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Well, our family attended the local Anglican parish this morning for the first time in over two years.  My wife told me a few weeks ago that she was ready to go and that she just felt like it was time.  I had to be out of town for a week so this Sunday was the first opportunity.

It was a bit stressful as she started expressing serious anxiety over the whole matter on the way there, mostly due to it being so “different” from what we’re used to but another unspoken issue is a perception that it’s an affluent church full of skinny, pretty people.  She’s afraid we won’t relate to the families there who are (mostly) in a higher economic class than we are and that our kids will have a hard time making friends with all the rich private school kids.

Overall, I think it went fine.  There was the normal fumbling with the Book of Common Prayer and not being sure what to do next.  We’d tried to prepare the kids for what to do during the Eucharist but since they didn’t have they’re hands cupped and held out, the rector thought they weren’t receiving this morning and simply gave them a blessing.  On the other hand, a friend of mine from high school is involved with the children’s ministry and came up to meet my family.  She then took us around to show us the Sunday School programs, explain the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and I think all of that helped.  Plus the sermon was really good.  So all in all I think it went fairly well.

I really want us to give this a real, open-minded attempt this time around.   Last time we visited for 4 weeks or so, but never engaged.  We plan on attending Sunday School next week and I want us to really try to immerse ourselves in the life of this church.

So, I covet your prayers.  I ultimately want to be where God wants us to be, but I want to give this place every chance.  So please pray that my wife’s anxiety will subside and that she will truly be open-minded to the liturgy, the quieter, slower pace and the other things this church has to offer versus your typical contemporary evangelical megachurch experience we’re used to.  And help us and the kids to make new friends we can relate to and that relate to us.

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I spent the entire day yesterday listening to Catholic radio. I took in EWTN and Ave Maria in about equal portions, along with a couple of archived hours of Catholic Answers. I thought it would be interesting to the IM audience today to hear some of my thoughts on the “Catholic radio” experience.

Let me say a couple of things. First, some good Catholic friends have told me not to do this. Not because it is counter-productive as much as simply a bit distorted in its picture of the Church. EWTN is one kind of American Catholic experience, but it’s very much its own culture and flavor. There is lots more going on, some not as conservative, some far deeper and richer in flavor. I hope I counted all of this as I reflected on what I was hearing.

Secondly, I’m very open to what Catholicism has to say. I’m about as soft a sell as you could find right now. My own evangelicalism has made its case to me and while I remain part of the evangelical community, I am not manning the ramparts with weapons. I’m opening windows and doors, actively inviting in the voices of non-evangelical Christians and their experience of Christ.

Third, it was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception yesterday, so I heard a lot of discussion of Mary.

So here are some of my reflections. No particular order or significance to placement…

Click here to read the rest.  It’s an excellent piece.

Someone I know wrote this and he’s allowed me to share it with you.  It meshes very well with my own feelings.

The Problem With Christian Music (or Skipping to the Last Page)

The song that brought this to mind is “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles.

Something always brings me back to you.
It never takes too long
No matter what I say or do I’ll still feel you here ’til the moment I’m gone

You hold me without touch
You keep me without chains
I never wanted anything so much than to drown in your love and not feel your reign

CHORUS
Set me free, leave me be. I don’t want to fall another moment into your gravity
Here I am and I stand so tall, just the way I’m supposed to be
But you’re on to me and all over me

You loved me ’cause I’m fragile,
When I thought that I was strong
But you touch me for a little while and all my fragile strength is gone

[CHORUS]

I live here on my knees as I try to make you see that you’re everything I think I need here on the ground
But you’re neither friend nor foe though I can’t seem to let you go,
The one thing that I still know is that you’re keeping me down

[CHORUS]

The artist seems to have a bad relationship in mind. A choreographer on “So You Think You Can Dance” this past season reinterpreted it with one dancer playing the role of a malevolent addiction pulling the strings of control and holding down a person desperate to be freed from its clutches. Filtered through my Christian worldview I can also see this another kind of struggle. The allure and desire for something that is killing us can at certain moments seem overwhelming if we’re being honest. Whether it’s a daily struggle with alcoholism, the enticement of lust and pornography, the creeping discontent brought on by materialism, jealousy and envy or a smoldering, volcanic temper waiting to explode on those we love most, the fight is very real. And what gets us about it is that we often run to whatever it is for comfort and release, believing the damnable lie that the rush we feel from indulging ourselves will be lasting and fulfilling or solve our problems.

Now, I’m very aware of the problems with so-called “secular” music and entertainment. I’ve heard them nearly all my life. But sometimes, and not as infrequent as some may think, one of those secular songs or artists just gets it right in a way that Christian music rarely does when it comes to honestly assessing the human condition. Among the unwashed masses, there just doesn’t seem to be this need to pretty everything up and tie the neat little bow on the end of it. Everything’s not happy. Sometimes things don’t end well. Sometimes we don’t understand and relief isn’t in sight. But to listen to about 99% of the music on Christian radio, you would be convinced that God steps into virtually all of life’s situations and fixes them within the span of a 3 1/2 minute song. We know deep down that life doesn’t work like that but the songs make us feel good so we play along and perpetuate the lie.

I call this syndrome “skipping to the last page.” It’s that urge when you’re reading a novel and tragedy strikes the characters you care most about that makes you want to flip toward the end to make sure that they’re going to be ok, that the girl and boy end up together and so on. It also happens with the Bible. We tend to remember best the verses that talk about triumph, victory, God stepping in to fix things, how great Heaven is going to be and how Jesus wins in the end. But meanwhile there are these nagging reminders throughout Scripture that relief isn’t always measured in days, weeks or months. Sometimes it’s measured in decades or centuries where even some people’s lifetimes did not afford them the answers and relief they sought. Whole books are devoted to a near avalanche of regret and mourning such as Lamentations. Chapter after chapter goes by with very little reminder that God will bring healing and restoration. Ecclesiates raises question after difficult question, mostly without resolution. And given how long some of these chapters and books are (such that most people don’t read the whole thing in one sitting), I can’t help but feel that God did this by design. He actually wants us to marinate, to sit and ponder the heartache and lament because contrary to our typical way of wanting life to proceed, He doesn’t see the destination as the only thing that really matters. The path and the time it takes to walk it is just as important as where we’re going.

The truth is for many, this struggle is not solved by simply going to the altar, having some spiritual superstar pray it away or repeating enough “victory” verses from the Bible. That’s not to say that God never does the miraculous and completely rid us of a problem or struggle. But most of the time, His response is the one He gave Paul regarding his famous thorn in the flesh: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” We’ll have times where we don’t really think about it and other times where we can feel its hot breath right on our neck, but it’s always lurking around…right alongside our fervent desire to follow hard after Christ. And this is normal. There’s no need to skip to the last page or fast forward to the happy ending of the movie. God has purpose in the struggle itself and those purposes are good. But they cannot be accomplished without allowing for the struggle and suffering. Just be honest about it, both to yourself and to those around you. Call it what it is, how it really feels and then cast yourself on God, even if He doesn’t fix it in your preferred timeframe.

Now if we could just get that same kind of honesty from our favorite Christian music.

Well, I’m still alive folks. Sorry about the lack of posting, but it’s just been hard to get on here and do anything in depth.

A quick update though. The Methodist church we’ve been attending has been going through some turmoil of sorts. Nothing catastrophic, but some of the teaching pastors are moving on to new endeavors, there’s been a issue with the children’s ministry that we’re just not satisfied with, even after approaching the leadership and talking things through with them. So we’re likely moving on to another church soon.

At first, I thought my wife was ready to go back to the Anglican church again because of some encouraging conversations with a member I know there regarding their children’s and youth programs. She hinted that the next Sunday could be our last where we are and then we could talk to my friend about meeting up with them at the Anglican church the following Sunday. But alas, I think she got cold feet and she wants to wait until they’re in their new building (the original plan). I was hoping we’d get to celebrate the advent season there but it’s not to be. Keep us in your prayers. This is a difficult transition time for us.

I sat listening to the President last night deliver what I believe to be a long overdue speech on health care and the direction he wants a proposed bill to go.  My wife and I have talked about this some and I told her almost from the get-go that he was making a mistake not to hand Congress at least the skeleton of an actual bill to work from, instead allowing that bickering bunch to cobble something together on their own.  People need direction and Congress has demonstrated they are incapable of rising above party ideology to get anything significant accomplished.  But anyway, I thought Obama delivered the speech well and did a good job of explaining why health care reform is needed.

First of all, I’ll reveal my biases, both past and present.  I’ve grown up Republican.  I’ve never voted for a Democrat for President and can’t think of one I would have supported in the elections that have occurred in my lifetime.  My default switch is set toward finding a way for private entities and the free market to solve problems.  In my experience, when the government takes over something, it tends to get mired down in red tape and bureaucracy, is terribly inefficient and doesn’t deliver the same quality of service as a private entity does.  On the other hand, health care seems to be in a totally different category than other things for me.  I have a hard time believing that if someone posed the question “Is health care a right or a privilege” to Jesus, that He’d come down on the side of  “privilege” and expect people who can’t afford decent insurance coverage to just go bankrupt or throw themselves on the mercy of a (hopefully) charitable doctor or hospital.  So to that end, I believe universal health care coverage is a worthwhile and noble goal.  I’m just not sure how to get there.  The systems in Britain and Canada don’t impress me because as with all things that are free (or at least are perceived to be free since there’s no transaction at the point of service), supply can’t keep up with demand and rationing begins either in the form of long waits or some treatments simply being unavailable.

So when President Obama talked last night I found myself agreeing with him on a lot of what he said.  Those of us who have health insurance are still seeing it increase by way too much each year.  There are the headaches with “gotcha” clauses in the coverage.  People get dropped over technicalities when it appears the insurance is about to have to cover some expensive treatments.  A person changes jobs and their new health plan won’t cover them because of a preexisting condition that the previous employers plan was covering.  Coverage is expensive even when the employer pays most of the cost, so people who don’t make enough money can’t afford coverage.  Others work for employers that don’t offer coverage at all.  The self employed find it extremely expensive to pay for a good health plan.  It’s a tough situation.  And I thought he did a good job of compromising and being pragmatic as to how to achieve what he laid out as his ultimate goals, drawing from ideas originating on both sides of the political aisle.

But in the end, we have to look at cost.  Almost $1 trillion over the next 10 years.  And such estimates are notoriously low when it comes to major government spending programs.  Even assuming that Obama’s figures are right on the money, can we actually pay for this simply with cutting out waste, fraud and abuse and increasing efficiencies in the current health care system?  No tax increases?  Really?  Not sure I believe that.  And if the projections for the next ten years of cost are accurate, how do we avoid the bloat and explosion of growth in costs that inevitably seem to follow government programs that have been around for a while?  Because such programs are also notoriously hard to get rid of once they’re in place and people are dependent on them.

I’m all for insuring everyone in a manner they can afford and gives them good coverage.  I do think that Christ would have us figure out a way to help “the least of these” in such a manner if it’s within our power to do so.  But the question is, is it really within our budget and capabilities to pull it off without demand vastly outstripping supply, the quality of care overall going down and the costs shooting through the roof?

What do you think?

I just finished the book Christianity’s Dangerous Idea by Alister McGrath.  First of all, I highly recommend the book.  It’s an excellent treatment of the issues surrounding the Reformation and all its major players from Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Bucer and others.

One of the things it talked about was how Protestantism, outside of the Lutheran and Calvinist camps especially, as been so remarkably adaptable to different times, different countries and different cultures.  For sure, there have been eras of missteps in missionary efforts where too much emphasis was placed on transplanting a Western European style of Christianity into countries where the cultural norms and such are vastly different.  But the overall history of Protestantism has been one of amazing malleability.  And to most Protestants, this is a sign of it’s vitality and a source of great strength.  Aside from being centered around a sermon, you can encounter scores of different styles from country to country or even within one city.  You might walk into a Baptist church that’s very “countrified” with Southern Gospel style hymns and right down the road walk into another with all the high church pomp and circumstance you’d see in a Catholic service.  And right down from that would be one with a kickin’ rock band leading worship, congregants in jeans and t-shirts and the pastor sporting a faux-hawk.  And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the predominantly African-American congregations.

On the other hand, worldwide, Catholic and Orthodox churches are largely the same.  This was especially the case prior to Vatican II and the Mass being in the vernacular.  You could go anywhere in the world and the Mass was spoken in Latin and was in the same form.  Even with the vernacular, because the form of the Mass is consistent, most experienced Catholics can follow the service fairly easily even with the language barrier.  And this consistency is viewed by Catholics as a sign of strength and vitality as well.  They feel they adapt in more subtle ways to each culture (such as Mass in the vernacular) but that the more consistent liturgy and emphasis promotes unity and cohesiveness in the Church.

And this adaptability vs consistency thing doesn’t just apply to different cultures and countries now.  Outside of high church Lutherans and Anglicans, Protestantism is nothing if not willing to change.  No matter what era Protestantism finds itself in, there seems to be a near constant desire to change and seek to be “relevant.”  This is especially true of the last 30-40 years or so, since those first hippies started coming to Christ during the Jesus Movement, but whether it was John and Charles Wesley, Charles Finney and Dwight Moody, the rise of Pentecostalism or the New Calvinists, this is has been a hallmark of Protestantism.

Catholicism (and to a similar degree Orthodoxism) on the other hand has been marked by its ties to history and (little “t”) tradition.  Some of the rites, creeds, prayers, music and other facets of Catholic worship have been around since the earliest days of the Church.  Many others have been in consistent use in Catholic services for centuries.  There’s a connectedness and a feeling of being anchored in something bigger than oneself but more importantly, bigger than “right now.”

To be honest, I’m torn over which is the best approach.  I’ve mentioned my feelings numerous times…how I lament the lack of historicity and the sense that we’ve lost something in all this manic striving to be culturally hip and relevant.  I find a depth and richness in traditional, liturgical worship that just seems lacking in much of contemporary styles.  But at the same time, I realize that everyone is not like me.  No matter how much you explain to some people the richness and deep meanings of the liturgy and its ancient roots, they don’t get it.  And it’s not that they don’t get it because they are non-Christians unattuned to the things of God.  These are wonderful, growing, sincere believers in Christ.  They might be able to appreciate elements of traditional worship from time to time, they prefer the more casual, modern style.  They feel like they connect with God on a more personal level in that kind of setting and that their relationship with God is much better partly because of the willingness of churches to loosen up and not be bogged down with attachments to songs and styles and cultural trappings that are no longer a part of modern life.  I even felt that way myself at one point, but as this blog attests, that’s changed with me.  It doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a well-done modern worship service, I just have different tastes and different things that matter more to me.

What do you think?  There are pros and cons to both approaches I believe.  What is more important…cultural relevance in worship style or a connection to the past and our Christian brethren from times gone by?  As long as the Gospel is being taught and people are being discipled and matured in the faith, should the form in which those things are conveyed matter?

This morning we had a really good service and the sermon in particular was very thought-provoking and convicting.  One of the best since we started attending this church.

At the end we had Holy Communion together and even though we were in the contemporary service, it was handled much more reverently than in times past.  And I got to thinking about the different ways I’ve seen the Eucharist handled in various churches.  In Catholic and Anglican churches, people come up row by row to the front and receive the bread directly from the priest/rector (or sometimes lay ministers in larger congregations) and drink the wine from a common cup.  In the more formal Methodist church of my upbringing it was similar except the minister and associate minister walked down the row of people who’d come up front with a plate of the bread and a tray of individual communion cups.  The people would take one of each themselves, eat and drink it right there, then return to their pews.

Since then in various places I’ve seen all sorts of variations such as going to various stations around the room to get the bread and the cup and then return to one’s seat and wait until everyone has the elements so we can all take together.  Or one where everyone remains seated while the ushers or deacons pass the tray with bread and individual cups down the rows and the people either immediately ingest the elements or they wait for everyone to take together.

My question is, is there one superior way of doing this from a theological perspective?  I know I can appreciate the symbolism in some of the variations.  I like the common cup and the act of receiving the Eucharist (as opposed to just getting it yourself) because it seems to befit an act that is primarilyone of God initiating His grace toward us rather than us “grasping” for it.  Then again, I like the communal aspect of us all having the bread and wine and taking it together as the minister invokes the words of consecration.  It takes some of the individualism out of it.  And from a practical (not to mention hygenic) perspective, the individual cups make some sense.

What do you think?  Is there some God-ordained way this absolutely has to be done outside of using the proper elements (bread, “fruit of the vine”) and treating it with reverence and the typical Scripture references from Corinthians or the Last Supper being spoken?