The blog

The blog—informal opinions and chat about the parish

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Why I Abandoned My Parents' Faith

I remember vividly my attitudes toward the Christian faith when I was a freshman in college. Dress up nice on Sunday, be nice to nice people, preserve the social fabric of America—that was about it as far as I could tell. I really did like the music and I enjoyed a change of pace every week.

All that cultural stuff proved pointless and irrelevant to a young kid a thousand miles away from home. The revolution, for me anyhow, occurred when I encountered some fellow students who really believed all that God stuff and invited me in. For them it wasn't just a matter of Americanism, maintaining the dominant culture and being nice. Faith was about how they related to Jesus and being obedient to him in their world. I was fascinated. I was enthralled. I was hooked. Suddenly the whole thing made sense.

Yes, I did leave my parents' church that was so focused on nice people wearing nice clothes and doing nice things. It seemed so shallow. Many years later, the conservative church I had landed in became more of a political club than a Jesus movement, so I was on the prowl again for a church that remembered its roots. That's why I eventually came to the Episcopal Church. I didn't plan it this way, but I'm thrilled that Presiding Bishop Curry's first words to us were that "This is the Jesus Movement, and we are The Episcopal Church, the Episcopal branch of Jesus' movement in this world."

The Opposing View

Nobody should be surprised that Bishop Curry's view is the minority view. It's not nice. It's not comfortable. It doesn't reinforce our prejudices. Slate magazine (not a publication known for its theological sharpness) ran an article recently concerning the civil religion that now masks as the Christian faith. The occasion was the National Prayer Breakfast, at which our President's remarks focused on his own television ratings, the poor job Arnold Schwarzenegger is doing on The Apprentice, and our duty to ramp up fear and partisanship within the USA. The article is a good read. For the sake of clarity, I wish there were a better label than "Christian" for the point of view Trump is pushing, but it is light years away from where we should be.

Who should we Episcopalians be? The Jesus Movement.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Bishop Statements on Our New Immigrant Policy

Statements by church leadership are extremely important, not just because they represent an official policy, but because (at their best) they also say something about what God's intention is for our church and our interaction with the world.

My Facebook feed has been filling up with statements from a wide variety of church leaders. I will link them below, beginning with the statement from our own Bishop Mark Hollingsworth:

Voices from other parts of Christ's body:

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Personal Note Again

As a college English instructor, I am normally overwhelmed in the days between Thanksgiving and Candlemas. (I just had to throw that one in, being the recent convert in the crowd.) End of semester grades, prepping for the coming semester, clearing up the inevitable administrative foul-ups—all demand a ton of time. Family Thanksgiving and Christmas, of course, demand a ton of time. And this year, just to drive me totally insane, I have volunteered to be the church Treasurer in our parish, which meant setting up new procedures and trying to get it all running by the first of the year.

All this means that this orphaned blog got little attention.

The recent election, of course, has taken its emotional toll as well. I look back on the posts I wrote in September and November, and, in a way, I have little to add. The real question, however, for Christians is a divine "Now what?"

We see the civil government moving vividly in the direction of authoritarianism and white supremacy. We see the potential ending of many of the values that characterized America for the last hundred years. Taking a deep breath, I ask, "Now what?"

First, no matter what people may be saying, the American President is not an autocrat—yet. Executive orders encouraging torture are illegal and likely to be opposed by many in the chain of command. Executive orders targeting one religion for special treatment are illegal and likely to be challenged in court. We have a little bit of time, and we should use it wisely.

Second, there is a big difference between claiming the label "Christian" and actually being one. That's a theme that permeates Scripture. Much of what parades in public as American Christianity is little more than a dressed-up version of materialism, chauvinism, and racism, with a cross painted on the door to make it look more acceptable to the public. The teenagers' youth group question WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) is actually a good one. Would he turn his back on refugees? Campaign in favor of the Emperor? Publicly insult people with whom he disagreed? Probably not. We need to remain clear about what the Christian faith is really all about.

And that brings me to a particularly Episcopalian point. For a very long time, we've run counter to a me-too attitude toward the culture—even the culture of mainstream religion. The poor, the lonely, the refugee, all are our business. We respect and welcome all, regardless of externals.

Talk is cheap. Today I'm firing off a check to the ACLU and another to Habitat for Humanity.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Newer Christians

Reading my Facebook items this morning, I came across a post from a woman who lives in a small town in Vermont. The local newspaper republished an opinion piece she describes as being from a "radical ultra-conservative, right-wing, anti-abortion evangelical Christian blog site."

I am dismayed (but not surprised) that the world of non-Christian America gravitates toward materialism and selfish hatred of everyone who doesn't fit the local ideal mold of what a "real person" should be like.

I'm not even extremely surprised that the Christian label has become attached to this kind of thinking. After all, so many churches have been seduced into thinking that the USA is God's new Jerusalem and that the mythic American lifestyle (small towns, buying Chevrolets, eating hot dogs, and cheering for football teams) is God's best plan for the part of mankind rich enough and white enough to participate. (And I guess those who are not rich enough and white enough can, quite literally, go to hell.)

After all, I left a church like that a few years back.

But that tag from the woman in Vermont should be troubling to the genuine Christians. The outside world has pretty much figured out that Christians hate Jews, Muslims, Mexicans, poor people, Asians, gays, and educated people. "Evangelical Christian" has become the name of a political party, not a very honest one or a very nice one either. (It's ironic, because "Evangelical" comes from the Greek word for "good news" and it was originally all about telling a world of people in pain about the good news of Jesus. Poor Jesus! He's gotten totally forgotten in all this right-wing political mess.)

All through the Bible there is the doctrine of the "remnant." The basic idea is that many will call themselves believers, but God has a remnant, a tiny number, who remain faithful to Him. I think that is what we are called to be, and perhaps we need a different name for ourselves. We don't hate the poor; we provide for them. We don't hate the refugee; we provide for them. We don't think that accumulating wealth and protecting the borders of the USA are the highest callings of the Christian faith. We tell the truth. We do not automatically bow down to the latest speech from our great political leader.

And this kind of discipleship will certainly prove to be very costly.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Pantsuit Nation and the Church

Someone in the Facebook group named "Pantsuit Nation" posted a comment about how she responded to teachers from a Christian school who voted for Trump because "at least he's against abortion."

The flurry of responses was astonishing. The original post went up two hours ago, and I really cannot keep up with all the comments that are flying in.

Of course, this is an anti-Trump advocacy group, so there isn't much comment defending the teachers, and there is a lot of cheering for the woman who posted the response. There's more though.

Post after post comes from people who are renouncing that church because they see its views as hypocritical and opportunistic. For the sake of getting a candidate who claims (at least for the time being) to be anti-abortion, churches and Christians are willing to accept a man who has no respect for the Christian faith and no evidence of any of the Christian virtues. And church members are angry.

We often mourn the decline of the older, traditional "Main Street" churches. Beginning the days of the "Jesus People" (and I was one of those), we used to say that the "Main Street" churches were more interested in keeping Middle American culture going than in preaching the gospel. People still see through that hypocrisy, and that is still the reason that we have trouble attracting younger members. We are all tarred with the same brush.

Saint Paul saw all this coming, and made the comment in Romans 3:8:
Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—"Let us do evil that good may result"?
Indeed, why not? Because it's not the Christian way of doing things. Non-believers know this. Christians who would like to be in a really faithful church know this. Christians in faithful churches need to get the message out: We don't bow down to some cultural norm just to achieve one limited goal.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Immigrant Apostles' Creed

I found this today in the faculty mailroom. It was just lying on a table, so I had no idea where it came from or who wrote it. After a bit of research, I found it in a blog titled "Hopping Hadrian's Wall." Good words:


I believe in Almighty God,
who guided the people in exile and in exodus,
the God of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon,
the God of foreigners and immigrants.

I believe in Jesus Christ, a displaced Galilean,
who was born away from his people and his home,
who fled his country with his parents when his life was in danger.
When he returned to his own country he suffered under the oppression of Pontius Pilate, the servant of a foreign power.
Jesus was persecuted, beaten, tortured, and unjustly condemned to death.
But on the third day Jesus rose from the dead, not as a scorned foreigner but to offer us citizenship in God’s kingdom.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the eternal immigrant from God’s kingdom among us,
who speaks all languages, lives in all countries,
and reunites all races.
I believe that the Church is the secure home
for foreigners and for all believers.
I believe that the communion of saints begins
when we embrace all God’s people in all their diversity.
I believe in forgiveness, which makes us all equal before God,
and in reconciliation, which heals our brokenness.
I believe that in the Resurrection
God will unite us as one people
in which all are distinct and all are alike at the same time.
I believe in life eternal, in which no one will be foreigner
but all will be citizens of the kingdom
where God reigns forever and ever. Amen.

The blog says it was found on a Facebook post by Neal Presa, the moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and says it was originally written by Rev. Jose Luis Casal.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

We must be doing something right

Over the weekend, two Episcopal churches, hundreds of miles apart, were vandalized. This story comes from the Indianapolis  Star, dateline November 13, 2016:
St. David's Episcopal Church in Bean Blossom was vandalized sometime Saturday night.

Vandals painted tags on the walls, depicting a swastika, an anti-gay slur and "Heil Trump."

The Rev. Kelsey Hutto, priest in charge at St. David's Episcopal Church, said she was disheartened after finding the graffiti on the walls of the church Sunday morning. But her next thought was more positive.

"Well, we must be doing something right," Hutto said she thought. "We stated one time that doing the right thing was not always the popular thing. We were targeted for a reason, and in our mind it was for a good reason."

As Christians, Hutto said they need to respond to hateful acts with love and joy. That's what God calls on them to do, no matter what color people are, where they came from or who they love.
And this from the Associated Press, dateline November 13, 2016:
An Episcopal church in a heavily Latino suburb of Washington has been vandalized with a racist message that mentions President-elect Donald Trump, church officials say.

Jim Naughton, a spokesman for Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, said the vandalism occurred Saturday night at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Silver Spring, Maryland. He said a banner advertising the church's Spanish-language service was slashed, and the words "Trump nation. Whites only" were written on the back.

Naughton said the same phrase was written on a brick wall in the memorial garden of the parish.

The bishop was scheduled to visit the parish Sunday afternoon and stand in solidarity with the rector of the church, parishioners, lay leaders and interfaith supporters.