31 May 2006

Post to my college friends' Yahoo group

Well, I'm posting this here because my philosophy is that if I'm going to write over 1,000 words, and it's not either personal/private or dreadfully boring (read "work-related"), then it's going up on the dern blog. Below is a reply I just sent to an unprecedented, long, spirited discussion on the Yahoo group I set up years ago for my circle of college friends. (We refer to ourselves as "The Looneys".) We have generally only used the group list to plan our yearly reunions, but someone posted something about a group opposing the Christian right, and thus were a great many words born. Our group of friends includes conservative Christians (Protestant and Catholic), liberal Christians, Deists, Pagans, agnostics, and atheists, and all kinds of other flavors too. We're all pretty educated and opinionated. So it's been quite a ride. But anyway, here's what I wrote. You can get a sense of the themes in the discussion so far by reading below.


Hi everybody!

All I can say is, "wow!" Here's what's neat: the surprising thing is *not* that the Looneys can have such a civil and friendly conversation about such deeply divisive issues despite an obviously W-I-D-E range of viewpoints. The surprising thing is that nothing like this has happened on this list before, as far as I can remember.

So - I've been gone (with Tina and our dog Machig and our friend Tim) since Saturday backpacking through Maryland on the Appalachian Trail, which explains why I haven't weighed in on this discussion thus far. And - um - there've been a lot of words written while I was away! Lots of wise words, lots of speculative words - good, mind-stretching stuff. So, I won't attempt a point-for-point engagement of anybody's arguments. Instead, I'll just briefly state my own opinion on some of the issues that have been discussed, in case anybody's interested.

First of all, I'm a Christian. If you don't believe me, check out my blog at www.rudetheology.com. A lot of you remember me when I was a student-of-all-religions, practitioner-of-none, and then a Tibetan Buddhist for three years. I won't launch into my whole spiritual autobiography, but suffice it to say that I'm a pretty committed Christian (strongly considering seminary, among other things). Here some other adjectives which help describe my particular location within the body of Christ, though some of this might not mean anything to y'all (though Google and Wikipedia could help if you're interested): Anglican, missional, emerging/emergent, Celtic, Anglo-Catholic, liturgical, postmodern, post-liberal. Some other adjectives that somewhat describe me, but may not mean to me exactly what they mean to you: evangelical, born-again. To be maybe a little more clear: I'm very serious about my ongoing attempt to follow Jesus, I take the Bible very seriously, and I consider myself to be within the bounds of the traditional orthodox Christian faith. However, when I say "post-liberal" that doesn't mean conservative; it means that I embrace my liberal background, but I embrace it both lovingly and critically. I embrace my "modern, rational, skeptic" background and my Tibetan Buddhist background similarly. Actually, same goes for "Anglican", "missional", "evangelical", and the rest. All of these help form my point of view, but none of them are immune from critique.

So anyway, that's a long-winded way of stating where I'm coming from. From that point of view, I'll throw out these opinions:

- One of the things that's been debated here is the existence of God. Let me state my opinion on God: I'm definitely pro-God. God and I have a relationship that I value very highly. I get a lot more out of it than I put into it, that's for sure. So I believe in God like I believe in Tina. I have a lot of faith in God like I have a lot of faith in Tina. But as for whether "God" "exists", you'll need to define those two terms in quotes pretty precisely before I'll even begin to consider debating the question with you.

- Another thing that's been debated is creationism, "intelligent design", and evolution. One of the ways I relate to God is as Creator - of me, you, everything else. It would appear, based on the best science we've got so far, that one of the methods God uses to create this universe is evolutionary change. That science is what should be taught in science class. "Intelligent design" is speculation, not science, and does not belong in public school science classes. However, the first two chapters of Genesis also tell true stories about how we got where we are. I agree with Tom that stuff like that, from many world religions, should be taught in religion (not science) classes in public schools.

- That touches on probably the biggest thread in this discussion: church and state. Here's the deal about that. In the early fourth century CE/AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine, who had converted to Christianity, first changed the faith's status from a despised, persecuted cult to an accepted religion, and then made it *the* official religion of the Empire. Thus began something called "Christendom", the wedding of some very strange bedfellows: 1) The faith of the followers of Jesus Christ (who spent his life and death peacefully yet powerfully opposing the "powers and principalities" of Imperial oppression and the culture of domination), and 2) The State (first the Roman state, then the European nation-states, then the US and other colonial nations), which is inexorably bound up with those powers and principalities, those systems of domination that are completely at odds with, to take just one example, the Beatitudes in the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew. This may be what had to happen for the church to survive, but on balance I think it was a terrible move. I think it led to centuries - over a millennium - of compromise of the gospel of grace and freedom in service to the powers of domination and capitulation to the dominant culture.

But here's the good news: Christendom is *so* over! It's done, dudes, and the efforts of the Christian Right to restore it are, I hope and pray, doomed. Christians do not need state support (legislated Christian values, etc.) in order for the church to flourish - look at the first three centuries of the Christian era! Look as St. Paul - he sure didn't have state support! We don't need it, and we (in my opinion) don't want it: getting in bed with the state means compromising the gospel, and in my opinion that's too high a price to pay. Good riddance to Christendom, I say. It's no good for atheists, it's no good for Deists, it's no good for Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, or Muslims, and it's no good for Christians either. I dance on its grave, and I respectfully disagree with anybody who says we need it back in order to raise our kids right. Let's strengthen our families, our church communities, and our neighborhoods, but let's keep the church the heck out of the state. The closest Jesus ever got to the halls of government was on his way to the cross. There's a lesson there, I think.

So anyway, that's what I think about that. :-) Sorry I lied about being brief.

24 May 2006

Leaving an abusive Christian cult

Some of you might find this interesting. I just got an e-mail from one Doug Duncan, whose wife Wendy recently wrote a book about their experience in an abusive fundamentalist Christian cult in Dallas, then leaving that cult, then finding the Episcopal church. (I use the term "cult" because it's the word Wendy and Doug use; I don't know them or the group, so my use of that term is not an informed judgment I am making. Just passing along the story.)

Anyway, I have friends who have a background in groups (superficially) like the one Wendy describes, and I have Episcopalian friends, so I thought I'd post the link in case this was interesting to anyone.

21 May 2006

N.T. Wright: Simply Christian

This past Tuesday, I attended an outstanding lecture at the National Cathedral from Tom (N.T.) Wright, Anglican Bishop of Durham (England) and superlative New Testament scholar/theologian, on his latest book, Simply Christian, which is a fairly slim treatise on the essentials of following Jesus, in the tradition of C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity.

As always, the wonderful folks at the Cathedral have made the video of this talk available. You can watch it here. I highly recommend that you do so.

I took notes at the lecture intending to blog them, but I'm feeling lazy. I'll gladly blog my notes if anyone asks me to, but if everyone would rather just watch the video (and if you've got the time, you should do that!) then I'll save myself the trouble. So, if you'd like to read my notes, please let me know (comment on this post). Don't worry about putting me out - I really don't mind a bit blogging my notes if anyone wants to read them.

For now, I'll just tease you with some near-quotes from the end of Wright's talk, when he was speaking about our eschatological hope regarding the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven:

"In justice, God will put the world to right....There will come a time when we can love and be loved; know and be known....It is time now to take up our proper role as agents, heralds, and stewards of the new day that is dawning."

Thy kingdom come!

Congratulations, Pete and Jackie!!!!

Wow! What a day! My friends Pete and Jackie, from my little church (The Common Table) got themselves wedded yesterday. Without a doubt, it was the most mind-blowingly awesome, joyful, musically virtuoso wedding I've ever heard of, much less attended. What a privilege to be there - considering the musical talent alone, I've paid big bucks to attend concerts that were a pale shadow of this wedding's joyful noise. But don't think for a minute that it was all style and no substance - every word and every note was grounded in grace, love, gratitude, and a deep relationship with God in Christ. The meditation (homily) by my friend Mike was masterful and inspiring, even if he did look (rather uncharacteristically) a bit like a TV preacher, with his black suit, clean-shaven face, and perfect hair. ;-) A rather tired TV preacher who, nonetheless, was fit to burst with love and joy for his dear friends, beginning their covenanted life together - and rawther amazingly eloquent about it, I might add. They're an amazing couple, and are surrounded by loving, committed, and faithful family and friends, so it's with complete confidence that I wish them long life together filled with joy and good fruits.

Tina and I drove back last night (along with Erin) to save on petsitting and hotel costs, so I agreed to cover "church" at The Common Table this morning, even though most folks were staying in PA for the weekend and weren't going to be in town. The plan was "donuts and open discussion", but we weren't sure whether anyone else was going to show up. Well, no-one did. Which is not a problem, because my co-workers will appreciate the gift of day-old donuts tomorrow morning. However, if any of y'all are getting back in town this afternoon and want to drop by my place for your official Donut of the Common Table, please feel free. :-)

14 May 2006

The Continuing Conversion of the Church (4)

Chapter Four of CCotC is entitled "Translation in Mission". The following quote from its opening paragraph sets the context: "This history reveals over and over again that the missio Dei, as God works it out, is fraught with risk. This risk, I suggest, is the necessary companion of the love that God translates into reality in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This love is the content and motive of Christian mission." Guder then goes on to make the following points:
  • The fundamental nature of sin is the desire of human beings to be in control - of their lives, of their destinies, of God. The "people of God" are not a bit more immune to that sinful need for control than are any other humans. This, however, is no barrier to God's gracious action for and through them. God takes a "risk communicating his love to creatures who may reject it. That loving risk is what makes the history of salvation and the living hope of faith possible."
  • "By the gift of God's Spirit, this witness [of the gospel] may be translated into every human setting, since Jesus may be met and known in every human setting." "Because the joyful news is about God's mission, God's loving intentions for all creation, it is fundamentally missionary in nature, universal in scope, and, necessarily, translatable into the particular." "From the outset of the Christian pilgrimage, the translatability of the gospel has been a challenge and a risk for the church." "The church's continuing conversion today is always, in some way, related to the comprehensiveness of its missionary calling. We are still discovering the meaning of 'all the world' today."
  • This translation is not just a matter of language, but of culture and history. The translation process is "profoundly interactive" with the culture and both challenging and confrontational for the culture. "That transformative witness will hallow some elements of the culture, adapt others, and reject others." Neither the missionaries' culture nor the receiving culture may be regarded as normative. "When other criteria and interests replace [the] priority of God's mission, then gospel reductionism is at work.
  • "Missionary translation always includes the continuing conversion of the translator-evangelists." "The translatability is a challenge, even a shock for rebellious humans. As beings who are so concerned about control, we find the cultural openness of the gospel offensive. A translatable gospel is fundamentally not controllable. It unsettles us to discover that faithfulness to Christ can, in cultures different from ours, look different from the patterns we have evolved."
I'll end with a quote that ends the chapter itself:
The transforming power of the gospel must address, first and foremost, the traditional ways we have communicated the gospel. From there, it will move into our larger contexts and illumine where Christian witness may say "yes" and must say "no". As in every other culture in the world, Christian witness engages Western culture in diverse ways: accepting, adapting, changing, and rejecting. This means, among other things, that the culturally bilingual church must expect to change and be changed, must expect its own continuing conversion, as it encounters Christ the Lord in the cultures into which it now is sent as its witnesses.

One of our primary challenges as we undertake this transforming work is our reductionism of the gospel, which has been referred to above. What does Guder mean by "gospel reductionism?" Glad you asked...it's the topic of the next chapter. Which hopefully will be showing up here much more promptly than this one did! :-)

13 May 2006

Confession and absolution

Here are some thoughts I collected in response to an inquiry regarding Confession and Absolution from Deanna, partly in regard to the liturgy of The Common Table church (my little church), and partly in regard to a school assignment for her cousin Rebecca. I thought it was possible that bits of it might be interesting to a wider audience.

My knowledge is all from the Anglican and Celtic traditions, but the Anglican stuff might be relevant to The Common Table because of the church's Anglican DNA. In the prayers below, I'll attempt to use the following conventions: regular text for word spoken by the leader, bold text for words spoken by the entire congregation, and italics for rubrics (instructions not meant to be spoken at all).

First, some quick words about my humble understanding of the whys and hows of confession and absolution. Confession has always been considered an essential for worship especially in traditions that make a eucharist/communion/Lord's Supper a central part of most worship services. This derives from some stern warnings in 1 Corinthians 11 as well as a very appropriate concern that one should come to the Lord's table with a clean and repentant heart. In the Roman Catholic tradition, confession usually takes the form of a personal one-on-one interview with the priest outside of the worship service. In the Anglican tradition, confession is done communally (and less specifically, at least out loud) within the context of the worship gathering. The Common Table, with its Anglican heritage, has adopted the latter custom.

In traditional contexts, confession is always accompanied by absolution. It's worth emphasizing that God forgives our sins immediately upon repentance (if not sooner). Absolution is not the moment when God forgives us; it's the moment when we realize and acknowledge that we have been forgiven by God. It's appropriately accompanied by thanksgiving and an outpouring and sharing of our restored shalom - hence in Anglican liturgies it is typically followed immediately by the passing of the peace.

OK, enough of the general stuff; on to consideration of specific prayers. Currently, The Common Table uses the following prayer of confession in most services:


Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.


This is the confession prayer from the liturgy for Holy Eucharist (Rite II - modern language) from the U.S. edition of the Book of Common Prayer (1979). It's also used in several other liturgies in that prayerbook (A Penitential Order, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer). In its context in Holy Eucharist, it's followed by the following absolution rubric and prayer:


The Bishop, when present, or the Priest, stands and says

Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins
through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all
goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in
eternal life. Amen.


In this form and with this rubric, this prayer wouldn't be appropriate for The Common Table. No bishop, no priest, and no theology of priestly absolution superpowers. (In my opinion the lack of these is not a defect.)

However, let's take a look at how these prayers are used in the liturgy for Morning and Evening Prayer. The same prayers are used, with the same rubric, but followed by this additional rubric:


A deacon or lay person using the preceding form remains kneeling, and substitutes "us" for "you" and "our" for "your".

Now, we don't kneel, but consider how this absolution prayer reads with those changes:


Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us all our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen us in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life. Amen.

This could be spoken by the leader, or by everyone in unison. Further, here's an alternate prayer of confession and absolution from the US BCP, as part of the service for Compline or Night Prayer, in which a lack of a priest or bishop is just assumed:


The Officiant may then say

Let us confess our sins to God.

Officiant and People

Almighty God, our heavenly Father:
We have sinned against you,
through our own fault,
in thought, and word, and deed,
and in what we have left undone.
For the sake of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ,
forgive us all our offenses;
and grant that we may serve you
in newness of life,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.


May the Almighty God grant us forgiveness of all our sins,
and the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


I'm a fan of this one, but I'm a fan of Compline in general. :-)

As Dee alluded to, another thing I'm a fan of is the New Zealand BCP, so here are some versions of these prayers from that prayerbook.

From the eucharistic liturgy of Creation and Redemption:


Happy are those whose sins are forgiven,
whose wrongs are pardoned.
I will confess my sins to the Lord,
I will not conceal my wrongdoings.

God forgives and heals us.
We need your healing, merciful God: give us true repentance. Some sins are plain to us; some escape us, some we cannot face. Forgive us; set us free to hear your word to us; set us free to serve you.
The presiding priest says
God forgives you.
Forgive others;
forgive yourself.

Through Christ, God has put away your sin:
approach your God in peace.

[The absolution could be amended to the following:

The leader (or entire congregation) says

God forgives us.
Let us forgive others;
let us forgive ourselves.


Through Christ, God has put away our sin;
let us approach our God in peace.]

An alternative prayer from the same liturgy:

Creator, we disfigure your world.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Redeemer, we reject your redemption and crucify you daily.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Giver of life, we too often choose death.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Another alternative:

Jesus, our deliverer, we take your freedom from others.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Jesus, our hope, we deprive others of hope.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Jesus, God's shalom, we distort your peace.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

In silence before God,
we confess our sins.


The following is the absolution for both of the last two alternatives. I'll go ahead and amend the language for non-priestly usage:

The leader (or entire congregation) says

God forgives us.
Let us be at peace.


God the Creator brings us new life,
forgives and redeems us.
Let us take hold of this forgiveness
and live our lives
in the Spirit of Jesus.


Finally from the NZ prayerbook, this is from the Eucharistic Liturgy of Thanksgiving and Praise. I only revised the absolution slightly.


In God there is forgiveness.
Loving and all-seeing God,
forgive us where we have failed to support one another
and to be what we claim to be.
Forgive us where we have failed to serve you;
and where our thoughts and actions have been
contrary to yours we ask your pardon.

The leader says

God forgives us; be at peace.


Rejoice and be glad.
for Christ is resurrection,
reconciliation for all the human race.

The leader and people say

We shall all be one in Christ,
one in our life together.
Praise to God who has created us,
praise to God who has accepted us,
praise to God who sends us into the world.


OK! I also have several lovely Celtic confession/restoration prayers from the Celtic Christian communities in Northumbria (England) and Iona (Scotland), but I grow weary of typing in prayers. I'd make a lousy monk; I haven't even been painstakingly illuminating the letters. ;-) However, please let me know if any of y'all are interested in those and I'll gladly type them in to another message; I just think this one's getting a bit long.

Anyway, hope that was helpful in some way. Create in us a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within us!

08 May 2006

Maggi Dawn on love "vs." doctrine

Great stuff from Maggi: our doctrine is love. If you feel that doctrine compells you to violate Jesus' new commandment, then you need to wonder if your doctrine is in error. Love - especially for sisters and brothers in Christ - is as central a Christian doctrine as just about anything else you might name: the trinity, the incarnation, the atonement - heck, the existence of God, since God is love. If you think the most effective way to express love for your brother or sister is to spew venom in his or her direction, then brother, you have issues. If you admit that your venom-spewing betrays a lack of love for the person you're aiming at, then you've got doctrinal issues. Or so it seems to me.

Thanks, Maggi!

07 May 2006

Idolatry bad

E te whanau / My brothers and sisters,
our help is in the name of the eternal God,
who is making the heavens and the earth.

So for a while - like, over a month - I've been teasing about an upcoming post on "Leadership and Technique" or whatnot. It was going to be an attempt to comment on recent events at both my big church (Holy Comforter) and my little church (The Common Table, formerly Mars Hill). My life's been fairly fully full o' stuff these days, so as you may or may not have noticed, it's been a long time since I've posted anything but a quick thing about big events in my personal life (wife leaving, dog dying, wife returning) or a link to somebody else's blog. So now I'm finally writing something again, but the events I wanted to write about are over a month old. That being the case, this post is going to be slightly less high-fallutin' than it was originally going to be. Instead of "Leadership and Technique", you get (with a nod to Boris Karloff) "Idolatry bad".

So here's my point: I think it's really, really easy for us talking monkeys to forget what is God and what isn't God. It's pretty simple. God is God. Anything else isn't. Two things in particular aren't God: nature/humans/revelation (stuff created by God) and tools/technique/technology (stuff created by us talking monkeys). When we become too attached (as the Buddha would say) to things in nature or to man-made things - when we grasp them tightly, elevate them, and treat them as absolutes - we are guilty, to some extent, of idolatry.

The Bible, especially the Old Testament, has a lot of stern things to say about idolatry, and for good reason. Obviously and primarily, idolatry directs "worship" of a sort away from God and toward something that isn't God. But secondarily, our gods tend to make us in their image, just as the real God does. When we idolize something dumb and wooden or cast in stone, it tends to cast us in stone. What I mean is: when we do this, we are acting on our built-in desperation for control and stability. When we grasp something tightly and make it an idol, we are looking for something set in stone, stable, that we can control and always expect the same results from. Something unchanging that we can count on. And so, very often, when we're in "idolatry mode", we stagnate. We resist change, both internal and external. We grasp our idol tightly and refuse to let go.

The problem with this approach, I think, is that the world God is creating isn't hospitable to this kind of behavior. You can argue until dawn about the Greek view of God (an unchanging, unchangeable archetype) vs. the Hebrew concept (changeable, temperamental, anthropomorphic), and I'm not going to contribute to that argument right now, but whatever you think about the nature of God, I think this world of God's is one in which change is the norm, transformation is a basic survival skill, and if you're sitting immobile in your corner grasping your idol, you're probably in for a rude awakening.

The quote at the top of this post is from the Compline (night prayer) liturgy from the New Zealand version of the Book of Common Prayer. I think the Kiwis have it right on several counts: our help is in the name of the Lord - not in nature, not in other humans, not in our technology, technique, and knowledge, and not even in an idolized, absolutized concept of God's revelation in scripture. Further, God is creating the heavens and the earth. Creation isn't something that happened at the dawn of time and finished soon after. Creation is ongoing. God's world is always changing, and we need to change with it. Standing still (for long) is not an option.

Specifically (and this is where this relates back to stuff from a month ago), among the things that I would call "tools/technique/technology" are all the methods we've invented for getting stuff done. This includes decision-making methods like consensus, democratic voting, and command decisions, as well as every type of church "program". Like everything else from God (nature, revelation, other people) and man (knowledge, technique, science), these things are fundamentally neutral. They aren't evil - all of these things can be good and can bring us closer to God and others - but they aren't fundamentally good either, because they aren't God. They aren't absolute, and we need to relativize their value and importance and to grasp them lightly. This is really hard, because of our aforementioned natural desperation for control and stability. The only way we can do this is to have a real, abiding relationship of faith, trust, confidence in the real God. And even when we have that, we will naturally and repeatedly fall back into our habit of tightly grasping one or another non-Divine thing.

Anyway, I think I may well be stating the obvious, but that was the train of thought that was on my mind on and off for the past month or so. Much of this was inspired by the excellent teachings of Fr. John Ohmer of St. James' Leesburg at the recent Holy Comforter Men's Fellowship retreat, whom I am privileged to now count among my teachers. So thanks, Fr. John, and thanks to the folks at both of my churches who got me thinking about this stuff.

02 May 2006

An emerging third way?

Outstanding post from The Great Giveaway blog on why the Emerging Church must not become merely a half-baked synthesis of evangelical fundamentalism and liberal protestantism. If we are to truly emerge as a relevant form of the Body of Christ in the postmodern era, we have to do a lot better than that. If you identify at all with the Emerging Church, you should read this post and think and pray about these issues. (HT: Maggi Dawn.)

DC Emergent Cohort - a great start!

I haven't had a whole lot of time to post lately, but I wanted to say that I had a great time at Guapos past Thursday with the newly-forming Washington, DC Emergent Cohort. I met a lot of diverse and fascinating followers of Jesus, and had some yummy Mexican food too. If you're interested in the church that is emerging and you're in or near the DC area, keep an eye on the Cohort blog (linked above) or e-mail me for more info.