Sunday, March 30, 2014

Each man's life is a drawing...

Each man's life
Is a drawing-
Planned, but taking on
A life of its own.


With many
Searching lines,
False starts,
Light, nervous impressions,
Deep, dark lines of
Frustration and fear.
Sweat drops

The pencil moves
Into the unknown void
Of the white paper
With satisfactions,
Always fears-
Some little,
Some big.

Moving towards
But never finished.
Moving into accomplishment,
Never accomplished.
Groping for perfection,
Never perfect.

Finding joy
In the movement,
When the object is forgot
As object.
Finding reality
In the real
When the real is forgot.
Finding pleasure
In the process
When the end is forgot.

Viewed with pleasure
And disgust.
Viewed with love
And not-quite love.
Viewed with unsettled peace
That is both peace
And disquiet.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Two Worlds: the Puritan and the Anglican (To Max)

My dear friend,

I will try to answer your question in the following way.

We are talking about two worlds- the term "world-view" is so hackneyed now that I will avoid it.

On the one hand is the world bequeathed us by the Puritans, not the Reformers, per se, but the English Puritans.  Of them, C.S. Lewis writes

"…the marks of a puritan, in my sense, are a strong emphasis on justification by faith, an insistence on preaching as an indispensable, almost the only means of grace, and an attitude towards bishops which varies from reluctant toleration to implacable hostility."  English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, page 18.  (emphasis mine)

Our heritage from the Puritans in the contemporary evangelical churches is that which centralizes preaching, almost to the diminishment of every other thing.  The recovery of worship in these churches over the past twenty or so years with praise songs and the contemporizing of old hymns seeks to remedy this, and, as such is laudable.  But, in the circles you and I have traveled in, preaching is central and supreme.  And, preachers are central and supreme, as it must follow.

Here, is the source of what I have criticized as "the personality-cult" among evangelicals and especially contemporary Reformed evangelicals.

Now, preaching is a means of grace, a gift of the Holy Spirit, and a blessing to the Church. The same things must be said of those who are extraordinarily gifted to preach. The problem lies in our fallen tendency to exalt and idolize the gifts of God, even the spiritual gifts of God, to an impertinent and perverted place.  This is the tendency of our hearts with everything, so we should not be surprised to see it in action in the realm of preachers and preaching.

The result of this in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries was that preachers were exalted and people went to hear preaching as people now surf the Net.  Those who went to hear the preachers at St. Giles, Cripplegate, had to do so very early in the morning, and they did for years.  The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries were the same.  These were centuries of "great preachers," the greatest being Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 1834-1892.  Spurgeon may be called the first "rock-star" preacher (though some would grant this to George Whitefield, 1714-1770, who was Spurgeon's "idol preacher").  Spurgeon is the first preacher whose success was based, not just on his extraordinary spirituality and oratorical gifts, but on a wave of marketing methods employed primarlily by his publishers, Passmore and Alabaster.  This, I think, along with the availability of cheap (and excellent) printing, made the Victorian age of preaching the father of the modern marketed church, with it many marketed preachers. There was the market: in those who loved preaching; there were the marketers: like P and A; and there were the preachers, who too often (always?) failed to see what this might mean to the spiritual health of the larger Church.  In this sense, I might venture the opinion that Passmore and Alabaster were the grandfathers of the Trinity Broadcasting Network and the 700 Club.  (I am exposing myself to fiery missiles here!)

The free church tradition of Spurgeon and others, was always (like their Puritan fore-fathers and mentors) hostile to the Liturgical Tradition of the Historic Church as being popish and foppish.  Preaching became central and, as the result, the "great preacher" became paramount.  This period gave rise to sobriquets like "the prince of preachers," "the kings of the pulpit," and,"pulpiteer." Woe to those who suffered from what Spurgeon called a "slender apparatus" (inferior gifts)!

This has carried over into the present situation.  The new favorites are John Piper, Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, et al, who are men of saintly spirituality and extraordinary gifts of personality and oratorical skill.  Given the milieu that they and their followers come from- the preaching-centered and liturgically skeptical one- it is inevitable that a cult of personality has grown up around each of them, and sometimes around them together.  While it is possible to live in such an atmosphere without it going to one's head, it is extremely rare and the situation created by it is spiritually dangerous and sometimes, fatal- to the preacher and the devotees.  I could name many examples, but it would make for sad reading.

What I have been trying to say in my other communication with you on this subject is this: The Liturgical Tradition of the Historic Church (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican) avoids this dangerous and sometimes fatal set of circumstances by having the Right Things in the Right Place, including preaching (though I will not vouch for this in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Communions because I have no real experience of them).

Nor will I place my imprimatur on all Anglicanism.  It is well known that contemporary Anglicanism is in a real mess.  But, I will speak for my own denomination, the Reformed Episcopal Church (though my experience is limited, even here).

From the beginning the Reformed Episcopal Church under the aegis of founding Bishop, George David Cummings, 1822-1876, sought to give the Lord's Supper and preaching their right place as the right things in the context of the Liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer.

What this means to me and other worshipers in our Communion is this:

1.  Preaching takes place in the environment of worship, i.e., confession/absolution, praise with Psalms and hymns, the reading of the Psalms, Old Testament and New Testament- the written Word of God, the confession of our Faith in the Creeds, the offering of ourselves and our worldly goods to God, and the Holy Communion, and prayers, prayers, prayers!

2.  Preaching is seen, ideally, as preparation for the Eucharistic Meal at the Lord's Table, where we receive by faith in the Gospel, the Real Presence of Christ Himself and enjoy fellowship with the Holy Trinity and all the saints, in heaven and in earth.

3.  Preaching is controlled by the Collects, the Propers, and the Lectionary of the Church.  This keeps us from running off on our personal tangents and riding our personal hobby horses.

4.  Preaching is done under the scrutiny of our Rector and Bishops.  If we get off often enough, we are called on it.  This protects the congregation and ourselves.

5.  Preaching, then, is a means of grace but not "almost the only, means of grace" Lewis, ut supra, nor even the central and supreme means of grace.  It is a servant of the the Liturgy and the Holy Communion, and therefore of God and His people.

Thus, we can have poor preaching and still be fed on the Word of God and the Flesh and Blood of Jesus.  We can, as preachers, have a bad preaching day and the people are still ministered to by the Holy Spirit and Word.  We can be unexceptional preachers (as most of us, alas, are) and still be good, faithful, and useful preachers in the Church of God.

And we and our hearers are thereby protected from the noxious and toxic "personality cult" I am so critical of.  (I do not say, for a moment, that we are not subject to the temptation to this, or that we never fall into it.  But, when that happens our Pastors, the Bishops come a'calling and you really don't want that to happen…if you know what I mean.)

So, dear Max, this is the long answer to your short question.  I am sure we can flesh it out even more in further conversation and I hope to do this with you personally this summer.

The Lord be with you and with all whom you love.

In Christian love,


Monday, February 10, 2014

Reflections on a Long Parish Ministry

We were partners in a strange marriage,
An arranged marriage in which
We gave our consent to a life together
We had neither prescience or understanding of.
But, it was a marriage and because
We honor marriage,  we determined
To make the best of it.

I loved you and did not know
How to love you.
And you loved me and shared
The same ignorance.

All the things that sour a marriage were there:
Pride, fear, confusion, inflated expectations.
But the things that save a marriage were there, too:
Forgiveness, humor, respect, and satisfaction.
They worked contrary to one another in such a way
As to produce a persevering resignation and trust.

And the result was a good thing for both of us.
We brought to one another
What the other lacked.
We were bettered by the conflict,
By the discipline,
By the failures,
And by the many renewals of love.
Thus, we were made more like one another
And more like the Thing
We both supremely loved.

And in my aging days I look back.
My regrets stare back at me with hollow eyes.
But, there is no bitterness
And the pangs of longing are mixed with joy.
The regrets and pangs make me wish
That I could have been a better man, a wiser man.
And, yet, even in that longing
Is also something of love.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

To John Peter Boonzaaijer, "Batiushka"

And so, you came to me:
Young and impressionable,
A sponge, ready to drink in everything
I could give you.
And, like a sponge,
Rough and wooly on the edges.
And I taught you
All I could,
Ancient truths,
And the lore of the woods and fields,
(Remember when we skinned the raccoon?)
And the forgotten crafts
Of wood and iron,
Of water, fire, earth and air.
And you left me richer than you came,
Dripping with newly acquired knowledge
And a modicum of experience.
You left happy
And I watched you go with a
Sad joy.

And so, I came to you:
With white hair and wrinkled eyes,
Still longing to know,
Still thirsty to drink from
Wells of knowledge.
And you taught me,
All you could,
Ancient truths,
Venerable forms,
The lore and luster
Of the Ancient Church,
The old light shining with
New illumination upon the Sacred Text.
You taught me
The holiness of real things,
Bread and Wine,
Water and Oil,
Holy smoke from
God's own forge.
And we stand together now,
Not parted, not parting,
Until death shall come for one of us-
And I hope it will be me first,
And you will
Watch me go with a
Joyous sadness.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Christian "Culture of Complaint"?

We are hearing a good deal these days about the persecution of Christians in current American culture.  (Most of the noise is to be heard from the 24-7 news (?) media and the social networks like Facebook.)  Much of this so-called persecution has revolved around free enterprise operations like Chick-Fil-a, Hobby Lobby, and the television series "Duck Dynasty."  I rarely shop or eat at the first two, and I have never seen an episode of the last, so I have no emotional investment in any of the them.

I have been cautious about commenting on any of this, and once, when I did, I was grossly misunderstood, ended up alienating a few friends, and was cautioned by my Rector.  The scalded dog avoids any water thrown in his direction.

But, the more I have listened  to this noise, the more I have thought that something is missing.  It was only last night that I think I saw what that something is.

Years ago, the late art-critic, Robert Hughes described America in the 90s as a "culture of complaint."  American's in the 90s had become hypersensitive, whiny, complaining, self-absorbed, quick to take offense and shrill in their response to it (real or imagined).  I agreed with Hughes' analysis then, and I think that thirty years later, we are not only the same, but worse.  So goes the culture and that does not cause me a lot of concern.

What does concern me is this:  The same charge can be leveled at Christians in America at the present time.  And with justification.

In the present climate with all the talk about persecution and "rights" the outrage and complaint are palpable and the whining and self-pity are thinly disguised (if at all).  "Poor Christians, we are always getting a raw deal."

What is missing from all of this is the attitude of the early Church, and the Church throughout the ages and
even now in other parts of the world.  What is missing is what Jesus commended and commanded in His disciples when confronted with mistreatment.  What is missing is Joy.

"Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you for my sake and the Gospel's"  "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." This is what the Founder of the Christian church said, and having said it, went on to model it before the world.  Even unto death.  Even unto death on a Roman torture stake.

The early Christians understood this.  They took up the cross, suffered mistreatment, persecution, and death and did so without complaint.  Indeed, they did so with joy and rejoicing.  "They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for Jesus' name."

We may be watchful about the current of contemporary culture.  We may be concerned about the loss of freedom in a free society.

But, we must never whine and complain.  This is a tacit denial of a core ethic of our Faith. The world understands this better that some Christians do.

And it is watching...too.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Little Incident at the Baptist College by E. D. "Shinbone" Smith, Bomar, Oklahoma, formerly Indian Territory, IT

For a spell I thought I was called to preach and preach I did with a license from the Thackerville Baptist Church.  I was young and zealous and full of fire- more fire than light, I'd say now.

 Anyhow, everybody thought I should get some education, and Lord knows, I needed it.  So, I packed up what little I owned (it fit in one big suitcase) and headed off to the Baptist college.  I always loved books and reading, so in one way I was in my element.  There was plenty of books and plenty of time to read.  Trouble is,  I'd get interested in something one of the professors said and start reading everything about it I could get my hands on and the rest of the class and the professor would take off and leave me behind.  I learned a right smart, but not always what I was supposed to be learning.

There was a lot of preacher-boys like me at the college; some of them was smart and some was as dumb as a 'possum.  Pretty much like life in general, I expect.

One day we was studying the life of King David in the Book of Samuel and there is this story there about how old crazy King Saul was envious of David and had reneged on his promise to give David his daughter's hand in marriage for killing the giant.  To thicken the soup, King Saul told David he could have the girl if David brought him a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.  You can read about this in I Samuel 18.

Now there was this country preacher-boy named Clovis from down around Gotebo, Oklahoma in the class.  There was a right smart of 'possum about old Clovis.  When he heard this story, his face kindly screwed up in a grimace and his shoulder started to jerk.  Finally, he raised his big hand.

"Dr. Blackwell, " he said, to our old wizened professor, "I was jist wondering, did he have to kill them fellers to git them things?"

Old Dr. Blackwell, leaned back, drew breath, and with just the fuzz of a smile, said,

"Well, son, he'd have to kill me to get mine!"

I always loved old Dr. Blackwell and I don't know what ever happened to Clovis.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Reply to a Friend, Part II

My dear Friend,

My move from my previous position, which I held for nearly forty years, in a very profound way came of my coming to see a conflict and controversy between

things, real things on the one hand,

and, ideas or thought constructs on the other.

I will try in this post to explain what I mean by this.

As Protestant Christians you and I believe that sinners are saved by grace.  Sinners and sin are not ideas, they are real things.  And grace is not an idea (nasty thought!).  Grace is God himself acting in undeserved and unmerited favor to deliver and heal sinful men and women.  We are not saved by an idea of grace, even a correct theological idea of grace, we are saved by the Triune God of grace.

My previous world-view was made up chiefly of ideas.  My previous life was spent in trying to find and maintain the right set of correct ideas about God, human critters, and the world.  It was an endless and exhausting task.  It was also a delimiting one.  Once I came to the right idea about sin or grace, the second coming, the nature of the Bible, etc., I was ready to plant my flag and scan the horizon for those potential foes flying a different one.  This is one of the essential marks of the fundamentalist, whether he reads Greek and Hebrew, or cannot read at all.  But, it is finally about ideas, not stuff, not the stuff of God's creation.  This is why the fundamentalist has such a hard time loving anybody but those who share his ideas.  The fundamentalist loves the Big Idea, he does not love the world that is there.

This view is really just another form of the old Gnostic heresy.  Ideas matter, stuff does not.  (In fact, I can trace my earliest unease with my views to a book, Against the Protestant Gnostics, by Philip J. Lee.   Highly recommended and still in print.)

The catholic and Anglican view is that this view of the world and of God's work in the world is completely, utterly wrong-headed.  The Biblical view is concerned to stress certain realities against certain other ideas.

Things  vs.  Ideas

The Whole Person  vs.  The Mind

Scriptural Declarations  vs.  Propositions or Constructs

The Embodied  vs.  The Disembodied

Sacramental Reality  vs.  Spiritual Ideals

Life in the Body and in the World  vs.  Life in the Mind or Spirit

The Community of the Church  vs.  Individualism

The catholic and Anglican emphasis on the left hand side of these things is the one that seems to me to best represent the reality presented in the Bible.  This means that grace and faith are not mere ideas, but realities that are lived out the way the rest of our lives are.

Illustration:  I married Kathy forty years ago this coming December.  That marriage was formalized in solemn vows before God and witnesses and bonded in our sexual union of oneness on our wedding night.  Since then, a whole series and complex of liturgies have blessed and deepened our devotion to one another over these many and happy years:  Touches, kisses, words of endearment and commitment,  shared sorrows and joys, three living children and one lost little girl-child in her sixth month of life, cards, gifts, shared homes and travel, memories kept in photos and journals, and on and on...  In addition, there have been hurts, wounds, harsh words and cold shoulders, misunderstandings and grievances, and much,  much forgiveness, forgiveness marked by real words and actions.    Who can doubt the importance of these small sacramental gestures in bringing health and joy to this marriage?  Thus, our marriage, like all good ones has been supported by a liturgy of daily acts of love and considerateness.  Marriages, real and good ones, are not just based on ideas or even shared points-of-view at every point, but on faith and faithfulness,  love and mercy, grace and patience lived out in real words and acts in a life that is messy, fallen, and earthy.

In the same way, the life of God is lived out in the same way.  Not simply in the mind or "heart," but in a host of acts and actions.  We bow our heads, we bend our knees, we lift our hands, we receive water upon our heads (or in the immersion of the whole body), we receive bread and wine, chewing and swallowing it, we receive the oil of blessing, healing, and unction, we sing, we speak, we read, we hear- in a word, we use all our senses in acts of worship and service.  Toward the people of God, we listen, speak, weep, pray, touch, hold, hug, kiss, laugh, etc.  This is an embodied spirituality,  spiritual, not because it takes place in the mind alone, but because it is incarnated in acts of love and service.

Does this mean that the mind does not matter?  That truth does not matter?  Of course not!  But, it does mean this:  A life that divorces the mind in ideas from worship and service in earthy, imperfect, but beautiful acts cannot claim to be the religion of the Bible.  It is this last point that I will try to develop in my next post.

I hope this is helpful and I wish you every blessing, my dear friend, in Jesus.