Monday, January 31, 2005

jacques derrida and the gift of the cross

In a gesture of shameless self-promotion, here is the sermon I preached yesterday:

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

In the name of the + Father…

For many, the chief intellectual hurdle in the Christian project is seeing or experiencing the victory of the cross. I mean it is telling, and a bit odd, that the most recognizable symbol of Christianity is the cross… not a stone rolled away or a dove descending or that little fish that goes on your car’s bumper. The most recognizably Christian symbol, the world over, down through the centuries, is an instrument of torture and death, a cross. How is it that Christians have, since the beginning, found their identity as a body in that instrument of suffering and death? It is this question to which St. Paul addresses himself in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians.

As many of you know, Jacques Derrida was a French intellectual famous for inventing or discovering Deconstruction, a technique by which literally everything is called into question and turned on its head. During the evening of Friday, October the 8th 2004, in a move of uncharacteristic certitude and clarity, Derrida died. A friend of mine broke the news to me in an email the following day, concluding “I suppose if he died in Christ, even his death can be called into question.”

In one of Derrida’s books, “Given Time: Counterfeit Money,” Derrida sets about deconstructing, picking apart intellectually, the activity of gift-giving, concluding in the end that it is impossible to give a gift. What Derrida means, I think, in saying that it is impossible to give a gift is that gifts are by definition free. They are given, plain and simple. In order for a gift to be a gift, it has to be free, dissociated from reciprocity. For if you give a gift to someone and they give something back, in return, the gift has become an exchange, and insofar as it is an exchange, it is not a gift. But Derrida notes that every time we give each other gifts, we do get something back, even if its just the satisfaction of having given the gift. For Derrida, then, the gift is the impossible.

If Derrida is right, we Christians are in a lot of trouble… for our whole way of seeing the world, all of our activities, our presence here, our coming together to worship, our eating the bread and drinking the cup, our very life, is based on the assumption that we have received a gift. Recall the words of the angel to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night: “for to you is born this day in the city of David a savior which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2.11). Its not merely that a savior is born, but rather that to you is he born, echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah: “for unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given” (Isaiah 9.6). And for Christians it is practically impossible to see the child lying in the manger without the assurance that this child, thirty-three years later, will be given with awful finality, pierced and broken and bloody, stretched out on the hard wood of the cross.

Derrida was right, in a way, because he spoke from the finite vantage point of time and space, he spoke on the world’s terms of fairness, of measured reciprocity, of market transactions, of what he called tit-for-tat giving and counter-giving. For us it is impossible to give pure gifts, free of the taint of self-satisfaction at the very awareness that we have given a gift. But as Jesus himself said, “with men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19.26, Mark 10.27). Derrida spoke with the wisdom and discernment of our age, an age of reason and reasonableness, an age purged of the vestiges of myth, in which miracles are either denied or explained away. But St. Paul here in 1 Corinthians, quoting the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 29.14) reminds us that God, in embracing us, has disavowed our pretenses and our social constructions: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart” (1 Corinthians 1.19).

The cross is for all of us the destruction of human wisdom and cleverness. It is our life through his death. Speaking about God the Father, St. Paul says “He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1.30). Wisdom from God. It is the whole scheme of human wisdom and cleverness that produces and holds up the gadflies of religion, men like Jacques Derrida, telling the world of the complete impossibility of genuine gift giving. In our day it is Derrida, but the world has always had its class of wise and clever men, oracles, sophists and cynics. And they do, in a sense, have a meet and fitting social function. They are there to be thorns in our flesh, pointing to the futility of our efforts, that the wellspring of our generosity and humanism is vanity and a chasing after wind.

But once, in the middle of all the rhetoric, something quiet and unexpected happened. A child was born, a Son was given. You can imagine how Hell and the powers of darkness must have roared. They (and we) had been taught to expect something quite different. The solution to our problems we would expect to come charging into town riding an Abrams Tank or administering a social program.

Instead we get something quite different. We get a helpless child. And the helpless child grows into a man. And the man goes around Galilee healing the sick and teaching freedom to the captives, it is true, but in the middle of all of his good and useful works and teachings, there is a curious subtext: blessed are those who have nothing to eat, blessed are those who are powerless, blessed are those who have no money, blessed are those who have nothing whatsoever, indeed blessed are those who have everything taken from them: “blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely” (Matthew 5.11). But most curiously of all, right in the middle of this revolutionary and hopeful new ministry, he abandons it. Luke describes Jesus’ face as having become “set towards Jerusalem,” and in Jesus’ own words to his disciples: “Behold, we are going to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified” (Matthew 20.17ff).

We are meant to take from this story that Jesus’ teaching and ministry, while unprecedented and wonderful, plays a supporting role to the main event: that Jesus came to give himself to us. And this is what cannot be comprehended on the world’s terms. Derrida is right: we as human creatures are completely incapable of giving pure gifts. The whole Old Testament can be interpreted as a series of stories about God’s demanding a pure gift and Israel’s perpetual inability to give one. So the Son of God comes among us and does the impossible: he gives to us the only pure gift in the history of the cosmos: himself. His own life is poured out for us.

This is the wisdom of God, and it turns our wisdom and cleverness completely upside down. The message we as Christians have been given by God, is far more radical than humanitarianism, it is far more radical than our good and useful ministries of justice and mercy. The source and content of our life is in the death of our crucified and risen Lord, the source of our fullness is in his emptiness on our behalf, the source of our riches is in the poverty he embraced, the source of our power is in his having become our servant. This is what St. Paul calls “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” – that “God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 23-24). In the end, I think Derrida could not see it: he concluded, rather hopelessly, that the pure gift is impossible. And the world struggles to see in the Christmas crib, and much more in the insulted face of the Crucified, the power and the glory of God.

And that’s where we, the Church, come in. We have been entrusted with the proclamation of our crucified and risen Lord. That’s what we are doing here. That’s what this Eucharist is. It is the content of our proclamation: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Christ is given for you and me. And it is our power to go out from this place, in peace, to love and serve the Lord; to go back into our little worlds (the laboratories, libraries, classrooms and social scenes) with their little wisdoms and clevernesses, proclaiming God’s transforming foolishness, in which we are blessed to boast.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

collect for the martyrdom of king charles

Blessed Lord, in whose sight the death of thy Saints is precious, we magnify thy Name for thine abundant grace bestowed upon thy servant, King Charles of England: by which he was enabled so cheerfully to follow the steps of his blessed Master and Saviour, in a constant meek suffering of all barbarous indignities; even then, according to the same pattern, praying for his murderers, to the same our only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

the beheading of charles i, king and martyr

January 30 (today) is the commemoration of the matyrdom of King Charles I.

The II Nocturn of Matins:

Lesson iv
"Charles Stuart, known to secular history as King Charles I of England, and popularly called The Royal Martyr, was born in 1600, and crowned King of England on Candlemas Day in 1626. His father, who had been James VI of Scotland and afterwards became James I of England, was an ardent convert from Scottish Calvinism, and laboured diligently throughout all his dominions to exalt the doctrines of the priesthood and the sacraments, which the Calvinists had denied. In particular he restored the apostolic ministry to Scotland, with the hope of thereby gradually supplanting the new system with the ancient heritage of our religion. And when Charles acceded to his father's throne, he also was diligent in all these matters. But when he attempted to impose liturgical worship on Scotland, the Calvinists became alarmed, and stirred up an irreverent mob to prevent the use of it; and thereafter the opposition grew until it was evident that the Scots as a nation could not be reconciled to the Church in this fashion. Nevertheless, the succession of the Catholic priesthood, which had been instituted in his father's reign, continued its labours, whereof the Scottish Church of today is the fruit. Meanwhile Charles, with the help of his Chancellor, William Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury, introduced numerous ecclesiastical reforms in England, and enforced the discipline of the Church, whereby great antagonism was stirred up against them, as a result of which they both were finally brought to martyrdom."

Lesson v
"For this was the time when the Commons first began the struggle for a constitutional monarchy, which same was contrary to the King's prerogatives as they had hitherto been understood and as Charles tried to defend them. But it was not only because he opposed the politics of his enemies, but also because he stedfastly refused to do away with the Catholic constitution of the Church, that Parliament finally condemned him to death. Whereat he was able to shew how he had within himself the power to undergo all sorts of indignities with true greatness and serenity. For he had ever been a man conspicuous for devotion to God, and for penitence and prayer, as well as for his faithfulness to Christian duties. Therefore, even though he regarded the death sentence passed upon him as unlawful and unjust, he accepted it as a condign punishment from the mercy of God because of his own sins."

Lesson vi
From the time of his arrest he spent most of his time in prayer and contemplation. On the day of his execution he gladly made his preparation for death, with the aid of one of the Chaplains allowed to him; with whom he first recited the Office of the day, and then listened with great devotion to the reading of the Passion according to Matthew. Thereafter he received the last Sacraments; by which fortified, he went bravely and cheerily to his death. Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, who knew him well, wrote of him on this wise: He was, if ever any, the most worthy of the title of an honest man; so great a lover of justice was he that no temptation could dispose him to a wrongful action except it was so disguised to him that he believed it just; he was the worthiest gentleman, the best master, the best husband, the best father, and the best Christian, that the age in which he lived produced. Others have testified that he was marked by a virtue of purity and a practice of prayer that shone wonderfully amidst the temptations and distractions to which he was exposed. He was well known for his strict sobriety with food and clothes, and he ever shewed a noble insensibility to flattery. All who knew him were impressed with a certain innocence in him, for even his bitter enemies said of him: He is God's silly vassal. At his execution he affirmed that he was a faithful member of the Catholic Church; which same took place on January 30th, 1649. Afterwards his body was laid in Saint George's Chapel, Windsor; but at the command of his enemies he was buried without the Church's rites, for their hatred of him and of the priesthood was not satisfied, even when they had accomplished his destruction and he is venerated because he gave his life for the things which men of such minds are unable to perceive."

"This man esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches that the wealth of the world. For it is better for us to die, rather than to behold the calamities of our people and sanctuary."

(From The Anglican Breviary)

a morning prayer

O my God,
whatever is nearer to me than thou,
things of this earth and things more naturally pleasing to me
will be sure to interrupt the sight of thee,
unless thy grace interfere.
Keep thou my eyes, my heart,
from any such miserable tyranny.
Break my bonds, raise my heart.
Keep my whole being fixed on thee.
Let me never lose sight of thee,
and while I gaze on thee,
let my love of thee grow more and more every day.

(by John Henry Newman)

homosexuality in the ancient world

Follow titusonenine's link to Robert Gagnon on homosexuality in the ancient world. I find Gagnon pretty compelling. I think its much more forthright for progressives just to say that the Bible isn't binding on us than it is for them to say that actually Paul didn't mind homosexual sex when the partners really love each other. Wishful thinking.

Friday, January 28, 2005

anglican none

The Ninth Hour

O God, to help me make good speed.
Lord, make haste to succour me.
Glory be to the Father. &c.
As it was in the. &c. Amen.

The Hymn
Aeterna coeli gloria.
O the glory eternal,
Blessed hope of men mortal,
Christ the Son of God on high,
The son of the virgin Mary.
Reach thy hand that we may rise,
And our minds so exercise,
That devoutly we may sing
Praise of God with thanksgiving.
Finally, O Christ, we crave,
Faith in our hearts set and grave;
That through hope of life above
We may flame with fervent love. Amen.

Domine, quis habitabit. Psalm .iii. [xiv.]
The innocent liver shall enter into the everlasting life.
Lord, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle, or who shall rest in thy holy hill?
He that entereth without spot, and worketh righteousness: he that speaketh truth in his heart, and hath not used deceit in his tongue;
Nor hath done any evil to his neighbour, and hath not slandered his neighbour.
He in whose sight the wicked man is nothing regarded, but doth bonour them that fear the Lord.
He that sweareth to his neighbour and deceiveth him not: he that hath not laid his money to usury, nor hath not received rewards against the innocent.
He that doeth these things shall never stagger nor decay.

The Anthem
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The versicle. Lord, hear my prayer.
The answer. And let my cry come to thee.

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, which madest peace between God the Father and us miserable sinners, which notwithstanding didst suffer unjustly injuries and persecutions: grant us grace to keep the peace that thou hast made, and patiently to bear all injuries and persecutions, that we may be called thy children and inherit thy heavenly kingdom: which livest. &c. Amen.

the little hours

Some explanation is in order. Below I have posted Anglican versions of two of the "Little Hours," Terce and Sext. The Little Hours are the three prayer offices, Terce, Sext, and None, which are prayed traditionally around 9:00 a.m., Noon, and 3:00 p.m. respectively. They are a part of the broader "Liturgy of the Hours" which mark each day with fixed prayer in religious communities. There are seven daily "Hours" altogether: Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline, which together with the night office, Vigils or Matins, compose the "Divine Office" or "Cursus." The "Little Hours" are so called because they are comparatively short, and are fixed as to content. Anglican Morning Prayer, as in the BCP, is an amalgam of elements from Matins, Lauds, and Prime. Evening Prayer corresponds roughly to Vespers. Compline (in the 1979 BCP) is, well, Compline. The Little Hours are therefore what are missing. These verions are taken from The Primer of 1559 and are English variations on pre-reformation Latin rites.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

the 'bishop' of utah

Over at Titusonenine there is a discussion of some of the recent pleasant-sounding heresy from the Episcopal "bishop" of Utah, Ms. Carolyn Tanner Irish. One of the comments has pointed out that Ms. Irish was baptized in the Mormon faith, and never rebaptized.

One of the necessary ingredients for Holy Orders is that the candidate be a member of the one Church. To be a member of the one Church, one must be baptized. To be baptized into the one Church, the one baptizing must have the intention of baptizing you into the one Church. This intention is certainly lacking by those 'baptizing' in the Mormon faith. Ergo, etc. The Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith reached this conclusion in 2001.

Not only is Ms. Irish ostensibly not a bishop, she is ostenbibly not even a Christian.

anglican sext

The Sixth Hour

O God, to help me make good speed.
Lord, make haste to succour me.
Glory be to the Father. &c.
As it was in the beginning, and is now: and ever shall be. &c. Amen.

The Hymn
O creator most benign,
To us alway be looking.
Raise us from all noisome sleep,
Wherein we be drowned deep.
Christ, of yhy mercifulness
Pardon all our sinfulness.
Thee to praise and mangify,
Of night we leave the sluggardy.
Of the sin that we have done
We make our confession:
Weeping we do pray to thee,
Pardon our iniquity. Amen.

Ad te levavi oculos meos. Psealm .cxvii. [cxii]
A prayer to be delivered from the scorns of the wicked.
I have lift up mine eyes to thee which dwellest in heaven.
Behold, even like as the eyes of the servants wait at their master's hands;
As the eyes of the handmaid be upon her mistress: even so be our eyes upon our Lord God until he have mercy on us.
Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us, for we be had in much contempt.
For our soul is very full, being scorned of the rich, and desipised of the proud.
Glory be to the Father, and ot the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, and is now: and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

The Anthem
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall get mercy.
Blessed are the clean in heart, for they shall see God.
The Versicle. Lord, hear my prayer.
The Answer. And let my cry come to thee.

Let us pray.
Lord Jesu Christ, whose property is ever to be merciful, which art alway pure and clean without spot of sin: grant us the grace to follow thee in mercifulness toward our neighbours, and always to bear a pure heart and a clean conscience toward thee, that we may after this life see thee in thy everlasting glory: Which livest and reignest world withgout end. Amen.

(From Private Prayers, Put Forth by Authority, During the Reign of Queen Elizabeth)

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

anglican terce

The Third Hour

O God, to help me make good speed.
Lord, make haste to succour me.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. &c. Amen.

The Hymn
Mighty ruler, God most true,
Which doth all in order due;
Morn with light illumining.
Noontide with heat garnishing

Quench the flames of our debate,
Foul and noisome heat abate.
Grant unto our body health,
To our hearts true peace and wealth.

Let tongue and heart, strength and sense,
Commend thy manificence:
Let the Spirit of charity
Stir us all to worship thee. Amen.

Ad Dominum cum tribularer. Psal. .cxx.
A prayer to be delivered from the vanity of this world.
I cried unto the Lord when I was in trouble, and he hath heard me.
O Lord, deliver my soul from lying lips, and a deceitful tongue.
What may be given thee, or what may be put to thee, against a deceitful tongue?
It is like the sharp arrows of the mighty man, and hot burning coals.
Woe is me, that my resting place is prolonged.
I have dwelled with the inhabitants of Cedar, my soul hath been long in exile.
I was at peace with them that hated peace; when I spake unto them, they assaulted me without cause.
Glory be the the Father. &.
As it was in the. &c. Amen.

The Anthem
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which suffer hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
The Versicle. Lord hear my prayer.
The Answer. And let my cry come to thee.

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, whose whole life was nothing but humility and meekness, who only art our very righteousness, grant us to serve and honour thee with humble and meek heart, and in all our life and conversation to desire to be occupied in the works of righteousness: which livest and reignest. &c. Amen

(From Private Prayers Put Forth by Authority During the Reign of Queen Elizabeth)

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

alma redemptoris mater

(For use until Candlemas)

Mother of Christ! hear thou thy people's cry,
Star of the deep, and portal of the sky!
Mother of him who thee from nothing made,
Sinking we strive, and call to thee for aid;
Oh, by that joy which Gabriel brought to thee,
Thou Virgin first and last, let us thy mercy see.

After childbirth you remained a pure virgin.
R: Mother of God intercede for us.

Let us pray.

O God, by the fruitful virginity of blessed Mary you have given mankind the rewards of eternal salvation: grant, we pray, that we may know the intercession for us of the one through whom we were deemed worthy to receive the author of life, your Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

all male priesthood?

There's a very interesting discussion going on at Pontifications about priesthood and gender. It follows on from another discussion at Rather Not Blog.


I've noticed that hardly anyone believes in devils and demons, or even THE Devil, anymore. People must find the doctrine to be an embarrassing holdover from our ancestry of pre-enlightenment superstition. It is akin to the Tom Wolfe doctors cited at Titusonenine. They quest around with microscopes, looking for a soul, and not finding one they conclude that there are no such things.

With devils, the enlightenment mind thinks that it has found a conceptual apparatus in modern psychology to account for what are traditionally thought to be effects of the Accuser in the life of the faithful. The problem is that the conceptual apparatus of modern psychology cannot account for certain stories that are a part of the tradition, especially from hagiography. The question becomes why we, as Christians, ought to accept the conceptual apparatus of modern psychology over the conceptual apparatus of the premodern Church. The former can account for certain bad behavior, but the latter can account for that and more....

morning prayers

On rising from bed say immediately:

I praise my God this day:
I give myself to God this day:
I ask God to help me this day.

When dressed, kneel down and say some of the following:

In the Name of the + Father, and of the
Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Our Father.
Hail, Mary.
I believe.

O God, Thou art my God, who hast made me for thyself. O Lord, Heavenly Father, to thee I devote my heart, and my entire life. Grant me thy grace, I implore thee, that this day I may live as in thy presence, and walk in the path of thy commandments, following the example of my Saviour Christ, and being made like unto him. Give to me thy Holy Spirit that, trusting only in him, I may overcome those sins which beset me.
Vouchsafe, O gracious God, to me and to ... such blessings as we need both temporal and spiritual. I ask in the Name and through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O Lord, our heavenly Father, Almighty and everlasting God, who hast safely brought me to the beginning of this day: Defend me in the same with thy mighty power; and grant that this day I fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger; but that all my doings, being ordered by thy governance, may be righteous in thy sight. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

May the Almighty and merciful Lord + Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, bless and preserve me, and bring me to life everlasting. Amen.

From Saint Augustine's Prayer Book

Monday, January 24, 2005

vespers and compline before the sacrament

Catholic Culture : Document Library : Decree on the Gift of an Indulgence during the 'Year of the Eucharist':

"2. A Plenary Indulgence is also granted to the clergy, members of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and to the other faithful bound by law to recite the Liturgy of the Hours, as well as those who are accustomed to praying the Divine Office for pure devotion, every time, at the end of the day, when they recite Vespers and Compline before the Lord present in the tabernacle, either in community or privately."

I'm not sure if the Bp. of Rome intends for this to apply to the faithful in the Anglican Church, but maybe it does. Does Evening Prayer count?

Sunday, January 23, 2005

the year of the eucharist

The Bishop of Rome has declared this year to be the Year of the Eucharist. His suggestions are timely and appropriate, particularly about the need for greater devotion to the presence of our Lord in the sacrament. We Anglicans can learn a good deal from our brothers and sisters across the Tiber. We tend toward slopiness and often toward a kind of gnostic dualism which fosters spiritual ill health, and is a step down the road to serious error. In general, we Anglicans need to reclaim the Godly connection between theology and piety, the goodness of the one fostering and promoting the goodness of the other.


Today is Sunday, a feast of the Lord. Today we offer and receive the Lord's body, in proclamation of his death and resurrection. Today we make an anamnesis of his sacrifice. It is our way of witnessing to our Lord's very lordship, telling the world and reminding ourselves that He conquered death by rising. There is no greater privelege.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

a morning offering

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace.
Help me in all things to rely upon your holy will.
In every hour of the day reveal your will to me.
Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day
with peace of soul,
and with firm conviction that your will governs all.
In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings.
In unforeseen events let me not forget that all are sent by you.
Teach me to act firmly and wisely,
without embittering and embarrassing others.
Give me the strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day
with all that it shall bring.
Direct my will, teach me to pray,
pray you yourself in me.

Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow

Friday, January 21, 2005

Lancelot Andrewes

Apparently Lancelot Andrewes spent five hours a day in private prayer. He also spoke something like fifteen languages.

the rosary

Traditionally, each Friday is a little Good Friday. It is the day on which our Lord died. When praying the Rosary on Friday, one prays the Sorrowful Mysteries. It caused me a good deal of pain and anger to read today of an art exhibit at St. John the Divine in New York in which the Blessed Virgin is blasphemed and defamed.

Holy Mary, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

liberal churchmanship and muddled thinking

Often at school one hears a lot about holding mutually exclusive positions simultaneously. This is usually spoken of as a good thing, a virtue, something that is particularly "Anglican". It is often expressed in the form of "holding in tension" things that seem to be contrary to one another. In other words, "A & ~A." No compunction about obeying the rules of rationality that enable us to function an interact with things in the world.

(Could this feeling that "I don't have to obey the rules" be, in part, made possible by an anterior feeling that the invisible world of spirit is not really there? Or possibly that it operates irrationally? Maybe it does, but in order for the spiritual to interpenetrate the material, it must submit itself to the laws of nature -- including rationality. This maybe is part of the kenosis of Incarnation. Just thinking out loud.)

To return to the main point: the erroneous assumption that Anglicanism is all about holding mutually exclusive propositions together and "in tension" is really just an excuse not to submit oneself to rational scrutiny. An example.

Once in class I suggested that, even assuming that ordaining Gene Robinson was a matter of "justice" and done in response to the urging of the Spirit, as part of an effort to dwell in and to be conformed more deeply to the mind of Christ, bringing us into new truth, etc. etc. Even granting all that, I suggested, we ought to be seriously examine what the consequences of our actions might be for our brothers and sisters around the world. I expressed concern that we did not seem to care to listen to the dismay of certain Anglicans around the world, particularly some who live in close proximity to Muslims, and who are in serious competition with the Muslims for the souls of the people. Sometimes these folks (I am thinking about northern Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt, etc.) even suffer martyrdom at the hands of Muslims. And when we hear that the Muslim critique of Christianity is that it is a western religion, imperialistic, decadent, etc., our actions might seem to vindicate the persecutors of our brethren in the minds of the "lukewarm" or the uncommitted -- and certainly in the mind of conservative Islam. My point, in class, was that we should be aware of the consequences of our actions for others. I was not saying that we should not have acted, but merely that we ought to be aware that by acting we are causing others to suffer, and maybe even facilitating their deaths. Its easier to pursue justice if you are the one that will suffer for justice's sake. But when you are doing something which is very questionably just, and for which others will suffer, it is rather less defensible to my mind.

Response to these comments was shockingly hostile, with an underlying feeling of ad hominem. At first it was asserted by several that their problems are not our problems, that pursuing the good for ourselves is not incompatible with others paying for it. Finally (this is the point at which pretense to rationality was abandoned) it was asserted, by a young woman who wept while she asserted it, that while the consecration of Robinson might be painful for some, that if there was just one homosexual teenager out there who would not now kill him/herself because of it, then it was all worth it. To this the class responded with sighs and grunts of acknowledgment of an ineffable profundity.

Now hang on. First of all, how many suicidal teenagers (homosexual or otherwise) can there be who care enough about who the Episcopal Bishops are that the particularity of one of them would save that teenagers life? I would wager that there are very few, if any. Even if there were a healthy number, it is still far from clear to me that the goodness of ordaining Gene Robinson is guaranteed by its saving certain lives -- especially in view of the fact that it seemingly imperils lives elsewhere. (And the lives it imperils in Africa and the Middle East seem much less a figment of imagination than suicidal American teenagers with a life-or-death interest in Episcopal politics.)

But the fact that suicidal homosexual teenagers were the topic of discussion, and the fact that discussing them was accompanied by weeping, these sufficed to guarantee the soundness of the young woman's argument. Because Anglicanism is about holding mutually exclusive ideas in tension.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

eucharistic pet peeves

One of the things that bothers me most about worshiping with the group with whom I usually worship is probably many of them insisting on changing certain words to be more agreeable to them. This phenomenon manifests itself in two main places: 1) "It is right to give Him thanks and praise" becomes "It is right to give GOD thanks and praise" and 2) the wording of the Benedictus becomes "Blessed is THE ONE who comes in the name of the Lord."

Now I understand that people have hang-ups about God-language. I also understand that in the final analysis, God transcends gender and predication of any sort. I have read "The Divine Names" of the Pseudo-Areopagite. I understand that sometimes people are uncofomfortable with the concept of fatherhood because of their personal experience.

HOWEVER -- these prayers are COMMON prayers. The Eucharist is the offering of the Church. It is not a private offering, subject to our private emotional hang-ups about gender, or anything else. That I may be squeamish about blood-letting (I am) does not entitle me to replace references to Christ's blood with references to whatever I please, even the pronoun "it".

The Common Prayer of the Church is meant to draw our attention to various things as much (or more) as it is meant to get God to act. This is particularly true of Anglicanism (lex orandi lex credendi). One of the things (the main thing) to which the Church's Common Prayer directs us is the offering of the Son to the Father. That this makes us uncomfortable is beside the point. Our focus is meant to be on THAT: the man hanging on the cross, perfectly acceptable to the Father.

The chief aim of the Church is, arguably, to bring us to forsake our autonomy. This object is severely hampered when we insist on exerting our finite power on the very subject effecting our salvation. We are utterly weak and pathetic and sinful, and our emotional problems are symptoms of that fact. The cross is the balm that heals us of our impotence by its supreme potency. The Eucharist is the God-ordained application of that healing; it is the offering of the Body of Christ, it belongs to the Church. It is not ours, as individuals, to manipulate. Rather we are Christ's and subject (if it please God to save us) to manipulation unto death by our Lord's own cross.

Besides, changing the words in this wise is just not charitable. It makes it difficult for others (like me) to worship. It subjects others to irritation and an uncharitable and distracted frame of mind. And the burden of conformity ought not to be on me as subject to the changes of whimsy, I ought not to be left simply to "deal with it." Rather the burden ought to be on those who would innovate. After all, their innovation is a passing of judgment on that part of the tradition they seek to change, deeming it inadequate, unjust, or whatever. But the fact that a feature of the tradition is, in fact, a feature of the tradition means that the Church has leant its assent to the presence of that aspect in its common life. And why should the judgment of the Church about the desirability or efficacy of a practice be subordinate to the judgment of the individual or the interest group?

The answer, in the short and long runs, probably: pray.

Monday, January 17, 2005


Spent the morning watching EWTN with housemates. Fulton Sheen was saying something learned and engaging and flamboyant. Fr. Corapi was giving a lecture on holy water as a weapon against the devil. (Flipping back and forth between all of this and Fishing with Roland Martin.) I asked my housemate, David, "why there isn't an Anglican channel like this," to which he responded "Because there aren't Anglicans like this." These men engage with their audiences. They give practical, informed spiritual teaching and advice. They are apparently men of prayer. They aren't spoilt by the enlightenment. There aren't any Anglicans like this. They are, at best, an endangered species. Sad.

the end of the world as we know it

Heard a sermon tonight about the tsunami. Father metaphorically called it a baptism. I found this shocking at first. His point was the many acts of self-giving for which the tsunami served as catalyst. Most poignant were stories of Sri Lankan soldiers giving blood to save the lives of Tamils (who is thy neighbor?).

Caused me to ponder, more intensely than normal, the future of Anglicanism and ECUSA. Will it take a spiritual cataclysm to enable the faithful simply to regard their brothers with charity? Are we in the midst of one?