Sunday, December 16, 2012

New rose chasuble


I made a new rose chasuble (the fifth, I've made in this color). Rose vestments are worn on the third Sunday in Advent (and the fourth Sunday in Lent). The other pieces are not fished yet.
 The vestment has what I would call a Spanish shape. The galloon is silver with a gold background. The embroidery is also silver. The orphrey is a Roman (reddish) purple damask.
The chasuble above was the first rose vestment I made (about 11 or 12 years ago). The matching purple and rose chasubles below are the matching pair I made for Lent--very plain damask on damask.
Our rose vestments at St. Matthew's in Comanche got messed up by the dry cleaners, so I made new ones below to replace them.
I made vestments in all colors for the Anglican cathedral in Zanzibar. The green and rose ones are pictured below.
This is a rose stole I had made earlier for the missionary in Zanzibar.
I made rose vestments in the shield shape with a rose and silver damask trimmed with silver and black galloon and dark rose velvet orphreys. These ended up at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Fort Worth. I later made an altar frontal and tabernacle veil to match.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thank God for the laity

A number of my FaceBook friends have been posting things they are thankful for in the days of November running up to Thanksgiving day. Today, I'm posting that I'm thankful for the laity.

Today, the Church of England rejected the women bishops measure in its General Synod. It passed with the required two-thirds majority in the house of bishops and in the house of clergy, but fell six votes short in the house of laity. All three houses needed to concur for passage. It will not come up for a final vote again for another five years.

This post is not really about the ordination of women, per se. But to explain briefly why this is important, sacraments are visible signs of invisible grace and "sure and certain means by which we receive that grace." That certainty is guaranteed by an unfailing use of the same matter, form, intention, and minister (see the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral). By changing the matter and/or minister, the surety and certainty of sacramental grace is no longer guaranteed. If the validity of a priestly ordination is in question, the all the sacraments they administer (save baptism) are in question. The significance of having women bishops as opposed to just women priests is that you can't just go by whether the person in a collar is a man or a woman, you have to know who ordained that person and who ordained that bishop, and who ordained that bishop, and so on.

It is significant that this vote occurred today, on the feast of St. Edmund the Martyr. He was a boy king in ninth century England. Danish armies invaded in 870, burning monasteries and churches, plundering villages, and killing hundreds. Upon reaching East Anglia, the Danish leaders offered Edmund a share of their plundered treasure if he would continue as a figurehead king by  acknowledging their supremacy and forbid the practice of the Christian faith. Wealth, security for his people, a royal throne--and all he had to do was stop practicing the Christian faith. Edmund's bishops urged him to accept the deal. But Edmund refused.

This 29 year old young man gathered his small army and bravely fought the Danish invaders. Predictably, he was captured. He was also tortured in hopes that he would renounce Christ and the faith. He did not. All the bishops urged him to, but this layman said, "No!" He was then shot through with arrows and beheaded for the cause of Christ on this day 1142 years ago.

Thank God for the laity. This wasn't the first time that the laity have saved the day when the clergy failed. If it weren't for the laity, the church would have long ago become Gnostic or Arian or who knows what. St. Edmund the Martyr, pray for us.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Crunching more re-election numbers

Now it is the day after and we know that President Obama secured re-election by at least 303 electors (Florida still has yet to be called--maybe they should have to sit the next one out until they get their act together). Although national polls had a dead heat and swing state polls had him only slightly ahead, it was enough for Obama to pull it off against all odds, historically speaking.

The statistics are not just unusual, they are downright mystifying. Much of the focus on the history of presidential elections is that no president since FDR as been re-elected with employment so high (until now). But the really striking thing is that no president has EVER been elected to a second term by receiving fewer total votes. FDR did get slightly fewer votes in his third and fourth terms compared with the previous cycles, but he was still up 4.5 million and 2.8 million compared with his first election.

Some presidents have gotten more votes and lost, but none had gotten fewer votes and won. Presidents have been re-elected by growing their vote count, usually by the millions in the past century. Eisenhower expanded his total by 1.5 million, Nixon by a whopping 15.4 million, Reagan by 10.6 million, Clinton by 2.6 million, and G. W. Bush by 11.6 million.

I think some votes are still coming in, so the final tally might change, but not by much. And it remains to be seen how the fallout from Hurricane Sandy affected turnout. At this point, Obama received 9.4 million FEWER votes than in 2008 (and only 138,119 more votes than John McCain). And yet the population of the country increased by about 10.4 million in the past four years. That means a whopping 19% of Americans cast a ballot for our next president--a big drop from his previous percentage of 23.5% in 2008, but not nearly as low as Clinton's 17.5% in 1996.

It is historical. It is remarkable. It is, to coin a phrase, unpresidented.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Crunching the re-election numbers

If you will indulge me, I've been looking over the figures for second term presidential elections in my spare time (ha!) lately. To me, the subject is quite fascinating.

If President Obama wins re-election to a second term, it is generally agreed that he will most certainly be the first president in American history to do so without increasing his number of popular votes and probably the first since Wilson narrowly won a second term in 1916 not to increase his number of votes in the electoral college (who dropped from 435 in 1912 to 277 in 1916). Which is to say that an Obama victory 2012 is expected to be much closer than it was 2008.

Although a few presidents have lost a re-election bid while increasing their number of votes (Martin van Buren in 1840, Grover Cleveland in 1888, and Wm. H. Harrison in 1892), none have won while obtaining fewer votes.

Presidents elected to a second terms typically expand their number of total popular votes by a good margin. Eisenhower expanded his total by 1.5 million, Nixon by a whopping 15.4 million, Reagan by 10.6 million, Clinton by 2.6 million, and G. W. Bush by 11.6 million. Will Barack Obama get more votes this time around than he did in 2008? In that election, Obama received 69.5 million votes and 365 electors.

Of course the anomaly in all this is four-termer FDR. In his bid for second term, Roosevelt followed the pattern of expanding his popular votes by 4.9 million and his number of electors rose from 472 to 523. His third and fourth term bids saw dwindling returns, but he did maintain more popular votes than he first received back in 1932.

The silent majority?

In 1969, President Nixon popularized the expression "silent majority" when he appealed to the "great silent majority of my fellow Americans" who were not out protesting the Vietnam War. What intrigues me is that when it comes to the most basic participation in the American experiment in democracy is that there literally IS a silent majority.

This Tuesday (including early votes also), a minority of a mere quarter and no more than a third of Americans will cast a ballot for the next president. Although voter turnout has been up in the past two cycles (61.6% in 2008), turnout has usually hovered just above 50%, and in 1996 voter turnout was actually at 49%.

But that's not all of us, that's just a percentage of registered voters. Now there are some Americans who are not old enough to vote, and there are some who are ineligible because they have not been naturalized as citizens or they have lost the right to vote by committing a felony. But there are also just a lot of Americans who decline to participate and never even register to vote, much less cast a ballot.

In 2008, there were roughly 129.4 million votes cast out of a total US population of 304.3 million. That's means only 42.5% of Americans cast a ballot in 2008; in 2004, it was 41.3%; and in 2000, it was merely 35.9%. In 1996, only 17.5% of Americans voted to put President Clinton back into office!

Do we deserve meaningful change, reform, etc., if the majority of us remain silent?

Saints striving with God

This is my sermon from All Saints' Sunday, given on 4 November 2012 at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Hamilton, Texas.

This scene from The Apostle comes to mind when I think of fighting with God in prayer.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A newcomer's guide to the Anglican Church

“We profess the holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith professed by the whole Church before the disunion of East and West; more particularly, as professed by the Church of England.”Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, England (d. 1711)

What is Anglicanism? 
Anglicans are Christians who belong to the Church of England or its daughter churches throughout the world that maintain a fellowship in what is called the Anglican Communion. Christianity came to Britain in the first or second century, probably brought there by merchants. Legend says that the gospel was brought there by St. Joseph of Arimathea. When Pope St. Gregory the Great sent a monk named Augustine to England in 597 to establish a Roman mission at Canterbury, he found there was already a British church with its own bishops and customs.

The two church traditions existed side-by-side until the Synod of Whitby, presided over by the abbess Hilda in 663. For the sake of Christian unity, it was decided that Roman customs would be followed in England and that the realm would come under the jurisdiction of the pope. That relationship continued in England through most of Anglican church history.

As church structure was increasingly centralized in Rome around the turn of the first millennium, some argued that the pope had no formal authority in England. In 1208, a confrontation arose between King John and Pope Innocent III over rights in the church which led to England being placed under interdict and King John being excommunicated for five years.

Good relations were interrupted again in the 1530s, when King Henry VIII, desiring to obtain an annulment of his marriage, renounced the jurisdiction of the pope or any other foreign bishop in the English realm. Communion was restored briefly in 1553. Unfortunately, relations were severed again in 1570 with the excommunication of Queen Elizabeth I by Pope Pius V. The Church of England became an independent body at that point and would continue to follow its own laws and customs thereafter.

The Anglican church in the American colonies became a separate ecclesial body along with the birth of the United States. Anglicans used the name “Episcopalian” almost exclusively after the Revolutionary War. However, they noted that this new Episcopal Church “is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; or further than local circumstances allow” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 11) .

The word “episcopal” comes from the Greek word episcope (“overseer”) that the New Testament uses for the office of a bishop who oversees a local church. The word “church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia (“assembly”) that the New Testament uses for God’s people gathered into an assembled congregation. So the term “episcopal church” means a church overseen by bishops, according to the New Testament model.

“Episcopal” was first used to distinguish Anglicans in Scotland from those in the established (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland—governed by presbyters (“elders”). There are seven provinces of the Anglican Communion in which Anglicans are commonly referred to as “Episcopalians.”

Are you Catholic or Protestant? 
One of the blessings we have through historical accident is the way our church has embraced the best features of both Catholicism and Protestantism. The goal of the Church of England was to maintain continuity with its past, but also to be a truly reformed Catholic Church.

Some of the things we gained from our Reformation heritage are: common worship in the vernacular (the language of the people), the primacy of Scripture, an emphasis on personal Bible study and evangelism, a stress on salvation by God’s grace, and the discipline of a married clergy.

Some of the things we retained from our Catholic heritage are: apostolic orders of ministry (bishops, priests, and deacons), the monastic life (monks and nuns), ancient liturgical forms in our worship, the seven biblical sacraments of the Church, and a reverence for sacred Tradition and the early Church Fathers.

What do Anglicans believe?
As disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, Anglicans share with other Christians the historic biblical faith of the undivided Church of the first millennium. We believe the doctrines taught in the Bible. You will also find our statements of belief in the Creeds, the writings of the early Church Fathers, the Ecumenical Councils of the Church, the Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty-Nine Articles, and in the language of our prayers.

In short, we believe in one true God, eternally existing in a Trinity of Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Is 44:6; Jn 1:1,14; 15:26). As members of the Universal (or “catholic”) Church established by our Lord Jesus Christ, Anglicans accept the apostolic Tradition (both oral and written in holy Scripture) to be authoritative in disclosing the fullness of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ (2 Thes 2:15; 2 Tim 3:16-17) which is expressed in the Creeds.

Since the disobedience of our first parents, human beings have been sinners from birth (Ps 51:5; Rom 5:12: Eph 2:1-3). This wounding of humanity is what we call original sin. Jesus Christ is the only Son of God—fully human and fully divine—who was born of a pure and holy Virgin, died on the cross for the sins of mankind, rose from the dead on the third day, and will return to the earth in glory (Jn 1:1-14; Mt 1:18-25; Heb 4:14-16; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Jn 14:1-4).

Salvation is a free gift, merited by Christ, bestowed by God’s grace in the sacrament of holy Baptism, and received by faith animated with love (Eph 2:4-10; Titus 3:4-8; Jas 2:14-26). Holy Baptism gives us a share in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ by incorporating us into his mystical Body (Rom 6:1-4).

The Catholic Church is the bride of Christ (Eph 5:31-33) and the mystical Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-31). The local Church, in a territory called a “diocese,” is governed by godly men called bishops, assisted by the priests and deacons (Titus 1:5ff).

In her sacramental worship, the Church offers herself in union with the perfect offering of Christ through the holy Sacrifice of the Altar, and in the Eucharist, receives divine life in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ under the forms of bread and wine (Rom 12:1; 1 Cor 11:26-29; Jn 6:51-58).

The purpose of the Church on earth is to glorify God by our worship, by our service, by loving our neighbors, and by fulfilling the last command of Jesus to make disciples (Mt 28:18-20) until he returns to earth in glory.

What binds Anglicans together? 
With the spread of the British colonies, Anglicanism evolved into a world-wide communion of churches. We are joined by a common heritage and a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In addition, the Book of Common Prayer in its various editions is used for worship.

Among other “instruments of unity” are the Archbishop of Canterbury (the spiritual head of the college of bishops) and his Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops every ten years. The primates of the communion (chief provincial bishops) meet on a more frequent basis. And ministries around the globe are coordinated through the Anglican Consultative Council.

What can I expect? 
If you have ever worshiped in a Lutheran or a Roman Catholic parish, a Sunday morning in an Anglican church will look very familiar. Our main service of worship on Sundays is the Holy Eucharist, also called the Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Liturgy, or the Mass.

The words in our worship services are written in the Book of Common Prayer. It is our guide for liturgical worship. Liturgy comes from a Greek word meaning “a work for the people,” so you can expect to be involved in the worship service.

When you visit our parish you will be respected as our guest. As you enter the church, you will notice an atmosphere of quite and reverence. Many people kneel for a few moments of silent prayer to prepare their hearts for worship.

Generally, we stand to sing, sit to listen, and kneel to pray. Many people make the sign of the cross during the liturgy. Do not feel pressured to do anything you are not comfortable with. The first part of the service is centered around reading and preaching the Word of God. The second part is centered around the Altar.

Visitors who are baptized Christians, who repent of their sins and have faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament and who receive it in their own church may receive Holy Communion with us. Anyone is welcome to come forward to receive a blessing (you may cross your arms over your chest to indicate a blessing).

We hope you are blessed by worshiping with us. For more information about Anglicanism or to join, we invite you to speak to our priest.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Spoiler alert! Third-party candidate trivia

A "third party candidate" has never been elected President of the United States. Shifts to new majority parties (Democrats, Whigs, Republicans) are sometimes incorrectly reckoned as "third parties."

John Quincy Adams lost the popular vote and the electoral college vote, but was elected president in 1824 by the House of Representatives. In this election, four candidates from the same party obtained electoral college votes (between 37 and 99). This result solidified the two-party (and one nominee per party) system we have today.  This has served us well.

The most successful third party candidate for president was Teddy Roosevelt who came in second with 88 electors and 27.4% of the popular vote as the candidate of the new Progressive (or "Bull Moose") Party in 1912. The "Bull Moose" was basically Teddy and it's safe to say that he did so well because he had already been president. TR's candidacy paved the way for the Democrat challenger Woodrow Wilson to prevail. Wilson still would have won even if you combine the Progressive and Republican votes, but Roosevelt's challenge to his chosen successor made him incapable of maintaining any campaign momentum. The Republican incumbent William Howard Taft came in third. Interestingly, progressivism dominated both the Democrat and Republican parties at this time; TR mounted a new run because Taft wasn't progressive enough.

Roosevelt was initially a Progressive candidate in 1916 as well, but he became convinced that a third party run would simply throw the race to President Wilson (again). TR didn't want a vote for him to be a vote for Wilson, so he rejoined the Republicans and campaigned vigorously for Justice Charles Evans Hughes. Wilson came very close to loosing.

It all came down to California, where margin of 0.38% separated the two major candidates and a switch of merely 1,887 votes would have changed the outcome.There was a third party candidate named Allan Benson who got 42,883 votes, but as he was the Socialist candidate, he probably pulled most if not all his votes from Wilson (but as both Wilson and Hughes were progressives, it is difficult to know for sure how it would have affected the outcome).

Legend has it that Hughes went to bed on election night in 1916 thinking that he was the newly-elected president. When a reporter called him the next morning to get his reaction to Wilson's late comeback, the person who answered the phone told the reporter, "The president is asleep." The reporter retorted, "When he wakes up, tell him he isn't the president."

The last third party candidate to garner any electoral college votes was George Wallace who got 46 electoral votes in 1968. He did not realistically hope to garner the majority of electoral votes which is required to win the presidency, but his strategy was to keep Nixon and Humphrey from getting a majority of electors and thus throw the election to the House of Representatives (as in 1824).

There, the voting goes by block (one vote per state, with divided states ending up with a blank ballot). Since de/segregation was an issue of the day and he was the only pro-segregation candidate, Wallace hoped to get the southern states to vote as a block and thus beat out the other states which would be split between Nixon and Humphrey or end up casting blank ballots. The electoral college was nearly abolished after this election.

Third party candidates have a more viable role as spoilers, lending truth to the old admonition that "a vote for A. is really a vote for B."

In 1980, John Anderson obtained 6.6% of the popular vote. Although his total added to Carter's 41% would not have been enough for Carter to prevail, Anderson was polling much higher before the election and his candidacy created a "two against one" dynamic for the incumbent. In the summer, it was nearly a 3-way split. Even though he was a Republican, it was generally viewed that Anderson pulled more votes away from Carter than from Reagan. Interestingly, the first debate was not between Reagan and Carter, but Reagan and Anderson. Even though the final tally did not make the difference, Anderson may have pulled momentum away from the incumbent president earlier in the race.

A far more direct impact was made by Ross Perot as a spoiler to George Bush in 1992. Perot actually led the two main candidates in the polls in June. Although Perot drew support from both Democrats and Republicans, his candidacy was widely beleived to hurt Bush more than Clinton (usually, third party candidates are more advantageous for the incumbent by dividing the opposition). In the final election, Perot obtained 18.9% of the popular vote. If only half of Perot's votes had gone to Bush, that would have given him an edge over Clinton (47% to 43%). It is difficult to determine how this would have affected the electoral college, but it certainly seems possible (if not likely) than Vermont, California, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania would have gone the other way, giving Bush 286 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Although he did not become president, there is little doubt that Ross Perot likely changed the outcome of the 1992 election.

In 1996, Perot ran again, but was not as successful and did not change the outcome. Even if all of Perot's 8% were added to Dole's 41% it would merely have equaled Clinton's 49%. But it is worth noting that Perot's candidacy probably ensured that Clinton only received a minority of the popular vote again.

Ralph Nader got only 3% of the popular vote in 2000, but when the major candidates were only 0.5% apart, it was more than enough to make a difference. And in Florida (the state whose electors determined the final outcome in the electoral college) the race was much tighter. Out of nearly 6 million votes cast, George W. Bush prevailed with only 537 votes in the final outcome. Ralph Nader got 97,488 votes in Florida, and it's very hard to imagine that any of those would have gone for Bush over Gore. Would other conservative candidates have evened it out? If the votes that were cast for the Libertarian, Constitution, Natural Law, and Reform Party candidate (Pat Buchanan in 2000) were added up, they would fall nearly 60,000 votes short of the consumer-protecting candidate of the Green Party.

Given that the outcome of the 2000 election lay in the balance and that the attack on America in September of 2001 and two following wars were just around the corner, it is certain that third party candidate Ralph Nader would never have been elected president, but he certainly changed history.

The presidential election of 2012 could be a very close race. Will a spoiler determine the outcome?

The urban and rural divide

The map above represents the county-by-county results of the 2000 presidential election. I post it because the 2000 results were the closest of recent time (with Bush winning the electoral college by only one vote over the required majority and Gore winning the popular vote by 0.5%). And yet with the results about as even as possible, the map looks overwhelmingly red.

Although there are obvious anomalies, the map illustrates the historic urban/rural divide that has characterized American national elections throughout the 20th Century and beyond. Basically, with the concentration of population in cities where liberal strongholds developed, a geographical divide with the largely conservative small towns occurred. This was perhaps best exemplified by divergent attitudes to the Volstead Act.

Fanontastic!

"Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52).
In honor of the reappearance of the Holy Father donning the papal fanon on Sunday, here are some images of the garment being worn by his predecessors. It is a white shoulder cape with thin gold and red stripes worn by the pope at solemn Mass.

The fanon was last seen on John Paul II who wore it once in 1980. That chasuble ain't half bad either. I'm not aware that Papa Luciani ever wore the fanon, but then the "September Pope" didn't have time to do very much during his pontificate.

Pope Paul VI looks very dignified wearing pinstripes on the throne of St. Peter.

Pope John XXIII kneels for prayer in St. Peter's Basilica while wearing the fanon.

Pope Pius XII takes in the moment while wearing the papal fanon (which might have been his coronation).

What is the significance of seeing it again? Although it is interesting as a matter of historical curiosity, the real significance is as a visible sign with continuity with the past. It is especially fitting in this "Year of Faith" and 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council as it highlights Pope Benedict XVI's emphasis on a "hermeneutic of continuity" in interpreting the council as a continuity of tradition rather than a break with tradition.

On a personal level, there is also a tender feeling in pulling out an old garment with its own history and wearing it during divine service. There is something comforting in knowing that "Father so-and-so wore this back in the day." It gives you a feeling of connection with the faithful who have gone before and with that faith they believed, taught, and defended.

The fanon worn by the pope on Sunday was probably new since popes are buried in the garment (though I don't think John Paul II was). But the feeling is the same--joining with those who have gone before us in a shared life of faith.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Jesus' wife

“Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . .’ [and that’s where the page is torn].” So reads one line of a business card sized scrap of papyrus unveiled on September 18th at a conference in Rome by Harvard Professor Karen King. She claims this is new evidence that some early Christians may have believed Jesus had a wife, whom King has speculated was probably Mary Magdalene.

(By the way, if that sounds familiar, it was a central plot point in Dan Brown’s novel, and then movie, The Davinci Code in which a massive cover-up has concealed a royal bloodline of Jesus through his child with Mary Magdalene. This is not really a new idea. It is common for European secret societies to invent a grandiose heritage for themselves.)

Within hours, news agencies around the world advertised the announcement with headlines like “Ancient Papyrus Could Be Evidence that Jesus Had a Wife.” This week, several experts in Coptic (the language on the papyrus) insisted that the scrap of papyrus in question was a forgery. And there was a whole new set of headlines.

What has not appeared in the press (at least not yet) is the startling “new” evidence revealed by an Anglican vicar to a shocked rural Texas congregation which proves not just that some early Christian’s believed Jesus had a wife, but that in fact Jesus was married.

Let's look at Luke's gospel, chapter 5. This passage came up in the Daily Office readings this past Wednesday. The situations here is that some complainers came up to Jesus and asked why his disciples were eating and drinking in all festive delight while at the same time John the Baptist’s disciples and Pharisees were fasting according to pious Jewish custom.

Listen to what Jesus says to them in verses 34-35: “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.”

Did you catch what Jesus is saying here? His disciples are wedding guests—at his wedding! He’s the groom! And in fact, I’ll give you another shocking detail. The New Testament actually gives us the name of the bride, and many old churches actually house pictures of her.

If you walk into the large Abbey Church of St. George in Regensburg, Germany, you will find the whole interior covered in beautiful frescoes. And if you go to the center of the church and look up into the dome, you will see a huge painting of a crowned woman holding a processional cross and seated on a throne. Her name, the name of Jesus’ wife, is Ekklesia (a Greek name that means “assembly” or “church”).

In our first reading today from Genesis (2:18-24), we read about how God invented marriage. But God didn’t just invent marriage, God is married. In fact, the human institution is a shadow of a heavenly reality as St. Paul describes it--a sacred mystery.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God is betrothed to his people. Through the Prophet Isaiah, God told the people of Jerusalem, “As a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God marry you” (Isaiah 62:5).

That’s why the Old Testament prophets call idolaters adulterers. That’s why God is jealous of the relationship he has with his people. That’s why the Song of Songs overflows with vivid erotic poetry (don’t tell the kids). That’s why Hebrews 13:4 says “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept undefiled, for God will judge the adulterer and fornicator.” That’s why God cares about chastity.

That’s why Jesus tells us in the gospel today (Mark 10:2-9) that divorce is not an option. That’s why St Paul describes Jesus as our bridegroom and his Church as his bride. That’s why in the book of Revelation, the joy of heaven is compared with the joy of a great wedding banquet.

That’s why the intimacy of marriage is the best comparison we have to intimacy with God, as we find in the writings of many saints and mystics. That’s why we cannot reinvent or redefine marriage. It’s not ours to do with as we please. God created man and woman for each other in the beginning.

In Genesis we read that “the two shall become one flesh.” That’s why Jesus gives us his flesh to eat and blood to drink at the altar. Genesis explains that in marriage, a man leaves his family and clings to his wife so that "the two shall become one flesh.” Marriage is not created so much by vows or promises or covenants or rings or even love. Marriage is created by the union of the body. “The two shall become one flesh.” To be our husband, to make us his bride, Jesus gave us his body.

Why did he consider the cross to be a noble sacrifice? Why does God care so much about human marriage? It is because he is entirely, deliberately, eternally, passionately, and hopelessly in love with you. His is a love that overcomes fear, a love that embraces the good of another, a love that involves suffering, a love that doesn’t count the cost, a love totally naked before another, a love that is the total gift of self.

To make us his bride, Christ gave us his Body--his flesh to mingle with ours, his blood to mingle with ours. "And the two shall become one flesh." All of baptized believers are married to Christ. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one try to tear apart.

St. John wrote in his Revelation (19:7-9), “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready . . . Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

"Is divorce lawful?"

Mark 10:2-9 
Pharisees came up and in order to test [Jesus] asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away." But Jesus said to them, "For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder."

In today’s gospel, the Pharisees came to test Jesus with a very difficult question. Divorce was epidemic in those days; it had become a serious problem. It had come to the point that many divorces had no grounds at all. So they came asking Jesus to take a stand on a hot-button issue. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” they said.

Now there were two different rabbinical schools of thought about the legitimate grounds for divorce, so they were probably asking him to take sides or setting him up for criticism. The Hillel school basically argued for no-fault divorce--that most anything could be deemed just grounds (this view became dominant in Jewish thought). In contrast, the Shammai school argued that divorce was only acceptable in the case of very serious transgressions. We should also note that in Judaism (even today) a man divorces a woman; a woman cannot divorce a man.

Jesus basically tells them they ought to know the answer. What did Moses say? Write out a certificate of divorce. Notice that every time that they came to Jesus asking about something in the Torah, he always did two things: he made the application more strict than it had become and he directed them back to God’s purpose in the first place. You might think that after awhile they would have stopped asking.

Jesus does the same thing here. Our Lord explained that Moses allowed you to divorce because he knew that your hearts were hard and cruel, but that’s not how God planned it in the beginning. God made the man and woman for each other; that’s why they come together as husband and wife. So what God has joined together, let no man tear apart.

In the next few verses following our reading, back at the house in private, the disciples ask Jesus to clarify the matter. Did he really mean to be so strict? And Jesus basically tells them that remarriage is adulterous. In the parallel text in Matthew they are despondent, saying, "Maybe it’s better not to marry." But that’s not what Jesus was trying to say either.

Jesus is calling us back to God’s will from the very beginning. We have a tendency to turn the exception into the rule. We did it in Jesus’ day and we have done it in our own day. And God wants us to look beyond the exceptions to the ideal—to the way it was supposed to be in the beginning which means, before sin came along and messed it up.

Jesus wants a godly harvest in our homes. Why is God so protective of marriage and the family? For two main reasons: first, Paul tells us marriage is a great mystery (sacramentum in Latin) of the union between Christ and his bride, the church. God is betrothed to his people. That’s why idolatry is like adultery. That’s why in the book of Revelation, heaven is pictured as a great wedding banquet—with the bride (the church) ready to meet her bridegroom (Christ).

Second, God is protective of the family because we are adopted into God’s family. When we are baptized, we are joined to Christ, and so we can call God Father. In Hebrews we heard how Jesus took human nature to make us part of God’s family. God warns us to flee from anything that would endanger the family. We care about our own families, wouldn’t God be protective of his?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary


"For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord." (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)

"And the temple of God in heaven was opened; and the ark of his covenant appeared in his temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm. And the temple of God in heaven was opened; and the ark of his covenant appeared in his temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm. A great wonder appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars." (Revelation 11:19--12:1)

Hymn 278 - "Sing the chiefest joy of Mary when on earth her work was done, and the Lord of all creation brought her to his heavenly home; where, raised high with saints and angels, in Jerusalem above, she beholds her Son and Savior reigning as the Lord of love."

O God, who hast taken to thyself the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of thine Incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of thine eternal kingdom; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Bishop Donald Parsons at FIFNA


This is Bishop Donald Parsons' address at the 2012 Assembly of Forward in Faith, North America. I always love hearing Bishop Parsons give a talk--a cross between Fulton Sheen and Johnny Carson. His Grace is the Sometime Bishop of the Diocese of Quincy and the Sometime Dean of Nashotah House (where he still teaches). It is also worth noting that as far as I am aware (shhhhhhh), he's the last Catholic bishop in the Episcopal Church USA.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Reginal Cardinal Pole, lay minister

Reginald Pole was definitely pushing the boundaries of lay ministry. Of course, he represents a different era when such things were not quite as unusual. He was on an ordination track, you night say. And Pole was appointed to several benefices (an office of clergy which carried with it a living, i.e., salary) before his ordination.

He was appointed as a lay canon of Salisbury and York and lay Dean of Exeter Cathedral in 1529 when he represented King Henry VIII in Paris, persuading the theologians of the Sorbonne to support Henry's annulment from Catherine of Aragon. He broke with Henry in 1536 on the issue of the annulment and was made a Cardinal and Papal Legate to England by Pope Paul III in 1537.

In 1542 he was appointed as one of the three Papal Legates to preside over the Council of Trent, which began in 1545. After the death of Pope Paul III in 1549 Pole, at one point, had nearly the two-thirds of the vote he needed to become Pope himself at the papal conclave of 1549-1550. His personal belief in justification by faith over works had caused him problems at Trent and accusations of heresy at the conclave. Pole returned to England in 1554 as Papal Legate.

POLE WAS FINALLY ORDAINED a priest on 20 March 1556 was and consecrated and enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury two days later. He served in that office until his death in 1558.

Let's review here: starting in 1518, as a layman, he was a pastor on the staffs of large churches, then he was a lay cardinal (and nearly pope), then he served as Papal Legate in England which required him to sit in judgment on priests and bishops in order to restore papal catholicism in England. At last, after 38 years of official lay ministry, he was ordained and concluded his life with two years as Archbishop of Canterbury. A little out of order?

Friday, July 20, 2012

That's why they call it 'matrimony'

This afternoon, I was looking up something in my handy 'Pocket Catholic Dictionary' by John Hardon (an excellent resource, btw). As I was thumbing through the pages, my eye caught the entry "Consummated Marriage." It aroused my interest, so I took a peak. The brief definition concluded by noting, "Contraceptive intercourse does not consummate Christian marriage."

It surprised me a little, either because this was a detail I had forgotten or one I never learned in the first place. But after giving it a moment's thought, it not only made sense, but even seemed amazing that I could have ever been ignorant of something so obvious. After all, that's why they call it "matrimony." It's about making a woman into a mother.

Friday, July 06, 2012

"Individuals can leave this church"?

In light of the recent charges made against nine bishops of the Episcopal Church for attaching their names to an amicus brief explaining the polity of the Episcopal Church, I thought I would post this email exchange I had with a parish in the Diocese of Dallas over a member transfer last year. (Names have been changed.)

When parishes and dioceses began leaving the Episcopal Church in the last several years, the mantra we heard from TEC leadership was, "Individuals can leave this church, but parishes and dioceses cannot." But according to a parish in the Diocese of Dallas, individuals cannot leave either. There is no way out.

Subject: membership transfer

To whom it may concern: 
I have not yet received a response about the requested transfer of membership for Jane Doe (see attached letter). Please send it to my attention (The Rev'd Timothy Matkin, Trinity Episcopal Church, PO Box 387, Dublin TX 76446). Thank you. 

Sincerely, 
Father Timothy Matkin 
________________________________________

Subject: RE: membership transfer 

Dear Fr. Matkin, 

After speaking with my Rector, I am unable to assist you with this transfer as Trinity is no longer in communion with the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. 

Sincerely, Mrs. Y
Parish Coordinator Episcopal Church of the XXXXX

________________________________________ 

Subject: Re: membership transfer 

Dear Mrs. Y, 

Thank you for checking on this, but I think you have been misinformed. We are currently a congregation of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth (thus, in communion with our diocese and bishop) and we have been since its founding in 1982. And we were a part of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas before that since it's founding in 1895, Bishop Garrett having organized Trinity Church in 1884. 

Even though the Fort Worth diocese dissolved its union with the General Convention in 2008, our communion relationships have not changed. We are still full constituent members of a province of the Anglican Communion, we still have our companion relationships with two dioceses in the Anglican Communion, we still share a number of ministries with the Diocese of Dallas, such as the Renewal Center. I have celebrated the Eucharist in Episcopal churches in Dallas three times since 2008, and served as clergy at a Happening in the Diocese of Dallas last year. I have received three transfers of members this year from two Episcopal Church dioceses--Texas and West Texas. 

That being said, it really doesn't matter anyway. This is a matter of record keeping and paperwork, not a test of conscience. We are not asking your Rector to take a position on any controversial issues of the day, only to certify that your parishioner Jane Doe is a baptized member, her date confirmation, etc., and to remove her from your membership roles. In return, we will certify to you that she has been added to ours. You might want to review Canon I.17.4 on the transfer of members between congregations. The section falls under the canon on the rights of the laity. Jane is entitled to this right under law as a member of your church. You will notice that the canon does not discriminate as to what ecclesiastical entity she is moving her membership to. It only states that the lay person concerned is seeking to be "enrolled in another congregation of this [i.e., TEC] or another Church." 

The form you were sent is simply for the sake of convenience. If you prefer to go through the formality of having her contact you to for a formal certificate and you having to type one up, so be it. Jane has become a valued part of our Trinity family, and I insist that her rights under canon law be honored. You will note that the relevant section concludes, "(d) Any communicant of any Church in communion with this Church shall be entitled to the benefit of this section..." As a parish of the Episcopal Church, I'm sure you will honor the canons and your own parishioner by respecting Jane's rights in this matter. 

I appreciate you attending to this matter promptly, and I look forward to your response. 

Sincerely, 
Father Timothy Matkin 

________________________________________ 

Subject: Jane Doe 

Father Timothy Matkin: 

I am delighted that Jane Doe has found a church home in your parish and even more pleased that you value her membership, she is a lovely lady and I pray God’s blessing upon her and your church family. 

The point is we are an Episcopal Church and you are not in spite of the sleight of hand action your leadership has carried out and therefore a canonical transfer is not possible – period. This happened when your Bishop and Convention voted to revoke it’s relationship with the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, USA. 

By saying this I in no means am suggesting you are a cad, a villain or an imposter to catholic order – you just aren’t an Episcopalian. In fact I am sure you are a fine person and priest and that you pastor a lovely church family. What I am happy to do is to commend Jane Doe to your pastoral care and do so with my best wishes. 

Blessings 
Fr X

________________________________________ 

Subject: Re: Jane Doe

Dear Father X, 

Thank you for your reply. Please understand that your opinion of our ecclesiastical status, of whether we are truly Episcopalians or not, is entirely irrelevant here. 

This is a matter of record keeping and paperwork, not a test of conscience. We are not asking you to take a position on any controversial issues of the day, only to follow canon law in respecting the rights of your parishioner to be certified of her status and removed from your membership roles. 

You might want to review Canon I.17.4 on the transfer of members between congregations. According to the procedure outlined there, I will have her contact your church to "procure a certificate of membership." 

Sincerely, 
Father Timothy Matkin 

________________________________________ 

Subject: RE: Jane Doe 

Fr Matkin: 

Actually my opinion of your status is entirely relevant to this discussion and I find your dismissal of it entirely consistent with the practice of Bishop Iker’s church. If you would re-read Canon I. 17. 3–6 Title I Section (d) you will find the language that makes a transfer impossible. 

(d) Any communicant of any Church in communion with this Church shall be entitled to the benefit of this section so far as the same can be made applicable. 

The fact of the matter is you are not in Communion with General Convention and you have no desire to be so. I personally find your claim to be the Episcopal Church a fraud and look forward to the courts clearing this misconception up. 

I say again what I have already said; “… we are an Episcopal Church and you are not in spite of the sleight of hand action your leadership has carried out and therefore a canonical transfer is not possible – period.” 

Blessings 
Fr X

________________________________________ 

Subject: Re: Jane Doe 

Father X, 

The canon we are looking at is about the rights of the laity, not the rights of the clergy. Jane is a member of your congregation and she is entitled to her rights under the law. 

Sincerely, 
Father Matkin 


There was no response from Jane Doe's church at this point, so we simply had to create a new certificate of membership based upon her testimony rather than a letter from her church. What blew me away about this exchange was not just the seeming inability of Father X to read and understand the canons, but that his views of my diocese led to a mistreatment of his own parishioner.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A study of religious deconversion

"In a study of religious deconversion, we analyzed 50 on-line testimonies posted by former Christians, and in these testimonies we found four general explanations for deconversion. The first explanation, which I wrote about last week, regarded intellectual and theological concerns about the Christian faith. The second, which I elaborate here, regards a failed relationship with God. Almost half (22 of 50) of the writers expressed sentiments that in some way God had failed them by His not doing what they thought He should.

It's worth a look. Here's the rest.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father as priest

Priesthood is essentially fatherhood. That’s why we call our pastors our spiritual fathers--they father a community. It is a special relationship, modeled on the fatherhood of God. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Though you have countless teachers in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Cor 4:15).

Adam was the first priest because he was the father of his family. He spoke to God on their behalf and spoke to them on God’s behalf. He was the one who offered their sacrifice and taught them the faith. And this same pattern followed for generations. Eventually, God ordained men to serve in this capacity for a community in the Old and New Testament priesthoods.

What most people don’t understand is that the father’s role as priest of his own family, for whom he is responsible before God, remains. He is the one who is to lead them in prayer and make their offerings. He is the one who is to teach them the Faith of the Church. And he is the one who has the authority to bless his children.

Just like the priest in church, a father should put his right hand on his child’s head and say “I bless you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” And a father should offer longer benedictions (Latin--“good word”). Say things like, “May you be wise and just and caring and merciful. May you be prosperous and generous and faithful. May you find a loving husband/wife and many children." And so on.

A helpful reminder on this Father's Day.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

The 'Anglican Summa' on the Trinity

The ten volume series Dogmatic Theology, by Dr. Francis Hall has been called the Anglican version of Aquinas' Summa Theologica, and rightly so. While it does not follow the same format, it is exhaustive in scope and is scholarly in content, yet fully accessible to the layman.

It was written by a priest and professor of the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church. The project was conceived by Francis Hall in the late 1800s, and the ten volumes were published between 1907 and 1922. The content is thoroughly orthodox and Anglican. It was hailed as a monumental achievement in the life of the American church.

In the fourth volume on the Trinity, Father Hall notes the profound importance of the subject matter by explaining that "the doctrine of the Trinity is the interpretive principle of all Christian doctrine, the ultimate basis for of Christian ideals and hopes, and the most vital and inspiring of all the truths which human minds can contemplate" (vol. IV, pg 2).

He goes on to say, "The doctrine of the Trinity must occupy the central place in any sound or adequate conception of spiritual realities. It constitutes the postulate of the doctrines of the Incarnation, of the Atonement, of the Church, of justification and salvation, and of the coming kingdom of God. If it were shown to be false, these doctrines would have to be modified beyond recognition, and Christianity would become something quite other than it actually is" (vol. IV, pg 2-3).

Monday, May 28, 2012

Everlasting life or everlasting death?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines death as the separation of soul and body. This is a good theological definition, and as far as I am aware, harmonizes with all other Christian definitions of death (or what Revelation would call "the first death").

The definition comes in section 997, which has more to say in response to the question What is rising? It says, "In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus' Resurrection."

The completion of our salvation is not just our (re)union with God, but also the reunion of our immortal soul with our resurrected body on a resurrected (or renewed) earth. I bring this up to highlight a discrepancy between orthodox Christian doctrine and modern American folk religion, which tends to talk about salvation in terms of going to be with God in heaven forever. Such a view tends to see the body as a shell for the soul, which is "the real me," an idea captured best in the infamous funeral parlor poem "I'm Free."

Don't grieve for me, for now I'm free 
I'm following the path God has chosen for me. 
I took His hand when I heard him call; 
I turned my back and left it all. 

I could not stay another day, 
To laugh, to love, to work or play. 
Tasks left undone must stay that way; 
I've now found peace at the end of day. 

If my parting has left a void, 
Then fill it with remembered joys. 
A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss; 
Oh yes, these things, I too will miss. 

Be not burdened with times of sorrow;
Look for the sunshine of tomorrow. 
My life's been full, I savored much; 
Good friends, good times, a loved ones touch. 

Perhaps my time seems all to brief; 
Don't lengthen your pain with undue grief. 
Lift up your heart and peace to thee, 
God wanted me now-He set me free!

This popular theology (which is actually the manifestation of a Christian heresy) is labeled "Christo-Platonism" by Randy Alcorn's in his book Heaven. He points out that for Plato, matter is a hindrance to spirit, which means our bodies are a prison for our souls. Alcorn notes that, "But according to Scripture, our bodies aren't just shells for our spirits to inhabit; they're a good and essential aspect of our being" (pg 475). Jesus came to redeem our souls as well as our bodies. That's the significance of the incarnation and the resurrection--the redemption of matter.

Which got me to thinking . . . If your view of salvation is being eternally free from your body so that you can live with God in heaven, then do really believe in everlasting life? Or do you believe in everlasting death?