Sunday, April 18, 2021

In the Flesh

A piece of broiled fish, which he took and ate. An ordinary meal, an ordinary act, done every minute of every day all over the globe. And yet, it is a sign. The risen Jesus took food, and ate, ate like any man: put it to his lips, in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. And thus, the sign: Jesus is risen, truly, in reality, in the flesh. It is the fulfillment of the incarnation revealed: God has united to humanity in all its fullness, walking, breathing, eating, sleeping, in all ways human.

An artist friend of mine was once commissioned to paint Jesus “in the act of resurrecting.” We had a good chuckle over the image immediately brought to mind, of Jesus shoving aside the shroud and sitting up as if he were about to get out of bed and go to breakfast. I do not think one can so capture the miracle itself, and no gospel says a thing about it: the most we have is the story from Matthew of the earthquake and of the angel rolling away the stone. The miracle is and must remain a mystery, unseen in the tomb, unexplained in words, uncomprehended by the human mind. And yet, her patron was on the right track, in a way, for what he wanted to see, in the frame, was the resurrection not as a symbol or metaphor or myth; he wanted to see it in the flesh. And that is what today's reading provides: a Jesus who can be touched, whose flesh is still marked by the wounds he suffered, who breathes and eats and drinks and walks and speaks like any other human being. No ghost, no vision: he is still material, though transformed and raised, not just to life, but to a new life which transcends the old. His bodily being is what the old Adam was intended to be, but more, and when the first heaven and the first earth are passed away, and all things are made new in the new heaven and new earth, we too shall become what he already is: the new flesh of the new covenant, made suitable for the life everlasting to come. And not only our flesh, but our hearts, our souls, our minds, for as Jesus opened the disciples' minds, so ours too are taught, through them, through their writings and those of the church after them. We do not understand everything, but we know what is crucial:

Christ has died;

Christ is risen;

Christ will come again.

And thus we proclaim to all humanity repentance and forgiveness of sins, and we go out baptizing in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so that all may be joined into the resurrected flesh of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to who be power and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

In the Wreckage

This night, we look upon what, for all the world, looks to be the wreckage of the divine plan. The angel said to Mary, “the Lord God will give to him the the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And where is that throne this night? Where is that kingdom? Mary said to Elizabeth, “He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imaginations of their hearts.” And where slept Pilate, and the priests, on that night, while the body of the incarnate God lay cold in the tomb? “He has put down the might from their thrones, and have exalted those of low degree.” Truly?

How did it come to this? Who was the guilty? Who was it despised him? Well, the authorities of course: the priests and the Pharisees, Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas—and their guards and soldiers. Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him directly, and the rest of the disciples, who fled into the night. The mob of Jerusalem, crying for his death. Here we have just heard the story of their collective treachery, as John tells it, though his version is not so very different from that of the other three evangelists.

And yet, does not the story range further? Who was the guilty? Who was it despised him? Was it their treachery alone, and not our own as well? No! Alas, my treason has also undone him—mine, and ours, and all of humanity. When he was hungry, and we did not feed him, or thirsty and did not give him drink, or naked and did not clothe him, or a stranger and did not welcome him, or a prisoner and did not visit him, we betrayed him; when we prayed, “we thank you, God, that we are not like those over there,” we betrayed him; when we made the dollar large and the measure small, we betrayed him. He carried all our sins, for in sinning against God, we sinned against his incarnation. We denied him; we crucified him, we and the whole fallen world.

And so, seemingly, the world got what it wanted: God made man, tortured to death. All was well with the world, again: the rich and powerful returned to their homes and slept the sleep of the self-righteous, Jesus' followers in disarray and the crowds turned away from him. The only thing left, seemingly, was for the women to return after the sabbath to finish the burial of God's revolt against his own people. But it is this seeming wreckage which is the point, for as is attested from the beginning of scripture, it is the willfulness of his creatures that made this wreckage. Our desires are warped, perverted, hateful; our hunger is greed, our will tyranny, our anger vicious. We have made a world built on exploitation, contempt, abuse, and war, and seemingly cannot stop it, except with more of the same.

And so, at the cross, the world got its way, and God did not resist, for it is this very lack of resistance through which the battle is won. Good did not triumph over evil through a show of divine force; it triumphed by making evil irrelevant. Even as sin got its way, it lost, because it could only “win” by bending creation, in all its goodness, against its creator; and Jesus did not bend, but instead laid his limbs upon the cross, transfixed in seeming helplessness against evil's force. And thus he lifted all with him, as he was lifted up to die. We too are are helpless in the face of evil, both its victims and its perpetrators, and we cannot combat it on its own terms; but in faith, now, that is a different story. But faith means trust in the weakness of Jesus on Calvary, in this world, and faith means directing our actions towards the care of our fellows, friends, family, and foes alike, but also trusting in God for our salvation. And it is that faith, made real through our works, that will bring us, on that last day, into the joy of the resurrection into which we are baptized, when all evil is wiped away for eternity, and when the new Jerusalem is founded forever on the wreckage of the old, dead world of sin.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Disobedient and Defiling

Preached on 16 August 2020 In today's gospel, we come into the middle of one story, and leave with another. We pick up the first after Jesus has contended with the Pharisees again, their bone to pick this time being that, against tradition, his disciples do not wash their hands before eating. And Jesus condemns them once again for their hypocrisy and for making up rules to escape from their holy obligations, but then he continues into the statements we hear today. “It is what comes out of the mouth that defiles;” that is plain enough, isn't it? The lies we speak, the slander we utter, the excuses we offer: these are the pollution we spread. Our acts of infidelity, of wrath, of treachery, of contempt, of theft: these are what alienate us from God, and thus from life. I would think that, for us, this observation is so ingrained and so obvious as to be hardly worth making, especially for the overwhelming majority of Christians who were never subject to the laws of Moses and its rules of ritual purity. And yet, in this world of sin, the opposite is so often taught. We live in an angry, deceitful, contemptuous, greedy age, in which lying, cheating, violence, and just plain rudeness are exalted. We have created a new American religion of Politics, with its own rites of ritual purity, and in its name spew all manner of invective. And then there is the other great American God, Money, for nothing must interfere with Sacred Business and Commerce. Now, Jesus spends a great deal of time preaching about money, and many of the parables use investment as a metaphor for the work of the kingdom, and he even commends a dishonest servant for using his cheating of his master in order to win him friends. But we cannot serve God and Mammon; greed in our hearts issues forth and defiles us as certainly as any other disease of the heart. We are so enmeshed in this world of sin, that without the Spirit upon us, it would seem hopeless to prevent our self-defilement. And here the words of Paul as we have just heard them make a strange claim: that it was meant this way. One hears, in the story of the Jewish kingdom, a depressing litany of kings who did not do as they were commanded, and before that, the story of the Israelites on the way through the desert is, if anything, worse. And in the end, the kingdom was split, and then each part destroyed in turn; but as we are told through the prophets, the Lord God did not abandon his people. In time, they were gathered back to Judea, and then, in the reign of Herod, God became, through the Son, incarnate in humanity, and brought salvation once and for all. Their disobedience was against God's will, but their disobedience came to serve God's plan of mercy. Therefore, when we sin—for who can fail to do so?—we are yet made clean through Jesus, even we who are not of Abraham's seed, and our sin provides the occasion for the glorification of God through this mercy. Which brings us to the second story. The Canaanite woman has the rare distinction of arguing with Jesus and winning. And she bluntly acknowledges that she is outside God's people, and yet Jesus extends God's mercy to encompass her. Or is it a stretch? Her argument, after all, is that God's grace is great enough to extend beyond his own people the Jews, to which Jesus agrees. But what is it that leads him to agree? It is her faith. Faith is what extends the reach of salvation; faith is the vehicle of grace. And ultimately, faith is what has brought all of us, Jew or gentile, into the body of Christ. And yet, faith without works, as James says, is dead. By this he does not mean that we earn salvation through our acts, but that in knowing that it is what comes from our mouth that defiles, we seek what purity we can, in acts of worship not only on our lips, but in how we live, in charity and harmony with each other and those around us. Our religion must not be empty observance and pious sayings, but needs be manifest in every word and deed by which we help—or harm—those about us. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we do the work of the kingdom of God, and look to its ultimate fulfillment on the last day, when every defiling word and deed will come to reckoning.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Cross, the Throne

On Tuesday the 24th of June, 2014, Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, was invited to sit upon the Iron Throne of Westeros while visiting the sets of Game of Thrones. She declined the honor, perhaps because she did not feel herself properly robed for the occasion; but I have read that it is the ancient tradition of her line that the English monarch does not sit upon foreign thrones. It might also be observed that occupancy of that seat of power tended to bode ill for one's survival prospects, but this did not discourage many claimants from fighting for it, just as Elizabeth's predecessors waged the Wars of the Roses to gain what is now her seat.

And the throne of Jesus? Our thoughts first turn to the images of the Revelation, in which the word “throne” appears forty-four times in twenty-two chapters. This is the testimony of John:

And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” And the four beasts said, “Amen.” And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.
And this is the prophecy of Isaiah:
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.
This is kingship in our mortal understanding: the monarch of heaven and earth, whose glory is beyond human toleration; whose rule is absolute; whose power the angels make manifest from creation to the world's doom. The temptation to arrogate these to ourselves is so very strong: to rule over others, to demand worship and servitude, to revel in wealth and pomp is so very appealing, even consuming; and when poisoned by our sin, so very cruel and destructive. Besides those of nations and states, we make thrones of industry and commerce, that we may rule over the work of others and command the fruits of their labors; even in our households, we establish our tyranny. We lust after power, and thus subjugate others; we lust after goods, and thus make slaves whose labor we exploit; we lust after adulation, and demand toadies and sycophants. Our kingship is entirely of this fallen world: cruel, greedy, arrogant and tyrannical. The glory of the throne of heaven we cannot reproduce, try as we might. But there is another throne, not welded of swords as in Westeros, nor cunningly wrought of stone or fine woods covered in gold and gems as in halls of state. This throne is made of two rough boards and a few nails, and he who reigns from it was crowned not with gold or silver, but with thorns. He who hung upon it (for it offers no seat) was not there worshipped, but mocked; wielded no sword nor scepter of power and authority; received no comfort or riches beyond a drink of ruined wine, but instead suffered under the greatest physical cruelty the state could devise. This throne was not to be desired for wealth or power or renown, but indeed delivers only (as the world sees it) humiliation, helplessness, pain and finally death. It is the ultimate expression of the world's contempt for its king.

And yet in this throne, the cross, there is all the power of the ages. In the cross there is exaltation and victory, abundance and life without measure. The cross is more glorious than every royal throne, every boardroom, every presidential desk, every seat by which men and women lord it over others; and its glory is in precise proportion to the world's contempt. It is from the cross that Jesus, the Son of the Father Almighty, the Lamb of God, the Word made Flesh, reigns over this age, so that in the age to come the throne of the Most High may blaze with the glory of a creation remade through his death.

And John tells us, in the mystery he relates, that there are other thrones in the new heaven, thrones for men and women reborn in Christ. If His throne be the cross, so must ours also be, and therefore he calls us to take up our crosses and follow him. The path to salvation gives, not power, not riches, not comfort, but death to the old life of sin—and life to those who so die. Thus our reign on earth is one of sacrifice, of relinquishing the rule which we so very much desire. It is to give and not to seize, to serve and not to dictate; this is the rule we are given, and our realms are not ours to command and exploit, but instead belong to the weak and powerless and hungry and abandoned and despised to whom we are called to minister.

This is not to say that I think that a Christian is forbidden to be a politician or a business executive or a bureaucrat or any other position of authority and title. Jesus numbered among his followers members of the Sanhedrin, Roman officers, and others of privilege and power, and while he asked of one young man that the latter abandon his wealth, it is not something he asked of all. On the other hand, I cannot say the opposite either, for Jesus did after all say that a rich man's passage to heaven is like unto that of a camel through a needle's eye. But surely if we are wealthy, if we are powerful, if we have others at our command and service, the way in which we exercise such office must reflect the service and sacrifice Jesus made of himself. If we must command and accumulate, we must be mindful that in the end it cannot be to our gratification and magnification, but to God's. I note that for all of the Crown's wealth and panoply, Queen Elizabeth's job is to serve through taking her presence to her people, a duty that by all accounts she takes with great seriousness. Even on her own, literal throne she is merely the mouthpiece of others; it was thus an entirely appropriate symbol that she refused the seat of the murderous, arrogant tyrants of Westeros, mere prop though it may be.

The thrones we erect on earth are likewise but imitations, nay, idols of that of heaven. Our own rule is still sinful, for while we are still of this earth, we carry its taint even as we also manifest the glory of its creator; and that earthly rule shall perish not only as we do, but in the lake of fire which will consume all that is false on the last day. But we may, through grace, extend the rule of heaven as its ministers, by giving up our lives to its service, and walking in righteousness and holiness all our days. And in so doing, we may enthrone King Jesus in our hearts, where he may live and reign forever, with the Father and the Spirit, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Prayers and Bargains

For Year C Proper 12, using the Genesis 18 reading

We pick up from last Sunday's reading in Genesis, with Abraham speaking to the men, the presence of the Lord, as they prepare to go to Sodom and Gomorrah. And Abraham is concerned, because Sodom is where his nephew Lot is living. And thus we have one of the most peculiar prayers in scripture: negotiations for the fate of those cities, negotiations which seemingly are completely successful and yet which are in the end utterly futile. For the men arrive at Sodom, where Lot takes them into his house, where the men of Sodom try and fail to break in for the express purpose of raping the divine guests. Lot and his family are made to flee, and the two cities are made the, um, fire and brimstone standard of the Lord's wrath, becoming watchwords through scripture both of wanton and willful immorality, and of divine retribution.

Abraham's deal-making with God is not listed among the seven types of prayer which our church commends to us. We are most familiar with petition (that is, asking God to do things for us) and intercession (asking him to do things for others), and I suppose that Abraham's bargaining could be classified as some form of the latter. We participate in other prayers on a Sunday, even if we do not name them as such: adoration (that is, worship), praise, thanksgiving, oblation (which is to say, making offerings), and penitence are all elements found in our liturgy, and they too are all ways of praying. But as a rule, the church does not encourage attempting to cut deals with the Lord God, and in reading on the subject, one is inclined to agree that it is unwise.

As to how we should pray: first, Jesus gives us the example of the Lord's Prayer, as related in Luke rather than the more familiar version from Matthew. But it is set in a different context in this gospel, for in Matthew it is delivered as part of the Sermon on the Mount, in the center of a longer passage on praying in general. Luke, however, relates it very briefly, and then follows it with a parable on the efficacy of praying. The Father, he says, will hear us and give us what is good, an egg, not a scorpion, and not because we merit it. Indeed, Jesus say, if a man will give another what he asks for simply to get rid of his persistent begging, how more so will the Father grant us out of love.

It is a statement to justify faith, a statement of hope. But it is also one of the hardest statements of the gospel, because so often it seems that nothing is forthcoming, not even no. Now in Matthew we are told not to make a public spectacle of our praying, and several other commands besides, but even those are not enough to account for the many times we sit on our beds, and beg and plead with God, and receive a silence that is not even stony, but only empty. Over the years many have tried to explain this, to provide reassurance, and even to deny that it represents any scandal. I will do no such thing, but only return to the oaks at Mamre.

Abraham's prayer is answered, oh, yes, more immediately and personally than any of us have a right to expect. And the Lord God does not go back on his word. And yet, the men arrive at Sodom, and are accosted, and they all but drag Lot and his family out of the city. The divine wrath rains down, and Sodom is no more. For all the fashionable universalism of our day, the warning is always there, that we must show our faith through our works to be truly faithful, as James writes; else, there is the fate of Sodom, and of the tares harvested with the wheat.

But one last look at the parable. A man goes to his neighbor, and his neighbor grants his prayer. And is it not so with us? God's purpose is not carried out only in miracles; we ourselves are his hands (as St. Teresa wrote), and we are the answers to the prayers of others. If the poor are to get their daily bread, then it is we who are well-endowed who must provide it; they must not be forced to rely on manna from heaven. It is we who can comfort, and can heal, and nourish. It is we who can refrain from wrath, and contempt, and treachery. It is our sin that is the cause of many of the world's ills—indeed, from the teaching of Genesis 3, we are responsible for all of it. But as we repent and refrain from sinning, we are also advancing the kingdom, so that “your will be done” can be realized in our daily lives.

We are not always answered as we please; we do not always hear the answer. And yet we are reassured, there is an answer, if we would but talk to God, the God who knows our needs before we ask, and what in our blindness we cannot ask. Therefore, I ask of you, pray without ceasing, to the Father who sees all, and hears all, and loves all through his Son, Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit. AMEN.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Antique and Holy Advice

Beloved in the Lord: Our Savior Christ, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood as a sign and pledge of his love, for the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of his death, and for a spiritual sharing in his risen life. For in these holy Mysteries we are made one with Christ, and Christ with us; we are made one body in him, and members one of another.

Having in mind, therefore, his great love for us, and in obedience to his command, his Church renders to Almighty God our heavenly Father never-ending thanks for the creation of the world, for his continual providence over us, for his love for all mankind, and for the redemption of the world by our Savior Christ, who took upon himself our flesh, and humbled himself even to death on the cross, that he might make us the children of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, and exalt us to everlasting life. But if we are to share rightly in the celebration of those holy Mysteries, and be nourished by that spiritual Food, we must remember the dignity of that holy Sacrament. I therefore call upon you to consider how Saint Paul exhorts all persons to prepare themselves carefully before eating of that Bread and drinking of that Cup.

For, as the benefit is great, if with penitent hearts and living faith we receive the holy Sacrament, so is the danger great, if we receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord’s Body. Judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord. Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God’s commandments, that you may perceive wherein you have offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in thought, word, or deed. And acknowledge your sins before Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life, being ready to make restitution for all injuries and wrongs done by you to others; and also being ready to forgive those who have offended you, in order that you yourselves may be forgiven. And then, being reconciled with one another, come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food.

And if, in your preparation, you need help and counsel, then go and open your grief to a discreet and understanding priest, and confess your sins, that you may receive the benefit of absolution, and spiritual counsel and advice; to the removal of scruple and doubt, the assurance of pardon, and the strengthening of your faith.

To Christ our Lord who loves us, and washed us in his own blood, and made us a kingdom of priests to serve his God and Father, to him be glory in the Church evermore. Through him let us offer continually the sacrifice of praise, which is our bounden duty and service, and, with faith in him, come boldly before the throne of grace.

The words I have just read to you come from your prayer book. They replace a set of three such exhortations from the previous book, the first of which was to be read on the first Sunday of Advent and of Lent, and on Trinity Sunday, and the other two to be read the Sunday prior to when communion was to be offered. In those days, before the eucharist was designated as “the principal act of Christian Worship on the Lord's Day and other major Feasts,” it was common that communion occurred perhaps monthly; but then, in Roman Catholic churches from medieval times until relatively recently, people commonly received only once or twice a year, though the mass was said every week.

In the middle ages, the people's part was to see the offering made, a theology rejected by the reformers; yet infrequent communion remained a feature of Protestant worship until the liturgical movements of the last century. I remember as a Presbyterian child attending communion only four times a year. But the reexamination of our rites which led up to the adoption of our current prayer book has overturned all that, so that weekly communion is the rule in most of our parishes. And thus, the typical Episcopalian, accustomed to a routine of Eucharists, week after week, likely finds this exhortation obscure, and its advice perhaps antique. Week after week, we come to church expecting to sing some hymns, hear some scripture and a sermon (hopefully brief), say the creed and some prayers, and then approach the altar for a fragment of bread and a sip of wine, with nary a qualm about the whole routine.

But perhaps we should be having qualms. The habit of weekly communion: this is commendable, as is any practice which cultivates prayer as part of life's pattern. But habit can become mechanical, and the weekly miracle can fall into the other kind of routine: ordinary, mechanical, lifeless. Paul writes that we who partake need to discern the body, or call down judgement upon ourselves. And surely Paul does not mean a literal vision here, for who among us can see divinity—or at that, who could withstand the vision? But equally surely, he must mean that our participation in the rite needs to go beyond simple consumption, and ought, within the bounds of your faculties, to be founded in an awareness of what it is that we do, with all the reverence and worship that this implies.

For consider this: for a moment, you will hold something of Jesus in your hand, and sip something of him from the cup. Christians over the years have argued exactly how this is so, and we Anglicans have refused to commit to a single theory of how this is so, which to my mind is a prudent reflection of the limits of theology as a product of human thought. I would venture to say that taking these theories too seriously may be condemned as fostering the factions and divisions which Paul condemned. But as a church we Anglicans have always held to the faith that Jesus is Really present: however spiritual, however material, however mystical, we do not hold communion to be only symbolic. Jesus is there, on the plate and in the cup, and Jesus is therefore in us, and we are united with him again as we are united in the church, which is also his body.

But even as these are truths, they are also images which can be made the objects of various sorts of idolatry. We can for example come to think of the altar rail as a sort of divine filling station in which we get our heavenly tanks topped off every week. And this much is true: we do need God every week, for we need God every minute of every day. But even to the degree that the Jesus is in the substance of communion, even to the degree that it feeds us, the analogy between His food and our daily bread tends to reduce the former to the latter, an ordinary transaction which we are wont to take for granted—especially the majority of us, whom I would wager never seriously want for nutrition.

Likewise, there is the risk of taking communion as a sort of religious insurance policy, so that we may go about the rest of our week indifferent to the gospel demands, secure (we think) in the armor with which our rites surround our souls. We sin, not in order that grace may abound, but simply because our routine includes a great deal of routine sinning, which we cannot be bothered to notice and or rein in. We know that we are good people, because we go to church and take Jesus into us each Sunday. Well, as you may recall, Jesus commended the Pharisees—barely—for their scrupulous observances; it was what went on in between that he condemned. We have improved upon this slightly, for we at least know that we hold the right moral and political and economic positions (as God appears to have taught us through the mouths of our secular leaders). But really, when examined seriously, our lives show contempt and hard-heartedness and lust and greed and every other sin on a daily basis. Yet we may be saved, but for the repentance which is not part of this routine.

It is this repentance which leads to a confession of sin have been made a part of the eucharistic liturgy. And the church, in her wisdom, has appointed that her priests may offer the grace of pardon not only corporately, but one-to-one. Indeed, in the larger church catholic, it has been the norm to insist that this be done in preparation for partaking. Anglicans have not made such a rule, but the rite has been commended, both in cases where a rite of personal contrition has seemed called for (as the exhortation suggests), and as a regular practice, seeing as how we sin as regularly. But at least we should approach the rail knowing and admitting our own failings, and also confident in the grace which washes sin away and makes us fit to stand before our God.

Therefore, I say this: if the words I read at the beginning sound antique, the instruction they give is ever current. We travellers through this modern century have not passed beyond their advice, but instead should heed these words all the more, in a world which teaches that God is neither there nor anywhere else, nor is sin of consequence nor of any reality at all. Tonight, and at each eucharist, I bid you take some time to pray before and after you approach the altar, and consider the implications of how you are fed with the substance of divine love, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Episcopate Trends, Continued

Back in the fall I commented on the latest thing in episcopal elections: all-women slates. And now we have an election in the Diocese of Michigan (meaning Detroit and its surroundings), and there are four candidates, and all of them are women. And there is a superficial diversity: there's no Hispanic, but one is black and one lesbian, and one is from way out of the area. But all either come from large parishes or serve on diocesan staff, and apparently someone has been looking at the charts from Research & Statistics, because in all but one case the parishes they served show a period of growth under their leadership.

And on that level, I cannot criticize the slate much: Rev. Perry, in particular, stands out as someone who oversaw the virtual resurrection of a near-dead parish. The questions asked tended towards putting parish growth as a priority, and given the diocese's 25% decline in attendance over the decade, it's a pressing issue, as in most of the church. As for theology: well, they were not asked the jaw-dropping question that was asked in Newark last year, and to ask "Much has been written about the changing paradigms in 21st century Christianity. How are you thinking and working to engage these changes? How will this inform your ministry as bishop?" is to invite a heterodox response. That said, none of them rises to the bait; indeed, there is next to nothing of systematic theology in their responses. One wonders how any of them would deal with St. John's Detroit, which is so retrograde as to be a 1928 parish, using the old hymnal no less. But perhaps in this era the pressure to dismay the orthodox has retreated in the face of the numbers.

And yet: in domestic dioceses, the only two of the last eight elections to include male candidates were those in Maine and San Diego, and in the latter, it was clear from the beginning that Susan Snook was the preferred candidate (considering that it took petitions to get anyone else on the slate). In the former, the gay candidate was elected; the other man was the only straight male in the entire lot. Without denigrating the qualifications of any of these people (there being only one or two of whom I knew anything aforehand) there's obviously something in the Episcopal water that's prompting a rather curious set of slates.