The blog

The blog—informal opinions and chat about the parish

Monday, August 28, 2017

This should be so simple

Everyone who spent a childhood in Sunday school should remember these:
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions ... But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22)
It should be very obvious. Any religion or political philosophy that runs on hatred and jealousy is simply not a Christian religion or philosophy. Hatred, rage, and selfish ambition are not characteristics of God's Spirit.

Got it? So when a hate-filled, cross-carrying person spews out venom against some person or group, you can be pretty sure that the message did not come from the Spirit of Christ. Even if the person is carrying a cross.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Minimum for Salvation

Back when I was in seminary, one of the professors asked just how many biblical people we are totally certain made it to heaven? OK, Jesus, but that's sort of cheating. Enoch and Elijah are good candidates because they were swept up without dying, but there is only one about whom we can really be certain. The thief on the cross.

He's the only one to whom Jesus said, "You will be with me in Paradise."

His theology is a bit thin. He believed that Jesus did not deserve to be executed, and he believed that somehow Jesus was moving toward his heavenly kingdom. That's it. His only request was "Remember me." (Luke 23:43)

In seminary, we used to ask, "What is the minimum one needs to believe in order to be saved." Again, it's quite minimal. When Paul and Silas answered the jailer's question, "What must I do to be saved?" the response is simple: "Believe on the Lord Jesus." (Acts 16:31)

Of course, this was all very confusing for students who were deep into systematic theology and church history and all the rest, but it's refreshing and reassuring. And it keeps the focus in the right place. Jesus.

Jesus plus

I remember reading a book about Christians and communal living. The book made the point that to be really a Christian, one must believe in Jesus and live in a household with other people. That seemed odd. Didn't ring true.

We see a lot of this. Believe in Jesus plus something else. Recycling. Gun control. Freedom to carry (and use) guns everywhere. Capitalist economy. Young-earth creationism.

Believe in Jesus PLUS this other thing and you will be saved, because a plain faith in Jesus isn't enough.

That REALLY rings hollow. Not the message of the New Testament.

Minus Jesus

One problem with "Jesus plus" faith is that Jesus often gets excluded from the equation. In our day we see that "Jesus plus anti-abortion" morphs into a faith that says the message of "Oppose abortion and you will be saved." "Jesus plus family values" morphs into "Support 19th century family structure and you will be saved." "Jesus plus patriotism" becomes "Support American exceptionalism and you will be saved."

Say it that way and the lie becomes apparent. If someone only opposes abortion or gay rights, many are willing to call that person a "good Christian" whether that person has any clue about Jesus or not. We even have the sordid example of a church leader claiming that it's God's will to bomb North Korea because, obviously, any threat against the American people is contrary to God's will.

What we're up against

"Jesus plus" theology always ends up losing Jesus along the way, and the current public conversation is hate-filled and self-centered, an ideal environment for churches and preachers to spring up claiming that the only point of the Bible is to oppose abortion or to oppose gay rights or to advance the political claims of the white middle class in America.

We're better than that.

I don't know about your Bible, but mine has 1220 pages, none of which mention American exceptionalism. Jesus didn't say anything about gay rights, one way or the other. The "Jesus plus" and "Minus Jesus" people will hate us for this, but we need to get on with the business of loving God and loving our neighbor, whether or not it's the politically correct path.

That was the answer Jesus gave to the rich young man who wanted to inherit eternal life. Provide for the poor. Follow Jesus. That's it. (Mark 10:21)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Our response to Charlottesville

When I was a boy, the pastor of our white, suburban Presbyterian congregation of peaceful, middle-class government workers would take time off to participate in civil rights protest marches.

My father thought that was terrible.

I realize now that our pastor was right.

It is very easy, particularly in peaceful Ashland, to assume that these troubles are "out there" and that we can get by with just blending in. We can't do that if we want to follow Jesus.

Here is where the Episcopal Church stands on white supremacy, "just blending in" and our duties to our fellow humans.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Work is never done

Turns out that cool word montage on the church's welcome page was only the left half. The right half (which includes the words "neither do we") didn't get included, and the only version I can find is a slide show that alternates between the two pictures. That means I have to learn how to do slide shows.

Sigh. Work is never done.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

We Have Almost Made It

Rev. Kay returns from her sabbatical in a couple of weeks (I hear she got to Ireland as part of it), and my worst fears didn't materialize.

People in general—and particularly in churches that make a vivid distinction between the roles of the clergy and the laity—are tempted to think of the church as the priest/minister's private project. Their attitude is that the church is like that little local shoe store: Paul owns it; Paul sets it up his way; if Paul isn't there the thing just sort of stops. The cultural attitude toward churches is the same. (How many church ads and signs do you see that really highlight the minister's name and picture?)

So I was afraid that with Rev. Kay gone, the whole thing would come to a hideous, screeching halt. It didn't.

Our numbers have been typical for a summer. The offering plate is doing well (always a concern for a treasurer). Recent newcomers have kept attending, and so have the regulars.

Those special Saturday events were well-attended (surprise!), yet the following Sunday Morning Prayer also had people (bigger surprise!). We have one more of those this weekend (Saturday at 11 AM) because this Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday (a big deal in our church) and we couldn't get a priest to do Eucharist on Sunday.

Aside from the usual glitches (mainly focused on problems getting the Sunday program printed), it all went well. We did have one odd Sunday when we all thought we were going to do Morning Prayer, and we had people prepared to officiate and to preach—but then a priest showed up, having gotten dates confused.

I'm glad it all worked. I'm glad we were able to pull together and actually depend on one another and cooperate with one another.

And I'm glad Rev. Kay is coming back. We did miss her.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Reading Suggestions

The whole idea of the new website design is to be more friendly and accessible to newcomers and outsiders. When I looked at the thing, one whole section that I loved (but didn't fit into that "newcomers" idea) was the "Further Reading" section. I don't want to lose it, so I'm going to put it in the menu on the right on this page.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Sense of the Holy

The church website is making progress, bit by bit. I think I've got the appearance of the thing tamed, and it really is pretty. (I cannot take much of the credit for that. I'm using a free pre-formatted template from HTML5 UP! and it's beautiful. The artwork is mainly scrounged from the Internet.)

I would really love for it to go live early next week, to try to catch the new arrivals at Ashland University.

Right now, I'm still struggling with the concept of Episcopal DNA. We're an odd bunch.

  • In a lot of ways, we are more Celtic than the Church of England, and this leads us to a deep respect for the environment. Prayers for the physical world are part of normal Sunday worship. I think I should stick in something about Bellwether Farm, the new camp and retreat center the Diocese is building. Part of the ethos of Bellwether is that it will be a working, sustainable farm.
  • The Three-Legged Stool illustration probably should go in because it emphasizes our focus on tradition and scripture and intellect. Some of the finest minds of the age have been in the Anglican tradition.
  • We're willing to laugh at ourselves. Want to hear a good joke about Episcopalians? Ask one of us.
  • I have read more than one comment saying that the younger generation is seeking a sense of the holy, a sense of worship. The shallow, all-about-me themes for worship seem to be losing out. (Certainly, this aspect is what drew me to the Episcopal Church). This poster isn't from St. Matthew's, and we don't use incense, but it gives an idea about this return to tradition: