Anglo-Catholic Identity  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Derek Olsen of Haligweorc is also a regular contributor to Episcopal Cafe. In a recent post he shares some insights into Anglo-Catholicism that go beyond the stereotypical preoccupation with liturgical punctilio. Of particular importance is Martin Thornton's definition of Anglican spirituality as being rooted in the Eucharist, the Daily Office, and personal prayer and meditation.

As any Anglo-Catholic in good standing will tell you, it's not about the externals. Or, rather, the externals are driven by the internals. As I've said before, we don't do solemn high mass or use incense because we like it (though we do, of course) but because of what it communicates about who and what God is and who we are in light of that reality. It's about theology. And our theological commitments come with liturgical implications. Defining that theology is what drives us crazy.

...At the end of the day the question isn't whether we are "authentic" Anglo-Catholics or Anglicans. The question is whether we are authentic Christians seeking to pattern our lives according to an Anglican shape that proceeds from catholic and orthodox roots.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Christian Smith is a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He has written (with Melinda Lundquist Denton) Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford 2005). Like a good social scientist, Smith conducted extensive interviews with hundreds of American teenagers--representing a wide spectrum of Christian and non-Christian religions--to get an idea of where they're coming from spiritually. Most of them, regardless of their tradition of origin, profess what Smith calls "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism". The passages below are from a summary of his work available as a PDF file. Those of us who are mainline Christians with even a moderately traditionalist slant will realize that these attitudes are not restricted to teenagers; in many mainline communities they have long become the conventional wisdom.

[The basics of Moralistic Therapuetic Deism:]

  • A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  • God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  • The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  • God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when he is needed to solve a problem.
  • Good people go to heaven when they die.

...being a good, moral person means...being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, and responsible; working on self-improvement; taking care of one's health; and doing one's best to be successful...As more than one teenager summarized morality for us: "Just don't be an asshole, that's all..."

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is also about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents...What appears to be the actual dominant religion among US teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people.

...But this God is not Trinitarian, he did not speak through the Torah or the prophets of Israel, was never resurrected from the dead, and does not fill and transform people through his Spirit. This God is not demanding. He actually can't be, since his job is to solve our problems and make people feel good. In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist--he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.

Old Rites, Young Bodies  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Many people of my generation--rapidly graying boomers--think that the best way to lure young folks into mainline churches is to offer them "contemporary" styles of worship: folk masses, gospel music, even a U2charist if they feel really ambitious. After all, it works for the megachurches, right? I have a sneaking suspicion that many of these boomers are merely projecting their own wishes onto these liturgical evangelism projects.

The local newspaper in Lawrence, Kansas, home of the University of Kansas, has an article ([the link won't work for me for whatever reason] on a "Solemn High Mass" celebrated each Sunday night during the school year at Trinity Episcopal Church. The service seems to be a good old-fashioned bells and smells feast, with incense, holy water, and Gregorian chant--the Nicene Creed and Lord's Prayer are chanted along with much else. The congregation is multi-generational with a good representation of KU students--some voice majors even sing in the choir. One student attendee had this to say:

" uses all your senses--it just sort of inundates you with things. This thing encourages you to smell and to taste, to touch and see and to hear and just sort of be flooded with..the presence of God and the presence of everything we care about."

Now, if only my Trinity Episcopal Church would do something like this!

Hat-tip to Titus Onenine.

Authentic Mysticism  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

Anamchara has a good post referencing an introduction by Emilie Griffin to Evelyn Underhill: Essential Writings (Orbis). She points out five characteristics of genuine Christian mysticism:

  • Christian mysticism is active and practical...for the vast majority of Christian contemplatives, the life of silence is embedded in a network of community relationships...True mysticism does not fly from such obligations, but embraces them and seeks to meet them well.
  • Christian mysticism is spiritual and transcendental, rather than magical. The authentic mystic does not seek supernatural power for the purpose of controlling earthly circumstances, but rather seeks to surrender to the will and calling of Divine Love...
  • Christian mysticism is centered in love
  • Union with God in authentic mysticism transforms the mystic for ever richer levels of life...Mysticism points beyond itself to the life of kenosis and theosis: self-emptying in order to participate in the Divine nature.
  • As a result of such loving union, the authentic mystic becomes unselfish.

No Free Passes for Skeptics  

Posted by Joe Rawls

It's no secret that lots of mainline Christians doubt or reject some or many items of traditional belief. In my own parish, where Marcus Borg's books are used for confirmation classes, some of my friends omit parts of the Nicene Creed during the Sunday Eucharist or else skip it altogether. This is part of the parish's agenda of "inclusion", "hospitality", and "accepting people as they are".

Martin L Smith, a priest and spiritual writer serving St Columba's in Washington, DC, has a different take on this phenomenon. Doubters are to be welcomed in love, but some kinds of doubt may appropriately be challenged. The essay from which the following is excerpted appears in Episcopal Cafe.

Then there are entirely different kinds of doubt, which instead of serving faith, are defense mechanisms against it. So in our congregations there are those who rely on doubt for keeping Christ at bay. We need to get better at detecting the emotional dynamic that is frequently at work under doubts that are often presented as purely rational problems or even badges of sophistication. There are those whose doubts about the resurrection, doubts about the real presence, doubts about Christ, function as rationalizations for a basic dread of intimacy with the divine. In these cases intellectual agnosticism shields one from the possibility that Christ might actually touch or enter us, making us utterly vulnerable to being loved, moved, led and changed. It is good to keep on setting out good arguments for the truth of basic Christian doctrines, but they won't be effective unless we recognize the emotional dynamic of fear and resistance that may well be fueling a person's unbelief as they take up our offer of hospitality and inclusiveness.