Friday, August 11, 2017

Ban Children from the Church!

It's for their own good, mind you.

For decades, if not centuries, Christians have wrestled with the questions surrounding young people and attendance at worship.  They can be a little disruptive, say some; but they are part of our community; say others.  They don't want to to be here, say the permissive; it is good for them, say the rigorous. They are our future, say the anxious; they are our present, say the affirming. (The one thing all seem to agree on is that their presence serves the salutary purpose of preventing preachers from speaking with any frankness about sex, death or Santa Claus.)

But what if we just cut the Gordian knot?  If we took a deep breath and tossed the little rugrats out on their diapered bums? Jane Watkins suggests that this might not be the worst thing for anybody.

If you have not yet had the pleasure, we warmly commend to your attention the novelist Phil Rickman and his books about the Rev. Merrily Watkins.  Merrily is a priest in the Church of England, serving both as a village vicar and as the diocesan exorcist -- or, in modern church-speak, "minister of deliverance."

Near the beginning of our current Rickman, The Prayer of the Night Shepherd, Merrily takes up the question of children in church with her 17-year-old daughter Jane who, as she points out, was recently a child herself.  Jane is Rickman's own voice in the books, a quasi-pagan distant from but respectful of her mother's faith. This is her answer:
‘Who needs kids in church, anyway? Look at it this way – kids are not supposed to drink in pubs until they’re eighteen, so pubs are slightly mysterious... therefore cool. So like, obviously, the best way to invest in the future would be to ban the little sods from the church altogether. That way, they wouldn’t turn out like me.’ 
‘So the monthly Family Service, with kids doing readings, the quiz...’ 
‘Totally crap idea, I always said that. It just makes the Church look needy and pathetic. You have to cultivate the mystery. If you don’t bring back the mystery, you’re stuffed, Mum.’
It smacks of modest proposal, to be sure.  But there is a kernel of truth there, too, and don't you deny it. Ban the children, and the church is a place where adults can speak freely, of adult matters. Ban the children, and the church is a place children wonder about, and long for.

But, children or no children, pagan Jane is onto the most important matter, the one that sociologists and intellectual historians sometimes call "re-enchantment."  A church that is preoccupied with worldly things -- even good and important things, like care for the poor and welcoming strangers -- is at base a rational creature, comprehensible by the world on the world's terms. A church preoccupied by works of civil righteousness is just another nonprofit, with fancier costumes than most -- and less effective fundraising.

But a church that offers what some pagans call a "thin place," what others simply call temple, altar and sacrifice -- in either instance, a place where the mortal encounters the eternal, where the rational is set momentarily aside in favor of the irrational, where the numinous overwhelms the prosaic -- that is something else entirely.  A place that offers the sort of savage, ecstatic, extra-rational mountaintop experience that most modern people can only find on a dance floor or a sports arena?  That is something that people need, long for, and will travel far to find.

So listen to pagan Jane. Keep the kids, if you like. But above all, cultivate the mystery.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Il Tassista e La Sua Eminenza

Our new favorite bit of Roman humor comes courtesy of John L. Allen Jr., at the very fine news site Crux.  It goes like this:
For those old enough to remember the mid-1960s, the Vatican II era in Catholicism, Italian Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani was the stuff of legend. He was the head of the Holy Office, later renamed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and was perceived as the leader of the conservative opposition at Vatican II. Even his episcopal motto hinted at intransigence: Semper Idem, meaning “always the same." 
An old joke about that Ottaviani, which was a favorite during Vatican II, went like this:
One day, Ottaviani is across Rome for lunch with friends and needs to get back for the afternoon session of Vatican II. He hails a cab, gets in, and says, “Take me to the council.” The cabbie looks around, sees that it’s Ottaviani, and promptly drives him to Trent!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Slaves of Love

This is actually the title of my sermon this Sunday, based on Romans 6:22. I will probably resist using this image in any parish publicity, however.

My favorite part of this image, by the way, is that in the three lower panels, the bra and panties have been shopped in.  There's another version floating around the webs without them, but we're a modest blog and will leave the fi-leaves be.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wages of Sin

Well, this probably won't be the bulletin cover for Sunday's sermon on Romans 6:12-23.  But one might wish it were so!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Unrepentant: A Tale of Two Drunk-Driving Manslaughtering Protestant Bishops

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ``Repent'' (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

This is, of course, the first of Luther's 95 Theses, and foundational document not just for us Evangelicals but for Protestants of all stripes, including (with however much hemming and hawing they claim the label) members of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA. This fact seems lost on former suffragan (or subordinate) bishop of the Baltimore, Heather Cook.

A few days after Christmas in 2014, as readers may recall, Ms Cook struck and killed a cyclist named Tom Palermo.  She was driving; he was biking.  Her blood contained more than twice the legal alcohol content.  And she was texting (although, as GR points out, we still do not know with whom).

Ms Cook appears to have been an habitual drunk.  She had been arrested for DUI (with an even higher BAC) in 2010, and her boss, Bishop Eugene Sutton, had told the Presiding Bishop that Cook seemed to be drunk at a party in her own honor, given just before her consecration in September 2014.

All this may sound depressingly familiar to Egg readers.  Two years before Cook killed Palermo, a Lutheran bishop named Bruce Burnside struck and killed a pedestrian named Maureeen Mengelt.  Burnside was also driving drunk and texting. Burnside was sentenced to ten years in prison, Cook to seven. Oh, and both bishops left the scene of their crimes.

But there is a signal difference between the two.  At his trial, Burnside pled guilty, and took responsibility for his crime. He said:
I am responsible for what happened. No one else. I have never been so sorry. Sorry is such an insufficient word for this kind of guilt. ... I do daily return to that everlasting split second. I will be a prisoner of that. I will be another kind of prisoner in a cell as well.

In contrast, Cook pled not guilty at her arraignment, which was her perfect legal right (and in fairness, she later pled guilty as part of a plea bargain). But at no time does she appear to have taken responsibility for her actions. Nor, it seems, does she now.  The Baltimore Sun reports that, at a recent parole hearing, Cook "took no responsibility" for her actions and displayed a "lack of remorse." It further reports that she
... spoke at length, calling her alcoholism a disease and describing the parole process as a "brutal irony," but never apologized to Rachel Palermo, Thomas' widow and the mother of his two children.
Palermo was sitting a few feet away in a small room.

Bear two things in mind:  (1) Cook was not likely to be paroled in any case, according to an official quoted in the story; but also (2) parole boards are known to take displays of remorse and acceptance of responsibility quite seriously in hearings like this.  Had Cook wanted to increase her chances of parole, she would have sucked it up and pulled a Burnside.

But she didn't.  Instead, she went on -- the report suggests at unusual length -- about her disease, and about the process itself. In other words, she acted against her own best interest, both legally and morally.

The only real conclusion to be drawn is that she is genuinely unrepentant.  She seems to feel that her disease killed Thomas Palermo, rather than she herself. So firm is she in this sentiment that she will not betray it, even to get herself out of prison.

We cannot begin to imagine this woman's spiritual life, nor would we choose to if we could.