Saturday, May 08, 2004

As United Methodists
we remain in covenant with one another,
even in the midst of disagreement,
and reaffirm our commitment to work together
for our common mission
of making disciples of Jesus Christ
throughout the world.

So ends the United Methodist General Conference, 2004. Many, probably most of the delegates will return to their home churches and report, "we have affirmed our covenant, we did not leave the conference divided, we will come back in four years as a stronger denomination.” Despite the fact that for most of the conference, " “In the course of our legislative committees and debate on this floor, we've found ourselves in a sea of distrust … and drowning.”

Who can know the future. Do I wish them the best and a strong unity in their faith? Or do I wish them to further splinter, hoping the faithfilled among them will view the Catholic Church as a refuge in that sea of distrust...

Friday, May 07, 2004

Here's another favorable view of President Bush I just ran across:

Then I leaned over and mentioned that we pray for him every day.
He stopped dead in his tracks (a definite security NO-NO . . . the
SS men got REALLY antsy). He searched my eyes as if to see how
much I really meant what I was saying. Then he gave me the most
amazing and unexpected personal response, Paul said for a good
20-30 seconds.

He told me what the effect has been on him, waking up every day
of the crisis and knowing within himself that he is being faithfully
prayed for. He almost pleaded with me not to give up, but to
persist with it, for this is only the beginning. Then he looked me
even more squarely in my eyes, and gave me a very personal and
specific series of instructions about the very things he most needs
prayer for, on behalf of himself and of the nation.

He urged me that the threat against America is very great, and
that one of our focuses in prayer to God needs to be "the
shielding of America" . . . and wisdom for him as he leads the
country through this time.

This has nothing to do with much of anything, but perhaps it's good for this Friday while I watch the Senate give Donald Rumsfeld a bad time.

Did you know that the book, "The Secrets of Enoch" which was removed as Scripture at the Council of Laodicea (4th Century) contains the information needed to build a henge? Some seem to think so.

The Book of Enoch is interesting. I've read that it was all the rage in the 200 years before Jesus was born and 200 years after. There are references in the Bible (some say up to 100 references) to the Secrets of Enoch. I tend to enjoy stories of angels and Enoch has them aplenty. Is it Truth? I'll leave that up to the experts, who say it doesn't belong in the Bible.

A Church of Scripture 

And there are also many other things that Jesus did,
which if they were written one by one, I suppose that
even the world itself could not contain the books that
would be written. Amen.

-- John 21:25

There is a Proposal to split the United Methodist Church on the table at the 2004 general conference in Pittsburgh. I don't think the split will happen, but the pendulum is swinging in that direction because this year, as in each past conference, the votes on homosexuality were closer than before.

As a Methodist, I never paid much attention to the ecumenical movement, the promotion of Christian unity, the combining of all the Christian churches once again into the One True Church. But as a Catholic wanna-be, I find I want those disenfranchised Methodists to consider becoming Catholic, as I am.

I read statements like this:

"We are a church of Scripture,” Bishop Oden told reporters during a press conference after Dr. Hinson’s surprise resolution started floating around the legislative body. “We have affirmed the primacy of Scripture. There may be a few persons who feel we don’t adhere to Scripture, but throughout the church we are a people of Scripture."

and I wonder why Methodists don't ever seem to consider John 21:25, the opening quote up top. Methodists have only the Bible. They don't have much in the way of past teachings or Tradition and what they do have from their short past they don't feel they need to adhere to, because, as Bishop Oden goes on

“We’re a mainstream church and like all mainstream churches, we have different theological positions."

I get from this that 1) Bishop Oden believes The Catholic Church is not mainstream and 2) One church with differing theological positions will splinter. I get from this that what I once thought ecumenical meant, that all the Christian churches might work out their differences and combine, is never going to happen. I think now that the ecumenical movement is not combining churches, but rather the disintegration of all but the One True Church.

I know, and I don't consider myself naive, that the Catholic Church has plenty of internal, theological battles. But if I picture the roaring river of the Christian Faith, rushing downstream, I see the Catholic Church flowing in the center, I see the Catholic Church as the mainstream Christian church and all the others swirling in the eddies of its wake. Which of the other Christian churches can be intellectually honest and see it otherwise? Our challenge then, my challenge, is to offer a hand up to those swirling at the edges, to let them know Catholics really are Christians, just like them... we just have a Tradition that isn't completely written down in Scripture because even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Bush Pauses 

I know those reading have probably already seen this article since it's headlined on Drudge, but this site is also for me... to remember, to remind myself of what touches me, what I'm thinking, what I should be about... Bush Pauses to Comfort Teen.

"He changed from being the leader of the free world
to being a father, a husband and a man," Faulkner said. "He
looked right at her and said, 'How are you doing?' He reached
out with his hand and pulled her into his chest."

Persecution? I think not. 

Some say Christians are being persecuted more today than ever, even in the United States. I can't speak to the rest of the world, although I have read of Christian Missionaries being killed in Africa, South America, Asia, the Middle East, etc. But here, in America, I wonder if the old Harry Truman axiom is true, Christians are told the truth and they just think it's hell.

It's very true that the courts are chasing Christianity out of the public places, out of government, out of schools, out of courthouse lawns, out of pledges, out of mottos. Many in America would like to chase Christians further yet, until we are all back where we belong, in our churches. There's no doubt Christianity in America is being pushed... but persecuted? We have relied far too long on the schools and the boy scouts and the pledge and the courts to back us up. When I was in grade school, we all said the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord's Prayer (the Protestant version) before school began every day. I can't rely on the schools to have my back on this matter with my kids like my parents did and perhaps the greatest generation, the World War II generation, went a little too far to make it easy for Christians in America.

I complain about the courts removing the Ten Commandments from the courthouse, but I've never, ever had them hanging in my house. We complain about "Under God" being removed from the pledge and "In God we Trust" removed as a motto, but how often have we used that motto with our children? We argue that the Nativity shouldn't be removed from the Courthouse lawn, but Christmas seems so very far today from that Nativity, at least in most Christian homes.

Persecution? I think not. We're told the Truth, "These things are your responsibility, not the State's," and we just think it's Hell. If America is no longer helping us teach our kids the faith, tell me... why aren't parents taking up the slack? If America is chasing Christians back to their churches, tell me... why are the pews so often empty? Persecution? Tell me about it when the FCC bans the Christian channels on radio and television. Tell me about it when those fellows with bullhorns calling people to God on the streetcorners are pulled into jail. Persecution? Tell me about it when you have to sneak off to Church and recite the Nicene Creed to prove you're a Christian before you're let in the Church door. No... no, I don't think so. The church doors are open and they're public and the only persecution in America is your alarm clock on Sunday morning.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

A very nice start 

And just what is it we're about? Here's a very nice start from Karen Marie Knapp's website, "From the Anchor Hold."

Just what is it we're about? 

I was reading yet another article about the 50-50 split in America in the 2000 election and in the coming election. This particular article thought that John Kerry might win in a landslide in November. (I don't think so.) And then, of course, I was reading an article about the homosexuality split in the Episcopal church and the problems the Methodists are having during their general conference this week on the same issue. Those in favor of reaching out to gays in the Methodist Church note that Methodists are in agreement on 90% of issues but they are focusing all energies on that 10% problem. So, splits, schisms, disagreement, hatred.

Perhaps the first dozen pages of C.S. Lewis' "Screwtape Letters" affected me more than I thought, because this is just what the book was saying, focus people on their disagreements, focus on the offenses. Anyway, I wondered about the split between Catholic East and Catholic West and read just a wonderful short history of the matter. The history says that there were often disagreements between the East and West, but always they were resolved with each side agreeing that the other brought unique and valued gifts to the faith. But once Christianity was state-sponsored, well then. That was it. Disagreement was punished harshly and often horribly and finally... and the One Faith split.

How does that apply to today? To abortion? To gay marriage? To married priests? To a split Senate? To a divided nation? How can anyone get beyond making the other side say, "Uncle" and progress to what we're about? And just what is it we're about? Is the purpose of the church to eliminate sin from the world? Is our purpose here on Earth to make sure everyone agrees on what is good and on what is bad, what is right and what is wrong?

The Screwtape Letters 

I started C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters" last night. The book is a collection letters from an older demon to a younger demon. The younger demon is trying to corrupt human subjects and the older demon is giving him/it advice on the best ways to do that. So we're to perceive the converse from the letters, we're to take advice on how best to thwart the devil in our lives.

Although I think it will be an interesting read, I'm not one who thinks focusing on demonic influences is a good idea. I used to have an older co-worker who was always going on about encountering demons in his house and casting them out. Leave me out of that. But Lewis has good insights and I'm not taking the demon-talk all literally. In talking about keeping humans away from Christianity, Lewis says to focus them on the faults of their neighbors (which are much easier to focus on than their own faults), focus them on the offenses against them rather than their own offenses against others, and don't let them reason, focus them on feelings, etc.

It's very easy, if you ask me, which you didn't, to start seeing the devil in every flat tire and God in every found penny... but seeing the devil in all your conflicts is no way to work toward loving your neighbors, and seeing God in every found penny is a pretty insignificant glory.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Respecting the Alter 

I've been to quite a lot of Methodist meetings: Finance meetings, Sunday School planning meetings, Bible School planning meetings, Church Council meetings, Pastor Parish Relations meetings, etc. One thing that often came up was youth not showing respect for the church building or the alter. But what outward evidence did I ever see of grown up Methodist reverence? I compare this to my experience in my Catholic Church, where I see things like this: genuflecting, making the sign of the cross, the priest holding the gospel up high and making a procession to the reading, kissing the alter... the Methodist church has none of these outward signs of reverence. Just what is it that the children are supposed to take away from a Worship service?

The 2004 Methodist General Conference sounds like it's becoming a very interesting conference:

The day began with gay advocates marching to the convention center where the meeting was being held and dropping to their knees in prayer.

The activists then took their protest inside the meeting, standing silently, praying and holding up colorful stoles that are the symbol of their movement. They began singing "Amazing Grace," as the votes were tallied. Some wept when the results were announced.

The quote from conservatives in the article below ("unity be damned") is interesting. The unity being sought was to put a statement into the Methodist law that the church is divided over the issue of homosexuality. Don't gloss over that... wait and perceive it: "unity" means issuing a statement saying "we are divided." If you don't agree, then you are dividing the church. If you agree the church is divided only then you are seeking unity. Here's a quote:

Halfway through the 2004 General Conference, efforts at creating and sustaining unity are being assaulted.

Or, as one conservative source said in effect: Unity be damned.

A disturbing series of events hints at unsavory behaviors in pursuit of legislative “victory:”

A reserve delegate made illegal motions regarding the Women’s Division during a Global Ministries legislative subcommittee meeting. When her ineligibility was discovered, the committee had to re-vote several pieces of legislation.

Intimidation and bullying over votes occurred to such an extent in Church and Society that written ballots were required to vote on adding language to the Social Principles that acknowledges the deep divisions within the church over homosexual behavior. The measure was sustained by one vote, 49 to 48, setting the stage for a major floor battle.

An Asian-American delegate was denied permission to speak during the Church and Society legislative committee, although she had earlier been promised an opportunity to speak by the chairwoman. Afterward she was chastised by another committee member for having challenged the issue. This behavior was brought to the attention of the full General Conference at Monday morning’s session.

Monitors reported incidents in which racial/ethnic delegates were ignored in other committees as well.

Click on the articles for more.

Straw Mass and Alter Relics of Saints 

Last night was our tour of the church and a straw mass. The tour took around thirty minutes and the straw mass lasted around two hours. Our priest didn't perform the Mass and explain what he was doing, instead he talked his way through Mass and had a table full of accoutrements that he described and explained. We have some beautiful stained glass windows, in particular a large Rose window full of dark blues and reds above and behind the alter. Some of the other windows are more modern, in fact brand new... they don't have the thickness or texture or deepness of color of older windows, but after hours, when outside lights shine in, the colors enrich the rooms wonderfully. The chapel, where the Tabernacle resides, has windows depicting the seven days of creation and there is a wall of stained glass separating the chapel from the alter, making the chapel nearly a full room of stained glass. We have three older statues, including Mary and Joseph, with Marble eyes -- well crafted and wonderfully caste. Mary is standing on the crescent moon and stars and stepping on a snake.

Here are some of the things I learned:

1. If you miss a week of Mass through your own decision, you must go to confession before you can take Mass again.

2. Every Catholic alter has a relic of a saint beneath it. Our alter has a relic from Saint Maria Goretta, a bone chip. This practice began because churches were built over the graves of martyrs and as the church grew, we couldn't really be shipping bodies all over the world.

3. You don't have to hold hands during the "Our Father" if you don't want to. When our priest attends another church, he bows he head and clasps his hands together in prayer to signal that he's not a hand-holder.

4. There are different types of Holy Oils, an oil for annointing the sick, an oil for annointing Catechumens, and an oil of Chrism used for baptism.

5. There is a small red light visible behind the alter when the Host (the body of Christ, the Blessed Sacrament) is in the Tabernacle. You should face the tabernacle and genuflect when that light is on.

6. When you take the host into your mouth it is considered both the body and the blood of Christ. The same is true when you drink from the cup. Either item contains both items, so that is why not everyone drinks from the cup.

7. Our priest doesn't like where "giving a sign of peace" occurs within the Mass because it causes a hubbub just before a serious action. But, he says, "it isn't up to me, I follow the book." He said, "If I can't follow this book to the letter, then why should I ask others to follow the church rules." He has some leeway in the Mass and he tends toward doing more always, rather than less. A longer procession, a little more incense, ringing bells, more clarity making the sign of the cross, a bigger bonfire for Easter... he believes in involving all of our senses in the Mass as much and as often as possible because what does it say to do less?

8. Some time back, not long ago, servers held large paddles underneath everyone's chin when they took Mass so that crumbs would be caught. Since the host is now mostly handed to each individual, this practice has pretty much died out.

9. I learned our priest is extremely serious about his job and also very joyful and full of humor. It is a nice combination.

Update: 10. After reading on Amy Welborn's blog about the Catholic position on feeding tubs, I am reminded of one other thing our priest said last night. We are not required to agree with the teachings of the church, we are required to accept and to obey.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Man Abhors a Vacuum 

Our priest spoke in Mass about how hard it is in modern times to hear what God wants us to hear. We fill all silences with noise and wonder why we don't hear from God about our vocations and prayers. It made me think of when we give a gift to baby and watch them open it. The baby pulls apart the gift, delighted with the paper and the box, and never understands what part of the package is the treasure and what part is these trash. We're just like the babies throwing away the gift and playing instead with trash. We toss away God's voice in the silence given us and take instead the flash of music, TV, radio, video games. We find empty wrappings and immediately fill it, color it, cover it, change it... destroy it without ever realizing there was a gift inside.

Scientists say, "God abhors a vacuum," to explain the physics of empty spaces. But it's really Man who abhors emptiness. There is vast emptiness throughout the universe and sound, outside the atmosphere, does not even exist. If God abhorred a vacuum, He would have filled it, don't you think? It is Man who orbits into the emptiness and bounces sound across the silence of space. It's Man who hates an empty sheet, who sees great plans in vast unbroken ground, who breaks even Time itself into smaller and smaller pieces until, at last, there is no Time left. And it's Man who claims the still, small voice of God is gone when all the while it's there, inside a forgotten gift beneath the tree, waiting to be opened, wrapped in silence.

A Disappointing Laundry List 

I'm pleased to read that the Methodist Conference is going to rexamine the acquittal of a lesbian pastor. Lest I appear to be ignoring the log in my own eye, my point isn't that the lesbian pastor is sinning, of course we all are, the point is that she admits the sin, doesn't seek to end it, doesn't believe she is sinning and seeks to lead a church.

I finished Peretti's "Visitation." I can't recommend it. I read some of the reviews on the Amazon site and just don't understand what people see, or saw, in this book. What is inspirational about reading a laundry list of all the problems and disappointments of church life? What is uplifting about reading about bad things happening to good people? What healing can come from reading about demons leading seeking people into their doom?

Oh well, on to the next book.

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