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.