Skipping Every Other Trend

I’ve lived long enough now to see what my parents used to smile about.  Styles tend to swing back and forth like pendulum.  Wide ties, skinny ties.  Tight pants, baggy pants.  If you have room for storage, just put those out of date clothes away and soon enough they will be hip again.  And don’t you wish you still had all those vinyl records from the 60s and 70s?  Your kids (and grand kids) do!

In life the one constant is change.  Riding the changes can be fun.  But at some point you begin to realize like the guy rowing with one oar, “Hey, I think I’ve been here before.”  The journey can have value. You never really come back to exactly the same place, of course.  And you have changed in the process.  But staying put and watching the world circle by again, and again, can be satisfying too.  You might be able to divide the world into those two types of folks.  I’ve been both, or tried to be.

Confession: part of what drew me to the Anglican way was “trend fatigue.”  In a previous pastorate I was under considerable pressure to keep up, and I enjoyed trying, for a while.  Then I didn’t.  It became monotonous.  Boring, tedious, with a lot of anxiety.  What a combination!

I found that keeping up with trends also involves keeping up with others who are keeping up with them, and no one seems to move at the same pace.  I was not fast enough for some and they felt sure I was lagging far behind the Holy Spirit.

Then in Kenya I experienced for the first time a true Anglican Prayer Book service in all its solid simplicity.  The liturgy was BCP 1662.  Straight.  No ice.  No soda.

I have since found out that there are lots of ways to be Anglican, and quite a few volumes bear the title “The Book of Common Prayer”.  There’s the 1928 BCP and the 1979 BCP.  The ACNA has now produced the 2019 BCP.  Interestingly all the newer ones (since 1662) claim to be more ancient, and therefore more authentic.

There are a variety of ways to decorate an Anglican church and for Anglican clergy to dress.  I learned that what I experienced at St Francis Church in Kenya was evangelical, “low-church”.  The clergy wore black cassocks with white surplices and a black stole, or preaching tippet — year round.  We did not cross ourselves.  Things were pretty plain and simple and solid–like the stone and beam chapel in which we worshiped.  It was just what my soul as longing for.

When we returned to the U.S. in 2006 I encountered the American flavor of Anglicanism for the first time.  (I had never been an Episcopalian.) Although the new Anglican expressions in the proto-ACNA were at the time under African leadership, the style and culture were very much Episcopalian.  We used the 1979 BCP. We dressed in white albs with stoles of various colors.  The altar table was more decorated.  There were more gestures to learn.

I encountered a modern English liturgy for the first time, called “Rite II.”  And there were four versions of it.  The “Rite I” service retained the King James English but had a prayer of consecration three times longer than the one I was used to, and many other things I had never encountered.  Most surprising of all was the notion that you could take your pick of whichever service you liked best, or switch ’em around to keep it interesting.

I learned later that Rite I was really pretty much a preservation of the 1928 Eucharist, which was pretty similar to the first American Prayer Book of 1789, which went back to the Prayer Book of the Anglican Church in Scotland, which predates the synthesis and compromise that created the 1662 BCP.

In the last 12 years since I began trying to be an Anglican in America we have seen a lot of changes–and even more ways to be “Anglican.” (I believe it was Wm F Buckley who said that given the breadth of options–even in his day– one could never be quite sure one wasn’t actually an Anglican.)

I confess that I sometimes miss the days when I went to church with my pocket size prayer book (1662) with my sermon notes folded inside.  If the sexton had set the table with the bread and wine, we needed nothing more to have an full Anglican service of Holy Communion–and best of all, there were no decisions to make!

We knew that this service would not be attractive to everyone.  For one thing we met at 8:00 AM!  Meeting at that hour will thin down the crowd almost as much as the Rapture.  But for us, happy insomniacs, there is nothing to compare with prayer book worship in the crisp dawn air at 7,000 feet above sea level.

The later 11:00 service would be packed. The sun would be higher, the church a lot warmer and energetic, and the service a lot longer.  They would happily use the new Kenyan modern language liturgy–one of the best in my opinion.  Clearly it meant as much to them as our quiet, early 1662 service meant to us, but I doubt it could have meant more.

Not surprisingly our 1662 service came under occasional criticism.  I remember one Wycliffe Bible Translator missionary came down quite hard on me (!) as I was giving her a lift home after church.  It was reprehensible for me to even read such words aloud.  “That is not the kind of language people speak anymore!”  I knew where she was coming from on that.  But I assured her that attendance was voluntary, and the regulars — mostly Kenyans–understood it and found it meaningful.

I did not try to explain to her that people didn’t “talk like that” back then either.  The BCP 1662 and King James Version of the Bible would not have been considered “contemporary” language in the sense that we use the word today.  It was formal and poetic language that few English speakers even then could have come up with off the cuff, nor would they have tried.  It was the language of worship, not the market place.  I’m not sure that category of speech exists anymore, except where it is kept alive intentionally.

I believe the days of “contemporary worship” are numbered, just as we see the decline in the contemporary Christian music industry generally.  I don’t think that we can anticipate the pendulum swinging back to formal (traditional) worship for the majority of Christians today, though the popularity of “contemporized” traditional hymns is growing.  We will see how that goes.

In the unapologetically traditional Anglican pattern of worship and hymnody I found something that felt real and solid and Biblical.  It minimized the human (ego) element of worship and it did not mind just being at peace with itself, with nothing to prove.  I was so, so tired of trying to prove things! What a relief just to take it as given!

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer Service of Holy Communion was “there” for me, just when I needed all that it had to offer. It was there when I wandered out of the wilderness, when my pendulum began its swing back to sanity.  Through it I was reminded of God’s faithfulness, it gave me the words to say what was bottled up in my heart, and invited me to say things that were not yet in my heart but should have been, and would be.

I don’t think we are going to “win the world for Christ” through traditional Anglican liturgy.  But I think it is even less likely that we will win the world by trying to keep up with the latest trends.  I wonder if people realize how pathetic “keeping up” really is. It is certainly not leadership.  And where did we get the idea that Sunday morning was the time and church the place to connect with a lost world anyway?

I will always remember the Sunday morning when it dawned on me that the people who had contributed the most to my faith were Anglicans.  I also realized there was a spirituality, a way of being a Christian, in the Book of Common Prayer that would be more than enough to last me for the rest of my life, and that I would miss little of great value by walking that path. It also offered me a way of meeting Christ and communing with the saints in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup–something I had missed all my evangelical life and my soul longed for even before I knew it.

The bottom line for me was the simple realization: “I don’t think I can improve on this. If I try I am far more likely to end up making it worse.” Obviously not everyone feels that way, and that’s fine.

While I am grateful for the “givenness” of traditional Anglicanism, I am also grateful that Anglicans–unlike some churches–do not believe that theirs (ours) is the only way to be a “real” Christian.  We know that the faith is way too big for that.  But it is our way–those of us to who feel ourselves called by it.  We don’t look to vast numbers for validation, though there are 85 million of us worldwide.

And sprinkled amongst those 85 million there are quite a few — more than you might think — who enjoy the forms of reverent space, speech, song, and posture that spoke to us and gave us a home at important times in our lives.  We believe that “home” is no small thing.  That doesn’t mean we never travel, but we are always happy to see it when we come back, and just knowing that it is still there provides deep consolation, I dare say even to those who may find it difficult to believe anymore.

I am reminded of the atheist who was stopped on his way to hear a famous evangelist preach.  His friend said: “You don’t even believe any of that stuff.”  “No,” he replied,  “but he does.”  There was something attractive in unwavering faith and confidence of the preacher.  Sincere, whole-hearted affection (for anything) is even rarer and more attractive in our cynical and jaded age.

At my age, I’ve decided to skip the next few trends. A stopped watch is right twice a day. If I hold steady, who knows, I might catch a strategic kairos moment of receptivity in someone’s life. At least they will know who I am and where to find me. I know I’ll get a few frowns and a few condescending head wags, a few rolled eyes and an occasional rebuke.  I might be lagging behind the Holy Spirit.  If so, I can pray for His mercy for that too.

But don’t imagine I am going to stay put in my chapel or restrict my efforts to infiltrate this dark world for the Kingdom.  That is never an option.  The liturgy won’t let me–or you. At the end of the Mass we are sent out, empowered and commissioned.

Of course the ranks of traditional Anglicans have always included comfortably hide-bound and smug constituencies, majoring on the minors, mistaking means for ends.  But the churches that held firm in the faith, maintaining the baptismal vision “to fight manfully under Christ’s banner,” have produced more trouble-makers to challenge “the world, the flesh and the devil” than their trendy counterparts.  Consider John Wesley, John Henry Newman, and the Ugandan martyrs, who dared to defy the corrupt king of the Baganda, and roast slowly over the coals, bound in papyrus mats, singing hymns.

Consider well, and don’t ask the Lord to “cleanse the thoughts of your heart by the inspiration of His Holy Spirit,” and mean it, unless you are ready for something that will disrupt status quo.  I’m not sure central Kentucky is ready for a bunch of folks who “perfectly love God and worthily magnify His Holy Name.”  What might happen when we truly “bewail our manifold sins and wickedness” and begin to “evermore dwell in Christ and He in us”?  Imagine the revolution that lies dormant in a community of folks who are truly “in love and charity with their neighbors and determined to live a new life, walking from henceforth in His Holy ways.” This is not historic preservation.  These old words contain TNT.






Unlikely Bedfellows?

E Pluribus Unum? Not hardly!  We are not only disunited, it seems we live in different conceptual worlds, even while we occupy the same geographical space.  We use the same language but the words have different meanings.  We now come from a variety of “narratives,” “perspectives,” and interpretations of history.

For example, serious discussion of communism, or even socialism, as viable options for America is beyond the ability of Americans above a certain age to fathom.

Many pundits are observing the loss of the political and economic “middle,” that portion of America that provided a kind of buffer against extremes.  But now our circles hardly overlap.  No common ground.  No place to start.  We all have  people in our lives with whom conversation beyond the most superficial pleasantries is now impossible, or dangerous.

Amid all this I was “woke” to a realization by an obscure blogger yesterday.  I’ve been pondering it.  See what you think.

He said, socialism, communism and capitalism are essentially the same. What?!  Yes, they are all fundamentally materialistic.  That is, they are just different ways of managing stuff–material, money, and the means of producing it.

True, each of these models have underlying values, and, if pressed, adherents could find metaphysical (non-material) support for their positions.  Some writers have suggested, for example, that communism is essentially a religion, not a political theory. While it is explicitly atheistic it has filled the void left by the removal of God.  Critics of capitalism would point to the god of Mammon.  Socialists might appeal to certain Biblical texts to affirm more equal distribution of wealth by the state.   We do tend to “spiritualize” things we feel strongly about.  But when called upon to do their daily work, each of these “big three” political/economic ideologies are, I agree, fundamentally materialistic.

That is not to say that they do not have non-material implications.  We are material beings.  Stuff matters to us.  Money matters, especially to the degree that we sell our time,  segments of our lives, to get it.  We also often measure our worth as persons by what we earn, what we can buy, and what we can borrow– an 800 credit score! If you mess with our stuff, our money, you are messing with us–or so it seems.

Also, the human spirit does thrive more under some social, economic and political structures than others.  Freedom is crucial–freedom from want, from pain, from fear, and coercion. Some systems have required extreme force and violence to be established and maintained.  Freedom of expression can be restricted to the point that it seems to threaten our humanity.

But there are many ways be killed and there are many different kinds of prisons. While one can argue their relative cost-benefit ratios, none of the “big three” are without their casualties and cost to our humanity.

The blogger went further to say that the communist revolutions of the twentieth century — in spite of their unprecedented social upheaval, destruction and bloodshed — were not true revolutions by his definition, since replacing capitalism with communism was just swapping one materialistic ideology for another.

That has made me think what a “true” revolution might look like.  Can we even conceive of a transition from a materialistic ideology to, well, some fundamentally other kind?

As physical beings we are dependent on material–food, clothing, shelter. Laws mostly govern the activities of our physical bodies.  But could there be a form of government that does not make the management of material its starting point? What if we started with a commitment to the thriving of the soul and spirit and relationships, including relationships with our fellow creatures?  Obviously our souls and spirits are embodied, and we relate primarily through our bodies.  And our bodies need all “those other things” Jesus talked about in Matt 6. But where do we start and what is our goal?

Would life in the Kingdom constitute a true revolution?  Is that what happens to us in conversion?  Lots to think about here.  Does being a citizen of the Kingdom relativize our citizenship in all the others kingdoms and their ideologies?  Does it suggest a certain proportionality of concern and anxiety for the Christ-follower?  Does this line of thinking help us understand what Jesus might have meant when He talked about where we should store our treasure, and what that treasure really is?

Disruption of Love

I am reading this classic by Morton Kelsey.  One portion struck me as particularly relevant to our discussion about God’s Nature and His desires.

We have a hard time accepting that God truly is Holy Self-Giving Love.  On the one hand it sounds too good to be true, and we don’t want to be fooled.

On the Image result for the other side of silence kelseyother hand it is terribly disturbing.  If God truly is Love, then we have no reason to hold back.  Yet, if we allow ourselves to be taken by this Love it will surely disrupt our lives.

True Love is always disruptive.  It shakes our ego and threatens our control.  What could be more disruptive that Divine Love?

We might have a vested interest in holding on to our pictures of a wrathful God–one from whom we can justifiably keep a safe distance.


Here is a four-minute audio clip.  It contains an amazing quote from Catherine of Siena.  See what you think.



God and Golf

Our parents frequently hosted visiting evangelists in our home.  I vividly remember these extroverted, often flamboyant, personalities.  One was fond of saying he had four great loves: “God, guns, girls, and golf.” The girls were his wife and four daughters.  He collected fine rifles.  Golf was his rest from the rigors of the road.

I played golf during my junior and senior years of high school. I was the sixth man on a six-man team, until I shanked five-iron shot into the nose of my team-mate who had unwisely gotten in front of me in our rush to finish the last hole.   For my sins I was moved up to his fifth man position, while he recovered, and lost more matches than I would have playing sixth.

One day after hitting a disappointing drive, and responding (inwardly) with appropriate verbal dismay, the thought came into my mind:  “Mark, God doesn’t care how well you hit the ball.”  Then: “He does care how you respond to it.”

I remember a strange mix of emotions followed these musings.  How well I performed in an endeavor was secondary to my response.  Pressure to perform diminished on one side, while a higher and intriguing standard emerged on the other.

My control over my performance was always somewhat limited by my skills, certainly, and there were always the unexpected variables.  But my responses were totally in my hands alone.  What’s more I sensed that I could always count on a some degree of grace to enable a godly response, no matter what.

I found consolation knowing that no matter how poorly I performed it was possible to salvage a win–maybe even a better win.  At the time I did not realize that I had stumbled on something like the Stoic maxim” “Misfortune nobly borne is good fortune.”

There was more to this than simply not cursing or blaming or indulging in self-pity.  Often the right response to poor performance is more practice, which will bring better results. But I was learning to see my performance in light of something much more significant–my relationship with God.

This might be near what Paul meant when He wrote about doing everything — even the most mundane– to the glory of God.  One of the greatest freedoms we are offered in Christ is the realization that there are no circumstances in which it is impossible for us to glorify God, or to please Him.  Even when we fail completely, or are most painfully and unfairly failed, we can please Him with our response.

When this sinks in it brings a sense of something close to invincibility.  It adds a layer of nuance to the assurance that “nothing can separate us from the love of God.”  Normally (and perhaps correctly) we interpret “the love of God” as God’s love for us.  But it is just as true of our love for Him.  Nothing but our own choice can prevent us from offering our circumstances, wretched or glorious, to Him in love.

The notion that God is aware of both our performance and our response is actually secondary to the idea that God is aware, period.  Aware of me!  This is beautifully expressed in the Collect for Guidance:

O heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray thee so to guide and govern us by thy Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget thee, but may remember that we are ever walking in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

My mother taught me a simpler version of this when I was about three years old and developing my capacity to escape her field of vision:  “God sees Mark,” she said.  She called it a “Bible verse” and had me memorize it.  After an incident with a whole package of purloined chewing gum she came out with the Amplified Version: “God sees Mark, in the closet.”

A Sunday school song taught us that “the Father up above is looking down in love.”  Perhaps you remember it.

The all-seeing Eye can be a frightening thought, but not if there is indeed an all-loving, all-understanding Heart behind it. He sees, He cares, He understands, and He is there to “assist us with His grace.”  Best of all, He can be pleased, and is pleased perhaps more often than we think.

It is a peculiar cruelty that we value — and worry most about — those things over which we have the least control.  The approval of others, for example. Or getting other people to do or think what we think they should. 

Most of us, I imagine, would be profoundly surprised to know how little–by our standards–God actually asks of us, and how small are the things that make Him smile.  Or perhaps I should say, how large. We are the ones who “sweat the small stuff.” And it’s amazing how heavy those small things become.

Jesus said that his yoke was easy and his burden light.  I could never say that about mine.  If our focus of concern moved into alignment with His would our load get lighter?  I think so.  What really matters?  To me?  To Him?  Certainly not my golf game.  But He is deeply interested in my heart.  So interested that He died so I could give it to Him and live in constant communion with Him through thick and thin.