, we need to get on with this episode of the psalmcast!  Today we’ll be talking about Psalm 8, the psalm appointed for the Feast of the Holy Trinity which this year falls on May 22nd, 2016.

 

Lectionary Context

 

So, why is this psalm appointed here for this day?

Clearly, the Feast of the Holy Trinity is different from an ordinary Sunday. This is a feast that celebrates a doctrine, so all of the lectionary selections are referring in some way to the interrelations between the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Now—here’s the thing… The doctrine of the Trinity is one that flowed fundamentally out of Christian experience. They had powerful spiritual experiences and through these gained the solid conviction that God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were all divine in the same way; but figuring out exactly what that meant and what that means for us was a pretty complicated task.

Some people criticize the doctrine of the Trinity and the Creeds which define this for us and point to it as a real departure from the simple faith of the Palestinian peasant Jesus. They’ll point to the creeds coming out of councils convened by the Emperor Constantine and the Greek philosophical terms that get all thrown around in those debates and say, “Ah! This is what happened, this is where it all got messed up! This whole notion of the Trinity is where the simple faith of Jesus got high jacked by Empire and philosophy and dogmatism and where everything went to pot.”

The best response to these sort of critiques—or even allegations—is to go back to the starting point. The truth of the Trinity flows out of Christian spiritual experience. So, all of the apostles, Mary, all the disciples as good Jewish believers would have regularly recited the Sh’ma: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” However, they soon began to feel the continuing resurrection power of Jesus in their lives and also the on-going presence of the Holy Spirit, guiding, directing, and purifying them. So, they were working with the data of their spiritual experience. God is one as the Scriptures and the Jewish confession insists. However, there were these three persons who impacted them in powerful and important ways.

So—now at this point—the early Christians then went back to the Scriptures to see if they could find clues hidden away in the Old Testament and in the New to help them make intellectual sense of their spiritual data. So, starting with a conviction about the Trinity, they dug back into the texts. Also—at the same time—the Church engaged all of tools that they had—including philosophy—as a means of wrapping language around this mystery that they were all experiencing together. And that’s where the Greek philosophy comes to all of this: it was the framework that they had in order to try and wrap language around this experience that they were having.

Don’t ever think that Constantine sat a bunch of bishops down and said, “Now—think up a new idea that we can use to destroy the simple faith of Jesus and do something else with instead.” No—it didn’t work like that. And this is pretty clear for several reasons: the first and most obvious is that if a bunch of guys had sat down and dreamed this up out of nothing—it would have made a hell of a lot more sense! It would have been easy and clear and straightforward—but it’s not… And that’s not because some guys made some stuff up; rather it was because they started not with thinking, but with the data of Christian spiritual experience.

Alright—why did I just go on that big tear; wasn’t I supposed to be talking about the other lectionary readings grouped around our psalm? Yes, yes, I was. But! We had to get that out of the way so that we would understand properly what it is that we are looking at in our lectionary readings.

The first reading comes from Proverbs 8. Which, looking at it historically, really doesn’t seem like the best choice at all. So. Proverbs 8 is one of several creation stories that are sprinkled throughout the Old Testament. Yes, we’re most familiar with the one at the start of the Bible, but actually we have two different ones slammed together there, on in Genesis 1 and then a different on in Genesis 2-3. This shouldn’t bother anybody—just like it didn’t bother our Hebrew and Jewish ancestors in the faith. None of these stories were intended to be scientific accounts; instead they are all spiritual metaphors that get across the main point—God made everything, God is in control of everything, and everything was made both well and good. That’s the key here.

Hence, our Old Testament reading is Proverbs 8. Basically, it tells the creation story from the perspective of Wisdom. Now—given the placement of the reading and what it says, the *assumption* is that Wisdom here must be a member of the Trinity, and many readings assume that. Wisdom is a major focus of and a recurring character within the Bible’s Wisdom literature and is personified as a woman. The key reasons for this are because in Hebrew (and also in Greek), the word wisdom (hochma or sophia) are grammatically feminine, but also because the literature sets up wisdom as an object of desire for the male scribe or sage who is seeking after it. Modern Feminist theology has made an identification between Wisdom or Sophia and the Holy Spirit and thus in parishes like the one I attend, you’ll often hear people refer to the Holy Spirit as “she” or “her” and that’s why.

However, in the early Church, wisdom was understood to be Jesus and so in direct reference to this passage and especially the image in verse 27 of “drawing a circle on the face of the deep” there’s a famous manuscript illustration of Christ the architect with a compass, drawing the circle on the face of the deep. The reason why this is such an odd reading for Trinity Sunday is because verse 22 was one of the chief prooftexts for the Arian heresy that argued that Jesus was a created being rather than being God. That Jesus was the very first and the very best of all creatures, but still a creature. Orthodoxy, said, no, Jesus is God and always was God, and therefore isn’t a creation of any kind.

Ok—so that’s Proverbs 8. We could say a lot more about this reading but this is a podcast about the Psalm and we haven’t gotten there yet. The reason why I went into such detail here is to give you a sense of this search for the Trinity that the early Church undertook that will be important in talking about our psalm, and to show you the mindset of the church as it read the psalter.

Real quick, the Romans 5 passage talks about the confluence of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as we experience justification and the growth of virtue into sanctification. The Gospel is John 16—again. And, yes, your preacher is probably running out of things to say about this passage too because we’ve been working in it for the last half of Easter it seems.

 

Interpretive Context

 

Now, is there other information we need to help us understand what’s going on? 

 

You’d think not after everything that I’ve already said, but no! There’s some other stuff that we’ve got to talk about now… The key thing we need to address at this point is inclusive language. I consider myself a feminist which I would define as the radical notion that women are people too and deserve to be treated as such. I have a wife who is a priest and I’ve seen people and institutions treat her in ways that they would never treat a man. I’ve seen her asked questions that would never be asked of a man. I have two daughters, and I firmly believe that their gender should never be an artificial barrier to what they want to accomplish, nor should they have to live, work, or play in an attitude of fear because of a society that hides or ignores violence against women which is a reality and that we need to address in some pretty major ways. So—let’s get that out of the way at the beginning.

 

You run into discussions about two particular topics around inclusive language in the church. The easiest way to say it is that there’s horizontal inclusive language and vertical inclusive language, there’s inclusive language about people and there’s inclusive language about God. I regard these two as separate. That is, we’re dealing with different sets of issues when we consider each. Today we need to look at the first, not the second. That is, we’re looking at inclusive language around people—the horizontal perspective—not inclusive or expansive language about God.

 

The Bible was produced in a patriarchal culture. Men were the ones who could read and write. They were the ones who could be priests and scribes. As a result, the basic, flat assumption was that literate culture was about men writing to men. So you see “he” and “the man” or “men” or “brothers” all over the place. Horizontal inclusive language recognizes that this isn’t our world or our experience anymore. Literacy is not restricted to men. And while some authors might intend the term “men” to be inclusive and to be synonymous with “humanity,” it’s not on a basic plain-sense reading of the text by a modern American used to modern texts. Thus, when the traditional-language version of the creed says that Jesus became incarnate “for us men and for our salvation”, it’s not intending to exclude women, it assumes women are in there, but you can see how a regular American reader off the street might read it that way.

 

There are two ways to address this. One is education. We teach people to realize that references to men are, for the most part and in most cases, simply generic references to human beings. That’s how I read our traditional language, Rite I service; that’s how my girls and my wife read it—and, yes, they like Rite I as well. The other way to address it is to edit the scandal out while retaining the intention. So, when Paul—who was actually quite progressive on women’s issues for his time—says “brothers” we know he is addressing the whole congregation so it’s still within the intention of the text to translate it “brothers and sisters.” This is the tack taken by the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (the NRSV) which is the most widely used Bible in the Episcopal Church and most mainline denominations. The prayer book usually uses this approach as well. “Brothers” becomes “brothers and sisters” and the generic use of “the man” in order to refer to an individual gets turned into a plural. So instead of “the man” and the subsequent use of “he,” you get “they”.

 

Hence, Psalm 1. The King James starts: “Blessed is the man”, the NRSV has: “Happy are those” while the prayer book has “Happy are they.”

 

Psalm 112. The King James has “Blessed is the man”, the NRSV has “Happy are those”, and the prayer book has “Happy are they.”

 

Alright—now we get to the point. Take a look at verse 5 of our psalm. The King James has “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?” The NRSV has “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” The prayer book has: “What is man that you should be mindful of him? The son of man that you should seek him out?”

 

Where the prayer book usually utilizes inclusive language and typically makes a move to the plural, in this case it doesn’t. And this is really important. The translators of the prayer book psalter made an informed theological decision here. This has absolutely nothing to do with a wavering commitment to inclusive language, rather, it points to a broader awareness of Christian Scripture.

 

I’ve said it before, and I know I’ll say it again: It’s really hard to overstate how important the psalms are to early Christian thinking about Jesus. When we alter the words of the psalter we alter not only what is read but what can be read and how we understand what other people read. Most Christians aren’t terribly familiar with the Letter to the Hebrews. It’s a letter of the New Testament stashed at the end of Paul’s letters because while it has a vaguely Pauline vibe going on, it’s not from Paul, and does different things from what Paul typically does. The first few chapters of Hebrews in particular are a running discussion of the “elementary doctrine of Christ” (Heb 6:1) as read out of the psalter. Thus, chapter 2 of Hebrews opens with a discussion of Psalm 8 and in particular give us this passage; I’m quoting from the RSV here: “For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere,

“What is man that thou art mindful of him,

or the son of man, that thou carest for him?

Thou didst make him for a little while lower than the angels,

thou hast crowned him with glory and honor,

putting everything in subjection under his feet.”

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Heb 2:5-9)

 

So, Hebrews is making a connection between “Son of Man” drawing from the Book of Daniel and from the title used throughout the Gospels, with this psalm and Jesus. This works if the psalm is making reference to “a man” and leaves the phrase “son of man” intact. It works in the RSV. It fails miserably in the NRSV. The whole argument in Hebrews is fundamentally altered and misread in the NRSV because they retain the inclusive plural both in the psalm and then try to inject that into the argument in Hebrews. It simply doesn’t work right!

 

So, that’s a really long—and potentially contentious—way of saying that Psalm 8 has historically been read in the church not only as a statement on the dignity of humanity, but more particularly in relation to Christ and the status of Christ—which then (finally) is why we get this particular psalm appointed for us for the Feast of the Holy Trinity.

 

I realize that was rather long and tortured, but I hope you could follow it…

 

Incidentally. Psalm 1 which we hit up there was classical read about Jesus as well—when it says “blessed is the man” that was seen as the first psalm introducing the theme of Christ which would then run throughout. In a modern version when we read “Blessed are those” or “Blessed are they” that’s not even a potential reading and lops off centuries of Christian interpretation.

 

So to just wrap up the inclusive language tangent, I see nothing at all wrong with the use of the NRSV and other translations that use inclusive language in the public assembly and as a way to get people into Scripture without the burden of an apparently patriarchal perspective. However, my personal preference for private devotional use when I’m using English is the RSV because I understand that it’s referring to women as well as men and because that way I don’t have that filter between me and the language of the text.

 

Historical Readings

 

Since we’re not the first Christians to read the psalms, what insights have others found within this text before we came along?

 

This is typically the section where I’d start talking about Cassiodorus and Augustine, but—honestly—I’m going to skip them today. If you’ve spent any time with this podcast, you know where they’re going: this text is right in their wheelhouse. Obviously, the man, the Son of Man is Jesus so they follow the lead of Hebrews and see this as the voice of the Church praising Christ. Just a few quick notes, then—Cassiodorus sees this psalm as one of a group of 8 other psalms that specifically focus on the two natures of Christ and emphasize the humanity of Jesus alongside his divinity. Also, at the very end of his thoughts, Cassiodorus makes reference to and quotes from Ambrose’s Christmas hymn Intende qui regis Israel better known from its second verse, Veni redemptor gentium which we have as numbers 54 and 55 in our hymnal.

 

Thematic Reading

 

How do we read this psalm on this day?

 

The way I read this psalm is that we have a strong interpretive center of gravity around verses 4 to 7 which is then bookended by an internal antiphon that starts and ends the psalm. Thus, the theological center is these verses:

 

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *

The moon and stars, you have set in their courses,

What is man that you should be mindful of him?

The son of man that you should seek him out?

You have made him but little lower than the angels;

You adorn him with glory and honor;

You give him mastery over the works of your hands;

You put all things under his feet.

 

Now, there are two major approaches to hearing and pondering these lines. The first is the classical approach, the approach Hebrews takes, the approach the fathers took and to see the references to “man” and “son of man” as being references to Christ. The second is to understand these as generic references to humanity. Now, I believe that there is a single correct answer here, and that answer is: both! We get the fullest sense of the text and the fullest revelation and insight into who God is and who God is for us, when we see that these two methods reinforce and strengthen one another. Thus, you get more meaning and better meaning when you read them together than if you try to go with either one or the other.

 

Let’s tease out the first option first, reading son of man as a Jesus reference and play with that for a little bit. I think our natural starting place is to see the speaker of the psalm addressing God the Father. In this sense, then, we move from creation to the notion of incarnation. We start with the heavens, then we move to Jesus. What is man, the son of man? Well—he is one who took on our flesh and is indeed a figure singled out from amongst all creation. In his self-emptying humility (be thinking Philippians 2 here) he has willingly taken upon himself the limitations of flesh and humanity for the purpose of transforming humanity and the human experience with exaltation as a result. And, as Episcopalians, we shouldn’t be able to hear verse 7 here without a line from Eucharistic prayer B rattling around in our heads: “In the fullness of time, put all things in subjection under your Christ…” That’s what we’re talking about here.

 

Now, let’s play with this angle a little bit. Cassiodorus puts this psalm in mouth of the Church. So this is us singing our praise to God. Great, that’s fine. But—as a thought experiment—how does it change what we hear, if we hear this psalm in the voice of Jesus rather than the church? What if we hear this as Christ’s own words and ponderings to the Godhead? Clearly as an observant Jew and as who prayed the psalms, this is one he must have prayed, particularly given his apparent fondness for night-time vigils. I’m not trying to make a point here—I’m just raising the question: how does it change the way we hear this if we hear him speaking it?

 

Now let’s do one more transformation on it… We’ll get into some potentially confusing territory here so let’s define some terms: the ontological Trinity is a statement of the persons of the Trinity be means of the dominant metaphors by which they are known to us in Scripture and in the Tradition and that’s the familiar : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then there’s the economic Trinity. This has seen a lot of us in recent years, but much of that use has been imprecise or potentially misleading. The economic Trinity is Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, but if we’re going to use it we need to get one thing straight up front. This is not the same as the other. Because this refers to core functions carried out by the whole, united, Godhead. Let me say this another way. These are the three core things that the Trinity does together, not three separate roles or modes or jobs done by the three separate persons. What does that mean? The easiest way to say it is like this: When we look at Scripture we see places where God the Father is creating. We get this in Genesis 2 and 3. We see Jesus the Son creating: We get this in John 1 with the notion of the Logos as the fundamental structuring device of all of Creation. We see the Holy Spirit creating in Genesis 1 as it moves across the waters of chaos. We see God the Father redeeming when the Israelites are led out of Egypt with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. We See Jesus the Son redeeming in his work on the cross. We see the Holy Spirit redeeming In Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones… The point I’m making here is that while we might see one person doing one of these things, these are done by the whole Trinity and are not unique to one person and that’s the problem with the way that it so often gets used as a non-gendered replacement for the ontological Trinity. If we’re not taught correct we can fall into thinking that the Father is the Creator, the Son is the Redeemer and the Spirit is the Sustainer. But that’s not what the Church teaches and that matters because of the ways that we encounter, experience, and consider the Trinity working in our own lives. We can’t and shouldn’t compartmentalize.

 

The reason I even dared to enter these waters is just this: What if we see this psalm as the Church’s words addressed to Christ? The moon and stars are no less the works of his hands than God the Father’s. And what we get when we consider this angle is the kind of paradox that see in hymns like Quem terra pontus: “The Word whom earth and sea and sky adore and laud and magnify, whose might they show whose praise to tell, in Mary’s body deigned to dwell.” (That’s hymn 263 in the ‘82 Hymnal.) And then, this hits back to the Proverbs 8 reading a bit based on however you decide to read that.

 

Now—if we change up and read the psalm talking man and son of man as generic humanity, then we get another interesting set of things to ponder. The people of the Ancient Near East lived in a far smaller and much more compact universe than we do. That is, conceptually, their grasp of how the world was made and its boundaries were miniscule. The habitable portion of earth is this little bubble of air  suspended in the waters above the firmament and the waters below the firmament. That’s it. We know so much more. We know about solar systems and galaxies, and clusters and things that defy the imagination to try and wrap our understanding around the scope and distances involved. If they looked up and were amazed at the immensity of what they saw, how much more should we be amazed at what we see and can’t grasp? The night sky now, as then, gives a glimpse of our cosmic insignificance. The lifespan of our entire planet, billions of years old is literally a blip on the screen of cosmic time. We aren’t the center of the universe, in fact we’re nowhere near it, we’re in a minor arm of a minor galaxy.

 

Which just puts more punch behind verse 5: “What is a person that you should be mindful of me, of humanity that you should seek us out?” As someone who approaches thing from a very intellectual angle, verse 4 is easy for me. It’s easy to see and consider a transcendent God who sits in the center of these great cosmic mechanisms and keeps everything spinning. That makes sense to me. I don’t have to stretch to consider that. But that’s the rational, Deist, clockmaker God. Verse 5 cuts at what’s hard: the immanent God who loves, who knows who cares, who is present to and for a minor person of a minor species living in the minor arm of a minor galaxy. Opening ourselves, our minds and hearts to that truth, that’s mind-blowing. And, it’s precisely at that intersection that the line from the Creed is so important: who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven.” For you; for me. This is Christ for us.

 

And then in verse 6 we get a biblical humanism. We are not God. We are so far from God. And yet we are not without dignity. We possess a dignity from our creation in the image of God and in that Christ has taken on our form and our experience and that the Holy Spirit chooses to dwell within us and guide us. We can speak of a positive humanism that sees us and our efforts and useful and meaningful in light of God’s activity with us.

 

The last point we need to touch on—briefly—relates to then how we read verse 7 and the mastery over creation. Real quick, it’s pretty easy to get an ecological theology out of the psalms. The starting place is Psalm 89: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” The earth, the creation belongs to God and any mastery humanity has is a form of stewardship. Furthermore, the psalms hasten to remind us that the various elements of creation are all fellow witness with us of and to the glory of God. When we destroy or despoil the creation, we are silencing witnesses to God’s own grandeur and greatness—and that ought to make us all take pause. There’s a lot more we could say on that but we’re running a little long as it is…

 

So—to sum up: Psalm 8 gives us an interesting perspective on the Trinity. Reading it from one perspective gives us a meditation on a God who is simultaneously transcendent, the distant creator and maintainer of the great cycles of creation and the cosmos, yet who is also imminent and present with us in a variety of ways. From another perspective, we ponder Christ who honored human nature with his incarnation and who reveals to us a Trinity eager to know and be known. On this Feast of the Holy Trinity, this psalm reminds us that for us the Trinity is foremost and experience and then secondarily and based off of that a doctrine. We believe it because it helps us wrap our words and our minds around what we have first experienced to be true of God.

 

 

Conclusion

 

So—that’s what we have to say today about Psalm 8 as the psalm appointed for the Feast of the Holy Trinity in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary.  If you enjoyed today’s show, please tell your friends about it and leave a review on iTunes. You can find more of my thoughts at www.StBedeproductions.com and follow me on Twitter (and there’s a link you can follow on my blog and in the show notes.) Until next time, I’m Derek Olsen for St. Bede Productions.

 

The path you must follow is in the Psalms—never leave it.

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St. Bede Psalmcast: Episode 10

The 10th episode of the St. Bede Psalmcast is now up! It’s a wide-ranging discussion of Psalm 8, the Scripture appointed for the The Feast of the Holy Trinity, that gets into a number of hot-button topics and unexpected places. If nothing else, this episode gives credence to my dictum that the psalms provide the perfect starting place to get into almost any branch of Christian theology and practice!

 

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New Breviary Update

Here is the latest version of the breviary code revision! There are a few bugs that I’ve found so far—notably around the “Previous Office” button moving from Morning Prayer to Compline.

I’m still revising it and am working on a “Save” button.

http://breviary.stbedeproductions.com/test/office.html

Posted in Breviary, Tech | 1 Comment

Church as Resource 1

I saw two things yesterday that made me remember a third and that tapped into something that I’ve been thinking quite seriously about for a while now.

The first was Kyle Oliver’s post on Formation with Young Adults. Do read the whole thing, but these are some of the lines that jumped out at me:

Young adults – those in their 20s and 30s, often called Millennials – seem to be everywhere, except, of course, in church. If we truly believe that the church needs millennials, and that millennials need the church, what is the way forward? . . . 

The challenges are real: Pew Research reports that only 18 percent of Millenials say they attend religious services “nearly every week” or more, as of the late ’00s. Religion may well become more important to the Millennials as they age, but slight upward trends do not change the experience of church for the young adults who are currently attending, where the young adult experience can be one of isolation and alienation. It is often difficult to form a critical mass for young adult fellowship or programs. . . .

What no denomination can afford to continue is the habit of trading on denominational loyalty alone. For example, in the Episcopal Church, campus ministries flounder when they say “We’ll be a home for all the Episcopalians on campus.” Many Episcopalians aren’t looking for such a home, and many more don’t particularly care if the Episcopal shield is on the sign out front.

A post-denominational approach acknowledges that the broader Christian tradition is much more important than the way denominations slice and dice that tradition. Denominational identities can help us form distinctive, authentic Christian communities that don’t assume a membership model of the past (“every Methodist will join our group”).

Gathering around a common Christian identity – core teachings of the faith, patterns of common worship and fellowship, a desire to grow and live in integrity – is more engaging than denominational differences. . . .

Online spaces are a primary outlet for all kinds of authentic expression, including religious expression. We shouldn’t assume that young adults demand that all of our faith formation practices have an online component, but strategic efforts can lead to additional “faith touches” and a sense of ongoing connection and belonging amid busy young-adult lives.

I was reminded of this later yesterday evening when I heard a report on Marketplace that has been excerpted for this article on the growth of the fitness industry into a $3 billion business.  Here’s the section that caught my attention in particular:

What is the “mind and body” part here? There is this quasi-religious, sometimes cult-y thing going on.

Well, it is a symptom of our times in many ways. We are an anxiety-ridden, stressed out people here, especially in the urban centers of the United States…. You know, there have been a lot of studies around millennials, especially not going to a lot of organized religion, but they are finding a lot of community in their social groups. And a lot of those social groups are manifesting around fitness boutiques, running clubs, cycling clubs. And part of it is, people feel better after they exercise. It calms them down, and there’s a lot of science around that. You know, you go for a run you clear your head … you feel like you can deal with your life a little better.

The irony, of course, was that I had just dropped off G at ballet and was on my way to the gym to work out…

I totally identify with this because I’m part of it. Furthermore, at least a couple of clergy have said to me that if they weren’t clergy serving parishes, they’d much rather spend nice Sunday mornings out for a run or bike with friends. And—Sunday mornings are precisely when people my age and younger gather to run and bike, and the majority of races are held then. Despite this, M and I have noticed that many of the runners we know are quite religious, most of them Christian (and Saturday vigil masses are very popular among the Roman Catholics for obvious reasons…).

The key limiting resource for people like me—middle-aged(!), middle-class/affluent, educated, white people—is time. Yeah, we may be cash strapped too, but the time pinch sometimes hurts worse than the money pinch (and those two are interconnected in ways that are better saved for another conversation…). If we are going to spend the coin of our time, then we’d better be certain that we’re getting a good return on investment.

If I choose to go for a run on Sunday morning, I can see some very clear, very immediate results that also point towards long-term benefits. It gives me an opportunity to be social by hanging out with my running friends (and there’s nothing like a twenty-miler to spark long soul-baring conversations that can lead to good friendships), I feel better, I can see the benefits on the scale and in my increased level of fitness. Too, I can feel confident that the benefits of this run will keep on going. It helps me stay in a healthy (and fun) habit that will keep me active longer and reduce medical bills in the future.

The goal of the Christian faith is to live the reconciliation with God effected through Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It’s about living a life that is deeply in touch with reality and that strives to point to the principles of love, justice, compassion, and mercy that we believe have been woven into the fabric of everything by our good God.  My belief is that living this way should and can have a number of practical everyday benefits.

However, we as the institutional church have failed at drawing a clear connection for our current society regarding how sacrificing a Sunday morning that could be spent doing other beneficial things helps us achieve this goal and this life.

Furthermore, the institutional church has, in some cases, actively assisted in alienating people from the Sunday morning experience—even those who continue to identify as Christians. This is where the first two pieces also got me thinking about the third piece, one from Tony Clavier last year on the “Dones.”

Easter Sunday brought with it the usual railing from clergy and churchfolk about the C&E crowd: those who only darken our doors at Christmas and Easter. Some clergy heap scorn on them. I don’t feel scornful, but I have been frustrated with them in the past. Undoubtedly some of these are P3s (People with Pious Parents) who have no connection or desire for a connection to a religious life. But others are people who do self-identify as Christians and who do feel some obligation to show up occasionally. My frustration as a member of the institutional church is driven by the knowledge that if we all acted this way, the institution itself would collapse on itself and leave them no where to g for their occasionally fixes of public worship.

Now—what I’ve done here is set up some thoughts around people who don’t show up at church for a variety of reasons yet who may well have leanings in that direction.

I could go in a lot of directions from this point. This is what the question that’s been rattling around in my head for a while, though…

Based on the 2015 Pew Study on the Religious Landscape of America, 40% of Roman Catholics say they attend church between two times a month to a few times a year; 20% say they attend “seldom/never.” Likewise, 43% of Mainline Protestants say they attend two times a month to a few times a year, and 24% attend “seldom/never.” And yet, despite “Unaffiliated” being the category with the greatest numerical growth, these infrequent attenders choose to identify with a faith group rather than be called a “None”.

Now—this next part boggles my mind… Working from a related drilldown question on frequency of prayer correlated with church (non)attendance, 50% of the twice a month to a few times a year folks report that they pray daily; of the “seldom/nevers,” 27% say that they pray daily. (This data is displayed on the same page linked to above, just lower down.)

If we believe what these numbers are saying, there’s a whole lot of prayer going on from the C&E crowd or people who never do darken our doors.

What do we do about this?

From where I sit, clergy have a stake in institutional survival. They have to if they intend to get paid to do their thing and to have a stable place in which to do their thing. Thus, they have a vested interest in getting people in the door.  Personally, I think the faith thing works a hell of a lot better when people are coming in the doors and are doing things together because, properly done,  Christianity is a team sport (i.e., see any of the passages where the Body of Christ is discussed particularly those by Paul…).

However, what is the church doing (i.e., what are we doing…) to serve as resources or to provide resources for those who choose not to be involved in our Sunday morning activities, yet who still acknowledge some sort of faith pull to the degree that they would tell a surveyor that they pray daily?

I’m reminded too of comments from readers here who tell me straight-up that they don’t attend anymore or do so infrequently yet are still attracted by and/or participate within the church’s patterns of prayer.

Consider once more the fitness crowd. Here is a body of people who—whether they’re actually regular about it or not—believe in the value of disciplined, long-term activity for personal growth/benefit.

What can we be doing to make the connection here that hasn’t happened?

(And I’ve got no answers, just questions…)

Posted in Evangelism, Formation, Spirituality | 7 Comments

On Children in Church

My latest post is up on Grow Christians, a site for Episcopal families with children.

This is an initial post on having kids in church coming from my particular perspective: the single dad in the pew juggling two kids… That’s in no way intended to minimize the work and impact of Mother M on raising the girls up in the faith, rather, it reflects our usual Sunday morning reality: She’s working—I’m managing the girls.

I’ve got a few more posts outlined in my head that fit into what may become an occasional series, “Secrets of a Pew Whisperer.”

Here’s what I’d consider the key point of this first post:

[M and I] care about how our children believe, and the way that they inhabit, engage, and ultimately own a place in the worshiping community is an essential part of that. In our baptismal vows, we promise to share the Good News with others; as parents, our primary mission field is our own kids.

In the next set of thoughts, I’ll likely revisit one of my fundamental convictions about the character of the Episcopal Church and one of my real concerns with the continued relevance and vitality of the catholic movement within it: a lack of openness to children as full and welcome members of our communities and people with ministries to exercise among us.

Posted in Anglican, Formation | 1 Comment

On Writing for the King

While packing lunches this morning I had a thought hit me that I need to look into further…

The life of Cassiodorus falls into two major sections: The Politician and The Theologian. Cassiodorus begins his political career as quaestor around 507, serves as consul in 514, becomes the magister officiorum in 523, and becomes praetorian prefect in 533. His political career ends somewhere within the period of the Gothic War—when the Roman Empire in the East decides to reassert its western claims and attacks the Gothic kingdom that had been controlling Italy and the West (ostensibly under direction of the East, but not really). Cassiodorus goes to Constantinople sometime around 540 with the remnants of the Gothic court and members of the senatorial class fleeing the violence.

At this point—during his time in Ravenna as the Gothic kingdom is collapsing and in his move to Constantinople—he begins some fairly major literary activity, notably, the collecting and editing of his Variae: books of letters that he wrote while serving the Gothic kings.  As he says in the preface, “All of the letters, therefore, which I have been able to find in various public archives that have been dictated by me as Quaestor, as Magister Officiorum, or as Prefect, are here collected and arranged in twelve books.” The vast majority of these letters were written in the names of the kings. Indeed, the books are arranged according to the people for whom Cassiodorus was writing. Hence, Book 1 is “Containing 46 Letters written by Cassiodorus in the Name of Theodoric.”

Around this time, Cassiodorus makes the decision to leave public life and become an ascetic. He writes his treatise “On the Soul” which he sometimes refers to as the thirteenth book of the Variae. After this, he embarks directly on the writing of his commentary on the Psalms.

What hit me this morning is the relationship between the Variae and the Psalm commentary…

The Variae is a great collection of letters written by Cassiodorus in the names of others.  The dominant perspective on the Psalter that he inherits from Augustine and the rest of the patristic tradition is that David wrote the psalms on behalf of Christ through the dictation of the Holy Spirit. When you look at it from this perspective, there seems to be a strong thematic continuity: both the Variae and the Psalms are collections of brief occasional writings written by one writer on behalf of the sovereign…

I don’t want to push this concept too far—i.e., I don’t think it is a controlling concept in the commentary— or overemphasize the continuity between the two works here, but I am feeling the need to re-read some big sections of both in light of this new thought.

Posted in Patristics | Leave a comment

Update on New Breviary Offices

Since my previous post, I’ve been able to log some significant time getting bugs fixed and features added to the new code base.

Morning Prayer in the new format is here: http://breviary.stbedeproductions.com/test/Morning_79_BCP.html

I’m happy to announce that Evening Prayer can now be found here: http://breviary.stbedeproductions.com/test/Evening_79_BCP.html

But…you might be saying…what if I don’t want to have to go to two different places to get my offices? Never fear, this is a temporary intermediate state while I get things functioning correctly. I’ve already thought of a number of possible end-states where you can go to one place and get the offices you’re after. As usual, I’ll play with a couple, and we’ll figure out what you like best…

Some items to note:

  • The Prayer for Mission is now a choice; all of the options are available, but one is made active.
  • If you’re overwhelmed by options, you can get rid of most of them with the “Simplify Options” button.
  • A number of things will appear now as they ought too—hymns, commemorations, etc.
  • The right creeds are with the right rites.
  • Kalendar selections exist now. There are only three options at the moment: Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2006 (the official Calendar of the church—more on this anon), Great Cloud of Witnesses (made available at General Convention but not yet published in tangible form), and my own idiosyncratic House Kalendar. I’ll add back more as time allows and as I receive requests.

There are some known issues that I am working on:

  • If you begin on a day with ferial psalm antiphons, select a kalendar that is observing a saint, then decide that you really want to go back and not celebrate the saint, the code has trouble recall the initial ferial antiphons.
  • I’m sure there are more waiting to be found…

There are some things I haven’t gotten to.

  • Chief among them is a way to capture/save/apply preferences. I think we’re really close on this one; I’m just trying to determine if there are some more elegant ways to make it happen rather than a basic brute force approach.
  • Non-current BCP adds. Some folks have recommended some additional changes not yet included. I am both sympathetic and supportive of these—but not right now. The mission on the SBS is to provide an office with full options that is licit within the rubrics and rules of the ’79 BCP.  I may well consider incorporating some of your earlier or ore far-reaching options once I can get the core material nailed down—but the core material does now and will always take precendence.

Things I’m mulling over…

  • Yes, both canticles deserve antiphons. And, I have a nice model for Evening Prayer in the Palmer Evening Office antiphon book where there are appointed Magnificat antiphons coupled with broadly seasonal Nunc Dimittis antiphons. However, that raises questions. What if the first canticle at EP is something else and the second is the Mag? Where does the Mag antiphon go? With the Second (Gospel) canticle? What about a good source for MP First Canticles?

Let me know what you think, and we’ll keep moving forward here…

Posted in Anglican, Daily Office, Tech | 4 Comments

Experimental Code for Morning Prayer

As promised earlier, here is a link for Morning Prayer in the new experimental version of the St. Bede’s Breviary code base:

http://breviary.stbedeproductions.com/test/Morning_79_BCP.html

As you’ll see, most of the usual breviary options are present. The two main areas that I intend to get to but have not yet fully addressed are the Calendar/commemorations and a mechanism to save individual options. However, on the latter I think you see that selecting options is no longer the hassle it could be with the earlier editions.

There are probably still some bugs lurking in it, some I’ve discovered, a few I probably haven’t. I am working on the ones I know about in addition to getting Evening Prayer up on line too. Let me know what you think of the new interface and if you run into any problems…

Posted in Liturgy, Tech | 14 Comments

Duck Mode

I’ve been in duck mode for about the past month or so. All is quiet, but there’s massive amounts of churn below the surface… Hopefully this will be coming to an end very soon. Here are some of the things in progress:

  • I’m finishing up a major software project which is where most of my time has been focused.
  • I’ll soon be debuting a brand-new code-base at the breviary. Most of the code changes I’ve made at the breviary over the years have been fairly small and incremental. This isn’t. I’m seeing more evidence of complications with the preferences, especially with iDevices. This change should resolve that and should make navigating the options easier and cleaner. I will retain the “classic” format as the main entry point to the breviary, but will put up copious links to the new method and invite input. Additions/corrections will occur there until I’m happy with it, then that will become the default. I will likely keep the classic version somewhere as a backup.
  • The St Bede Psalmcast will resume from its hiatus.
  • In concert with that, I’ll be posting a lot more as I dive head first into the Cassiodorus/Psalms book projects.
  • Speaking of books—I’m now hearing June from the Forward Movement folks on the prayer book spirituality book, but I’ve seen cover art and internal layout! It looks fantastic, and can’t wait to share more…
  • Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music meetings have been happening, I’m again co-chairing the Calendar subcommittee and have some things to say about that. I’m also part of the subcommittee to discuss a plan for the process of revising the BCP. And, yes, I have thoughts there too…

But remember, all of this is my “spare time” stuff! The day job continues, dance competitions are springing up all over the calendar, and M will be starting her new job as rector of a parish in the area on Monday!

Pray for us…

Posted in Administrative, Random | 2 Comments

Skulls

I have a new post up over at GodSpace; it’s quite appropriate for the end of Lent, I think. Enjoy!

More posts once I get over a nasty stomach bug…

Posted in Psalms, Spirituality | Leave a comment