Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Debunking the Galileo myth

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Dinesh D'Souza has a wonderful new column debunking some of the myths about a supposed conflict between science and religion (particularly, Christianity). He begins:

Many people have uncritically accepted the idea that there is a longstanding war between science and religion. We find this war advertised in many of the leading atheist tracts such as those by Richard Dawkins, Victor Stenger, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. Every few months one of the leading newsweeklies does a story on this subject. Little do the peddlers of this paradigm realize that they are victims of nineteenth-century atheist propaganda.

About a hundred years ago, two anti-religious bigots named John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White wrote books promoting the idea of an irreconcilable conflict between science and God. The books were full of facts that have now been totally discredited by scholars. But the myths produced by Draper and Dickson continue to be recycled. They are believed by many who consider themselves educated, and they even find their way into the textbooks. In this article I expose several of these myths, focusing especially on the Galileo case, since Galileo is routinely portrayed as a victim of religious persecution and a martyr to the cause of science.

Click here to read the whole article. The science/religion myths D'Souza addresses are:

The Flat Earth Fallacy.
Huxley’s Mythical Put-Down.
Darwin Against the Christians.
The Experiment Galileo Didn’t Do.
Galileo Was the First to Prove Heliocentrism.
The Church Dogmatically Opposed the New Science.
Galileo Was A Victim of Torture and Abuse.
The Church Was Wrong To Convict Galileo of Heresy.

D'Souza closes his column by noting:

Historian Gary Ferngren concludes that “the traditional picture of Galileo as a martyr to intellectual freedom and as a victim of the church’s opposition to science has been demonstrated to be little more than a caricature.” Remember this the next time you hear some half-educated atheist rambling on about “the war between religion and science.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

King of kings and Lord of lords

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A sermon for Proper 29, given at St Alban's on November 25, 2007.

In 1925, Pope Pius XI established the feast of “Christ the King” to be celebrated on the last Sunday of October throughout the Western Church. The object of that new celebration was to reassert the authority of our Lord to rule all the nations as well as the authority of Christ’s mystical Body, the Church, to teach the human race, to proclaim Christ crucified, and to call people to repentance and so “establish the peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ.”

While Christmas and the Epiphany highlighted themes of the royalty of Jesus, this feast was to focus sharply and exclusively on the reign of Christ. When the lectionary was being revised for the Missal of Pope Paul VI in the 1960s, other churches were engaged in a similar effort and formulated together a three year cycle of Sunday readings. It was understood that each season had a theme: Advent is a time of preparation for Christ’s coming, Christmas is a celebration of the Incarnation, Epiphany explores the manifestation of Christ to the world, Lent is a time of penitence, Holy Week and Easter explore the great mysteries of our redemption and Christ’s triumph over sin and death.

It was also recognized that the long seasonless period of readings through the summer also developed some related themes in its collects and readings. It is a time of the Church’s growth and learning. The readings are mainly from Christ’s teachings in the parables. Toward the end of the liturgical year, there is an increasing focus on the kingdom of heaven, the saints, and the afterlife. It seemed fitting to close the Christian year with a celebration of the lordship of Christ, especially as the end of the year leads into the Advent theme of his second coming in glorious majesty as judge and lord of all. In our Prayer Book, the last Sunday of the Church year is not an official feast day, but “Christ the King” is definitely the theme of the collect and readings.

There is a clear agreement in the gospel records that the kingdom of God was the main theme of Jesus’ message and the focus of his theological discourse. The kingdom is not a new idea for the scriptures, however. The Old Testament is filled with the notion that God is king and lord of the universe, and that he wishes to rule the lives of his faithful people. Though the Bible speaks often of God as reigning over all the earth, sea, and sky, it should be remembered that the Hebrew concept of kingdom refers more to the force of rule that it does to a territory known as a kingdom.

That concept is even taken at first to exclude the possibility of earthly kings for God's people. Hence the period of the judges is the story of Israel’s struggle with practical government in the absence of an earthly king. It required the direction of God through the prophet Samuel to anoint an earthly king—a man to act as God’s royal proxy. And yet, the fact of an earthly king was properly seen as a part of God’s cosmic dominion. And even though God is presently the King of the entire universe, the eschatological hope for Israel was that his lordship would be further and further revealed until all the nation would finally come to submit to his gracious rule. The messiah was to be the final and perfect king—the one to exercise that perfect rule over all nations and all peoples, to show clearly that God reigns on earth, just as he does in heaven.

Last year, I taught a class on the book of Revelation. One of the key sections is chapter 4-5, when there is an open door in heaven, and St John gets to look inside. He sees God seated on the throne of heaven, surrounded by the patriarchs of Israel, with serafim and cherubim, and a myriad of the heavenly host, bowing down before him and joining in the endless hymn of praise: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts.”

Everything is exactly in line with first century Jewish expectations of heaven. But now, something completely different. An angel cries out to creation, asking who is worthy to open the seals of the book of destiny. No one is worthy, and John begins to weep. Then one of the elders says, Do not weep. The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has conquered, and he is worthy to open it. To the scroll comes a lamb—a slain lamb, though now standing, and now invested with all power and authority. The hosts of heaven begin a new song: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor, and glory, and blessing! . . . Blessing and honor and glory and power be to him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb, for ever and ever!”

It was something that no one had expected—God’s messiah had conquered creation as a helpless sacrificial lamb, and the Lamb now reigns in glory. Christ conquered sin, and death, and hell for the kingdom at the cross. As we read in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Who would have thought it would end this way?

The one constant pressure Jesus faced in his ministry—from his temptations in the desert up until his crucifixion, was to claim an earthly throne: to begin a revolt, root out Roman occupation, and restore the Davidic kingdom of Israel, just as the Maccabees struggled to do to their Greek oppressors a century before. But Jesus always refused.

When the Romans crucified a prisoner, there was normally a placard over the head of the prisoner, noting the crime for which he was being executed. Crucifixion was not simply about getting the job done of execution, nor even so much about being cruel, it served a fearful reminder and a warning to everyone who passed by and saw. It says, “This is what happens to people who do this.” For if Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not.

Certainly the two thieves crucified next to Jesus had this placard noting their crimes. For Jesus this wooden sign, called the titulus, had written upon it: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”—in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. Those who had brought Jesus to Pilate complained, “It should say, This man said, I am the King of the Jews.” But either because it was too much of a bother to change it now, or perhaps because Pilate wanted to through it back in their faces a little bit for forcing him get involved in this local mess, he responded, “What I have written, I have written.”

And so there, on a lonely hill outside Jerusalem, our Lord and Savior at last willingly claimed his throne, wore a crown of thorns, and was raised up high before the crowd of subjects, nailed to a beam of wood which bore the sign: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

It was not to long before that dreadful day that Jesus had spoken of the event: “When the Son of Man is lifted up [on the cross], then you will know that I AM.” His first royal edict is to make our peace through the blood of his cross. All dominion and authority in heaven and earth belongs to him. And Christ has made all who have faith in him and bear his name to be heirs and joint-heirs of that kingdom. Jesus is the King of all creation, Lord of the cosmos, he has rightful claim to all things. But Jesus does not force anyone to belong to that kingdom against their will. He has conquered sin and death, but the territory of the heart must be willingly surrendered to him as Savior and Lord. Surrender to him anew every day as lord of your life, even the darkest corners. Let everything be his; carve out no territory for yourself alone.

All that Jesus reigns over will be ushered into his everlasting and glorious kingdom, it will be redeemed and renewed and become part of his new creation. All that is left unsurrendered will be cast into the fire. If you are carving out a territory for yourself, it will be lost. Jesus stands at the cross, his arms are open in love, beckoning you and all people to enter the gates of the kingdom of God, saying, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

When the Feast of Christ the King was established in 1925, a new preface for the Eucharistic prayer was composed to be used on that occasion. As we pray together now, open up your eyes to see the Lord Jesus, the slain Lamb of God, now reigning triumphant on the cross, open your ears to hear his word and his call of faith, and open your hearts to welcome him to reign in you.

Let us pray.
It is right and a good and joyful thing always and everywhere to give thanks to you, O Lord, holy Father, Almighty and everlasting God, who anointed your only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord with the oil of gladness to be a priest forever and king of the whole world, so that by offering himself on the altar of the cross as a pure victim and peace offering, he might perform the sacrificial rite of mankind’s redemption. All creation thereby has been made subject to his dominion, that he might present to your infinite majesty a universal and everlasting kingdom—a kingdom of truth and of life, of holiness and of grace, a kingdom of justice, of love, and of peace. Amen.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The one we've all been waiting for

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Melisa and I got Chinese food today. I couldn't believe the fortune cookie. I took a picture (but it was hard to get it to focus). The message inside mine read "You will inherit a large sum of money from an unusual source." If that weren't enough, Melisa's message read, "Be prepared to receive something special with no strings attached."

I don't expect anything, of course. But I thought it was interesting. And I can't remember the last time my message in the fortune cookie had an actual prediction rather than some proverbial word of advice. I just hope if it does come true, it's not some kind of Twilight Zone kind of fulfillment--like a bomb goes off at the family reunion or something.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Thanksgiving turkey

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Here I am doing my best turkey impression, gleeful after his presidential pardon, after our Thanksgiving Eve Mass at St Alban's. It was a lovely occasion. And even more lovely was the special autumn flower arrangement below. I had to take a picture to share.
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Speaking of impressions, Melisa and I watched the premiere of Frank Caliendo's Frank TV today on TBS. The episode was appropriately called "Franksgiving." I think he's one of the best impressionist/ comedians I've ever seen. Here is his appearance on David Letterman.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"It is a time for grace"

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Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the bishop's address to the 25th Annual Convention of the Diocese of Fort Worth last Saturday:

"I would like to set the tone for our deliberations today by beginning with a quote from St. Paul the Apostle in the 16th chapter of his First Letter to the Corinthians: 'Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.' (I Corinthians 16:13-14) What a wonderful text to guide and direct us as we debate the proposals that are before this Convention."

"Let our 'yes' be 'yes,' and let our 'no' be 'no,' not a garbled yes and no at the same time. Let us not lose our will to stand for conscience and truth, whatever the consequences or the cost. Dare to be a Daniel! Dare to stand alone, if need be! But we are not alone; we are together."

"Let our courage and boldness be expressed in love for all sinners, love for those who threaten us, showing the sacrificial love of Jesus for a fallen world and for all people, created in the image of God. Let us speak the truth in love, not seeking revenge or harm to anyone, but only the glory of God, the building up of the Body of Christ, and the extension of Christ’s kingdom in the world. Pray God that our debates and decisions this day may be marked by the love of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us: 'Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.' (I Corinthians 13:4-7) Whatever comes of our decisions today, let us debate in love, decide in love, and deal with one another in love, as we face the consequences of choices we must make."

"It is my fervent hope that no parish will elect to pursue this course and that we will remain together in mission for the next 25 years and beyond. But if separation must come, let it be accomplished without rancor and litigation. Let it be done in a Godly manner, in charity and in peace. Let it be a parting of brothers and sisters in Christ. On numerous occasions, I have said that I cannot make anyone leave the Episcopal Church, nor can I make anyone stay in the Episcopal Church. This is a very difficult time for all of us, and it does not help to demonize one another or to attack the integrity or motives of those who disagree with us. It is not a time for threats, intimidation, or coercion. It is a time for grace, cooperation, and mutual respect. The multiple lawsuits that have been filed across the United States by The Episcopal Church against good Christian people over the ownership of their church property are outrageous. It is a scandal to the Body of Christ, and it must stop! This is not the way Christians deal with one another."

"Tomorrow morning, after our votes have been cast today, your local church will remain unchanged. You will have the same priest, same building, same Prayer Book, and all the rest, that you had last Sunday. And I would like to say a word of reassurance to all of you, if I may, that this also will be the most likely scenario next year, following a possible ratification vote on any proposals that we adopt on first reading today. Your church and your priest will still be there for you and your family. The liturgy and worship in your congregation will continue as it has in years past, edifying the faithful and giving glory to God. Any and all who wish to join us will still be warmly welcomed, and we will continue to reach out to the world about us in evangelism and witness to the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. Do not be fearful; trust God to provide. Do not vote today out of fear, but out of conviction, in confidence and in faith."

"From time to time someone will ask, 'Why don’t you just resign and go away and join some other church where you will be happy?' My reply is always the same; because I cannot forsake the faithful people of this Diocese. I cannot renounce the sacred vows I took when I was called by God to serve as your Bishop. I will not desert the flock that has called me to shepherd them in this Diocese. I will not cease to guard the faith. I will not forsake those who look to me for spiritual leadership and guidance. As Jesus himself said, it is the hireling who, when he sees the wolf coming, runs away and abandons the sheep. The good shepherd remains to defend and lead the sheep entrusted to his protection and care. I am not going to abandon the faithful of this Diocese in the midst of the assaults and threats being hurled at us for standing up for what we believe. The controversies and divisions that confront us are not about me or about my role as Bishop. They are about the truth of the Gospel, the authority of the Bible, and the received teachings of the apostolic Church."

"My dream is for a day when we are not under attack by adversaries from within the same church or engulfed in endless religious controversies. I long to be a part of a Province that wants us and values our witness, instead of threatening us and isolating us as a 'problem diocese.' My hope is for a time when we are not sidetracked from the mission of the Church by endless conflicts, so that we can be truly set free to focus on making disciples, planting new churches, building up the Body, equipping the saints for ministry, encouraging the faithful, and doing the work of Jesus Christ in the world. May God in His goodness hasten the arrival of such a day, such a time, and such a Church."

You can read the entire text here, or watch the video on Anglican TV.

Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest

A sermon for Yr C, Proper 28, given at St Alban's on November 18, 2007.

Someone once called the Bible “a book of remembrance.” This is perhaps as apt a definition of Scripture as we shall find, for each time we read Scripture we recall the wondrous things that the Lord has done among those who have revered him (and among those who have not).

The remembrance of these things brings promise and reassurance to us today, translating our own ordinary experience into an astonishing story of God’s providence and grace. The Bible has the power to transform us in the here and now, and to change who we are to become. In a unique way, the Holy Scriptures lay a sacred claim upon us and our lives. Heraclites, an ancient Greek philosopher, declared that you cannot step into the same river twice. In a similar way, each reading of God’s word is ever new. Like the river, each time we step in, it is always fresh; it always has a little more to teach us.

Paradoxically, this book of remembrance, is not about the past. What we remember most as we read it are the promises of things to come. It is not surprising that God’s Word keeps challenging and renewing us. The Word is still being written in us—upon the tablet of our hearts. It has the power to become our own spiritual biography.

St. Paul wrote to the Church in Rome, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and comfort of the scripture we might have hope" (Romans 15:4). That beautiful collect, we used today picks up on the sentiment of Paul’s verse. Today, we call upon the same Lord “who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning.” We pray that we might “hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.”

Note that the first four don’t mean very much without the last petition. The great skeptic and atheistic philosopher Voltaire studied the scriptures, even marked and learnt them, but obviously did not inwardly digest them. The compromised German Christians Movement of the Nazi era studied the scriptures, but did not inwardly digest them.

After much study and prayer, we pray that we may inwardly digest Scripture’s message by being nourished and transformed by the sacred text. For God’s Word is not unlike the manna of the Old Testament. It is food for the journey, sustenance for the soul. Each day it is there for us once again. Everyday it is just enough, yet never exhausted. If not gathered, consumed, and inwardly digested, like the manna, its words become stale and useless to us—words in a dusty old book on a shelf, incapable of satisfying any hunger in the soul.

But if we hear Scripture, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest its message day by day, week by week, and year by year, we shall never go hungry. If you understand that, you know the real purpose of Scripture. The guiding words of the Bible will nourish you and make you strong both to know the will of God and (more importantly) to follow it. This Thanksgiving, consider how the Scriptures may be our food for the journey.

When we look carefully at this jewel of the Church’s treasury, we discover that we can read the Bible to three main ends: for information, for inspiration, and for transformation.

We first read the Bible for information. Most Bible studies, both academic and devotional, are concerned with reading the Bible for information—which is an important thing. The stories in the Bible are stories of real people, in a different time and place to be sure, yet who share many of the basic experiences of life that we do. Studying the Word of God helps us understand how God was at work in the lives of people like you and me.

Do not underestimate the value of reading for details, context, historical background, and cultural discovery. Page one of the first Book of Homilies in the Church of England reminds us, “There can be nothing either more necessary or profitable, than the knowledge of holy Scripture.”

At other times, we study the Bible primarily for inspiration. Many people memorize verses of Scripture precisely for this reason. Inspirational reading is often important during times of stress, anxiety, or hardship in life. God blesses our lives through his Word. Remember how St. Paul put it in Romans, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope(Romans 15:4). God gives us patience, comfort, and hope through the Bible. No wonder they call it God's Word. If you take the time to memorize and reflect on a passage of Scripture, it will pay off with moments of comfort and encouragement for a lifetime. It may also benefit someone else when you are able to offer a word of comfort from the Scriptures.

Perhaps the way we study the Bible least often is for transformation. The Bible is able to transform even the most hard-hearted man or woman. I have seen the most unlikely people convicted by the Spirit through the holy Scriptures and fall on their knees in repentance and faith and renewed hope before the living God. I found myself unexpectedly transformed through the reading of the Bible. When I began reading through the New Testament in High School, I was very Protestant-minded. By the time I finished the book of Revelation, I was very Catholic-minded. Somewhere in between, Scripture had laid its claim upon me, and it was only a matter of time before I became an Anglican.

According to the letter to the Hebrews, “the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God is so powerful, not only because God himself inspired the many writers of Scripture, but also because the written Word testifies to the living and incarnate Word of God. Jesus is “the Word made flesh,” who dwelt among us.

All of the Bible ultimately points to him, and the incarnate Word, in turn is the measure for understanding all of the written Word—the Bible. Anglican bishops and archbishops gathered at Lambeth in 1930 put it this way, “As Jesus Christ is the crown, so also is he the criterion of all revelation” (Resolution 3).

When the spirit of the living Word comes to dwell within a human soul, the written Word becomes the script of conscience. When we hear the Scriptures, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, the words of God become our words. The thoughts of the Lord become our thoughts, and his will becomes our own. It is then that we are transformed, and upon his arrival,
Christ hinds a home in our hearts.

Come Holy Ghost: inspire our hearts and cleanse our thoughts, that when our Lord Jesus Christ cometh again, he may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who liveth and reigned, now and for ever. Amen.

Monday, November 19, 2007

First Communions

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Here is our first Communion class at St Alban's. They graduated and made their first Communions yesterday.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The stewardship of our faith

A sermon for Yr C, Proper 27, given at St Alban's on November 11, 2007.

With our capital campaign and annual stewardship pledging in recent weeks, we’ve had a number of Sunday messages on our time, talent, and treasure. Today, I’d like us to give some thought to the stewardship of one of our greatest treasures—the Catholic Faith.

St Paul wrote to the church in Thessolonica, “Brethren, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our written letter” (2 Thess 2:15). The traditions of which the apostle writes, designate the whole body of teaching, (both doctrine and practice) that Paul received and handed over to the Thessalonians. Indeed, tradition means “that which is handed over.” And the Apostle Paul faithfully did so, through both scriptural and verbal instruction.

What he “handed over” was the same as what he had “received.” Paul points to that procedure in describing the Lord’s Supper , “I received from the Lord what I also handed over to you . . .” (1 Cor 11:23). Likewise, in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul again uses that formula before reciting an early creedal statement, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received” (1 Cor 15:3).

We are to receive the tradition, stand firm and hold fast to the tradition, and ultimately hand over the tradition—whole, intact, undiluted, unchanged—so that the next generation can receive the same truth of the gospel that we have. Paul’s words to St Timothy are just as applicable to us: “Watch your life and doctrine closely: keep doing this, for by doing so, you save both yourself and those who listen to you” (1 Tim 4:16).

Those in the church who are entrusted with that responsibility above all are naturally the bishops—the successors to the apostles and "overseers" of local congregations. And so, in describing the duties of the bishop in his letter to Titus, Paul wrote, “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9).

In the liturgy for the consecration of a new bishop in the Prayer Book, the first item on the list of episcopal duties is that the bishop is called to “guard the faith” (p 517). When the time comes to recite the Nicene Creed, the chief consecrator of the new bishop says “We call upon you, chosen to be a guardian of the Church’s faith, to lead us in confessing that faith” (p 519). But of course, in all these things, the bishop sets the example for all of us to follow—to preserve and cherish the Faith.

The Christian faith, like the Church, is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”

It is holy
(or “set apart”) because it comes to us by divine revelation. It is holy because it is a gift from God, the fount of all holiness. It was not discovered or made up by human beings.

The faith is one and catholic (universal, or "according to the whole") because that is the nature of revealed truth. We do not get to pick and choose what doctrines we want to believe in like going through a line in a cafeteria and choosing what appeals to us. Our role is to receive God's revelation in its entirety, to affirm it as divine truth. To call the faith “catholic” is to say that the faith is not sectarian. That is, it is not the faith of Timothy Matkin or of St Alban’s, or of the diocese, or of Texas, or of America. It is the truth that God has revealed to all of us together.

The Anglican approach to revelation has always been mindful of this. As a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, stated so well: “We have no doctrine of our own. We only possess the Catholic doctrine of the Catholic Church, enshrined within the Catholic Creeds—and those Creeds we hold without addition or diminution. We stand firm on that rock.”

It is apostolic because it comes from the apostles (those sacred witnesses to the truth) and because it reaches out to the whole world through our gospel witness. Ironically, I think one of the best definitions of the catholic and apostolic faith is the motto associated with the Dr Vernon McGee and the Southern Baptists: “The whole Word for the whole world.”

Today, I want to encourage you to: Know the faith, Keep the faith, Share the faith.

First, know the faith. After all, you cannot defend it or share it, if you do not first know the faith. Knowledge about God is not infused supernaturally. That means it requires a commitment on your part. Each of us needs to take responsibility for our own formation.

That means coming to church every Sunday. It means following the scripture lessons and paying attention to the prayers. It means renewing your mind through Sunday School or Bible study. Consider reading a book on some matter of Christian teaching. Learn how to use resources (there are so many online). Freshen up on the basics—from time to time, look through the catechism in the Book of Common Prayer (pp 845-862) called "An Outline of the Faith." It is an excellent summary of the basics of Christian belief.

Can you give an accurate definition of the Trinity? Can you recognize misconceptions about the nature of the Godhead? Can you explain the relation of the human and divine in Jesus? Can you show the importance of the Mother of God and the saints? Can you tell someone how salvation works and why it’s needed? If you answered “No” to any of these questions, it is time to find the answers for yourself.

Being Catholics is not just about belonging to a Catholic Church like this one. It is also about knowing and living the Catholic faith that we have received from Jesus through the apostles. Ignatius, the bishop who succeeded the Apostle Peter at Antioch wrote: “Study, therefore, to be established in the doctrines of the Lord and the Apostles.”

Second, Keep the Faith. As the Apostle John wrote in his first letter, “Let that abide in you which you have heard from the beginning” (1 Jn 2:24). As the Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to St Timothy (6:20), “Guard what was committed to your trust.”

By God’s grace, we have been entrusted with something truly precious. St Clement of Alexandria, writing in the second century, noted: “Now he is faithful, who keeps inviolably what is entrusted to him. And we are entrusted with the utterances concerning God and the divine words—the commandments.”

Are we going to be good stewards of the truths that God has entrusted to us? St Paul once noted, “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim 4:3). He was probably referring to the last days. But the reality is that we encounter the same problem in every age—it’s just a part of human nature. We face the problems of deceptive teachers and of self-deception. We also face the problem of ignorance—just not knowing better.

Strange ideas creep in from all over the place, and we need to counter-act that. How many people think they are going to turn into angels when they die because they saw It’s a Wonderful Life on TV last Christmas and just don't know any better? Biblically, nothing could be further from the truth.

We also have the problem of cultural ideas causing confusion about our faith. For example, if the gospel comes into a new culture that has a background of ancestor worship, our doctrine about the veneration of saints may be distorted. People think, This is just like what we used to do. Yet, ancestor worship is idolatry—a great sin. We dare not confuse the two.

Sometimes I’ve encountered confusion with non-Catholic Christian traditions. Perhaps they come from a tradition where infants are not baptized, but their previous church had "baby dedications" instead. So when they see a baptism here, it is sometimes interpreted in light of what they were familiar with in the past--a "baby dedication." So they won’t fully come to understand what baptism is because it has become confused with something entirely different.

In English churches of the Carolinian period, it was common to find the Apostles’ Creed and the Ten Commandments on large plaques above the altar, with a painting from the life of Christ in the center. Just last week I saw a photo of a church convention where displayed behind the altar were the Millennium Development Goals (which are all nice and good).
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But we should not let them be confused with God’s commandments nor with the church’s mission, which as the Prayer Book states so well, is: “. . . to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” We need to embrace the faith fully—know it inside and out. And we need to know it so well that we instantly recognize a counterfeit.

Third, let us never forget our obligation to Share the Faith. As the saying goes, Christianity is always only one lifetime away from dying out. In Jude 3, the apostle wrote, “Contend earnestly for the Faith, which was once-for-all delivered to the saints.”

We need to share the faith with our children—no one will do it for us. Let them hear about it in church and in Sunday School. But more importantly, let them hear it from your own lips and let them see it in the way you live your daily lives.

Priesthood really comes out of fatherhood (it’s fatherhood on a community scale). Dads, don’t forget it is your responsibility to bless you children, to lead your family in prayer, to make sure that the truth is told, and to bring your family to the larger family gathering on Sunday. Moms, no one will ever have as strong an impact on your children as you do. Remember to nurture the faith, hope, and love that God has given them. Support them in prayer as Monnica did for her son, St Augustine. The family truly is “the domestic church” as it is commonly called.

The living out of our faith at home needs to be spread outside the home. We each need to be both willing and prepare to share it with others. Jesus said, “Go make disciples of all nations, baptize them . . . and teach them to observe my commandments” (Mt 28:19-20).

Be friends to your neighbors, and be a neighbor to all those around you. Let the feel the love of God in your deeds. Let them see the light of Christ in your hearts. Let the hear the message of the gospel from your lips. Know the faith, keep the faith, and share the faith. As St Peter wrote, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Saying goodbye to an old friend

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This was one of the first images I put on my blog, back in the spring of 2005. On the left is Ruby and on the right is Tobi.

Ruby passed away not too long after that, and Tobi just died late Sunday night.

Tobi was a very special bunny for Melisa and I, an old friend whom we miss, especially since he was connected to our relationship. He lived a pretty full life for that breed of rabbit (and outlived two girlfriends we got for him). We took him home nearly eight years ago in Waco, just after I had started seminary. We joked that he was our first-born son. We named him Tobit after the character in the Bible, and we had the reading from Tobit at our wedding.
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He was very mild natured and had a gentle disposition (rabbits CAN be fussy, believe it or not). I know he gave great comfort to Melisa while I was away at school for so long. His presence was always comforting, like he was looking out for us. His moments of play and rambunctiousness were always entertaining. And like life itself, Tobi was simply beautiful.
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Thursday, November 08, 2007

This is one of my favorite movies

The song toward the end of the movie trailer is the touching hymn "Jisas yu holem hand blong mi" (which I think translates "Jesus, you hold my hand") sung by the choir of All Saints' Anglican Parish, Honiara, on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

My saintly patrons

This All Saints' Day, I'm focusing on those saints who are related to me in some fashion--patrons, you might say.

St Timothy—my Christian name. Timothy was a young Greek with a Jewish mother. He became a companion of St Paul and remained at Ephesus as its first bishop. Two letters of the New Testament are addressed to Timothy, delivering instruction and encouragement to this young bishop.

St Anselm—his feast is on April 21, my birthday. He became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093, and his greatest talents were as a theologian and a spiritual director. His spirituality is summarized by the phrase "faith seeking understanding." He pioneered the scholastic method and expounded the ontological argument for the existence of God. Anselm's most significant contribution to theology was the "satisfaction theory" of the atonement.

St Louis IX, King of France—his feast is August 25, the anniversary of my baptism. Louis was a model of integrity for political leaders. He was determined to live a life of Franciscan poverty and self-denial in the midst of worldly power and splendor.

St Anacletus—his feast is April 17, the anniversary of my confirmation. Anacletus (often just "Cletus" was Bishop of Rome from AD 76-88, although there is some discrepancy about exactly when he reigned as pope. We don't know much about his life either. All we are told in the historical record was that he ordained some priests and died as a martyr.

St Julian of Antioch—his feast day is March 16, the anniversary of my ordination to the diaconate. This Roman senator was martyred on that day in the Diocletian persecution, about the year 305. His legend states that he was subjected to terrible tortures and paraded daily for a whole year through various cities of Cilicia. He was then sewn up in a sack half-filled with scorpions, sand, and vipers, and cast into the sea. The sea carried his body to Alexandria, and was buried there before being moved to Antioch.

St Bede the Venerable—his feast is May 25, the anniversary of my wedding. The Venerable Bede kept the light of knowledge and scholarship burning in the Dark Ages at his monastery at Jarrow. He also wrote The Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

St Linus—his feast is September 23, the anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. Not much is known about this successor to St Peter in Rome. He is said to have reigned as Pope from AD 67 until (he was perhaps martyred) in 76. Those were big shoes to fill, but Linus seems to have pulled it off. The people no doubt chose him because of his tender pastoral heart and holiness of life. He may be the Linus mentioned in passing in 2 Timothy 4:21.