All have seen

All the ends of the earth
have seen the salvation of our God:
sing joyfully to God, all the earth. – Psalm 98:3

Monday, May 30, 2011

Music for Rogation Monday and Memorial Day: Lamentations

Today is both Rogation Monday, and Memorial Day for Americans.

In honoring soldiers, we must also remember the horror they have confronted, and are trained to confront: that is, the horror of war.  Soldiers, whose careers are molded around the problem of war, tend to have a much more attuned consciousness to the horrors of war than civilians.  They know that confronting the spectre of war is necessary; and they gladly give their lives to this phenomenally ugly side of human existence.  Let us therefore be thankful that they do this for us - with all the attendant unpleasantness, sacrifice, and occupation of the imagination with things unseemly.  For because they take this burden upon themselves, we civilians are free of it.

Few have understood how awful war can be as the residents of Dresden at the close of the Second World War - amongst them, Rudolf Mauersberger, a composer and cantor at the Dresden Kreuzkirche.  When the church was bombed, Mauersberger lost eleven young choir members.  He wrote a motet, How Lonely Sits the City - Wie liegt die stadt - which was performed for the first time at the Kreuzkirche in August, 1945.

Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst,
die voll Volks war.
Alle ihre Tore stehen öde.
Wie liegen die Steine des Heiligtums vorn auf allen Gassen zerstreut.
Er hat ein Feuer aus der Höhe in meine Gebeine gesandt
und es lassen walten.
Ist das die Stadt, von der man sagt,
sie sei die allerschönste,
der sich das ganze Land freuet?

How lonely sits the city that was full of people.
All her gates are desolate.
The holy stones lie scattered at the head of every street.
From on high he sent fire;
into my bones he made it descend.
Is this the city, which was called the perfection of beauty,
the joy of all the earth?

The text is based on Lamentations.

Another setting of this text, by Matthias Weckmann (17th century) is also fine listening and fit for today

Saturday, May 28, 2011

More Katharine Jefferts-Schori cover-up: hiding evidence after Wiki-wacks

Update to this article: see bottom of page.
See also my follow-up editorial on this issue:
Jefferts-Schori and Corvallisgate: Electoral justice is also a “justice issue”

A few months ago, the online biography of Katharine Jefferts-Schori was edited by an Episcopal Church Center staff worker at her behest - noted here and here.  The staff worker removed in its entirety, without providing any reason for this removal, a paragraph about how the description of candidates for election for Presiding Bishop contained information about Jefferts-Schori which was false - namely, that she was "Pastoral Associate and Dean, Good Samaritan School of Theology, Corvallis, OR." It turned out that at that time, she was merely in charge of her parish's adult education program - and not a very large parish, at that.  This was revealed shortly after the election, before her installation as bishop.

Jefferts-Schori most certainly was aware of the election materials; we have no evidence that she warned the House of Bishops or General Convention of the falsity; and as evidence to the contrary, one of the General Convention delegates blogged about the discovery.  To date, there has been no public inquest regarding this rather astounding election anomaly.

To this day, perhaps the greatest story here is the lack of a story: that after so many years, we still haven't heard of an inquest,  despite the significant likelihood of election fraud in a church which prides itself so in its electoral process. The Episcopal News Service hasn't even bothered to issue a retraction of their original story about Jefferts-Schori, based on this same, false information, which was repeated in hundreds of news sources.

On the Wikipedia discussion page, it was pointed out that TEC Church Offices should have known about the ethics of Wikipedia editing, and that one musn't remove items without reason - since in 2007, Barbara Alton had been so persistent in removing items from Bishop Bennison's Wikipedia page, after having been warned, that her account had been deleted, and this was reported in an international news source (as well as various Anglican news outlets).  It was pointed out that an EpiscopalLife article on the site of noted that Alton "never received an order from Jefferts Schori."  Though the article quotes the Church Times for this information, Episcopal Life is a branch of TEC's media department at Episcopal Church Center; so Episcopal Church Center was at the very least informed of this incident, as they themselves reported on it.  So Episcopal Church center should have known better than to simply edit without providing information as to why the information was false (which it seems, it wasn't).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hell as congitively and imaginatively resistant and repulsive: consequences for us

Interactions elsewhere on the net with regard to my comments on N.T. Wright's response to Rob Bell have led me to realize I'm being largely misunderstood.  Matt Kennedy of StandFirm seems to take my stance as being that we should not be particularly attentive of the things Christ told us about hell; this is far from the case.

When we begin to imagine and understand hell, we are so violently repulsed by the horror of the spectre of the lack of God's presence, that we quickly come to the realization that we do not belong there, and that we are in great need of God's presence. This should have the effect of us immediately calling out to God, and fleeing from the imagining of hell, with our realization that we weren't "really there," and that this imagination was but a futile, human attempt at imagining something which we couldn't possibly imagine in any realistic, vivid sense.

If we do not experience this, we are merely fooling ourselves in thinking that we have somehow imagined or conceptually grasped hell.

There are topics where our knowledge of A and B can lead us by inference to truths C and D. My point here is: that which we know - in no clear, and distinct manner from scripture about hell - should never lead us on to C and D unless we do so with great care and prayer, and when we discuss these things with others, this should also be characterized by prayer and care.

At times, our engaging in this debate about Rob Bell and hell was not adequately characterized by prayer and care, nor proper respect of our own finitude, and how these matters of such great importance utterly dwarf our imagination and reason - how they condition us, our thinking, and our thoughts - instead of us being able to produce cogent, rational descriptions of such things.

So I'd say, for hell especially, when we teach about this topic, and think about it, let us be especially solicitous in using Christ's own words and those of the apostles - without engaging in too much "embroidering" upon them.   These words should be enough.  The Holy Spirit will convict as necessary, without our having to rub people's noses in the awful fate of what awaits them in the unredeemed state.

When Jesus was on earth, and demons proclaimed His name ... He told them to shut up.  It is interesting to note how Jesus seems to not have wanted people to learn about Him from demons, even if what they said was true.  If Jesus did not want people to learn truth about Him from demons ... how much more dangerous is it for us to pretend to learn about God from hell, when our very imaginations of hell are more likely to be conditioned by our own dark fantasies and nightmares, as we are really totally unable to imagine hell, since hell is so tied up with ultimate judgment, which is one of “God’s things” and not ours?

It's possible that further reflecting about the place of hell in cognition, imagination, and theology could help bring peace to the still-divided "pro-Bell" and "anti-Bell" camps.  Perhaps hell is something where we more profitably reflect about the reflection, than try to reflect directly (except, of course, in reflecting upon Christ's own words and those of the apostles).

A few notes on things which make it impossible for us to conceptually or imaginatively grasp hell:

1) Agency (what we do, what we are responsible for) is never a “simple” question - it is a complicated issue.  I hit your car, your car rams into the car in front of it.  Did “you” ram into that car, where is the agency, who is responsible?  When God created man - God gave man freedom and agency.  This alone is a thing which is in many ways beyond our imaginitive and conceptual grasp - God's creation of moral agents, and the awesome (and terrifying) responsibility which belongs to such agents - which God could not withdraw from these agents, without their ceasing to be agents (and, perhaps - in doing so - corrupting justice - though I would add, even trying to imagine such is so far removed from human comprehensibility, that this notion also resists cognition and imagination).

2) Our abilities to think and imagine, and everything about the world in which we do so, are suffused with God’s natural grace, ordered according to His will.  This is why we can think, talk, etc. etc..  We have no knowledge of what God’s natural grace will be like in hell.  Or what “is left over” if we are in absence of such grace.  What a person who is “in hell” is, for us, a rather meaningless thing other than what we are told in Scripture. 

(Note: some philosophically-inclined readers might read in this something of Kant's notion of the sublime in aesthetics.  This is a posting for more of a popular audience so I won't comment on that here, but comments on this are welcome)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Consequences of gender-selective abortion in India

Recent census data from India indicates that many more females are killed by being aborted than males.

The conventional wisdom has held that such anti-female attitudes prevail in rural parts and are therefore linked to poverty. But the 2011 Census report smashed this myth.

It showed that the western states of Maharashtra – which hosts India’s financial capital Mumbai – and Gujarat, which is seen as a model state for economic growth, recorded lower sex ratios than the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, two of the country’s poorest states.

There are already rather restrictive laws in place aimed at preventing gender-selective abortion.  The statistics seem to indicate that should these laws be loosened and gender-selective abortion become more accessible to those living in poor areas, the gender ratio in India would become even more inequitable, with many, many more girls killed.

Read the whole article: One Million Girls Missing in India

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

American Hell

Carson Clark has posted a video of N.T. Wright commenting on the American spectacle of Rob Bell's book on hell and the Christian response to it.

Wright on Hell & Bell from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.
My remarks:

There is something both fascinating and gruesome about how we have dealt with all this Rob Bell stuff. It says a great deal more about us, I think, than it does about God, or hell.

John Dyer has an excellent analysis of the situation from before the book was released: Love Wins and Truth Prevails but speed kills ‘em both. He also wrote a version of this for Christianity Today entitled “Not Many of You Should Presume to Be Bloggers: How Social Media Changed Theological Debate” – and points out, lusciously: “The commenters seemed to agree with the post by attempting to enact its main point.”

I was terribly taken aback by this whole “perfect storm” Dyer describes, realizing that the way the video was released, its content, the book blurb preview, a few chapters released to reviewers but not the whole book … was about to set the Christian community into Jerry Springer mode. We would have a lot of yelling, and very little substance.

Reviews of the book seemed to indicate that it was rather fast and loose in hermeneutics and other areas. I haven’t had a chance to read it.
I was tremendously impressed with Rob Bell’s fielding of questions at his interview with Lisa Miller. He is an incredibly talented man, when he’s working a field where he’s adept. But getting into the larger issues of Christian faith is not his thing; he is much better at imaginitively beckoning us to consider the awesome expansiveness of God’s love, and its implication for ourselves and those with whom we interact.

In this interview, Bell set out one of the founding premises of his book, and I think also, the presupposition behind much of the American argument:
That hell tells us a lot about God’s character; and that a person’s view of hell says a lot about what they think of God.

I would agree here in a qualified sense, but primarily disagree.

Hell would tell us a lot about God’s character if we knew quite a bit about hell, and were able to understandingly discuss it. What we think about hell does tell us something important about our our belief in God, if we allow this belief to be important in conditioning our view of God – e.g., if we dwell on it.
I would argue, very simply:

We can not imagine hell, or that which rightly belongs to God, in matters of judgment which are “ultimate” from our perspective as embodied humans in our present state here on earth. It seems to me that Christ’s words on judgment, His few words on hell, and the general literary qualities of His words, and those of the apostles, should indicate to us: “This is way beyond our grasp … the categories which we use to try to understand these things are simply not cut out for such things … we will end up in contradictions and probably many false classifications if we try to move too far in this territory.”

Thus: we should not dwell on hell, nor should we hold detailed beliefs regarding hell, nor should whatever beliefs we have in hell, be particularly important in conditioning our ideas about God, or “telling” us what we believe about God – simply since we must acknowledge, this is beyond our capacity of thinking, imagining, and perceiving.

A correlary: does what we think about the physical nature of the cosmos, tell us a lot about who we are, who God is, or what justice is?

I would say: “No. It doesn’t matter if we think that over billions of years it is expanding or contracting; whether it has edges, or somehow folds upon itself in a single, circle-like continuum; this breaks the very boundaries of our imaginations. Whatever our beliefs about this, we still tend to agree on how to treat our neighbours, what we need to do in life, etc. etc.. Changing from one viewpoint to the other is not likely to have serious consequences for the important aspects of one’s world view.”

So I am in profound agreement here with N.T. Wright. I think that dispensationalism and “literal” readings of prophesies somehow found their ways into American consciousness in a way that is rather unique – not only amongst those who consciously believe in such things, but even amongst atheists. It’s a part of Americans’ shared imagination, as it were – effecting the imagination at a deep level. All Trinitarian churches have believed in hell; most have abided by Scripture’s implicit warnings in the language regarding hell, and the explicit warnings regarding arrogance, preventing detailed speculation regarding hell itself from becoming an important part of the collective imagination or the way in which we tend to view things.
Americans tend to be pioneers – thinking no territory can’t be mapped out and fruitfully occupied. There is something very admirable in some of the ventures of the imagination where Americans have dared to go, where others have not. But not all exercises of the imagination are profitable; some most certainly blight the soul, or numb the mind. And I would suggest that hell is somewhere our minds and imaginations don’t need to go.
People of other cultures tend to respect boundaries more; and are more aware of “proprieties” – that our very finitude demands of us that we respect certain limits. Americans with their pioneering mentality seem to think that all limits are equally surmountable.

With hell, this is simply not the case.

Monday, May 23, 2011

To a fierce advocate of LGBT issues in the Anglican Communion: Christology and the future of LGBT activism

This is a note to a retired priest in New Zealand who is a very zealous proponent of a particular interpretation of sexual ethics within the church. I left it originally as a comment here, and have slightly edited it (removed one paragraph which was too specific in nature). It seems to me like it could be relevant to a great many advocates of LGBT issues in the Anglican Communion; so I post it here.

Fr. Ron,

As passionate as you are about the LGBT community – I’d urge you to turn your passion also to understanding how the Christology of The Episcopal Church (TEC) effectively places it outside of Trinitarian Christianity. This is one of the reasons why “dissidents” left – because, unfortunately, TEC has been showing itself as a dissident with regard to Christ Himself. And it’s likely, in the long run, to undermine much of what you are trying to achieve with regard to LGBT rights as other churches decide their positions on this matter given what occurs in the midst of us Anglicans. However, I don’t wish so much to engage you in your thoughts regarding these “dissidents,” but rather to speak to your love of Christ and of LGBT people.

Your voice is heard in the LGBT community and within TEC – you could help advocate a returning of TEC to faith in Christ – e.g., acknowledging Christ as God incarnate in human flesh – instead of this all generally being a set of edifying metaphors for the purpose of directing person’s actions toward various causes for social justice.

No matter how important the cause of LGBT inclusion in the church may be … this is not “the same thing” as Jesus Himself – we must recognize Jesus as The Risen Christ to whom we must turn in seeking transformation of life – and not as various metaphors for doing various good things.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Rapturous Indulgences: Let's think while we chuckle

The snark-fest around one man's batty ideas regarding "the rapture" is showing that Christian culture is not immune to unhealthy irony

A dear friend, one of the few true masters of irony of this age, Matthew Huggins, recently sent me a note about the spectacle Christians all over the world are now appreciating and taking part in: contributing ironic remarks regarding one individual's view that "the rapture" will occur shortly.

Quite correctly, he pointed out the dangers of contributing to this irony fest.  "Ironically," I had been in the middle of composing my own snarky contribution to this generally festering snark fest.  There are many Christians who have legitimate reasons for believing in a "rapture," very few of whom think that this will be occuring in a day or two's time.  I am not one of them; I tend to be rather agnostic regarding eschatological speculation, and open to various interpretations of Scripture regarding such issues.

Very perceptively (and - ironically), Matthew notes:

I find it unfortunate that the appearance of Rob Bell's book urging a more inclusive eschatology should be accompanied by mockery and marginalization by some fans of Bell's book of those who hold less enlightened views of the life to come (including those who anticipate a sudden, imminent "rapture" of believers from the Earth).

I can include myself amongst those who have been rationally critical of some types of eschatological thinking which involve a "rapture."  But I am very thankful to Matthew for calling me to reflect on what I was doing in jumping into this snark fest.

Back in the 1980's, I was a great fan of the Utne Reader and read most pages of each issue.  Anyone wanting informed but also snarky commentary about the grand march of cultural progress could find in this little publication a wealth of highly reflective and ironic analysis.

The article which struck me the most was about irony itself.  The author's thesis was that we were ironizing ourselves to death - that irony was becoming exaggerated and unhealthy.  This, back during the "conservative" days of Reaganomics, still in the midst of the cold war.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

It seems that someone has died ... thus, a funeral cantata

I am receiving many reports from my facebook and twitter feeds that someone has died.

This is a great opportunity to remember: Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (God's time is the very best time).  A notion which while redirecting our thoughts toward God, should also prompt us to reconsider our simplistic notions of temporality.

Bach's cantata opens with Acts 17:28 -
for in Him we live and move and have our being, as even some of your poets have said: 'For we also are His offspring.'

   German and English, with English in a very "literalistic" translation
   English, with notes about Scripture references

It is interesting that Bach takes this thought of having our being in God, and decides to begin with a conclusion about time: that we should consider God's time, and our participation in it ... and that this time is "the very best time."  Reflecting for a moment on a few things N.T. Wright has said - God certainly "inhabits" our time, time in the way that we tend to experience and perceive it ... He is most certainly "connected" with it somehow.  He does not exist in complete isolation of our own temporality.  We should not say, "God is outside of time" - it is understandable that people express themselves this way, but it is very inaccurate and can cause some to conclude that God is not at all related to our own time.

God's time is the very best time.

However, God's "own time" - which would be in a sense the very essence of temporality - is not necessarily the same as our own perception of time, or how our own movement through constitutes our perceptions.  We know that God is eternal.  Since this does not "fit" into our own time, it is our own perception of time which we must see as localized and not necessarily applicable to God ... rather than trying to shoehorn God into our own experiences of time.

God's time is the very best time.

Apparently many are also speaking these days of something they refer to as "the afterlife."  I've always found this word odd and problematic.  Anyways, if we are to think of such an "afterlife," I believe that Bach has done well in expressing what one of our primary attitudes toward it should be:

That God's time is the very best time.

We believe that God is sovereign; the "where" and "what" regarding those who died as a result of the 9/11 incident, all those who have died since then in the aftermath of various reactions ... and this latest death ... we believe that God is just and good, and trust Him that He has done rightly and justly with all.

God's time is the very best time.

"For in Him we live and move and have our being."

Monday, May 2, 2011

Viderunt Omnes

"Viiiiiiiiiiiiii -------!"

Why Viderunt Omnes?  Many reasons.  Too many for a short posting.  Someday I'll have to write up why Viderunt Omnes is such a lovely bit of the Psalms for jubilating in God's glory, and the amazing story of Perotin's twelfth-century setting of it - but for the moment, one can simply enjoy Viderunt Omnes without my elaboratory verbiage.  And when you read this blog, may there always in the back of your mind be that lovely ... "Viiiii -----!".

Inclusion Gone Wrong: A Case Study

In my last post, I discussed the dangers inherent in the inclusion / exclusion paradigm when it is elevated to the level of one of the dominant features of church discourse.

Allow me here to give a "real life" situation I've seen where "inclusion/exclusion" has been the predominant paradigm of thinking within the church. Situation is real; names & other info has been changed to protect the identity of those involved. Call this, as it were, a bit of "field work."

Sam is an Episcopalian, is involved in local church leadership, comes from a church whose church life and theology is closely bound with the National Church. Sam knows a lot about liturgical colors, about civil rights, about poverty issues, and is quite vocal, but he really doesn't know very much at all about Scripture or theology. But Sam loves talking about the sacred, and believes firmly in the sacred, and in helping people. Sam likes Spong, but finds it difficult to say why other than that Spong helps him think. But Sam is very dedicated to the church, and incredibly eager to help. Sam is very liberal in politics. Sam is respected since he's so vocal in supporting the rights of the oppressed, and in defending social justice issues against the attacks of right-wingers which he's read about in the papers. If you want to know how to help convince your neighbors that gun control is a good idea, Sam is a very good person to go to, with statistics, voting records, and a lot of helpful information about what some of those wacko right-wingers are up to.

Joe is a non-denominational type Christian, and has quite a substantial knowledge of the Bible and of church doctrine; much of this through self-study. Joe has been hurt in the church, and tends to be skeptical of churches and clergy in general. Joe often makes comments at gatherings about scripture and theology which overly critical and not terribly helpful, sometimes "cherry-picking" Scripture to make a point. Joe doesn't know that much about civil rights or poverty issues. Joe doesn't believe that partnered gay people should be clergy, but doesn't believe in gay-bashing, either. Joe is very conservative in some specific points of theology, similar to some more conservative Baptists.

At an official church gathering where scripture and theology are discussed, Sam makes some remarks which are rather revealing of how little Sam knows about either Scripture or theology. Sam tends to think that if he feels something about Scripture or theology, there's no point in his not saying it at such a gathering. In other Episcopal church settings, people have been interested enough in what Sam says about the sacred. But often enough, in this setting, Sam says things which reveal that Sam doesn't know much about Scripture or theology. But Sam doesn't think it's relevant whether he has the "book knowledge" or not, and that his personal faith validates what he says, and that it's not all that important if he's, e.g., talking about what the Bible says about Adam and Eve, and it turns out he's made a mistake, that this is should be normal for any Christian, since Christians shouldn't be "obsessive" about Scripture or doctrine.

Inclusion as dominant paradigm in church discourse

I was recently in a discussion on a forum board of predominantly Episcopalians, asking the question: "Can we be totally inclusive?"

The question is interesting because in some quarters, especially congregations which are supportive of the National Church, the notion of "inclusion" has become so predominant in discourse that it functions as a major paradigm in regulating thought and discourse - more important than just about any theolgical notion (with the exception of "love").

When our discourse about the church becomes dominated by the notion of "inclusion," we are not looking in the right place - and we are in danger of flirting with exclusivism.

When we are so focused on inclusion, the basic question that we are asking is, "Who belongs inside, and who belongs outside?" As this question grows to predominate our church consciousness and our ways of speaking about things, it means that we tend to try to answer this question before answering other questions - or to answer those other questions on the basis of our answer to this one.

The danger is that we start providing answers which are patently silly, destructive, or otherwise unacceptable - because we are then likely to see a simple "flip-flop" - where, still focussed on the same question, we begin thinking, "We have way too many people in here, a lot of them don't belong! Which ones do we need to push out?" We've seen this type of thought in this thread already, in speaking of "tolerating the intolerant" and the danger of this attitude. When "tolerating" and "inclusion" become such an incessant and insular focus, it's only natural for us to start to logically begin flailing about and contradicting ourselves. The answer isn't within the narrow margins of the question "inclusion or exclusion?" - it needs to be found elsewhere.

Late Night Meditations on the Resurrection

I have responded to some comments regarding the resurrection which I thought to share here.  They more or less flowed from the initial question, and further reflection on the matter.  Reflection extended as far as considering possible relevance of Jesus in signification and cognition in the relation between phenomenon and noumenon, and then an application of Kant's response to the ontological argument, concluding with some thoughts about the possible relationship between life and being.  That is to say, thoughts which flew all over the map from epistemology to ontology in one virtually unedited flow of thought.  Things get incredibly speculative, at times naïvely speculative; but the whole exercise might help some in imagining what Paul in Ephesians 1 describes as "the power of the resurrection."  I would be curious to hear anyone's comments.  I'm grateful to our Bible study with whom we studied the book of Ephesians for helping inspire these thoughts.