Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Holy Cloud Bearing Mountain: An Opportunity to Help

As some of you know, I serve on the board of a Christian center for contemplative prayer, called Mons Nubifer Sanctus. Mons Nubifer Sanctus is Latin for “Holy Cloud-Bearing Mountain.” The name takes its inspiration chiefly from Exodus 24:18, which describes Moses’ ascent up the Holy Mountain into the cloud of the presence of God. This account is fulfilled in the New Testament passages dealing with the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor.

These texts, and others like them, have consistently been read by the great spiritual masters of the Church in terms of the heights of contemplative prayer, heights to which all Christians are called in Christ. Christian spiritual classics such as Dionysius the Areopagite’s The Mystical Theology, and the 14th century anonymous English work The Cloud of Unknowing all follow in this tradition, as do numerous other writings through the ages of the Church and up the present day.

The goal of Mons Nubifer Sanctus is to provide a retreat and training center where men and women can cultivate a life of deep and transformative prayer, practiced in common and grounded in the ancient spirituality and fullness of the Christian faith. The center’s programs will be geared specifically for people living and working “in the world;” in other words, for active people in secular positions who yet seek a deeper spirituality than most church communities can offer.

The founder and president of the board, Mr. James Krueger expects be ordained to the Deaconate in the Episcopal Diocese of Albany shortly, and soon after that to the priesthood. He has devoted a great deal of time, energy and work to get us to this point. We have gathered a Board of Directors and incorporated as a not-for-profit, Mons Nubifer Sanctus and are currently raising funds to purchase a suitable building and grounds to be located in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. The property will be conductive to contemplation, adequate to house twelve to sixteen participants in dorm-style rooms, have room to grow if necessary, and have some decent land for sustainable growing. Donations will also be used to cover other start-up and initial operating expenses.

I’m writing to you to ask your help in making this center a reality, a center which will do its part to reinvigorate an authentic and truly transformative Christianity in the west, by making a donation to Mons Nubifer Sanctus. I would not normally be so bold as to ask this, but I am goaded on by a most wonderful opportunity presented to us by an anonymous donor who will match every donation made from now until the end of 2013 dollar for dollar up to $50,000! This means that every dollar you give will be turned into two! Can you help us, then, to reach our goal of purchasing a suitable property and beginning programs, however gingerly, in 2014?

Please visit www.monsnubifer.org for further information, seeing especially our “Vision and Feasibility” page, and feel free to contact us and keep in touch as this unfolds. Donations can be made to Mons Nubifer Sanctus, PO Box 568, Pine Hill, NY 12465. Please also find and follow us on Facebook!

In Christ, who is our peace,

Father Paul Hunter.   

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Birth, Death, Resurrection and the Buddha.

Nishida Kitaro 

This is a rather odd post, and I have to warn you at the outset, I don't know what it amounts to.  It was occasioned by reading Kitaro Nishida.  Nishida is one of my somewhat eccentric theological/ philosophical interests, like Bulgakov's Sophiology, or the odder reaches of Charles Williams' thought.  This may, therefore, be rather boring to those who do not share my quirky interests. Or not.  Who knows? 

Nishida was a the professor of Philosophy at Kyoto University from 1914 to 1927.  He was a Zen and Pure Land Buddhist, and close friend of D.T. Suzuki, but his main claim to fame was being the first Japanese thinker to seek a systematic dialogue between Eastern and Western Thought.  His work inaugurated the so called "Kyoto School of Philosophy," which is still important in Japanese thought today.  There is even a fair amount of Anglophone scholarship on these thinkers.  

Nishida particularly interests me because though he was a Buddhist, he was always fascinated with Christianity, and deeply sympathetic to Christian views.  His wife was a Christian.  He quotes as freely from the Bible and St. Augustine as from Dogen or the Heart Sutra, and was particularly an admirer of Karl Barth, even sending one Christian student to study with Barth.  Barth's theology dominated Japanese Christian thought until quite recently, so this is not terribly surprising.  Interestingly, Barth seems to have known a bit about Nishida and thought highly of him as well.  

Nishida is very comfortable speaking in a Christian idiom, although he tends to interpret Christianity in the fashion of an idealist Philosopher, rather than in anything like an orthodox manner.  Still, he is interested enough in learning from Christianity, not just using a few images or terms here and there, that I think he comes up with some rather profound and deeply Christian insights on familiar Christian doctrine.  He takes very seriously the concepts of original sin, grace, justification by faith, the Word of God (in a particularly Barthian mode) and the Trinity.  He can talk about Christian concepts in a very Buddhist way, and Buddhist concepts in a very Christian way.  It doesn't always amount to an orthodox reading of Christianity (I wouldn't presume to speak for Buddhism) but it's pretty darn interesting.   

I have just finished reading his last and perhaps most influential essay "The Logic of the Place of Nothingness and the Religious Worldview."  It's not easy reading, and I will need to go over it again, but a number of things struck me, particularly Nishida's consideration of death and eternal life. 

Death plays a pivotal role in Nishida's thought, in a way that I think is rather similar to Heidegger, although I don't know Heidegger's thought that well.   Nishida sees death, mortality, as a fundamental aspect of individual self-awareness.  Human beings, Persons in the fullest sense, come face to face with their finitude and so with the absolute, most of all in the awareness of death, the absolute negation.  Death then, is part of the very experience of our being, and the realization of mortality is perhaps the foundation of religious experience.  
In facing its own eternal death, the self faces the absolute infinity, the experience of the absolute other. It realizes its eternal death by facing absolute negation.  And yet even this realization has the structure of absolute contradiction... For to realize one's own death is simultaneously to realize the meaning of one's own existence.  A deathless being is not temporally unique, and that which is not temporally unique is not an individual... My existence involves precisely this dilemma of immortality and mortality. (Nishida Kitaro. Last Writings. Trans. David A. Dilworth.  Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1987. 67 -68.)
 Nishida believes this experience to be fundamentally religious, and indeed the foundation of religion. This doesn't mean Nishida is saying that religion is a way of denying death; rather "religion is about God," the absolute, who is encountered most clearly (although, not exclusively) in the experience of mortality.  

He goes on to say "Death involves a relative being facing an absolute.  For the self to face God is to die.  When Isaiah saw God he cried out: "Woe is me for I am undone... " When a relative being faces the true absolute it cannot exist but must pass into nothing" (Nishida. Last Writings. 68).  Nishida is not peddling the bromide that death is okay because it makes us aware of how precious life is.  Rather he sees the experience of mortality as far more fundamental to human existence.  It is not merely that we are living beings who observe that we die, but that to be living beings - at least self aware ones - is to have the awareness of mortality.  

I think there is an analogue in the thought of Aquinas, when he describes all created beings as composite, even if the only composition is that of essence and existence, a coming together of disparate aspects that need not have been.  Nishida places a great deal of weight on the experience of that contingency, and would say that at the heart of our existence is a contradiction; we are but that we might not be, that there was a time when we were not, and shall be a time when we are not again - not merely accidentally but because that is the kind of beings we are.  We are contingent. We are limited.  We are mortal.  To know that in a deep and immediate way, as we do in realizing our death, is to encounter the absolute.  

Nishida talks about 'eternal death' but he also talks about eternal life. "The self exists in that it knows its own death.  It knows that it is born to die eternally... my position is... that eternal life is gained at the point where birth and death (Samsara) and no-birth and no-death (Nirvana) are realized as one" (Nishida Last Writings. 87)  How does this realization happen?  well this is where Nishida does something surprising and starts talking about faith, grace and conversion.  
We know of our eternal death.  That is our existential condition.  At the same time, we already exist in eternal life.  Religious faith entails the the self realize its own contradictory identity of eternal death and eternal life; that is what is involved in religious conversion.  Since this is impossible from the perspective of the objectified self we must speak of the power, the working of God. Faith is the self-determination of the absolute itself. Faith is grace bestowed.  It is God's own voice in the depths of the self. (Nishida, 88.) 
I think Nishida is still more Buddhist than Christian here.  At the same time, I think he's on to something.  

In our current experience of reality, death and life really are correlative.  The whole system of creation depends upon what amounts to a cycle of birth and death.  We can imagine something that doesn't die, but for my part the more I try to flesh out what a world without death would look like, the more problematic it becomes.  

Of course, from the perspective of Christian theology, death is a result of the fall and of sin  (Nishida, interestingly, has a lot to say about original sin but I will save that for another post).  Still, even Athanasius says in the On the Incarnation that human beings are mortal by nature, like all of creation, but that we would have been held in eternal life by the grace of God if we had not sinned.  I think, in other words, that Nishida is correct to see death as a far more important part of our existential condition than it is generally thought to be.  Again, we could ask the question "But what if we hadn't fallen?"  I don't know, and I don't know how helpful it is to speculate.   I think that question is usually (but not always) a rabbit trail. The reality of our fallen condition and fallen experience is totally colored by mortality, and that is what I am talking about in this case.  

Death is also an inescapable step toward resurrection.  Granted, we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed (1 Cor 15:51). But we will only reach eternal life if we are buried with Christ, if we die with him and are raised with him.  In this sense at least, even if we happen to be among the few who do not die before the second coming, all those who reach eternal life and live in Christ, also die in Christ.  If you follow Hans Urs von Balthasar, then there might even be a legitimate way of talking about this as 'eternal death.'     

What this suggests to me, as I have been reflecting upon it, is that resurrection life must be a far greater change than we can actually imagine.  I believe in a bodily resurrection, of course; that somehow, when we are raised there will be a continuity not just of our spirits but also of our physical bodies, and that in our flesh we shall see God.  But whatever that means, I think it has to mean that we will live with the kind of life that has no possibility of death.  Not just that we will not die, but that the whole system of birth and death will somehow be transcended; even in continuity with our old life of birth and death we will have reached a place of no-birth and no-death.  Perhaps Nishida (and Mahayana Buddhism before him) is not too far wrong in saying that eternal life is when no-birth and no-death is one with birth and death.   Perhaps in the resurrection life this absolutely contradictory identity is realized.  I don't know, but I think it's worth meditating on. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

On the Pastoral Uses of Depravity.

So, from a few signals around here on the blog, you may have picked up that I am bit High Church.  I am not a Calvinist, although I don't have the visceral dislike of Calvinism that so many do, partly because in my undergrad theological training I was soaked in Augustine's Anti-Pelagian writings and his doctrine of grace. There are important differences between Augustine and Calvin that I think most Calvinists gloss over, but never mind that for now. Calvin is also a pretty helpful exegete when it comes to sermon preparation.

There is, however, at least one of the five points of Calvinism that I think is remarkably helpful, namely "Total Depravity."  The Synod of Dort, which formulated the five points of Calvinism defined Depravity as follows:
“Therefore all men are conceived in sin, and are by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto; and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature, or to dispose themselves to reformation.” 
Or, as it is often summarized, every part of the human person is affected by sin.   Our appetites, our wills, our intellects, and our bodies.  I might have some minor quibbles with Dort's definition above because I believe in Baptismal Regeneration, but it's basically solid, biblical stuff.

Depravity bothers people as much as any of the other points of Calvinism like limited atonement or unconditional election.  It is often understood to mean that human beings are just as awful and bad as we can possibly be, and that there really is nothing good to say about us.  Perhaps we are not even in the image of God anymore.

If that is what depravity means, it's problematic to say the least.  It seems like a cruel doctrine that can be used to beat people over the head and scare them into submission and repentance. It also smacks of a certain unwholesome self-loathing.   There are, some Christians who actually seem to get a kick out of repeating to themselves what miserable worms they are, but that gets old for most of us pretty quick.

That is a parody though, and it's no fair arguing against a parody.   There is incredible virtue, compassion and even sanctity to be found among Christians and non-Christian alike, and to deny this is both so grim and so plainly contrary to experience that it ought to be offensive.  Believing in depravity doesn't mean denying that. Human beings can do lots of good things.  Depravity doesn't mean that everything we do is bad, but it does mean that we can't find a place in us where sin doesn't have some effect, doesn't leave some stain.

Well, why does this matter?  Depravity can become a cruel doctrine, but rightly understood, I have found that believing in depravity helps me to be more loving.  As one friend of mine said, when you believe in depravity, you know that all the difficult people you meet in your life did not get up in the morning and think "I shall be awful today."  In a very real sense, they can't help it.  Of course, that doesn't excuse them.  Just like an addict's behavior isn't excused by the addiction, but it is explained.  The people I meet who hurt me are struggling under a terrible weight of sin, and a bondage of the will.

Of course, I do believe in a certain kind of free will.  As Aquinas says, we can pursue rather limited created goods by the exercise of our wills, and I even believe that grace can be resisted in some sense if you want to call that free will.  What I do not believe for a minute is that I can, of my own volition, stop being a self-centered arrogant person, and be turned toward God and neighbor.  I am, as the 12 Steps put it, powerless over the sin in my life.  And so is everybody else.  That doesn't mean that we're not responsible for what we do.  Again, to return to the recovery metaphor, one of the 12 Steps is making amends, not to mention making a searching moral inventory and turning things over to God.

If I didn't believe that, I don't know how I could put up with myself, let alone the people around me.  The little voice in my head that says "Why don't you just shape up?" would be much louder.  I would always suspect that people were just not trying hard enough, and with a little more commitment they could do alright, and I would always be angry. The truth is we really can't do much better and we all are suffering, struggling and failing constantly.  The proper reaction is not anger, but compassion and love,  because our only hope is the grace and mercy of God, which can and does free our bound wills to love him.    

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Archbishop of Canterbury Addresses the Syrian Crisis

The Most Rev. Justin Welby spoke to the House of Lord's  yesterday, in opposition to a military strike on Syria.  His argument is based pretty soundly on the Just War Tradition as far as I can tell, and it is worth noting that he echoes the statements from the Christian leaders in Syria.  Come to think of it, are there any Christian leaders who do support military intervention in this case?  I haven't seen any, and I hope there are none.  Pray for peace.  

But there is a further point, talking to a very senior Christian leader in the region yesterday, he said,  “intervention from abroad will declare open season on the Christian communities.” They have already been devastated, two million Christians in Iraq 12 years ago, less than half a million today. These are churches that don’t just go back to St Paul but, in the case of Damascus and Antioch, predate him. They will surely suffer terribly (as they already are) if action goes ahead. And that consequence has to be weighed against the consequences of inaction.  - See more at: http://www.anglicanjournal.com/articles/welby-addresses-syria-debate#sthash.xMIPObca.dpuf

Monday, August 26, 2013

Some Tools of Chaste Living, from Joshua Gonnerman

Joshua Gonnerman is a bit of a rising star in the world of moral theology, and writes occasionally for First Things on various topics.  His most noted articles have been on the issue of how to respond to LGBT folks in the Church, from the perspective of traditional Church teaching.  I am also blessed to call Mr. Gonnerman a friend, and probably the single most important influence on my views on gender, sexuality and the gospel.

So, I was really excited when I saw that he would be doing a series of posts at the blog Spiritual Friendship on the practical aspects of chastity in the celibate state.  Okay,  that terminology may sound a bit medieval and unexciting, but stick with me.  As Mr. Gonnerman says
Before people are married in the Church, they receive marriage counseling...Similarly, when someone joins a religious order, they have to undergo intensive formation before becoming a full member... But it seems safe to say that, as a rule (though particular circumstances may make it untrue in concrete situations), the person who lives celibacy in the world has, in her or his life, the least and frailest support structures of all; yet he or she is expected to live chastity with the most general guidance and the fewest concrete examples. 

Spiritual Friendship focuses especially on the needs of LGBT Christians, but this post has a wide importance for all sorts of Christians, gay, straight or other.

Many of us hope to get married one day, but for whatever reasons find we are celibate for the time being. In evangelical circles the readily available advice is usually nothing more than "Get married as soon as you can." A nice thought, I guess, but not always as practical as might be hoped.  It also tends to produce a feeling of waiting (e.g. True Love Waits), that I think is unhelpful. I find myself in just this position. If I spent all my time "Waiting" for true love I would be miserable, feeling like my life has not yet begun.  We are called where we are, not where we would like to be or where we may yet be. That means that at the moment I am called to celibacy, and called to find ways of loving God and my neighbors in that state. So, rather than feeling like I am in the antechamber of life, I would rather have some tools for thinking about celibacy in a positive way.

I'm not sharing this to get all confessional, but simply because I think that my experience is fairly common among young single Christians, and to make the point that Mr. Gonnerman's reflections are relevant to all sorts of people, both to the permanently celibate, and to those who are only called to celibacy for a time. They may also be quite useful resources for those who are responsible for pastoral care.

So get thee over to Spiritual Friendship, and have a look at Mr. Gonnerman's posts.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

There'll Be No Butter in Hell!

A sermon on Luke 12:49-56
NB.  I think this sermon has some serious theological holes - I think I am unclear about the different sorts of suffering which can affect a Christian, conflating them a bit too much, and the kind of judgment that we undergo.  I would also want to emphasize, if I were expanding this sermon, that much of the suffering we undergo in the Christian life is purgative, but much is also suffering that we experience in solidarity with the world - because we are still in the world, its sufferings affect us too, just as Moses died with the wilderness generation outside the promised land, as Jeremiah went into exile, even though he was righteous, and finally as Christ died for us. Sometimes these two types of suffering overlap.  That said, I think the basic point I make is correct, and fits with the prophetic warnings against those who are too eager for the day of the Lord, which is "Darkness and not light" (Amos 5:18), and at the same time maintains the good news of God's judgment.  
Ye're all damned!

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!”

This is one of Jesus' so called 'hard sayings;' sayings that are difficult or unpleasant to hear. This saying almost seems out of Character for Jesus. This is not gentle Jesus meek and mild, but a frightening Jesus mean and wild.These are not the sayings we expect from the prince of peace, and they are a thousand miles away from the comforting religion that we all enjoy and like to turn to in a crisis, all pastel colors and dewy eyed saints.

Or maybe I shouldn't presume – there are in fact some of us who enjoy these sayings, and preachers who get a perhaps not totally wholesome thrill from preaching on these hard sayings; preachers who love getting a rise from their congregations by preaching hell fire and damnation, and congregations who love hearing it. The comic film Cold Comfort Farm, based on a novel by the same name, presents a delightful and stinging parody of this kind of gleeful anger in preaching.

The character Amos, played by Sir Ian McKellen, is a farmer in the English country side in the 1930s who also serves as the minister of a tiny church, known as the “Church of the Quivering Brethren.” When asked by his well meaning cousin Flora what he will be preaching about on Sunday, he explains in his thick north English accent that he never prepares his sermons beforehand, but “I allus' know it will be summat about burnin'... or the eternal torment... or sinners comin' to judgment.” Amos then adds, just for good measure: “and ye'll burn with the lot of them.” I highly recommend going on youtube to see Ian Mckellen's rendition of this sermon to get the full effect. When Amos preaches he takes no end of pleasure describing each item in a catalog of hell's torments – perhaps the strangest, and in context the most comic, of which is his loud declaration that “There'll be no butter in hell!”. His congregation listens and cheers him on, taking no end of delight in hearing him declare with total assurance “Ye'll all burn!”

Well, I am not particularly that kind of preacher. I don't think you're particularly that kind of congregation. I would far rather talk about God's grace and mercy, met in Christ and about reconcilliation, new life and peace, than about fire from heaven and division. But both are in the gospel, both are revealed by God and an honest preacher is bound to preach both. So while I am not going to describe any of the pains of hell in detail, I am going to suggest that perhaps you will all burn, and perhaps it is good news that you will.

How can fire, and division be good news? What does Jesus even mean by “bringing fire on the earth?” That's not as easy a question to answer as it might seem, but I think that it is safe to say that this is first of all an image of God's judgment. This saying comes at the end of a long passage rebuking hypocrites and self confident sinners. It draws on a long history of biblical images of judgment, from Sodom and Gommorah destroyed by fire from heaven, to the prophets who said “who can endure the day of [the Lord's] coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap” (Mal 3. 1-2), or John the Baptist declaring that the Messiah will “burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

The prophets and the psalms expected this judgment and they even looked forward to it. They understood that the judgment itself was good news, because God's judgment puts all things right. We often do not like to think of God as judgmental, but that is a bit short sighted. There are many things in this world that need to be judged. When the innocent are hurt, when children are abused by those they trust, when someone is punished for the color of their skin, when our leaders lie to us, or when we discover that a friend is dying of cancer... these things cry out for judgment.

When a wildfire sweeps through, it clears away everything dead, the brush and debris that have piled up. In areas that are prone to fire, there will sometimes be intentional controlled fires, litt to clear away debris. God's judgment is a fire like that, dividing what is dead from what is alive. That kind of judgment is good news. Of course, it looks like much better news when you think that its someone else who will be judged; when you feel like you and your loved ones are the ones who will be acquitted.

But the better we come to know God and come to know ourselves, the more we come to realize that we are not totally safe. There are weeds, dead things, selfish motives, cruelties and lusts in our hearts. When we realize that the fire is at our own door, it becomes much more frightening. Remember that in the context where Jesus is speaking, he is preaching to a lot of people – perhaps even some among his disciples – who feel very confident in their own righteousness, people who assume that God's judgment will not come near them. These are the people Jesus calls hypocrites.

Now, if this were a typical hell fire sermon, I would tell you about now, how you are all liable to judgment, but how you can escape it by getting your act together. I'm not going to do that though, because I don't think that would be quite true to the words of the gospel. Jesus does not promise to his disciples that they will escape the fire that he has come to cast on the earth. On the contrary, they will experience suffering, and  “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.”

Jesus is not interested here in making it easy to follow him, and this passage sounds like altogether bad news if we get right down to it. And it would be, except for one fact, the fact that there is something worse than experiencing the fire of God's judgment. That, of course, is not experiencing God's judgment. I suppose God could have decided not to bring judgement on the world. But where would that leave us? It would leave us with all the same dead things in the world and in our own hearts, the greed, the selfishness  the anger, the violence and the cruelty. It would leave us dead ourselves.

Most serious diseases hurt when they are being healed. Undergoing treatment for cancer is a horrifying prospect, and no one would ever choose that, if it were not that the alternative is death. The cure for sin hurts too, but it is the way that God has provided for us to find life. We may have to be divided from many things that we love, from having our own way, from possessions  from our images of ourselves. It may mean that we are divided and cut off from our communities, even from family and friends when our relationships with them have become deadly to us and to them. This is painful, and it burns, but it is the way that God has provided to lead us into life.

It is a way that Jesus Christ has walked before us. He has shown and carried the full weight of our judgment on the cross. He has also shown that this judgment leads to resurrection. But the only way is through fire, through division, through the cross. Perhaps there is another way. Perhaps we don't need to go through fire – perhaps if we really want it, God will simply let us stay as we are. He will simply say, “Depart from me, I never knew you,” and give us a little space to go away and let our weeds grow uninterrupted by fire, till they choke us. I hope not though. I hope instead, that even if I understand the words a little differently than he did the fictional preacher I mentioned earlier was right, and that we'll all burn.
In the name...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ordination to the Sacred Presbyterate

Yesterday, at 10 am I was ordained to the sacred order of Pesbyters (Priests) in Christ's one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church by the Rt. Rev. William Love, IX Bishop of Albany.  I celebrated for the first time today, a votive mass of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Optimistic Thought on Anglican Division.

Western Rite Orthodox Priest
from Western Rite Orthodoxy
Maybe its because the Sun is shining after long days of winter (which were not that long ago in the Upstate NY), but I'm feeling uncharacteristically optimistic today - perhaps even unrealistically optimistic.  I have been reflecting on some Anglican news items recently, especially in connection with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.  

The Roman Catholics, of course, have invited Anglicans to join the Ordinariates.  Anglican priests joining an Ordinariate can become Roman Catholic priests, even if married, and can retain significant parts of the Anglican liturgical tradition - that which is vaguely called the "Anglican Patrimony." I have posted before about the Ordinariate, and though I don't have any particular desire to join it myself, I think the Ordinariate is a good thing.  

In the Orthodox churches, as well, there are Western Rite Orthodox parishes.  The Western Rite Orthodox are in full communion with the Eastern Orthodox, but use some form of Western liturgy.  Some use the Tridentine Mass, translated into the appropriate locale tongue and adapted slightly to fit more with Orthodox Eucharistic Theology.  Others use a modified form of the Anglican liturgy, referred to as the Liturgy of St. Tikhon.  

The Western Rite has always been a small group. As far as I know, in the US the only Orthodox jurisdictions that have Western Rite 'vicarates' are the Antiochian Orthodox and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR).   However, talking with a few people involved with the ROCOR vicarate.  

Meanwhile, of course, we have ACNA/ GAFCON and the Continuing Anglican churches which are still moving forward.  The Continuum always seems to have struggled, but if you stalk Continuum blogs, as I do from time, you can find some evidence of renewal and growing unity among the members.  ACNA, despite its instabilities as a newly formed ecclesial body really does seem to have a sense of mission, and is growing.

And of course, the old Canterbury communion still goes on.
Worship at Blessed JH Newman
Ordinariate Community.  From
The Anglican Patrimony Blog

I have long been of the Michael Ramsey school of thought on Anglican identity, i.e., Anglicanism exists in part to put itself out of business.  I think Anglicanism has a certain ecumenical mission, the mission of forming some kind of bridge between broken and fragmented parts of the Body of Christ.  The current state of affairs makes it easy to throw up our hands in despair, to decide that if Anglicans have failed to accomplish unity among ourselves, how can we possibly contribute to the unity of the wider body?

And maybe we have failed.  Maybe our divisions are fatal.  On the other hand Anglicanism isn't exactly disappearing with all these divisions - in a strange way it is flourishing, with little Anglican groups popping up all over the place.  So here is my optimistic thought: Perhaps Anglicans are not only being divided but dispersed, and perhaps it is by being dispersed that we will serve the end of Christian unity.  When I have attended Mass at Ordinariate churches, I have had a clear sense that I was worshiping with fellow Anglicans.  There was a sense of communion, that we were somehow of one faith - in a way and to a degree that I have never felt in any other Roman Catholic Church.

That is a terribly subjective thing, and I am not attempting to base an argument on my emotional experience of worship.  In a way, I am not trying to make an argument, just to suggest a line of thought. I cannot be the only Episcopalian who finds that when I go to a Western Rite Parish, or an Ordinariate Parish, or an ACNA parish, I am encountering my fellow Anglicans. Perhaps the scattered Anglican groups provide points of contact between various churches, a point where communion seems like a real possibility and the boundaries between (for example) Roman Catholics and Anglicans are particularly permeable.

It remains to be seen, of course, how the Holy Spirit will employ Anglicanism in the life of the wider Church, and I may be way off, but I see this as a possibility, and a hopeful one.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Some thoughts about the Boy Scouts

After decades of pressure the Boy Scouts have modified their position on the involvement of gays in scouting.  This could hardly be called unexpected, any more than the polarized reactions were unexpected.  Former Scouts who have since come out of the closet are overjoyed and conservatives are decrying this as the end of the BSA.  The reactions are so predictable and stereotypical as to seem almost scripted. Conservatives and Liberals know their lines.

I haven't got a stake in the matter, myself.  Although I was a cub scout, I simply fell away from scouting early on due to moving across the country and never finding a new troop I liked; it was a good but very brief part of my childhood. On the other hand, I can see why people for whom it was a formative and important part of growing up would care deeply about this decision. My own interest in the matter is fairly abstracted, but I think it is worth commenting on.

I can't say I totally side with either camp in terms of reaction, but overall I think the decision of the BSA in this case was the right one. I can see how this could mark a shift in the culture of scouting, toward a more permissive attitude toward sexual morals in general. This would be a sad thing. Of course, many conservatives regard this whole revision of the standards of membership as itself a loosening of morals.

For example at the Roman Catholic publication Crisis Magazine, Robert P. Reilly says this
By now accepting openly homosexual members, the Boy Scouts are... implicitly accepting the rationalization for homosexual sexual behavior as part of its moral formation It is avoiding doing this explicitly by continuing to insist on chastity from its Scouts in its policy that that “any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.”...  if it [the BSA] is accepting the homosexual inclination as legitimate, what then could be wrong with the thing toward which it is inclined, meaning homosexual behavior?
I don't want to pick on this article, and only present it as fairly exemplary.  I can even see the point that Mr. Reilly is making, but I don't agree.

The boy scouts have not set about to endorse homosexual inclinations as 'legitimate.'  The new policy states simply that "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone."  The membership standards before revision said "we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA."  In other words, the only thing that has actually changed in terms of the written policy is that Boy Scouts may be open about their sexual inclinations.  And inclinations, as conservatives regularly have to point out when discussing this issue, are not the same as actions. The distinction between orientation and action is also one that the Roman Catholic Church itself has also made quite clearly and consistently since the document Persona Humana published in 1975.  

The ban on"open homosexuals" (whatever that means) from membership may have sent a message that the BSA stands for traditional morality. It also sent a message to young same sex attracted men that they should be ashamed and hide an incredibly painful struggle from what is probably their closest group of friends.
It needs to be said that not everyone who is "an open homosexual" is an active homosexual.  What about Gregg Webb, a contributor to the blog Spiritual Friendship and is a self described celibate gay Christian and an Eagle Scout.  Mr. Webb, as he notes in a recent article, did not come out or discuss his struggles until after he had become an Eagle Scout - but when he did discuss it, it was with friends from his Scouting days.
While I didn't know about the policy [against openly homosexual scouts] at the time, if I had shared my struggle with homosexuality just a few years sooner, I could have been kicked out before I completed my Eagle Scout rank... It saddens me that the current policy denies boys the opportunities and experiences I had as part of the Boy Scouts, simply because of unchosen sexual attractions. It also sets up a culture of fear and dishonesty, and encourages boys to remain silent or to lie about their sexuality. The average age of a boy coming out about his homosexuality is in the mid teens. This is the most crucially formative time of involvement in scouts and the current policy forces any questioning youth to choose between being honest or being a scout.  (Emphasis added)
Under the old BSA membership standards, Gregg Webb and any other young men like him (of whom I feel certain there are many) would have been removed simply on the basis of being honest about his desires. Not for acting on his desires, not for promoting gay rights, just for being honest.  This is unjust, and as he says it "sets up a culture of fear and dishonesty."  I can't imagine that's what the Scouts want to be.  After all "A Scout is trustworthy..."

Although it will prove problematic in some ways, what the BSA has done with its policy change is not to endorse homosexual inclinations, far less homosexual actions.  It has simply decided not to demand that members stay in the closet.  Should this really be cause for outrage among conservative Christians?  Is our message to gay people really nothing more than: "you might have these desires, but for God's sake have the decency not to tell anybody about it!"  Is that really the good news that Christ offers to gays, lesbians and bisexuals? Surely we ought to be seeking to create spaces where people can be open and honest, and free to speak in the light of Christ's grace - not places where people are kept strictly in line by shame.

Further Reading:  
New York Times Article on the BSA policy change. 
BSA Membership Standards
Scouts Honor: Ron Belgau at Spiritual Friendship on this story. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Jesus, remember me...

Because of the Length and complexity of the Palm Sunday liturgy, my sermon was exceedingly short. This was intentional, because I simply wanted people to be led into the liturgies of Holy Week with a brief meditation on the Cross and Passion. The service began at 10:00 am with an ecumenical liturgy of the palms with several of the other Protestant Churches in Cooperstown. 
Palm Sunday is a paradox. We began our service together, with a great big ecumenical show celebrating Jesus entrance to the city of Jerusalem. Then we immediately changed direction, and heard in extended and agonizing detail, the story of Christ’s suffering. The terrible contrast, even the contradiction between Christ’s victory procession, entering into Jerusalem as a conquering king, and his humiliating death as a Condemned criminal; We remember, even celebrate both today, because somehow, they are the same. In his death outside the city walls, Christ does conquer.

When the disciples came with Jesus to Jerusalem, they had high hopes, but in less than a week they saw all those hopes crushed. Very few people could see that Christ’s death was not the end of that Palm Sunday hope. There were a few who stuck with Jesus to the end, but Of all of the characters in this story, only one seems to have understood at the time what was really happening. The unnamed thief, probably the least likely person, is the only one who seemed to get it. Somehow he perceives that even at the Lowest point, where hope seems to be lost, that the mocking sign above Jesus Head “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” is really true. Jesus reigns even on the cross, and he is still triumphant.

One reason, perhaps, that the thief could understand this, while so many who had followed Jesus much longer couldn't, is that the paradox of the cross and of palm Sunday, is not the sort of paradox that can be understood or resolved from the outside. We can’t pull it apart like a riddle, or break it down into its parts and come up with an answer. The cross isn't a problem, a logic game or a puzzle, it is a mystery in the fullest sense. Mysteries are not solved by cold examination from a cautious distance, but by diving ever more deeply into the mystery.

The theologian Walther von Loewenich said “The meaning of the cross does not disclose itself in contemplative thought but only in suffering experience. The theologian of the cross does not confront the cross of Christ as a spectator, but is himself drawn into this event.” In other words we can only understand the cross, from the perspective of the thief in this gospel reading, when following Christ we have taken up our own cross, and we find ourselves at the point where the mystery seems darkest and the contradictions most painful; by seeing that somehow in the moments in our life where hope seems lost, we are perhaps closer to God than we have ever been before.

Until we have hit that point, I don’t think we’re really ready to receive the resolution of this mystery, the resolution that only comes with Easter. The cycle of Holy Week services is there to bring us to a point where our eyes can be opened, and we can look at the cross and see that it is not a sign of defeat, but of victory. This holy week, may we like the thief be able to see Christ crucified with the eyes of faith and pray “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom.” Amen

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"Now is the judgment..."

Here is my totally unedited, un-spellchecked sermon from evensong today.  The text is Mark 5:1-20, the Garasene Demoniac (of "Our Name is Legion, for we are many" fame).  Freaky stuff.  Originally, I had intended to use a scene from the Brother's Karamazov, the conversation between Ivan and Alyosha, about the suffering of children, as an illustration, but time constraints caused me to drop it.   I did, however, have the chance to incorporate some more abstractly theological musing I have been doing on Providence and the problem of evil.  By the way, if you are ever looking to reflect on that particular question, David Bentley Hart is the theologian to read as far as I am concerned.  He combines lucidity, humor, insight, and just the right amount of vinegar.  Here endeth the commercial.
I think on first glance the gospel reading for tonight looks hopelessly strange to most of us.  The odds are that most of us have fairly little experience with demons, at least in obvious ways.  If, like me, you grew up in a fairly mainstream Christian Church, demons were probably not even talked about very much.  For the most part we tend to leave modern demonology to the directors of horror movies, or to a few of the more eccentric Christian preachers.  
I think this reading from Mark teaches us real lessons about the spiritual world that we live in, about demons and exorcisms, which makes it tempting to turn this sermon into a lecture on demonology 101. I’m not going to do that, though, first because I am massively under qualified, and because hopefully, none of us here, will ever have to deal with demonic activity on the level of the man in this reading.  I can guarantee, however, that we will all have to deal with evil at some point.  We have all had, and all will have, real encounters with evil that can only be described as demonic, whether it comes with big budget special effects or not.  This gospel reading has something to tell us when we meet with that sort of evil.
Most kinds of evil, we can understand - some even seems glamorous in the right light.  It’s not nice, but I can understand why someone who  has been horribly might go as far as to commit murder, especially in the heat of the moment.
But then there are some evil things where we don’t know how to even talk about them.  There are things so evil that they don’t make sense. This, I think, is the kind of evil that Jesus confronted in this man, possessed by many demons.  The demons in him knew Jesus immediately for who he was, and they came grovelling to him.  The thing they were most afraid of, apparently was having nowhere to go.  Luke tells this same story and he adds a detail we don’t get in this version, that they begged Jesus to send them into the nearby herd of pigs instead of “The Abyss.”  Whatever the abyss is, they are afraid of it.  I am not quite sure what the rules are for demons, but from this story it sounds like they have almost a need to take up residence in some sort of host.   
At the same time, we see that they are not particularly good to their hosts either. Before Jesus met this unnamed man, We know that “Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.” (Mark 5:5 ESV)  Evil is like a parasite.  It needs somewhere to live - it needs a host - but it doesn’t care about the host. This legion of demons, as we see in a moment, is even self destructive.  They beg Jesus to let them hide in this herd of pigs.  As soon as they are safe in the pigs though, what happens?  The pigs rush into the water to drown.  The demons seem to destroy their own place of safety.  On the face of it, this makes no sense.  The thing is, even when we think about, and analyze it, it still doesn’t make any sense.   Because there is a kind of evil that just doesn’t.  This is the kind of evil that we can only describe as demonic.
 In recent times, we have all heard more than our share about demonic evil. The kind of evil that drives a person into a crowded theater or an elementary school with a loaded gun, to shoot innocent people for no reason.  This kind of evil seems to gain nothing for the person who commits it - most of the time, it ends with the person destroying himself, and even committing suicide.  I remember a few months ago watching newscasters, right after the Sandy Hook shooting, desperately groping for a way to explain what had happened, a way to make sense of the motives of this man who had committed a senseless crime.  we want an explanation, some neat psychological category that can let us understand evil, to make it seem less terrible and more safe.  We can say that a gunman must be crazy, but often I think that is just a label, a shorthand way of saying what he did made no sense.  
There are plenty of elaborate attempts at explaining away evil, attempts that fill volumes of the theology and philosophy.  Some philosophers argue that this is all part of the big sweep of history, that there has to be conflict and suffering, and that it’s all part of our evolution toward some greater good that will eventually make it all worthwhile.  Some Christian thinkers argue that evil is all part of God’s plan, that God needs evil as a sort of contrast to his own goodness, or so that he can prove to us how good he is by punishing evil. These are all ways of trying to make evil somehow less terrible, to get it to make some kind of sense. In the end I think they all fail.
The theologian David Hart sums up the problem with this theology with a question “if you could bring about a universal and final beatitude for all beings by torturing one small child to death, would you think the price acceptable?”  My own answer is a clear no.  As Christians, our hope is not in some theory about how history will work itself out.  It is not that God is muddling through, making calculated sacrifices to bring about some abstract greater good.   Our hope is that God will save us.  
Yesterday, some of us had the chance to spend a quiet day together in our chapel reflecting on the book of revelation, including some of the visions of God’s final judgment.  God’s judgment is usually thought of as terrifying, but I believe that it is actually very good news.  
In the same book I already quoted, David Hart goes on to say:
“As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child I do not see the face of God, but the face of His enemy...God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable... rather than showing us how the tears of [small children] suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, He will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes—and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and He that sits upon the throne will say, “Behold, I make all things new.””
Our God is a God of order, of truth, beauty and goodness - and evil is the enemy of all these things.  We are free to name evil for what it is, to grieve over it, because God hates evil as much as we do - in fact he hates it more, and he will judge it, and consign all evil and sorrow to the dustbin of history.  That is good news for the future.  
But this Gospel reading points to even better news.  God’s judgment and God’s victory have already begun.  When Jesus confronted this legion of demons they knew immediately who he was, and their response was not to fight him, but to beg. They knew that he had come to judge them, to cast them out, and they were terrified, because they knew they were no match for him. In Jesus Christ, God has appeared in our midst, and his judgment has already begun.  Demons are being cast out, sickness is being healed.  In Jesus, who has died, and is risen and lives forever, God has overcome all evil, even the evil of death.  In him, we too are strong.  Now, we only wait for the time when the judgment will be completed and revealed in our own lives and in history;  but we wait in the knowledge that God has already won, and that evil cannot stand against Christ and his cross. Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.  That is our hope.  Amen.  

Oh, and our marvelous guest choir sang some stuff by this guy.  Not this piece, but it's awesome, so  I'm posting it.  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Prayer...

... for this second Sunday in Lent.  This was posted on FB by a friend of mine from college, and it struck me as a good prayer for Lenten devotion.

"Lord, I am in this world to show Your mercy to others. Other people will glorify You by making visible the power of Your grace by their fidelity and constancy to You. For my part I will glorify You by making known how good You are to sinners, that Your mercy is boundless and that no sinner no matter how great his offences should have reason to despair of pardon. If I have grievously offended You, My Redeemer, let me not offend You even more by thinking that You are not kind enough to pardon Me.
By Father Claude La Colombière, the confessor and spiritual director of Margaret Mary Alacoque.  I am told, by the same friend who originally posted this, that when Margaret Mary began having her visions of Christ, Father Claude tested the reality of the visions by telling her to ask the Lord what his (Father Claude's) greatest sin was - something which Margaret Mary could not know.  Apparently, she came back with the answer from Christ "I don't remember."  Although the cynic in me thinks that sounds like an easy out, it also sounds remarkably like the sort of thing Jesus might say, perhaps with a little bit of playfulness.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lenten Fun

Not a phrase you are likely to read often.  However, Lent is one of my favorite seasons of the year, as it always feels like a time of real slowing down and introspection.  This is just a light post, because anyone who is observing Lent will surely get enough that's grave and weighty today.

For resources on keeping Lent, take a look at Full Homely Divinity, a useful little website with thoughts, suggestions and history on the seasons of the year.  As you might guess from the title, the emphasis of the website is on ways to keep the seasons of the Church year in mundane, domestic life - not just in the liturgical setting of corporate worship. Check it out,  it's a fun website.  

The Collect
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And, reposting from last year, here is a little song by Tom Waits, that always seems terribly fitting to me on Ash Wednesday. I'm probably a little odd, but I can live with that.  This time, it's a cover done by the great Johnny Cash.  
Have a blessed Ash Wednesday everybody, and a holy Lent. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Ordinary Call (brief, curmudgeonly and unsystematic thoughts on vocation)

From the Catholic Illustrators Guild
(I wont look quite this cool on Saturday)
Well, in two days, God willing, the creek declining to elevate - or in upstate NY, the snow declining to fall- I shall be ordained to the sacred order of deacons in Christ's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  I have naturally been thinking a lot about the theology and 'practice' of the deaconate.  I admit to never having much sense of a call to the deaconate, except in so far as it is a part of the way to priesthood.  I once heard a lady who was a transitional deacon say she 'didn't identify with the deaconate.'  That comment has stayed with me, and continued to bother me for a number of reasons.  

It bothered me primarily, I think, because I have a very simple theology of vocation in general, which works something like this: if you are ordained a deacon, you are called to be a deacon.

Let me illustrate.  A priest I know once told the story  of a young couple he married, who came to him some weeks later, complaining that they didn't 'feel married.'  Now there may have been any number of underlying problems with their relationship, but he assured them that whatever they felt, they were in fact married.  Calling to ordination is much the same.  Whether we feel like we have been called or not, once ordination has happened, then the calling is clear.  Married people are called to be faithful, however they may feel when they got up this morning, and deacons are called to be deacons, even if they are moving toward the priesthood.  I don't mean of course that those pursuing ordination should not discern whether they have real gifts, just as those who are getting married should be discerning.  Still, once the vows are made, there is no question anymore. We always called first of all to be faithful where we find ourselves.

While I am on the subject of vocation, I should add that I think we often make the notion of a "call" into something rather too mysterious and spiritual.  There are people I know who have had visions and supernatural experiences which lead them to ordained ministry.  There are just as many who simply looked at what is involved in the work of a pastor, looked at their gifts, prayed about it and decided they would seek to be ordained.  Occasionally you'll hear people saying with great assurance that they are called, that they know they are called, that the Church would commit a sin by denying them ordination.

I am thinking of a few bull headed individuals I have known (men and women) who seemed to think that asserting a sense of calling with enough ferocity meant it must be a real calling.  The problem with this is that no one is ordained or called apart from the community of the Church.  If you believe you are called to be a priest or deacon, and the Church disagrees, then you are not somehow a priest or deacon in virtue of that sense of calling, because to be a pastor is always to be a pastor for the people of God. I don't mean that no one is ever wrongly excluded from ordination - people are - but at the same time, there is a real reason that we have ordinations.  God calls, and God ordains, but in the ordinary course of things, he uses the ministry of actual human beings in that process because it is these people who will be receiving ministry from the ordained. Part of being called is therefore being called by the Church, and I think there is a real sense in which that calling is not quite actual until ordination.  

In all this, no doubt, my theological preference for the ordinary and routine probably comes out.  There are individuals with striking charismatic and prophetic ministries, who break all the molds and rise up in the Church; there are individuals who have visionary experiences of calling that are incredibly powerful.  I simply get suspicious whenever we start elevating the exceptional, the idiosyncratic and the exciting above the ordinary and the common elements of life.  God surely acts in both ways, but the incarnation suggests to me that God works first and primarily through the humble and simple, in the form of a craftsman from Nazareth, in the simple realities of water, bread and wine.  Looking for exciting spiritual escapes and experiences is more characteristic of Gnostics than orthodox catholic Christians.

I think this preference for the ordinary is also rather characteristic of the ministry of deacons.  Deacons are not called to absolve, bless or consecrate; They are not called to do the most exciting things in the Church.  Instead, they are called first of all to ministry with the poor, to proclaim the gospel in action in the midst of the people, and to lead the people in prayer. The liturgical duties of a deacon all point toward this.  There is a sense in which a deacon is called to be much more 'in the congregation' than a priest is, in some ways to be much closer to the simple needs of the congregation.  Recall that deacons were first appointed to care for the poor.
The deacon's ministry, I think, is primarily to serve as an image of the ministry of humble service to which all Christians are called. In reality there is nothing concrete a deacon can do which a lay person cannot, and that is part of the point of the ministry of deacons.

At the moment, I am working a part time job at a newly opened Petco in town.  I need to right now to make ends meet.  I will admit freely that I hate retail, and I would rather be able to devote all my energy to full time ministry.  That said, I think there is something good about being in this situation during the time I am a transitional deacon.  There is something right about having to simply get by and try to minister to the people I am working with, through service and prayer.  In fact, I am making it my daily prayer that God would show me how to be a servant to the people I am working with.

Of course, for all the ordinary qualities of the deaconate, it is also the case that deacons have been among the first and greatest of the heroes of the Church, and  there is heroism in the ordinary as well.  St. Stephen, charged with feeding the poor, was also the first martyr; we can also mention St. Laurence, the saint, who while being burnt to death on a large grill requested that his torturers turn him over, "Because I'm done on this side;" or among women deacons, the great St. Olympias, the friend, confidant and supporter of St. John Chrysostom.   I will be praying for all their intercessions this Saturday, and as I undertake the ministry of a deacon.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

I aitn't dead yet...

...To quote Granny Weatherwax.  It is hard to believe that it has been six months since I last blogged.  Those six months have been highly interesting, to say the least.  I spent time in DC finishing my Clinical Pastoral Education, learning the city, working at Starbucks to make ends meet, working on my last semester of seminary classes by distance, and finally graduating last month.  I am now looking at Ordination in exactly two weeks.  I moved back to New York, partly because DC was too expensive, and partly because Albany is my home diocese and I needed to be here for a while.
It was a crazy six months, but definitely formative.  Important things happened on a personal and intellectual level for me.  The personal things, I plan to keep personal, but the theological ones I will comment on.  CPE was brutal, mostly in a good sense. It functioned as a sort of ministry boot camp, and I am grateful for it.  I have no desire to function as a hospital chaplain, although I enjoyed the actual interaction with patients and doing visits.  I disliked the theological approach to inter-religious ministry, and that probably deserves a whole post of its own.  I am not basically opposed to inter-religious ministry, and even inter-religious prayer, but it takes some care to know how to do it properly.  Still, I think my experience with CPE, not to mention the extended stay in DC, was both humbling and strengthening, and at least in my own eyes I seem to be a more poised, but less arrogant man for it.

Next, I will say that the last semester of school work was challenging, mostly because of how busy I made myself with other things, and I ended up having to cram a lot of work into the last few weeks.  Oddly, that ended up being a blessing.  I ended up writing a term paper on Hans Urs von Balthasar and Sergius Bulgakov, for a study on Christology that I was doing.  I don't know why I thought this was a good plan, since these men are two of the more challenging, controversial theologians of the last century (Bulgakov was tried for Heresy by his jurisdiction of Russian Orthodox Church, but never condemned), and I was almost totally new to both their works.  Modern theology isn't really my thing.

Anyway, I managed to get a feel for both of these thinkers in the space of about two weeks, reading Mysterium Paschale by Balthasar and The Lamb of God by Bulgakov.  This had the overall effect of something like the intensive language course I took a while back, where a whole semester of Greek is compressed into three weeks or so.  You begin by feel totally overwhelmed, and as if someone is holding your face underwater, but at some point around the middle of week two something happens and you suddenly become able to breathe in the strange new environment.  I am no Bulgakov expert, still less do I claim to understand Balthasar, but I don't feel totally overwhelmed by their ideas any more.  Further, I think discovering Bulgakov has been the most important thing that has happened to me theologically in the last three or four years.

Fr. Sergius Bulgakov
I am not saying I am an out and out 'Bulgakovian,' whatever that would mean; there are some problems with his thought, some of which are pretty serious.  Still, he does provide a way of thinking and speaking about the relationship between God and the World that I find helpful.  Expect more on this, as I attempt to make a return to blogging.

I expect that the blog may take a slightly different path in the near future, as I transition from the life of a seminarian to that of an actively ministering transitional deacon, and finally a priest, but I don't want to let the blog die.  I think it helps me to have it, to get my thoughts out and even from time to time, to start conversations with people.  So anyway, I will be blogging again, especially as I have more sermons to put up. I think my sermons are among my best writings, and I hope they may, in fact, be of use to other preachers who might stumble across the blog.   See you soon.
Peace in Christ
Paul Hunter