Why I Prefer Ad Orientem

Since the release of the ANCA 2019 Book of Common Prayer has open the floodgates for consideration of all kinds of controversial topics, it’s time to consider one more: that of ad orientem, i.e., facing the altar during the Sacred Mysteries rather than the people.  That’s been the subject of a blog-to-blog volley between one Rev. Ben Jeffries, vicar at The Good Shepherd Anglican Church, Opelika, Alabama,  and Robin Jordan of Anglicans Ablaze fame.

Personal note: I’ve sparred with Robin before on the nature of Anglicanism and many other topics.  I noted that he opted to expand his own case on his own blog and not in the comments section of Jeffries’.  Evidently his encounter with me was educational; I wish he had done this when we went at it, we would have both been better off.

In any case, the topic is of interest because I’ve seen it both ways.  First, the altar of my home church, against the wall (and certainly facing east, which was easy to figure out in Palm Beach):

altar

As a Roman Catholic, however, the priest always faced the people with the altar from the wall, for reasons that both Jeffries and Jordan explain in detail.

With Latta Griswold’s rule of “The minister should face the altar when he addresses Almighty God, the congregation when he addresses or reads to them, and the opposite stall during other parts of the service” in mind, the reasons why I think ad orientem is better are threefold:

  1. It is a strong statement against Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology and its variations.  While I am aware that Anglicanism, in common with Lutheranism, does not strictly adhere to this, the Scriptures are clear on this subject.
  2. It is the best justification for women ministering at the altar.  Now that you’ve picked yourself off of the floor, hear me out: true Catholics will tell you that the priest is in the place of Christ and represents him to the people, which is why we can never have women priests.  But that kind of priesthood has no real justification in the New Testament, as any true Anglican knows.  At the altar the minister represents the congregation to God, and when he or she celebrates the sacred mysteries facing God with the congregation at his or her back, that’s a powerful statement of the reality of the role of the minister.  Facing the people implies that the priest, in the place of Christ, is representing God to the people.
  3. It helps to restore the God-centred nature of our worship, and we need all of that we can get these days.

Now we know that trads and #straightouttairondale types inflexibly associate (or try to) ad orientem with the ornate High Mass.  But that wasn’t always the case, and a couple of examples from the days of wine and the Tridentine Mass will suffice.

Austrian-Field-Mass
The “field Mass,” a tradition in the Austrian military, being simply celebrated during World War I, in good ad orientem style.  It’s interesting to note that Eduard Habsburg, a descendant of the monarch these troops served, is the current Ambassador to the Vatican from Hungary.
mass_tyrolean_alps
On the Allies side, a priest celebrates Mass ad orientem (or whatever direction he can manage) to Italian Alpine troops during World War I. The Alpine troops were the best on both sides of the conflict; evidently they had the crack priests to go with them.

One common criticism of the ad orientem style is that its celebrants “mumble” their prayers.  That was certainly the case during pre-Vatican II times, but it doesn’t have to be now.  One good wireless microphone (which a celebrant should wear anyway, given all the movement during the Liturgy) should fix that.  For parishes with a larger budget, it wouldn’t hurt to set up a camera to the side of the altar and see what it looks like when the celebrant actually faces God.

While I’m at it, I’d like to address one more of Robin’s assertions:

Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI introduced a series of so-called reforms of the Roman Rite, which represent a retrograde movement in the Roman Catholic Church—a retreat from the reforms of Vatican II. Ratzinger, the writers on the New Liturgical Movement website, and Lang are a part of a movement in the Roman Catholic Church, which seeks to undo the reforms of Vatican II and to revive the Latin Mass and other pre-Vatican II practices. It blames the reforms of Vatican II for the decline in attendance at Mass in the West. Like the nineteenth century Anglo-Catholic movement in the Anglican Church it presents itself as a movement for the renewal of the church.

I was involved in a church plant that had lapsed Roman Catholics as one of ministry target groups. Our work with this ministry target group did not support the contentions of this movement. Among the reasons that the lapsed Roman Catholics with whom we worked gave for having stopped attending Mass was that they had undergone a divorce. They had been physically abused by the Roman Catholic nuns in parochial school as a child. They were concerned about the growing reports of sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests, the failure of the Roman Catholic hierarchy to protect these children, and the safety of their own children. The Roman Catholic Church had not met their pastoral and spiritual needs. They had been baptized, catechized, and confirmed, but had never heard the gospel or had been invited to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. How the Mass was celebrated was a non-issue.

I’ve discussed the impact of those retrograde innovations here and here.  Robin is right up to a point, but the main impact of the whole “trad” movement in Roman Catholicism is to create a core of committed people, something that the Church–with its gradualistic “box checker” mentality and weak pastoral system–has failed to do.  That isn’t enough to renew the church but without it Roman Catholicism will experience continual decline.  And, in a culture where Christianity is unpopular and its legal status rides from one election cycle to another, having that core is essential to its survival.

But that brings us to Anglicanism in North America and what it’s here to do.  As I see it Anglicanism has always been a “niche marketing” project, especially since American Christianity tends to be class stratified.  If you want many people, you’ll start a non-denominational or Pentecostal church (especially if you’re not targeting white people.)  If you want the “right” people, i.e., those with more education and resources, you’ll start an Anglican church.  Paul could claim the following:

To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men, so as at all costs to save some. And I do everything for the sake of the Good News, that with them I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:22-23 TCNT)

Most of our ministers these days can’t.  They should find out, among other things, whom God is calling them to be an apostle to and do it.

Jimmy Buffett and the Miserable Offenders of the Book of Common Prayer

It’s time to look at another bone that’s been picked with the ANCA’s 2019 Book of Common Prayer: the omission of the phrase “miserable offenders” to the General Confession for Morning and Evening Prayer.  Let’s start with the 2019 text:

BCP2019 MP Confession

And now from the 1928 BCP:

BCP1928 MP Confession

In addition to the modernization of the language, the phrase “miserable offenders” is conspicuously absent from the newer confession.

Modernizing the language is something that, although traditionalists find it offensive, is pretty much a necessity these days; the question is how to do it.  It’s the same fight that “King James Only” people have.

But the miserable offenders?  As was the case with the Creed, there’s a parallel with the Roman Catholic Novus Ordo Missae, and that’s the omission of the “mea culpa” (with breast beating accompanying) from the original English translation of that liturgy.  I did an entire piece on the subject when the “new” translation came out.  Note that there was pushback on it at the time from Roman Catholics.  My guess is that there’s been similar pushback from Anglicans and the 2019 BCP committees decided that keeping the phrase wasn’t worth it.

But in response to the NOM’s revived “starch in the shirt” about our sins, I invoked Jimmy Buffett:

As far as the sins are concerned, the Roman Catholic Church’s (the Jesuits of Pascal’s days notwithstanding) emphasis on the seriousness of our sins is well founded, and anyone with a Biblical understanding of the subject should know this. Even some whose Biblical understanding falls short know this too. In the same 1970’s when the “old” NOM translation was current in Catholic Churches, Jimmy Buffett, wasting away in Margaritaville, knew all too well whose fault it was. His lyrics, although liturgically inappropriate, were in their own way closer to the NOM Latin original than what was recited every Sunday.

The same observation can be made about omitting the “miserable offenders” from the Anglican General Confession, even though if Buffet’s sentiments were put into the BCP, as Latta Griswold would say, the philistines would blaspheme.

I grew up in Palm Beach reciting the 1928 General Confession.  Characterizing a bunch of bratty Palm Beachers as “miserable offenders” is charitable.  Right, Jeffrey Epstein?

The “I” and the “We” of the Creed

The issuance of the ACNA 2019 Book of Common Prayer has brought back to the forefront many issues that have been “out there” for a long time.  One of them is right up front in both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed: whether either or both should start with “I believe” or “We believe.”  This post will attempt to shed a little light on the subject, because this change came from outside the Anglican/Episcopal world in a way that may surprise some people.

It’s certain that the 1662 and 1928 Books of Common Prayer started the creeds with the first person singular “I”.  The 1979 BCP changed it to “We” and that’s stuck in the craw of many ever since.   For me personally, the change came sooner.  When I “swam the Tiber” in 1972, I walked into a church which had instituted the Novus Ordo Missae two years earlier.  It was not only in the vernacular but started the Nicene Creed with “We believe.”

As an aside, I had been raised with the Apostles’ Creed being used in Morning Prayer and the Nicene in the Holy Communion.  The latter creed was pretty much a fixture at Mass.  The first time I heard the Apostles’ Creed used with Mass of any kind was John Michael Talbot’s The Lord’s Supper in 1979, and it finds its way there in situations where time is of the essence.

But I digress.  The reasoning given at the time was that the Mass after Vatican II was supposed to be more participatory and community oriented, thus the plural declaration of faith.  I think it’s reasonable to say that the Episcopal Church followed the RCC’s lead on this (and many other) liturgical subjects for the 1979 book.

But did the Roman Catholic Church actually change the Creed?  The answer is “no.”  Unlike the Anglicans, whose primary liturgical language is English (wonder why?) the Novus Ordo Missae, like those that went before it, was promulgated in Latin and translated into the various vernaculars that Roman Catholics find themselves in.  The decision to use “We” was that of those who made the original official translation of the NOM into English.  You can see this in this little except from a Latin-English missal I picked up in the UK, where “Credo — I believe” clearly appears in the Latin version of the Creed.

Creed Latin English

Additionally, towards the end of the Creed, “Confiteor una baptisma” (I confess one baptism,) where the first person singular persists, as is also the case with “expecto resurrectionem” (look forward to the resurrection.)

This decidedly unilingual change was done away with when the NOM’s current translation was made official and began use in Advent 2011, a change instituted by Benedict XVI, who is sadly Emeritus.  There are many clumsy, Latinate phrases used in this translation, but in this case it was an improvement.  (The same criticism can be made of the Authorised Version vs. Tyndale, but I digress again…)

The ACNA, evidently bowing to two score of 1979 habit, opted to use “We.”  Personally I think the first person singular is better; it attempts to force people to make a commitment to their belief, which is lacking these days.  The major problem churches such as the RCC and ACNA (TEC gave up a long time go) have is not getting their people to recite the Creed properly but to believe it.  There are several variations of this: the modern (“The Creed is just a historical statement which is mostly a fable,”) the post-modern (“The Creed is correct but it doesn’t really mean what it says”) and the sub-modern (“We really don’t care what the Creed says, we’ll believe what we want to.”)

And as for the “filoque” clause, this is my answer and I’m sticking to it.

Banning is Not Too Strong of a Word to Use for Quincy’s Action re the 2019 Book of Common Prayer

In my post on the ACNA’s 2019 Book of Common Prayer, I made mention that the Diocese of Quincy had banned its use (as had Anglican Ink.)  There has been some push back to that, from VirtueOnline and Robin Jordan, that this is not what they have done.

Although I’ll betray my Thomistic intellectual background in saying this, I think the Diocese’s actions need to be understood in conjunction with the purpose of the 2019 Book or any other Book of Common Prayer.  The title page of the 2019 Book (earlier Books are similar) reads as follows:

The Book of Common Prayer
and
Administration of the Sacraments
with
Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church
According to the Use of the Anglican Church in North America
Together with
the New Coverdale Psalter

Although the Book can and is used for private devotions, the principal purpose of any Book of Common Prayer is its use in church, when the people of God are gathered together.  Using the word “ban” for the prohibition of its use in public worship is not too strong.  Anglicanism (on this side of the Atlantic at least) has avoided things like the prohibited books Index of Roman Catholicism; to require that “ban” prohibit its use at all goes beyond what Anglican and Episcopal churches have traditionally required of their parishioners.  (And, of course, there are many non-Prayer Book resources for private devotions as well…)  It’s worth observing that they have, in effect, banned the use of the 1662 and 1928 Books as well, but no one seems ruffled by this.

As Tertullian used to say, every choice implies a rejection.

Within the ACNA system, the Diocese is completely within its prerogative to ban its use in public worship.  Whether this is wise is an different topic altogether; that’s a different debate.

 

Some Thoughts on the 2019 Book of Common Prayer

If I had to pick an event that transformed this site’s focus and viewership more than any other, it was my posting of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer in December 2003.  The 1662 Book was posted the following year.  Coming as they did at the start of the explosion (and partly in response to that explosion) that ultimately resulted in the Anglican Church in North America, it began a journey for me that has proven rewarding.

It’s only fitting, therefore, that the ACNA’s own stab at the Anglican Prayer Book genre, the 2019 Book of Common Prayer, would find its way to these pages.  The term “own stab” may sound insouciant but the ACNA has not mandated the Book’s use in its own churches, and in fact one diocese has already banned it!  On the other hand we have
Robin Jordan, who thinks that the book (and indeed the whole drift of the ACNA) is too Catholic.

This review isn’t meant to be a comprehensive, blow-by-blow review of the new Book.  It’s meant to highlight the issues I’ve had with the various BCP’s and how the 2019 Book resolves them.

  1. I think the first issue that needs to be addressed is the sheer length of the book: the pdf I offer for download is 812 pages (although the first two are blank, evidently this comes straight from the pdf used to print the book.)  That’s admittedly an improvement over the 1979 book, which is 1001 pages long.  The 1928 BCP, by comparison, has 611 pages.  Some of the shared length is due to the fact that both Books contain the Psalter (more about that later,) but the 2019 Book doesn’t have the full “Collects, Epistles and Gospels” (it obviously has the collects) for the Holy Communion that the 1662 and 1928 books do, which take up 179 pages of the 1928 Book.  I think that this reflects the idea that there needs to be a ceremony for just about everything.  That bloat started with the 1979 book, but it also reflects the uniformitarian heritage of Anglicanism that started with the “three strikes and your out” Act of Uniformity.  The ACNA had the opportunity to prepare a supplement that would move many of these ceremonies elsewhere but passed it up.
  2. In the Benedictus, we have “In the tender compassion of our God * the dawn from on high shall break upon us, To shine on those who dwell in darkness…” (p.20).  No where is that more evident than in the Baptism ceremony, which jettisons the infamous “Baptismal Covenant.” I’ve referred to this as the “Contract on the Episcopalians,” and its excision is a cause for the ringing of church bells from sea to shining sea.  Today many would like to turn Christianity into a SJW project, but for once the trend is the other way.
  3. I see the 2019 Book solves the problem of the Venite which goes back to the early days of both the Episcopal Church and the Republic.
  4. It was a good thing to see the Comfortable Words (p. 113) in the Holy Communion.
  5. The spectre of Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology and its opposition hangs over just about any celebration of the Holy Communion, and that’s certainly the case with the insertion of the following into the “Anglican Rite”: “So now, O merciful Father, in your great goodness, we ask you to bless and sanctify, with your Word and Holy Spirit, these gifts of bread and wine, that we, receiving them according to your Son
    our Savior Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood.” (p. 116) Although I see the theological sense in this (I can thank Cipriano Vagaggini for that) I think that, if one reproduces the Scriptural institution of the Eucharist, any form of Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology goes up in smoke.  It probably should have been left out.
  6. In the preface we are told that “Eucharistic prayers in particular were influenced by the re-discovery of patristic texts unknown at the Reformation, and often bore little resemblance to what had for centuries been the Anglican norm.”  The awareness of those goes back a long way, as evidenced by Luckock’s work.  Those informed the Novus Ordo Missae.  Unfortunately the follow-up to that in the “Renewed Ancient Text” falls a little flat.  Part of the problem, as Robin Jordan rightly points out, is the tendency for Anglican liturgists to excessively lard the ceremonial.  Jordan appeals to Cramner, but he could have just as easily appealed to Vatican II, which advocated a straightforward, easy to understand liturgy.  I personally think that the ACNA would have been better off modifying a liturgy from the NOM, calling it the “Roman Rite” and been done with it.
  7. The Holy Communion (I find the term “Holy Eucharist” correct but hard to transition to when speaking about the BCP) isn’t the only place where ceremonial larding is in evidence.  The “Ministry to the Dying” (p. 237), although it tells the minister to be flexible, seems to want to lose the race to the last breath.  After that we have “The Commendation” (p. 256), which is too long for a graveside service, especially in inclement weather and really at National Cemeteries, where time if of the essence.
  8. It was nice to see that they retained the Litany prayer “To strengthen those who stand; to encourage the faint-hearted; to raise up those who fall; and finally to beat down Satan under our feet,” (p. 95).  I’m sure the Charismatics will make the most of it.
  9. The Coverdale Psalter has always been a source of fascination in the history of the BCP, being one of the few relics of the pre-Authorised Version English Bible in current use.  The ACNA opted to update and retain it in the 2019 Book.  Personally I think the inclusion of the Psalter goes back to a time when the Psalter was the principal song and devotion book of Christians, and was frequently printed separately (I have the Psalter from this relative of mine.)  That’s not the case these days.  I think it should have been dropped from the 2019 Book.  As an aside, although I’ll get catcalls from the ‘Trads,” I think the RCC practice of reading/singing the Psalms responsorially is better than the antiphonal or responsive methods, but that’s just me.
  10. One thing the ACNA really needs to do is to proclaim its own “Authorised Version” of the Scriptures, which would make excision of the Psalter much easier.  They do that in a backhanded way by using the English Standard Version.  Roman Catholics have done this for years with the New American Bible or the Jerusalem Bible (depending upon the country.)  There are commercial possibilities too: the ACNA could have a Bible (print and software) produced as a companion to the 2019 Book, with suitable notes and lectionary.  It just might get Anglicans to read the Bible more…
  11. I don’t get with calling the Sundays between Trinity and Advent “Proper” Sundays.  Counting after Trinity or Pentecost is better, and even the Roman Catholics’ use of “Ordinary Time” is better.  It’s still a great time in the liturgical year no matter what you call it.
  12. The use of a three-year lectionary cycle is controversial with some (what isn’t?)  Adopting same probably occasioned the excision of the Epistles and Gospels, as was the case with the 1979 book.  Having lived under both one- and three-year cycles, I think the latter gives a broader view of the Scriptures, especially since few people come to weekly services.  (Twice on Sunday has been out the window for a long time…)

In sum, I think the 2019 Book is a major step in the right direction, its weaknesses notwithstanding.  One thing’s for sure: after this, it’s hard to understand why anyone would not ditch the 1979 book once and for all…

Gilbert and Sullivan on the English Elites and the Iwerene Mess

In this post on the subject on Anglican.ink, an interesting observation about some of the participants:

Here one has to raise a very serious question viz a viz GAFCON. Why was Andy Lines (also a product of this culture and apparently abused by his mentor, Fletcher) selected and by whom to be chairman of GAFCON UK and missionary bishop? People are critical of the way Bishops in the Church of England are selected, but at least there is a selection process, with representatives, discussion and two names being put forward. Who was consulted in the case of Bishop Andy? Such lack of transparency does little to build confidence and strengthens the perception that the ‘same old same old’ is in operation as in the days of Packer and Stott and of which Dr Lloyd Jones was most critical seeing such a dominance as being detrimental to the evangelical cause.

The appointment of Jonathan Jukes as the President of Oak Hill College appears to be more of the same as further evidence of the Anglican evangelical hegemony. Many are bewildered and bemused as to why someone who has not published anything of a theological nature, or contributed as a national or international speaker and having no advanced theological degree could be appointed? Not least as he was heading up the search committee for the new President! But Mr Jukes does have one thing going for him -the right pedigree: Winchester College, Bash Camp, St Helen’s Bishopsgate and Proclamation Trust. The suspicion invariably grows as to whether here we have another instance of the ‘old school tie’ at work.

Sounds more like this:

The same analogy can be applied to the recent European leadership “elections.”

I think it’s fair to say that, in view of the activities of Jonathan Fletcher and others, the reason why it’s called “Bash Camp” has changed.

Pete Buttigieg, Episcopal Snob

The first round of Democratic Presidential debates is, mercifully, over.  Winners and losers will sort themselves out in due season, but in the meanwhile let’s consider one whom the media fawned over: Pete Buttigieg, South Bend’s mayor.  He’s made quite a career doing something that none of his rivals have done to the extent that he has: taken shots at the “Religious Right.” starting with his own former governor, Mike Pence.  In a party which has gone very secular, and this is the primary stage, it’s hard to know what’s to be gained from such other than publicity (and, of course, in politics the only thing worse than bad publicity is no publicity.)  None of his rivals have any use for the Religious Right, so what’s the big deal?  What’s his game?

Personally, when I hear him go after conservative Christians, it sounds like it’s a 2019 version of the old “Episcopal Snob” going public with his grievances against these people.  Buttigieg is an Episcopalian and it sounds like he’s repeating the stuff he hears at church, whether from the pulpit or in the legendary Anglican/Episcopal coffee.

It’s something people in the Anglican/Episcopal world don’t like to admit, but it’s true: the core appeal of the Episcopal Church to those outside looking in is one of snob appeal.  The church has always attracted refugees from “fundamental” groups.  People for whom the narrow way has lost its appeal are attracted to a religion which is aesthetically pleasing and, most of the time, not dogmatic, even if they don’t have a good grasp of what they’ve gotten themselves into.  But coupled with that are the church’s elevated demographics: those who join it get to rub shoulders with people at the top of society.

As part of the “schtick” Episcopalians who have been at it for a long time are good at putting on the proper airs when confronted with those of religious persuasions they feel are beneath them.  They tell you that they neither need nor want to do the things you feel they should do, and the impression they leave is that they’re superior for it. It can be intimidating; my wife and I have run into it when out and about on church-related errands until we mention we are good friends with certain of their fellow parishioners, at which point they beat a hasty retreat: they realize we know too much.

Buttigieg mixes this up with current shaming and virtue-signaling techniques, using the fact that he’s gay to amplify his point.  His own schtick is that, if he “calls out” the spiritual and political failings of the unwashed, they’ll realize the error of their ways and come around to his idea.  That’s straight out of the Episcopal snob appeal playbook, only in the past both positive and negative presentation of the point was more subtle and in better taste.

I don’t think that the “unwashed” are going to flock en masse to either his church or his campaign, let alone his political party.  He might pick off a few careerist types but not many.  And the barriers which have bedeviled his church will come back to do the same to his candidacy and his party.  Nominating a snob might have worked in 2008 with Barack Obama, but this is an angrier country.  Elizabeth Warren has a better shot at ginning up resentment, if she doesn’t get bogged down being the policy wonk.  But then again, the last Scots-Irish President, Bill Clinton, was something of a policy wonk in his own right.

Renunciation is Central to Christianity, But You’d Never Know It

I recently had an interesting back and forth with a guy I went to prep school with on “Renouncing Privilege.”  Evidently he and I have a different take on what that means, as evidenced by his comment:

Many of the students were, and probably still are wealthy, still privileged. I would not try to make the point that the young men became followers of Gandhi, just that they recognized an abusive power that they had the means to abolish and voted accordingly.

Some of my idea comes from the current assault on “white privilege,” the only logical solution being that white people just step aside and let everyone else run things.  (I document here how some well-heeled and bi-coastal white people have tried to get around that obvious conclusion for their children’s’ benefit.)  But much of my view on the subject is conditioned by the New Testament itself:

“I tell you,” answered Jesus, “that at the New Creation, ‘when the Son of Man takes his seat on his throne of glory,’ you who followed me shall be seated upon twelve thrones, as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel. Every one who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or land, on account of my Name, will receive many times as much, and will ‘gain Immortal Life.’ But many who are first now will then be last, and those who are last will be first.  (Matthew 19:28-30 TCNT)

Calling the people and his disciples to him, Jesus said: “If any man wishes to walk in my steps, let him renounce self, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, and whoever, for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, will lose his life shall save it. (Mark 8:34-35 TCNT)

I’ve spent time on the rich young ruler elsewhere.

In the past Christians have understood what this meant.  Consider this from J.N.D. Kelly’s Jerome:

In the fourth century it was common for really serious Christians, at their baptism or when they experienced a deeper conversion, to break with the world, abandoning career, marriage and material possessions in order (in the expressive phrase of Cyprian of Carthage) ‘to hold themselves free for God and for Christ.’  The ascetic strain which had been present in Christianity from the start, and which in the west tended to set a premium on virginity, inevitably received a powerful practical impulse with the disappearance of persecution and the emergence of a predominantly Christian society where much of the Christian colouring was skin-deep.

That’s something that advocates of the “Benedict Option” should keep in mind.

In any case such is virtually unknown in American Christianity, which is too hog-tied to upward mobility (and that link is a big reason why American Christians do what they do politically, on both sides of the spectrum.)

Since straight-up renunciation doesn’t go down well, is there another way to meet the challenge of the Gospel?  One comes from the Anglican/Episcopal George Conger, who has tried to deal with this by putting this verse into practice:

The servant who knows his master’s wishes and yet does not prepare and act accordingly will receive many lashes; while one who does not know his master’s wishes, but acts so as to deserve a flogging, will receive but few. From every one to whom much has been given much will be expected, and from the man to whom much has been entrusted the more will be demanded.  (Luke 12:47-48 TCNT)

He explains the “critical moment” for his commitment to “givebacks” here, in an encounter with then candidate George H.W. Bush:

I commented on that idea years ago:

If one were to name the Episcopal Church’s strongest point from a practical standpoint, it was this: the emphasis on the importance of “give back”. It’s something I miss in a Pentecostal church. This isn’t to say that Pentecostals are not willing to help others–they certainly are, and are for many reasons better positioned to do so than Episcopalians–but the context is entirely different, and it doesn’t percolate to the upper reaches of the organisation the way one would like it to. But that’s also generational: baby boomers, for all the talk and their self-righteous insistence of making the next generation volunteer, are mostly too self-centred to know what true give-back is.

That said, I think that the road to that needs to run through some kind of renunciation.

Although there are many people who don’t have a lot to renounce (that’s another lesson that comes from many years in a Pentecostal church) American Christianity would do well to learn from Our Lord on renunciation, if for no other reason than that, if things go south, renunciation will be a lot easier than having it taken away from you.

The Thing About Myself that @rachelheldevans Brought to Mind

I was saddened by the last voyage of Rachel Held Evans.  It is never good for such a thing to happen, especially at this time in life.  She was not so far from us and my wife and I know several of her fellow parishioners at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland.

It’s best to put your opinions out on someone while they’re still here, and the one extended piece I did on her was this one in 2013 on a series of tornadoes in Oklahoma.  It reminded me of a simple fact about myself; that, although my years in the Evangelical-Pentecostal world have on the whole been positive, I’m glad I was neither raised nor came of age in it.  I’ll reproduce the body of my response to her (and her opponents):

The truth is that both Evans and her Evangelical opponents are working from one shared assumption: that we have a performance-based God whose purpose is to either a) fulfil our every wish or b) punish us for every fault.  Both implicitly assume that people are the measure, and neither really represents reality.  They represent responses to Evangelical Christianity’s current “selling point”, i.e., that if you get on God’s side you’ll have a life of bliss.  One emphasises the downside of not being on his side (and I’ll admit that too many Evangelicals are big on that) and the other attempts to apply post-modern “I deserve the best” mentality to a universe where such an assumption has no basis.

Such dialectics are, for me, a reminder of how blessed I was that my chief intellectual formation as a Christian was as a Roman Catholic and not a Protestant, let alone an Evangelical.  It has saved me a great deal of grief and probably apostacy.  So let me lay out what I think is the reality we have.

For all of its wonder, this world and universe is fallen and not God’s ideal for us.  That ideal will be found in eternity with him.  Before that happens we’ll have problems.  Sometimes these problems are big, sometimes these problems are small.  Sometimes these problems are the result of being in the path of unintended disaster, some are really of our own making.  (The global warming fanatics, for their part, can point to Oklahoma as a high-carbon consuming place because of its low-density settlement, large vehicles and ubiquitous air-conditioning, so there, you can make a liberal case against Evans).  But in either case the key is to secure our eternity so that we can deal with the problems that come our way in this life.

But ultimately that redemption, like everything else we get from God, is undeserved.  We don’t have the intrinsic worth to expect otherwise; God’s act of redemption was an act of undeserved love.  Coming from a congenial region, Evans may think this is harsh.  But as I’ve said before (and there are exceptions to this) growing up in a place like South Florida convinced me that, if there is a “default” in eternity, it isn’t heaven.

To think otherwise is, IMHO, to take on an entitlement mentality about God, which for many of us extends to the people and institutions around us.  Personally I can’t stomach that; entitlement mentalities not only go against my grain as a Christian, but they also really rub me the wrong way from my secular upbringing (and, yes, Rachel Held Evans, some of us really do have a secular background).  I would say that my walk with God has softened my attitude towards the world around me, which would otherwise be misanthropic and condescending (and I struggle with both).

It’s time to stop being so “deep in our own stuff” and broaden our horizons.

Memory eternal, and prayers for her family.