Dancing on the Head of a Pin

There is a legend of St Thomas Aquinas asking "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" At this blog we ask all questions dealing with our faith and spirituality. Some are down to earth, rubber meets the road questions, while others are more lofty...like, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Some Religious News

The Pope names two Americans as cardinals - link.
Court battle over "Da Vinci Code" - link
Communique from Global South Primates - link
AP story on Episcopalian reaction to "The Book of Daniel" - link

Friday, February 24, 2006

You Complete Me

Today is the Feast of St Matthias, the apostle chosen to replace Judas. Below is the text of the sermon preached this morning at the Convent of St Helena (preaching to nuns is way different from preaching in a parish!):

God doesn’t seem to like fractions.

God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh; not in two and a half days or in twenty-three and a third. Six days and rested on the seventh.

Enoch lived 365 years. That’s a nice complete number. There are 365 days in year and Enoch lived 365 years, and then God took him to heaven.

After Noah built the ark, it rained 40 days and 40 nights; not 40 days and 39 nights – 40 days and 40 nights.

Jacob had 12 sons that became the 12 tribes.

Those 12 tribes wandered for 40 years in the wilderness with Moses until they came to the Promised Land.

Centuries later St John saw seven seals and seven bowls, and he also saw 12 elders worshipping God in heaven: 12 for the tribes of Israel and 12 for the apostles.

God likes wholeness. God likes completeness.

After the death of Judas the apostles were incomplete. There were only 11. Personally I think 11 is not bad. In my opinion, after you think about all that the 12 men Jesus called went through during their time with Jesus and especially during the Passion of Jesus, losing only 1 is not all that bad.

That is not a single parish in the Episcopal Church that wouldn’t love to that kind of a retention rate. In fact, I’m sure the National Church would love to have that retention rate, only losing one after a crisis. How many members, how many churches have we lost in our own situation over the past 3 years? Certainly more than one, and we haven’t faced anywhere near the kind of adversity the original 12 faced, and they only lost one.

But for a God whose love is perfect and whose mercy is perfect and whose wisdom is perfect, anything incomplete would not do. The Church had to represent the wholeness of God’s salvation. It had to include all the tribes of Israel; it had to include all the people of the earth.

And the Holy Spirit chose Matthias.

We all know who Matthias is, but I doubt most people do. I imagine if we took a poll on Broad Street tonight on who Matthias was, most would probably guess he was a contestant on American Idol.

And Matthias is not presented to us a particularly charismatic figure. He did not preach like Peter or pray like Paul, as the song goes, but he represents to us a most important aspect of God’s nature – God’s desire for completeness and wholeness in all things: the world, the Church, in us.

Because while I may be completely happy with 11 instead of 12, and while the whole world may be satisfied with 90% instead of 100% - God wants us to be complete. God wants us to be whole. After all, that is the story of the Bible. That is the story of our salvation.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Wing and a Prayer


The above title is a suggestion for the name of a new books and gifts store St Michael's will soon be opening. In 1993, St Michael's purchased the home adjacent to the church with the vision that an ecumenical center for ministry might call the house "home." 13 years later, Wimberly House Ministries, Inc. has many programs including a counseling center, an after-school program, and a senior's day out, but there is so much more than can be done. In hopes to raise money for the center and to raise awareness of the ministry, we will be opening a Christian books and gifts store in the front parlor. We will offer quality books on theology, Church history, devotionals, etc., as well as gifts such as sterling silver jewelry, crosses, icons, and the like. This will be a ministry of St Michael's for the ministry of Wimberly House. Hopefully we'll be able to share our Anglican way in the process.

The thing is, we're struggling for a name. I don't like cheesy religious names for stores and we don't want it to be too "Anglican" because we want Baptists, Presbyterians, and everyone to come to the store.

The best we have is the boring: Wimberly House Books and Gifts or the Wimberly Store. I invite your suggestions!

Steve+

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

In essentials, unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity


The above quote is from John Wesley who stole it from someone else. The gist of it is, in the things that are really important, let us agree. In the things that aren't so important, let's live and let live, but no matter what we do, let's love one another. There's been a lot of talk in the Anglican world about essentials and non-essentials. In the Episcopal Church we are in the middle of the debate concerning human sexuality and the relationship of sexuality and church leadership. It's a difficult debate. The word adiaphora has been thrown around (Windsor Report, for one) to identify literally, "things that do not matter" - think non-essentials. The question is, can we agree on what is non-essential? For some a person's sexual orientation is irrelevant, but for others it is very much an important issue. I have no desire to get into all that right now, but I do want to point out two things: 1) we are not in agreement over essentials and non-essentials and 2) until recently, there has not been a lot of love (charity) in "all things." I said until recently.
You may not have heard, for it has been under the radar in my opinion, that Bishop Gene Robinson, the homosexual bishop of New Hampshire, has checked himself into a 28 day program for alcohol abuse. I checked many of the conservative Anglican sites and blogs for their comment and to a blog/site, there were no "See I told you so's!" or "Ha!" but instead I saw people promising to pray and offering their support for the polarizing bishop in his recovery from alcoholism. Now I'm sure there are some who are, shall I say - pleased, at Bishop Robinson's condition, but the main voices in opposition to the Bishop's consecration were - loving.
At the end of the day we may not agree, in fact we may have to agree that we cannot be in communion, but there is hope that real charity can exist between us when we are struggling with the essentials and non-essentials.

Steve+

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Gospel According to Judas

In a recent beliefnet.com story, a 4th or 5th century Coptic manuscript containing the gnostic gospel of Judas will be published around Easter. This gospel claims to offer some redemption for Judas, the man who betrayed Jesus by handing him over to the authorities. While gnosticism has been declared heresy a long time ago (gnostic comes from the Greek "gnosis" (know-sis) which means knowledge, as in secret knowledge) and the redemption of Judas was condemned by Irenaeus (see article), many have mentioned the sympathetic role of Judas. Was Judas a self-serving weasel who betrayed the Son of God or was Judas fulfilling God's plan for him. After all, if Judas didn't turn him over, would Christ have been arrested and subsequently punished by death on a cross? It's an interesting question that ultimately comes down to free will and predestination. If Judas had no choice, but was carrying out God's plan, then would not some sympathy be appropriate? But if Judas had free will, is his plight so sympathetic?
What about free will in our lives? Do we pick and choose what is free will and what is all in God's plan? Are the two mutually exclusive?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Cardinal Arinze on good liturgy


Cardinal Arinze said the main challenge facing his congregation (for Divine Worship and the Sacraments)is to encourage a spirit of prayer, which must grow out of faith. He said bringing people to Mass regularly is essential, and it hinges largely on two factors: catechesis and high-quality, faith-filled liturgies.
Celebrating Mass well involves lay ministers, but primarily the priest, who sets a tone through every word and gesture, the cardinal said.
"Suppose a priest comes at the beginning of Mass and says: 'Good morning, everybody, did you team win last night' That's not a liturgical greeting. If you can find it in any liturgical book, I'll give you a turkey," Cardinal Arinze said.
Likewise, a priest has to preach well, making sure that his homily offers theological and scriptural enlightenment, and not merely verbal "acrobatics" to show off how many books he's read, he said.
The cardinal said that if done well Sunday Mass will not be experienced as a heavy obligation, but as a spiritual banquet, a celebration appreciated by the faithful who are hungry for spiritual nourishment and want to adore God.
"You should not need a commandment to enter such a banquet hall," he said.

- From the Southern Cross, the newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Ha Ha

An elderly woman walked into the local country church. The friendly usher greeted her at the door and helped her up the flight of steps. "Where would you like to sit?" he asked politely.
"The front row please," she answered.
"You really don't want to do that," the usher said. "The pastor is really boring!"
"Do you happen to know who I am?" the woman inquired.
"No," he said.
"I'm the pastor's mother," she replied indignantly.
"Do you know who I am?" he asked.
"No," she said.
"Good," he answered.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I Love You


At least three different Saint Valentines, all of them martyrs, are mentioned in the early martyrologies under date of 14 February. One is described as a priest at Rome, another as bishop of Interamna (modern Terni), and these two seem both to have suffered in the second half of the third century and to have been buried on the Flaminian Way, but at different distances from the city. In William of Malmesbury's time what was known to the ancients as the Flaminian Gate of Rome and is now the Porta del Popolo, was called the Gate of St. Valentine. The name seems to have been taken from a small church dedicated to the saint which was in the immediate neighborhood. Of both these St. Valentines some sort of Acta are preserved but they are of relatively late date and of no historical value. Of the third Saint Valentine, who suffered in Africa with a number of companions, nothing further is known.


The popular customs associated with Saint Valentine's Day undoubtedly had their origin in a conventional belief generally received in England and France during the Middle Ages, that on 14 February, i.e. half way through the second month of the year, the birds began to pair. Thus in Chaucer's Parliament of Foules we read:

For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.

from the Catholic Encyclopedia

PS: Pictures from our confirmation this past Sunday are online.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Episcopal Church Welcomes You


Yesterday, four people were confirmed and three were received into the Episcopal Church. It was a glorious occassion in which our Assisting Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Charles Keyser laid hands upon each person bringing them into the fellowship and communion of the Episcopal Church and the world wide Anglican Communion.

In seminary, I was taught that confirmation was a practice looking for a theology, in that confirmation as we know it began as chrismation (as the Orthodox still do it) where Bishop lays hands and annoints the newly baptized. But over time as the Bishop held on to the perrogative of laying hands on every baptized person, it became difficult for the bishop to travel to every parish and lay hands on every baptized Christian. Thus the Bishop started coming around every three years, then every seven years, and so on, until the act of the Bishop laying hands became known as confirmation and was done around the 12-14th year. The act of the Bishop laying on of hands was originally a part of the initiation rite that included baptism, and it was all done on the Easter Vigil. It wasn't a particularly theological reason that pushed the laying on of hands back, but a practical one. In any case, I believe the Bishop coming to the parish and bringing each person into the Church is a powerful act. Every Episcopalian has been brought into the Church by the Bishop; the Bishop has called each of our names and we are joined with billions as a member of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

Steve +

PS: St Michael's is seriously considering starting a parish books and gifts store in the Wimberly House, a home we bought 13 years ago for a community ministry center. I don't like hokey names and we want this to have ecumenical appeal (although the inventory will be solidly Anglican). What would be a good name for a books and gifts store? The following names are out: Archangel Books and Gifts, Noah's Ark, Shepherd's Nook, and the like.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Theodicy


Yesterday at our Anglican Days program we talked about theodicy; a term coined by Gottfried Liebniz that essentially means "justifying God." Theodicy seeks to justify the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God in the face of suffering, evil, and pain. In other words, how can a loving, powerful, and omniscient God allow a five year old to die of cancer, etc. There is no good answer and there are several approaches to reconcile God's love with evil, such as Divine Incomprehensibility (we can never know), Divine Punishment (we deserve it), Divine Pedagogy (we are learning a lesson), and Process Theology (God is still working it out), to name a few. But one of the most interesting theories comes from the man who coined the phrase himself - Liebniz.
A long time ago on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Lt. Worf kept experiencing alternate realities. He kept shifting in and out of realities based upon actions taken or not taken. Think of "It's a Wonderful Life;" Jimmy Stewart seeing the alternate reality that existed in the event that he was never born. Well, Liebniz reconciles God's love, power, and knowledge with pain, evil, and suffering by saying that we all have alternate realities. God's loving providence selects the reality that is best for us. It's not predestination, we still make our choices, but in the vast (infinite - but how can that be?) number of realities, the one that is best for us is the one we experience. To Sci-Fi? It's interesting, nonetheless. At least i got to plug Lt. Work in the blog.
At the end of the day, I have no answer as to "Why Bad things happen to Good People." I am more prepared to say what God does not do than to explain why God does A, B, or C. Any thoughts?

Steve +

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Runaway theology?


Those of us in the Georgia area remember the story of Jennifer Wilbanks, the "Runaway Bride." For those who don't remember, Jennifer took off from Duluth, Georgia and turned up in Albuquerque, NM claiming that she had been abducted. As the facts came into focus, it was discovered that she wasn't abducted and that she just took off. Her pastor was very much involved in the press and was always with the family. It was clear that the family and the pastor were close, or were becoming close. The pastor has now released a book, "Runaway Lives." The pastor says "It's not a book about Jennifer, but it's a book about various issues that we all struggle with that can be rather destructive."

Is this book a little close to the pastoral situation? What do you think? Would you be afraid to come to this pastor for counseling wondering if your story would be in a book?

Lent is approaching and for many this is a time to make a confession. Yes, in the Episcopal Church we can confess to our priest! I will be making the trip to my confessor shortly. One of the things I love about confession is that what I say, no matter what I say, will never be repeated again (or put in a book!). It doesn't matter if I have run away from my family or run away with the church's money - the seal of the confession is absolute (now this doesn't mean my confessor won't strongly encourage me to return to my family or return the money!).
For many Episcopalians, the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) is one they'd rather not receive. Consider going to your priest this Lent and receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Whatever you say will never be said again. And there are few things as powerful as confessing the deep dark secrets you were afraid to tell anyone, and then have someone lovingly put their hands on you and tell you that God loves you - and that the Lord has put away your sins.

Steve +

Elevated Speech


I remember in seminary the liturgics professor commenting that the ancients viewed song as elevated speech and that it was customary for things that were sacred to be whispered or sung, both of which call greater attention to the words. So it is no surprise that there is a rich tradition in the Church of sung liturgy. I remember visiting Holy Apostles Orthodox Church in Columbia, SC and hearing the priest sing (chant) every word of the liturgy, save the sermon. It was impossible to worship there and not feel as if everything was elevated and that heaven, or at least a foretaste of it, could be on earth. I am not a singer, except when I'm surrounded by a shower curtain and a bar of soap. However, I recently teamed up with the Choirmaster at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Augusta to "teach" me how to sing - or at least sing the liturgy. Hopefully by Easter (is there a more appropriate time?) we will be able to sing the vast majority of the liturgy at St Michael's.

Out of curiosity - do you/does your priest sing any parts of the liturgy?

Steve +