Author Archives: Derek A. Olsen

Thoughts on Good Friday

I don’t think that the crucifixion was inevitable. I don’t think it necessarily had to go this way.

God sent his Son to be incarnate and live as one of us. Jesus was sent to reconcile humanity with God, to repair the breech, to lead us back to unity with God, and to enable us to share in the hopes and dreams and desires of God for his vast creation. God doesn’t choose to play us like puppets, so there had to be some freedom and flexibility in the plan, so that God could adapt to the human element, to the ways that we might act or react or change the plan. That doesn’t mean that we had to end up killing him—but that’s what we did.

I don’t think that the crucifixion was inevitable—but it was very likely, knowing who God is, and knowing who we are. We humans have an innate tendency to be selfish. We look after our own interests. Our tendency is to look out for number one, and to be suspicious of anyone or anything that threatens our power, our position, or our possessions. It’s a system that works. It’s not a system that is good, but it works because it is predictable and reliable.

Jesus came to break this system.

Jesus came to tell us about a more excellent way. And he didn’t just come to tell us with his mouth, but with his whole body and through everything that he did and the people he hung out with. He could have been part of the political system, he could have gotten in good with the religious system—but he didn’t. Instead he came to break the system. He came to challenge and question and confuse and confound and to beat up the scribes and the lawyers and the religious leaders with their own law because he knew it better than they did. He came, asking the hard questions about what justice, and mercy, and grace, and love really look like and act like and feel like. Jesus threatened the system and so the system fought back in the only way that it knows how. We didn’t have to end up killing him—but that’s what we did.

Because, at the end of the day, that’s who we are. We make the selfish choices. We perpetuate systems that aren’t fair, but that work because just enough people get what they want, they can justify taking it away and keeping it away from others. We made the choice to kill the Lord of Life because that’s who we are.

But—we call this day “Good” Friday because of the other person in the equation. God knows humanity. God knows humanity thoroughly. And even if the crucifixion wasn’t part of the original plan, God wasn’t done with us yet. Despite our pettiness, our fear, our cruelty. Despite humanity staying true to our worst instincts, God stayed true to his best nature. God kept on being God and that means bringing hope out of darkness, bringing freedom out of captivity, bringing redemption out of death. Even while we were yet sinners, Christ Jesus chose to die for us, and in so doing, turned our ultimate act of betrayal into a means for achieving the reunion that he came to accomplish. God loved us—and loves us—so deeply that our own attempts to ruin it were doomed to failure because there is nothing that you or I or anyone else can do that is bad enough to make God stop loving us. God’s capacity for love is greater than our capacity for sin.

I don’t think the crucifixion was inevitable—but it was likely, and I suppose it’s not surprising knowing the way we are. Good Friday is the day that humanity failed. We failed because we closed our eyes and minds and hearts to God’s message of love and truth and peace. We failed because we thought the way to stop God from challenging us and challenging our systems was to kill. We failed because there is nothing that we can do to make God stop—to make God stop loving us and calling us back to him.

Today is the day that we failed—but God wasn’t done with us yet.

God isn’t done with us yet.

Thanks be to God.

Hear Me Talk about Oxford 2.0

At school the second quarter is coming to an end and we're gearing up for midterms. It wasn't until my friends from All Things Rite & Musical tweeted a link to my Anglo-Catholic Future talk that I realized it was up for listening!

So---here you will find the audio of me talking about my take on an modern Oxford Movement 2.0.

If you haven't read them before---or if you haven't read them recently---I'd recommend reading Robert Hendrickson's "It's Time for a New Oxford Movement" post and also the follow-up from Ed Watson "What's Preventing a New Oxford Movement?" before listening to my talk.

I usually post the text as well, but there's talk about doing something else with these so I'm holding off until I know more.

Antichrist Morning

I was reminded of Adso this morning.

Adso was a French Benedictine abbot from the end of the 10th century (and a contemporary of Aelfric). He is best remembered for his letter on the Antichrist to Gerberga of Saxony/France (one of the interesting, literate, and powerful women of the period). This letter would become the standard treatment of the Antichrist throughout the medieval period.

The Antichrist is a feature of historic Christian teaching that modern mainline sorts look at askance, largely because of the prominence given the figure in Darbyite constructions of the End of Days popular among certain kinds of fundamentalists. People’s Exhibit A being, naturally, the Left Behind series…

There are two main problems with the figure of “Antichrist” to the modern Christian mind.

The first is that it contorts Christianity into a full-on dualistic position: there are the forces of Good with God, Jesus as main figurehead, and the believers and doers of good on one side arrayed against Satan, the Antichrist as main figurehead, and the workers of evil on the other side. This is a awfully black-and-white construction of reality. It may work well for propaganda purposes (City on a Hill [us and our geo-political allies] vs. the Empire/Axis of Evil [them and their geo-political allies]), but works less well for nuanced theological thought. Clearly this theological construct can and has been marshaled in service of Christian Nationalism which can then get linked to a host of other unsavory notions I need not descend into now but seem pretty obvious in our current context…

The second is its minimal biblical moorings. The term “Antichrist” only shows up in four verses in the Johannine letters, and seems to refer not specifically to one individual but to a class of folks who deny the Incarnation. However, these references were then connected to Paul’s references to “the Lawless One” in 2 Thessalonians (rendered in the Vulgate as homo peccati, filius perditionis [man of sin, son of perdition]) and then to the chief political enemy in the Book of Revelation. From there, a narrative is set up and Adso—among others—connects the dots to come up with a biography of the Antichrist.

Obviously, the image of the Antichrist is not only a dualistic one but apocalyptic. And that’s no surprise as apocalyptic rhetoric generally is strongly dualistic in order to set up an us-vs.-them dynamic. Apocalypticism defined the world that Adso lived in. He was living towards the end of the Viking Age. While this period had begun with Scandinavian attacks on England and Francia, its ending saw vikings as not just raiders but conquerors. It was not hard at all to see the struggle between the kingdoms of England and the Continent as engaged in an eschatological battle with martial implications as the (largely) pagan vikings sacked, looted, burned, and ruled Christian areas.  Adso, Wulfstan, Aelfric and their contemporaries could easily see a viking king on the  throne who would persecute Christians bringing all of the prophecies about the Antichrist together in their lifetime. Nor were they terribly off-base: the Dane Canute would become king of England in 1016. Luckily, Canute’s grandfather—Harald Bluetooth (yes, the guy the short-ranged communication protocol is named for)—had converted to Christianity and was the first Christian king of Denmark.

So—why was I reminded of all of this stuff this morning? Cranmer’s psalm cycle offers us Psalms 9, 10, and 11 this morning.

Psalms 9 and 10 also formed a central point of reference in the early medieval understanding of the Antichrist. Just as they understood the Psalms to speak directly of Christ, so too do these two psalms speak of the Antichrist. Just as the gender-inclusive plural (“Blessed are they…” in Psalm 1) hides from us some of the classical identifications of Christ in the psalter, so too here. While the “ungodly” and “wicked” of Ps 9:15 and 17 are in the plural in the Latin (we’re looking at what Adso was looking at…), the references to the wicked in our Psalm 10 (his second-half of Psalm 9) are in the singular. Hence the “wicked” and “covetous”—rendered by Jerome as impius and peccator—are a singular actor in the psalm, cursing God and acting unjustly towards the poor and innocent. Augustine connects this sinner to the Antichrist in his commentary; Cassiodorus takes this identification and runs with it, solidifying the interpretation of these psalms for Adso to take up and use.

As I frequently remind my church history students, the notion of what is “biblical” is not static. There are a host of things that we look at and wonder how Christians in previous ages could have believed such things—time and again the reason is because they found them in the Scriptures. To them and their reading logics they were clearly and obviously Biblical Truth.

Bottom line—“biblical” is not a simple binary. That doesn’t mean that it’s not useful and we shouldn’t use it, but that we should do so advisedly. What do we do with Antichrist? Well—we keep celebrating the Feast of the Incarnation! And we remember that our tradition has used this language to challenge those in power who act against biblical standards of justice and righteousness.

Christ the King

LORD of the ages evermore,
Each nation’s King, the wide world o’er,
O Christ, our only Judge thou art,
And Searcher of the mind and heart

Though Sin with rebel voice maintain,
‘We will not have this Christ to reign,’
Far other, Lord shall be our cry,
Who hail thee King of Kings most High.

O thou eternal Prince of peace,
Subdue man’s pride, bid error cease,
Permit not sin to wax o’er-bold,
The strayed bring home within the fold.

For this thou hangedst on the Tree
With arms outstretched in loving plea;
For this thou shewedst forth thy Heart,
On fire with love, pierced by the dart.

And yet that wounded side sheds grace
Forth from the altar’s holy place,
Where, veiled ‘neath humblest bread and wine,
Abides for man the life divine.

Earth’s noblest rulers to thee raise
Their homage due of public praise
Teachers and judges thee confess;
Art, science, law, thy truth express.

Let kings be fain to dedicate
To thee the emblems of their state;
Rule thou each nation from above,
Rule o’er the people’s homes in love.

All praise, King Jesu, be to thee,
The Lord of all in majesty;
Whom with the Father we adore,
And Holy Ghost, for evermore. Amen.

Today is the Feast of Christ the King in the old Western Kalendar. I relized this late and was scrambling this morning to insert propers into a database following the Old Kalendar so they would display correctly. As I typed and read through these texts, the more they spoke to me.

I rose this morning to the news that there have now been three domestic terror attacks within the span of a couple of days fueled by ideological and racial hatred. The secular world can only shake its head and talk about intolerance and the partisan divide. Luckily, I’m a Christian so I have better language: this is evil, caused by sin. More specifically, it is sin empowered and emboldened by the loudest voice in the State.

Ant. 1: This is the true Solomon, † whose Name is the pledge of peace to the whole world, * and the throne of whose kingdom God hath established for evermore.

Now I get that there are some in the Episcopal church who find the language of royalty and kingship challenging. I have heard that this language of dominion can be a retrenchment of patriarchal thought. And yet I find it a comfort and aid this morning as I consider the news.

I am a Christian first.

I put my identity as a follower of Christ before my gender, my race, and—yes—even before my national origin. For me my Baptism is at the heart of my identity. Don’t get me wrong—I am proud to be an American (usually) and am proud to be the son of a veteran from a lineage of veterans. But the words of the Pledge, “and justice for all,” ring hollow when politicians flagrantly disregard them. At those moments, I remember that I am the subject of a Sovereign.

Ant. 3: Behold the Man who is like to the sunrising, † whose Name is The Branch; * he will sit and rule upon his throne, and speak peace unto the nations.

Political systems and movements that play upon racial hatred are anti-Christ. There is no other way to say it.

The propers of Christ the King take the ideas of dominion and lordship and sovereignty, and subvert them in line with the Gospel and the gospels we have been hearing the last few Sundays:

So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).

The hymn above emphasizes that kingship was accomplished through the humiliation of the cross and comes to us in the simple forms of bread and wine. Domination and hierarchy are subdued by self-offering. The Lauds hymn is the Vexilla regis which even more emphasizes that the power by Jesus flows from selfless service rather than from might or manipulative rhetoric (“Fulfilled is all that David told/In true prophetic song, of old:/Unto the nations, lo! saith he,/Our God hath reignèd from the Tree”)

The proclamation of Christ as king gives us an alternative and superior political standard that challenges all earthly systems and regimes and powers. Sin and evil and death are put on notice. But we—we the people—have to follow the lead of our true leader.

Chapter at None: For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; and having made peace through the blood of his Cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself, * whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven (Col 1:19).

Pass My Exam!

As most of you know, I’m doing quite a lot of teaching right now… I’m up to my eyeballs in my new day-job teaching high school and had already committed to teaching two Master’s level classes before getting that job offer. Thankfully, I had taught one of those before—my Church History class. However, I decided to do something a little differently this go around…

I’m trying to prepare my students to use their Church History where it counts—at the back of the church when some one asks an innocent question that is best answered with thirty minutes and a pile of books yet you know their eyes will glaze over after just a minute. Therefore, I’m giving an exam where the students will have to prepare short [short] answers to the kinds of questions that I’ve heard.

So, how well would you do on my first-section of the semester exam? It spans the period from the writing of the New Testament to the Church Fathers (end of the 4th century). Here’s the study guide I gave them:

H601 Study Guide for First-Half Exam

The few dates I actually want you to memorize (and why)

  • AD 70–The Destruction of the Temple: This event ended the plurality of Late Second Temple Judaisms and set the stage for the emergence of Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity as distinct entities. The Early Church saw the destruction as confirmation of Jesus’ prophecy in the Gospels. Also, it established Vespasian and Titus as the new dynasty of the Roman Empire
  • AD 136—end of the Bar Kochba revolt, the third and final Jewish revolt against the Romans that led to Jewish expulsion from the region of Jerusalem. Continuing anti-Jewish policies played a role in Jewish-Christian self-differentiation.
  • AD 180 (roughly)—Irenaeus writes Against Heresies and demonstrates a coherent Christian self-understanding embodied in the three marks of the Church that is only two generations removed from Jesus’ own circle: (Irenaeus learned from Polycarp who learned from John the Elder)
  • AD 250—The Decian Persecution: This is the first time that persecution of Christians became a matter of Imperial policy requiring sacrifices and written proof of thereof. Although short-lived, it set an important precedent.
  • AD 313—The “Edict of Milan”: While probably less formal than an edict, this was the agreement between Constantine and Licinius to allow Christianity throughout the Empire
  • AD 325—The First Ecumenical Council at Nicea called by Constantine to address the Arian Controversy and ended the Quartodecemian Controversy.
  • AD 380—Theodosius declares Catholic Orthodoxy the religion of the Empire.
  • AD 410—The Sack of Rome by Alaric and “the Goths”: More an internal policy dispute between a Roman army and Roman officials than a barbarian sack of a civilized city, it nevertheless prompted a crisis concerning the efficacy of Christianity as a state religion.

Important Relationships (and their chronological order where pertinent)

  • Apostolic Fathers—Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, the anonymous author of the Didache (The first generation of Christian thought and witness after the age of the New Testament)
  • The birth of Monasticism: Origen – The Desert Fathers & Mothers, know Antony and Pachomius – Athanasius – Jerome – John Cassian – Evagrius of Pontus
  • The Four Doctors of the Western Church: Ambrose – Augustine – Jerome – Gregory the Great
  • The Four Doctors of the Eastern Church: John Chrysostom – Basil the Great – Gregory of Nazianzen – Athanasius
  • The Great Trinitarian Champions: Athanasius of Alexandria – Leo the Great – Gregory of Nazianzen – Gregory of Nyssa – Basil the Great
  • The African Fathers of Latin Christianity: Tertullian – Cyprian – Augustine

Be able to identify:

  • The Three Marks of the Church according to Irenaeus (Canon/Creed/Apostolic Succession)
  • The main idea of the Gnostics
  • The main idea of the Arians
  • The two positions in the Quartodecemian controversy
  • The main idea of the Donatists
  • The main idea of Ecumenical Councils

Short Answer Questions to Prepare:

  • Why was the destruction of the Temple in 70 such a big deal?
  • Acts says that the Early Church was “of one heart and one mind.” Is that really how it was and how do we know?
  • I hear that the Gnostics were very spiritual people—why did the Early Church think that they were so wrong?
  • As long as we have the Bible I don’t know why we need any of this other stuff.
  • I’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark—it seems to me like Jesus becomes divine at his Baptism. Is that right?
  • I just think the idea of dying for a belief is strange. Why wouldn’t early Christians just fib and skip the whole martyrdom thing?
  • Why did the Romans want to kill Christians, anyway? What were the Christians doing that was so bad?
  • Christians hid from the Romans in the catacombs so they wouldn’t get martyred, right?
  • Why would reasonable people believe in all of this allegory stuff? Why not just read the Bible the right way?
  • Well, I take all of this stuff with a grain of salt. We all know that nobody thought Jesus was a god until Constantine decreed it to be the case.
  • If the creed is what the church believes, why are the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed different?
  • The Church Fathers may have written a lot of stuff but that’s just their opinion. Why should theirs be any better than mine?

Money Autobiography: Qoheleth

My parish has a periodic group that meets to consider topics around how we integrate living out the Gospel and how we use our resources. Much of the discussion is sparked by materials from the Faith & Money Network. For the latest meeting, they decided to use the concept of the Money Autobiography, but to incorporate biblical materials by presenting Money Autobiographies of biblical figures. I was asked to write and present a piece so I selected Qoheleth.

Qoheleth is the Hebrew word meaning “the Teacher” or “Preacher” which is the name by which the narrative voice of Ecclesiastes identifies himself. All of the details offered lead readers to identify Qoheleth with King Solomon but Ecclesiastes never quite comes right out to say it. To compose this, I looked over the questions in the Money Autobiography, selected several, then answered some of these imaginatively from the Samuel/Kings narratives, and cobbled together selections for Ecclesiastes itself for the others.

Following the style of Qoheleth, I don’t identify his family members by name, but only by role. (I will footnote them, though.)


Money Autobiography: Qoheleth (King Solomon as seen through Ecclesiastes)

Have you ever stood in an empty plaza, a market-square that you remember full and bustling with life? Your memory recalls smells and sounds that delight the senses and call to mind the vibrant fabrics, the flashing glances, the pagentry of the daily moment, but your eyes see only the vacant space with crumbling walls, weeds creeping through between flagstones, and the dust and broken crockery pushed to the corners.  Then a breeze flows over the hills from the desert, and caught in the corner, catches up the dead leaves and dust and whirls them in a cloud that passes by and over you and grit pelts your skin and attacks your eyes. And, just for a moment in the sound of its passing you think you catch the sounds of voices long dead of, opportunities left behind, of experiences fading. And a tear forms at the corner of your eye to wash the grit or—perhaps—to cleanse the memory as the circling eddy of wind with its muttering breath passes along its way. And—just for a moment—you think to grasp at it, to hold on to trap that moment, all that which is now past and gone but that is simply a vanity. It is a chasing after the wind.

So it is—in my experience—with the grasping after wealth.

I never lacked for wealth as a child, and in my youth walked the corridors of privilege and ease. Whatever I desired I could lay my hands upon. I made a test of joy and experience and “I made great works; I built houses and planted vineyards for myself; I made myself gardens and parks and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house; I also had great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and of the provinces; I got singers, both men and women, and delights of the flesh, and many concubines. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was the reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” (Eccl 1:4-11).

My unhappiest childhood memory is remembering flight in the night from the hands of my brother. He had risen in arms against my father—because my brother desired what he did not have. He wanted wealth, yes, he wanted power, but more than that he wanted the revenge that these things could give him and in his youth and blindness thought that the power to continue his revenge would heal the hurts of his sister. While he had slain his brother who had raped her, he still blamed our father for not giving her the justice she was due.*

I do not know how my mother felt about wealth but I do know this: There would be nights was I was young when she thought I slept. She would remove her rich robes, take the jewels off her neck and ears, and sweep them from her table to the floor and, putting on a simple dress of Hittite pattern, would cry with her face to the north.

As for my father his wealth was his security. He would shower it on his men with an easy smile, buying those whose spears would bring him safety. He was a man of excesses and contradictions. A man’s man—virile, dashing, and handsome—who had elevated himself from following the sheep to Jerusalem’s throne by his own hand. A lover of women, of battle, and of the God whom he honored even when he acted against his God’s command. Having come from nothing, he could return to nothing, casting mere things aside to melt into the desert, trusting in his canny craft to regain his throne again—which he did at the cost of my beloved brother.

Once my father passed, I stepped into his place. Wealth flowed freely in and out of my coffers. Counting it was important and I had teams of scribes to account for my gold and silver and precious goods, patiently marking tablet after tablet to describe my riches. For only then would I know how I could move and spend it, to turn it from glittering coin to stout carven stone. In my middle years, I kept a close eye on my money. Not because I craved it, but because of the power it allowed me to project. With my money I bought masons and supplies and costly materials with which to build. And build I did, straining my treasure and the will of my people to build great buildings. A temple, yes, the likes of which had never been seen before in Jerusalem but not only the temple. Walls and fortifications and towers were raised at my command. The overseers’ whips cracked as I forced my people to labor, mothers wailed as I sold my own people into servitude in Egypt for horses and chariots, acquiring the military hardware that would keep my nation safe and secure. Protecting my people even as I sold their bodies to purchase my weapons of war.

But—even then—as time would tell—all of my efforts at security would be but vanity and chasing after the wind. For my works of building, my projects of forced labor, so alienated and enraged my people that the northern tribes would grow embittered and in the lifetime of my son would split the kingdom I had spent so deeply to protect.

All of it was a vanity and a chasing after the wind.

Opening my eyes, seeing my own follies, “I saw all of the oppressions that are practiced under the sun, Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who had already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive; but better yet than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun. Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from one person’s envy of another. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind.” (Eccl 4:1-1)

“Again, I saw vanity under the sun: the case of solitary individuals, without sons or brothers; yet there is no end to their toil, and their eyes are never satisfied with riches. ‘For whom am I toiling,” ‘thy ask, ‘and depriving myself of pleasure?

This also is vanity and an unhappy business.” (Eccl 4:7-8).

“There is a grievous ill that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owners to their hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture; though they are parents of children, they have nothing in their hands. As they came from their mother’s womb, so shall they go again, naked as they came: they shall take nothing for their toil which they may carry away with their hands. This also is a grievous ill: just as they came, so shall they go; and what gain do they have from toiling for the wind? Besides, all their days they eat in darkness, in much vexation and sickness and resentment.

This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life that God gives us; for this is our lot. Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil—this is the gift of God.” (Eccl 5:13-19).

Now—I have heard it said “The righteous are delivered from trouble, and the wicked get into it instead” (Prov 11:8); I have heard it said, “Be assured, the wicked will not go unpunished, but those who are righteous will escape” (Prov 11:21). I have heard it said  “Misfortune pursues sinners; but prosperity rewards the righteous” (Prov 13:21). I have heard it said, “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life” (Prov 22:4). But this too is vanity and a chasing after the wind. “In my vain life, I have seen everything; there are righteous people who perish in their righteousness and there are wicked people who prolong their life in their evildoing” (Eccl 7:15). “There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people who are treated according to the conduct of the wicked, and there are wicked people who are treated according to the conduct of the righteous I said that this also is vanity” (Eccl 8:14).

As the gold slips through my fingers I know that it is not worth a puff of wind for it gives me not one more puff of wind into my breath. My wealth cannot save my life. “The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth with gain. This also is vanity. When goods increase, those who eat them increase; and what gain has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of laborers, whether they eat little or much; but the surfeit of the rich will not let them sleep” (Eccl 5:10-12).What gives me joy at the end of my days—at the end of my life—are the simple pleasures that cost but a handful of copper: “So I commend enjoyment, for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat and drink and enjoy themselves for this will go with them in their toil through all the days of life that God gives them under the sun” (Eccl 8:15). “Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going” (Eccl 9:8-10).

“Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, ’I have no pleasure in them’ : before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel is broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, all is vanity” (Eccl 12:1, 6-8).

 

  • This is a reference to Absalom’s uprising against his father (and Solomon’s father) King David. Absalom’s anger against his father began when his half-brother Amnon raped then rejected Absalom’s full-sister Tamar. Absalom slew him after King David refused to punish Amnon’s crime. Solomon’s mother is Bathsheba; the mention of the “Hittite” dress is a reference to Bathsheba’s first husband Uriah whom David killed—with Bathsheba’s collusion.

Sanctoral Hash

Before we start talking about the legislation around the sanctoral calendar that occurred at General Convention, let me refer you once again to the brief history of the Episcopal Calendar that I wrote for the Liturgy Center at VTS.

There are two directions from which to approach the question of the sanctoral calendar.

The first is to approach it as a place are individuals are recognized. An individual is lifted up as a saint—however that gets defined and understood—and is put on the calendar because their life-story appears to fit the criteria used for judging saintliness. From this perspective, the question of whether a person belongs on the calendar or not is a matter of whether they tick all of the right boxes and none of the wrong ones.

The second direction is to approach the calendar as a set, a deliberate group. As a set, the balance of individuals says something about how the church as a whole understands sanctity and the various breakdown of roles and functions within the church as a living organism. To borrow the great Pauline metaphor, a proper sanctoral calendar ought to reflect the disposition of the various parts of the body that make up the whole. It can’t be all made up of “brain” or all made up of “foot” or you get a warped view of the Body of Christ and its constituent features. To say it more clearly, the composition of the whole needs to reflect that contemplative holiness, self-sacrificial martyrdom, theological brilliance, pastoral sensitivity, just social action, and more are all in the mix in terms of what sanctity looks like. Furthermore, other kinds of balance matter here, not just the theological. This is where issues of race, ethnicity, temporal period, and gender come in as well.

One of the classic instances of imbalance is the late 19th century Roman Catholic calendar which was dominated by French and Italian bishops. What it said was, if you want to be holy, be a French or Italian bishop. If you’re a married woman of color, you’re out of luck.

When you approach the calendar from this angle, the question isn’t just about the worthiness of a given individual; it also has to do with how many of a given sort are in the whole system. Balancing the competing theological criteria with race and gender concerns makes this a very complicated matter. But if we are trying to portray sanctity across a wide range of time, locations, and social classes, it’s an exercise worth doing. We are literally trying to image the full humanity of Christ by illustrating how instances from across the whole spectrum of human experience have communicated Christ in their time and place.

What the proposed LFF 2018 was trying to do was to attack the calendar from the second angle. It tried to create a balanced group of worthies. Because our previous calendars had been so badly skewed in terms of gender and ordination status, and theological role, the only way to accomplish balance was to take some people off and to add some new people on. Overwhelmingly, the people removed were 19th century American white (male) bishops. The people added were women from across time and space. This is how numbers and math work—you can either add more and more people to come up to your target figure (and the addition of commemorations itself was an issue), or you can remove some from an over-represented group which means you will not to add as many from your under-represented groups.

The reaction from convention on seeing LFF 2018 was to approach it from the first direction and to freak out about people not seen. The issue is not that those people were not properly saintly; the issue was one of representation and balance. Otherwise, we send the message that the best path to sanctity is to be a white American bishop.

Now. All of that having been said, here is the resolution that General Convention passed:

A065 Authorize Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, that the 79th General Convention authorize the continued use of Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2006; and be it further

Resolved, commend the continued availability of Great Cloud of Witnesses 2015 for the 2018-2021 triennium; and be it further

Resolved, that the new commemorations in Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018 proposed by the SCLM be authorized for trial use and be included in the calendar for the 2018-2021 triennium, under Article X(b); and be it further

Resolved that the SCLM provide the 80th General Convention with a clear and unambiguous plan for a singular calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

The first resolve retains Lesser Feasts & Fast 2006 as the official Calendar of the Church.

The second resolve “retains” Great Cloud of Witnesses by extending its non-canonical status (?) as available. I’m not sure what this does. To me it signals that they still want to keep the Great Cloud/Holy Women, Holy Men material in the mix but—as we have been over a number of times—there are issues with this material with regard to which criteria the entries match and whether all entries meet all of the criteria.

The third resolve essentially misses the point of LFF 2018—i.e., the principle of re-balancing—and smooshes [technical term] the new entries into…what…LFF 2006?…thereby watering down the intent of re-balancing.

The fourth resolve is kind of a middle finger to the SCLM and folks who have been doing Calendar work over the past several years. Here’s the thing. Constructing a calendar that will be accepted by all Episcopalians is an inherent impossibility. Some of us believe in saints in the objective sense: that there are baptized Christian people who are physically dead who are participating in a closeness with God now that other physically dead people are not currently enjoying. Other Episcopalians fundamentally reject this notion and the theology that flows from it. A person who regards a sanctoral calendar as a roster of those actively praying for us now is going to have a different set of criteria and a different set of understandings about how that roster is made than someone who is looking for a list of inspirational figures who may or may not have been Episcopalian. In Great Cloud of Witnesses and in LFF 2018, we tried to put together a compromise list that would balance out competing Episcopal understandings of sanctity yet still have a list that people on both ends of the spectrum could live with.

Let me be blunt. There are people in Great Cloud of Witnesses that I do not regard as saints. Which is why Great Cloud was offered as a list from which local communities could identify those people they considered to be saints. That way we could have a list of inspirational people and yet not call them saints—because not all of them met that standard.

LFF 2018 was another attempt at a singular calendar that would address the concerns raised by the 2003 demand for attention to balance and representation. But Convention decided that wasn’t ok either.

At one point in 2013 or 2014, I listed out six different competing demands that a given calendar proposal would have to meet in order to satisfy all interested parties. Not all six can be met—something has to give. One of the major problems was the sheer volume of material in Holy Women, Holy Men/Great Cloud of Witnesses. Despite the fact that everyone in it is optional, there was tremendous push-back at GC 2012 that there were far too many names. Thus for a calendar to be accepted it must be smaller that HWHM/GCW. General Convention will not pass a lazy process of addition that just keeps adding on more and more names. Therefore if there is a “a clear and unambiguous plan for a singular calendar” there have to be winners and losers. We can’t do another compromise document. What the SCLM will have to propose is an actual sanctoral theology, and then follow that theology up with criteria and commemorations that meet those criteria.

They’ll be in my prayers…

General Convention + 2 Months

Now that the program year has gotten underway, we’ve starting having adult forums again at my parish. My rector asked me to give a wrap-up of the events of General Convention. I did that this morning, and it’s got me thinking again about the major things that happened there. The way that I laid it out, there were six big things that occurred

  • Budget: We passed one. $134 million over three years. And for the three main pillars of the Jesus Movement, Evangelism got $5.2 million ($.7 million less than last time), Racial Reconciliation and Justice got $10.4 million (up from $9.5 million), and Creation Care got an even $1 million (up from $650K). At such a time as this, I remain confused/surprised/bewildered that Evangelism receives so little. Sure—there is work going on at the diocesan level as well, but we need a major shot in the arm to wake the Episcopal Church up to help us talk about our faith in meaningful and important ways,and to share best practices for doing so.
  • The Return of Cuba: Cuba is back as a diocese of the Episcopal Church. This is a good thing. In making this move we have rolled back a unilateral move by the House of Bishops that, while understandable perhaps at the time, was a clear violation of our polity.
  • The intersection of General Convention and the #MeToo Movement: We finally began to make some steps to address some of the glaring gender problems in our church. But we have to make sure they keep going. This is a very personal issue for me. I have seen the ways that my wife has been treated by the church. Far too many times I’ve had to say, “That would never happen if you were a guy.” In terms of clergy, women assistants/associates are at a major power disadvantage with regard to both their rectors and their congregations which increased the potential and possibility for bad things to happen from either side. In terms of laity, because of the greater number of women lay workers than men the inequities around clergy/lay compensation and benefits disproportionately impact women. We really can’t attempt to speak a prophetic word about economic justice to others if we can’t get our own house in order. Resolutions and covenants and task-forces are a start, but are only a start unless they keep going forward.
  • Compensation for the President of the House of Deputies: This is one of the tricky technical issues that, while important, is difficult to easily convey to people in the pews. This fight is about the nature of the relationship between the House of Deputies and Bishops and the structures of authority that we have. How can we be both democratic and episcopal? What does authority at the top of our church actually look like? Convention gave a relatively nuanced answer by funding the position but not granting it salary or benefits.  I think this is a good move because it emphasizes that we are episcopal in governance yet we still recognize that our non-episcopal leaders have more than just a volunteer role and deserve to be compensated for their effort and  labor.
  • Marriage Equality: The original resolution that added the same-sex blessing materials into the prayer book and removed the need for the bishop’s permission was a hand grenade. I personally want to see these materials widely available but I also want to keep parishes and dioceses within the church that struggle with the issue. The negotiated settlement of B012 is not perfect, but at least—so far—has been able to accomplish these two aims in a way that the original resolution could not have done. I’m not even going to try to crystal-ball this one and predict how this decision will shake out through the rest of this triennium…
  • Liturgical Stuff: In my presentation, I deliberately put the liturgical stuff last because I knew that if I led with it, I’d never get to any other to other stuff, my own interests and proclivities being what they are… I called out three major things here: 1) the trial use inclusive language editions of Rite II Prayers A, B, and D, 2) the shift to TFLPBR for prayer book innovation, and 3) the sanctoral calendar.

The net effect of pulling this presentation together was to make me mad all over again about what was done to the sanctoral calendar.

The final action in the House of Bishops made a thorough and complete hash of the issue. The state of the calendar  is truly a mess, so much so that I can’t keep writing about it here—it requires its own separate post.

Ember Monday

It’s totally not a thing…

Despite what the St. Bede’s Breviary tried to tell you this morning and/or this evening depending on your time zone and when you pray the Office.

It was an algorithm error. And, since I had an action-packed weekend—complete with Back-to-School Sunday yesterday—I slept in until 6 and didn’t get to Morning Prayer, I didn’t learn about it until many friends on Facebook started wondering if Ember Monday might be a thing.

Other than a glitch—no!


The new job is great fun and very rewarding. I’m not getting a lot of writing done at the moment, although I must begin producing more and soon. Now that I’m getting in the swing of the school year, you’ll see more substantive posts arriving shortly. And, for those of you who support me on Patreon, let me know what kinds of posts you’d like to see!