Sunday, May 31, 2015


The history, theology, and spirituality continue to wash over us in waves. We had not regained our balance from the tomb of St. John when we found ourselves in Ephesus where Paul lived for some years, at times in prison, and wrote some of his best letters. and Ephesus where Mary was acclaimed Theotokos after having spent her final years there according to legend. Still trying to take all that in, we took the 4 hour boat ride to Patmos to pray in the cave where John had his vision; then back to Pergamum, one of the cities condemned by John for proto-gnostic heresy, eating meat sacrificed to idols, and harboring the Altar of Zeus, which John called “the Throne of Satan.” Personally I think John was a bit hard on the Pergamumians.

Along the way, we have heard a round of lectures, including several tracing the history of the Ecumenical Councils. A dispute over whether Christ had two natures (human and divine) or one nature (human/divine – Severus would later coin the term “theandric”) led to the definitive Council Number 4 – Caledon. From that Fifth Century gathering we have the Caledonian Definition of Faith that defines orthodoxy for the West and for the majority of the Eastern Church. Two natures won the day.  But that Council has never persuaded major segments of Christianity. The dissenting voices are the Non-Caledonians or Monophysites.

The basic problem Caledon and subsequent councils struggled with is the miracle of the Incarnation. Some things just don’t fit in our language because they don’t fit in our heads. The Trinitarian Mystery of how three can be one and vice versa is replicated in the mystery of the Incarnation – how can Jesus be both human and divine. Half human and half divine would be easy. Greek heroes had been half human and half divine for centuries. The Luke & Matthew birth narratives could easily give that impression.[i] The mystery of the Incarnation is that Jesus is 100% human and 100% divine. The grace of the Incarnation is that it blows apart our limiting and inadequate mental constructs of what it means to be human and what it means to be God.

Now on the bus again, we have just heard a lecture on the 5th Council, Constantinople II. That Council condemned some Nestorians, a point not of great interest to us I think. However, it also condemned the early 3rd Century theologian Origen of Alexandria (who actually lived much of the time in Caesarea Maritima). He taught universalism meaning that in God’s grace all creation will be redeemed; Hell will be left empty and absorbed into Heaven.  The Anglican Reformers committed our tradition to following the first four councils – not five. Anglicanism does not have an official position on Origen or universal salvation. Some of our greatest theologians, such as Frederick Dennison Maurice and Charles Gore, have been universalists and I am of that leaning myself. [ii]

And now during a break in writing, we have just heard a lecture on the differences between the Creed in the East and the Creed in the West, occasioned by a Western tweak in the language about the Holy Spirit in the 6th Century known as the filioque clause. The issue is too abstruse for a blog. All I have to say about it, I have already said in God of Our Silent Tears, chapters 7 & 8. J

For fun, our leader cut the Creed up into phrases and passed them out to us for us each to rewrite a little section. Then he patched them together into our Creed of the Bus:

Certainly our Almighty God and Father is one;
And is the creator of all we have imagined and understood
And all that we have neither understood nor imagined.

We believe in one earthly god, Jesus, who was made incarnate
So as to teach us the grace of God.
As God the Father is light and truth, so is Christ the Son light and truth.
As God the Father is the creator and not a creature
So is Christ the Son the creator and not a creature.
He is the creator of all that is.
For us and for our salvation he came,
Was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
And was made man.
Out of deepest love for us he allowed himself to be crucified.
He suffered death and was buried.
After being dead for three days, he became alive and dwelt with his disciples and others.
He then assumed his place with God.
We will find her glory in many different places in the future.
She brings us all to the point of seeing who she is
And her reign is forever.

We give our hearts to, and place our trust in, the Holy Breath of God
Who is our guide and gives us life.
She rushes through us from the godhead.
We worship and glorify her equally with the Father and the Son.
Who communicated through people who know God’s mind
We acknowledge the central place of God’s grace in any concept or feeling of wholeness
And at the end or our earthly days, we look to new life with Christ in God’s light and fullness.

[i] But I truly do not think that is their intent. Although Luke has the most elaborate and beautiful birth narrative, he eventually follows Mark in rooting the incarnation in the Baptism, when Jesus emerges from the water and hears the voice of God proclaim, This day have I begotten you.
[ii] I am also rather sympathetic to Severus’ notion that Jesus had two natures but that they came together in one will. I say this intending to agree with Soren Kierkegaard who said famously, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” I do prefer to think of Jesus as having a pure heart.

Friday, May 29, 2015


The bride of Christ has no business to be foolish.
St. Thomas Aquinas

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. I write my Epistle to you from Ephesus this month. Paul wrote several of his epistles from here. So it seems a propitious place.

I have been learning so much here this past week!!! I feel my faith renewed, informed, and energized. As I find myself feeling so en-couraged for life and mission, I want the same for you. Such learning is not a chore. It is an opportunity to live larger.  It connects the head to the heart and the heart to the head. It knits us together and makes us whole. When Paul wrote to the Christians in this region, he said,

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ will give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better, . . . that you may know the hope to which he has called you.
                                                                                 Ephesians 1

Paul believes there are things we need to know in order to live the Christian life. He spent his life teaching people and writing to them about the things they needed to know. As he taught them the truths of the gospel, he was following in the steps of Jesus whose disciples called him “Rabboni” meaning “teacher. Jesus was a teacher.

He taught them many things by parables . . . Mark 4: 3

Wherever Jesus was the people flocked after him in crowds and he taught them. Mark 10: 1

Jesus went up to the temple courts and began to teach.     John 7: 14

(Jesus’) disciples came to him and he began to teach them. Matthew 5:1

To live the Christian life, there are things one needs to know. The Bible for example is worth knowing. All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for correction, for reproof, for instruction in righteousness. 2 Timothy 3: 16

A funny thing happened to religion during its several waves of American revival movements. We got the notion that religion is a feeling. I call it “the gospel according to Barry Manilow.” But the father of American revivalism, Jonathan Edwards, explained in his Treatise on Religious Affections (Feelings) that feelings are good but they will not sustain faith. They are too unstable. Faith has a content we need to know if we are stand firm through life’s trials and tribulations.

I have been so very pleased to see a number of our congregations stepping up their Christian formation programs recently. I was delighted that Trinity made the number one qualification for their new rector that the priest be “a teacher.” I am inspired by the energy of the Pro/Claim program at Grace in the Desert. St. Thomas has an excellent on-going Bible Study. I had a great time recently doing a 2-hour survey of the Old Testament at Holy Spirit. St. Christopher’s has launched a new book group and St. Michael’s has been working with a new curriculum for adults. These are just a few examples of new learning springing up in Nevada.

There are other resources and opportunities. I would love to see some of our congregations try out one of the series from Animate,; or Embracing,; or Thoughtful Christians,

I would love to see some of our congregational Bible Studies taking it a bit deeper with the help of the N. T. Wright For Everyone Series,; or to see our congregations getting some basic introduction to the Episcopal Church through the Welcome To series,

For those who are ready to undertake a real commitment to Christian discipleship supported by a group of fellow disciples, I hope The Restoration Project will be a life-changer not only for the individuals but for the congregation.

If some of our parish educators, either clergy or lay, attend the Pneuma Conference this year, they may find yet more exciting options:

Pneuma Christian formation conference
at The Bishop’s Ranch in October

It’s time to gather your colleagues and register for the best annual Christian formation conference
this side of the Continental Divide, this year — for the first time ever — at The Bishop’s Ranch,
familiar to many in the Diocese of California, beginning Monday, October 12. This year’s Pneuma
(formerly Western Christian Educators) Conference features the teaching and worship gifts of
Eric Law with music leadership by Chris Studer. In addition, take advantage of a variety of
Christian formation workshops for experienced and new educators; hang out, hike, sing, and pray
with people who share your passion. Information and registration is available here, and
scholarship assistance is available from the Diocese of California Discipleship Ministries Working
Group; contact Julia McCray-Goldsmith,

When: Monday, October 12 to Thursday, October 15
Where: The Bishop’s Ranch, 5297 Westside Road, Healdsburg
Cost: $550 ($450 for dorm-style housing and $725 for single rooms, both limited so register soon)
Contact: Julia McCray-Goldsmith,, 415.869.7826

Here in Nevada, we have labored under the weight of not having a formation program for clergy since we lost the regional vicars some years ago. But I am excited that, thanks to the work of Canon Catherine Gregg and the Rev. JoAnn Leach, we will soon be adopting a program for clergy formation.

Once that is done I hope on tiptoe with joyful expectation that we can turn our attention as a diocese to offering faith enrichment programs for all our people on a regular basis. But the real faith formation work is done in parishes, week by week. Many of our congregations have renewed that ministry, and they have stirred the holy curiosity of their people. I celebrate that curiosity because it is not just for the sake of knowing for knowing’s sake. It is knowing for the love of God and to equip us to do God’s work in the world.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


On our third day at Ephesus, we saw the terrace houses, magnificent structures in the process of excavation and restoration. These “houses” are more like an elaborate luxury apartment complex for the upper class of the city. And we saw the Ephesus Museum rich in ancient art and artifacts. Several more themes from Ephesus are now formulating themselves into something I can sort of express or at least hint at.

In this post, I will take up the question of gender and divinity/ holiness. This plays out for us in the person of Mary the Mother of Jesus. Very generally speaking, In the Neolithic era when society was more matriarchal, religion was dominated by worship of Mother Goddesses. In the Bronze Age (roughly 3,000 BCE to 1,200 BCE in the Near East), the Mother Earth Goddesses were supplanted by Male Sky Gods. Aeschylus’s classic tale of Orestes being pursued by the vengeful displaced goddesses after he has killed his mother makes the point explicitly. Apollo shows up in the end and tames them, turning the old goddesses from the Furies into the Kindly Ones. Basic point: as society became patriarchal, the image of the divine became patriarchal along with it.

But the goddesses would not go away, especially in cities where they were the chief guardians, like Athena in Athens and Artemis in Ephesus. The feminine held a strong place in the pantheon here on the Aegean coast. The Temple of Cybele (a Neolithic mother goddess!) appears to have been going strong in the 1st Century CE. In Roman culture she was called “the Great Mother.” There was, or at least recently had been, a strong cult of the Egyptian goddess, Isis, worshiping in the Isis Temple in Ephesus. The mother of Horus the King (Mother of the Lord), Isis was the model wife and mother, and was the friend of the poor, the downtrodden, and sinners. Does that remind you of the Magnificat? Her image was a throne, which may remind us of the throne on which Mary sits in Byzantine Icons. But the main goddess in Ephesus was Artemis. She is the virgin goddess who is paradoxically the patron of motherhood and childbirth. Her temple here in Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

This is the religious context of Ephesus in which Mary, not so much the person as the symbol, took on a new place in Christian faith. But first, we need to think back on the real person behind the Madonna of Faith. We can be pretty sure historically that Jesus’ birth was “irregular” in a way not condoned by Jewish society. We Christians may believe in the Virgin Birth or at least have an affinity for the notion acquired from singing “round yon virgin, mother and child” every Christmas, but the Jews of 1st Century Galilee would not have interpreted Mary’s pregnancy that way.

In the Gospel Of Thomas (believed by many to contain some genuine sayings of Jesus) Jesus says, “He who knows the mother and father will be called the son of the harlot.” If he means himself, then Mary may have had a hard life in Nazareth, and Jesus’ affinity for the outcast may have come from seeing his own mother shunned. When he was condemned and crucified, things hit rock bottom not only for him but also for his already disgraced mother. His resurrection then would have validated and justified them both.

In Luke, Mary is visited by the Angel Gabriel, she consents to God’s will with the immortal Fiat (Let it be), she exclaims the Magnificat praising God for vindicating the outcast (is this her song about her pregnancy or is it about the resurrection read back into the pregnancy?). She visits her cousin Elizabeth who recognizes her as the bearer of the Messiah and says, “All generations will call you blessed” – Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.

The Synoptic Gospels do not show Mary at the crucifixion or the discovery of the resurrection.[i] But John places Mary at the foot of the Cross alongside the Beloved Disciple. Jesus says to her, “Woman behold your son” and to the Disciple he says, “Behold your mother.” So the Mary-John link is forged.

Luke places her among the disciples praying in Jerusalem up to the day of Pentecost, but then we hear nothing more in the Gospels or Acts. But 2nd Century legend has it that John and Mary came to Ephesus and spent their lives sharing the gospel here. A house said to have been Mary’s home still stands and has been visited by Popes to pray there.

One has to wonder if it is coincidence that the Virgin Mary should have grown to prominence in Ephesus the city of the Virgin Artemis and the Mothers Isis and Cybele. The spiritual context was at a minimum ripe for her. It may well be that Christianity without her could not have gotten traction here.

After her death, dormtion, or assumption (the end of her earthly life however that happened) John the Divine on the nearby island of Patmos wrote this prophesy: “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and her head crowned with 12 stars. It was with child and wailed aloud as she labored to give birth.” From this image, the Roman and Orthodox Churches would later come to call Mary the “Queen of Heaven.”

All of this leads to a point of church politics and geography. In the early 5th Century, a dispute arose between two church leaders, Cyril and Nestorius, as to whether it was proper to honor Mary as the Theotokos, the god-bearer, or the Mother of God. A council was called to solve the issue and the die was cast when they determined the venue – Ephesus – if it wasn’t Mary’s hometown, they sure thought it was. So, yes, after having been honored as the Theotokos in popular piety for centuries, she was given the title officially by the Church at the Council of Ephesus in 431 CE.

Mary’s virginity, especially the Roman Catholic claims of her perpetual virginity, bother some as it seems to denigrate sex and be nigh unto gnostic. That strikes me as a fair point. But there may be more at work here than an aversion to sex as sex. It may have to do with independence and power. I am not at all clear on this, but I am struck for example by The Acts of Paul and Thekla which extolls celibacy at the same time as containing some erotically charged passages. There was for some mystics the practice of sublimating sexuality into a spiritual ecstasy. I am not prepared to defend these claims of perpetual virginity. I don’t think biological virginity is necessary for the incarnation. Mark and John did not seem to think so in their gospels. I am just saying there may be more involved here and I am not ready to denigrate anyone’s belief about this.

Mary is certainly not God, but her symbolic role of surpassing and salvific holiness strike that kind of chord in our collective spirit. Some people recoil against Marian piety as some people, especially men, recoiled against the goddess cults in the Bronze Age. Others find Mary’s prominent place in the faith to be a gracious crack in the patriarchy. It seems to me that the visceral reactions to Marian piety, both pro and con, say that there is something important going on with her in our souls, something that bears attention.

As for what should we believe about Mary, Linda made the point in our class, that it may not matter so much what we believe. We are called to “be like” Mary. We are called to be god-bearers, to give birth in our lives to the Christ who God has already implanted in our souls. It is not so important to “believe” as to “be like.” As the 14th Century mystical monk Meister Eckhart said, "It does not matter that Christ was born in Bethlehem long ago unless he is born in you today."

Still we may want some guidance about belief and piety. Fortunately we now have a bit from the Anglican-Roman Catholic international Consultation (ARCIC) Agreed Statement On Mary, Mary: Grace And Hope In Christ. If you would like to hear some official word on the question of Mary, I commend the Statement to your consideration.

[i] Except that Matthew says the women at the tomb were “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” (most likely Mary of Bethany).