Tuesday, 23 May 2017

What is an Apostle Any Way?

A few days ago, I finished reading Miracles, By C.S. Lewis.  I should say re-reading but it was as if I was reading it for the first time (wish I had the kind of memory that would retain more of what I read the first time).  This is the best exploration of the phenomenon and theological implications of miracles that I know of.  It was recommended by a professor when I was studying theology at Huron University College.  I would recommend it to anyone struggling with the concept of miracles, biblical or otherwise.

In the opening sentence of the chapter, Miracles in the New Creation, Lewis declares, “In the earliest days of Christianity an ‘apostle’ was first and foremost a man who claimed to be an eyewitness of the Resurrection.”  This reactivated a memory from some years ago when I was challenged on this definition.  I was at one of the intensives (residential session) for my training as a Dream Group Facilitator with the Haden Institute.  Someone asked me how I would define an apostle.  Apparently, someone in their group had a dream about being an apostle.  I defined it the way that Lewis was speaking of it i.e. someone who had seen the risen Christ.  The person did not like this definition as it did not fit with her understanding.  She referred me to passages in the Gospels which referred to the disciples as Apostles which was prior to the crucifixion.   Unfortunately, I had not thought much about this definition and was not able to support this definition in what I considered a satisfactory way. 

As Lewis notes, when two candidates where proposed to fill the vacancy in the inner circle of disciples created by the betrayal and death of the Judas their qualification was that they had known Jesus before and after his crucifixion and could offer first-hand evidence of the Resurrection in spreading the Good News of Christ resurrected i.e. the Gospel, to the world.  St. Paul claimed to be an apostle on this basis, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord Jesus?” 

I had been introduced to this concept but, as I note, I was not able to give an apology for that position, at least to my satisfaction.  This bothered me for some time afterwards.  This was actually because my ego was wounded and I felt inadequate.  Here I was a priest (fairly newly minted) but did not have a good grasp on what was a basic concept in Christians theology.  In effect, I did not look on this encounter as the opportunity it was to engage the person more fully and to explore where they were coming from.  My ego got in the way of an opportunity to engage life and people more fully which is what we are called to do as Christian.   What was most important to me was proving myself right and the other person wrong.

I believe that the ego is the one of God’s greatest gift to humanity.  It can be considered part of how we are created in God’s image.   It is a blessing; however, it can also be a curse.  The ego, in its normal state will believe that it is charge; that it is the center of life.  It does not surrender that position of self-deluded primacy easily.  It is usually a long journey for the ego to reached its proper place which is being in service to God rather than believing that God should serve it.  However, that is what we are called to be and do as Christiansin service to God and God’s creation. Perhaps that could be a working definition of apostle, one who is in the service of God in the world.  Thanks be to God. 

Blessing on your journey.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

A Creed? What is the Athanasian Creed Anyway?

In last week’s News and Views, I mentioned the Athanasian Creed, which, along with the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, is one of the Creeds of the Christian Church.  I noted that it was my favourite Creed. A couple of people queried me about it as they were not familiar with it.  This is not surprizing as it has been more honoured in the neglect that the observance in the modern churchat least in the Anglican Church in this part of the world.

As I result, I was inspired to write something about it this week.  The Book of Alternative Services, which is the prayer book used almost exclusively in the Anglican Church today (we still officially recognize the Book of Common Prayer but it is dying of neglect but that too is another story), has only the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed in the worship liturgy.  The Book of Common Prayer, which is the traditional prayer book, includes the Athanasian Creed as an alternative.  I don’t know to what extent it was used in the past, not being raised an Anglican.  However, it is in the back of the prayer books and probably was not used to any great extent. 

With that background, let’s explore the Athanasian Creed a little.  Given its length, I have reproduced it at the end of this missive for reference.  I found this version of the website of the Anglican Church of Canada which notes, “It is included in the Book of Common Prayer, but is used very rarely in current Anglican Church of Canada liturgies”.

 I have been favourably disposed to this for a couple of reasons which are perhaps theoretical and theological rather than practical.  Indeed, I have never experienced the Creed in worship.  First, article 35 states,” One, however, not by conversion of Godhead into flesh, / but by taking of Manhood into God.”    This for me, is an affirmation and a redemption of matter and of the human body which overcomes the split between the divine and matter which developed out of Augustinian theology.  I am not equipped to get into the fine points of this but the church has had what can only be described as a less than positive view of human sexuality and the body in general focusing on its sinfulness.  It also has had a less than positive view of women which I believe, was due, in part, to the negative attitude to matter as fallen and sinful.  There were and are cultural influences as well cannot be denied.  The Athanasian Creed holds that the incarnation redeemed humanity in all its material form and being.

The second reason for my positive view of the Athanasian Creed (which was probably not written by St. Athanasius) was articulated by Madeleine L’Engle in her introduction to The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers.  This book is a wonderful exploration of creativity and the Creator.  L’Engle writes that the work of Sayer notes the incomprehensible nature of the three in One and One in Three of the Trinity.  However, she states that, “The Athanasian Creed is probably the most satisfactory of the creed, with its open admission that trying to define the undefinable is like writing on water, and no more translatable than the words Jesus wrote in the dust” (xxii). 
If you look at the Creed you will see that it goes back and forth and up and down in its affirmation that the Three are one and the One is Three and just what it is so get over your need to define this in a logical way.

For me this is an absolutely critical point in trying to explore God.  I spoke in my sermon yesterday about the necessity of using poetry and image to speak of God rather than trying to use logical, scientific, fact driven language to define the undefinable.  “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Of the King James Version is so much more evocative than the pedestrian “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” of the New Revised Standard Version. 
I have attached a copy of yesterday’s sermon if you would like to explore my thinking on this.  Blessings. 

Athanasian Creed

WHOSOEVER would be saved / needeth before all things to hold fast the Catholic Faith.
2 Which Faith except a man keep whole and undefiled, / without doubt he will perish eternally.
3 Now the Catholic Faith is this, / that we worship one God in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity;
4 Neither confusing the Persons, / nor dividing the Substance.
5 For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, / another of the Holy Ghost;
6 But the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one, / the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.
7 Such as the Father is, such is the Son, / and such is the Holy Ghost;
8 The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Ghost uncreated;
9 The Father infinite, the Son infinite, the Holy Ghost infinite;
10 The Father eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Ghost eternal;
11 And yet there are not three eternals, but one eternal;
12 As also there are not three uncreated, nor three infinites, / but one infinite, and one uncreated.
13 So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, / the Holy Ghost almighty;
14 And yet there are not three almighties, but one almighty.
15 So the Father is God, the Son God, the Holy Ghost God;
16 And yet there are not three Gods, / but one God.
17 So the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, / the Holy Ghost Lord;
18 And yet there are not three Lords, / but one Lord.
19 For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity / to confess each Person by himself to be both God and Lord;
20 So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion / to speak of three Gods or three Lords.
21 The Father is made of none, / nor created, nor begotten.
22 The Son is of the Father alone; / not made, nor created, but begotten.
23 The Holy Ghost is of the Father and the Son; / not made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
24 There is therefore one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; / one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
25 And in this Trinity there is no before or after, / no greater or less;
26 But all three Persons are co-eternal together, / and co-equal.
27 So that in all ways, as is aforesaid, / both the Trinity is to be worshipped in Unity, and the Unity in Trinity.
28 He therefore that would be saved, / let him thus think of the Trinity.
29 FURTHERMORE, it is necessary to eternal salvation, / that he also believe faithfully the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
30 Now the right Faith is that we believe and confess / that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both God and Man.
31 He is God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; / and he is Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world;
32 Perfect God; / perfect Man, of reasoning soul and human flesh subsisting;
33 Equal to the Father as touching his Godhead;/ less than the Father as touching his Manhood.
34 Who although he be God and Man, / yet he is not two, but is one Christ;
35 One, however, not by conversion of Godhead into flesh, / but by taking of Manhood into God;
36 One altogether; / not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person.
37 For as reasoning soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ;
38 Who suffered for our salvation, / descended into hell, rose again from the dead;
39 Ascended into heaven, sat down at the right hand of the Father, / from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
40 At whose coming all men must rise again with their bodies, / and shall give account for their own deeds.
41 And they that have done good will go into life eternal; / they that have done evil into eternal fire.
42 THIS is the Catholic Faith, / which except a man do faithfully and stedfastly believe, he cannot be saved.

Monday, 8 May 2017

I Bind Myself

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever,
by power of faith, Christ's Incarnation;
his baptism in Jordan river;
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spic├Ęd tomb;
his riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven
the glorious sun's life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken, to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.
Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort
and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of
all that love me,
Christ in mouth of
friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

This great and wonderful hymn was the offertory hymn at the ordination service last Wednesday when the assistant curate in our parish, Stephen Green,was ordained a priest along with another candidate Lisa Poultney.  It was a great service (we Anglicans know how to do these services really well) with and an inspiring sermon by Rev’d. Dr. Lizette Larson Miller of Huron University College. 
I have known and loved this hymn for many years.  It is an ancient one with the text being attributed to St. Patrick (fourth century CE), the one who is credited with driving the snakes out of Ireland.  However, whether it was the circumstances or the wonderful singing and accompaniment, or that I hadn’t sung it for a long time, singing this hymn moved and resonated with me more than I remember it affecting me in the past.

The hymn is truly a wonderful expression of the faith and belief of a saintly man   It is also an expression of wonder and awe at the glories of God and of God’s creation.  On reflection, it struck me that it is much more meaningful to me as a creedal statement than the creeds that we recite in worship.  The two creeds in our prayer book, the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, can lead to some dispute and dissension as some Christians today object to having to recite a statement of faith that they cannot agree with totally.  Some people may object the theological implications in these creedal statements e.g. the virgin birth or Jesus descending to the dead between his crucifixion and resurrection.  I have even heard of one person who refuses to recite the phrase “holy catholic church” because in their mind it refers to the Roman Catholic Church and, after all, we are Anglican and not Roman Catholic.  This despite, I presume, knowing that catholic refers to the universal church as opposed to the Roman branch of Christianity.  However, appropriateness of reciting the creeds in worship is another topic for another day. 

I will say that I am a true believer in the benefit of having Christians proclaim what it is that Christians believe in and have no trouble reciting either Creed.  I have a personal preference for the Athanasian Creed for a somewhat obscure reason which I also won’t elaborate on today.  However, my experience of the St. Patrick’s Hymn is, for me, a more meaningful statement of belief that any of those Creeds.   This is in part because it is beautiful poetry which resonates with me.  But more to the point, it is grounded in a sense of who and what God is to the world and for me in my life each and every day.

It beings with the wonderful idea and expression of “binding” to myself.  This speaks of relationship rather than a somewhat dry theology in the formal Creeds.  It proclaims that I am in relationship to all of God and all of creation.  This is true whether I am always aware of it (and I am not) and whether I live as if I am but it is a reality which need to be reminded of.  The song of St. Patrick proclaims the reality of the Trinity which I have come to know is true for me (despite not being truly able to proclaim that for many years).  However, it doesn’t go into the specifics of the what the Trinity is or is not.  Rather than speaking of the Son being begotten, not made and the substance of the Trinity, St. Patrick speaks of the fact of the Trinity and does not attempt to split hairs about the nature of the mystery which is the Trinity.  In a similar way, it speaks of the incarnation but does not dwell on the nature of that mystery but treats it as a mystery which is beyond our capacity as creatures of the Creator to truly understand as much as we have struggled to do so.

The poem then speaks of the personal relationship with Christ which is possible for all Christians; Christ with me, within me, beside me, behind me, before me, beneath me, above me, in quiet, in danger, in all that love me, in friend and stranger; above all, Christ to win me.  That is the best expression of what Christ means to and for me and what I strive for even though I do not always of even often experience. 

I have not spoken of the music setting by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895).  This is wonderful setting which does the poetry justice.  This is particularly true of the verse noted above in which expounds of the relationship with Christ, the melody in this verse is completely different to the rest to the hymn, which for me wonderfully expresses that nature of teat relationship which is unique in all of God’s creation and central to us as Christian. It also makes it a bit of a challenge for congregational singing but well worth it.
If you are not familiar with the hymn and the music it is easy to find many different versions on line.  Here is a link to one which has the version we sang, https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=I+Bind+Myself+Today+Choral+Performances&&view=detail&mid=FB4B2D2067339BBD623AFB4B2D2067339BBD623A&rvsmid=F18EB6B58BC0BDC46FCAF18EB6B58BC0BDC46FCA&fsscr=0&FORM=VDFSRV

Blessings on your journey; may it be filled with beautiful music.

Monday, 1 May 2017

The Christian Family Tree

With Palm Sunday being celebrated last Sunday, we are now in Holy Week with the anticipation of the Great Triduum; The Great Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, The Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday.  I know this actually is four days but that Religion for you.  But actually, it is counted from the evening of the Maundy Thursday service, with the foot washing, to the end of the Great Vigil Saturday evening in which the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour is celebrated with the return of the light of Christ to the world.  It recalls the passion, crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. This is the foundational story of Christianity. 

I was reminded of how important this is to us when I attended a session on a class on Luther a few weeks ago.  Lorna is taking that class at Huron University College, Luther: Love Him? Loath Him? Learn from Him, which commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  I audited the class on that occasion being April 1st as we were in London to celebrate my birthday (yes, I am an April Fool and am proud of it). 

The professor, Murray Watson, who is a very engaging teacher, provided a hand out entitled, The Christian Family Tree compiled by Rev. Nathan L. Bostian.    This diagram has Jesus Christ as the “root and foundation” with all the major branches of Christianity which have sprung up in the two thousand years since then.  It has all the main branches which we are familiar with including the Anglican dated in 1536.  It gives the Denomination rating with such things as “T” for Use of Tradition, “W” for Style of Worship and “S” for Structure with a scale from 1 to 10 for each.  Anglicans are rated T4 with 1 begin conservative in tradition and 10 being liberal; W2 for with 1 being sacramental and 10 experimental; and S2 with the range between hierarchical and congregational.  This seems to be fairly accurate for Anglicans.  Of course there is a great range of difference between Anglo-Catholics and whatever the opposite is within the Anglican Church.  But overall it is a reasonable rating.  I can’t speak for the rating for other denominations but I sure there is similar variation within each denomination similar.

The thing that strikes me as I look at the chart is the diversity that has developed in the way we humans can decide to worship our God or gods.  We all believe we have basically the correct understanding of whom and what God is and the way God should be worshiped.  This is true for atheists who have their own god in my view (I leaned in grade 9 math that even a null set is a sub set of a factor) i.e. even non-belief is belief in something.

I am not absolutely certain of many things about God but I am sure that Jesus Christ did not have any idea, despite being fully divine (I’m not absolutely certain about that), that what he started would end up where it is today.  Being a good Jew he likely did not anticipate there being a new Religion named after him or at least after his title of Christ. 

I believe if we are to be at all true to what Jesus wants us to be we must focus on the root of who we are as Christians which is Jesus Christ.  If we all have this in common we should not worry so much about the differences in doctrine and liturgy.  That being said I am glad I have found the “one true faith” of Anglicanism which can worship God along with the other true Christian faiths. 

 To all my brothers and sisters in Christ have a blessed Holy Week and Great Triduum.  

The Christian Family Tree Part 2

On April 11th, I wrote about The Christian Family Tree which has many branches and Jesus Christ as the root.  I am again attaching a copy of the diagram that does a very good job of illustrating this.  I want to credit the source, Rev. Nathan L. Bostian, 2014. 

I have been asked to write additional thoughts following up from my original post.  On reflection on want to consider where they church is going in this first part of the 21st Century.   This may be a case of a fool rushing in where angels fear to tread.  However, I have thought of myself as something of a fool being born on April Fool's Day, so here goes.

I believe that the church, and probably all of society, is in an a between time.  The world seems to have no firm foundation. The mainline religions such as Anglicanism seem to be dying or at least if not dying then going through a reordering of how it will be the church.  Many main-line congregations in Canada are closing and parishioners are getting older and not being replaced in sufficient numbers to sustain   congregations that have existed for many years.  One of my congregations, a small rural church, celebrated its 150th anniversary some years ago and closed a few years later.  There have been many parishes or congregations that have closed in our Diocese in recent years.  This is due to changes in Canadian culture due to many factors including population shifts from rural to urban centres, secularism, the age of enlightenment, and much more.  There has been speculation that the survival of the church, at least as we know it, is in doubt.

I do not believe that the survival of the church is in doubt.  However, the form of the church is.  I don’t believe anyone can predict with certainty what the church will look like.  There have been many books written about this by many people who are wiser than I and possibly by a few people who are not.  Harvey Cox, one who is definitely wiser than I, has delved into this.  You may remember him from his book, The Secular City, which was something of a sensation in the 1960s. His most recent book, The Future of Faith, came to mind when I was considering this question.  It was published in 2009 and I read it around that time.  Cox proposes that Christian history can be divided in three periods or perhaps ages.  The first is the Age of Faith; I might suggest calling it the Age of Experience.  This was a relatively short period which included the first century Christians beginning with Jesus and his immediate disciples.  As Cox states, “To be a Christian meant to live in the Spirit, embrace his hope, and to follow him in the work that he began” (5).
The second period is the Age of Belief.  This age began a few generations after Christ and lasted about 1500 years (I would contend more like 1900).  This period saw the institutionalization of the church.  It can also be called the Age of Doctrine.  We are still experiencing the death, as the death-throes of this age with modernity and post-modernity takes a firm hold of the culture. Cox notes, “It was already comatose when the European Union chiselled the epitaph on its tombstone in 2005 by declining to mention the word “Christian” in its constitution” (7).

The third period proposed by Cox is the Age of the Spirit.  This is the age that we have begun to experience.  Cox identifies three characteristics of spirit or spirituality.  First, it is a form of protest against formal, organized religion.  Second it is an attempt to express the awe and wonder of creation.  Third, it recognizes the porous boundaries between the different branches of the Christian Family Tree and I might add other religions.  Cox sees this movement as looking forward rather than back to the past.

I agree with Cox that we seem to be entering an age of the Spirit.  The image that came to me when I was considering this is Holy Saturday; that time between Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We are in an in-between time when the Age of Doctrine is dying and the Age of the Spirit is being born.  Both death and birth can involve pains and uncertainty.  I think many Christians are experiencing both the death pains and the birth pains of the religions we are part of.

The challenge of the Age of the Spirit is just that―pain and uncertainty.  We can’t say that we weren’t given a heads up, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).   The Spirit is not generally embraced by organized religion.  I sometimes refer to the Third Person of God as the Rodney Dangerfield of the Trinity; it don’t get no respect.  This is because it is unpredictable; it does blow where is chooses and we cannot control it as much as we would desperately want to.  Jesus did tell us what to expect but we didn’t truly believe him, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him, “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (John 14:16-17).  The church and the world still does not seem to be ready to receive it two thousand years later.

To live in uncertain times in indeed challenging and these times are very uncertain given the state of the church and the state of the world.  We live in the Shadow of Trumpism of which Donald trump is more a symptom than a cause.  I propose that Anglicans need to add to the Three Pillars of scripture, tradition and reason.  We need to add a fourth; discernment.  We need to learn how to better discern where the Spirt is leading us and to discern how we can best embrace it within our current way of being church.  This is by no means easy; but whoever told you being a Christian is easy.  Actually, Jesus did say my yoke is easy and my burden is light so I guess that, easy or not, it is a challenge that is definitely worth it.