Pentecost without being Pentecostal

It is clear that the church in the first century had an experience of the Spirit. Both Acts and Paul agree that there were a variety of experiential elements to spiritual experience, and they included glossolalia, joy, prophetic speech, healing, and similar experiential elements. I am writing this just on Ascension (or before Ascension in some dioceses) and the gospel reading is the longer ending of Mark, which includes a number of those experiences as coming from the Spirit.

What is also clear is that none of the experiences was stereotyped. Paul indicates in 1 Cor 12 that not all speak in tongues (the grammar of “Do all speak in tongues?” expects a negative answer) nor do all experience any one of the other gifts of the Spirit. But all are Spirit-filled. This was true down through the history of the Church. Not all of the monks in the desert had the experience that Anthony of the Desert had. But they (or at least many of them) were none the less saintly and Spirit-filled individuals. Not all had the conversion experience of Augustine (which was really the end of a long process), but countless were truly committed Christians. Not all had the call of Francis of Assisi. And the experience of St Dominic was quite different. And while Francis of Assisi and Ignatius Loyola were both “converted” after an experience in battle, their paths were quite different after conversion, the one being suspicious of intellectual activity and the other forming his core group at the University of Paris. The list could go on and on.

The same is true in the Protestant world. Luther has his “tower experience,” which depended in part on Augustine, but one cannot demand that experience of others – and perhaps Luther himself carried it too far. John Wesley had a series of experiences that led to his preach tours, but they were not the same as the noisy revivals that broke out when he preached, often scandalizing proper Anglicans. Yet when it came to joining the Methodist movement and being part of the society, it did not matter whether one had had a noisy conversion or a quiet one that came over decades, but rather that one was indeed committed to Jesus. Likewise Jonathan Edwards defended the phenomena of the Holy Spirit in the New England revival and then turned around to argue that none of the phenomena were sure signs that a work was of God. Andrew Murray experience a revival in South Africa that he had been praying for for 30 years, but it was so unlike anything he had personally experience that at first he tried to shut it down. The Spirit uses infinite variety, and one cannot force everyone into the same mold. A friend of mine, a Protestant pastor, was concerned that he had not had the dramatic spiritual experience of his wife, while his wife was concerned about the same thing, thinking that he might lack the Spirit after repeated prayer. But the Anglican David Watson said to them, “[Susie – I am changing the names], you came in like a flood, while [Sam] is a slow leaker.”

However, at the end of the 1800’s in the USA something happened. Charles Finney, a great evangelist, started “using means” to induce a conversion experiences. That is the beginning of the altar call and the “mourners bench” and “tarrying” until one had the “right” experience. That would develop through later evangelists like Billy Sunday and Billy Graham. The altar call, and even the music of the altar call, became stereotyped. The “steps to salvation” were boiled down to a “sinners prayer.” And one ended up with a number of simple methods of “leading someone to Christ.” The “born again” experience became the standard experience of Protestantism. Anyone who did not have such as “testimony” was viewed as not being “saved.” Now I do not for a moment doubt that such experiences did not transform lives and produce committed Christians. I know of too many stories to doubt that. But I also realize that in moving away from Christian initiation as a process that either culminated in baptism and confirmation (as in 4th century Jerusalem and RCIA today, even if it is less dramatic) or grew out of infant baptism (baptism – catechesis as one grew up – confirmation and first communion when one could articulate one’s faith) one produced precisely what Baptists criticized in those who practiced infant baptism – nominal Christians. When infant baptism is not followed by familial and church catechesis and a Christian lifestyle in the home, one does get nominalism or cultural Christianity, often with a falling away from Christian practice. When a conversion experience is the be-all and end-all of evangelistic efforts (although in some ecclesial communities there is also baptism, even baptism right after the “born-again” experience) one likewise gets nominalism. A large percentage of USAmericans identify themselves as “born again” – they have had the experience. A vastly smaller percentage actually go to church or identify with core Christian teachings.

Now I grew up in a Protestant group. However, my mother started reading (King James) Bible to me at age one (due to having a brother five years older) and noted that I soon showed recognition of the stories. I was taken to church from infancy on, and by the time I was five I felt it was important to sing the songs in our small church community. There was no doubt in my mind that what I heard was real. I was totally committed and proud of my parents’ commitment. But about age 6 a well-meaning Sunday school teacher told that class that if any of us had not “asked Jesus into your heart,” i.e. had the experience, Jesus might rapture one’s parents and leave one behind (implicitly to go to hell). Well, that so scared me that I “asked Jesus into my heart” repeatedly every night in my bed for quite a period, never telling my parents or anyone else. I was terrified. But there was no “experience,” and that was natural, for I was already a believer. I would much later, when I needed a “born again” testimony use that event, but as I reflect on it now, there was no status change at that point. Rather, it was unwitting emotional child abuse. I had grown into the faith, the faith of a child, but real faith, and would not have a crisis experience. I would, of course, grow in my faith. And there came a time at age 15 when I decided that I needed to take my faith seriously rather than drift along in the boat that was my family. That is when I asked the elders of our church for baptism, and also asked to “come into fellowship” as an adult male, and would within a year start my preaching career. I had a committed young adult faith. But there was no experience, no crisis, no walking of the aisle, but rather a quiet decision, I think in the privacy of my bedroom. Yet I had to have an experience to tell to others. And the first public talk I gave (at age 8 or 9) was a stereotyped evangelistic address based on “The Wordless Book” (it was given to a banquet for the Bible Club movement, and was also broadcast on the radio). And I would late get training in most of the canned evangelistic methods known to evangelicals. It would only be years later, long after seminary, that it would dawn on me that none of the evangelistic stories or messages in the New Testament asked a person to pray “the sinners prayer” or to “ask Jesus into their heart.”

Now all of that is to lay the basis for pointing out that not long after Finney the healing-holiness movements of the late 19th century broke out and, when those revival movements started having experiences of the Spirit, a development took place that paralleled that happening in the field of evangelism. That is, one had to have a “second blessing” or “baptism in the Spirit,” or one was not “Spirit-filled.” (This was true of many movements, from the Christian and Missionary Alliance to the Pentecostals, for there were a number of movements coming out of the same healing-holiness ferment.) And for some of these movements the one and only necessary sign that this had happened was that one spoke in tongues. So one “tarried,” not to “get saved,” but to “get the baptism.” It did not matter that Paul said that not all spoke in tongues. It did not matter that some earnest believers never “got it.” That was the sine qua non. And perhaps one reason for that was that, as monastic movements have long known, holiness is a process that takes time to develop, while that “sign” could be produced quickly in an emotional event. And often it was not a sign of holiness at all.

The Pentecostal revival would later spread to mainline Protestant communities and to the Catholic Church as the Neo-Pentecostal or Charismatic movements of the various groups. Often it spread with the same insistence on having the experience, although in those latter groups there was not the parallel need to “get saved” first (or at the same time). In other words, “Spirit baptism” was subsequent to a more process-oriented Christian initiation rather than a “second experience.”

I got interested in charismatic phenomena when I was at Wheaton College, but did not pursue it until after my PhD when I was teaching at Bibelschule Wiedenest in Germany. I had picked up a book during my PhD time in England while serving as a military chaplain on an Army base in Germany. I reflected on it for a while and prayed and nothing seemed to happen, but I knew that God wanted me to speak in tongues. In Germany I would sit in the forest above Wiednest and meditate and wait for God to “do it to me,” and nothing happened other than a longing. But in 1975 sitting on a balcony of our apartment in Haus Sauer and reading another book I got a bit of needed instruction and did quietly speak in tongues. No lights, no peak experience, just an “oh, so that is how it is done.” And that same longing brought me (and rather quickly us) into German charismatic meetings that were quiet, contemplative, but in which various gifts would surface from time to time. And they brought us to week-long fasting retreats. Glossalalia was accepted and properly disciplined, but it was not the sine qua non. A deep longing for God and a growth in holiness in the context of community was. But I did see marvelous healings during those days. And I learned that one did not have to be loud and did not have to have a single sign gift in order to be filled with the Spirit and know God intimately. One did not have to be manipulated, and one should certainly no boast that one “had it.” In fact, I cannot remember ever hearing my mentor, Armin Riemenschneider, ever speak in tongues. But he was a deep river of the Spirit.

I would later enjoy louder meetings, such as the National Catholic Charismatic Conference for Priests and Deacons in Steubenville Ohio, which I attended in 1980, just after having been ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church in 1980. Yet while the Spirit was so thick one could cut it with a knife, no one was pressuring me to have their experience nor was I pressuring anyone to have mine.

I would later be involved in charismatic pastors groups in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It was one such group the first invited John Wimber to Vancouver. That was another exercise in difference. He did not want to focus on gifts, but on God. The early Vineyard music tended to be quiet and intimate, intimate worship music, not message music. It seemed too simple at times, but then it was not designed for professionals, but came out  of home groups. And the actions of the Spirit were not taken as evidence of anything. From Wimber’s point of view each individual had had the Spirit since coming to faith. The point was to draw close to God, to see “what the Father was doing,” and to cooperate with it. So he was nonchalant about healing – it was just an act of obedience to what God was speaking in his heart – and very realistic about people who died. There was no blaming that the person did not have faith, as I had seen some people abused earlier, but just a note that even though thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, and prayed with great faith, that physical healing was not what the Father was doing. “Any prayer that could not be prayed at a deathbed was not worth praying at all.” And while Wimber spoke in tongues, he did not stress it. Nor did one have to testify to having that gift to become a Vineyard leader. And yet many, many were healed and, at least in Vancouver, demons were driven out, not with a lot of show, but with gentle authority (gentle towards the person, that is). And we drew closer to God.

Now Vineyard would take some twists and turns down the years, some of which happened before the death of John Wimber, and some of which John Wimber regretted and repented of. So I write what I write by way of example, not as a means of adulation.

The long and short of it is that God being who he is acts sovereignly and will not be reduced to anyone’s formula or anyone’s box. That is the story of the church in the first century, and the story of various revival movements down the years. They usually start of with someone’s experience, but eventually it gets formalized. There is an experience that one must have, whether in coming to faith or in being filled with the Spirit. And this becomes the formula for growth or healing or revival. But people being people do not always fit this formula, so some are cast aside and even abused (I will leave those stories out, for this is long enough and they would not be profitable). There is only one “formula,” and that is drawing close to God, which means conversion of heart, a deep longing for holiness, and quiet contemplation of the divine. Always loves, which means that he always seeks our good, and in his time and in his own way he fills the rooms in “the interior castle” of the person. And when that happens, phenomena happen. Often the individual is unaware. Often they will not tells stories about what God has worked through them. They want God, not the gifts. They seek the lover, not the stuff he gives them. Those gifts get his work done, so they are used as appropriate. But they are not to be boasted about ir even pointed out. The goal is becoming like Jesus, union with Jesus.

Now that is consistent with Catholic theology. And that is exemplified in the lives of saints down the ages (Catherine of Sienna, Teresa of Avila, and dozens and dozens of others – I try to read the story of saint every day as an encouragement).

When I first met a Vineyard team, this advice was given, “Be an animal (I thought of a wounded animal dragging itself through any obstacle to reach its goal). Seek the Lord, seek the Lord, seek the Lord. And when you think you have arrived, seek him some more.” Now that is 20th century California language, and it is not the language of the Pentecostal or Neo-Pentecostal movements. But it is the language of the Spirit. I think that St John of the Cross or Anthony of the Desert or any number of others would agree. And when one seeks God, when one’s whole object is to be conformed to the cross of Christ, when one finds one’s beloved and so becomes like the beloved, as happens to true lovers, then the Spirit flows and ministry happens. But if one falls into formulas and tries to manipulate God, one may get power, but it is power with a dark side, the dark side of abuses that have dogged the charismatic and many other movements in the church. Rather, seek God and let the Spirit flow.

Enough for now.

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Posted in Brothers and Sisters of Charity Reflections | Leave a comment

Clustering and Communion

In the recent Leadership Gathering of the BSCD the members were encouraged towards clustering in one form or another. This was one of three themes of Leadership, the other two being an increase in vocations and the need to pass on the experience of the Holy Spirit. But clustering might seem to be the first and easiest to deal with.

In a sense clustering has been part of the church from the beginning. Acts pictures the church in Jerusalem as located within a small area, perhaps with a range as far as Bethlehem and Emmaus, or a couple of hours walk in various directions. The central location was in the city, even if the celebrated Eucharist (broke bread) in a number of houses. That is no surprise, since a room in a large house would not hold more than 30 individuals, even if they were jammed together. A double meal table setup would accommodate 18 unless it was crowded. Thus we could talk about a cluster of house communities that cared for one another, selling investments to support one another, as needed.

Once the church scattered from Jerusalem we find groups of house communities considered a single church. In Rome we can identify 7 or 8 such communities in Romans 15. In Corinth the one church seems to have included groups in the two port cities as well as in Corinth itself. Naturally, it was geography that made the groups, for it would have been difficult to walk from Corinth to either of the ports at night, which is when meetings tended to be held, and each of the ports and Corinth itself were centers of population, such as there were in those days.

Finally, one should note that Paul normally traveled in a team, sometimes larger, sometimes smaller, but he always preferred to travel in a team, and there seem to have been clusters of people gathered around other leaders as well. The lone-ranger type of Christian was not one modeled by Jesus or by his followers after his death and resurrection.

But clustering is demanding. As envisioned in the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, it would be domestic members living in their own homes, whether owned or rented, within a short distance of other members who lived in their own homes, and meeting together in a single cell group. There might also be members who lived in the homes of other members, which would be especially true of singles, but might be true of a small family if another member family had enough room in their home. Ideally this would be in the context of a single parish, so that parish life would reinforce the cluster, and the cluster would reinforce the parish.

Now this is not all that was envisioned, for it is realized that not all members are in a situation in which they can be part of a cluster. Ideally clustering is the end of a continuum with the individual isolated member being at the other end, separated members meeting in virtual cell groups being the next step, physical cell groups (some of which might meet only once or twice per month given the distance members live apart, while others might meet weekly) coming next, and clustering with a much more intense community being the final step. The idea is that, as they are able, members move along the continuum ever closer. In fact, some might feel a call to full monastic community, but that is a separate step.

Such clustering has been part of church history, sometimes with a focus on full communalism, sometimes with more of a focus of living together in the same area. Without noting the cenobitic monastic communities, one should note that villages and even cities were smaller in pre-modern times, so if everyone was a member of the parish church, there would be something of the contact that is being talked about in the cluster. Anabaptist communities took the monastic ideal and made it part of the whole people of God, so often these communities would travel together as they were forced to migrate from one area to another due to prosecution in various forms. And then there are the communities of the revival of the 1970’s that were written about in Dave and Netta Jackson’s book, Living Together in a World Falling Apart. Some of these still exist, some do not. In other words, the clustering idea is not new, nor is it limited to monastic or Catholic groups.

Our own journey with this concept started in 1975, in our year of renewal, for we had been very interested in Christian community and it was because of a discussion about it with a visitor to Bibelschule Wiednest that we discovered the Church of the Redeemer (Episcopal) in Houston, Texas, and their communities. We visited that community, as well as the Sojourners community, the Bruderhof, and the like over the next few years. We were part of a different type of clustering in Langley British Columbia a decade and a half later, for there a group of us formed an association and built 19 townhomes so that we could live in proximity. There were 15 families, and the association purposely retained 4 townhomes to rent at reduced rates to families in need of housing or at a normal rate to families that needed to live in a supportive community but were fine financially.

So one sees that clustering is part of the history of the church and that it fulfills basic human needs for support and fellowship. But it also makes demands. Most of the clusters that I know about grew out of a type of revival. There was an intense encounter with the Holy Spirit that led to deeper commitment to Jesus resulting in a loosening of attachment to property, finances, and goods. This made the sharing involved in clustering possible, for without such Spirit-inspired shared the community will be short-lived. That also means the facilitating or praying for such life-changing revival come first and clustering is an after-effect.

A second demand is that the cluster must have mature and stable leadership. On the one hand, it would be best if it were seen as a ministry or arm of the local parish, for that would give mature oversight from the church hierarchy, if they shared the vision. On the other hand, mature leadership, well-formed leadership, and spiritually and psychologically aware leadership is needed to lead the cluster. This is usually hierarchal, and even a group of thinking-alike elders can act as hierarchal, for one-person-one-vote type of structures tend to break down more quickly. Yet such a group can turn into a TACO (totalist aberrant Christian organization) if there is not outside guidance and oversight. There is a significant literature on this as well.

Finally, the cluster needs to be in a place that is physically and financially viable. Are there enough jobs available to support the group, jobs of the right type? If the group is older, are there hospitals and medical specialists available in the area? If the group is younger, are there solid schools available? Sharing can go so far, and certainly one must encourage it – support the widow and the orphan, take in the immigrant (whatever the government says or does not say), care for the sick, for all of these are deeply biblical values. But for sharing to happen, there must be something to share, so someone must have income, enough someones, so to speak. And in some areas that would be difficult. Or the jobs available might not fit the skills or physical abilities of the potential members of the cluster. Thus clusters work best in urban areas unless, like the Hutterite communities, the members are involved in farming.

These are some of what comes to mind when one thinks about clustering in any of its various forms. More reflections will come later.

Posted in Brothers and Sisters of Charity Reflections, Ministry | Leave a comment

AntiChrist

I grew up in a Christian community that emerged during the post-Napoleonic period. It is no surprise that it was concerned about identifying an AntiChrist. Of course such identifications have multiplied over the years – Mussolini, Hitler, a Russian leader, someone who would emerge as the leader of the EU when it had 10 members, and others were all candidates “clearly identified by Scripture.”  Wrong identifications abounded without apologies or retractions when proven false, but what if the issue was the asking of the wrong questions and such a power is right under our noses?

Who Is the AntiChrist

The AntiChrist figure of Revelation (also called the beast) was modeled on Antiochus IV Epiphanes; the Beast is said by John to be Domitian, the 8th emperor (5 Julio-Claudian emperors and 3 Flavians, with Domitian viewed by some in that age as a type of Nero redivivus). Domitian himself has come and gone, but the spirit lives on. Remember that Paul argues in Ephesians that the Prince of the Power of the Air rules in the kingdoms of this earth, and Jesus says something of the same about “The Prince of this world.” My thesis is that we in the USA often fail to think of this as embodied in our government, the inner structure of the land we love.

Now, lest one jump to conclusions, I am not thinking of President Trump in particular. First, this would be just another identification like some of those noted above and so bound to fail, since he too will pass on. Second, he is nothing more than a particularly strident form of the same attitudes that have been characteristic of the USA for at least the last few decades.

It is true that the last election was dominated by emotional thinking (which is really just emotions, not thinking) and the appeal to anxiety and prejudice (i.e. another name for fear) using Twitter and the like. The USA sank to a lower level of differentiation and higher level of anxiety as described by Edwin Friedman in Failure of Nerve (1996). In fact, my knowledge of Friedman’s work made me aware of the likelihood that Mr. Trump would become President before he had the Republican nomination sewed up. The result of that campaign has been increased (increased, not newly appearing) polarization in the sense of black-white thinking and quick-fix mentality and a government characterized by the same emotional thinking. In other words, moving to the terminology of biblical theology, desire rules or the passions rule. And, of course, if one knows the New Testament, when desire or the passions rule, it is not good. It is not the work of the Spirit.
But it is also not new. The focusing on polls and popularity, the fixation on the accomplishments of the first 100 days (quick fix), and highly emotive statements without substantival backup are not unique to this past election, even if they showed up in extreme forms. Nor is the relativization of truth unique. Certainly it was more extreme: something was or is true because a candidate (or President) asserts it is to be true without citing evidence and then there is the demonization of those who dare to check for actual data that might prove or disprove the truth or falsity of the statement (liberal media, as if all media were of the same stripe), and this happens on both the right and the left of the political spectrum. But if your truth is your truth and my truth is my truth, i.e. if truth is relative to the person, is this not just a blatant example of that principle? Indeed, because of this I am not one who calls President Trump a liar (just as I did not think that President Clinton was a liar when he said, “I did not have sex with that woman”) for I suspect that he believes what he says. It is his truth for the moment (and in President Clinton’s case, I know from experience and talking with others that many in his subculture did not consider anything less than penetration “sex”). It is his emotional statement. And as such, he believes it is true, so it is, in such eyes, a violation of his person to subject it to the test of evidence. Extreme, maybe, but unique, no. This has been around in many parts of our society for quite some time.
(Also, there is also the psychological study I read that examined of the sentence structure, wideness of vocabulary, repetitions, and other linguistic evidence in Mr. Trump’s interviews and writings over something like the last 5 years. This demonstrated cognitive decline, which the psychologists who voted for Trump attributed to age-related causes, while psychologists who did not vote for Trump were more likely to attribute to some more than that. But all, not matter what their political affiliation, agreed existed. This would be further exculpatory evidence.)
Rather, I start with the central Christian claim that Jesus is Lord, that in the resurrection God vindicated his claim to be God’s promised anointed king, that in the ascension he took authority over, not just this earth, but the universe. He is Lord. The AntiChrist, then, is any symbol, spirit, or influence different from the authority of Jesus that claims to be Lord, that claims allegiance, and in particular claims ultimate allegiance. As 1 John says, many antichrists have gone out into this world. But they all have a basic characteristic that of denying absolute authority to Jesus and making some other value central.
One central value in the USA is freedom, not the freedom that the New Testament talks about, freedom from the power of evil and freedom to serve God, but the absolute freedom of the individual. In other words, “You shall be like God, knowing good and evil.” This means that you can determine for yourself who you are and what is good and what is evil from your point of view. Who are you to tell me what to do? I am an individual. And certainly this is one characteristic of this age, one that we see whenever the collective good, the common good, is put forward as more important than individual freedom.
But, sticking with John in Revelation, the characteristics of Babylon the Great (in Rev 18} have been touted as positive values by a series of administrations and candidates of both major parties in the USA. The USA has stressed its superior military might that it is not afraid to use around the world; the USA is the one the kings of the earth come to for power/weapons (although there are other candidates rising, which, of course, is what one would expect in a fallen world). Come to me and I will give you military power. That art of the military deal is not limited to the present administration. Come to me and I will support you militarily. The USA is seen as the key to power.
The USA has also stressed economic indexes as the measure of success for some time. What else is the fixation on GDP and similar measures? Nor is this the first administration that has been accused of being too cozy with or run by Wall Street or wealthy individuals. Nor is it the first one to give preferential access to the wealthy (whether wealthy individuals or wealthy corporations, even if it has been more blatant in making the superrich authority figures in the administration and even if there has been more boasting about the wealth of the President. As I said above, this is not the first time that indications of prosperity are used to judge national success (without regard to the prosperity of other nations or even of minorities within the nation). Nor is this administration unique in blaming the poor for their plight. What President Trump has done is to be rather crass and up front about all of this. With a cabinet made up of generals and wealthy business leaders, he has given clear signals about the gods in whom he trusts. Others trusted Mars and Mammon but were at least somewhat more subtle about it. Yet such subtlety is not a Christian value, after all “the snake” was the most subtle of all creatures. Naturally, if Jesus were Lord, other values than these  would prevail.
Now it is not that the Christian scriptures lack a role for rulers. The people of Israel wanted a king to lead in battle, but God seemed to think that the king should lead in creating justice. He should not create a large army, he should not gather wealth, and he should not have many wives, but, as the Psalms point out, he should bring justice to the poor and care for the oppressed. Then God would take care of the king in battle. Nor do the scriptures lack a role for the wealthy. The king is not to gather wealth, it is true. But those who prosper from just and righteous activities also have a place in God’s order, their place being to distribute this wealth for the common good, to be the advocates of the poor, to be the father to the fatherless, etc. Their place is not to heap up more of the same, for that is nothing less than finding security in something other than God. And that is bound to lead to injustice to the poor, such as offering wages on which one cannot live.
So in such values or “gods” is where one finds the AntiChrist. That spirit is alive and well. That spirit is embodied in the much of US culture. That spirit walks freely in the halls of Congress and the corridors of the White House, for that spirit is what promotes military might as security, demonizes minorities, values people on the basis of the amount of wealth they have heaped up, rejects others for failing to make it up the non-existent ladder to success, etc. That is the spirit of individualism, the spirit of a freedom that does not look at its own addictions, the spirit of an anxious protectionism, for, if I am my own god, how can I not be anxious.
The AntiChrist had great success when it manipulated US thought so that religion was said to be private and that a person’s religion should not determine his or her politics. That put Jesus in the private sphere and the AntiChrist in the public sphere. But a depoliticized Jesus is not Jesus at all, for Jesus is Lord, Lord of heaven and earth, not just a Jesus of personal internal salvation.
No, let us not demonize President Trump (or President Obama or any other President or member of the legislature). President Trump may be crasser and more blatant in his expression of this spirit, but let us remember that he is not known for his church-going background or his depth of knowledge of biblical theology. Let us realize that the AntiChrist spirit is rooted in the system and can express itself through any Congress and any Supreme Court and any President. It is only conversion of heart that will break the system. It is only embracing the cross that will undermine the system. It is only making Jesus truly Lord that will bring a true revolution.
And before that happens, Babylon the Great will likely fall.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed above are those of the author, not necessarily those of the particular church in which the author is incardinated and serves or of that church’s leaders and not necessarily those of the publican association of the faithful to which the author also belongs.
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Advent Greetings 2016

 

advent-candles

Dear friends and family,

Advent has rolled around again with that combination of reliving the
birth of the Incarnate Word from Mary and expecting his return as universal
Lord, before whom all rulers will bow to receive their judgment.

The year has been dominated by Judy’s heart condition, first diagnosed
in Sep 2015. Her cardiologist is pleased with her progress, but she still tires
easily and there have been ups and downs in her medication. Still, she is alive
and able to serve the Church in spiritual direction and pastoral counseling, so
we have much to be thankful for.

Partly due to Judy’s heart condition Gwen and Brent and their boys
drove down over their spring break to visit – a crazy trip, but one we
welcomed. We were even more thankful in that this is the first time any of our
children have visited us with their families. We are hoping for a family
reunion here next summer.

Judy did go to Canada in July, and Peter joined her for a part of that
visit. She did not do the cross-Canada tour she has done in previous years, but
remained based in Calgary, with Ian and Buffi and children coming to visit her
there. Thus  we did get to see all of our children and grandchildren (ages 2 – 19) during the year.

There were also some ministry trips: in March Peter went to Washington
DC and Baltimore for the annual Chrism mass of the Ordinariate, getting to
visit his brothers and family as bonus. Then Judy went to Little Portion
Hermitage in Arkansas in April for the BSCD Leadership Retreat; she and Peter
returned in late September for the BSCD Gathering, at which we were both
involved in ministry. A day or so later Peter flew to Boston for the National
Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors, a very profitable conference. He had
flown to Omaha in July for the Institute for Priestly Formation retreat for
seminary formators (a lovely mostly-silent retreat). Then in October, just
after NCDVD he and Judy flew to Buffalo and were driven to a retreat center in
Niagara Falls, Ontario, for the annual clergy retreat of the Personal
Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, at which Judy led the track for the wives
of clergy. Then in late November Peter drove to San Antonio for the Society of
Biblical Literature meeting – he wonders if it will be his last time to attend.

[You can order Judy’s book directly from her – email is below]

jmt-and-judy-and-book

 

But most of the year we have kept busy right here in Houston. Judy does
spiritual direction and pastoral counseling in the office next to Peter’s on a
two-day per week basis. She leads the BSCD cell group out at St Clare Monastery
on Tuesday evenings. Peter is still a priest-in-residence at Our Lady of
Walsingham and Director of Clergy Formation for the Ordinariate, which means he
is handling applicants for both the priesthood (both former Anglican priests
and celibate younger men) and the diaconate (a “from scratch” cohort will start
formation in January). His job finishes when he certifies to the bishop at
their ordination that the Church has found them “worthy” for ordination. He
also supplies in various parishes (and even for a Vineyard church), holds a
weekly service at a hospital (and then takes sacraments to patients on the
floors), and helps at St Clare Monastery. And he has churned out a series of
articles and kept up with editorial jobs for the Word Biblical Commentary. No
grass growing under our feet.

While we would like Judy to “get back to normal” (which one doubts will
ever be the case), we are in general quite pleased with our life here in
Houston. We would like to be more involved in the lives of our children and
grandchildren, but Judy does spend an afternoon or so weekly with her sister. And
so we look forward to what God will do in our lives this coming year – he is always
coming to meet us, not just as our incarnate Lord, but also as our reigning
king, whose promised “well done” is that for which we live our lives.

Grace and peace this Advent and Christmas season,

Peter and Judy Davids

1202 Seagler Rd., Apt 117

Houston TX 77042 USA

713-314-7886 (Peter) or 832-392- 9519 (Judy)

 

pdavids@icloud.com or jldavids@me.com

Nativity 2

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Davids Advent/Christmas Greetings 2015

Advent       Nativity 2           2015

Dear friends and family,

As we in this Advent season anticipate the coming of Jesus (both reliving the anticipation of his birth and looking expectantly towards his return), we greet you after an eventful year. Continue reading

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Behold Your god

I have watched with fascination and then boredom
as each mass shooting or attempted mass shooting has unfolded in the USA. There is, of course, horror and anger. Then there are the calls for keep weapons out of the hands of such disturbed (as often proves to be the case) people. Then there are those who argue that what is needed is more guns: more police, more weaponizing of the police, indeed everyone should be armed or at least a lot of people should be armed. It is in having one’s own weapon that security is to be found. Besides, it is a right.In god We Trust

The guns-as-a-right attitude always wins, of course, for it is part of the national narrative. Colonists arrived in the Americas with guns, and that enabled them to enslave, oppress, or outright exterminate the Native Americans as they stole their land. If only those Native Americans had had the weapons . . . but too bad for them. The colonies that eventually formed the USA fought a war over taxes. Whether there is moral justification for a such a revolution (Augustine did not think that there could be a moral revolution) or for a war over what in essence were economic issues (Augustine had said that economics could not justify war) was not at issue, for the victors write the history. In this case it was not who had guns that was the issue, but who could use them more effectively, although the last major battle was decided by the French navy. Ironically, not long afterwards a rebellion over similar issues but within the colonies was put down by – guns. But this time the fledgling nation was the winner, not the rebels; the Whisky Rebellion is hardly remembered. And so the history of the USA goes on. The Louisiana Purchase may have been peaceful (but not the settlement of what was purchased), but not the Texan war of independence (no wonder the USA has some fear of immigrants – look what happened to Mexico), nor a number of expansionary ventures. Violence is part of the history of the USA. The Bill of Rights enshrines the “need” for a “well-regulated (citizen) militia,” which is presently interpreted as each one being their own militia. As it says in the Judges, “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” 
 
Of course, the individual grasp for guns and resorting to violence is but a pale mirror of the national belief that security is found in weapons. The Catechism of the Catholic Church questions whether there can be a just war in this present age with present armaments. That question is not a USA question. Neither World War I nor World War II was without its atrocities on the side of the USA and its allies, but “tell it not in Gath.” That is not part of our national narrative. Rather, the narrative is that the USA won by guns, by military strength, and that it won the Cold War that way too. Of course, to say this one must ignore that most if not all of the 70 plus conflicts the USA has sponsored (e.g. in Angola) or engaged in (e.g. Viet Nam) since World War II have been lost, or at least only “won” through spin. Of course, one must ignore the role of Pope John Paul II (and other non-lethal leaders) in the fall of the Iron Curtain. The narrative goes on. Guns win. And now we have smart bombs and precision guided munitions (but not precision enough to avoid killing women and children – they are written off as “collateral damage” – i.e. depersonalized and therefore disposable). The USA is invincible, until it is not. God is on our side, but seems to be giving the victory to the other guys, the “bad guys.” But, then, we forget that God does not like violence – in fact, Genesis 6 indicates that he rather hates it. And we forget that in the Hebrew Scriptures with all of their violent stories, God makes it rather clear that military might is not what “wins” and the size of an army is irrelevant. 
With this national love of violence, there is naturally an individual love of violence. That shows up in the USA’s love of guns. In fact, one would think that somehow gun ownership was a natural right. Rather, it is a national deity. 
 
One form of the deity is well-known from ancient times. Ashtoreth (or Ashtray) was a Canaanite goddess who, while promising fertility, delighted in violence. In need she turned her furniture into armies that slaughtered one another so that she could “wade up to her thighs in gore.” She would have loved modern weapons, for they can kill more people faster. Wait, she does love modern weapons, for she is still present in the myth of national security through violence or threatened violence. 
 
But, of course, violence does not end on the battlefield. There is the violence against the unborn, often motivated by financial reasons (perhaps the modern equivalent of what Ashtoreth promised). There is the quiet violence against the immigrant, so decried in the Hebrew Scriptures. There is the oppressive violence against the poor (Jas 5:1-6 knows something about that). There is the violence of not offering medical care to all. There is the violence of capital punishment. (Did anyone listen to Pope Francis on his recent trip to the USA? He named these things, for he knows the Christian tradition.) And that of euthanasia. Ashtoreth does not care how blood is spilled, so long as it is spilled, so long as there is a death. 
 
And we ourselves in this USA love the service of Ashtoreth. There is a book by C. S. Lewis, “Til We Have Faces, that has a Ashtoreth deity, Ungit, in it. She, too, delights in blood, even human blood. The heroine seems to differentiate herself from Ungit, until in the end of the book she realizes that she has internalized Ungit. She is Ungit. So too many of us USA Christians. We decry the violence “out there” that “they” do, whether the “they” be terrorist groups in the Middle East or a crazed individual on a college campus. But we also trust in Ungit, for we grasp our own weapons and claim that we are thereby secure. This is national security on an individual scale. We cite stories of people who defended themselves (even killed the “bad guy” because he was a worse shot or did not shoot first, assuming that he was armed at all). We cite studies that claim a correlation between high murder rates and cities with significant gun controls (and we ignore the more nuanced studies that show states with stronger gun laws have less gun violence – simple correlations will do for us). We grasp our metal Ungit statue and say, “I am safe.”
 
How different than the New Testament or the first centuries of the church. Jesus destroyed violence by absorbing violence. He knew the “deeper magic” (as C. S. Lewis points out in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe) that Revelation also knows: it is not the one who escalates violence that wins, but the one who absorbs it. Jesus absorbed violence on the cross – deliberately, knowingly – and in the resurrection death itself is overcome and starts to work backwards. In Revelation it is the martyrs who win, who overcome Satan himself by “not loving their lives until death.” In Revelation Jesus reappears with the armies of heaven, but those armies are not said to be armed nor to lift a weapon. Rather Jesus is the only one armed, and he is armed with a Word pictured as the sword from his mouth. He has already won in the cross, and now he speaks the Word of victory, the Word that he embodies. The early church rejected those who killed – those who aborted a fetus or exposed an infant, those who killed as soldiers or who had authority to order the death penalty – rejected them unless they repented. Instead they glorified the martyrs and the confessors (those who refused to recant their allegiance to Jesus as Lord, even under threat of death or imprisonment, but who were not actually executed). They knew the power of the cross and would not trade it for the power of death. Let the authorities keep the sword, for we have the cross. Ashtoreth can keep the sword; we will follow Jesus.
 
I see little of this in the USA. Rather I see an embrace of the Ungit within. We will trust in our weapons. We will trust in our pistol in our purse. We will call this national security or personal security. We will be secure in this way in our schools and in our churches. We will claim “in God we trust,” but the god is Mammon and Mars, the goddess is Ashtoreth or Ungit. Even those who claim Jesus as Lord do this, which appears to be that they have put off any real salvation until “he returns.” But “the Lord has them in derision,” and the losses in war go on while the spiral of violence within the country continues. The pistol becomes the assault rifle and soon the grenade launcher, etc. And people say, “Where is God?” God, or “a god” is right there, there in the pistol in your purse.
 
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Myths about Tolerance and Acceptance

One keeps hearing the claim that followers of Jesus should practice tolerance and acceptance, that this is the way that love is expressed, and that this is the way Jesus lived, that he accepted sinners and tax collectors. Specifically, the argument is that this tolerance and acceptance should be practiced within the Christian community, that all are accepted whatever their lifestyle or behavior. That sounded so reasonable, so “in tune with the times,” that it was necessary to check it out.

Tolerance

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