Kenneth N. Myers's Blog
August 20, 2014
They say there are two things you should never watch being made: sausage and laws. I’ve seen both being made, and I think watching the meat grinder of sausage making is a far more pleasant experience than watching the conniving, bickering, and backroom trickery of laws being made.
But I would ad a third thing that is maybe more unpleasant to watch than either of these: the making of theology. If you read the history of how some incredibly important doctrines were hammered out, you will find it to be disgusting, mean-spirited, and worse than any political machinations coming out of Washington, D.C.
Case in point: the fourth century clarifications on the Trinity (a subject about which I am currently writing a book). I mean, we stand on Sundays and confess the Nicene Creed and have classes explaining each line and marvel at how beautifully true it is. We see it all polished and setting on the mantle and admire how perfectly it expresses the Christian faith. It has become, in fact, the “symbol of faith” for Christians everywhere.
But how we got it - and how we got the finely tuned doctrine of the Trinity - is another matter altogether, and there is nothing polished or marvelous or beautiful about the process. Here is just a sampling of the many ugly facets of fourth century Christianity:
The heretic Arius gets punched in the face by Bishop Nicholas of Myra (yes, St. Nicholas - Santa Claus).
The emperor Constantine throws around his imperial political weight, though he is more concerned with a united empire than a true faith.
Theological opponents connive to get one another thrown out of their churches - actually exiled from their cities (Athanasius was exiled seven times).
Secret meetings are held and others are forcibly kept away by conspiring military forces.
Some bishops say one thing, then say another, then insist the other thing was what they had been saying all along, when clearly this wasn’t the case.
Character assassination is the de rigueur - it is practically expected of everyone to slam the ethics and morals of “the other side.”
Backroom deals are made and compromises are agreed upon.
Best friends from childhood (Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil) end up being bitterly opposed to one another because of the politics of the church world even though they are on the same page theologically.
OK, now that I have painted such an ugly picture, allow me to approach the matter from a different angle. What shall we say about all this - about the nastiness of theological development? I think we have three possible responses.
The first isn’t really a response, just an ignorant and happy position that a lot of us Christians embrace: “Oh, isn’t our faith beautiful! And what a wonderful thing that such godly men were peacefully led by the Spirit to defend our precious faith against those nasty heretics.” This isn’t really a response because it is embracing a fairy tale instead of true history.
The second response is, “Well, then, it’s all bunk. It’s a bunch of conniving, corrupt, politically motivated, self-centered, agenda driven men doing everything they can to have it their way and be in control. You can’t trust that! So the whole thing is just rubbish. Every person has to find God in his or her own way, and forget about this messy, ugly, nasty, stinking pile of ungodly mean-spirited archaic theology.” The odd thing is, this is actually a more valid response than the fairy tale one. It actually works. It may not be the right response, but it at least makes decent sense.
The third option (I have obviously saved the best for last) is, “Lord, have mercy! How awful this history is, how terrible even some of the ‘good guys’ were. But look! God is at work in, with and under all of this, bringing about a beautiful understanding of truth. Sometimes God is at work in his Church in spite of the leaders more than because of the leaders. And in spite of their brokenness, fallenness, and sinfulness, God still works to bring forth that which is true and good and beautiful.”
And isn’t this precisely how God does work? Isn’t it how he has always worked? I mean, start with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - not exactly stellar upstanding examples of godly ethics - they were liars and connivers that God chose and used for his purposes and his glory, to move his plan forward a step or two. Move on to some of the judges of Israel (Jepthah, for example, who made a human sacrifice of his daughter, or Sampson and his whole sordid story). How about King David, the adulterer and murderer? We could go on all day with Old Testament examples, but let’s jump to the New Testament. Peter, the prince of the Apostles, a wavering, doubting, Christ-denying man, a reed blown by the wind. Or Paul - I love me some Paul, but let’s admit it - he had a mean side. He actually wrote (in what has become Scripture to us) that he wished those semi-Christians who insisted on circumcision would just finish the job and castrate themselves completely! One gets the feeling that he would have happily wielded the knife himself.
Enough about them - let’s talk about you and me. We are sinners, we are full of mistakes, we have taken a thousand wrong turns along the way, we are still sometimes very much a mess (in spite of the pretty facade we show the world). And yet, don’t we find God mercifully and lovingly at work in us, most of the time in spite of ourselves? And don’t we find that the wrong turns we make end up being circuitous routes to where he was leading us all along? And doesn’t he sometimes turn our mistakes into things of beauty, our scars into stars? Lady Julian of Norwich asked God about all the mess of the world and how in heaven’s name he could deal with it, and his response (famously borrowed by T.S. Eliot in The Four Quartets) was, “And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well.”
God is in control. Usually in spite of us. But he is in control in a kind of “left handed” way (as Robert Capon used to say). We are expecting a right handed God to do things in a right handed way, and he surprises us from out of nowhere and does things completely different than we expect. St. Paul got this: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being[d] might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1.27-29). And in another place, “ And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8.28).
So - back to the Nicene Creed and the fourth century Christian sausage-making machine: it isn’t pleasant to watch the process, in fact it is downright disgusting (kind of like looking at the process of our own lives). But the end result is a work of God, and a beauty to behold. “All manner of things shall be well.” It is a lesson of trust - trusting that God really is in control, and really will bring about the good, the true, and the beautiful. And that, my friends, is good news.
May 6, 2014
Let’s talk about Spirit-filled prayer. And by prayer, I mean football. No, wait, I mean liturgy. Yes, prayer and liturgy. Oh, and football.
I grew up in a Pentecostal tradition that eschewed written prayers. Written prayers, we were told, were so insincere, so stuffy, so ineffective. We had our teeth cut on verses like 2 Timothy 3.15 which warns us about those religious people, “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” Paul warned Timothy, “From such turn away,” and we were taught that folk who prayed with a form, however godly it might seem, were actually denying the power of true down-on-your-knees-and-from-the-heart prayer, and we’d best stay away from them.
Another important verse in our arsenal defending contemporaneous prayer was James 5.16: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Did you get that? It had to be (a) effectual, (b) fervent, and (c) coming from a person who was righteous – upright, moral, without sin. Of course written and read prayers from some sherry drinking cleric didn’t measure up to any of these qualifications.
Real prayer, we were taught, really effectual prayer, had to be from the heart and off the top of one’s head. No premeditating what to say, no writing it down ahead of time, and certainly no praying what someone else had written. How could that possibly be Spirit led or Spirit filled?
Of course, this logic spilled over into the worship service as well. The less planning the better. A truly powerful worship service was when nothing was planned and everyone just flew by the seat of their britches (not, mind you, cassocks or albs). Sometimes the Spirit’s presence was measured by whether the preacher got a chance to preach or not. If he didn’t, we all knew that it was a powerfully Spirit filled service.
So, when I shocked a lot of friends by becoming an Anglican (mind you, I’ve still never tasted good sherry, but I’m open to the experiment), one of the questions they posed to me was, “How can you possibly exchange the freedom we have in prayer and worship for that stuffy and boring liturgy and written prayers?” To which I replied, “Football.”
Football, Liturgy and Prayer
Football is the most popular sport in the United States. On any given autumn Sunday afternoon or Monday evening millions of people sit around television sets across the nation to pay close attention, scream instructions, pound the coffee tables, slap their foreheads, sigh, cry, jump for joy, and second guess the coaches. It is a game of skill, chance and power. And here’s the important thing: no one has a clue at the beginning of the game what the score will be at the end of the game. It’s so up in the air. Anything can happen. Fumbles, interceptions, Hail Mary passes, quarterback sneaks. Any game is anyone’s game. That is what makes it our national pastime.
But wait a minute. Let’s look at the flip side of football. Here is a little test (if space permitted I could give a much longer test, but you’ll get the idea). See how many questions you can answer:
How many players on each team?
How many yards from goal to goal?
How many yards for a first down?
How many chances to make that first down?
What are three pieces of regulation uniform?
What is the job of the referee?
What does it mean to rough the kicker?
What is a penalty?
How many points for a touchdown?
How is an extra point scored?
How long is a quarter?
On the one hand, football is the most exciting and unpredictable couple of hours in the week, and on the other hand, it is without question the most structured, full-of-rules, dare I say ordered thing on television.
How can something be so structured and laden with obligatory regulations and at the same time be so unpredictable and exciting?
Ah! The exact same thing happens every time we gather for the liturgy. If you will pardon the analogy, we have players and coaches and managers and uniforms and plays to run and a goal in mind. We have structure and rules galore. And at the same time, because the Holy Spirit is involved, you never know exactly what is going to happen. What will God speak to the young man trying to pay attention in spite of his distracting children? How will he change the heart of that woman on the third row? Who will he heal? Who will he turn around? To whom will he grant wisdom or peace or freedom?
Form and Filling
My point is this: freedom and form are not mutually exclusive. In fact true freedom demands form. One can’t ultimately be Spirit filled until one is Spirit formed. In the Genesis account of creation, God took six days to make everything. But if you look closely, the first three days were days of forming (heavens, waters, land) and the last three days were days of filling what he had just formed (heavenly bodies, fish, plants and animals and us). And on the seventh day God didn’t exactly rest, although that’s the word we use in English. A better image is of a king sitting down on his throne and beginning to rule (“Arise, O Lord, into thy rest, thou and the ark of thy strength” – Psalm 132.8). He worked for six days on his machine, and then he sat down to operate it. Or if you prefer a different analogy, on the seventh day he got behind the driver’s seat.
In the same way, the form of our ordered and liturgical worship and prayer, whether corporate or private, can be filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit. And the beauty of the thing is, I get to use words and phrases that are so much richer, better, more beautiful and more meaningful than I could come up with myself, and I can make them my own – I can own them for myself. Suddenly, I am not just praying what is on my heart, but I am praying with the Church and with God himself. I am praying Scripture and the wise, time tested words of those who came before me. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it best – “The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.”
So, how do we pray in such a way as to be Spirit filled and Spirit led? We pray the way the early church did. Most English versions of the Bible say something similar to what the King James Version says when it translates Acts 2.42: “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” I would simply point out that there is a word missing from the English translations: ταῖς; that is, “the”. The text doesn’t tell us that the Church of Pentecost continued steadfastly “in prayers,” rather, “in the prayers.” Yes, this Spirit-filled group of people, hot off the experience of stumbling down from the upper room speaking in tongues, continued in “the prayers.” The prayers of their Jewish tradition, the prayers they had learned from the Apostles, the prayers of the Church.
None of this is to diminish or displace whatever the Holy Spirit wants to do (whether that is on a Sunday morning at church, or on a Tuesday morning on your back porch). But praying the prayers – the written, rehearsed, remembered prayers of the Church, is the best form for him to fill. On the one hand, you know exactly what is going to happen. On the other hand, you have no idea.
Ready to play? Down…set…pray!
April 27, 2014
(A nearly morning picture I took at Yellowstone a couple of years ago)
I was cleaning up things around the house today and ran across a hymn I wrote in 1993 and had completely forgotten about (the only hymn I’ve ever written). Thought I’d share it (in my head it is sung to the tune of Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing):
Every mount a sacred temple
Every tree a rising spire
Every rock a holy altar
Every stream a singing choir.
Every bird a cantor praising
Every creature sings his word
Every breeze his Spirit moving
Every should his glories heard.
Every grain his body broken
Every fruit his blood now shed
Every pool baptism’s fountain
Every path where he has led.
Father whom creation worships
Son whose glories earth does sing
Spirit giving breath to all things
All our praise to you we bring.
April 19, 2014
PSA is an abbreviation for Penal Substitutionary Atonement. It is a doctrine that I believe gets the way God works upside down, and about which I have written much in an attempt to diffuse it. The one sentence short version goes something like this: God the Father can’t forgive our sins unless somebody suffers the punishment for them, so God the Son volunteered to take our punishment instead of us. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. If you want to read my short book that begins the process of dismantling PSA, pick up a copy of Salvation And How We Got It Wrong.
The Harrowing of Hell is the doctrine that when Jesus died he went straight to hell, and made a mess of the place. The Apostles Creed says, “He descended into hell…” The idea is that Jesus’ divinity was a kind of hook, cloaked with the bait of his humanity, and when he hung on the cross death and hell chomped down on his humanity but got snared with his divinity. In other words, when Jesus died all hell broke loose. Literally. I mean, what would we expect to happen when a bomb full of life itself was detonated in the very center of death’s headquarters? When he rose again, he had defeated death, hell and sin.
For some reason, a lot of Protestants have either never heard of the doctrine of Christ’s descent into hell, or have serious problems with it and dismiss it because, “It isn’t found in the Bible.” Just to generate discussion, a friend of mine posted a question of Facebook, “The Harrowing of Hell: essential doctrine or ancient mistake?”
And that’s when I had my epiphany!
If the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) is right, then Christ’s descent into hell is of little or no consequence. He suffered the wrath of God on the cross and that’s the end of the story. This is why in many evangelical churches which embrace PSA you hear almost nothing about the resurrection (well, except on Easter Sunday, and even then the focus is on the cross) and an awfully lot of sermons about Jesus dying. Jesus took our punishment and died on the cross. End of story. The resurrection is just a glorious P.S.
But if PSA is wrong, then I would suggest that Christ’s descent into hell is central to the doctrine of the atonement. If his death on the cross had nothing to do with taking our punishment from the Father, and everything to do with getting into the place of death so he could destroy it, then his death on the cross was the mechanics of how he got into the place. You might say he was just dying to get into hell.
But no, that’s not my epiphany. I’m getting to that.
The only thing the Bible says about Jesus descending to hell, other than the fact that he did, is that once he got there he preached the gospel. 1 Peter 3.18-20 tells us, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.” And then in 4.6 we read, “For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.”
And that’s when it hit me. That’s when I had my epiphany.
I’ve been looking at this whole PSA thing wrong. Why, PSA is central to the atonement.
It’s just that I have misunderstood what PSA means. It doesn’t mean Penal Substitutionary Atonement, it means Public Service Announcement! Of course. How blind could I be? Public. Service. Announcement.
Jesus descended into hell and made a PSA! He announced to hell itself that it’s reign was over. He announced to those held enslaved that he was their liberator. He preached “the Gospel” in the central place of spiritual bondage. And hell fell. To pieces.
And that, my friends, is good news!
March 8, 2014
Lots of us Christians (of all kinds of different traditions and denominations) are in our heart of hearts legalists, even if we preach something that approaches grace. We are perhaps willing to forgive others, if those others ask for it, do penance, and show themselves really, really sorry for what they have done.
We Christians are also quick to point out that God is a just God (after all the Bible says so), and this means when it comes down to brass tacks people will get there “just deserts” (spelling is correct; the word is archaic; it sounds like desserts but it isn’t about food, it’s about getting what one deserves).
In his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Kenneth Bailey writes about Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary, whom the Bible calls “a just man.” Bailey continues,
In the prophesy of Isaiah there is a picture of a special “suffering servant” through whom God would one day act in history to save. There are four unique songs in Isaiah describing that servant. The first of them is found in Isaiah 42:1-6, verse three of which reads:
A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.
Justice, as understood by this special servant of God is neither “retributive justice” (you harm me and I will see that you are harmed) nor is it “equal application of law” (I pay my taxes and so must you), but here justice means compassion for the weak and exhausted.
Bailey goes on to detail what “a bruised reed” and a “dimly burning wick” mean - things that are messed up; things that are not fit for use, things that should be discarded.
When Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, his first inclination was to be disturbed (the word translated “considered these things” doesn’t mean simply to ponder, but to be put out, angry, befuddled, “while he fumed”). But even before the angel told him what was going on - that this child in Mary’s womb was the work of God - Joseph the Just didn’t do “the just” thing - not if justice means retributive punishment or equality of the law. He didn’t haul her before the authorities, he didn’t seek to have her stoned, he didn’t expose her. Instead, we read in Matthew 2.19, “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”
Joseph, as the human father figure for Jesus, modeled the heart of his heavenly Father. Bailey writes, “Joseph looked beyond the penalties of the law in order to reach out with tenderness to a young woman who was no doubt bruised and exhausted.”
Jesus certainly learned the heart of his heavenly Father. I would suggest he also modeled the heart of his step-dad. In John 8.15 Jesus said, “You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.”
And yet the Creed confesses, “He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.” We read it like he will come again and kick derrieres. But what if it means he will come again and be like Joseph? What if it means he will come again and fix things, he will come again and make things right? After all, isn’t that what real justice is?
We see on the TV that someone was sent to prison or executed for some heinous crime, and we say, “Justice was served.” But real justice wasn’t served. The crime wasn’t fixed, things weren’t made right. What if the famous words of Julian of Norwich are true? Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead, “And all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
"A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice."
February 19, 2014
Humor me for a moment. Read these words out loud:
Agon. Gaddest. Besom. Neesing. Haply. Emerods. Armhole. Bakemeats. Purtenance. Bewray. Choler. Descry. Bolled. Divers. Wimples.
Did you do it? You didn’t do it! Did you? You just read the words to yourself silently. I know you! No fair. Start over. Try saying them somberly. Or maybe like from a Monty Python skit.
OK. Now. Wimples. What the heck are wimples? Should we descry the purtenance of wimples? I don’t know…depends on what descry means…and purtenance.
Here’s the deal: all the words in that list are straight out of the King James Bible. I could have picked about, oh, I don’t know, a hundred more to go with them.
I was in a discussion today where a fellow said he didn’t read the Bible as much as he should, but when he did, he always picked up the old KJV he had grown up with, and that it brought him comfort - both the language, and the old book itself. Was it OK, he asked, if that was the only Bible he ever read.
Now, if you read and love the KJV, that’s fine and dandy. So do I. It is a stunning, beautiful translation, and has impacted the English language more than any other book in history. If you grew up with it, the phrases roll out of your memory and off your tongue almost without thinking: “I beseech ye therefore brethren by the mercies of God…,” “…that whosoever believeth in him should not perish…,” “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…,” and of course, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”
But, unless you happen to be incredibly well-versed in the English language, or just happen to be over fifty years old and spent the first 20 years of your life immersed in it, the “Authorized Version” likely isn’t the Book for you. Especially if your goal is to understand the Word of God.
One more example, then I’ll drop it. Just a simple example of how language changes, and how a 400 year old Bible probably isn’t the best for understanding the text:
What does the word let mean to you?
You probably thought, “It means to allow.” And you’re correct. That’s what it means today.
But in 1611 the word let could mean precisely the opposite of allow: It could mean prevent.
So compare these translations:
2 Thessalonians 2.7, KJV: For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now* letteth will let*, until he be taken out of the way.
2 Thessalonians 2.7, ESV: For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.
All this to say, language isn’t sacrosanct and neither is a given translation of the Bible; not the KJV, not the NIV, not even the current sweetheart of Evangelicals, the ESV. Give it a hundred years and anything good today will be obsolete. What is changeless, what never becomes obsolete, is the Word of God enshrined in the words of men. And that is what we should be giving ourselves to understand.
A wimple, by the way, is that funny thing wrapped around the head of that lady in the picture. Bakemeats are pastries. Don’t even ask about emerods.
February 17, 2014
I was a young charismatic non-denominational pastor hungry for the historic church. He was an old Russian Orthodox priest named Father Jerome who lived on a hilltop outside Barron, WI, where he spent his days praying alone in a tiny little chapel with a red flashing light attached to the roof. If the light was on it meant he was praying and shouldn’t be bothered.
Father Jerome wasn’t Russian, he was from Wisconsin. He started out Baptist - told me he had come to Christ at a Billy Graham crusade in the 50’s in Minneapolis. Told me he had converted to Orthodoxy a few years later when a priest came to the hospital and prayed for him and he was healed.
As a young wet-behind-the-ears charismatic pastor I once asked the kindly life-experienced and wise beyond his years priest, “What do you do all day up here on the hill in this chapel? How do you spend your time?”
He told me he spent all his time praying for the whole world.
I have often wondered since then if, in the mysteries of God, everything and everyone owes their very existence to the prayers of this one old unknown monk.
And this makes me think that I shouldn’t be to quick to judge the successes and failures of other people, or of myself. How do we count success, anyway? By the world’s way of counting? Or by the hope of God saying, in the end, “Well done, good and faithful servant”? What if the thing God calls us to isn’t big and flashy or even memorable by the world’s standards? What if it is something as simple as, you know, praying for the whole world?
If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
- Alfred Lord Tennyson (Morte D'Arthur)
Father Jerome died in August, 2010. But his prayer life didn’t.
Pray for us, Fr. Jerome.
February 10, 2014
Most of you are aware by now that I have resigned from the church I have pastored for the last 22 years in order to step out and develop a teaching ministry called Graceworks. The plan is to build a base of partners who will support the ministry financially, allowing me to go to churches and teach no matter whether they are small or large, poor or wealthy. The teaching will be a gift from the partners to the Body of Christ.
So, I posted a headline in a religious forum with a short note describing what I was going to do: “Have Bible, Will Travel: A huge change of life for me - Graceworks teaching ministry.”
Well, this friend of mine, who happens to be a practicing Jew, responded, “‘Have Bible, will travel’? What about holy tradition? Enough of this sola scriptura, amirite? I kid, obviously. Best of luck on your travels.”
I replied, “I’m packing a Bible on one hip, with a bandolero of holy tradition strapped across each shoulder.”
OK, folks…I’m giving you this background because what my friend wrote back is stellar! It made me laugh out loud, it made me see a movie in my mind, it made me wish it was true! Here’s what he wrote:
Anyway, I feel like you should be the next hero of a Western. I can see it now…
A man strides into a small dusty town, with a pair of worn bibles strapped to his belt, a bottle of scotch in his hand, a backpack full of books, and a cigar between his lips. Townspeople look confused at this newcomer. A Christian with scotch and a cigar?
He strides into the local church, where an old woman is quietly saying a Hail Mary. A slick townsperson says, “Listen lady, we don’t take too kindly to your Mary worshiping unbiblical prayers ‘round here”. Coolly, Kenneth replies, “What’s so wrong with asking for the mother of God to pray for you. And disrespecting the elderly is most definitely unbiblical”.
Taken aback, the young man says, “Now who do you think you are, telling us what to do in our church. Praying to Mary isn’t in the Bible!” Kenneth quickly replies, “What books are in the Bible ain’t in the Bible either. And if you must know, they call me…The Bishop”.
I imagine the rest of the film would involve you helping the poor, fighting bad theology, and generally doing Western-movie things, all with the moral caliber of a bishop, combined with the confidence and tough demeanor of the protagonist from a Western. Maybe rescuing a small town from a prosperity gospel preacher.
I’m imagining the last scene:
A small boy pipes up as Kenneth starts to pack up his patristic literature, and says, “Gee mister, we still need a pastor, and we’d be honored if you’d stay”. A crowd of people joins him: “Yeah, Bishop, we’d love it if you stayed”.
Kenneth smiles and says, “I don’t think you need me. I’ve helped you find sound doctrine, you’re mature in your Anglo-Catholodox faith”.
But a man pipes up and says, “But Bishop, do you have anywhere to go? Why couldn’t you stay?”
He smiles, and says, “Well I’d love to, but I left the pastor game a long time ago. As for now, I just go where I’m needed. Wherever doctrine is muddled, wherever churches are weak in community, that’s where I go.”
The film ends with Kenneth riding into the sunset.
This just goes to show (in the tradition of Moses, Samuel, David, Jeremiah, Hosea, Matthew, Peter, John, Jesus and Paul) that Jews make the best storytellers! Thanks, Gingerkid, for making my day!
I’m gonna have to save up and get myself a hat before I hit the road!
December 20, 2013
My daughter and i want to start an online t-shirt store next year. One of the shirts we want to produce will say “Keep the X in Xmas.”
Pretty much everybody knows that X is chi, the Greek letter that begins the word CHrist. It has been, from ancient times, a respectable abbreviation for the word.
Still, in December you still see bumper stickers, billboards and Facebook posts saying, “Keep Christ in Christmas,” and often times they aren’t quibbling over an X, they are reminding us that the focus of the holiday ought to be Jesus more than gifts and parties. OK. I concede this is a very good and valid point.
But I think we should start a campaign that says “Keep the MASS in Christmas.” And here’s what I’m getting at:
Lots of Christians keep Christ at the center of the holidays. They talk about the birth of Jesus, they maybe read the birth narrative from Luke, they remind family members what the deal really is as they open gifts around the tree. But they don’t go to Mass. They don’t go to church of any kind. They are too busy celebrating the birth of Jesus to be bothered with, you know, a religious observance of the event.
So I say, “Keep the mass in Christmas.” I mean, look at the word itself - this is the Christ Mass. So if we’re going to be technical, how can we really celebrate Christmas without, ummm, going to church? We may celebrate Christ’s birthday, and that’s all well and good, but let’s just call it a birthday party for Jesus. Maybe make a cake with 2000 candles. Maybe sing a round of “Happy birthday dear Jesus, happy birthday to you.”
Or, we can do what Xians have been doing for 2000 years and trudge through the snow or the cold or the blazing heat or whatever weather we have in December and get ourselves to the house of God and gather with other believers around the Table of the Lord and celebrate the birth of our Savior. That’s a real Christmas. Anything less is something less.
Keep the Mass in Christmas.
December 17, 2013
The use of images is the only way we humans communicate.
Here’s an example:
I just somehow painted a picture in your mind. Probably a black or silver/gray animal, maybe staring from the jungle foliage right at you with eyes of wisdom, or maybe behind the bars of a zoo - but you saw a gorilla without me showing you one. I just put seven letters together (each letter a symbol in itself) and created a symbol - a word - that communicated an idea.
Red Honda Accord.
See? I did it three more times. And speaking of the Alamo, the building itself is a symbol of liberty and bravery and sacrifice that still causes the minds of Texans to pause in respect and honor.
Stop signs. Traffic lights. Turn signals. Black clerical shirts. Men in Blue. Flashing red lights on a firetruck or ambulance. Pants hanging half down to some guy’s knees. Versace labels. Apple (the computer, or a picture of a once bitten fruit).
Words spoken into the air. Words written onto a page. The Lord of the Rings is nothing but three huge volumes filled up with nothing but symbols.
A wink. A kiss. A handshake. A nod. An embrace. Making love. Flipping the bird. It’s all symbols.
The only way we communicate is with symbols.
(that little line above was a symbol of pause, of a slight change of focus…)
And every now and again, like in the Christmas article by Megan Hill, Why Jesus Doesn’t Belong in Christmas Dećor, or some 17th century Protestant iconoclastic movement, Christians suddenly decide that we need to do away with most or all of the symbols we use in worship or in our spiritual lives.
It is as if our spiritual lives and our worship lives would somehow be better with only a minimal amount of the only with which we communicate to one another or to God.
Megan Hill suggests we stop using nativity figurines of Jesus because we don’t know what he looked like as a baby. She suggests that any of our images of Christ fall short, and therefore weaken our true and spiritual worship of him. She writes, “Our images, in their frailty, diminish God.”
Ah. But Megan, so do our words! So best not write more about him either. And so does our theology. Thomas Aquinas had an encounter with God that was so powerful that he said, “I can write no more. All that I have written seems like straw.” The truth of the matter is that anything and everything we have and do and offer to God in the sacrifice of praise falls terribly short, and were it not for the gracious condescending of our merciful God toward us, would be nothing more than blasphemy and offensiveness to him.
In Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, C.S. Lewis points out that even our own internal images (ideas, thoughts) about God all fall short and border on idolatry: “My idea of God is not a divine idea,” he writes, and continues that, were it not for the mercy of God in transforming these ideas, all prayer would be idolatrous.
So, it seems we have two choices before us. The first choice is to do away with nativity figurines and ancient icons and El Greco’s The Crucifixion and Hook’s Head of Christ - and while we’re at it do away with all our writing, theologizing, even thinking about Jesus (for it all falls terribly short of the goal). The second option is to do the best we can, to reverence the icon, to stare in raptured amazement at El Greco’s works, and to join with the plaster of paris shepherds and angels as they gather round the plaster of paris baby Jesus, and in so doing to relish and celebrate the good news that our God - the one who became “one of us” in the flesh borrowed from the Virgin Mary - is also the one who of his great and wonderful mercy always condescends to our level, and transforms our weak offerings into sacrifices pleasing to his sight. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).”