Thursday, March 19, 2009

Akinola Should Be Widely Rebuked

The statements of the Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican) have ranged from powerful to inflammatory, in my view, over the past few years that I've been paying attention to them. However, the current statement, in the form of a letter supporting anti-gay legislation in Nigeria is quite simply too much, and deserves to be rebuked.

I hereby do so.

Here is a bit of what he has said:
Same sex marriage apart from being ungodly is also unscriptural, unnatural, unprofitable, unhealthy, uncultured, up-African and un-Nigerian. It is a perversion, a deviation and an aberration that is capable of engendering moral and social holocaust in this country. It is also capable of extincting mankind and as such should never be allowed to take root in Nigeria. Outlawing it is to ensure the continued existence of this nation. The need for doing this is urgent, compelling and imperative. The time is now.

This phrase alone is simply absurd at the least, and quite possibly an incitement to murder at worst. It is certainly no less so than what one tyrant of a pre-Modern nation once said, "Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?" It's easy to imagine that of the fives of millions of Anglicans in Nigeria, some will encounter these words and understand them to mean quite plainly that a crusade has been called for by the Archbishop.

He argues that gay marriage represents a potential holocaust to the Nigerian people. This is not only absurd, it casts a dark portent of what his own words may in fact engender. His murderous rhetoric recalls that toxic blend of imperial/nationalistic/pietism that begins with efforts to dehumanize a class of persons and ends with their systematic elimination. Ask the Armenians, Jews, Adriatic Muslims, and Tutsis about it.

When will other Christians speak out against this man?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Forrester Sermon

Here is a sermon from the bishop-elect of Northern Michigan - it's been posted elsewhere. I would say this sermon is problematical to say the least - but I invite your commentary. Among the problems I would identify, very quickly, is that I don't think interfaith dialogue does indeed come to the conclusion that all religions, deep down, are saying the same thing. In fact, I am pretty sure that Muslims, Buddhists, and Jews are not saying that, "deep down," it's all the same. Nor, am I quite sure that the Syrian Christian church is saying exactly what Dr. Forrester is suggesting they are saying. I certainly find great value in the Syriac translation, and I am willing to follow along in the mystical direction that Dr. Forrester is taking here - but I think he ends up taking a couple of big leaps past where even the Syriac text would allow - has chosen to take only that text as authoritative without considering why it is that the Greek text has long been considered more authoritative, and then finally jumps a bit farther than he needs to do. I think, quite simply, Dr. Forrester is projecting his own vision of the Trinity onto "other faiths" - and is reductively denying their distinctive proclamations. To be quite plain about it, Judaism does not affirm anything like Trinitarian theology, nor does Islam. To say that they really do is to claim that you know better than they do about their own proclamation. I know little about Buddhism, so I can't really say what they say, but it's a stretch to say the least to suggest that pantheism can somehow become harmonized with the Christian faith - no matter how much he wish to do so. Panentheism is perhaps a more likely fit - but that's not the same as the pantheism which I understand to be at the root of Buddhism. As such, if Dr. Forrester is himself a proponent of Trinitarian theology - it's possibly quite patronizing to suppose that Jews, Muslims and Buddhists really are too ('they just don't know it?'). On the other hand, if Dr. Forrester has an understanding of the Trinity that is not in line with what the Church says - than it appears he might be trying reduce a central claim of Christianity below what would be any longer recognizably Christian.

At any rate, he's going in a number of problematic directions - which may in fact be more insulting to persons of other faith traditions than if he simply said, "I am a Christian, and I believe that Jesus Christ is the incarnate Word of God. This causes disagreement between me and my friends who are Jews, Muslims and Buddhists. We don't agree. And, love means that we don't have to."

The approach to pluralism that Dr. Forrester seems to embody is reductive of the capacity for any religious tradition to make distinctive truth claims, based on the notion that, 'deep down,' there are no distinctions, or categories, anyway - but that 'deep down' there is only just God.

On the one hand, Christians believe that ulimately-speaking there will only be God and that which has become eternally enjoined with God. But we also believe that - as yet - the Creation and the Creator are not eternally and fully one.

And until that happens - there is not just God - there is what God has made also. And we are ever trying to reconcile the two - following after the fashion of the first fruit of that theosis - in which the Creation and the Creator were became one flesh in the full-person full-divinity of Christ.

But we are not yet quite there.

Anyway, here is the sermon:

Trinity Sunday—Kevin Thew Forrester [05.18.08]

Reading from Matthew 28: 16-20

Well, there are a number of things that come together this morning in the liturgy. The Gospel in Matthew talks about baptism this morning, and it’s connected up with what we call Trinity Sunday today, and that’s all held in our tradition in redemption. So, I’ll preach on redemption, baptism and the Trinity today and it’ll take about forty-five minutes, and to weave it all together (heh, heh)—well I am going to talk about all of them, and hopefully we’ll weave them together in less time than that. I’ve been reading this over the past several months, and doing some research and writing in early Christianity as it pertains to baptism, and focusing on a treasure in our past that we’ve forgotten about. At least I have not been taught about it, and maybe you have heard about it. It’s the strain of Christianity that came out of Syria—Syrian Christianity. And Syrian Christianity goes back to the first century. So it is an ancient, it is an early stream of Christian experience and Christian theology. And, in fact, the Syrian church came up with its translation of the New Testament, the Syriac New Testament. And there is a woman, her name is Gabriele Winkler, and she’s done some of the writing on these Syriac Christians, and what’s drawn her to it is that they’ve a very positive approach to that word and the experience of Jesus in terms of the Redeemer, which is in contrast to much of Greek Christianity, and that’s important because our New Testament, that we have in English, translates the Greek text.

Now, I’m not going to get real technical, but let me give you some examples, ‘cause it really goes to the heart of something. The Greeks have a very negative, on the whole, understanding of that term redemption. And, uh, I wrote some of this down so I would get it right. When the Greeks talk about, and you find this in the New Testament, talk about redemption, they talk about us being freed from something, being rescued from something, being saved from something. So there’s something we need to be rescued from, something that we need to be delivered from, something we need to be saved from. So there’s a negative response, there’s something negative that we need to be rescued from in the Greek New Testament. She says in the Syriac New Testament the equivalent of the Greek verbs meaning to deliver, to redeem, to save—they’re not used. Instead, they come up with Syriac terms, and the Syriac terms are these, they’re fascinating: they are “to give life,” “to make alive,” and “to cause to live.” That’s very different—to cause to live, to make alive, to give life.

So let me give you, I think I have five examples here. If you look at Matthew Chapter 9 in the Greek New Testament, it says in verse 22 “your faith has saved you,” okay? Now in the Syriac New Testament it says this “your faith has made you alive.” That’s a difference. Your faith has made you alive. One chapter later, Chapter 10 verse 22 in Matthew it says in the Greek “the one who endures to the end will be saved.” The Syrian Christians experienced Jesus and they wrote and translated it “the one who endures will be living,” will be alive. Then, if you go to the Gospel of Luke, in the second Chapter in verse 11, which you hear all the time at Christmas, it says “To you is born this day the Savior,”—I always have in mind the Charlie Brown Christmas play (heh, heh, heh)—“To you today is born the Savior.” I think it’s Linus, or someone, who says that, holding his blanket. The Syriac text says “to you is born this day the one who makes alive,” the lifegiver. That’s who was born this day, the lifegiver. And then, one chapter later in Luke, it reads, in the Greek, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God,” and the Syriac says “all flesh shall see the life of God.” Let me give you one more, and this is from Luke 19. It says “the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost,” and the Syrian Christians, in their New Testament said “the Son of Man came that He may seek and make alive.” That’s very different. I find that amazing. In the Syriac New Testament when, so it’s their translation, they had the Greek and they made their own translation, and they were very deliberate in their choice of words, Jesus is baptized. That’s one of our themes today, right, baptized, baptism; He goes in the waters of the river Jordan. He emerges and have Him baptized by John, and the Syrians say “the one who rises is the unified one who is the lifegiver.” He’s the unified one and He’s the lifegiver, and those two are very closely connected. Jesus is the lifegiver because He is the unified one.

So, what does that mean? Well, we heard in the gospel today in Matthew that, for His community, Jesus says that all, what all authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. That’s what we heard today, right? All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Well, we could slightly rephrase that and keep it, keep its true meaning, I think, if we would say: Jesus realized that all that He is, He had received from God. Jesus is the one that realized all He is, “all I am, I have received from God.” And in response, we read in the gospels later on His response, to having received everything from God is that, “into Your hands I commend my spirit and Thy will be done.” He receives everything from God and He returns everything to God. That is what it means that everything has been given to Jesus, all the power. His very center, the center of His heart, of His body, of His mind, is the living God. All things come from the divine source for Jesus—who He is, His self identity, His soul, that just means His understanding of who He is, He has come to realize and it’s key in that baptismal moment, that He is the very presence of the living God. That is who He is. He is one who is unified with God. That’s what the Syrians are getting at. Jesus realizes that God dwells in His very being, He is one with God, and He is one with you and me. And because He is one, He is the lifegiver. He can show us the path of life, which is the path to realizing that we are one with God. We are one with one another.

There is a passage, it’s one of the earliest passages we have that pertains to baptism, in the New Testament, it’s one of the early formulas, and it’s in the Letter to the Galatians, and we’ve heard it often. It’s that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus. Now, it’s fascinating, the Greek and the Syriac text agree on the translation of that. “All are one in Christ Jesus.” Now I find that kind of fascinating for a couple reasons. One, I look out here and I see lots of males and females, still, right? And I see rich and poor, black and white, I see gay and straight, I see Muslim and Christian. We’re all here, and yet that text in Galatians says that no longer exists. And I’m pretty sure when Jesus came out of those waters of baptism in the Jordan they still saw a Jewish man, right? Who wasn’t a slave, but was free. So what does that text getting at, that baptismal text, because we are man and we are women; we are rich, we are poor; some of us are wealthy, some of us not so wealthy, huh? The text is talking about, that we have all these categories by which to define one another and to define ourselves. We have lots of boxes that we can put ourselves in and put one another in. And all those categories still exist after our baptism, but what the scriptures are getting at, and what the Syrians are realizing, they only exist on the surface. But if we continue to take ourselves for th thtose categories, what we will do is be at war with ourselves and at war with one another, and we give no, we give no space for each other to grow. If all I see is a man or a woman, I do not see Barb for all that you are, I’ve simply reduced you, haven’t I, to a category? I’ve reduced you to an object. And those boxes are made of walls, and the walls are hard and they are thick. And whenever there’s a wall it’s something to fight over. Look at the new wall that’s going up in Israel. My guess is that in a thousand years it won’t be there. Look at the Great Wall of China. Walls don’t work. Categories don’t work. If we think that they’re going to define us for who we essentially are, and protect us from our deepest fears, and satisfy our deepest longings, the boxes don’t work.

We have these categories, of course, but what Jesus realized, and what the Syrian Christians experienced in Jesus, is that if we go to our depths of who we are, the categories aren’t there. The only thing that exists in the depth of Jesus, the only thing that exists in the depth of Jesus, is the living God. They talk about in the New Testament, in the Greek, the kenosis of Jesus, the self-emptying. The categories are gone in terms of this is who I am essentially. All that’s left is the presence of the living God. That’s all that is left. And it’s why He is one with God and one with us. Everything Jesus is He receives from God and He gives it back in a grateful spirit of surrender. But there is more, ‘cause I would invite us to consider that not only has all authority been given to Jesus, it has been given to you and to me. We have been asked, we have been invited to receive all that is from the living God, a God who is not “out there,” but a God who is the center of our very being.

One of the amazing insights I have found in the interfaith dialogue is that, no matter what you name that source, from which all life comes—you can name that source God, Abba; you may name that source Yahweh; you may name that source Allah; you may name that source “the great emptiness;” you can name that source many things, but what all the faiths in their wisdom have acknowledged in the interfaith dialogue is that, you and I, we’re not the source. We receive from the source, and what we are asked to do is give back to the source. In other words, what the interfaith dialogue has recognized is that there is a Trinitarian structure to life. That’s what I’m driving at this morning. We make the Trinity much too complex. The Trinitarian structure of life is this: is that everything that is comes from the source. And you can name the source what you want to name the source. And our response to that is with hearts of gratitude and thanksgiving, to return everything back to that source, and there’s a spirit who enables that return. Everything comes from God. We give it back to God. And the spirit gives us the heart of gratitude. That is the Trinitarian nature of life. And you can be a Buddhist, you can be a Muslim, you can be a Jew, and that makes sense. And we all develop more elaborate theologies, but the truth is we live and have our being in a God who asks only one thing of us: to grow into people who give thanks that God is our center, God is our life, that we are one with God. And as we grow into realization, that we are one with this God who lives in us, and the only thing God asks us is to give back everything in thanksgiving, we live. It’s what the Syrians said, “we will know what redemption truly is, we will come alive, we will be made to live,” because we will know—not because someone told us—because we know that God gives us life. And all God asks of us is “give it back to Me in return.”

We are told in the scriptures that Jesus did not make equality with God something to be grasped at. All Jesus did, in the end, was say “into your hands I commend my spirit.” We are asked this day, and we are reminded in baptism, that there is only one thing asked of us, and it is to say with our minds, and our hearts, and our bodies “into your hands I commend my spirit.” And the source, our God, will hold us and take care of us. Amen.

Monday, March 16, 2009

We Proclaim Christ Crucified

It is Lent, of course, and in our cycle of Scripture reading - Christ has not yet been crucified. But, in Lent we prepare for the inevitable remembrance of what happened to Christ. What happened was, he was crucified on a Friday, and on Sunday, he got back up. This is, at the very least, what Christians proclaim. It's what we give witness to as the members of Christ's body.

Now, any Christian shares in this proclamation - for it is what we are baptised into. It kind goes without saying, yet should always be said, because it is part of our mission to proclaim it.

Muslims, on the other hand, while they regard Jesus as a prophet, do not believe, to say the least, that Jesus was crucified at all. Leaving out the questions of incarnation, resurrection, etc., to say the very least, Muslims do not proclaim Christ crucified.

As Paul has said, the cross is a stumbling block and foolishness - not only to "the Jews" but also to "the Gentiles" - as well as to Muslims and others.

To say this is not at all meant to be insulting to anybody. But merely to clarify what's what, and who says what. We proclaim Christ, and him crucified. It's the rugged old cross, after all, that is the place where we believe the unique act of God to expiate the sins of the world took place.

I bring all this up - in fact - to comment on the odd case of the Rev. Anne Holmes Redding. The Rev. Ms. Redding has claimed for some time now that she is both a Christian and a professed Muslim - AND - she believes she is also entitled to remain in holy orders as a priest. While this seems like a patently absurd situation to most, and I would agree, there it is. The good news is not that the Bishop of Rhode Island, Geralyn Wolf, has given ample time to her to reconsider her proclamation. The time is now up - she has to decide either to uniquely proclaim Christ (as crucified, raised, ascended, etc.) and remain in orders, or be removed from orders.

It is important to engage in dialogue with other faiths - absolutely! We are indeed called I believe to seek Christ in all persons - regardless of what they look like, think like or how they pray or whom they worship. Nonetheless, this does not mean that 'all religions are the same' or that 'all paths lead to God' or any number of cheap and easy slogans for casual pluralism.

This being said, I'm not certain that the controversy surrounding the election of the Rev. Dr. Thew Forrester as bishop in Northern Michigan is justified - "the so-called Buddhist Bishop." I have not read - though I've tried to find some things on the web - much of what Dr. Forrester has written or preached. According to Mark Harris - Forrester does not claim to be a 'Buddhist,' but does practice Zen meditational techniques. It has seemed to me that Buddhism, as compared with Judaism or Islam at any rate, is not as coherent, unified or uniform. I have heard some even say that Buddhism is less of a religion, and more of a set of practices and principles. I really don't know about all of that either - as I'm not a student of Buddhism. From the very little bit I do know, I have spoken with a great many faithful followers of the crucified Lord who have been impressed and influenced by certain aspects of Buddhist practice - especially as regards meditation, etc. Beyond question, Thomas Merton was influenced by Buddhist practice and thought - and I don't think he's a 'heretic.' So, if Dr. Forrester fits into the Merton-mold of Christians seeking truth wherever it may be found, as well as helpful techniques to be a faithful disciple of Christ, than I don't have much trouble with any of this. If on the other hand Dr. Forrester is incapable of proclaiming and cherishing the essential distinctives of the Christian faith (as summed up ably in the Nicene and Apostles Creeds, Old and New Testaments, and dominical sacraments) then he certainly should have no place in the apostolic succession. I read one squib of a sermon in which he seemed to be making what looked like a "it doesn't matter whether you are Jewish, Muslim or Christian" type argument - and I must say I found that very weak. But, I didn't read it all, I don't know the fullness of what he said, and I hope any who judge the man on the standing committees and House of Bishops will really look into what he proclaims, and not what fear-mongering folk are trying to say he says.