I read Those Episkopols, by the Rev. Dr. Dennis Maynard, as part of an on-going adult Sunday school class at my parish church. For the most part I enjI read Those Episkopols, by the Rev. Dr. Dennis Maynard, as part of an on-going adult Sunday school class at my parish church. For the most part I enjoyed it. The author presents a short, informal, and readable introduction to the Episcopal Church, based on his own experience as a priest in the Church over the last four decades. He writes that “This book is written out of a profound love and appreciation for the Episcopal Church” (pg. 6) and that “the preceding chapters are dedicated to answering some of the most frequently asked questions this priest has received from inquirers. This is not intended to be a comprehensive study of Anglicanism or The Episcopal Church.” (pg. 87)
Recognizing the book for what it is and what it is not, I felt the author did a fairly commendable job, though there were a few typos that I found annoying, and at times the organization and content of the chapters seemed a bit haphazard. The author’s writing style was sometimes overly repetitive, in my opinion. My greatest criticism, however, concerns the perceived demeanor in which the content is presented. Perhaps it is inevitable that a book of this nature will rely heavily on generalizations and stereotypes, but I was bothered by the extent to which the author contrasted the Episcopal Church with other churches, stating essentially that “we are not like those other Christians, thank God”. A prominent example is his mention on more than one occasion of the Episcopal Church as “the thinking person’s religion”, thereby implying that all other branches of the Church discourage their people from approaching their faith intelligently, curiously, and rigorously. I understand why people say this, but the broader implication is ludicrous, and this kind of caricature is not accurate, charitable, or becoming of a church which prides itself on resisting the urge to give simplistic answers to complex questions (as Rev. Dr. Maynard asserts elsewhere).
That said, there was much that I did enjoy in the book. The author does a fine job presenting a compelling view of the life and culture of the Episcopal Church, and there were plenty of phrases and paragraphs that eloquently and succinctly expressed the reasons why I also love this church. For example, I loved what the author had to say about The Book of Common Prayer:
"When we come together for common prayer we are very intentional about the utilization of this book. It contains the wisdom of the ages. Some of these prayers are thousands of years of age. Some of them were familiar to the lips of Jesus. These prayers are most appropriate for public worship because these are the prayers that we have all agreed on. We hold these prayers in common. When we pray these words we are verbalizing words that we have all agreed on. We all believe these prayers so we can pray them without hesitation and in one voice … Basically, The Book of Common Prayer protects us from one another’s creativity, political leanings, prejudices, bad theology and current passion." (pg. 46)
"The Book of Common Prayer solidly ties us to the historic Catholic understanding of worship. The Prayer Book is not an alternative service book. If you’re going to be an Episcopalian you will use the words of The Book of Common Prayer in the services of worship. The Book of Common Prayer, not doctrines and dogmas, is the most visible unifying symbol in the Episcopal Church." (pg. 54)
"Unnatural Affections" presents what l consider a fairly typical conservative position, in that 'take back our church/standing on the truth' vein. It"Unnatural Affections" presents what l consider a fairly typical conservative position, in that 'take back our church/standing on the truth' vein. It was published in the early 1990s as a response to the rumblings of things to come in several mainline denominations. I don't consider that a particularly long time ago (I try to put things in perspective and take a long view), though it's no secret that we've had a major shift in cultural attitudes toward LGBT persons over the last 20 years, and I know those attitudes influence me, for good or ill. Still, I was surprised by how dated the book felt to me. I mean, it started out with one of the authors talking about witnessing a gay pride parade in all its gaudy, immoral glory, and how it was a modern bacchanalia; because, you know, that's what the homosexual life is like. The biblical treatment was superficial and unconvincing. Basically, the Bible says it's sin, and so that's all you need to know. Any discussion of cultural contexts, or conflicting values, or modern criticisms, or whatever, is just so much rationalizing. No mention at all of the obvious fact that there are all kinds of biblical prohibitions which almost no Christian views as binding anymore. ...more
"Washed and Waiting" was interesting. Wesley Hill is a 'Side B Christian' - a gay man who accepts his sexual orientation as part of his inherent ident"Washed and Waiting" was interesting. Wesley Hill is a 'Side B Christian' - a gay man who accepts his sexual orientation as part of his inherent identity, while also believing that his Christian faith compels him to celibacy. What made it such an interesting (and uncomfortable) read was that, while I mostly agreed with what Hill was saying, I felt sorrow in the reading. In reflecting over his life, as well as the lives of other celibate (likely) gay Christians such as Henri Nouwen and Gerard Manley Hopkins, it almost seemed to me that Hill was sometimes trying to convince himself of what he was saying, with something of a sense of grim resignation. To be sure, as he notes, the Christian life is not about 'being happy'; we've seriously deluded ourselves and sold out the gospel in favor of the modern American dream if we think otherwise. The way of Christ is the way of the cross. And yet ... I felt sorrow. Honestly, it seemed to me an unnecessary and unjust sorrow, rather than a self-denying theosis (i.e. a seeming sorrow that is truly life-giving). I could be wrong; maybe I'm just too worldly, caught up in a mindset that tells me that when Jesus said He came that we might have life abundant, He meant that we had a right to whatever we want. Maybe faithful Christian living does entail celibacy for people who find themselves only attracted to the same sex, and that is their cross, so to speak. But could I, as a straight man, enjoin such a way of life to another? I'm not so sure....more
Lee's book was pretty compelling. Here's a guy who was raised (from a Christian perspective) with all the right advantages: loving Christian parents,Lee's book was pretty compelling. Here's a guy who was raised (from a Christian perspective) with all the right advantages: loving Christian parents, good church upbringing, evidence early on of a desire to serve God and live faithfully. And yet, to his horror, he found himself attracted exclusively to other men, despite his pleading with God, his involvement with ex-gay ministries, his continuing Christian faithfulness. So, what is a guy like Justin to do? What should the Church expect (or require?) of him? After much soul-searching, Justin comes to believe that one can be a faithful Christian and be in a committed same-sex relationship. His book is a memoir, not a theological tome or work of biblical exegesis, but it's pretty powerful, honest stuff. I can't say I agree with his every conclusion, but I sure did agree with him a lot more than I disagreed. And I can't imagine anyone who has the Holy Spirit within him reading a book like this and not then approaching these issues with true compassion and love (as opposed to the 'take back our country for Christ' rhetoric that one stills hears). And that's Justin's whole mission: to bridge the gap between the Church and the gay community....more
**spoiler alert** I should probably rate this higher, because I did enjoy reading it. I was quickly drawn in by Brooks's prose and narrative skill. I**spoiler alert** I should probably rate this higher, because I did enjoy reading it. I was quickly drawn in by Brooks's prose and narrative skill. I loved the setting (not the plague, but 17th century England), and was engaged by the sometimes quite profound insights as Anna ponders the unending questions of human suffering and tragedy, mingled with life's joys as well. But, like not a few other readers, I was just pretty pissed by the end.
Michael Mompellion's revelation about the true nature of his relationship with Elinor just didn't make sense to me. The man who had been presented throughout the novel as a hero justly admired for a faith that was both devout and enlightened, who was selflessly committed to the welfare of his flock, never sparing himself, a Cambridge Anglican who rejected the dour moralizing of the Puritans, who was glad to see the stocks rotting away for lack of use, who used the pulpit often as a vehicle for preaching of the mercy and love of God, who railed against the madness and inhumanity of the flagellants who thought they could allay God's wrath by punishing themselves, who unleashed his own fury against the drunken mob that murdered the 'witch' Anys Gowdie, even going so far as to defend her final, desperate 'confession'; this same man, we discover, was actually a misogynistic, religious fanatic who believed that the only way to heaven was by way of self purification, an 'eye-for-eye' atonement by the near-superhuman effort of the individual, loathsome sinner. So much for that whole grace of God in Christ thing. And this was not some sudden turning on his part. Neither was he a man leading a tormented double life, living a lie in public that did not square with the life of his own private home. Nope, this was who he truly was all along, and Anna (and I) just never saw it. Maybe because it's actually NOT who he was all along, until the final pages of the book, when I'm forced to go back and try to make sense of a man that doesn't make sense! What the crap!
Anyway. The whole 'losing your faith after tragedy' thing was not unexpected; you pretty much get that that's coming in the opening chapter. That wouldn't have bothered me (especially since Mompellion's faith turned out to be so bat shit crazy, even though it wasn't anything like the faith he demonstrated through the first 250 pages of the novel), were it not for the fact that this ultimately seemed not to be balanced by any 'blessing through faith' in any other character. Of course, it's not my novel, but this just doesn't seem real to me. There are indeed those who find their faith wrecked and obliterated by catastrophe; there are also those who waver, maybe abandon, but then return; and there are those who cling to faith as an anchor of the soul, no matter how the winds howl. But, in Anna's village, there seem to be no answered prayers, no solace, at last no faith. And Anna seems to speak the novel's whole message when she, in a flash of modern thinking, ponders that maybe we would all be better off if we didn't look to find any divine movement in the world about us, but rather viewed all cooly through the lens of logic, medicine, and science. Faith is not only ineffectual, it's harmful. Well, I'll just be frank and say it's not a message that I can embrace.
And, while I'm being frank, I'll also say that the epilogue was like pouring salt in the wound that had been gashed open by the last chapter. Yeah, it was far-fetched and exotic in a way that just did't really fit. But as a Christian and an Anglophile, I'll admit that I was just pissed that the heroine abandons her faith and her native England for a harem in North Africa. The whole epilogue felt like a parting cheap shot bit of narrative propaganda about the superior virtues of the Crescent over the failures of the Cross. Bleh. Maybe that was just me.
Anyway, this tirade not withstanding, I did enjoy most of the book. But it can be hard to get over the taste of a bad ending after becoming invested in a novel. Maybe now I've blasted off this review I can stop thinking about it. ...more