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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On Becoming a Catholic Priest

While it was a big step for me, emotionally as well as ministerially, in some ways it should not have been that big a deal for my evangelical friends. I had been an Episcopal priest for 34 years and no one seemed to blink at that. I suppose with people like the Rev. John R. W. Stott, the Rt. Rev. N. T. Wright, and indeed the Rev. J. I. Packer, among others, in the Anglican/ Episcopal camp it was difficult for evangelicals to disapprove. And then there were well-known Anglican lay people, like C. S. Lewis who were evangelical heroes. The Anglican Communion was viewed by Protestants in general (and some evangelical Anglicans) as being very much Reformed and Protestant, even if officially it declared itself a middle way, neither Protestant nor Catholic. In my case, I had also been associated with other free church groups, such as the Vineyard movement and the Plymouth Brethren. While I was not secret about it, only my wife seemed to notice that while I was at times employed as a teacher by churches or organizations within both these groups, I had always kept up a ministry in an Anglican or Episcopal congregation.

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What people did not know or at least did not realize was that I was horrified at the fractiousness of Protestant groups and that I realized that this was endemic, since splits tend to create splits. This was my family emotional systems training being applied to the church. Nor did people realize that ever since the National Catholic Charismatic Conference for Priests and Deacons in 1980, I was heartbroken by the schism in the church. Others were, perhaps, more cognizant that I had a love for the great spiritual tradition that starts with the Apostolic Fathers, goes through the Desert Fathers and then into the west with John Cassian and Benedict of Nursia. I was drawn to St. Francis and the devotion of Ignatius of Loyola and many others. Various Protestants have used and drawn from these people and their traditions (I think of the Renovaré movement in particular), but often this is done by picking and choosing. How can one really get at the essence of what they have to teach without being in total communion with them? This is especially true when one considers the possibility that the “cloud of witnesses” of Heb 12 may be more than a figure of speech.
I was aware of all the above and it was this that probably as much as anything drove me to seek the community that would support my values. I had thought of these values as Anabaptist once, but later concluded that the Anabaptists were rooted in the Devotio Moderna and earlier monastic expressions of Christianity. They were, in essence, an evangelistic third order, not unlike the Franciscan Tertiaries. So I explored some such groups which included Episcopalians.from within the Episcopal Church It was by accident that I came across John Michael Talbot and the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, to whose Domestic expression we now belong. We did find there a community that incorporated and reinforced our values: centered on the Eucharist, deep into contemplation, enriched by charismatic experience and gifts, concerned for the poor, committed to a simple lifestyle, etc. But there was a hitch in that so long as we were not Catholics we could go forward for a blessing during communion in the mass, but we could not partake. We were one, but we still experienced the brokenness of the body of Christ. Some in the BSCD are comfortable with such a situation – they are in churches that are not Eucharist-centered so come to terms with not partaking so long as the others in the BSCD accept them (as they do indeed). I was not comfortable! I did not know it, but God was drawing me, and eventually I gave in to him.
From my point of view there was little change in theology. I suspect that that is not the view of some others, for they judge the Catholic Church on the basis of either the more poorly catechized portions of the Church (which unfortunately are many) or on post-Reformation criticisms of the Church (which are often inaccurate, especially since they rarely interact with Vatican II). I took the time to work through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is a post-Vatican II document. It is also carefully argued and thoroughly supported by scripture and the teaching of the church down through the ages. It might surprise some of my friends and colleagues to discover that if anything, it moved me back into a more Augustinian (some might say Reformed) stance on such things as original sin and grace. And, of course, it is fully Trinitarian and incarnational (which, unfortunately is not always the case in evangelical theology, at least in my experience not at the level of the local pastor). I did have to take Heb 12 as more than a metaphor and join that with what Jesus says about people having authority in the age to come (which arrives for the individual at death, when they enter the eternal dimension, if that is viewed as beyond time as God is beyond time). I did have to take the image of Mary in Rev 12 seriously (which I had already done for decades in teaching Revelation) and think about Mary as an icon of the Church and as the Mother of God (God-bearer to use the literal translation of theotokos). I wonder how many of my evangelical friends realize that that title was developed to say something about Jesus being really God incarnate and not to say something about Mary per se? And I did have to realize that Paul exercised a type of patriarchal authority over churches in 1 – 2 Timothy and Titus (and in Acts), appointing presbyters and authorizing delegates to continue to appoint them and that 1 Peter in particular shows Peter in Rome writing authoritatively to churches it is highly unlikely he founded. This is not developed Petrine primacy in action, but this is the roots out of which it developed. I also had to take seriously the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church so that as Israel in the Old Testament developed from primitive nomadic tribes worshipping in a relatively simple shrine to the grandeur of the Solomonic Temple, so the Church has developed (and both have had problems with going after false gods and the like). (Obviously, this is a far too brief discussion of what I either had thought through over the years or needed to work through as I carefully studied the Catechism, but this is a blog, not a book. I would refer those interested in the Catechism and its supporting documents to  Scott Hahn and also to his writings, among others, although I ran into his work only after I was already committed to my transition.)
Kingdom theology that came into my life in seminary in the works of George Eldon Ladd and came to a new dimension with my contact with John Wimber and then developed further as I was influenced by N. T. Wright is very much alive in the Catholic Church (see the DVD series Catholicism by Fr. Robert Barron, especially the first one on Jesus). What I saw as Anabaptist theology is, as I have noted, a type of Franciscan spirituality in a Reformation context. I have been Eucharistic-centered since my upbringing in the Plymouth Brethren. (This has made many Vineyard and Baptist services rather unsatisfying – for from my point of view they lack the core of worship, which is the Eucharist, and when they do celebrate it, it is less than central.) And when it comes to proclaiming the good news, Pope Francis in The Joy of the Gospel is true to Vatican II, true to the New Evangelism strain of Catholic thought, and is just as true to Louis Palau (who is his personal friend) and Billy Graham. All of the streams of my previous thought are there in the life and teaching of the Catholic Church that I have experienced (and I also know that there are many parts of the Catholic Church that are defective, just as there are many parts of evangelical groups and the Episcopal Church that are defective, which the Catholic leaders I know and, from his writings, Pope Francis, wish to reform). So I am as much an evangelical as I ever was, so long as evangelical is not defined as free church, do-your-own-thing. But it was that very do-you-own-thing fractiousness that I emphatically did not think was in tune with the New Testament I was reading.
It does sadden me when I hear people talk about “Christians and Catholics” as if they were two groups. They mean something like “evangelicals and Catholics,” but say that without realizing that the Catholic Church is their mother. The faith was not invented in 1500, nor is there such a thing in reality as sola Scriptura, but rather Luther and others were steeped in the thought of the Patristic period and read their Bible through the lens of this, later tradition and the developing Renaissance, just as we all must read Scripture through the lens of some tradition or other. (I first realized some of this when I read the Lutheran scholar Krister Stendhal’s Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West, and of course there is now the agreement between major Lutheran scholars and the Catholic Church on key issues such as the meaning of faith and works.) My background in psychology and my reading in hermeneutics made me realize that I-and-my Bible-alone is a myth – there is always a perspective inside our head that helps us make sense of the disparate genres of the Scripture, conscious or unconscious. If we say that that is the Holy Spirit, then we need to read Scripture carefully and note that the Spirit is a gift to the Church as a body, so that even the great Paul submitted his understanding of the good news to the scrutiny of the leaders of the larger body (Gal 2).
 It does sadden me when some few people reject me for having made this move (most are happy for me and glad that God called me to where I am, even if they have no impulse themselves to move in that direction). I realize that for the most part either they never really knew me or else they are reacting to a caricature of the Catholic Church. That caricature is not helped by the fact that, as I have noted, there are many Catholics that need to hear the good news – as Pope Francis has so ably said. But I have for years observed that there are many people who have had a “born again” experience that show no signs of the Spirit and thus give us good reason to believe that if Jesus returned he would say to them, “I never knew you.” Both evangelicals and Catholics have the same problem with needing to re-evangelize their churches (although evangelicals prefer to say “revive”). And there have been periodic revivals and reforms in the Catholic Church (some of the abuses that Luther rightly criticized were corrected by renewal movements that remained within the Church; some these corrections became canon law in the Council of Trent). But the caricature of the Catholic Church is a caricature that can only stay alive if one has never immersed oneself in a good parish and if one has never bothered to read the official literature (not an easy job, for it is carefully written, but a rewarding job).
Well, I have crossed the English Channel (according to Sheldon Vanauken, whom I met in 1978) or swum the Tiber (the more usual expression). And not only have I done so, but, by the grace of God through Pope Benedict XVI’s provision and Pope Francis actualization of this permission for me personally, I have been allowed to take something of my ministry with me. I was ordained in the Catholic Church – my ordination in the Episcopal Church did not simply transfer, so I had to be re-ordained. But I was ordinand because I had been an Episcopal priest for 34 years and because the rest of my life was in order. Celibacy was waived as long as Judy is alive. The whole process from resignation from my Episcopal orders to Catholic ordination only took 10 months – lightning speed for Rome. I have made the transition.
What my friends will need to accept is that being a Catholic priest is not a role that one can shed when convenient. It is not a job. Holy Orders is a sacrament, and in a sense one becomes a sacrament. One is always to act and be “in persona Christi.” Now, in a sense every Christian should act that way, but for a priest it is part of his vows and part of his public life on behalf of Jesus and the Church. And, in a sense it is a profession, not like profession= job, but like a monastic profession. One promises to keep the Liturgy of the Hours, one vows obedience to one’s Ordinary. There is a type of stability in that only 5% of Catholic priests ever change the diocese of their incardination. That is important, for the call is to go deep and out of the depths of spirituality to hear confessions, to preach the word, to celebrate the mass. This same spirituality is to be expressed in everyday life.
So in one way I have just taken my bearings “further in and higher up” (as the call is in C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle). I have finished the preparation and now need to live into this calling from God. My life in the past has been an adventure, and now I continue that adventure. Part of that adventure is, according to Cardinal DiNardo, bridge-building. Rather than withdrawing into a Catholic enclave, I will continue my relationships with biblical scholarship, with evangelical friends, with Episcopal friends. I will live out my life as a Catholic priest in continuity with my previous life or (at least to some) lives. Let the adventure begin.
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The Exaltation of the Holy Cross – The Martyrs Win

Over the past weeks we have heard very saddening news about the state of the church in areas of Iraq and Syria (and to a lesser extent Nigeria). We have heard of beheadings, crucifixions, and destruction. We realize that Christian communities that have been around for close to 2000 years are being destroyed, or so it seems. While we cannot be sure of the accuracy of all of the reports since ISIS is not exactly reporter-friendly, we can be reasonably certain of the death of many Christians and the burning of many churches and the treasures (including ancient manuscripts) they contained.   6a00d834515f9b69e20168e62076d2970c-800wi

Now nothing in my comments should be construed as indicating that this is not a tragedy. Nor do we wish the tragedy to continue. And we certainly pray that it does not continue. Yet the Christian response is not the response of the world. The world’s response is to meet violence with violence, and that sooner or later results in a game of Whack-a-Mole. Violence is used on the evil forces here (and often it also means the killing of innocent victims) and sooner or later the same or a similar evil group pops up over there. So we whack over there, and it pops up in a third place. Violence never really solves a problem, for it injects something of the same spirit into the situation.
The Christian response is, first, to pray that the martyrs will stay faithful and confess the faith well. Revelation 12 makes it clear that the force attacking Christians is at root spiritual, and by that I do not mean Islam, but Satan and his “angels” that lay behind the Roman Empire in Rev 12 and behind various other types of persecution down through the ages. Revelation also makes it clear that the battle, while fought in heaven, is paralleled on earth and that the “they” who win in the end is the martyrs, who held onto their witness to Jesus and “did not love their lives even unto death.” So we pray for our brothers and sisters that they stay faithful, stand firm. After all, Christians believe in the resurrection of the dead. Revelation also gives us the picture of the martyrs in heaven, in the divine sphere, and none of them is saying, “Poor me.” The Church traditionally points to them as purified, beholding the Beatific Vision, as having a special place due to their “baptism of blood.”
The second Christian response is to pray with compassion for the persecutors. After all, they are under the influence of evil spiritual forces. If they continue in their way and do not repent the future does not bode well for them. We are told to pray for those who persecute us, and they surely need it. We also know that God can take a persecutor like Saul of Tarsus and make a saint out of him. So our response should be one of compassion, not hatred. We may hate the evil being done, but we should love the perpetrators.
The third Christian response is to pray for God’s intervention. He can change the situation, but only he can do it without ending up in a game of Whack-a-Mole, a recurring cycle of violence. Only he can see the real evil forces that hold the perpetrators captive. So fasting and prayer, calling out to him to intervene, is appropriate.
The fourth and final Christian response is to offer ourselves as peacemakers. Now only God can show us how to do this. It might mean that an army of unarmed prayer warriors invades the conflict area, many of them becoming martyrs. It may be giving to effective relief organizations. It may mean praying and fasting for peace. It may be something quite unimaginable. Saint Francis is said to have visited the Sultan during the time of the Crusades (it reportedly was on his third attempt to get there). Such an ambassador could work wonders. But only God can direct his people wisely and only God knows what type of interventions might bring about peace.
All of these responses parallel the way that Jesus acted. He defeated the powers of evil through his cross, and thus on this day of the celebration of the exaltation of the Holy Cross it is appropriate to think of how the imitation of Christ might lead us to deal with the situations facing the church today in Jesus’ way and in Jesus’ power. But these are not the responses that we are hearing about in the news nor ones that occur to various governments, for they generally do not “get” Jesus.
Those of us who are followers of Jesus, however, should “get” Jesus and should be making the type of response that the early Church made to persecution and that Jesus made to the problem of evil. It is that that I am hoping for and that which I see so little of.
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When will they ever learn?

I remember the folk song, probably from the 60’s, with the refrain, “When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?” That is what I think about when I reflect on the State of Israel’s war with the Palestinians.

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Mid-Summer Update: Living on the Fast Train, Rooted in St. Francis

Peter and Judy Davids

June 21, 2014

Dear family and friends,

It is time that we posted a newsletter on my blog that brought you up to date on where we are at, for that is better than brief notes on Facebook. While the more momentous events are recent, I am going to start with some history, which will be old hat to some of you, but is necessary to review to give the flow of what led up to the events of the past year. Peter and Judy at Reception OLW 140216

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