This is the first of a series on sacred hymns, the story behind them, their text, a recording, and a simple companion devotional. “Many a man who has labored in obscure places, practically unnoticed and un-praised by his own generation, has achieved a fame after his death that grows in magnitude with the passing years,”…
Recently I wrote a post for another of my blogs entitled Do We Need a New Math to Understand Physics? where I discussed yet another article I linked to, Does Time Really Flow? New Clues Come From a Century-Old Approach to Math. It’s probably too technical for most readers of this blog, although seeing Tolkien cited in a scientific/engineering publication is not to be missed.
In the common parlance we’re used to speaking of mathematically-stated laws that govern what happens physically in the universe. I think a model-prototype concept is better. Whether the physical phenomena “know” about these laws is debatable; whether they obey them is not unless the “law” is disproven or a special case added. What this signifies is that we have modelled the physical phenomena successfully and in the meanwhile enhanced our understanding of what is going on, which in turn is the promise of future progress.
In theology a model-prototype concept has been around a long time. The difference between theology and mathematics is in the priority. With mathematics we have physical phenomena which we model using mathematics. In theology we have a living model (God) who creates the prototype (the material world.) This sort of “type-antitype” is well rooted both in the Fathers and in the Scriptures themselves. Evangelical hyperliteralism is the order of the day now–so much so the atheists use it–but the church will regret adopting it before it’s over with.
In the past I have used the model-prototype construct to make an analogy between theology and mathematics, which I do at length in My Lord and My God. The purpose of this work is to show that the idea of that analogy can be used to show that the reason why the post-Nicene I church set subordinationism in the Trinity aside is due to weaknesses in Greek theology, weaknesses that mathematics can address. It can also be used to refute really poor, God-dishonouring theology such as the Sydney Anglicans set forth.
The divergence between the divine model and the material prototype has been understood in theology for a long time. It’s embodied in the difference between created and uncreated beings. The main implication of that is that, although the model and prototype are certainly related, the material world is definitely a “step down” from the spiritual/divine one. In the discussion of mathematics and quantum physics, the difference between continuum mathematics and discrete quantum mechanics is at the heart of the discussion. The question now is whether we change our mathematics to suit the physical world or build on what we have to describe it, understanding the differences.
That too has a theological analogy. TBH if there’s one thing that’s gone AWOL in the last half century or more, it’s the ability of the theological world to think abstractly. Much of what passes for theology today–from the modern and post-modern musings of the left to the “waist-down” religion of the right–shows a deeply carnal mentality. It’s one reason why, like my Anglican deacon and friend Bruce Hilbert (whose home was destroyed in the recent tornado here,) I’m glad I took the technical route rather than the seminary one. Unfortunately the technical fortress is likewise facing being breached, a conflict upon which the future of scientific advance hangs.
On the other hand, the discrete nature of quantum mechanics once again brings up the whole issue of how deterministic the universe really is, which certainly does have important theological implications.
But I digress…theology these days deserves better than what passes for it, but improvement is easier said than done.
The Episcopal Church approaches these decisions with great care and bases changes in our practices on solid, scientific data.
I never thought the Episcopal Church was particularly “scientific.” In fact, looking in the rear-view mirror one thing that may have alienated me and others in my family from the church is their distinctly aesthetic emphasis, an emphasis which minimised the importance of the “hard facts.” That’s true of our elites in general, even those which never darken the door of the Episcopal or any other church: they’re basically unscientific by training and temperament, and parading that they “believe in science” is only proof that their idea of escaping this ignorance is turning science into a religion.
It gets worse: the science of COVID-19 is a poorly-understood moving target, one that has befuddled expert and amateur (and everyone else in between) alike. When we’re on the frontiers of scientific knowledge, that’s the way it is. It’s hard to make public policy or private decisions based on that moving target; the day when we can say we have overall “solid science” on this topic is in the future.
Given what we do know and Bethesda’s superannuated demographics (something they share with the Episcopal Church in general and their Diocese in particular) caution is certainly warranted. (The fact that their Rector attended the COVID-19 “ground zero” for the denomination isn’t comforting either.) And their online program is definitely above average. But to claim solid science for this may sound good but doesn’t conform to the “hard facts” of the situation, not yet at least.
P.S. I also noted the quote from the contract on the Episcopalians in their masthead.
If you’ve ever done a little research into Anglicanism and vestments, you have encountered the Ornaments Rubric. It sits before Morning Prayer in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the 1559 BCP. It reads as follows: “The Morning and Evening Prayer shall be used in the accustomed Place of the Church, Chapel, or Chancel;…
My take: if the cassock and surplice is good enough for the Red Baron, it should be good enough for us.
I was watching this, a recitation of the traditional Morning Prayer service by Len Finn at St. George’s Anglican Church in Burlington, Ontario.
It’s “traditional” because it’s from the Canadian 1962 BCP, their “final true Anglican prayer book” before they went off the deep end like their counterparts south of the border. (Technically it’s still their official prayer book, but as the UK they have workarounds.) I’ve not given much attention to this, but I should have: Finn does a nice job on a nice liturgy. There are certain variations (like the Venite, which the 2019 BCP fixed) but overall it’s closer to what I was raised with than that dreadful 1979 BCP that’s used in places like this.
One thing, however, that is different is this:
Then the Priest standing up shall say:
O Lord, show thy mercy upon us;
People. And grant us thy salvation.
Priest. O Lord, save the Queen;
People. And mercifully hear us when we call upon thee.
And there are other prayers of this kind.
When the “Protestant Episcopal Church” was founded, we were celebrating our independence from King George III, and so we changed it to this, as noted in the 1928 BCP:
O Lord, our heavenly Father, the high and mighty Ruler of the universe, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth; Most heartily we beseech thee, with thy favour to behold and bless thy servant THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, and all others in authority; and so replenish them with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that they may always incline to thy will, and walk in thy way.
While such prayers are especially important these days, we shouldn’t entirely forget the Queen, who has been head of state through Brexit (which many of us supported) and COVID-19. We’ve also sent over Megan Markle (complete with Michael Curry sermon) with disastrous results. So perhaps some prayers from these shores would be appropriate.
At the start of Morning Prayer is the General Confession, complete with the “miserable offenders.” Maybe while reciting that some penance would be in order…
It’s fair to say that it’s been a spring for the record books. COVID-19 has upended our country in general, but for those of us in academia it’s especially bad. For my part the jolting transition to online has been easier on me than my students; I think that the academy has a rough road ahead of it.
Two other events of less general interest have made life difficult. The first was that, Easter Sunday night, a tornado blew through our area. Our own dwelling came through with minor damage but, as you can see, others didn’t. As is the case with every disaster, ministries showed up in a hurry to provide relief, and now the long term recovery is under way. But it was strange to wake up after the night of destruction (there wasn’t much sleep, to be sure) to hear the birds singing outside. How they battened down the hatches during this maelstrom is hard to know, but at least enough did to give us a cheery greeting the next morning.
The second storm (about the same time) came in the Anglican/Episcopal world, where a well known figure departed from a well known program in a way whose tension (or maybe compression) had been building for some time. With some insight on how this came about, I took the trouble to write the one who departed with this insight. He responded in an audio recording, evidently done outside, because in the background I heard the birds happily singing as they had after the physical storm had passed our own house.
It always amazes me that our smug and ostensibly secular opinion leaders display the apocalyptic attitude towards life that they do. Growing up at Bethesda, end times prophecy were not on the radar screen; I had to get off of the island to find out about that. I suspect that a good number of our elites were going the other way, making a “hick moves to town” transition where they simply repurposed the apocalyptic fears of their childhood to the social causes of their careers. Growing up in an ethic where disasters were to be toughed out and problems fixed, I still find the solution-free panic that our elites meet every crisis with hard to take.
But through all of this the birds keep singing and creation moves forward as its Creator intended it to do. A truly Biblical view of the apocalypse doesn’t focus on the disaster but the goal after the disaster. The Bible is premised on the obvious, that difficulties are inevitable in the pursuit of the objective. This grates on prosperity preacher and sybaritic elite alike, but that’s the way it is.
So when things aren’t going your way, stop and listen. You might hear the birds singing.
[We] must affirm Christ’s objective presence in the Eucharist, and must maintain that “Spiritual Communion” is not the same as the Eucharist. We can understand liturgical contemplation and “Spiritual Communion” as receiving the grace of the Holy Spirit by recalling the sacraments we have already received, recalling our baptism, which is praised by the Early…
“Homecoming” is a term that usually evokes a lot of maudlin blubbering in Evangelical circles (especially Southern ones.) Images of “old-time” religion and hymns, “dinner on the ground,” and churches and families getting together cloud our eyes with tears and our minds with nostalgia. Bill Gaither was wise in tapping into this the way he did.
These days this isn’t going to happen, not the way it has with “social distancing” and churches closed by a society whose own vision of the eternity of its members is as cloudy as the eyes of sentimental Evangelicals; it doesn’t help that the “leadership” of many churches has rolled over and played dead to boot. Many churches are scrambling to create “virtual church” to at least tide things over until better days come.
Some churches were better prepared to be catapulted into a virtual state than others. One of them was my old home church, Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach. They’ve been putting their services on social media for some time (that was the first revelation in this adventure.) I’ve said a lot about this place, but with “stay in place” the rule I decided to take a look at a streamed service or two and see what was up after nearly a half century of absence.
I wanted to see what it looked like before we were all scattered like sheep by COVID-19. I started with the First Sunday in Lent, but they started it with the Litany (something I don’t remember doing growing up) and felt that this wasn’t going to be “typical” enough for a fair assessment. Bethesda had a real talent for dragging its services out in High Church fashion, and that was the first lesson: they’re still good at it. After a little more digging I decided to use last year’s Tenth Sunday after Pentecost service, which you can see here:
This obviously took place during the summer, which is the “off-season” in Palm Beach, so it was interesting to see what kind of crowd they had. It was also in “ordinary time,” which was (as I explain here) my favourite time at Bethesda. That moulded my reaction to the service, as will be plain below.
Let me just make some observations about what I saw and my impressions thereof.
The first thing that struck me was how little the look and feel of church at Bethesda has changed in the last half century. The look being unchanged is no surprise: Bethesda is on the National Register of Historic Places, changing anything there is very difficult. (I’ll bet ARCOM helps out with that too.) But the feel of the service: even with the major changes that have taken place in society in general and the Episcopal Church in particular, including women in ministry, the dreadful 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and changes in church music, the mood and execution of the service was very much the way it was fifty years ago. There is still only one instrument: the pipe organ, which accompanies the (probably paid) adult choir. The procession and recession pretty much goes the same except that choir and clergy no longer process from the narthex but through a side door and from there into the main aisle.
This is amazing because I’ve spent most of the time since I left Bethesda in the church I’m in, and the changes in worship style and music have been pretty dramatic. This is necessary, we are told, because we must keep up with generational changes, and we would find ourselves empty if we did not do these things. The attendance in this service at Bethesda was, truth to tell, pretty decent. Although this needs to be seen in view of the the demographics and other peculiarities of Palm Beach and Bethesda, change for its own sake needs to be considered carefully.
One thing that brought back an amusing memory was the processional hymn: “In the Cross of Christ I Glory.” The definitely paid youth choir did this when I was growing up. There are two conspicuous rests in the score, and we felt compelled in rehearsal to either clap or stomp our feet at the rest, something which irritated the organist and choirmaster at the time, Adam Decker, to no end.
As is the case with most Episcopal churches these days, the Holy Communion is standard on Sundays. Years ago Bethesda was more “Protestant” in its routine of the Eucharist once a month and Morning Prayer the rest of the time. Even with this, I noted that they do not elevate the Host at the consecration. I also noted that Bethesda still uses the altar rail for communion, something that is a sine qua non of the “trad” Catholics. Same trad Catholics would sour at the exchange of peace, which was reasonable.
One of the things I wanted to see was whether Bethesda had toned down the offering a little bit. In my review of Latta Griswold’s book The Middle Way, I noted the following:
Anglican-Episcopal types “trash talk” prosperity types, but this was a fault my home church Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach was notorious for. We had the largest silver trays I have ever seen, and the celebrant’s elevation of same at the altar, accompanied by the organist’s all-stops-open rendering of the Doxology, outdid the elevation of the Host at Communion. I’m sure the Philistines said some ripe things!
They’ve ditched the elevation of the plates, but everything else is pretty much the same.
I mentioned early the expansion of women in ministry in the Episcopal Church. Bethesda had an indirect role in that: the first Episcopal bishop to consecrate women, Robert Appleyard, was Rector at Bethesda before he became Bishop of Pittsburgh. In any case this service featured women in both lectern and pulpit. There are two extreme claims made about this: either the women are so much better they will save the church, or that they are so much worse they will destroy the church. If Bethesda is any indication, neither is the case: the women pretty much step into the mould and role the men left behind. (One thing: did I detect a Southern accent or two? My brother and I were made fun of when we brought ours from TN to Palm Beach in the mid-1960’s.)
That became obvious with the sermon. One of the reasons I like Ordinary Time (to use the Catholic term) best is because it presents some of the most challenging of Our Lord’s teachings, and this Sunday was no exception. It’s worth reproducing the Gospel reading here:
Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:
- father against son
- and son against father,
- mother against daughter
- and daughter against mother,
- mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
- and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, `It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” (Luke 12:49-56)
Most of this passage has a pretty straightforward message: you follow Our Lord the way you’re supposed to, and you will have division in your family. I certainly got that message at the time, was experiencing some, would experience a lot more before it was over with.
For me, the homily fell flat, as those which were preached at the time. Sure there are allusions to the conflict that following Our Lord will bring. Some of that conflict was framed (in a subtle way) to a left-political commitment. (She had to be careful about that, there are doubtless numerous Trumpettes in the congregation.) But left-political commitments are not countercultural today; they may have been at Bethesda fifty years ago, but the world was changing very fast, as my years at St. Andrew’s were to demonstrate.
The core problem, then and now, is that the Episcopal Church in general and Bethesda in particular are averse to the dramatic, life-changing event of salvation that naturally engendered the kind of division this Gospel reading described. I’ve said it before numerous times, but I was lead to believe that such dramatic transformations–and telling people they needed one–were in bad taste. Political substitutes on either end of the spectrum are not substitutes for that transformation. It’s little wonder our minister “pulled punches” on this topic.
I felt that there were many pulled punches from Bethesda’s pulpit. And that was a factor–but not necessarily the most important one–which inspired me to take my leave and “swim the Tiber” in Form VI. My parish priest introduced me to the writings of one John McKenzie, SJ, who put the transformational/revolutionary aspects of the gospel in stark terms. (You read that passage, along with my thoughts on renouncing privilege, here.)
But such is the course of a walk with God. My “homecoming” was overall a nice experience, and an enlightening one. And no blubbering either.
Every single morning now, when I fire up the interwebs, there are at least three articles about the “new normal.” Some of them ponderously explain that there will be a new normal. Others disparage the very idea of there being a new normal. The more interesting ones try to imagine what the new normal will…