Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Few Thoughts on Taxes

Since I use the original 1928 Book of Common Prayer Lectionary, the first lesson for Morning Prayer this morning was Genesis 41:15-37, where Joseph -- having been hauled out of prison to interpret Pharaoh's dream -- delivers the bad news that seven years of prosperity are to be followed by seven years of famine. In response to this unfortunate news, Joseph advises Pharaoh that he should set up overseers who will take one-fifth (20%) of the produce and put it in storage so that when the lean years come the people of Egypt will not starve but will instead be cared for. That -- and the fact that my income tax return needs to be filed soon -- got me thinking about taxes.

What Joseph established was a de facto tax, but it was a tax that was dealing with a specific coming crisis. The 20% that was gleaned would pay rich dividends in the future when famine came to the land. In contrast to this, too much of the taxes that are payed today go to servicing debt -- debt that continues to grow, and grow, and grow with the printing of fiat money. Elsewhere in Scripture, when the people clamor for a King, Samuel warns them about some of the things that this King -- Saul -- will do. Among the warnings that he lists are that the King will take a tenth of their grain and flocks (1 Samuel 8:15, 17). Clearly, he sees a 10% tax as excessive. That's even lower than the 20% that Joseph advised -- when, after all, he was dealing with an emergency.

In comparison, many in the United States pay between 32-40% in taxes once the direct and indirect (the so-called "hidden taxes" that are embedded in the products and services that we buy) are taken into account. That's considerably more than the sub 10% rate that Samuel seemed to hope for! Furthermore, taxes in the United States are progressive, meaning that if you work hard and earn more money you get more taxes, meaning that a raise can quickly morph into a pay cut. For people in the top tax bracket of 40%, they can easily pay more than 10% in local taxes, meaning that most of the fruit of their hard work is taken from them. That's an effective way to disincentivize success. It's interesting to note that when God established the Census tax in Israel, progressive taxation was forbidden.

There are numerous other problems with the way that we do taxes and I'll try to address those in the near future. Suffice it to say, though, that the current system isn't working. Perhaps returning to the old paths outlined in Scripture are worth more than a passing glance.

The Sunday called Sexagesima, or the second Sunday before Lent

The Collect.

O LORD God, who seest that we put not our trust in any thing that we do; Mercifully grant that by thy power we may be defended against all adversity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle. 2 Corinthians 11:19-31 (ESV)

For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.

The Gospel. St Luke 8:4-15 (ESV)

And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Sunday called Septuagesima, or the third Sunday before Lent

The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee favourably to hear the prayers of thy people; that we, who are justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully delivered by thy goodness, for the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Saviour, who liveth and, reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Epistle. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV)

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

The Gospel. St. Matthew 20:1-16 (ESV)

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Power of a Driver's License

While visiting with a patient this afternoon I noticed that her paid sitter was reading the South Carolina Driver's License Manual. Since she was clearly older than high school age (I wasn't entirely sure, she turned out to be 33) my curiosity was piqued and I asked her if she was studying for her Driver's License and it turned out that she was. We visited a while, discussed the driving test and her nervousness about it, prayed, and then I went on my way. This lady, in her thirties with three children, is paying several hundred dollars for her license, a piece of plastic that will enable her stop having to take a cab (for which the fare runs $7 -- not a small amount when making low wages with children) to work or to rely on friends or others who can at times be unreliable. It will allow her to have independence and will hopefully open up new opportunities for her (I lived for a time without a car for several months years ago in Columbia, South Carolina, and realize that it's not easy to do that in most cities).

My conversation with her got me thinking about my own experience getting a driver's license -- one that was fairly typical of a middle-class teenager in the 1980s. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars for classes, I enrolled in Driver's Education at
Myrtle Beach High School (the mascot of which then carried a dagger and did not look like an effeminate maitre d from an all you can eat seafood buffet, but I digress) during my freshman year -- it was offered for at least of couple of reasons: (1) At least ostensibly it promoted safe driving. (2) It provided a real and not too taxing course for several of the coaches to teach (parents liked it because [3] You got a break on insuring your teenager if they'd passed the course!) and learner's permit, quickly followed by what was then called a day license which magically morphed into a driver's license when I turned 16. I had a car at 15 (a yellow 1977 Honda Civic Hatchback -- not a bad car and roughly appropriate for a teenager's first car, by the way) and took the mobility that it and a driver's license provided for granted, and that's the point.

Driving is an essential part of my work -- if I couldn't drive I'd have to get another job -- and that's true for many people. It also allows me freedom and independence that I (and most Americans) have gotten used to. Within reason, I go where I want to go when I want to go there.

I'm not saying that a driver's license is a universal entitlement (it should be granted to all who can demonstrate the skills and judgment needed to operate a vehicle safely) nor am I suggesting that all government schools should offer state-funded driver's education (that's a call for local school board). What I am saying is that speaking to that sitter made me appreciate a seemingly small thing that I'd previously taken for granted; such an increase in gratitude is always helpful!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Guest Post: The Baltimore Declaration of 1991

Some 20 years ago my friend William McKeachie and five other Episcopal priests then canonically resident in the Diocese of Maryland produced the Baltimore Declaration, an affirmation of orthodox Christianity. The articles of faith affirmed therein remain relevant for the Church and Christ's Church continues to struggle with those who would attack the faith; it bears re-reading. Inasmuch as the sites where it was formerly available no longer are, it is presented in its entirety here. Tolle Lege! -- DC+

The Baltimore Declaration

Throughout the history of the Christian Church, there have been times when the integrity and substance of the Gospel have come under powerful cultural, philosophical, and religious attack. At such times, it has been necessary for Christian believers, and especially for pastors and preachers, to confess clearly, unequivocally, and publicly "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3), and to define this faith over against the heresies and theological errors infiltrating the Church. Thus the Church is led into a deeper comprehension of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the communal identity of the Church is strengthened in its mission to the world.

We, the undersigned, who are baptized members of the Episcopal Church of the United States, believe that such a time has now come upon the Church which we serve. We are now witnessing a thoroughgoing revision of the faith inconsistent with the evangelical, apostolic and catholic witness, a revision increasingly embraced by ecclesiastical leaders, both ordained and lay. In the name of inclusivity and pluralism, we are presented with a new theological paradigm which rejects, explicitly or implicitly, the doctrinal norms of the historic creeds and ecumenical councils, and which seeks to relativize, if not abolish, the formative and evangelical authority of the Holy Scriptures. This paradigm introduces into the Church a new story, a new language, a new grammar. The "revelations" of modernity, infinitely self-generating and neverending, supplant and critique that historic revelation which God the Holy Trinity has communicated by word and deed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Israelite.

Fully aware of our own sinfulness, as well as the spiritual dangers inherent in issuing such a call, we humbly and prayerfully summon the Church to return to and remain steadfast in that Gospel entrusted to it by the Apostles of Jesus Christ. We also summon the clergy of the Church to stand up boldly and declare that Trinitarian faith which they have sworn at their ordinations to uphold and preach. We are well aware of the possible personal and professional costs of such a confession in the present situation; but we are convinced that the integrity and substance of the Gospel, that Gospel which is the only hope and salvation of the world, are at stake. The Lord is calling us to fidelity to him and to him alone.

We offer, therefore, the following Declaration of Faith. This is not a comprehensive confession. It addresses those critical theological issues which we believe to be at the heart of the present crisis.

  1. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:18-20).

By the command and mandate of her risen Lord, the Church of Jesus Christ is commissioned to baptize disciples into the revealed name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This proper name faithfully identifies the Savior and Lord of the Holy Scriptures. While human linguistic formulae cannot exhaust the mystery of the ineffable Deity, the threefold appellation - given to us in the resurrection of Jesus - truly names and designates the three Persons of the Holy Trinity as disclosed in the biblical narrative, and summarizes the apostolic experience of God in Christ. To reject, disregard, or marginalize the Trinitarian naming is to cut ourselves off from that story which shapes and defines the identity of the Church; ultimately, it is to cut ourselves off from the God of Israel himself. The confession of the triune name is required in the celebration of Christian baptism, and it properly structures the liturgy and prayer of the Christian community: We rightly pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. As St. Basil the Great declared: "For we are bound to be baptized in the terms we have received and to profess belief in the terms in which we are baptized, and as we have professed belief in, so to give glory to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

We repudiate the false teaching that God has not definitively and uniquely named himself in Jesus Christ, that we are free to ignore or suppress the revealed name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and worship the Deity with names and images created by our fallen imaginations or supplied by secular culture, unreformed by the Gospel and the biblical revelation.

  1. "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said. . ." (Gen. 1: I-3).

"Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you endure; they will all wear out like a garment. You change them like clothing, and they pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end" (Ps. 102: 25-27).

The triune God is the holy creator who freely speaks the universe into contingent existence out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo). He is the sovereign Lord, utterly transcending his creation, yet actively immanent within it, guiding and directing it to its eschatological fulfillment in the Kingdom. As creator, God is free to act within his universe, both providentially and miraculously, to accomplish his purposes and ends.

We repudiate the false teaching of monism, which indissolubly unites deity and cosmos into an interdependent whole, the world being construed as God's body, born of the substance of deity, and thus divine. On the other hand, we repudiate the false teaching of deism, which distances the creator from active involvement in the preservation, redemption, and consummation of his creation.

  1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people... . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth. . . . From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known" (John 1:1-4,14,16-18).

"All things have been handed over to me by my Father and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" (Matt. 11:27).

Jesus of Nazareth is God. He is the Word made flesh, the incarnation and embodiment of the divine Son, truly God and truly human, "of one being" (homoousios) with the Father and the Spirit. In this wondrous union of deity and humanity, the triune God is perfectly and definitively revealed. In Christ, and in him alone, we are freely given true apprehension of God in his immanent reality, freely given to share in the Son's knowledge of the Father in the Holy Spirit. The crucified and risen Lord, in all of his historical particularity, is thus the source and foundation of our knowledge of the living God. We rejoice in the triune God's gift of himself in Jesus Christ, and declare Jesus as the eternal Word who judges all preachings, teachings, theologies, actions, prayers and rituals. We acknowledge that God is free to communicate himself in many and diverse ways to the peoples of the world; but we confess that saving and authentic knowledge of the Deity in his inner Trinitarian life is possible only in and through the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, the God-man.

We repudiate the false teaching that Jesus Christ is only one revelation or manifestation of God, that there are other revelations and other experiences (political, ideological, cultural, or religious) to which we may look or must look to gain knowledge of the true God.

  1. "l am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

"This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:11-12).

By his incarnation in Jesus the Israelite, the eternal Son of God has assumed to himself our human nature, cleansing and healing it by the power of the Spirit, redeeming it from sin and death by the cross of Calvary, raising it to everlasting life in his resurrection, and incorporating it into the triune life of the Godhead by his ascension to the right hand of the Father. Thus this Jesus, who is called the Christ, is the Savior of the world, the one mediator between God and humanity, in whom, by faith, repentance and baptism, we find forgiveness, rebirth in the Spirit, and eternal life in the Kingdom. While we do not presume to judge how the all-holy and all-merciful God will or will not bring to salvation those who do not hear and believe the preached Gospel, we do emphatically declare Jesus the rightful Lord and Savior of all humanity, and we embrace the Great Commission of our Lord to proclaim with evangelical fervor his Good News to the world. To deny this historic conviction in the absolute lordship of Christ Jesus and his exclusive mediation of salvation is to eviscerate the heart and vitality of the Church's evangelistic mission.

We repudiate the false teaching that the salvation of humanity by the sovereign action and grace of God is unnecessary or that salvation may be ultimately found apart from the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We repudiate the false teaching that Jesus is merely one savior among many - the savior of Christians but not of humankind.

  1. "The hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him" (John 4:21-23).

"So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; ... As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all" (Romans 11:25-26, 28-32).

By the call of Abraham and the covenant of Moses enacted on Mount Sinai, the triune God has gathered to himself the people of Israel to be his holy nation and royal priesthood, consecrated to his service in the redemption of the world. To them he has entrusted his Torah, Wisdom, and prophetic Word. From this people God has brought forth his Messiah, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, Jesus the Jew, the son of David, who is the fulfillment of the promises of God to Israel and the Savior of humanity and of all creation. For these majestic reasons, the Jews are to be regarded by Christians as a reverend and blessed people. Following the teaching of the New Testament, we eagerly look forward to that time when Gentile and Jew will be fully reconciled and made one people in eternal communion with the crucified and risen Messiah in the New Jerusalem.

We repudiate the false teaching that the Jews may be persecuted by Christians and we especially repudiate the repugnant and fallacious charge of "Christ-killers," which has been used by Christians down the centuries as an excuse for hatred, bigotry, and violence against the Jews. All anti-Semitism in thought, word, or deed is vicious and is to be decried and condemned by Christians. But we also repudiate the false teaching that eternal salvation is already given to the chosen people of Israel through the covenant of Abraham and Moses, independently of the crucified Christ, and the inference that the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah need not be proclaimed to them.

  1. "But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith" (Romans 3:21-25).

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God - not the result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).

The Gospel is the proclamation of the unconditional love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God the Father, mediated through Christ crucified, in the power of the Spirit. The Father nurtures, protects, and cares for his children like a nursing mother: he strengthens, directs, and disciplines them like a steadfast father. His love embraces all humankind equally, female and male, and is communicated to us in the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments, received by the faith granted us in the gift of the Gospel. This love cannot be earned nor bought: We are freely justified by the grace given to us through Christ in his sacrificial death and victorious resurrection, not by our religious, political, psychological, or moral works.

We repudiate the false teaching that God is male (except in the incarnate Christ) and that men are consequently superior to women, or that God has institutionalized in family, society, or the Church the authoritarian and sexist domination of women by men. We repudiate the false teaching that God the Father is the oppressor and subjugator of women, or that the divine Fatherhood is rightly construed as the psychological projection upon the Deity of the experience of human fatherhood. We therefore repudiate the false teaching that the Father of Jesus Christ is inaccessible or unavailable to contemporary women.

  1. "Do you think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets: I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished'" (Matt. 5:17-18).

"All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3: 16-17).

We confess the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation. The Holy Spirit, the ultimate author of God's Word written, was active both in the inspiration of the sinful human writers, redactors, and editors and in the process of canonization. Interpreted within the tradition and community of the Christian Church, with the use of responsible biblical criticism - always under the guidance and lordship of the Spirit - the Scriptures, in their entirety, are the reliable, trustworthy, and canonical witness to God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ, and are our primary and decisive authority in matters of faith and morals. Through the Holy Scriptures the Church hears anew every day that Word who frees us from the tyranny of the fashionable, the divine Word who renews and inspires, teaches and corrects, judges and saves.

We repudiate the false teaching that the plain testimony of the Holy Scriptures may, in whole or part, be supplanted by the images, views, philosophies, and values of secular culture. We repudiate the false teaching that only those sayings of the pre-resurrection Jesus which can be demonstrated to be certain or probable by historical criticism are authoritative for the life and mission of the Church. We repudiate the false teaching that the Old Testament is not to be interpreted in light of its messianic fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ as witnessed in the New Testament, or that the Old and New Testaments stand hermeneutically, materially, and formally independent of each other.

Pray for the Church.

The Rev. Ronald S. Fisher
The Rev. Alvin F. Kimel, Jr.*
The Rev. R. Gary Matthewes-Green**
The Rev. William N. McKeachie
The Rev. Frederick J. Ramsay
The Rev. Philip Burwell Roulette

*Fr. Kimel has since entered the Roman Catholic Church and been ordained to the priesthood in the same.

**Fr. Matthewes-Green has since entered the Antiochian Orthodox Church and is now the Pastor of Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Church in Linthicum, Maryland.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany.

The Collect.

O GOD, whose blessed Son was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil, and make us the sons of God, and heirs of eternal life; Grant us, we beseech thee, that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves, even as he is pure; that, when he shall appear again with power and great glory, we may be made like unto him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, he liveth and reigneth ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Epistle. 1 St. John 3:1-8 (ESV)

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.

The Gospel. St. Matthew 24:23-41 (ESV)

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Worship -- Still a Verb

This past Tuesday evening I found myself in downtown Charleston with some time to kill so, as I often enjoy doing, I took my pipe and a book and stopped by The Smoking Lamp, my favorite tobacconist. While sitting there and visiting with a couple of hookah-smoking College of Charleston students the Rev'd Canon J. Michael Wright, Rector of Grace Episcopal Church, came in and in the course of our conversation he mentioned that Dr. Richard Schori, husband of Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, would be speaking the next evening at Grace Church. An accomplished photographer, Dr. Schori frequently takes his camera along while traveling with his wife (many of his photos have been used by Episcopal News Service) and was to speak on some of his observations and experiences). Canon Wright kindly invited me, but I wasn't sure if I could make it or not. After speaking later to a friend who wanted to go, I did indeed attend.

Dr. Schori spoke on "The Episcopal Church: Aspects of Breadth and Depth." Not surprisingly, his presentation was copiously illustrated and, in the main, non-polemic, focusing on the work that the Episcopal Church is doing around the world (it did have a bit of a company feel to it, but that wasn't surprising given who his wife is and the fact that Grace Church is a bastion of the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, the local Via Media franchise -- one would hardly expect the man to come here and bash his wife). I'll not critique all of the presentation, but one comment, made toward the end when he gave his advice to new bishops, is worthy of comment and, I believe, respectful disagreement.

The second of those suggestions was "practice your spirituality on your time," followed by an explanation that bishops (and one would assume other clergy as well) are "performing" during services and should keep that in mind so as to allow for a better presentation (and nicer photographs). Uh, no.

As I commented to my friend, if ever I am performing rather than worshiping, take my collar and send me out to sell insurance, used cars, fertilizer or something. As the late Robert Webber reminded us, worship is a verb and those who worship should be doing so in spirit and in truth. Don't get me wrong, I like liturgy (hence, my Anglicanism by choice) and I'm all for worship done well (agreeing completely with the Clergy Handbook for the Free Church of England that ". . . slovenliness or carelessness in deportment are not evidences of true Protestantism or of consecration of life."), but when staging a pretty picture becomes more important than worshiping, things have gotten horribly, horribly wrong.

I'm a priest, but I'm also a sinner. When I come to worship I need to confess my sins, receive absolution and assurance than my sins are forgiven in Christ, and I need to hear the comfortable words. Because the Christian life is hard, I need to hear God's Word preached and need to be sacramentally fed in Holy Communion. All of that is lost if it's only a pretty performance. From time to time people have told me that I read the prayers and lessons well ; they mean that as a compliment and I take it as such (although sometimes joking about them having no idea how impressive that is for a graduate of the South Carolina Public Schools), but I was even more complimented when another priest with whom I served once told me that he could tell that I was not only reading the liturgy, but praying it. May it always be so.

The late Flannery O'Connor, devout Roman Catholic and Southern author, once responded to the Zwinglian view of Holy Communion, by noting "Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it." That pretty much sums up my views of worship as a performance.