Friday, September 30, 2011

Higher Ground

Last year, the movie: "The Kids are All Right"
Examined a crucial cultural conundrum.
This year, the movie: "Higher Ground"
Explores the role of faith in a secular society.

Vera Farmiga both stars and directs,
Thus contributing a matchless performance.
She mirrors the struggle of a reasonable person
Attempting to cope with an unreasonable church.

If you are not Christian, and see this film,
You might immediately exclaim
I knew that's what they are like:
Ignorant, misogynistic, judgmental creeps.

The portrayal would justify all those epithets.
So much so that it almost seems like a parody.
Yet such travesties do exist, and as such
May be looked upon as representative of the whole.

One critic refers to the church as evangelical,
Another calls it mainline,
When in fact it is neither, but the very worst
Kind of fundamentalism cult.

What makes it a cult is the attempt by
The pastor and members to practice mind control,
And to silence or ostracize anyone who strays
From their norms of belief and behavior.

Any thinking person would flee the scene,
If confronted by such a group.
That's what the heroine has to do
In order to obtain mental stability.

Most telling, the end birthday scene
Is attended by the parents, aunt, and
Grandparents of the little birthday boy,
All of whom have divorced their spouses.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Love Wins; Jesus Loses

In Rob Bell's bestseller "Love Wins"; Jesus loses.
It is a shallow invitation to the unchurched
To receive God's forgiveness
Without paying any price in return.

To draw readers into his web,
Bell uses the familiar "straw man" device
Wherein disreputable theological concepts are
Posted as targets for annihilation.

In his universe, there is no saintly afterlife
Generally referred to as heaven, and
Hell is simply a bad patch we all experience
Here on earth, due to inappropriate behavior.

According to Bell, we will obtain a happy
Life today if we simply surrender to
"God's story" for us, although he is
A little vague as to what that might be.

We should be able to find God everywhere
In everything, if we just look around us.
Strike a rock, and God magically appears, as
When he gave water to the wandering Israelites.

Jesus does not come off as very important
To the story except as a channel to God
For all persons, regardless of whether or not
They have ever heard of Him.

Yes, Jesus died on the cross, writes Bell.
That is an example to us as we suffer
Our pain for things we have done wrong,
And can be resurrected like he was.

Forget about judgment.
We will never be judged by our misdeeds.
Instead we have ample time to repent them,
Both now, and after death.

In other words, you can't lose.
God will always love you
No matter what you do.
Eventually, we will all be reconciled with Him.

This exegesis may strike you as being
About as substantial as a box of marshmallows.
Consumption of same may be satisfyingly sweet,
But you're left with nothing but a cloying aftertaste.

"Love Wins" is another attempt to lure
Folks into Christianity by making it sound
As easy and painless as it can be.
What happens after they arrive in church?

Willow Creek, the Illinois megachurch
Found in a survey of its members, that
Those who stayed were profoundly unsatisfied
With their knowledge of the faith.

This, then, requires what we call Christian Education.
Where we explore the depth of our faith
With all its contradictions and ambiguities,
And thus come closer and closer to the real God.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Dennis Canon

The Dennis Canon of The Episcopal Church
Was an afterthought, proposed near the
Conclusion of the 1979 General Convention,
And adopted in haste, perhaps irregularly.

Simply put, the Dennis Canon asserts that
The property of each parish is held in trust for the diocese.
This means that the parish does not own
The property that it paid for over the years.

So if a parish decides to secede from TEC
To operate independently, or in another Anglican province,
It can be evicted from the church building and grounds.
The diocese may then sell or otherwise dispose of the property.

Until recently, state courts supported the Dennis Canon
On the basis that TEC is a "hierarchical church."
Lately some deals have been struck where the
Seceding congregation "buys back" the property from a diocese.

Beware, then, if your parish is dissatisfied
With a theological path that TEC is taking; and
Thereupon refuses to perform certain ceremonies
Instituted and prescribed by the diocese and TEC.

The parish may then be accused by the diocese
Of abandoning TEC, and be forced to vacate the premises.
The clergy may be deposed from holy orders
And charged with committing a hate crime.

Many Episcopal parishes are now involved in litigation
By their respective dioceses to capture their property,
Although their sin has simply been to register disagreement
With actions and doctrine of The Episcopal Church.

The validity of the Dennis Canon has not been
Examined sufficiently to justify its application.
So far, courts in various states have avoided
Getting into the wrangle that would ensue.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Wicked Witch of The West

One has a great deal of trouble
Discerning the motives of the present
Presiding Bishop of what is now known
As The Episcopal Church.

Parenthetically, it used to be titled
The Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A.,
But that designation vanished after the 1979
Publication of The Book of Common Prayer.

PECUSA never was a corporation,
Rather, a voluntary association of Anglican dioceses,
Formed after the American Revolution,
To meet periodically and formulate common rules.

A presiding bishop was elected to, well,
Preside over the triennial general conventions.
Wary of an authoritarian structure, the founders
Gave that person no primatial authority.

Now the incumbent in the post seeks
Absolute control over an ecclesiastical hierarchy,
Through rules that would permit her to
Direct bishops and clergy in doctrine and liturgy.

She is now unable to remove them directly,
But she has attempted to depose dissenters from Holy Orders.
She would have all matters of faith under her authority,
Thus becoming an infallible American pope.

Her current objective is to force all clergy
To perform certain ceremonies under church auspices,
Which, if they refuse as a matter of conscience,
Would result in their removal from office.

She has also set about cultivating
Like-minded Anglican primates in other lands,
As a possible worldwide alternative,
To the collapsing Anglican Communion.

It is said that this person regards herself as a prophet,
A proclaimer of a new interpretation of the Christian faith.
As a prophet, a radical, a revolutionary,
She must sweep aside any resistance to her mission.

So far, the results have been a major schism,
Establishment of a rival Anglican Church in North America,
A wholesale departure of members, and a marginalization
Of Episcopal thought and culture in American life.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Procession

from Scott Robert Knitter, East Lansing Liturgist

The Shrove Tuesday Pancake Procession is a unique East Lansing tradition that dates back to the late 19th century, when Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) was growing, causing the settlement of faculty, staff, and students in the new town of Collegeville, adjacent to the north end of the university grounds.  The procession is now based at All Saints Episcopal Church in the historic Bailey neighborhood seven blocks north of the student union.

Following the Shrove Tuesday Solemn Evensong, the solemn procession forms at the head of the aisle, and the sacred ministers are supplied with their birettas. The celebrant also receives a large platter of steaming-hot buttermilk pancakes; the deacon and subdeacon take up large pitchers of Michigan maple syrup. Acolytes with large forks and spatulas attend the sacred ministers. Following the deacon's versicle and the people's response, the thurifer leads the procession through the nave and narthex and down the steps to the undercroft, where a station is made at the kitchen. The choirs accompany the procession with appropriate antiphons, responsories, and plainsong hymns, such as the Corpus Christi introit, Cibavit eos: "He fed them also with the finest wheat flour, and with honey from the rock." Naturally, in the early days of the procession's history, these words were taken quite literally, and the pancakes were made of whole wheat and served with pure Michigan honey. Tastes these days being what they are, adjustments have been made, but the symbolism still obtains.

After the station at the kitchen door, the procession moves back upstairs to the Grove Street entrance and turns left, encircling the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Greater Lansing, next door, as a gesture of hospitality and ecumenism. Traditionally, the UU minister joins the procession dressed in a simple cassock-alb and bearing a large bowl of flower petals gathered by UU parishioners; these are added to the pancake plates as a lovely garnish and a reminder of the oneness of creation with Creator. (A secondary but salutary effect of the procession in the early years was the reconciliation of the neighboring Episcopal and UU churches following the previous year's Trinity Sunday outdoor solemn procession, which had encircled the UU church three times to the increasing outrage of the UU minister and congregation. The Trinity procession route was subsequently changed to encircle the historic Beaumont Tower on the university campus, during which the university carillonneur traditionally performs Anglican hymns in 3/8 or 3/4 meter, ending with three sets of three tolls on the three largest bells.

The procession moves south from the UU church down Grove Street past the rectory, where a station is made and the antiphon Sacerdotes Domini chanted, and then past the first block of fraternity houses, where students have been lining the streets to depths of four and five persons since before noon. By now the pancake plates and syrup pitchers have been replenished by the vergers from supplies driven ahead of the procession by the sextons. The students wear no particular traditional garb when they are served the pancakes, except that shirts and shoes are required in addition to the usual shorts or jeans. Hats are expected to be removed while the pancake platter is in one's block of residence.

The procession then makes a one-block turn to the west and then heads south on Abbott Road, the main street into the university and the location of City Hall and further blocks of fraternities and sororities. The culmination of the procession is the arrival at the West Circle Halls of Residence, a lovely group of three-story Tudor-style halls, each with a large dining-room. On this night alone out of all the nights of the year, the dining-rooms are closed in observance of the solemn pancake procession. The waiting students are served efficiently as the procession reaches the university test kitchen at Williams Hall, where nutritionists receive samples of the pancakes for chemical analysis and testing and the eventual assignment of a rating for that year's batch. Finally, having given up the pancake-serving utensils, the sacred ministers, vergers, acolytes, and servers proceed to the Alumni Memorial Chapel not on foot, but on the Sigma Chi homecoming float flatbed, its permanently installed Liberty Bell replica ringing all the way, and all enter the chapel for the Solemn Te Deum and Benediction.

Gregory has helpfully reposted the ceremonial for a solemn pancake procession passing a pancake restaurant. Sadly, due to changes in restaurants in recent years, the ceremonial had to be simplified somewhat and is used only in front of the Evergreen Grill, which serves pancakes only on Saturday and Sunday mornings. This used to be a major station with full ceremonial when this restaurant was the Pan Tree, a 24-hour establishment specializing in pancakes, deep-friend French toast, and enormous hot-fudge sundaes. The building also happens to have been the original East Lansing post office, which may be of interest to some but is of no liturgical import.

As cantor, I look forward every year to intoning the various antiphons and hymns along the way. I feel as though I am part of something utterly unique and steeped in history, mystery, and civic goodwill. The event has contributed greatly to the growth of our parish and that of the Episcopal Ministry at MSU, and I am proud to have had a part in carrying on this tradition.

A blessed Shrove Tuesday to all, and do make it a point to process with us here in East Lansing at least once in your lives. It is well worth a visit, and you will be warmly welcomed.

In response to Mark Kessinger's question about what happens during a solemn pancake procession when it passes by an International House of Pancakes (IHOP):

I spent a little more time in researching this than I should have, but I ended up consulting my copy of Ritual Notes, Interim Edition, which is an unpublished edition that was compiled for specific London parishes' use during the Second World War. While RN/IE doesn't specifically mention the IHOP, it does treat of the subject in general terms:

PANCAKE PROCESSIONS: Encountering a Pancake Restaurant:

In certain neighborhoods, the solemn pancake procession will of necessity pass by a restaurant whose speciality is pancakes, flapjacks, or crepes. Extraordinary means are not to be taken to avoid this situation, unless a detour would add dignity and not unreasonable length to the route. Traditional ceremonies are to be observed while passing before such an establishment.

When the restaurant is sighted by the verger, he shall signal to the acolyte, who shall ring the bell thrice. The procession shall continue, but the serving of pancakes shall cease until the restaurant has been passed by. On hearing the bell, the clergy and lay ministers in procession shall turn their heads so as to face the establishment directly whilst they continue forward. Upon a single stroke of the bell, all shall stop and turn to face the restaurant. The sacred ministers shall remove their birettas, taking care not to drop the syrup pitcher as they do so. The lay ministers shall take the birettas and pitcher. The sacred ministers shall then double-genuflect, first bringing the right knee to the ground and then the left knee to join the right one on the ground. All others shall bow low. The celebrant shall chant the collect for Shrove Tuesday. This completed, all shall rise, and the celebrant shall cover the pitcher. A single stroke of the bell shall signal the resumption of the procession.

--RITUAL NOTES, Interim Edition, Morehouse-Barlow 1941:

Two futher questions does come to mind. Are there particular rites to be observed (or modifications of the existing rites) in areas of Orthodox influence, to wit, in places where the cake might be called a blini or blintz? We have many here in Erie of Eastern European extractions and want not to be offensive to their liturgical

It's funny you should raise this point, because for the first time this year, a similar procession will take place simultaneously on the east side of East Lansing. MSU being a very large campus (5,500 acres), St Andrew's Orthodox Catholic Church (basically Russian Orthodox) decided to observe the occasion (despite the calendar differences) by processing to the East Campus halls of residence at the same time as our procession to the main campus.

To avoid confusion, the ceremonial is largely the same, and would be familiar to many Orthodox of the Antiochian rites, some of which are basically Anglican Missal. The main difference is in the title: rather than "Pancake Procession," the term used is "Procession on the Eve of the Occidental Equivalent of Great Lent." (Long titles such as this one express great dignity in Russian Orthodox tradition).

It's actually quite ecumenical, especially realizing that our cross-town Orthodox brothers and sisters have voluntarily latched onto something that is quite outside their own liturgical observance and out of whack with their calendar. We very much welcome and rejoice in their participation.

Secondly, if one runs out of consecrated pancakes, must one reconsecrate the new batter, or does a little reserved batter from that already consecrated make holy the whole batch?

Would you believe we've never had this problem? There is, however, as you might expect, a provision for this in our customary. Never is all of the batter cooked into pancakes. Routinely, one cup of batter is drawn off and preserved in a small refrigerator set aside for its preservation, and this cup is poured into any supplementary batter, which is prepared in the accompanying supply van that drives ahead of the procession itself. A similar cup is preserved from the supplementary batter. It's similar to the sourdough principle, or to that about a little leaven leavening a whole loaf.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Organization of The Episcopal Church

Lesson from a retired professor of management:

The Episcopal Church is not a “national” church in any sense,
Either theological or administrative.
What is now called TEC is a confederation of dioceses
United only by a triennial convention.

At General Convention, canons (regulations) are promulgated
That are effective only by their acceptance in dioceses.
Dioceses are legal corporations within their secular jurisdictions.
TEC is incorporated solely as a missionary society in New York.

A Presiding Bishop is elected every nine years
To preside over general convention, and lead by example.
Said person is not an archbishop, and can only
Persuade diocesan bishops to follow the canons of the church.

Various dodges have been created over the years, to stop
Clergy from doing something not considered acceptable,
These ecclesiastical trials had no practical effect
On inhibiting the action of the defendants.

Nevertheless, the present Presiding Bishop has attempted
To remove clergy from the Anglican Communion, who
Have departed from TEC to serve in other Anglican churches.
These “depositions” were ignored by their recipients.

Very slowly, state courts are now revisiting the so-called
Neutral principles in adjudicating disputes in religious denominations.
A focus is on TEC in its insistence that diocesan bishops
Must seize the property of a departing congregation.

Ultimately, this may result in the Supreme Court
Having to decide whether
TEC is acting as a hierarchical church,
When it has no legal basis to do so.