Monday, March 30, 2009

St. Christopher's Boulder City

Yesterday I was commodiously welcomed by St. Christopher's in Boulder City, the small town featured in Phyllis Baker's, How I Got Cultured. They are a growing congregation -- 62 present in reply to the church bell rung by a charming little girl. There were lots, and I mean lots, of children in the congregation. After the Gospel reading, the younger kids recited the Our Father and most of Pslam 23. The older kids then presented a puppet show from 2nd Kings.

At our "pot blessing" lunch -- a priest from bygone days changed pot luck to the more theological pot blessing -- we had a friendly feast followed by a forum. The congregation expressed the need for ministry development support from the diocese, especially a program to train and license lay preachers. They also want more cooperative interaction with other parishes.

As we met, 5 of St. Christopher's teenagers were at Galilee for a work camp. Note that St. Chhistopher's is one of the farthest parishes from Galilee in the diocese. But they sent five young people to work there. Despite the distance, St. Christopher's was by far the best represented parish in the diocese at Family Camp last summer. These folks are on board with youth and camp ministries.

The good people of our church in Boulder City are an inspiration. I am encouraged by the vitality of their ministry, as they increase their aid to the local poor becasue the number of local poor is on the rise in these hard times. This is a church with a warm heart and an open door.

After church, I stopped off to buy an Indian ring to replace one I had lost in Kanuga. Boulder City is the best place I have found in Nevada to buy Indian Jewelry. However, if you are just looking for a stone, the place to go is The Rock Shop in Fallon. I did not have a chance to sample the culinary delights of Boulder City, except for the sumptuous repaste at the Church pot blessing. But from prior visits, I know Boulder City is quite the place for pleasing the palatte. My favorite spot is Mel's Diner.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Partial Thoughts On Salvation

I can now post sermons on this blog so I just posted one that addresses the question of "what do we mean by "salvation?" It isn't intended to be a comprehensive answer, just a piece of the puzzle.

For Thomas Becket And Oscar Romero


This floor's stones
drank Becket’s blood
as we sip the blood for Christ.
Will they cry out in the wilderness
like Jerusalem’s hosanna streets
or Abel’s fatal fertile field?
What shall they cry?
For joy or retribution? Make straight
with voice of grief or voice of glory?
And if you wear the miter right
will 4 knights join you at vespers
-- death squad with silent feet?
And when they come
will you be waiting
with clear eye and steady hand?

-- lines written at Canterbury Cathedral at the spot of Becket's martyrdom
-- recently downloaded The Violence Of Love -- quotations from Romero

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Salvation (?) By Grace Through Faith

As Holy Week approaches, it is good to contemplate the core doctrines of our tradition, especially atonement. The three categories linked by the classic formula: salvation by grace through faith are abslutely central. The formula of salvation is complex and rich. I am wondering what to make of each of those terms we say so often their meaning can get rubbed off like the face of coin.

What is salvation anyway? I grew up in a church where it was understood as a legal term. It meant essentially the commutation of a justly deserved sentence.

In seminary, I learned that the Greek sourse of the word in the NT is actually a medical term. It is closer to cure of an illness, but more than that it signifies wholeness and fulfillment.

Throughout all this time there was a joke about a bank advertisment "Jesus saves at 1st National Bank of Tyler." Funny but maybe not that far off base. I've just noticed that the financial metaphor could say something theological. "Jesus saves" could mean he keeps us to himself, reserves us in love, preserves us in love, rather than spending us for some secret cosmic project. That idea repudiates the "God's secret plan" theology that so enraged Ivan Karmazov.

Somewhere along the line, I leaned that Richard Hooker (not so far from Calvin on this point) used "salvation" as an umbrella term for three processes: justification, sanctification, and union. And that the normative spiritual course was understood in the Middle Ages as purgation, illumination, union.

Within all that abstraction runs personal memory. I remember being in despair and having that despair cut through by the prayer, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for we have been born a new to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." But I know salvation is more than that. It isn't just a lifting of my individual spirit. It is not for those who have the right experience. It is, as Paul said, the redemption of the cosmos.

So what does "salvation mean to you" this Year of Our Lord 2009 as Holy Week draws near?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Hour I First Believed and John Updike

This is a sequel to my earlier post about Wally Lamb's novel, The Hour I First Believed. Lamb has been called the Dostoevsky of our day, no doubt because he confronts the problem of evil with the relentless integrity of an Ivan Karamazov. But now that I have finished this fine book, and shed a few tears over it I admit, I'd say he is more of an Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene in his develoment of plot and character. There is no simplistic conversion of creed, but a deeper transformation of soul. Caelum is not a hero. He is as flawed as any of us, maybe more so. Maureen's sanctity and his own confrontation with generations of woundedness make this story a masterful recounting of spiritual journey. At first I had trouble connecting the deliberately simple prose and the pipe wrench wielding plot developments with the subtlety of spirit moving beneath the text. But then there is the Gospel of Mark, written crudely but a story of grace. I loved it!!! And I look forward now to his earlier books, particularly This Much I Know Is True.

But first I am reading John Updike's In The Beauty Of The Lillies. Updike is the 20th Century Protestant novelist. He was prolific and I have read only a few of his books. Lillies is the most explicitly theological. After his recent death, there was a flood of articles evaluating his work. In contrast to Lamb, Updike wrote poetically. His prose is elegant. Someone criticized his work for losing theme in style; they asked, "Is beauty enough?" Well, the idea that Updike lacked substance is just rediculous. But I am chiefly struck by that question: Is beauty enough? I would answer with a resounding Yes. We have too long held to an idea of God that failed to appeciate the beauty of divinity and the divinity of beauty. Thankfully, theological aesthetics has been rediscovered. Beauty is enough. More on the Beauty of the Lillies to come.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle

I have just finished Phyllis Tickle's latest book, The Great Emergence. It is quite a helpful read. She bases the book on a concise thesis from Bishop Mark Dyer of the Diocese of Bethlehem (PA): "Every 500 years, the church has a rummage sale." The metaphor has to do with moving out of an old house and disposing of things we no longer need or that no longer work.

This odd adage is a solid historical observation. About every 500 years, give or take a few, the Church has a dispute, a big split (bigger than the little denominational chippings off that happen all the time), there is a new expression of Christiainity -- actually 2 new expressions because the old group is transformed too. The Church is re-energized and spreads the Gospel more effectively than before. It happened in the time of Gegory I, again in 1,000 when the East and West divided, again in 1522 with the Protestant Reformation -- and now, hmmm, my Blacberry reminder is beeping that it's time for a rummage sale. The reason for these periodic restructings is that the truth we proclaim is eternal but the culutre to which we proclaim it keeps shifting. So we have to revamp strategies and refine our language to communicate the faith to the generation before us.

Divisions in the Anglican Communion are not, in themselves, big enough to constitute the Great Emergence described by Tickle, but they would definitly be part of it. So from Tickle's standpoint, the divisions we see happening are actually a good thing. But wait. Rememer Bill Bishop and The Big Sort. The dividing of our culture into ever smaller collections of the like minded make for dividing of our culture into collections of the ever smaller minded.

So what to make of all this? Given my vocation to preserve and deepen the unity of the Church, I have to operate out of Bill Bishop's admonition to heal divisions and keep difference held together in the tension of an intenional unity. But when that fails, it's good to read a little Phyllis Tickle. God works in our divisions as well as in our Communion.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Broken String

Grace Stuhlman's poem "The Broken String" tells a simple story with a simple point that feels central to my life. The great violinist Yitzak Perlman walks on stage to perform with a small ensemble. Early in the piece, one of his violin strings breaks. He does not stop. He does not leave the stage for another string. He plays on. Afterward, he says, "It's what you do." You play with the strings you have. Stuhlman elaborates that you don't just play the score. You go beyond the score, playing soul over below and within the score -- and when you lack the strings even to play the score, you play on with the strings you have left.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Hour I First Believed

I was just sinking into the slough of despond from reading the late great David Foster Wallace's epic tome, Infinite Jest, (funny in a way that ultimately left me feeling empty) when I discovered Wally Lamb's novel, The Hour I First Believed. Let me tell you up front, I have not finished it yet. I don't know how this is going to come out. But it is one of the best books I've read in forever.

Lamb's protagonist Caelum Quirk comes from an all too real sounding troubled background. Following a tumultuous marital break up and a fragile reconciliation, Caelum and his wife move west -- to Littleton, CO where they both work at Columbine High. Caelum's wife, Maureen, hides for hours in a cabinet while Klebold and Harris kill their victims within her hearing. Marueen's struggle with PTSD, consequent drug additiction, and her own subsequent tragedy which lands her in prison all raise the qeustions that devastate our belief that life has any meaning or that there is any foundation for hope.

The characters hear and sometimes espouse the whole panoply of answers -- including the religious ones -- even chaos theory -- and they just don't bring much solace or sound convincing to the people in pain. At the point where I have just read, Maureen is toying with a faint sense of grace through sacrametnal worship in prison. Caelum ain't buying it.

I don't know whether Wally Lamb will turn out to be a believer, a denier, or a man still in search of the all important but ever elusive answers. I do know he is a compelling story teller who is ruthlessly honest about life and compassionate for the characters who live it. I respect his search.