Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Covenanted Community

Thanks to all who commented on my previous post, particularly John.

"Community" is an overused word that has come to be almost meaningless -- which is why I used the phrase "covenanted community". As Christians, we are incorporated into the one invisible Church by baptism (evangelicals would substitute conversion for baptism, but that doesn't change my point). In order to live healthy Christian lives, we must also become part of particular expressions of church -- in parishes, small worshipping communities, religious orders, etc., which may in turn be part of other expreessions of church -- jurisdiction, denomination, etc. Now, in order for any group of people to function, there are certain common rules, laws, regulations that must be established -- otherwise chaos will result. That is where the "covenant" comes in -- the agreements that communities make in order to function. Without the depth of commitment to such relational covenants, true intimacy and authentic "community" will not result.

While I am an outspoken advocate of indie priests offering solitary masses if no congregation is available, I don't think it is healthy for such liturgy to be the only expression of prayer. Corporate worship is a necessary part of the Christian life, and without it, one falls into the danger of an idiosyncratic, eccentric spirituality that is not grounded in the incarnational reality that worshipping with others offers. And to get the full benefit of corporate worship, one must establish a relationship with a particular praying community -- worshipping with different congregations without settling down is a sign of immaturity.

But existence as a regular congregation does require sacrifice, and rules, and lots of mundane things that many "spiritual" people may prefer not to deal with. If nothing else, there is the at-least weekly sacrifice of an hour or more for worship (and hopefully, also, fellowship). It may seem spiritual not to deal with money, but in an incarnational religion such as ours, there are hymnals and vestments and bread and wine to purchase. Conflicts will arise, and compromises will occur, and the music won't satisfy everyone's tastes, and not every sermon will meet one's needs, and the text of the liturgy may be too traditional or too modern -- and yet, it is to such a human community, with human problems, that one must commit -- not merely a collection of friendships, but an actual community, that can make some demands on one's life (and vice versa).

Hopefully, local communities will have some connections with other local communities, which may lead to jurisdictions or other arrangements, or may not. But without entering this covenant of community, one risks a spirituality cut off from the incarnation.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Balancing Community and Individual Needs

John Plummer has an interesting post today entitled "Running Free". In it, he elaborates on a theme that he has expounded before, especially in his book The Living Mysteries -- the idea that the church and jurisdictions and organized communities are unnecessary, as the priesthood and the sacraments are the important thing.

Indeed, many churches have caused a lot of harm -- one need merely think of the persecution of the Jews by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and other denominations (Martin Luther was shockingly bigoted in his anti-Semitism); the endorsement of racist slavery by the Southern branches of the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist denominations in the United States; the denigration of women inherent in denying them the opportunity for full participation in the church's life; or the current vicious attack on lgbt families by many denominations, with an anemic response by most "liberal" mainstream denominations (the United Church of Christ being the shining exception). There are many other examples that could
be offered. And John is absolutely correct in pointing out the ridiculousness of many independent jurisdictions.

Yet, there are also many examples of how unbridled individualism can lead to great problems as well -- especially in our movement. While there are many holy people doing good work in our movement, there are also a lot of people who want quick ordination with no demands to feed their egos -- and while John points to jurisdictions that feed this, I think abolishing this for a "free" priesthood would only exacerbate the problem, since it would remove all accountability.

Individualists can point to unhealthy and abusive communities and say, "See? Everyone is better off on their own, with complete freedom!", with justification. Communitarians can point to unhealthy, abusive, and eccentric individuals and say, "See? Everyone is better off in community, with accountability!", again with justification. In fact, God has created us with a hunger for community, so that we cannot be fulfilled human beings without being in deep, intimate, covenanted relationships, as well as creating us as individuals with deep longings of the Spirit demanding that we express them, even if we go against the grain and march to the beat of a different drummer (if I may be forgiven for mixing metaphors).

Healthy priesthood can only exist within covenanted communities that honor and encourage healthy individual development -- and it is this search for balance that we must pursue, rather than recreating unhealthy communities or establishing unaccountable "free" priesthoods.

Fr. Chris Tessone

I am very happy to report that Fr. Chris Tessone, author of the blog Even the Devils Believe and pastor of Our Lady of Peace Independent Catholic Church in Durham, NC, is in the process of incardinating into the Independent Catholic Christian Church and has been accepted as a postulant in the Augustinians of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Chris is very prayerful and a very well-read theologian, and I know he will make great contributions to the Independent Catholic Christian Church.

Hooray! Alleluia! And thanks to Bishop John Plummer for ordaining him.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Aristocratic Title

Thanks to Mother Laura Grimes at Junia's Daughter for this fun exercise:

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Imperial Majesty Timothy the Recumbent of Leper St George
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Visit from Chris Tessone

This past weekend, I was fortunate to have a visit from Chris Tessone, the Andrew Sullivan of Independent Sacramental bloggers (not in ideology, but rather in rate of prolific writing), whose blog, Even the Devils Believe, is always interesting and thought-provoking. We had many interesting conversations, and we made a pilgrimage to the grave of the Prince de Landas Berghes, about which he blogs. It was also great for him to join us in worship and fellowship at St. Mary of Grace parish on Sunday night.

Not to beat a dead horse, but unity in our movement will NOT be achieved through the Grand Uniting Organization that people propose setting up on a twice-weekly basis (almost never with any clear idea of what, exactly, the organization is supposed to do, or what resources will be required or where they will be obtained, and usually there is the ridiculous notion that such an organization will cause Rome, the Episcopal Church, the Union of Utrecht, or the little green bishops that inhabit the planet Mars to "recognize" us finally -- because, really, we are absolutely nothing until "someone" [fill in the blank] "recognizes" us -- but I digress). In fact, far more will be accomplished if more people in our movement will take the time to visit each other, get to know each other, worship and eat together. And visiting the graves of our forebears can't hurt!

As I mentioned on Chris' blog, I do plan, in the near future, to produce holy cards with third-class relics of the Prince de Landas Berghes, who brought the Arnold Mathew line to this land, and will make them available to anyone to wants them and sends me a SASE. Stay tuned!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Threat to Religious Freedom in New Hampshire

Representative Daniel C. Itse is attempting to suppress religious freedom in the state of New Hampshire with a proposed law (HB 69, oddly enough . . .) that would prohibit clergy and churches from performing religious marriages for same-sex couples. Civil marriage and religious marriage are separate institutions. Just as Roman Catholic clergy are not compelled by the state to marry couples where one or both have been divorced without an annulment, and just as rabbis are not compelled by the state to marry interfaith couples where one partner is not Jewish, so clergy (such as UU, UCC, Ethical Culture, Reform/Reconstructionist/Conservative Jewish, MCC, and Independent Sacramental, to name just a few examples) should not be prohibited from performing religious marriages, even if such a marriage is not yet recognized by the state.

This is a very dangerous bill, which I hope is swiftly defeated by the New Hampshire Judiciary Committee.

Monday, January 01, 2007

What's in a Name? -- Homily for 12/31/2006

First reading: Numbers 6:22-27 Gospel: Luke 2:16-21

What’s in a name?

Well, first, tonight we are celebrating the eve of the feast celebrated on January 1, and that feast has different names, depending on the era and tradition in which it was celebrated. For most of the church’s history, and still in churches following the Byzantine calendar, January 1 has been celebrated as the Feast of the Circumcision, since it is the eighth day of Jesus’ life if one celebrates his birth on December 25, and Jewish boys are circumcised on the eighth day of their lives. In the modern Roman Rite, returning to an ancient tradition, this day is celebrated as the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, even though the traditional gospel recounting the circumcision is still read. And our Anglican and Lutheran sisters and brothers celebrate the day as the Holy Name of Jesus, since it was at Jesus’s bris, or circumcision, that he received his name. Since our Independent Catholic tradition has roots in the Roman, Anglican, and Byzantine traditions – I propose that we celebrate all three!

In our first reading, we hear of the solemn blessing with which the priests blessed the people of Israel. Within the Jewish tradition, this blessing is still used to this day, given by those believed to descend from the family of Aaron, and the solemn blessing is one of the holiest moments of Jewish liturgy. God’s most sacred name, thought by scholars to have been pronounced something like “Yahweh”, is invoked, a name so holy that it came to be uttered only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, by the high priest in the temple. The rest of the time, whenever the sacred name appeared in the text, the term “the LORD” was substituted, as it was in the version we just heard. In most English translations, you can tell when the sacred name is used by the fact that “LORD” is in all capital letters. In time, even the Hebrew word for “Lord” came to be deliberately mispronounced by Orthodox Jews outside of prayer. And the name means “He/She causes to become”. So the One who causes all things to come into being is the one who blesses us, preserves us, and gives us peace – and the word for “peace” in Hebrew, shalom, is derived from the root for “whole” or “complete” – so the peace that the Source of all being grants is not merely the absence of conflict, but a state of wholeness.

In the gospel, we hear that Jesus is initiated into the covenant of Israel through his circumcision, and he is given the name “Jesus”, which is how we pronounce the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Yehoshua”, or “Joshua”. That name means “Yahweh is salvation”. And we as Christians believe, as the foundation of our faith, that Jesus is Yahweh, God, incarnate – that the One who causes all things to come into being chose to accept the limitations of becoming a human being subject to the limitations of time and space in order to give us salvation, to free us from those very limitations by giving us eternal life. And how better to express that than by being born to a couple too poor to afford a room in the inn, being born in a dirty stable?

And what should be our response to this salvation, this freedom from sin, death, and all of the other limitations of humanity? We hear that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in our heart”. Mary is humanity responding to God with a resounding “Yes!” to all of the ridiculously impossible things God offers, starting with the Annunciation. And she draws closer to God by reflecting on the mystery of the Incarnation, reflecting on it in her heart, or as another translation puts it – “pondering”. Let us also meditate on this great mystery of our faith, that God has taken on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. And let us know that it was not merely an event from 2,000 years ago – Christ is present in our midst, in our individual lives, in our community, most tangibly in the Eucharist. The One who causes all things to come into being is our salvation – Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the Name of Jesus! and Happy New Year!