29 September 2008

Some Railings on the RCL

Yesterday, my wife and I visited a Church in our neighborhood (relatively speaking).

But this post isn’t about the congregation, or the pastor, or the way they conducted the service. While I could choose to write on those topics, I won’t.

This post is, instead, focused on the contemporary western Lectionary, the Revised Common Lectionary… and my continued contempt for it.

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) is the Protestant version of the western Lectionary that was prepared in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. As a result, with amendments here and there, the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran world (together with a smattering of Presbyterians, Methodists, United Church of Christ folks, and others) use, essentially, the same readings every week. (Within the RCL itself, two varying tracks -unlike the Roman lectionary- which allow for either loosely thematic or semi-continuous readings from the Old Testament during most of Ordinary Time.)

During the Sunday service I attended, the second reading (the Epistle) was utterly ignored. It wasn’t given a second thought or mention in the homily, and probably by the congregation. The first reading didn’t fare much better. Only the Gospel got any real substantial face time in the homily.

Scripture scholars and liturgists have, over the years, decried placing the Scriptures into ‘artificial’ thematic constructs, but I have to ask the question… Why?

As we look around the Christian world today and assess the landscape, what do we see? Large numbers of people falling away from essential truths, truths that often get glossed over because of our rush to focus on the Gospel in the homily (or at least the predominant theme) because of a duty to the words of Jesus (or the overarching theme). The moral teachings of Paul, Peter, James, and Jude often get overlooked as the ‘third-wheel reading’ that they are (and heaven forbid that the Psalm get a mention!).

Consider this a plea for, at least in the west, returning to thematic pericopes for the proclamation of Scripture in the midst of the assembly. I understand and embrace the desire for a more comprehensive lectionary in the Church (personally, I prefer a 4 year cycle), but the RCL and modern Roman Lectionaries fail... the only redeemable version of the so-called Common Lectionary that I can even come close to endorsing is the one from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod's new Christian Worship Supplement, which does radical surgery on the three year lectionary and ensures that more themes are present.

26 September 2008

The Trinity...

Someone recently asked a question in an online forum about where the Word of God teaches the word of the Trinity. I thought I would share my answer.

The Trinity, as others have shared, has a long and storied (and perhaps sordid) history. The term Trinity does not begin to appear until the latter part of the third century, though the writers are clearly struggling to understand the concepts revealed in Scripture, for better or for worse.

One of the key supports for the concept of Jesus' divinity is found in the Gospels. The prologue of John's Gospel specifically tells us:"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." and later "...the Word became flesh and lived among us..." (see John 1). John 1:1 literally teaches that God took on flesh and pitched his tent (tabernacled, dwelt) among us in the person of Jesus Christ. This can and has been interpreted in many different ways over the centuries.

No matter how you interpret it, it clearly teaches that in some fashion, in the person of Jesus Christ, God and man have been united. To the Trinitarian, it is inconceivable that the Father ceased to exist when Christ was made incarnate, as witnessed by the fact that Jesus prayed to the Father often during his earthly ministry.

Trinitarians will also point out the nature of the word Elohim, present in Genesis 1:1, as being plural and singular at the same time, as well as the mention of the Spirit in the creation narrative. As a result, the best explanation is that God is one, while possessing three different persons. (Sidenote: If Elohim is properly understood as singular and plural at the same time, than does not the choice of words teach us the concept of the Trinity? It is not an insinuation if, in fact, Elohim is as Biblical scholars accept it to be.)

Is this the best or most adequate explanation? Surely not. In fact, no explanation we offer can be perfect. Modalism fails us... Arianism fails us... every attempt to define the nature of the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit fail us as Christians, because our limited human comprehension and language simply cannot get wrapped around the true majesty of God and his nature.

So in the end, while Councils and Creeds have mandated the Trinitarian belief in the mainline Church, those of us on the margins who who accept the Trinity accept it because it is the best explanation we can come up with for what we see in the Scriptures. At the same time, we must admit that we fall short in even this description and acknowledge that the true nature and depth of God is a mystery far too great for us to understand or comprehend on this side of eternity.

24 September 2008

What an Embarassment

In his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column over at ESPN, Gregg Easterbrook displayed his obviously irritated view on the state of the American economy, and the Federal Government's role in wrecking it. Of all of his comments, I found the following words to be the most telling (and damning) of all:

"And about that $700 billion about to the shoveled to the Wall Street elite -- in 2007, George W. Bush vetoed an increase of $7 billion per year in health care spending for the poor, saying the country couldn't afford it."

You can read the entire article at this link.

We can't afford to provide health care to the poor, but we can afford to continue to dole out money to financial fat-cats who live lives that, essentially, thrive on charging absurd levels of usury for the privilige of borrowing money for basic needs like shelter and transportation. I don't ever want to hear someone extolling the virtues of either George Bush or the American Congress again. EVER.

Will I continue to pray for our civil leaders? Of course. They obviously need it. But once again, the current mindset in power in Washington, one that believes that $7 Billion dollars is too much to spend on health care for the poor, but believes that $700 Billion (or more!) is the least we can do for the financial sector, is obviously pure evil. If we aren't going to bail out the poor who can't afford health care, then we shouldn't be bailing out the financial sector either.

Sure, failing to bail them out will affect us all... and in a bad way. But you know what... most of the classic modes of stimulating the economy have failed dismally of late. Bush and Congress have sent us extra tax rebates (or, more recently, cash advance against next year's taxes) from time to time. Fail. Bush managed to start a war... that usually works. Fail. The pair of em' have poured boatloads of money into various financial bailout plans. Fail. Fail. Fail
George Bush: You fail.
Congress: You fail.
American People: You fail too.

Yes, that's right. It's not just the government to blame however. Did you all really believe it when you got those stupid door hangers on your apartment that claimed you could own your home cheaper than what you were paying for apartment rent? Sure, if you were paying between $900 and $1200 in rent (at least around here) you could have owned a home... but those stupid hangers were on HUD and other lower-income housing doorknobs. And people fell for it; hook, line, and sinker. Instead of stopping to think for two minutes about the real cost of owning a home, people went out and made several bottom barrel homebuilders a quick buck, only to turn around three or for years later and face foreclosure because their property taxes went up, utilities were too high, or because they had to choose between paying for their new Plasma TV or their house.

We've all failed. In what is supposed to be the most prosperous nation on the face of the earth, we have all failed horribly. We have been terrible stewards of the fiscal gifts that God has given us... and, to be honest, if the bottom tanks out, as disappointed as I would be that it might affect my plans to buy a house, I think we only deserve it.

22 September 2008

Christmas in... Tishrei?

Late last year, I shared an article about recomputing the Christian calendar based on a more plausible sequence of events - specifically as it surrounds the celebration of Christ's birth. As I noted then:

When was Christ born? It is my belief that the best avaliable evidence tells us
that it was 29 September 2 BC (15 Tishrei 3760), which was the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles that year. What a magnificent day for our Savior to Tabernacle among us (as John 1 teaches)! An alternate date, especially if adopting an earlier Crucifixion date, would be 29 September 5 BC (15 Tishrei 3763).

I am not so much worried about the date on our civil calendar as I am the date on the Hebrew Calendar. This year, 15 Tishrei falls in October (sunset on the 13th to sunset on the 14th according to our civil calendar) and thus that would give us Christmas in October.

Theologically, the connection with Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) is striking (as noted in the above quote), so this year, in my home, I will be celebrating the Nativity of our Lord in October. I'll still (begrudgingly) celebrate a public service at the hospital in December, but for me, it's Christmas in Tishrei... ur... October... at least this year.

18 September 2008

Don't ask... I don't know why

Truly, I have no clue why I decided to join Facebook last night. (I must have been bored.) But since I did... well... if you are a fellow Facebooker (is that what we are supposed to call ourselves?) feel free to hunt me down, link up, and subscribe to my site!

Would you... Diatesseron?

Sounds weird, eigh? Actually, the Diatesseron, written by a chap named Tatian, is the earliest Gospel Harmony for which we have an account. It consists of pretty much the entire text of the four Gospels harmonized in what was, at the time, believed to be the correct chronological order. All four texts are melded into a single account.

What was the Diatesseron used for? Well, as best we can tell, it was the liturgical Gospel text for the Syriac Church well into the fifth century. Later, the Peshitta version began to take hold, and the Gospels were separated in the Christian far east, but the memory of the Diatesseron was long... and it is, in its way, still with us today.

The question, though, is... would you Diatesseron. In other words, would you, dear reader, elect to proclaim the Gospels in the Sunday liturgy of your own congregation in a Diatesseron-like format? To be honest, I would.

One of the most common arguments against such a practice today is the notion that each of the four Gospels was written to a particular audience. Such is a true statement. However, if we are realistic, we - you and I - are not the audience that the Gospels were written to, at least not in the linguistic and contextual sense. With a properly prepared Diatesseron in clear, modern English, we could provide an outstanding Gospel text that would shine through for the contemporary reader.

Such a text would have to be well footnoted, to ensure that differences in the Gospels were not lost, and that readers could easily locate them in a regular Bible. But my concern is more for the regular reading of the Gospels in the Church than it is the personal study undertaken by the Christian at home. And I, for one, would be more than comfortable adopting a Diatesseron-like Book of the Gospels for use in Christian worship.

So... would you Diatesseron?

17 September 2008

Humility in Worship does not Irreverence Make

I am sick to death of people trying to tell me that humility and simplicity in Christian Worship is the equivalent of irreverence.

In some recent comments, Pope Benedict XVI, speaking about the traditional Latin Mass, said, "Everyone, without exception, must be able to feel at home, and never (must he feel) rejected."  I find this to be a very interesting thing for him to have said.  In context, he is trying to preserve the unity of the Latin Rite of the Roman Church, but his words show a problem in the Church (Roman and others) today that it seems fundamentally impossible to resolve...

Let me give you an example.  Lets say, as a priest, that I gather a group of fifteen or twenty people together in a large circle around an altar.  I sit to preach.  We all hold hands for the Lord's Prayer.  I use a pottery chalice and paten (properly glazed!), and I administer the Eucharist in the hands of the individuals gathered together at the Altar.  Many will say that these carachterisics show me to be a liberal... or just utterly irreverent.

Another example.  I gather the same fifteen or twenty people.  They kneel through most of the service on the other side of an Altar rail.  I face east with them for almost all of the Liturgy.  I use a sterling silver chalice and paten that have been plated in gold, and I administer the Eucharist on the tongue of the communicants with a chin paten.  Many will say that these carachteristics show me to be a conservative... or deeply reverent.

I think it's time to challenge such notions.  I think it is perfectly possible to be reverent with a group assembled around a table in a home celebrating the Eucharist with guitar music and the work of a potter's hands holding the Body and Blood of Christ.  I believe it is equally possible to be absolutely irreverent, no matter how much you attempt to dress up the Liturgy.

Sadly, far too many people think that the only way to ensure reverence is to mandate a specific interpretation of the historic worship of the Church.  The Tridentine Mass, 1928 Book of Common Prayer, 1941 Lutheran Hymnal... none of them will ensure reverence or instruction in the truth on their own.  They are living liturgical rites, and the reverence and content is as much determined by those who participate in the worship as it is by those who clamor for their restoration (at times to the exclusion of other forms).

Scripture and the Church Fathers give us a pretty strong outline of the weekly worship of the Church, centered on Word and Sacrament.  How we execute it in heart and how it manifests itself in our lives is far more telling of the validity of the celebration and its content than if we use a gold or pottery chalice to celebrate.

13 September 2008

Shot Glass Jesus

"Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf."  
1 Corinthians 10: 16-17 (NLT)

I remember the old game of 'cooties'.  

To be honest, I am not sure it was so much a game as it was an excuse to run around and scream, but be that as it may.  The object was to avoid the fictional 'cooties' germ that, in my case, girls carried.  (Girls, of course, maintained that us boys had the germ.  So be it.)  By the time everyone got around the age of eight or ten, cooties became a tease.  I recall being at the house of a friend one muggy afternoon and being offered a sip from his glass of water.  Ick!  Why would I want to do that?  It was disgusting, right?  Yea, well... ten minutes later it wasn't so disgusting (or, perhaps, the muggy air was more disgusting).  Most of us, faced with a similar situation, would take a drink from someone elses' cup or can... so why is it that we find it so abhorrent to drink from the one cup of the Lord?

Now, to be sure, I am not talking about on the occassion when the bird flu is running rampant, or when half the parish has strep throat... but I am talking about the regular fear that many Christians have of drinking from the cup at the celebration of Communion.  

The common cup is a sign of the unity of the Church, the Body of Christ.  (I could get into a discussion here about the use of individual wafers, but I'll leave that for another time.)  In this day and age, our faith is becoming so personal that we almost loose a connection with the sense of community that is present in the Sacrament.  In the Eucharist, we are united with Jesus Christ in a deep, intimate way.  We share his true Body and Blood and are nourished with, as Ignatius put it, the 'medicine of immortality'.  All of us share the common illness (sin), and stand in need of the common cure (Christ's redemption).  

While I am loathe to get too deep into discussing the symbology of the Eucharist (for fear that you, dear reader, may think that I am trying to dismiss the Divine aspects of the Eucharist in favor of a mere symbolic view of it... I am not!), I feel that, in this particular entry, it must be done.  For far too long, our discomfort with drinking from the common cup has resulted in the curious phenemonon that I refer to as 'shot glass Jesus'... the use of either pre-filled or filled-in-service single-servings of the wine or juice in Communion.  While this may be a Protestant phenemenon, I have been to a few Catholic churches that have at least made an attempt of it... usually with either comical or sorrowful results.

Shot glass Jesus is, first and foremost, destructive of the sign value of the Eucharist.  For that matter, so is using have a bazillion chalices at mega-Masses in sports stadiums.  The powerful visual of one cup being shared among the people is difficult to replace, and that symbol serves to drive home a far more important reality: we are a unified people.  One bread, one cup... one Lord.  Why are we so afraid of drinking after one another at the table of the Lord?  Is it because we don't really care all that much about the concept of the unity of the body?  Is it because our society has taught us that religion is so personal that we don't want to run the risk of ingesting a drip of spittle from a brother or sister in Christ (what I call the cootie factor)?  

Let's look at this in a different way.  If you brother and you were sitting at a table and you had a new and unique flavor of soda in your glass, would you not let him have a sip to try it?  Yes, I went there... the family angle.  The Church is supposed to be a family - brothers and sisters in Christ.  If we would let our worldly family share backwash, why not do the same with our spiritual family?  In part, it's because we don't actually know our spiritual family all that well, and, I fear, we often don't want to get to know them well enough to set aside our fears... either socially or eucharistically.

So, instead, we remain content on Sunday after Sunday, when we are all in perfectly good health, to pass on the chalice, or dip the Body into the Blood, or even to use single-serving (and at times pre-filled and vacuum sealed!) Jesus kits in order to avoid becoming one with the Body of Christ... all because we just can't get over that stupid game of cooties that we still remember all to well from when we were five.

Speaking for myself, I want my spiritual maturity to get a little bit more in depth than a five year old, so I'll keep on drinking from the cup.  You, of course, are invited to join me... but please leave your cooties at the door.   

08 September 2008

Powerful Message on Common and Christian Grace

John Roop+ of Trinity Church, Knoxville, Tennessee, has posted an outstanding sermon on the goodness of God revealed throughout history across every religious expression, and the true goodness and grace of God that brings us to salvation in Jesus Christ. I can't recommend it enough.
You can read his sermon, preached this past Sunday, at this link.
It is definately worth your time.

07 September 2008

Ugh! Adding Insult to Injury - NFL Week 1

Week 1 of the 2008 NFL season has been a mixed bag for this fan, with victories for my favorite teams, but the lost of one of the biggest difference-makers in the League.

New England defeated Kansas City today, and the balance of the game was engineered by Matt Cassel.  Yea, Matt Cassel, also known as Tom Brady's shadow.  Brady, about halfway through the first quarter, went down... hard.  News reports are saying that he has a torn ACL, and that his season, most likely, is done.  Chris Simms (son of Giants great Phil Simms, most recently of Tampa Bay) is supposed to be on his way to Foxborough tomorrow for a workout and physical.  The question becomes, would Simms (or, as others have suggested, Daunte Culpepper) displace Cassel as the starting QB for the Pats?  It's hard to tell at this point.  Cassel played a respectable game today, so we'll have to wait to see what happens during the next week.  Needless to say, loosing Brady only serves to add insult to the injury perpetuated back in February when the Perfect Pats blew it in Glendale and handed Lil' Manning the Lombardi Trophy.

In the meantime, the New Orleans saints looked OK in their home debut as they held off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Not much else to say about this game... Reggie Bush had a good day, as did Drew Brees, and Jeremy Shockey got to make a face or two after some good plays.  I am still not convinced that they are quite all that many analysts are making them out to be, but I am definately willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

As I write, the Colts are behind the Bears (Bears 12, Colts 6) at the two-minute warning (2nd quarter)... and somehow I don't expect myself to care all that much about tomorrow night's games.

05 September 2008

A Letter to the U.S. Department of State

(Editor's Note: This letter has been slightly edited to protect confidential information that could lead to identity theft.)

To whom it may concern:

I apologize, as this might get a bit long. 

I was born in California.  Today, I am a Primitive Catholic priest, and consider myself to be solely a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  While I am willing to follow the just laws of the country in which I reside, I am unwilling to consider myself an American... or any other nationality for that matter.  Currently, I live in Indianapolis, Indiana.  This leaves me with several problems, however, that I am unsure of how to approach. 

My most immediate problem is that I have family who reside in Canada.  Soon, I will be required to present a Passport when I travel to Canada by car.  I am concerned because I do not consider myself an American, and believe that, to bear an American passport would constitute the bearing of false witness against my God.  Heretofore, I have been able to get across the border with my driver's license and birth certificate.  When asked about my residence, I tell the border agent where I live (Indianapolis).  I need to try to figure out a way to maintain my freedom to travel, to maintain contact with my family, while, at the same time, preserving my conscience's freedom to refuse to claim citizenship in a nation-state on earth. 

My second concern is in restrictions on travel, specifically on the restriction that is placed upon me with regards to traveling to Cuba.  I don't have any personal ties to Cuba, but I have always wanted to visit there, experience their life and culture, meet other Christian believers, and see the place for myself.  I have long considered visiting Cuba, but then I found out that (in addition to the passport issue) if I did go, I would not be permitted to return to the United States for violating the Cuban Embargo.  What right does the American government have to impede my God-given right to freely travel throughout the world? 

Finally, I am curious about alternatives to being considered a United States Citizen.  As I noted earlier, I do not believe in considering myself a citizen of any nation-state, as I cannot pledge any kind of allegiance to any nation on the planet.  I have no objection to paying my taxes (though I am considering joining a group to promote an alternative to war taxes) and obeying just laws, but I cannot, in conscience, vote, serve in the military or any form of alternative service, serve on a jury, or serve in elected office.  I consider myself a resident alien in this nation, as I was never given the chance to claim citizenship for myself.  Is there any means in American law for me to 'downgrade' my status (best term I can think of) to that of a legally resident alien? 

I know that this may seem a bit, frankly, kooky... at one time I truly believed in nationalism, patriotism, and all that... but the New Testament teaches me that, while I have an obligation to pray for all civil leaders and to obey just laws, I cannot have divided loyalties.  I must be a citizen of this world, or a citizen of God's kingdom.  I choose the latter, and I seek to find a way to allow myself, in conscience, to live out this conviction. 

Thank you for your kind attention in this matter. 

Father Robert Lyons

04 September 2008

A Voice for Peace in the Carolinas

CNN today ran the story of Sally Ferrell from Wilkes County, North Carolina, a woman who has dedicated her life to peace and non-violence, and the response she has gotten when trying to share alternatives to military service in High Schools.

03 September 2008

The Jury is still out on Google Chrome

So, like millions of other computer users, I hopped over to Google yesterday evening to download Chrome, their new web browser.  I am going to reserve my final verdict for a more complete form of the browser, because it is obvious they have more work to do.

While Chrome's interface is user-friendly, and the system isn't much of a resource hog (compared with Internet Explorer, that is), I have had a lot of problems getting pages to load... even pages on Google.  Several times I have started opening pages with Chrome, only to have them bog down.  For comparison, I went and opened IE7, and they almost always loaded faster.  

Some pages would load without their proper frames and others would load without pictures.  I have had trouble with common sites like Wikipedia and CNN, and with obscure ones, like JesusManifesto.com

So, I'll keep it around, update when the final version comes out... and continue to evaluate it.  We shall, indeed, see...

02 September 2008

Two New Pieces...

Well, I've not been feeling all that well today, so I have had some time to sit around and hit the 'net. I'm happy to direct you to two pieces I have wrote:

The first, "Confessions of a Recovering Nationalist" is avaliable at www.JesusManifesto.com, and shares a bit of my conversion story from being an American Patriot to being a Jesus Patriot. This is my first post over at the site, and I hope that I'll be invited back for some more.

The second is my interview with David Mack, author of the upcoming Star Trek: Destiny trilogy from Pocket Books. It is avaliable today as a part of my regular Library Computer feature at www.trekmovie.com.

All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

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