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The week of Feb. 7-13

*BOOK STUDY on Tues., Feb. 8, Noon. Prof. Jewel Brooker reviews "Four Quartets," by T.S. Eliot.
*ST. AELRED meets with Bishop Smith Wed., Feb. 9, 7 p.m. All are welcome.
*CATHEDRAL THURSDAY on Feb. 10, 5-7 p.m.
*CATHEDRAL ARTS BENEFIT GALA on Sunday, Feb. 13, 6 p.m. Silent and live auctions, entertainment and chocolate!

We Don’t Know ‘Right Now’

November 18, 2010

Where I tend to view myself as both a Christian and an agnostic (see the post below), I just came across a reader of Andrew Sullivan’s blog thoughtfully arguing for an important distinction between Christian faith–even non-fundamentalist Christian faith–and agnosticism. I think this anonymous reader makes the case eloquently, but I also think he/she is too dismissive of the spirituality of non-religious but still thoughtful and spiritual agnostics. I have so many good friends who fall into that non-religious, thoughtful and spiritual agnostic category. And I would uphold them as exemplars of what Jesus teaches and what God has revealed to be righteousness–right alongside any super-virtuous religious folks one might point to. So even though I really like this person’s description of non-fundamentalist Christian faith, I cannot endorse his/her armchair head-shrinking of non-religious agnostics.

Here’s Sullivan’s reader:

The non-fundamentalist Christian experiences doubt within the framework of faith, and above all hope.

We see through a glass darkly; but one day we will see Him face to face. Our unknowing is intrinsically related to eschatology — we experience doubt but dwell within it hopefully, waiting humbly and patiently for the day when all things will be made new. In other words, the uncertainty and humility of the Christian is not a mere admission that we “just don’t know,” but instead is given intelligibility by our hope. It might be better to put it this way: the Christian acknowledges that we don’t know right now. I also suspect — or at least this holds for me — that humility is related to original sin, our flawed and fallible post-lapsarian natures. It is not that our questions are unanswerable, or meaningless, it is that we can’t answer them as finite, fallible beings with minds that still bear the imprint of our aboriginal catastrophe. So we hold our beliefs with some critical distance, knowing that a belief in any God that does not slip into utter anthropomorphism will be aware of the limits of language, of marking with mortal words immortal things.

Read more…

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An Agnostic Manifesto

November 18, 2010

Spiritual Envy, a new book by Michael Krasny–host of the nationally syndicated radio show, Forum–has just hit book stores, and it was recently reviewed by Reza Aslan in the Daily Beast. Aslan calls the book “an agnostic manifesto” that takes aim at the fundamentalist certainty of those religious who are so sure of (among other things) “what the Bible says” and “what we are to do,” “how we are to live,”  and “the Gospel” and so on, as well as, on the other side, the fundamentalist certainty of the militant “new atheists” who stridently insist that religion is and has been a solely destructive force in human affairs based on purely magical thinking.

As Aslan puts it:

Pity the poor agnostic these days, caught in the middle of an ever-widening gap between an increasingly assertive religious fundamentalism on one side, and on the other a new brand of atheism whose dogmatic certitude and zealous proselytizing make it appear more fundamentalist by the day. Where in the conflict between these two competing claims of absolute certainty—religious and scientific—is there room for the person willing to throw his hands in the air and say simply, “I don’t know?”

I, for one, have long insisted (echoing a rabbi I had as a professor in seminary) that if we are honest with ourselves–much like our youth group preachers this past Sunday), then we are all agnostics. We do not know with certainty anything about God. We have all sorts of tantalizing clues and evidence in the Bible, in our various religious traditions, in the testimonies and lives of saints and prophets, and in the way our individual human hearts respond to those special moments in our lives when we can deeply feel God’s presence, the undergirding presence of the almighty good.

But certainty? The absence of doubt? As the Letter to the Hebrews says, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Notice the paradox in each of those two phrases as they pit “assurance” versus “hoped for” and “conviction” versus “not seen.” And as Paul writes in first Corinthians, describing his great hope for God and the Kingdom of Heaven: “For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end… For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

To have faith, in my opinion, is not to know, but to hope.

What Would Milton Friedman Do?

November 16, 2010

This post from Steve Waldman’s economics blog, Interfluidity, interests me in the way that it links economic theory and policy with morality and the way it acknowledges how we Americans tend to link the ups and downs of our economy to our collective relationship with God. In brief, Waldman is pointing out how the long-held American concensus that politically neutral technocrats are best at steering the economy has been largely subverted by the current economic crisis (which, of course, has come about despite, or maybe because of, the economic policies of technocrats).  Waldman is particularly taking aim at the The New York Times columnist, economist, and moralizer Paul Krugman. Here’s the Waldman quotes that got me thinking:

Paul Krugman laments that we have been “mugged by the moralizers” and admonishes us that “economics is not a morality play“.

But the thing is, human affairs are a morality play, and economics, if it is to be useful at all, must be an account of human affairs… It should be no surprise that human collectives do not choose policies that grow GDP and employment when they deem those policies to be wrong or unjust… Political choice combines diffuse personal costs with powerful moral signifiers. We should expect politics, including the politics that determines economic policy, to be dripping with moralism. And sure enough, it is! This doesn’t mean that policy outcomes are actually moral. …But exhortations to policy that cannot survive in terms of moral framing are nullities…

The market itself is a famously amoral creature, yet the outcomes it imposes have become widely regarded as legitimate. That’s all true! …Our deference both to market outcomes and central bank management did not derive from some overwhelming scientific consensus to which the common man wisely deferred. They were the result of an immensely successful ideological campaign that conflated markets with liberty and democracy, and claimed central banks would deliver fair outcomes by virtue of predictably valued money. There is a reason why people are asking What Would Milton Friedman Do? in the same way a Christian might ask what Jesus would do. The technocratic interlude… was built upon scripture that Milton Friedman both penned and evangelized.

We are in a period of Reformation now, with all the turmoil that suggests, and the outcome is not predetermined. Simply assuming the parishioners will remain faithful, or lamenting that they ought to remain faithful, is no way to win the argument…

Read more…

‘Grass? But it’s so boring!’ sayeth The Lord

November 16, 2010

Tracy Crow, the leader of The Cathedral’s “Green Team” just sent along this clever dialogue between God and St. Francis over the painfully ridiculous phenomenon that is the American lawn:

GOD: Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds  and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.

St. FRANCIS: It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But, it’s so boring. It’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It’s sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it–sometimes twice a week.

GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD:  They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS: No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

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“Hallelujah” in the Cathedral of St. Macy

November 16, 2010

A few readers have sent me this YouTube clip of a couple-hundred singers from the Opera Company of Philadelphia performing a surprising rendition of Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus in the middle of Macy’s while weekend shoppers looked curiously on.

I honestly find the clip a little creepy. The images of a crowded department store full of (extra early) Christmas shoppers singing praises to God feels, you know, kinda wrong.

This Eucharist is Your Eucharist

November 16, 2010

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral out in Oregon is planning a Woody Guthrie Eucharist, in which all of the music will be compositions by the great American, Depression-era folk singer. Personally, I’d take that over a “U2-charist” (something once offered out at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral–where I was ordained). The music of Bono and The Edge pales in comparison to “This Land is Your Land” and “Christ For President.” I’ve also experienced a “Godspell” Eucharist at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City–in which, as you might imagine, all the service music was drawn from the musical, “Godspell”–but Guthrie’s music is something uniquely special, in my opinion.

Youth Group Sermon 11/14: What’s the Deal with Heaven?

November 16, 2010

Today, we hear the prophet Isaiah take on the voice of God and proclaim:

“I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight… no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress… They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity… for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD… Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear… The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox… They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD…”

A week ago, last Sunday evening, I met up with four members of our senior youth group—Courtney Crosby, Molly Goodwill, Ben Wintrip and Carlynn Crosby. We got together over at the NOLA coffee shop and ate beignets and drank coffee and we talked about this passage from the Book of Isaiah.

In our Christian tradition, this passage has long been viewed as one of the earliest visions of heaven. Here, Isaiah imagines that once the Israelites return from their long and terrible exile in Babylon, God will empower them to rebuild Jerusalem as the ideal city—a city re-created by God as a place where “no more shall the sound of weeping be heard,” where “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together,” where no one will “hurt or destroy.”

So, in discussing this passage, we naturally began to discuss “heaven.” More particularly, we asked ourselves: What is heaven? Does it exist? Is it a place? Is it something we go to after death? Or is it a state of being we can access right here and now? Is it open to everyone? Or do we have to somehow earn entry into it?

In short, as Jerry Seinfeld might say: “What’s the deal with heaven?”

After our discussion—and after all the beignets had been eaten, the teenagers then took up pens and paper and wrote out their own individual reflections of what they think about heaven. Here they are:

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