Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The Words We Pray

Neil Alexander has an interesting reflection on the pending revision of the Book of Common Prayer, particularly in terms of where we stand with the language of the 1979 version. What is interesting is how much ground he ends up giving to a conservative and possibly even a little reactionary revision. He admits, for instance, that "even after 40 years of Rite Two, a substantial group in our church still prefers traditional language as embodied in Rite One," and continues, "the pastor in me would be loath to take away the possibility of traditional language from those eucharistic communities of our church who desire it."

He goes a bit astray, though, in discussing the assembly of the 1979 book, and the way in which he strays is instructive. One can read in Hatchett (between the lines a bit, I must admit), that Rite II Prayer A is far and away the most hammered-on new material, and that the collects and many of the prayers represent the oldest material. And it shows: material which came later in the process is invariably weaker and less felicitous. The modernized versions of old prayers and collects tend to be the most pleasing to the ear; the older new material tends to be the most direct and taut. So when he says that "{t}he 1979 Book of Common Prayer embodies the liturgical and sacramental thinking of the mid-1970s": that is surely incorrect. One need only look at The New Liturgy, published in 1966, to see the complete outline and even some of the language of the new rite in place; in particular nearly every proper preface listed would be familiar to a Rite II congregation, albeit in post-Jacobean language. Prayer A itself is basically the rite first published in Services for Trial Use (the "green book") back in 1970, tweaked but without substantial changes for the 1976 proposed book. The BCP we ended up with represented the tail end of postwar liturgical thought, not the radicalization of the 1970s.

What was current in 1979 was the kind of radfem thinking which drove Enriching Our Worship and which leads to Bishop Alexander's remark about "pronouns". It was then still largely an idea within academia, but theologians are within academia, and liberal theologians, even before the book became final, were repeating Mary Daly's ideas approvingly. And it's these impulses which are sprinkled throughout his essay, in coded language. In particular, there's this passage: "That said, for many, the language of Rite Two is quite dated and needs to be revised, particularly with respect to gender-inclusive language. Many of us, myself included, would hope that a revision would mine the depths of Holy Scripture for even more expansive language for God." OK, well, that's where the problem lies. There have strong objections to nearly every rite promulgated thus far in interests of supplement or revision, and they are rooted in the fact that "inclusive language" has consistently meant God-language which every prior generation would have held plainly heretical. While the language of Rite II in places has no precedent within the tradition, what that new language says is entirely within the catholic tradition. What EOW says is not within that tradition: that is, after all, why it says what it says, because a certain line of modernist thinking rejects what traditionally has been said. That is the very heart of the revision problem: it appears to be impossible to come up with a rite which satisfies the "inclusive" faction but which can still be counted orthodox by those for whom "inclusion" is not their issue, and the only way that conflict is going away, it seems, is by driving traditionalists off or waiting for them to die, rather stepping up to catholic criticism of the novel god-language.

And back to those pronouns. My issue here is that, for the sake of a conspicuously neoPlatonist theory about the sex/genderlessness of God, we increasingly cannot say the words of scripture, because they do not conform themselves to that theory. I already have a huge philosophical problem with current talk of gender and sex, because the tendency is to absolutely demand and then utterly deny the equality of the sexes in adjacent sentences; on that level I simply cannot enter into the way these things are being talked about, because I immediately find myself unable to talk at all and make any sense.. Gender/sex as it relates to God is unknowable. But that is something of a side issue, whereas for a Protestant the supreme objection is that this doesn't come from scripture. Yes, I know: there are instances where feminine similes are used for the action of God, but that is not the same thing as the core God language. Jesus calls Him "Father", and who are we to gainsay Jesus? We need to learn to live with this, and not count ourselves more enlightened than the second person of the God Himself.

Looking at how I've seen Rite II used over the years, it seems to me that the structure has stood the test of time. Nobody except maybe a few Anglo-Catholics wants to make any changes to that, and I think that the "mays" and "shoulds" could be whittled down to reflect usual practice. There is a lot of polishing that could be done, particularly in getting rid of the "well tell God what he does" construct and in (yes, you knew I'd get to this) Prayer C. I think Bishop Alexander is right in the need for more discussion of the ordinal, but not in a good way. But already we have six options for Sunday Eucharist, and I'm not seeing how we need more-- except to allow theological deviance.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Tolerating Traditionalists

From the Covenant site comes the following:
We all are thinking about the future, and the place of “traditionalists” in the Episcopal Church. While we are tolerated, it is not yet clear what is being tolerated: we as individuals or the view we represent. I am assuming that the church has made its decision for the foreseeable future. Why would the church allow a bishop or a diocese to hold a contrary view? Can it accept reasons for such a minority stance as valid and if so, why?

I submit that, in these terms, the conflict is lost. I map out, in any diocese north and east of Virginia (including my own), as a "traditionalist" simply for insisting that the words of the 1979 BCP be used without alteration. And I am fine with that, but if doing what the canons say to do is something that has to be tolerated, lawlessness is the order of the day. It is not traditionalists who should be in need of toleration, but those who wish to deviate from tradition.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

American Apostasy

The following passage is commonly attributed to Adrian Rogers, one time president of the Southern Baptist Convention:
You cannot legislate the poor into freedom by legislating the wealthy out of freedom. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is about the end of any nation. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.
Rogers did not originate this passage; whatever his immediate source, it first appeared in The Cross and the Flag, a virulently anti-Soviet magazine put out by Gerald L. K. Smith, a one-time Disciples of Christ minister who fell into politics, riding the coattails first of Huey Long, then of Father Coughlin, and finally, perhaps, of Strom Thurmond, who wisely refused to acknowledge him. A virulent antisemite, his other views seemed to shift depending upon whose star to whom he had hitched his own. To take this present tract, Smith wrote it in 1957; but in the mid '30s he was the heir to Huey Long's "Share Our Wealth organization, whose aim was largely antithetical to Lewis's later views. Indeed, there is a certain timeliness to the movement's theses, but the later Lewis surely could not condone its redistributionist and tax-heavy principles.

Lewis's other claims to fame were the revival of Eureka Springs and the highly regrettable "Christ of the Ozarks" which he made the centerpiece of his facilities there, but this squib on economics was picked up and passed around by other right-wing agitators, which I must presume is where Rogers found it, rather than alongside Lewis's holocaust-denying rants. Now really, even considering the sorry state of economics, a cleric cannot justify taking this kind of passed-from-hand-to-hand political propaganda and proclaiming it as the word of God.

But as I was trying to find time to finish this post, the dismissal of national charity write above was rudely upstaged by a clip of Donald Trump talking about handling (so to speak) women. Incredibly, that paragon of virtue Ralph Reed blew the matter off with this response:

I’ve listened to the tape, my view is that people of faith are voting on issues like who will protect unborn life, defend religious freedom, create jobs, and oppose the Iran nuclear deal. I think a 10-year-old tape of a private conversation with a TV talk show host ranks pretty low on their hierarchy of concerns.
Meanwhile, the head of the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins, came through with this principled statement:
My personal support for Donald Trump has never been based upon shared values, it is based upon shared concerns about issues such as: justices on the Supreme Court that ignore the constitution, America’s continued vulnerability to Islamic terrorists and the systematic attack on religious liberty that we’ve seen in the last 7 1/2 years.
And here we are. In the words of Brent Orrell: "It represents the complete subordination of ends to means; the ugly reality is that this leadership will support anyone who claims to support their issues (mainly abortion and marriage) no matter how laughable those claims of support are and how insupportable the behavior and character of the candidate who makes them." Anyone who has seen Trump in action over the years knows that, when it comes to sexual morality, he has none whatsoever. He is nothing but appetite mixed with egomania and a taste for cruelty, governed by no other principle. Yet these "leaders" are willing to sail with him.

And yet nearly half the country is willing to vote for this man, who is so devoid of any Christian virtue that the only sins he cannot be seen to embody are those for which he has not developed a taste. The Seven Deadlies? He all but exemplifies the lot. Nothing he says or does seems to perturb them, and my impression is that they share his collapse into pre-nursery-school amoral impulsiveness. It hardly matters if these people go to church (and My impression is also that they don't) because it doesn't seem to register on them at all. Christianity is nothing more than not-Islam (and probably not-Judaism), a faint cultural marker that involves no religion.

Not that I am going leave the left out of this. Clinton, however duplicitous and evil you think she is personally, represents a program of civil charity which, if ill-advised, poorly executed, and intrusive, at least has some consonance with the teachings of Jesus. But as I've said before, the church's participation in this seems dictated by secular, essentially atheistic culture which is always in peril of stepping away from the gospel. An Atlantic article on the first presidential debate referred to it as "post-Christian" and noted that the faithfully Methodist Clinton avoided, as usual, the language of faith, which those of us in the same social class knows is the way it is done now. And it isn't as though Clinton's "deplorables" don't have a legitimate grievance with the power structures taking advantage of them, and it isn't as though progressive charity towards these people is influenced by their repugnant racism, sexism, and general classlessness. Trump is not their champion no matter how he pretends so, which leaves them with pretty much nobody. And there is no reason not to think that the upper middle class's drift into irreligion is going to be halted, and that even such charity as is thought of now will also fade.

This, then, is the American apostasy; and it presents a major challenge to evangelism. Religion, left or right, is increasingly just someone telling you not do do what you want, and nothing more. Even moral therapeutic deism, the default faith of Americans only a decade ago, is quickly losing ground to utter lack of relationship to God, so that even strident atheists, even agnostics may be held more religious. How do you articulate the divine message in the face of this? "Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again" is a proclamation which simply goes in one ear and out the other.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Life After Modern Death

After my recent sermon on faith it is only proper to turn to the matter of George Clifford's two part "things no modern man can believe" attack upon supposedly traditional ideas of life after death. Stewart Clem's response over at the Covenant website covers most of the bases, but I have a few points of my own to add.

Clem's first two points I would like to take up in a bit more depth. He quotes this passage from Clifford:

[H]istoric Christian understandings of what happens when a person dies, views that usually presume an empty tomb and Jesus’ bodily resurrection, are increasingly anachronistic in view of advances in astronomy, particle physics, and biology.
and a little further on, Clifford supplies a specific finding:
Astronomers, after losing their initial clashes with Christianity, have triumphed over Christian efforts to cling to literal interpretations of the Bible’s three-tiered cosmology (heaven, earth, and hell). Heaven and hell, if they exist, are almost assuredly not actual physical places.
OK, let's start with some corrections. The whole three universe story thing is a pretty modern interpretation: the earliest usage I could quickly find was by Minot Judson Savage, a Unitarian active in the later 1800s. I'm not going to get into the argument as to whether this is the picture of Genesis, but it is manifestly not the medieval Ptolemaic model, Dante notwithstanding; nor, when pressed, would they have agreed that heaven and hell were physical in the modern sense. Likewise, the more or less singular incident of Galileo has been mythologized into a permanent church versus science conflict which is also a product of 19th century rationalism. Fundamentalism, for all its flaws, is a reaction to this secular encroachment into the religious topics, not an ancient mode of thought. And this isn't just Clifford's fault. Neil deGrasse Tyson stated in the new Cosmos that Michael Faraday was raised in a "fundamentalist" faith, but the truth is that The Fundamentals would not be published until half a century after his death. Faraday and F. C. Baur, the father of the "T├╝bingen School", are almost exact contemporaries, but higher criticism really didn't hit English religion until a few years before Faraday's death.

The secularist narrative of its triumph over the Dark Ages (meaning not the period between the fall of Rome and high Middle Ages, but rather anything before the self-styled Enlightenment) is heavily invested in these anachronisms, but what ought to be increasingly anachronistic is this recourse to these highly unhistorical claims about how the ancients and medievals thought about natural science, the spiritual, and the nature of miracles. And it isn't as though nobody ever thought about these questions. Clifford says at one point:

First, what is the nexus between the spiritual and the physical? That is, how does the immaterial spiritual interface with the material, physical world? No explanation of that interface has gained widespread traction among scientists and theologians. In the absence of such an interface, how can humans, whose senses and cognitive processes are all physical, think, speak, or otherwise describe, much less interact with, the spiritual?
Now, surely any sophomore philosophy student can pick this apart. It's ridiculous to insist on a phenomenology in which the only things that happen are those for which there is some prior explanation, whether or not it is believed. Indeed, Christianity has, as rule, denied that such an "interface" is knowable, never mind whether "interface" is even a good word for what happens. Even among unbelieving science fiction authors and computer scientists, the notion that human "cognitive processes" are "physical" loses traction, for the notions that those cognitive processes could be represented in computational hardware, or that neurons could be fed stimuli quite unlike those of our six senses, are old and unsurprising. Consciousness is potentially metaphysical even in its physicality; nobody knows for sure, and beyond the highly questionable Turing test, nobody has any idea how to be sure. In the presence of the unfathomable and investigation-defying supernatural, it is not at all hard to do without the "ghost in the machine" reductionist caricature and live with a "soul" whose nature is likewise unknowable.

And it isn't as though people haven't ever talked about these problems. The whole thing seems to be founded in ignoring centuries of theologians and philosophers, preferring instead to take materialist positions that have been answered over and over. Or to put it in other words, what we're seeing here is a severe loss of philosophical nerve. All too many, now, have begged the question by declaring God dead, but instead of pushing back, theologians have, more or less futilely, sought the approval of the secular academy by conceding the battlefield. To take for granted what modern man cannot believe is to take irreligion as an axiom, but as there are modern men who do not believe so, the "axiom" is not so axiomatic, and men who know religion should be questioning it, not taking it without question.

What we're seeing here, then, is an emotional rather than a genuinely intellectual response. So what is going on here? That shall have to wait for the next post.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Ad Populum in a Pinch

I'm always interested in what Leander Harding has to say, and his observation about dealing with the ad orientum/ad populum issue in a turn-of-the-20th-century neogothic church was no exception. What struck me the most were these comments:
The nave is long, with a deep choir and a raised, high altar of marble against the (liturgical) east wall[....] Originally there was a rood screen in front of the choir, and the communion rail was at the foot of the altar steps.

The presentation of the Cross as tabernacle and temple in the Book of Hebrews provided a theological rationale for this architecture. Because of Christ’s sacrifice we may go boldly into the holy of holies, to the throne of grace, there to receive the body and blood of the Lord and be made one with him. The building’s original architecture allowed this dramatic movement to be enacted in the liturgy, by passing through the Cross into the inner sanctum for the administration of communion.

Around here, the typical outer suburban/town church is in a Victorian (or occasionally Federalist) building that is almost without exception a much shorter high-ceiling box, with a tiny chancel pulled out of the east end. There is typically very little room to pull the altar forward, but that doesn't mean people don't try, no matter how infelicitous the result. My current parish, in being expanded, went from this sort of compressed space to a truncated cross according to the current fashion, in which the sanctuary is a squarish platform for the acting out of the rite, with the altar at its center. Twenty years into using this arrangement, and problems which became evident early on are still manifest. The arrangement has never accommodated the lectern/pulpit/ambo comfortably, so that in the end it has migrated inside the rail and is moved out of the way before the offertory. We have been reduced to dependence on amplification, which ought not to be necessary, but the ambo cannot be placed in an acoustically satisfactory location.

There is,however, a deeper problem, a far more subtle lack which has only become apparent in watching a series of rectors cope with the space: it doesn't give any support to the liturgy. I have written before about how the 1979 liturgical rhythm moves so well with the tripartite neo-gothic space, and even in these small semi-rural parishes it works the same way. And this helps carry a priest through the rite, as long as they do not actively sabotage its solemnity. In our space, though, everything has to be carried by whoever is speaking or acting at the moment, because that person is on stage. The one thing that works well in spite of this is hymn singing, because there's nobody on then. And the thing is that I think at least communion could be improved by pushing the altar a foot closer to the retable and celebrating ad orientum, because then the celebrant wouldn't have to be on stage.

My high school chapel suffers the problems Harding outlined with his two altars, in spades. To cut them some slack, they were and are severely constrained by the need to fit more kids than the space was designed for into its utterly inflexible walls, but still, much of the mystery has been lost in its transformation into a liturgical stage. These little churches are scarcely less restrictive, as crowded as they inevitably are before the altar.

I have finally found a good picture of the interior of St. Clement's, Alexandria, so that you can see the kind of space that versus pop thinking was really aiming for. Here we see a very short and wide space, in which the only action occurring at the altar is communion itself (the pulpit and lectern are on the wall behind, as you can see). There is no audience, or rather, the celebrant is not performing to anyone there present; indeed, celebration is not versus populum at all, but rather in medio populi, which is a wholly better (and perhaps also more holy) symbol. But notice: the liturgical direction is turned back to the outside, toward the transcendent God.

It would be possible to transform a similarly shaped space into a similar plan, but it's a lot of work, and it needs room, which is (again) precisely what these little buildings do not have. And simply pushing the altar forward a couple of feet and putting the priest on the other side is not going to convert these Victorian spaces into the supposed patristic model; what you get instead is the turn-of-the-millennium auditorium church, writ small. I've given my reasons for preferring ad orientum in general, the chief of which is that I think in this era worship does need to be directed outward at a transcendent God; but I don't think you get the symbol of immanence by moving the altar two feet forward and conducting the rite from the other side.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Waiting in Faith

preached 7 August 2016, after weeks of doing Track 1 with its long run of OT prophet readings

This week we are taking a break from the denunciations of the prophets, but don't you worry: there will be more next week. But today, we take up the subject of faith.

So then: what is faith? Shortly we will all stand and say together the Creed, which in ancient times was called the “Symbol of Faith”, “symbol” in this case signifying a token: standing, in this case, for The Faith. And note carefully the words: we do not believe only of God, but in God. Yes, we do say that we believe God created the world, and that Jesus is His Son incarnate, and that he died and was resurrected. We believe that God is three in one, and that there is one church, and that Christ will sit in judgement in the last days. And in the large, we believe that Scripture tells us the story of salvation, which story we believe, and we believe that our priests and other ministers manifest God through word and sacrament. All these ideas and propositions we are called to believe, and I hope we do believe them; but believing these notions is not all there is to faith.

No, the Creed says that we believe in God, that He is not just something we know various things about (the chief being, of course, that He exists), but someone in whom we place our trust and reliance. Last week we heard Jesus tell a parable of a man of wealth, who put his faith in the storehouses of his ample goods. He trusted in what was perishable, and it failed him, but we who trust in God place our reliance upon what is imperishable: this we do believe.

But we believe; we do not see. The LORD first spoke to Abram in chapter 12 of Genesis, saying, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation.” Abram obeyed, and at the end of the next chapter the promise is repeated; and then two chapters on, we hear the promise repeated this morning, and by this time Abram is getting a bit concerned about this descendants thing, seeing as how he has none of yet. Another chapter passes, and Sarai, losing patience, gives her maid Hagar over to her husband so that he has at least some son. Two more chapters pass, and while the God of Hosts establishes his covenant with Abraham and visits him in the form of three men, still there is no heir. Sodom and Gomorrah are razed, Sarah has a run-in with Abimelech, and it is not until we get to Chapter 21 that Sarah finally is pregnant with Isaac—and in the very next chapter, God demands this only son as a sacrifice. Long the promise made to Abram went unfulfilled, and long was he tested, but he believed it, and scripture tells us, it was reckoned as righteousness.

And as we are told in the Letter to the Hebrews, Abraham “died in faith, not having received what was promised.” And likewise, we who are faithful await what is unseen: the final triumph of the kingdom of God. Almost two thousand years have passed since the day of glorious resurrection, and yet we wait. But in that waiting, we show our faith.

So how do we wait? First, we come together in worship, assembling as a people who watch and wait together, their whole unity made from that faith. Second, we read and repeat the ancient promises as they are told in scripture. Week after week we hear the story of salvation—not myths and fictions, but the account of the acts of God across time. Thus the gospel, the good news, is spoken in story, the story of Jesus' teaching and life and death and resurrection. Third, we respond in reaffirmation of our commitment to this faithfulness: singing, praying, hearing, and stating again the principal points of our belief. Fourth, we enter into communion through the Eucharist, which we carry out in faithfulness to Christ's command. And fifth, we go out into the world as witnesses to this faith, that others might become faithful, and that our own faithfulness be shown in acts of love.

So last week, this week, next week, the week after that, the year after that, over and over, we come together in faith. And if our faithfulness is not dulled, well, others are claimed by despair, by loss of hope, by sins of all kinds—pride, greed, lust, and the rest—sins which prey upon us as well. But for us, as for Abraham, our faith may be counted as righteousness. So be assured, that which we await will one day arrive. None but the Father knows whether this world will end tomorrow, or in our lifetime, but if we remain faithful, then we shall be ready for the glorious fulfillment of the promise of salvation given in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Saintly Slash

So this showed up in my Facebook feed today: Martha and Mary of Bethany: Sisters or lesbian couple?

Seriously??? I would like to hope this is just one of those random things that the internet spews forth under the principle of "bullhorns for everyone", but then, there's the Ruth/Naomi and David/Jonathan crowd, both of which made appearances in the same-sex blessing rite's lessons. For those of you who haven't run across it, there's this genre of "slash fiction", which originated in the 1960s-'70s SF fandom with heterosexual women writing stories of homosexual relationships between Kirk and Spock of Star Trek fame. This was abbreviated to "Kirk/Spock" and branched out to include other fictional characters paired in highly emotionalized relationships. I suppose it's a bit unfair of me to compare these extra-biblical matchups to fan fiction, but really, it's not that hard to figure out what's up with Ruth and Naomi (loyalty) or David and Jonathan (friendship/philia). Mary and Martha are more of a Bert and Ernie arrangement, but again, at least as they function in the gospel stories, it's right out there in the open.

But then queer studies or whatever got their, um, well, hands on these, and every two characters of the same sex have to be "shipped" (as they say) in what, to the, um, uninitiated, come across as prurient speculation. Or perhaps the point is to ├ępater les orthodoxes. But it's the twenty-first century, and it is impossible to say anything genuinely shocking anymore on the internet. Thus, I give this my measuredly Anglican assessment:

Give unto me a break.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Another Seminary Closes

The announcement has come today that Episcopal Divinity School will be shutting down at the end of the 2016-2017 academic year. The temptation for grave-dancing at the demise of the chief radical liberal seminary is strong, but instead, in this response from Rod Dreher one may read various entries from the course catalogue and marvel. They do have courses more obviously relevant to the parish priest, but you may peruse the about-to-be-irrelevant last year's catalogue yourself and see that the same kind of contrived liberal speak pervades the whole thing. It is quite a distance to the usual cool academic and administrative prose of Trinity School for Ministry's catalogue, and perhaps an infinite distance from the latter's Statement of Faith, which may be found on page six if one needs to be convinced of their dogged orthodoxy. I cannot imagine such a document having a place at EDS; instead we have this required course:
“Foundations” is Episcopal Divinity School’s way of introducing incoming master’s program students to the understandings and commitments underlying the school’s purpose statement “to form leaders of hope, courage, and vision” who “serve and advance God’s mission of justice, compassion, and reconciliation.” Students will consider vocation both as the call to personal transformation and to act as God’s agents of change and liberation in the world. Analysis will consider personal, interpersonal, institutional, and cultural power dynamics and will focus on race and racism as it informs our understanding of other forms of oppression. Through experiential learning, class presentations, and assignments, students will reflect on how their own social location shapes their actions and thinking while developing tools for theological reflection, social analysis, and engagement in the struggle for the renewal of the church and the world.
Does that mean something? I hardly know, but I do not see in it any much religion. It could just as well be required at Oberlin for all incoming freshpeople, er, first year students.

Likewise, in the comments to the ENS article we have this brave look to the future:

[The decision] is more than economic; the culture has changed and so has our Church. It is time for transforming our understanding of theological education to meet the challenges of today. EDS and its former institutions have always been leaders for social justice and the ethical issues we face in our society. The School must now transition into an innovative and imaginative place that affirms religious pluralism and serves the church and society with love and spiritual vitality for all people. The shape of our institutional future is filled with hope for new life.
Again I ask: does this mean anything? I realize that nobody has any idea what to do with the failing institution's assets, but still, does worshipping God have anything to do with it? What about preaching salvation? Can we at least say "Christ has Died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!"?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

But Who Listens?

Tony Clavier commended the Word to the Church promulgated by the House of Bishops from their March meeting, but remarks on the likely futility of such pronouncements:
We tend to function as if we still had a ready hearing. But who listens? As we have shrunk, we have become the more partisan. The conservative party at prayer has become the progressive movement in church. Our General Convention adopts a huge number of resolutions on political and social matters unheard or read by the powers that be. Our largely right of center laity either bristles at or ignores these resolutions. Thus when our General Convention or in this case our House of Bishops has a non-partisan, objective “word” for our church and hopefully through Episcopalians to the nation, who listens, who hears? In large part we have squandered the utility of our national pulpit because we haven’t the discipline to give objective moral guidance to the church and nation, or we simply assume that our political opinions are gospel.

And this is but the tip of the iceberg of our irrelevance. As a few of you may be aware, there's this fellow named Donald Trump who will almost certainly become the Republican presidential candidate. I would describe him as a buffoon, a political incompetent, and a businessman whose wealth is made possible by the fact of starting out with so much, ameliorating his many failures and manifest mismanagement. He has no positive qualifications to speak of, and many negatives. And yet, he has consistently prevailed in the Republican primaries, to the dismay of a wide swath of commentators and analysts. Why are people voting for him?

Well, there is yet one more thing I see about him: he is a man who does not so much lie as he cares neither one way nor the other about truth. Over at the Atlantic they have begun to consider whether Trump's message is anything more than an outpouring of emotion signals to a people for whom rational consideration of issues is foreign. And in that is enmeshed Trump's blatant disregard for any sort of social norm. I shall reduce it to one single aspect of his business dealings: the art of the Trump deal, it appears, is to simply to refuse to pay up, and then through threat of legal action, to force his creditors to take cents on the dollar. It would have been a terrible temptation, preaching on last Sunday's lesson from First Kings, to begin by saying,

The widow Vera Coking had a house in Atlantic City, beside the property of Donald Trump. And Trump said to her, "Give me your house, so that I may have it for a parking garage, because it is near the hotel I am building; I will give you its value in money." But she said to Trump, "The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance."
And, well, at least Trump was not successful in getting her land. But in gauging his appeal, I have to consider that some large portion of his base shares his amorality. As a claimant to moral authority, we have no voice which they will heed. Indeed, we are held in contempt for stepping across the visceral taboos which are all that are left of their morality. Can we even preach salvation to them? Well, we are not interested, and the social justice we do preach has no traction, for they reject the bonds of community upon which such justice must depend.

But if even if we remember the command to convert the world, will it hear the call? That, increasingly, is the question we must confront. We can no longer be a church for seekers (and at this lesser task we fail, because we have so much trouble repeating the most basic words of our faith), because increasingly the people about us have either despaired or lack (they think) for nothing, and so they do not seek. This is our challenge.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Jesus' Marriage Annulled

Ariel Sabar has an article in the just-published Atlantic detailing his investigations into the provenance of the Jesus's Wife Fragment. His research points to one Walter Fritz, one-time business partner to Hans-Ulrich Laukamp (the supposed owner of the fragment) but more intriguingly, also former masters student at the Berlin Free University, studying Egyptology before abruptly disappearing from the program. Karen King (the Harvard scholar behind the revelations) responded with the admission that the investigation "tips the balance towards forgery."

So now that the affair is all but over, let us review the matter. Still the most telling comment on the whole affair was made at the beginning by Jim Davila: "[T]his fragment is exactly, exactly, what the Zeitgeist of 2012 would want us to find in an ancient gospel. To my mind that weighs heavily against its authenticity. [....] My working hypothesis at the moment is that someone who knew what they were doing went to a lot of effort using a piece of ancient papyrus to create a remarkable forgery." And he is quite justified in stating, in his response to the new story, "I called it correctly as soon as the existence of the papyrus was announced and I maintained that position throughout all the twists and turns of the story over the last three and a half years." With less knowledge of the field, I personally said that "[i]f I were a betting man, I could put my money on this coming to nothing."

So, here's the score: on the one side we have the mainstream media, who seem to largely be staffed by people who are ignorant about this stuff, don't want to learn, and have an antipathy toward anything orthodox. This particularly is manifested in their views towards sexuality, which tend to run towards "even if it does frighten the horses; especially if it does." Gnosticism, as they see it, is this Crowleian-Gardnerian-Learian thelemo-wicco-countercultural palimpsest, scraped clean of the original hatred of the material body in preparation for forgery of modern sexual (im)mores as ancient. Surely, if they had spent much time asking the many people who are familiar with the material and who don't participate in the academic Gnostic Sales Company, they would have found out that (a) from the beginning these others were extremely cautious if not outright doubting of this text, that (b) if it had been genuine, it almost certainly wouldn't have intended to say that Jesus had an actual in-the-flesh wife, and most of all (c) that it didn't matter to orthodox Christianity anyway. Sure, simple sensationalism goes far in explaining their credulity, but it's hard to imagine that, for example, the revelation of a ca-AD 90 text of John would get the same hype. Well, except maybe on Fox News.

But anyway, on the other side we have Dr. King, and with her, Harvard. Given the immediate and strong negative reaction from the field, there is no question but that she must be faulted for her credulity. And I'm afraid I have to say that I have to think that this was predicated on her membership in the Gnostic Sales Company. She was a Jesus Seminar member, which I consider a public relations effort for pushing the merits of the Gnostic material in understanding apostolic Christianity, and she has published other books pushing the Gospel of Thomas forward. And while I suppose there's a degree to which nobody can be faulted for putting their own ideas to the fore, Harvard certainly should have known better.

Perhaps the best thing about the affair, besides the vindication of the doubters, is that the religion writers who abetted the fraud are having their faces rubbed in the matter. Laurie Goldstein at the NYT, the chief cheerleader, was made to back down back when the parallel Qau codex forgery was uncovered; now the others are being presented with the same fate, not to mention being roundly scooped by a competitor precisely because they didn't bother to do some pretty basic homework. I can only hope that in the future the next big "discovery" will be treated more circumspectly.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Shoot, If You Must, This Old Gray Head

Trigger warning: bad poetic allusions

Well, Dean Hall is gone from the national cathedral, and while he may not be moldering in the grave or anyplace else for that matter, some small bit of his soul is marching on in the announcement that the two representations of the confederate battle flag are to be removed from the Lee-Jackson windows and replaced with clear glass. It's oh so tempting to suggest that they should be replaced with white glass, but at least they aren't going to efface the whole thing, and for whatever reason they're leaving in the two representations of the confederate national flag. And, well, perhaps the Corps of Engineers flag should removed for offending the sensibilities of environmentalists everywhere.

OK, OK: sorry for all the cheap shots. But there's a certain irony in the whole project in that the whole controversy is over a very small fragment of a fabric deeply woven with a symbolism towards which the committed leftist progressive must have an uneasy relationship. Jesus to the north, sitting in royal judgement over the world; Jesus to the south, sitting in triumph; Jesus to the east for a majestic two-fer: it's all so royal. But at the same time, the towering presence on Mount St. Alban, the highest hill around, symbolizes the influence the cathedral establishment feels it deserves. In the '50s, it was still plausible; when the cathedral was finally consecrated in 1990, it perhaps was still plausible. But by then, already, the fragmentation of American society into warring political tribes had become a feature of public life, and the church, any church, could no longer present itself as the moral voice of the nation.

And by then there were no longer a series of signs along US 40, one each mile, telling the traveller the distance to the Barbara Fritchie House in Frederick. Whittier's poem, it is widely agreed, is something of a political pious fiction, assembled from a mixture of tales which more likely than not had their origin in the defiance of another woman, and which probably didn't involve Jackson. I have never visited the attraction, though I understand it is still in business. It was so blatantly a tourist trap as to be avoided by my parents. In the end a more scenery-conscious age swept the signs away, and a more cynical age swept away such pure sentimentality as Whittier wrote. There is something if the same naive secular hagiography in the window, which forgives the two of being on the wrong side of the conflict in favor of recalling their piety (which was quite real).

Such noble sentiments were once not ridiculed. As the First Things article from last year recounts, Dean "I marched with MLK even though my granddaddy was that great segregationist Woodrow Wilson" Sayre, under whose helm the window was commissioned and installed, wrote that "Cathedrals do not belong to a single generation. They are churches of history. They gather up the faith of a whole people and proclaim the goodly Providence which has welded that people together as they have hoped and suffered and believed across the centuries." Washington National Cathedral certainly was built under that vision, in the haphazard course of such projects; interrupted over and over, steered by benefactors and the whims of current taste, it is perhaps a miracle that it holds together as well as it does, and surely that can be ascribed to the long presence of Philip Frohman as architect. In it are recorded the concerns of a century of American life, through two world wars and into outer space. Perhaps one of my favorite memorials is the spot in a transept where it is carved that then Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher laid his hand in blessing; another remembers that Martin Luther King Jr. preached his last sermon in its pulpit.

And now, apparently, two pieces of clear glass, each about the size of my hand, are going to testify through the ages to the contrived twitchiness of early 21st century progressives. I suppose I should be grateful that Dean Hall's original notion was not carried through; and yet the window, in the hands of the cathedral chapter, has been turned from its original purpose of reconciliation into a permanent sign of division. The day may yet come when the battle flag is just history, and perhaps then some crate in the cathedral archives may be opened, and two old pieces of red, white, and blue glass may be returned to their former places. But I do not hold out hope that I will live to see the day.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Another Year in the Sausage Factory

So once again I was a delegate to diocesan convention, this time as an alternate. This year worship tended towards high-and-wide, pretty much straight out of the BCP except for the one spot anyone can guess (it was during Eastertide, so the other spot didn't come up). Musically it was all organ but there were a couple of quite unfamiliar numbers, particularly the opening hymn. If one is going to set Hyfridol, which is probably in the top ten in Episcopal hymnody however one slices it, it behooves one to make a text which is rigorously metrical. And for that matter, please come up with one's own tune, rather than reusing Sine Nomine (another case later on). At least the service music was almost all familiar.

A chart of parochial report data, if it be for 2015, does in fact report positive numbers: ASA of 10,273 compared with 10,256 in 2014. It's less than 0.2% gain, but any gain at all is an achievement after a solid decade of losses. This was against our new assistant bishop Chilton Knudsen's declaration that "ASA is passe." Is that so? The ongoing attempt to pretend that we don't have to take our losses seriously is a painfully destructive denial of reality, particularly considering the lack of interest in why people are leaving on the one had, and the self-congratulatory undertone of how it's the result of purification.

This was reinforced by our speaker, the Very Rev. Mike Kinman, dean of the cathedral in St. Louis, who also preached the eucharist. Between the two addresses, we got a Change sermon and a Social Action sermon. Anyone who has read this blog much knows how I abhor the former, and while there is a place for the latter, we keep coming back to the problem that baptizing people in the Triune name and bringing them into the church just never seems to be a priority, a problem reinforced when Bp. Knudsen blessed in the Modal name. Can't we get over that?

And so, on to the resolutions. I ended up sitting with a group from two churches at the far western end of the state, where even the city parishes are small and parish survival is a big issue. This came up twice in the resolutions, once in the obligatory compensation resolution and the other in a canonical revision which, among other changes, created a formal process for closing a parish from the outside. This, apparently was prompted by a lawsuit, but it was opposed by our table, who were surely concerned that central Maryland standards of viability might not reflect their situation. Another necessary resolution dealt with an amendment to the cathedral by-laws, which apparently we have to be involved in; it went through without comment.

Another inevitability was a alcohol policy resolution, which passed without difficulty. We also got a "let's shame everyone how hasn't gotten their anti-racism training" attempt which was not surprisingly muted to read "don't forget to get your anti-racism training."

The bishop of Puerto Rico was present for the occasion of setting up a companion diocese relationship. I have no idea what these do for anyone but there it is.

A particularly peculiar resolution was one to recommend putting Origen on the calendar. This was obviously way out of the competence of nearly everyone in the room; I could barely handle the materials myself. It's hard to say why this was brought forward, though it's possible his ideas about universal salvation might have prompted this, universalism being very popular now. At any rate it was very difficult for anyone to mount a contrary response, and only one person made a pretty limited attempt.

The big event was the last resolution, which was dealt with parliamentary procedure right out of Lewis Carroll. This resolution proposed that the diocese "give an amount equivalent to at least ten percent of the assets of its unrestricted investment funds to the diocesan chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE) as an initial act of reparation." We used the same procedure as last year of small table discussion and sending cards back to the resolution writers; for this resolution, however, each table got a representative (I presume from the commission that wrote this) as a facilitator. Mind you, I was sitting next to a retired state trooper from the extremely white and poor west end of the state. The word "privilege" was of course brought out.

The subsequent and irregular handling of the resolution demonstrated how problematic the whole thing was. The resolution specifically set no limits on how the UBE was to use the money, and this is probably what brought on the rewrite to dump the matter on diocesan council for further discussion. This was announced first, then voted; then we were to discuss the matter. Given the constraints this discussion was essentially impossible and therefore next-to-nonexistent, especially since it was the only "business" keeping us from closing up shop. In any case only two people spoke, the first of which pointed out that the original resolution was out of order from the beginning because it lacked certain requisites of a spending resolution. Oh the time this could have saved....

The other speaker foolishly pointed at the elephant in the room. I personally could not see this as anything as a symbolic but ineffective act, and I said so in table discussion. I was not so foolish as to point out the bigger problem: that we are so very deeply out of touch with the lower classes. One clause of the original resolution "encourage[d] all congregations to examine how their endowed wealth is tied to the institution of slavery and consider returning a portion of that wealth as part of this initiative." OK, so the patriarch of my branch of the Wingates is supposed to have emigrated to North Carolina back in the the 1740s, and if you want some slave-generated wealth, consider that "Old Brick" in Columbia had space in the balcony for said slaves. All these years later, though, my father's mother family were workers exploited in the same cloth mills managed by my great-grandfather Wingate; I remember my grandmother's pride in managing to escape the factory floor for the offices. In any event, my parish was started in the 1880s. And my mother was from a broken farm family in Ohio; her grandfather was a Dutch immigrant.

Really, we could liquidate every asset of the diocese and not make a dent in the poverty and suffering of blacks in Maryland, for we have neither the wealth nor the influence. And we talk about the problem as outsiders, all around, when we talk at all. Thus, one person stood up to the microphone and spoke of our lack of interest in poor whites, and how his parish was much more recently founded, and finished by stating that he was not racist. The whole performance was met with embarrassed silence, and that was the end of the discussion.

Friday, March 25, 2016


For Maundy Thursday, 2016

Remembrance: this is crucial to faith. It is so central to the Eucharist that theologians and liturgists have a special word for it: anamnesis. Amnesia is forgetting; anamnesis is remembering. We do this in remembrance of him, according what we have been taught of old.

People tell us that spirituality is all about a search for God, and that furthermore, one carries out this search on a path of ones choosing with some vague confidence that, if nothing definite is ever found, it is the searching that matters. But that is not how true religion works. This is not to say, not at all, that God is not to be sought, but rather that the world makes God the passive and silent object of a person's seeking. But the LORD God, so the story of scripture says, is not passive; indeed, it seems more the case that He is wont to reveal Himself to people without warning or invitation. Abraham, Moses, and Samuel in the Old Testament; Zachariah and Mary in the New: all these were the target of God's revelation, wanted or not. In the case of Paul the apostle, the divine presence was thrust upon him quite against his will.

We moderns, for the most part, are spared such revelations. No burning bushes, no voices, no angels speak to us, and we are apparently in little danger of being thrown from our horses. So how do we know God? Well, by word and sacrament, as the prayer book says. Language is fundamental to humanity: while other animals do communicate, and we have taught some rudiments to a few apes, it is humans who speak and hear and write and read. Humans, and God. God said, “let there be light.” Jesus is the Word who is God. Thus scripture manifests God, simply by telling the divine story.

Scripture testifies to the LORD God, and he commands its recollection. Tonight we have heard two of these commands. In Egypt, on the eve of deliverance, he tells the Israelites to prepare the Passover meal out of which will come the mark, the sign of their separation; but he also commands festivals in perpetuity, that the Jewish people should ever remember their exodus and how it was accomplished. A thousand-odd years later, Jesus ordains another meal, bread and wine, which we are to do in remembrance of him, until he come again. In obedience to this the church has set apart ministers to break the bread and offer the cup, that the death and resurrection of Jesus be remembered to the end of ages.

So here we are: The LORD God, in the words of scripture, is sitting there revealed to anyone who would but read. We have been given the story, and we have but to have faith in it, and do as it tells us. But if words come from God, well, lying came from the serpent. And the words of scripture: well, God spoke them through the mouths and pens of men. Thus we are presented with a paradox: the truth is not only out there, it is right out in the open; but being words, we cannot of ourselves sift it from all the untruths and misapprehensions and outright frauds that pretend to tell us the fundamental truths of the cosmos. Thus, when we turn away from written revelation and conduct our own search, we like as not end up at an idol of our own construction, having forgotten the God once shown.

But we have more than word; we have sacrament. Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of me”; but he also said, “this is my body”, and “this cup is the new covenant in my blood.” And while many have argued through the years that these words are purely symbolic, that is not what the church as a whole has taught, and this is not what this church has taught. Broken bread and poured wine are not merely token; Jesus is really present, in a mystery whose explanation is beside the point. We eat and drink, and Jesus becomes part of us, in reality. Likewise, in baptism we are bathed in Jesus' death and resurrection, not just in play-acting, but in a truth which is beyond mere materialism. And all this is carried out in the Church, that great and sacred mystery, in which the words and sacraments are handed down, from one generation to another. We remember, because the church remembers—because we remember. We remember the holy story, and we repeat it again, and thus it is passed along, the most fundamental ministry and evangelism there is. The truth is not found; it has revealed itself, and that revelation must be told, and must be partaken of in the rites of the church.

And thus anamnesis: remembrance. To remain the people of God, we must remember that we are the people of God, and we must tell the story anew. Otherwise the gospel, the good news, dies as we die, and the vine of which we are the branches fails to grow. In this age of studied skepticism and contempt for authority, this is a very hard thing, since after all, our telling is but the latest in a long chain of speakings, and who will believe what he has not seen?

And yet, in so believing, we are blessed. And therefore in telling, we are the more blessed. Jesus commanded the disciples to love one another; and if our love for the world leads us to tell the sacred story to those who have not heard it, our love for each other must manifest itself in our mutual encouragement, in the repetition of the gospel, that it not be forgotten. Let no one be a stumbling block to another's faith; let us recollect together the holy Word which is within us and which binds us into the church. Let us, in remembrance of him who died for us and rose again, break the bread, drink the cup, and repeat the story of salvation as we await the day of his coming, when the story will be fulfilled and we will see the truth, face to face, world without end. AMEN.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Glory, Seen Through Faith

preached 7 February 2016, the last Sunday in Epiphany

Epiphany begins with a voice from heaven, at Jesus' baptism; then the first miracle, at Cana, is a small, subtle thing. And today we are at the midpoint of Jesus' ministry, and we have a miracle that is not small, and not subtle; in fact, it is all about show: Jesus, shining in glory, accompanied by Moses, the lawgiver, and Elijah, the foremost prophet. Nobody is healed, nothing is physically changed; the three witnesses simply see the spectacle of Jesus, the Son of God, the Christ testified to by Law and the Prophets, in his glory.

And yet the vision confounds them. Peter's response is all but nonsensical: what do the three figures need of dwellings? And to further this, the cloud descends on the mount, as on Sinai, and the voice speaks again, as at the baptism, proclaiming the Sonship of Jesus. And the three, what do they do at the passing of the vision? They do nothing, and say nothing.

And yet, they have seen the glory of the LORD God, not veiled, not reflected, but face to face. Before then, only Adam and Eve, in Eden, and Moses have so spoken to God. And as to the latter, we have a curious story. Our first reading comes as Moses has descended from the mountain with the second tablets; and while he is upon the mountain, he makes a request of the Lord:

Moses said, "Show me your glory, I pray." And God said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, 'The LORD'; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But," he said, "you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live." And the LORD continued, "See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen."

And at the end of the book, it says that the glory of God came down on the tabernacle, so that Moses could not enter it; and in Chronicles, when Solomon has finished his prayer before the newly consecrated temple, it says that the priests could not enter, because of the glory which filled it. The children of Abraham saw the Lord's mighty acts as they were delivered out of Egypt, but the divine presence: this they could not withstand, much less enjoy. Indeed, their reaction to the spectacle on the mountain as Moses receives the first tablets was to abandon the Lord for a molten calf, an idol whose glory was naught but the sheen of gold and whose power was but in their imagination. The real reflection of God's glory they could not abide, and thus Moses veiled it.

But here in Luke, “veiled in flesh” as the Christmas hymn says, the three disciples see that glory, ordinarily hidden but now shining forth; and in their testimony we also see that glory, now hidden in heaven but yet present among us. Paul is referring to Moses's veil when he says “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another.” And he says, “For it is the God who said, 'let light shine out of the darkness,' who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”: it is this light which is among us, through the Spirit, in the words of scripture we hear and the sacraments in which we take part. Each time we come to this place and hear the Word of the Lord, that glory is revealed, not in a blaze of confounding light, but in the knowledge of Christ which is taught through the Church. And each time we draw near the altar and partake of the sacred body and blood, are we not incorporating that glory into our very selves, even as we recall the sacrifice and resurrection which is the foundation of our faith?

Yes, it is through faith that we now see the vision on the mountain top. To the world this is nothing more than myth, the fairy tale of yet another religion. And even we, who through faith see the real glory, are tempted into a vision of a more manageable god. The LORD God who passes by, holding his hand over Moses in a rocky cleft: it smacks of pagan stories. It offends our sophistication, so that we hew to an image of a god who is so perfected, so encased in superlatives, that we fall into deism, worshipping, well, honoring at any rate a perfect immobility whose glory we never risk seeing directly and whose hand we need not fear, for it will never intrude into the ordinary. We therefore cleave the two great laws and obey only the second. We proclaim the second with all our might, the law the pharisees set aside, loving our neighbors as ourselves, or at least to the extent that our lives leave room for that. It is our worship that is flabby, because we do not fear God. Our very modern skepticism veils his glory, so that we do not draw near his presence trembling as they did at Sinai.

And yet we are so drawn, each week, through spiritual hunger or obedience, and we swallow some small bit of that glory, veiled in bread and wine. And though some of us may rarely be made by the spirit to feel that presence within us, for most it is only faith that gives vision. And yet, the glory is there. Therefore fan the flame of that faith, and worship the God who is really present, not just on the mountain top, but within his church, to whom he has given salvation to ages of ages.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

It's not that I Hate Prayer C

I came across this post which if it doesn't link to my thoughts on the datedness of Eucharistic Prayer C, might as well be written as a response to it.

And actually, on one level I like the prayer a lot. The way it moves from the glory of creation through the history of sin and redemption is most highly to be commended, at least in principle. It fairly cries out to be the liturgy of choice for Trinity Sunday. My problems it are in the way of tune ups. Responsive liturgy was the thing back when it was written, but in this case I think it doesn't gain us anything, and indeed immediately presents the problem that the prayer cannot be sung, because getting the congregation over the responses is just never going to work. I also find the final section awkward. Never mind how the invocation of the patriarchs has to be messed with (and I think the solution to that is to work Mary into the mix): the juxtaposition between that and the prayer is jarring. They just don't fit with each other. And that second paragraph: whatever we say, we need to find something better than "this fragile earth, our island home."

I think all of these things are fixable, and if they were fixed, we would end up with a prayer for the ages. But the force driving us to revision is, from what I can see, utterly uninterested in any of this. That's why I wrote the other article: I think that, unless there is a huge change of heart or the balance of power is way off from what I and I think most people sense, the specific purpose of the revision will be to make a book even more attuned to the progressive politics and social milieu of the present. Prayer C only hints at the early 1970s; you almost had to be there to fully read it. Enriching Our Worship is unmistakably the product of turn-of-the-century academic progressives, and that is the direction we are intended to take.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The Embarassment of the Revised Common Lectionary

I have complained before about the peculiar way the Revised Common Lectionary omits parts of readings, and particularly so in the psalter. So tonight, on the feast of the Epiphany, we have yet another peculiar psalm passage. Both the BCP and RCL appoint some or all of Psalm 72 for this feast, regardless of the year. The BCP gives the option of using all nineteen verses or allows skipping from verse 2 to verse 10. I would guess that it is this latter verse which was felt germane to the feast: The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute,* and the kings of Arabia and Saba offer gifts. And given the length of the psalm it's not surprising that the BCP offers a "cut to the chase" option.

The RCL, however, gives only one option, which is to omit the last five verses along with verses 9 and 10. It is the latter omission which is the more striking because it's decidedly peculiar to skip over just two verses. And here they are:

8 He shall rule from sea to sea, * and from the River to the ends of the earth. 9 His foes shall bow down before him, * and his enemies lick the dust.
What could possibly be wrong with this? Well, I have to think that it is verse 9 which offends someone's tender sensibilities. But when the Great Litany rolls around and we are beseeching God that we "may finally beat down Satan under our feet," I really can't see the problem with a great deal of grovelling on the part of Christ's enemies, or rather, The Enemy. But apparently someone saw enough of an issue that we were made to skip a pair of verses, so that once again reading the text straight out of the BCP is made difficult, to no particularly good end.

Some liturgist I once read said that part of the purpose of cycling through the psalms was to put the words of scriptural prayer and praise in our mouths whether we wanted them there or not. It would appear that this principle was foreign to the compilers of the RCL readings.