Catholicity and Culture

Why The Filioque Doesn’t Suck, A Respectful Response.

I’m about to do something that may be highly inadvisable, and pick a fight with the Crusty Old Dean.

But like folks at my Alma Mater will most likely tell you, pushing back on Seminary faculty was a bit of a pastime, and I’m glad to get back into the swing of things.

I fully recognize that I’ve already lost this argument within the wider Anglican Communion, and when the BCP gets revised I’ll say whatever’s put in front of me to say. For the moment, however, I felt called to go to bat for what I feel is an important part of the Western Church’s life and doctrine.

On my wedding day a friend of the family gave me a cross-stitch from his time growing up in an Episcopal Church in the 50’s. It was triumphalist and imperialist and mostly wrong, but it was a keepsake and had been dear to him for years.

Now, this man is the most quintessentially Greek man I know. Growing up in Central Georgia wasn’t enough to take that sense of cultural and religious heritage away from him or his parents. Despite all this he was raised in an Episcopal Church because, at the time, Orthodox Christians who lived away from Orthodox communities were actively encouraged to attend Episcopal Parishes. Our polity bears a striking similarity. Our sense of Catholicity tends to jive well remarkably well together. Our Eucharistic theology is closer to the East than it is to Rome… all of this was enough for the leaders of the Orthodox Church to tell its members in the Diaspora that they could feel at ease among us.

We were the next best thing. Filioque and all.

And then we started ordaining women, and the Orthodox had a problem with that. (The Orthodox have also been expanding their presence in the U.S, making the lack of parishes increasingly less of an issue.)

If the Filioque is a stumbling block to our Eastern Brothers and sisters, it is one among so very many, and pretending like we’re going to get past 1976 (much less 2003) based on christological goodwill alone requires an optimism I don’t have. (The writers at Anglican News seem to have it in spades.)

It’s important to remember that since 1976 we’re no longer talking about full communion. The conversation we’re now having is one centered around “theological understanding and common witness.” It’s noble. It’s necessary. But the degree to which it places claims on our respective traditions is negligible.

All that isn’t to say that I’m against the dialogue, I’m simply against us thinking that its more than it is. So many times I feel like Anglicans in ecumenical dialogues are like the nerdy kid who freaks out after being acknowledged by the head cheerleader. We’re so excited that they talked to us that we lose sight of the fact that we don’t have a chance in hell of taking them out.

There’s another thread to this that concerns me a bit more than our preoccupation with ecumenical concerns, and it comes in two forms; Anti-Medievalism, and a misplaced trust in the state of our current Trinitarian theology.

The heart of the argument against the Filioque is that it was an early Medieval interpolation into the fruit of an ecumenical council, and that point itself can’t really be contested. The historical foundations of the Filioque aren’t up for debate. What we make of those foundations, however, needs to stay alive in our theological consciousness.

What we see in the life of the Filioque, is the persistence of context in the formation of liturgy. It was a good-faith attempt at keeping the Catholic faith alive in a region and at a time where Arians were in the majority, and in positions of power. Place that in tandem with the fact that Augustinian theology was the sine qua non for doctrinal development in the Western world (and largely ignored in the East) and you have the makings of a well-reasoned liturgical change rooted in the clear pastoral needs of the people. And lets be clear, the Creed has always been a principally liturgical document. It was born in the Councils, yes, but its life has been lived in the Mass.

The Filioque received its doctrinal place largely by acclamation. It was contested, suppressed, and contested again, over a period of well over two hundred years. Anselm’s defense of the Filioque pretty well put any theological concerns about the clause itself to bed. It is a product of Western circumstance that, while unorthodox in its implementation, was completely orthodox in its sentiment.

This is the same period of time, and the same general region that gave us the Creed of St. Athanasius which has avoided controversy while retaining a place as one of the 3 Ecumenical Creeds approved by the 39 Articles. It comes out swinging in favor of the Filioque, and is frequently lauded as one of the best articulations of Trinitarian theology we have at our disposal. (See: Saint Patrick’s Bad Analogies.) While it is in no way Athanasian, (It comes just shy of quoting De Trinitate verbatum) I fear that its Patristic namesake has kept it safe.

We are so slow to escape from the overwhelming cultural construct that nothing good happened between 500 and 1300CE. The fact is that Trinitarian heavy lifting that took place in the Middle Ages set the stage for the most formative period of Theological development in the Western Church since Augustine, who a decent cohort are more than willing to lump in with the “nothing good happened” lot. What the Filioque controversy shows, however, is a group of devoutly Orthodox Christians who were devoted to raising their people up in the Catholic faith, and were willing to do the theological heavy lifting that made the change possible.

We are doing precisely the same thing today in so many ways. To be Episcopalian and take a hard stand against pastoral need driving doctrinal development is to speak out of both sides of our mouths.

Which leads me to my second point. The usefulness of the Filioque in formation today can’t be understated. Yesterday Derek Olsen wrote a remarkably poignant description of the theological climate in which we currently live and move. His insight around the tenets of Therapeutic Monotheistic Deism are right on the mark, and the fact that TMD is a remarkably Arian movement needs to be pinned to the wall of every catechist in the Church.

My own Barthian predilections notwithstanding, we are at a juncture where the creative aspects of the eternal Logos need to be taught and preached with abandon. The Filioque and the Athanasian Creed are two tools that can’t stand to live without. Derek was right to note that any Prayer Book Revision has to take TMD into account, and if we’re serious about what that means it follows that we should be serious about retaining the Filioque.

Liturgy is formation. Its the heart of Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. The Filioque was produced at a time where that was felt more acutely than ever, and the Western Church, Catholic and Protestant alike, has affirmed repeatedly until the Ecumenical wave of the last 50 years.

It seems to be that my lot as a young priest is to scream into the wind of movements I wasn’t around to play a part in, and this feels a lot like screaming into the wind. But with a Prayer Book Revision looming on the horizion, I reckon its something I’m going to need to get used to.

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Catholicity and Culture

Justin Welby, Bernie Sanders, and working toward Reconciliation.

The Most. Rev. Welby shook the Anglican world this week. Showing exactly how little it takes to shake the Anglican world.

I was more than a little surprised by the response. We’ve either been scoffing at the prospect of Covenant, or being (rightly) irate at the positions of Bishops on either side. The worst parts of our political culture are creeping their way into the way that the Church looks at itself. Diatribe over dialogue. Contrast over connection.

Don’t think I’m saying we can’t call each other out. We have to be able to stand up to Bishops in Central Africa who support laws that criminalize homosexuality. We have to be able to say that its wrong, and we have to mean it. But we also have to recognize the qualitative difference between those who would criminalize LGBT persons, and those who believe that ordaining LGBT people is wrong.

The Episcopal Church has seen the power of dialogue. General Convention this year was case in point. We’ve been able to come from the Schism of 2003 to the well-stated and generous response of the Communion Partners. In twelve years we’ve gone from an all out ecclesial brawl to “we respectfully disagree.” That means something. Its nothing less than a marked victory of the Catholic vision and we need to celebrate it. 

My news feed exploded this week with quotes of Bernie Sander’s speech at Liberty university, and rightfully so. We are living in a world where talking with the other side is a news-worthy event. It wasn’t only astonishing for its novelty, but for Sen. Sander’s approach. He stood up to speak, identified the points on which they disagreed, laid out the positions on which they did agree, and then pressed forward on common ground. He did something that the mainline Church needs to desperately learn from, he spoke sincerely with Evangelicals about the scriptural witness to justice. Not as a jab at their misplaced priorities. Not as an homage to his own moral superiority. He sincerely spoke to him about what a text that they both hold dear has to say about treating their neighbors.

Bernie knows something we can’t seem to grasp: When, not if, but when Evangelicals wake up to issues of Economic Justice, it will be a cataclysmic shift in the American political landscape. One which the Republican party, as it stands today, will not survive.

I’m not sure the Mainline will survive it either. We’ve made justice issues our sine qua non, at the expense of a comprehensive theological vision to back it up. When Evangelicals start to get on board they will do it better than we do, and no amount of liturgical Millenials will be enough to make us compelling.

What will make us compelling is the same thing that made ++Welby’s statement, and Sen. Sander’s speech compelling, reaching out in love to those with whom we vehemently disagree.

There’s an offertory sentence in the BCP that doesn’t get nearly enough play on Sunday mornings. Its from Matthew 5; “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Sometimes we have to step away from communion for a bit in order that we can come back and more fully participate together. The Gospel does not abide us using our separation as a sign of inherent superiority. (See also: The Prayer of the Pharisee)

Much as I bristle anytime I see “The Episcopal Church welcomes you.” I’m starting to get my hackles up anytime I hear “It doesn’t matter how you believe, only how we pray.”

No. The Creed is a claim, not just of our belief, but of the truth of the reality of the Triune God, and the Church that serves that God. The central claim that we make is that God crossed the infinite gap between Godself and us, and became like us in order to save us.

That’s the God we serve. That’s the God we attempt to emulate. And that might mean sitting down at the Table with the GAFCON primates. That might mean calling Ugandan bishops to repentance. That might mean sitting down with Evangelicals for the sake of millions of people in this country who are crushed under the weight of working for poverty wages.

Reconciliation is at the heart of the mission of the Church. At a time when efforts at reconciliation are rare enough to be newsworthy, we would do well to live into it.

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Catholicity and Culture

When they say they’re too tired, believe them.

I was one of the last generations of Southern children for whom “Where do y’all go to Church?” will be a ubiquitous question. It was one of those questions that led to a quick size-up. Denomination and place-of-worship could tell volumes in Southern towns where Parishes, much like people, had reputations.

I imagine that the question “What do you do?” will have a bit more staying power. Where we work, and what we do has come to define (for better or worse) a number of our social interactions. Being clergy, I can tell you first hand that a different tack is almost always taken when I let it slip that I’m a priest. (The double takes are something to behold when folks ask me while I’m in street clothes. Young, tattooed man that I am.)

The Church can fight, and I think it should, the common assumption that what we do is the defining characteristic of our social interactions, but what we can’t yet seem to grasp is just how deeply the current culture of American labor is seeping into our congregations. We treat work, we treat labor as a neutral medium, as a simple fact of life, and we do so at our peril.

More and more I’m convinced that the single greatest variable in the seemingly inevitable march toward church decline is the way in which labor has changed radically in the last 50 years. I’m aware that this is just one hypothesis among many, probably too many. But the way in which we keep relegating what we’re experiencing to the realm of personal opinion, that its simply a matter of public distaste with the content of the 21st century church, continues to ignore the fact that it is quantifiably more difficult to attend church now than it has been since the end of WWI.

The data around individual hours worked isn’t that telling, but it isn’t that well studied either. As best as we can tell a working individual is now working about 5 hours more a week than they were in 1950, but that says almost nothing about Household hours spent working. Given that we have double the number of women in the workforce now than in 1950 it is safe to say that household work hours, while likely not double what they were 50 years ago, are significantly higher.

We’ve seen the previously sacrosanct status of the weekend erode, in legislation, yes, but more pervasively in practice. The workweek is the week you get on the schedule that is posted sometimes only hours before the next week starts. When I was in the Service Industry scheduling anything more than a week or two out was iffy. Making expensive, involved plans was pretty well unheard of, as any money you put down or plans you made could be forfeited by a manager’s refusal to sign off on your time off. Which you might not receive until days before the fact.

We are bombarded with messaging about how the American worker is faced with a drastically shifting workplace, and, at the same time, that the Church is in decline.

Yet we refuse to connect the two.

It’s easier, in many ways, to think that falling church attendance is a symptom of a cultural malaise, or a failure of messaging. That it is young people reacting against the capriciousness of Culture-War Christianity. That’s easy. We can try to change our theology, or the style and content of our worship. We can re-brand and rethink, re-imagine and revive, but if folks are too pressed by the demands of their work life to give up valuable time on Sunday morning then we’re not going to get anywhere. (Its also easier to collect poll data on opinion, rather than how time is actually spent.)

It is hard to care about the state of the American worker. It is hard to say that the Church is falling victim to the same pressures that workers everywhere are facing. We want so desperately to be above the fray, even as our forebears in the Oxford movement are calling to us and saying that we can’t be. If we want to be a priority, then we need to prioritize our people. Our working, struggling people who are constantly having to revisit their calendars and make the decision about whether or not they can afford to give a few invaluable hours to an organization that is asking them to give even more of the little time they have.

Its time to get serious about labor. The Culture Wars are winding down. We won. What we’re seeing in places like Alabama and Kentucky are its death throes. What if we took on a fight that would actually give life to people? A fight that would reach out across boundaries and say that the real war on families, and on Christian values comes from the unbridled greed that treats humans as resources to be exploited and discarded. That has no concern for developing whole, healthy families and community-driven people.

It seems to be working for the Pope. It worked for his namesake. It worked for the Tractarians. I see no reason it wouldn’t work for us.

Perhaps the biggest change that will need to take place is that when our people tell us they’re too tired, or too busy to attend regularly we need to believe them. We need to stop acting like we have a free pass from the “cares of the world,” and drop the chip on our shoulder that tells us that we should be a priority when other priorities like home and car ownership are being displaced because of an economy that no longer makes them sensible. We need to stop clinging to Sunday morning as our locus of our outreach and the measure of our success. Because as long as our people are given the choice between coming to church on Sunday morning and making money on a Saturday night we’ll always lose out on that choice.

The basic tenet of Liberation Theology is that we can’t separate a person’s material conditions from their spiritual well-being. St. James’ epistle seems to tell us the same thing. The Epistle that troubled so many of the protestant reformers may be the key to our next reformation. One that is necessary when a corruption of the famed Protestant Work-Ethic is undoing Protestantism as we know it. Care for the working person has been one of the finer parts of the Catholic Anglican tradition, and it may be the part that saves us.

Photo: The Christian Workers’ League took part in the May Day Parade, Edinburgh, c.1947 (George Wilkie archive) Accessed at:http://www.ionabooks.com/content/an-oral-history-of-the-iona-community/the-community-and-young-people/1-cwl-members-may-day-parade-c-1947-by-george-wilkie/

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Catholicity and Culture

The Good Shepherd in Baltimore

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away– and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. … And I lay down my life for the sheep. … For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  (John 10:11-18. Excerpted.)

The Story of the Good Shepherd is a story about value. Its power is in its contrasts. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. The hired hand runs.

We should get that. Our culture assigns value to us every day of our lives. We call it a market. My labor is worth this much. My time is worth this much. Only rarely do we get to say how much that worth is.

It makes sense that we, who spend so much of our lives doing unconscious cost-benefit analysis, identify with the hired hands. There’s a point at which the stakes become too high. The wolves circle around, and we shout that “I don’t get paid enough for this shit!” and walk.

We all would even agree that a sensible shepherd would cut his losses and run. Wolves don’t come alone. A hungry pack is more than enough to overpower one shepherd. It’s a fight that usually can’t be won. The wolves will probably only take a couple of sheep, and the vulnerable ones at that. Some losses can be incurred.

But that’s not the Good Shepherd. For the Good Shepherd to lay down his life for his sheep, he must know that the sheep are worth it. For the True God from True God to lay down his life for us, his sheep, that means that we all have beyond-infinite value.

God values us enough to give up Godself to the powers of sin and death, and in doing so overcomes sin and death.

So when God in Christ tells us to love one another as he loved us, he is telling us to make that same call.

God is commanding us to stop acting like hired hands. God is commanding us to stop letting markets dictate our decisions about one another. God is commanding us to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters so that we can take it up again.

Any value judgement that we make about any other person based on any premise other than this is a lie. And yet we lie all the time.

We’ve lied so much that our cities are full of people who feel like the only way they can claim their value is in violence. If their value is determined by what they have, or what they do, when they have for so long had nothing, and been told that they can do nothing, the why are we surprised that one day those lies lash out? Why are we surprised that those lies come back to the things that we value, the things that we have, the things that we do?

The language of the riot is a language that is learned. It’s a language that we’ve taught.

Until we step into the midst of the wolves and call out the lie, the lie that we have handed down to these communities since we brought them here on boats and told them they were animals, then we continue to speak a language that will twist itself into the next riot.

More young black men will die.

More young black men will riot.

Then we’ll turn back to those young black men and say “See. This is why we kill you.”

That’s the exchange that always has been. That’s the exchange we’re wrestling with now. White property. Black lives. A Church that cannot live into the example of the Good Shepherd and stop that exchange of misplaced value, is a Church that cannot live into the commandments that Christ has given us. And if we can’t go to the world and say that every human being is of infinite value without any caveats, then I really wonder if we are living into our baptisms at all.

When the Risen Lord met Peter and the Disciples on the beach and told Peter to care for his sheep, I’m inclined to believe he meant it. If we’re going to claim to carry on the lineage of St. Peter, then I’m inclined to believe that he meant that for us too.

They’re lighting fires in Baltimore to tell us how much hurt is there.

So let’s care for his sheep. 

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Anglo-Catholicism, Catholicity and Culture, Priestcraft

Catholicty and Culture: We Never Say Mass in a Vacuum.

I am the Rector of a black parish that self-identifies as Anglo-Catholic.They greatly prefer music out of Lift Every Voice and Sing. They are vocal in response to my sermons. They play Gospel pandora stations when they’re hanging out in the Sunday School rooms. It confused me.

I really struggled with the question “Is this an Anglo-Catholic Parish?” or is this just one of those “That word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” moments? But the more I talked with my parishioners, the more I got to know exactly what they believed and held dear about the Church and the Sacraments, the more I became convinced that they had their identity right. They knew what meant, and they meant what they said.

The identity issue was my issue. Before I got here the Catholic revival and Euro-centrism were inexplicably tied in my mind. A high expression of Anglicanism meant a high expression of Anglophilia. Instead of hinging my hope on Catholic truth, I had hung my identity on an aesthetic, and a remarkably culturally-specific aesthetic at that.  I had fallen squarely into the trap that I worry many of my young Anglo-Catholic colleagues have fallen into as well.

So for the sake of charity, and for the sake of the expression of the Catholic faith that we know and love so well, let me be clear; We are in danger of making the Anglo-Catholic revival a white man’s movement.

It’s going to take some real introspection, prayer, and effort to keep that from being the case. Anglicanism in general is no longer a white movement. Even if we limit ourselves to the Episcopal Church a recent report shows that black and multi-cultural congregations are growing at a rate that substantially outpaces their white counterparts. (Check the report here.)

I’m not saying that growth is unequivocally good. What I am saying is that our Church is changing in its cultural composition at what is arguably the fastest pace since Reconstruction, and if we’re going to be a viable, meaningful witness to a Catholic vision of the Church then we have to do some work in ourselves and check when our aesthetic is getting in the way of that witness.

Let Adiaphora be Adiaphora.

I will be the first to say that part of taking Church seriously is taking worship seriously. A liturgy that doesn’t act like the Blessed Sacrament is the center of our life and work is not worth anyone’s time, and it doesn’t serve any purpose other than to prop up a lifeless Christianity that is well on its way to irrelevancy. Worship that centers on Christ’s presence with us, that draws us into the mystery of the Altar and the holiness of God is worship that is worthy of our apostolic heritage.

There are things that are essential to that worship, and I’m inclined to believe that the list of essentials is longer than most folks in the broad church movement think it is, but that list is not all-encompassing.

I love a good Candlemas service as much as the next guy. It’s a beautiful, meaningful service that celebrates Christ’s light continuing to break into the world and into our lives. It is Anglican tradition at its finest. But if you’re serving in a predominately Hispanic context, then maybe you should throw that energy into and enthusiasm into a Mass around La Dia de Los Muertos or La Fiesta De Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. (The Story of Our Lady and St. Juan Diego is one of the best stories of grassroots Catholic revival I’ve ever heard.)

I know that vestments are near and dear to every Anglo-Catholic heart, but I grew up in Florida, and I serve in Georgia. Lightweight vestments are my friend. They aren’t nearly as pretty as anything heavier, silk-lined, or brocaded, but they keep me from being a sweaty mess in front of the people of God, and allow me to still wear what priests in the apostolic tradition have seen fit to wear for centuries.When the temperature outside is hovering near a hundred, and the HVAC unit is screaming to keep the nave at eighty degrees.

We are Only Ever Priests in Context.

It hurts a bit, to give up the things that we hold dearly. The feasts, the hymnody, even the language. But we have to do a better job of knowing what is essential to forming the people of God that we are called to serve and what are just our liturgical peculiarities and preferences. I’m not saying the two don’t ever fall in line, and we should always strive for excellence in worship, but we need to strive for excellence in worship that is speaking to people where they are.

In the Episcopal Church we have a very bad habit of saying “Wherever you are, you’re welcome here. But if you’re going to stay, then get on our level.” In High Church parishes that pressure can be amplified exponentially, and that is doing damage to our witness. We’re only priests because the people we serve make us priests, and unless we recognize that those people come with cultures and contexts that we can speak to, and live in, then we’re just a bunch of people in weird clothes speaking what may as well be the Latin Rite. (Except that there are some contexts where the Latin Rite is completely appropriate.)

We have to get out of our own way. That means recognizing the heart of Catholic truth, leaving what’s dead to bury their own, and taking that truth to the world.

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