4/03/2009

On Spiritual Practice and other matters, given Palm Sunday coming up.

(A friend asked if I had anything to say about Dr. Redding and her deposition as a priest on account of claiming to be both Christian and Muslim. This is a much too long commentary on things I thought about as a result. But here it is.)


I have to admit that its coming up on Palm Sunday and I've nothing to show for it except this lousy grump of an attitude. I come to this Palm Sunday amazed at the effrontery of righteous Christians who have turned the recounting of the events of the last days of our Lord into the basis of a larger story in which all religions are slammed in the name of Jesus and all spiritual paths are suspect unless they lead to what we understand to be THE path, which we then conveniently claim as The Way. I cringe to realize that I am that righteous Christian myself sometimes.


The Way of the Cross is the way of life, no doubt about it. But the way is not known by doctrine or correct behavior or even overt obedience to the Lord Jesus. It is known in the only way possible for people of flesh and blood. It is known by participation.

The events we remember, and the Way of the Cross were and are of great spiritual importance, by which I mean they were and are equally of great political importance. That's the way it is with the genuine article - God with us. Nothing is so spiritual that it is not also political, nothing is so holy as not also to be profane. In the end the spiritual path and the grim realities of execution and the way of life all get wrapped up together. We end up at the end of the week calling the executioner's Friday "good."

If there was any doubt about the spiritual power of the incarnation, the Crucifixion puts it to rest. We are confronted with a mystery: the Way of Life is found in the presence of death. We Christians believe God participates in this mystery and that in some sense God takes on our suffering and death in order that the Way of Life can be ours.

Given humankind's propensity for control, religion arises to codify such spiritual mysteries so that we don't wander off into strange and esoteric worlds in which we could avoid the central mystery: that in Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell even to death on the Cross. The Cross became a signal, a sign, and the Way became the way of the Cross. It is Jesus and the hard wood of the cross, and not doctrine or creed, that is the Way, the Truth and the Life. But of course we religious people could not let it well enough alone. It may be that Jesus did not come to found a new religion, but his followers did so, not I suppose having a better way of keeping on keeping on. The trouble is, the religion, being about rules, sets sometimes unfortunate limits on the spiritual life of adherents.

There have been times when those limits have served the Church well. There are others where the rules almost stifled people we now think of as saints. The basic need is to constantly overcome the temptation to disconnect the holy from the profane, and to maintain that God (who is as holy as it gets) and humankind and the flesh (sometimes as profane as it gets) are joined in Jesus and, by adoption and grace, in all of us. But the maintenance of that central point is too easily joined with a total discount of the spiritual insight of others, of belief amongst other elements of the profane world for which Jesus died, of the righteous person who does not believe that Jesus is God with us, died for us and is raised.

All of this, of course, comes home to us at one time or another. In this particular moment in The Episcopal Church there are questions raised about the ways in which it is or is not right for Christians to make use of, practice, or have spiritual benefit from, the religious practices or the faith of other people. In particular we have the immediate concerns about Fr. Forrester, Bishop -elect of Northern Michigan and Dr. Ann Homes Redding, now deposed priest of Rhode Island.

These two persons have been talked about all over Anglican blogland, particularly by those who have left The Episcopal Church and who are constantly looking for reasons to prove they were right to do so. They have been vilified as incompetent and unbelieving, illogical and distructive of real Christian witness. Even some of the more even handed have felt it was naive to think one could practice in the Buddhist way or the Muslim way and not lose ones way as a Christian.

There are of course questions to ask about any bishop-elect and about his or her views, practices, understandings, beliefs, etc. There are of course good reasons to question the extent to which a priest might or might not have abandoned the communion of this Church, or of the faith. That is why we have the process of seeking consents as well as elections, and that is why all priests are subject to oversight from their bishop and councils. Not too often do people get off without some scrutiny.

And yet, I wonder. God is present even for those who do not know Christ, otherwise when Christ comes we don't know him as God with us; otherwise the Jews were not our forbearers in the faith but simply lost because Christ had not yet come. God is present for those who have found God in other ways, and those ways serve the deep spiritual needs they have. We may wish them to know God in Jesus Christ, precisely because all things are made new in Christ, including the breakdown between holy and profane. But is there some way to honor the spiritual possibilities that people of other faiths have experience from which we can draw?

In an extreme example of the problem here, I remember visiting a student group at St. Nicholas Romanian Church in Bucharest and being told by one of the theological students that he did not believe they should be meeting with me, since the only reason to meet with me was to convert me, and I did not seem a candidate for such conversion. I told him that I believed I was already converted, but remained open to the possibility that my faith could be made complete by the experience of the Orthodox churches. On the other hand, if he thought the case was hopeless, perhaps he was not very interested in trying.

So late in the evening before Palm Sunday I am thinking again of spiritual practice and the matter of faith.

Here at Preludium there have been several posts and threads of comments on Fr. Forrester and the increasingly convoluted exploration of whether or not he is espousing some sort of amalgam of Buddhism and Christianity. As time goes on there is appearing a more important issue of whether or not he is prepared to speak to the faith in ways that would be recognized by his peers to be as appropriate. As the issues of consents have moved away from his meditation practices to his preaching and teaching we at least get a better sense of what he believes is appropriate language for witness and proclamation. And we move further away from the question, can a person be a Buddhist and a Christian at the same time.

It is just as well that we do move away from that question. The ranting out there is that "of course" it is impossible and it is all just another sign of how sorry The Episcopal Church is that such a person would be elected anyway. But in the world of spiritual practice, I believe we have a lot to learn from people who value self-emptying, apparently as much as did our Lord. More, I believe that Christians can and do use Buddhist practice to great spiritual benefit and do so without renouncing their faith at all.

Just to be clear, as if anyone in blog land cares, given that they are having so much fun dumping on fellow pilgrims, the whole point of spiritual practice is that you bring who you are, use what you must, and encounter God as you can. Buddhist meditation passes the test.

There are many ways to gain spiritual discipline, to find spiritual stability. If that means sitting very very still and letting whatever comes into your mind pass from it without grasping, fine. If that means praying five times a day with considerable body movement, fine. If it means chanting the psalter over a seven day period or the upanishads over several weeks, fine, if it is finding ten Jews to pray with for daily prayers, fine.

The thing is these spiritual practices, these small efforts by human beings to attend to the presence of the God beyond all words including god-referencing words, are amazingly uniting. There are wide differences in time taken in meditation or prayer, in signs and symbols, in stance (sitting, standing, bowing, etc). But most of us would catch on rather quickly that much of the core is about the practice of letting in that Other, letting go of self, and opening out to the suffering and needs of the world.

Even if I don't know enough Arabic to say daily prayers with others, in Muslim countries or communities I am perfectly willing when there to pray five times, in harmony with them. I often traveled in the Middle East, staying in cheap hotels across from local mosques. The morning call to worship would sound in my window at full force. After a few days of being startled, I'd learn to say a prayer and the Lord's Prayer, and go back to sleep. But I'd also attend to the reality that the calls to prayer over the day were a call to me as well.

After all, God is indeed great, worthy of praise, gracious, merciful, final judge, worthy of worship, who shows us the straight path, the pilgrims way. And yes, I know that in addition to the first recitation in the daily prayers, for which no Christian would find objection, although in which every Christian would recognize the missing person - the Lord Jesus, there are other recitations, some of which would be more difficult to say. But the basic prayer is solid adoration of God.

Meditation practice out of the Buddhist tradition is widely varied, but the core idea of emptying of self, of becoming no-thing, is worth the effort, even if I can't get very far down the path without attending to the distractions of the moment. Still, sitting is just fine.

Last week I went to service at the Jewish Community Center, the prayers and readings rolled over me in familiar waves, even when the Hebrew was beyond me there was translation before me. I was allowed the honor to help carry the Torah scroll through the congregation. Only I knew, "once a deacon always a deacon." And yes, I know that there are prayers that are sometimes said that would be hard to say, and yes I know, Jesus is missing in the prayers.

I have stood in Hindu temples and read the Tao in simple shrines, and sat for hours in the temple of the jade Buddha, and so forth and so on. For the life of me I cannot see how any of this has been anything but beneficial to my spiritual health.

What I know is that these were moments of spiritual refreshment, meaning I am trying to indicate, that they were helpful to this pilgrim. So I have no truck with people who want to throw out the spiritual refreshment that such occasions have brought.

Of course I go into those places and times and states with all that I am as a follower of Jesus Christ. Of course I understand that we Christians have bound together Incarnation, the Transfiguration of Jesus and the New Creation that he inaugurated, and the death and resurrection of our Lord, in a way that is unique and informs our way, our pilgrimage, so that we are participants in the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The questions for Fr. Forrester perhaps should be to know more about what he understands his practice to have brought to his faith in Jesus Christ. I believe we ought not judge him on the basis of practice. Rather we have every reason to want to know just how his witness to Jesus Christ and the reality of God with us is stated.

In writing this poor essay I am unfortunately showing just how hard it is to state the faith, since every personal effort to do so is precisely that, personal. That's the value of the creeds, the liturgy, the ancient prayers. They help us along. But we also have to state it for ourselves.

As for Dr. Redding. She said somewhere along the line that she was in trouble and called on God, and heard of the news from a Muslim that one might surrender to God. I'm for that. "Letting go and letting God" may be edgy as pop religion, but as a basic formula for overcoming anxiety and fear, it's not bad. Taken with the seriousness that Muslim belief brings, it is a remarkable spiritual gift.

I have no idea if Muslim believers, any of them, would agree, but my sense is the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) would not particularly have been too put out if we got the message and thought the prophet just a man with an idea from the heart.

As to the complex and ornate full whammy of the Quran I have little to say, except that when I read it in translation I find parts that are spiritually enlightening, parts that are historically intersting as alternate readings of history I already knew, parts that are too local in terms of tribe or people, parts that I don't much like, and parts that are simply baffling. It reminds me, in a parallel universe sort of way, of the Bible. And, no, I don't think it contains all things necesary to salvation.

My sense is if one were a biblical literalist one could not at the same time be a Quran literalist (however that looks), any more than one can believe the core of the Christian faith, of which the earlier muttering was a stab at stating, and the core of Islamic faith. The jumps from the one to the other are too great to cross.

Bishop Wolf deposed Dr. Redding while also honoring her. The ENS report on the deposition states that Bishop Wolf believes Dr. Redding is "a woman of utmost integrity and their conversations over the past two years have been open, honest and respectful." The reports continues, "However, Bishop Wolf believes that a priest of the church cannot be both a Christian and a Muslim."

My sense is Bishop Wolf is right. One can be a Christian and engage in a great deal of Muslim daily prayer and discipline. Giving to the poor, fasting, and pilgrimage are all fine efforts. The role of the Prophet as prophet is a bit more complex. Is he a prophet? Well I think William Stringfellow is a prophet. So sure. Is he the last Prophet? or the Greatest? or the end of the line in the prophetic run? No, not as I read it. And, further, as a Christian I believe that the role of prophecy is forever changed by the presence of God in Jesus Christ. In Jesus we have the fulfillment of prophecy past and future, if only we will live out that same love of God.

Now I don't know if Dr. Redding can make the case for uniting the spiritual practice of Islam and Christianity, but I think it could be made. I don't think she can make the case for "being a Muslim and a Christian." What remains for me unclear is just which she is - a Christian who practices both Muslim and Christian spiritual practices, or someone beliving two very different faith "systems", or someone trying to meld them together.

The process by which she was deposed, while apparently carefully followed, determined that she had abandoned the communion of this Church. In a way it would have been instructive, and perhaps more widely enlightening, if she had the opportunity to state her case not only for the bishop and committee (assuming there was one) but for all of us. Perhaps she will write on this at some point.

It will be instructive to see just how these issues of spiritual practice might spill over into the wider ecumenical and interfaith discussions that need to go on all the time.

Meanwhile, hold onto that feeling of triumph entering the City. It will pass. It turns out all who enter the City at the Spiritual Center are likely to get questioned, and not all of our answers will suffice.

In our prayers this week we might well pray for Fr. Forrester and Dr. Redding and all of us (and it is all of us) who find the Way to the wonderful City to include crosses of our own.


As John Dominic Crossan says, "We all stand in the shadow of the Cross."

51 comments:

  1. Bless you, Mark. This is a real gift.

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  2. A lovely piece to read Mark. You always write such thoughtful--and thought provoking--posts.

    I don't subject myself to the invective of those you speak of but I know enough to imagine, not always having looked away.

    What I find so continually puzzling is why those who have decided to move on are still so stuck to TEC that they spend most of the lives, it seems, focusing not on what they believe and their path, but on what they think the collective "we" believe--as if we were a homogeneous lot.

    Regardless, as apparently with you, the background of my belief has often been set against (or perhaps better worded in front of) situations which don't necessarily appear to harmonize with my beliefs. I don't table tip anymore, for instance, but I am glad I once did and probably will again.

    I think the thing I resist most in religion, regardless of which, isn't so much dogma (well, actually, I do resist dogma) but method. If I choose to pray while standing on my head or against the backround of 7/9 Jazz, who cares.

    Isn't at least some of this about the inability of some to understand or accept others' methods?

    I was a bit shy about telling a visiting priest one time that the only time I really say the Lord's Prayer was to put myself to sleep after having said my other prayers (which I do in bed as this is the ONLY place I can actually settle and refocus without distraction). He had the kindness to suggest that my habit was wonderful! I was going to sleep while praying to the God; my prayers on my lips as I leave the land of consciousness.

    Instead of making me feel unfit or lazy, he saw a different purpose and benefit.

    Some people travel by straight lines, then there are those of us that look for the tiniest, most hair-raising roads on the map. In the end, all things being equal, we still end up at the same place. The difference is that I have better pictures:)

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  3. Hi Mark

    The respective cases of Redding and Forrester are at least interesting in this way: are they being treated with the same scrupulous fairness that recently deposed bishops of TEC have been treated? (Bishops, that is, who have harboured the illusion that could practise both TEC-Episcopalianism and ACNA-Anglicanism)

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  4. Cany wrote: "Isn't at least some of this about the inability of some to understand or accept others' methods?"

    At our first lesson in History of Religion (the first course at the University for prospective Priests and teachers of H of R) our teacher explained the difference between Orto-doxy and Orto-praxis, saying that, contrary to what one would expect, it's not the Doxy but the Praxis that make people kill eachother...

    Quite an awakening ;=)

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  5. So Mark+, do you think it would have been better if John, Mark, James, Paul, Jude, et al...had just not said anything at all...I mean all of this nasty mean "doctrine" you seem to think they made up out of thin air comes from the men who actually "participated" in ministry with Jesus on earth and/or were eyewitnesses of his resurrection and personally received his teachings. And they claim that what they wrote and taught was not just a bunch of made up stuff, but inspired and "carried along" as Peter says by God himself.

    Of course as a 21st century American you know better than those primitive doctrinaire narrow minded people...but do you think that the strange dichotomy you draw between Jesus and the revealed facts and teachings about Jesus is a bit strained?

    I mean how do you really have a relationship with someone when every time he/she tries to tell you something about himself you stop up your ears and imagine something or someone else.

    So when Jesus says, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father but through me."

    Mark Harris says "no" that's not true and I'm "amazed at your affrontery"

    When Paul says, "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

    Mark says, no one really needs to repent and come to this one man because everybody's own way is, perhaps not full and whole, but certainly sufficient.

    Mark, how do you truly relate to God in a fulsome way and at the same time filter everything God discloses about himself in scripture through the lens of "what I feel God is like".

    It seems that this results in a relationship with a god who is not God, as he is, but a simple extension of our own desires--a feuerbachian wish image god--not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ

    Matt Kennedy

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  6. it's not the Doxy but the Praxis that make people kill eachother...

    Good to know that it really isn't All.My.Fault. ;-)

    Beautifully done, Mark. I have really struggled with this issue, trying to figure out where the problem is. I finally came down to ordination vows. Dr. Holmes Redding can apparently no longer honor the vows she took at ordination.

    I honor her search for God, and I wish her well on her journey. But part of me wishes she had simply had the integrity to quit when she realized that she could no longer subscribe to the vows she made--instead of forcing the bishop to defrock her.

    The church, as an institution, gets many things wrong, but I believe it does have the right to require you to live up to your end of the bargain. That is the argument we have made about the schismatics and I believe the argument holds in this case.

    Pax,
    Doxy

    P.S. The word verification is "quitr." ;-)

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  7. There is so much to think about in this post, as we move into Palm Sunday, and the experience of Holy Week.

    I will be pondering these statments this week:

    "The way of the Cross is the way of life, no doubt about it. But the way is not known by doctrine or correct behavior or even overt obedience to the Lord Jesus. It is known in the only way possible for people of flesh and blood. It is known by participation. ...It is Jesus and the hard wood of the cross, and not doctrine or creed, that is the Way, the Truth, and the Life."

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  8. Re: praxis vs.doxy, +Robert Shahan famously said, "Faith is what you're willing to die for. Dogma is what you're willing to kill for."

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  9. Mark, your essay is not too long, nor is it poor. It is beautiful in its honesty, its thoughtfulness, and its wisdom. I say, "Amen!"

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  10. "It may be that Jesus did not come to found a new religion, but his followers did so, not I suppose having a better way of keeping on keeping on. The trouble is, the religion, being about rules, sets sometimes unfortunate limits on the spiritual life of adherents."

    Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the light.", not my religion. He also said "give all that you have to the poor, take up your cross and follow me." We either interpret that differently as only we humans can or we all fall short and need help. Either way, if the method gets one closer to our God, why should we not embrace it?

    Really, nice piece Mark.

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  11. I suppose this is as good a place as any to insert this comment. I have read in many places where folks question why some of the more vociferous folks at SFIF who have left still feel the need to engage and comment on TEC. It seems to me IMHO that the situation might be similar to an ugly divorce. Legally the separation is done but emotionally the connections are still very much intertwined, and, often, quite dysfunctional. Perhaps we can all take time this Holy Week to pray for the "Other" and pray for understanding.

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  12. Mark, once again a transforming essay. You rock! Thanks so much for allowing me to share in a truly "Holy" week through your postings.

    I am celebrating Palm Sunday myself by listening to the podcast from Grace Cathedral and reading Bart Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus" and "Jesus Interrupted". What powerful, scholarly testimony both are to the fact that biblical literalism is a dangerous fallacy, proof-texting a simpleton's distraction, and simplistic orthodite-ness a fool's errand of the highest order.

    Hosanna in the highest....

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  13. It takes an open heart to open one's mind to the possibility of a new relationship with God. No longer are we to be afraid to say the name of God: JHVH. G_D. No, not whispers and murmurs of a name too mighty to mention, but this: Abba. That's Hebrew children call their father's in baby-talk. Abba.

    That's what Jesus came to preach and teach - a new relationship with God. That's what was so difficult to change, it had to be nailed on the hard wood of the cross and left to die so The Word could be reborn in our hearts and minds.

    Both Bishop-elect Forrester and now deposed Ann Holmes Reading are teaching this to us, in very different ways.

    Unfortunately, one can not be ordained AND be a practicing Muslim. You are right about that, Doxy and Mark. One can be a practicing Buddhist and an ordained priest in TEC and Anglican Communion.

    That does not mean that we have nothing to learn from Dr. Redding. And, that does not mean that Bishop Elect Forrester should not gain the appropriate number of consents to his election.

    No doctrine will be compromised in either situation. No one is stopping up their ears, Matt. One it takes is opening one's mind and one's heart - as Jesus asked us to do.

    Thanks, Mark, for a marvelous post.

    By the way, the word verification is "jelly". How funny is that?

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  14. I think the criticism/question: why do we still comment on TEC after leaving TEC is a bit hypocritical...People who regularly comment on this website regularly criticize the ACNA despite the obvious fact that they are not member of the ACNA. Why? You are not members of the ACNA why does it concern you?

    You also comment regularly on the pope and various "fundamentalists"--why? You are neither Roman Catholic nor fundamentalist so why concern yourselves with what they do?

    Matt Kennedy

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  15. Matt, it is the difference of passing gas in the privacy of one's own bedroom versus walking into a party, unannounced, and fumigating the whole room then quickly leaving. That's I how perceive your emissions here anyway and the fact that you NEVER respond to a single challenge of your pronouncements but rather attack Mark or the questioner again with another outrageous claim.

    Are you completely blind to the lameness of your analogy? We, for the most part, are not suddenly dropping into and out of the re-asserter sites and leaving dung droppings in our wake as you are here. We talk with Mark and each other and grapple with our faith and what is happening in the church today. Apples and oranges.

    Here's something that well may cause conservative heads to explode -- a lovely Holy Week video (Part 1 of 4 -- all are amazing) from St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8OnRP9hUZk&feature=related

    These lovely, inclusive people are creating a modern, relevant church where all are welcome, all create and do liturgy together, with the love of Jesus at the center of their celebration.

    They welcome everyone to the Lord's supper, among manner other scandalous departures from orthodoxy, and engage in such scandalous behaviors such as the Ethiopian Orthodox dancing, drumming, and overall melting pot flavor of their worship. I want to move to SF to be a part of this powerful, Christ-centered open ministry, myself.

    Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

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  16. It is my understanding that Dr. Redding recited the Shahada, “There is no god but God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God," she has committed herself to the teaching implied in this equivalent of our Creeds and to the Qu'ran that denies both the Incarnation and the Trinity, the core doctrines of our faith as sufficiently stated in our Creeds. This is not merely taking up a practice, such as praying five times daily or giving alms. This is committing to a different theological view that is incompatible with our core doctrine.

    If it is also true as the Seattle Times reports, that "Redding does not believe that God and Jesus are the same, but rather that God is more than Jesus. And she believes that Jesus is the Son of God insofar as all humans are the children of God, and that Jesus is divine, just as all humans are divine — because God dwells in all humans," then we have here a denial of Nicene christology in toto. This denial is closer to keeping with a Muslim view, however, it isn't quite correct either as Sunni Islam would eschew suggestions of God dwelling in all humans or even "children of God" language generally.

    Nonetheless, from what I have read, if reported as true, and it does seem Dr. Redding admits to the Shahada, that is extremely problematic, and I commend Bp. Wolff for her pastoral yet firm approach.

    It is one thing to have inter-faith conversation, to be respectful of one another, to even pray together in mutual settings, and quite another thing to suggest we can hold as compatible that Jesus is "perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity" and Jesus is only "the greatest of the prophets". For Anglicans, the latter may be true, but it is because of the former--to say only that Jesus is the greatest of the prophets is heresy. For Muslims, associating Jesus with God in the way we do--which we profess is orthodox, is shirk--essentially heresy. Thus, honest inter-faith conversation acknowledges that we disagree and differ, not muddle the two and pretend we agree on Jesus--we don't. And for Anglicans, this difference is a matter of salvation in the sense that who it is we say Jesus is affects how it is we know and are related to God.

    I never thought I would see the day that I agree with The Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon.

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  17. Matt, folks here are concerned with ACNA, (why do I think of Clearasil when I see that?) for a number of reasons.

    First, it exists because the plan is for it to become the North American province of the Anglican Communion, intending to supplant both TEC and the ACoC. (I am glad that we, IAdM, are too small to register on your radar.)

    Second, because there are a number of wanna-be units of this just-months-away church that have exited TEC and the ACoC while hanging onto parish and diocesan property, both real and personal. Fortunately, like the unit in Binghamton, NY, the courts are slowly returning possession of the property to the national churches. However, at a cost.

    If the shenanigans of the future ACNAns did not so directly and constantly effect all of us, they much more likely could fall off our radar. Just as the Reformed Episcopalians did so long ago, and so many Indy Anglicans of recent decades.

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  18. There are already rivers of blood flowing from Ireland to Nigeria to Sri Lanka over sectarian passions; over just who has the Real True Key to the Kingdom. Each fanatic refuses to see those outside of his sect as authentic, or even human. They see those beyond the bounds of their fellowship as evil aggressors, defilers of their faith by their mere existence. A holocaust of infidels is offered up to God by the Pure and the True.

    The Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the most fought over piece of real estate on earth, sacred to 3 One True Faiths, marinates in centuries of bloodshed with still more blood being shed over it.

    When the last Christian, the last Muslim, the last Jew, the last Hindu, and the last Buddhist finally kill each other, they may each be alarmed to learn that God grieves over all who He created in His image, that none of them were ever on "His side."

    Perhaps the most alarming discovery might be that the very last thing Christ wanted was to be made the object of a new religion. Perhaps Dr. Tillich was right when he said that Christ came into the world to end religion, to lift that calamity from our backs in the name of God's love for us.

    Universalist heretic that I am, I believe that the faith and yearnings of all humanity shall be fulfilled. Christian that I am, they shall be fulfilled by God and by God alone.

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  19. Dahveed, your point is very well taken.

    Matt says: "People who regularly comment on this website regularly criticize the ACNA despite the obvious fact that they are not member of the ACNA. Why? You are not members of the ACNA why does it concern you?"

    Well, then, Matt, why are you submitting comments to Preludium? I don't submit comments to StandFirm or VirtueOnline. (I almost never read them; they're not good for my soul. Matt, why are you even reading Preludium? Surely you don't believe that what Mark writes is good for your soul!?)

    (But he's good for mine. This was an excellent piece, Mark.)

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  20. So when Jesus says, ...
    Mark Harris says "no"

    When Paul says, ...
    Mark says, no one really needs to repent


    Matt, I'm willing to bet Mark doesn't appreciate you putting words in his mouth, anymore than *I* do.

    Can you NEVER address what someone (you usually disagree with) has actually written? Must you always project your own Straw Man to knock down?

    ***

    Great piece, Mark.

    I'm not 100% certain one can't simultaneously be a Christian and a Muslim (God MUST be bigger than human-made "X does not equal Not-X" contradictions) . . . but I also don't think that Ann Holmes Redding is that person (she sure went about it all wrong!). Ergo, I understand (if w/ sadness) that Bp. Wolf did what she had to do.

    As far as Bishop-Elect Forrester goes, perhaps the BIGGEST charge against him is "writing his own liturgies". AS LONG AS he's prepared to use the one as written in the BCP, pp.510-523... ;-/

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  21. "People who regularly comment on this website regularly criticize the ACNA despite the obvious fact that they are not member of the ACNA. Why? You are not members of the ACNA why does it concern you?

    You also comment regularly on the pope and various "fundamentalists" – why? You are neither Roman Catholic nor fundamentalist so why concern yourselves with what they do?"

    We are concerned because there is something strange about not being able to let go when one lets go...

    The acknowledged rule for converts is not to go f r o m something but t o it. Otherwise the person is n o t to be admitted...

    That is what the churches have agreed, on although they often break it!

    This strange difference is called Bitterness.

    Now Bitterness is not a Christian virtue. Not a virtue at all, in fact. But its effects are tangible and express themselves in the general un-pleasantness of these Political Culture Wars in Theological Drag.

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  22. Hi WSJM and Goran...sounds like you have the context of my comment a little confused.

    I, personally, love it when revisionists comment at SF--none at all--and I really have no problem with the criticisms of ACNA, the Pope, the Ecumenical Patriarch, "fundamentalists" or the trilateral commission from reappraisers. It makes life interesting.

    I think it is hypocritical, however, for those same reappraisers to on the one hand whine about criticism from those on not in TEC while at the same time leveling daily criticisms of the various aforementioned churches/denominations. My only point is that what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

    So I will continue to criticize TEC when she promotes buddhist/muslim/panentheist bishop elects and you will continue to criticise the ACNA/the Pope/fundamentalists they do things you think are wrong and we will all be one big happy family.

    Re: Letting go...heh...thanks for your "concern" Goran. I feel so loved. But really, I'm fine. Trust me.

    Matt Kennedy

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  23. Those who comment here and our worthy host do indeed not and criticize developments in Nigeria, other African provinces and the alphabet soup of bishop's jobs they have spun into North America. There is a difference. And it is one easily observed.

    One seldom sees anything about either the REC or AMiA folks. They are not seeking to steal our property or claim our seats in ACC, and place in the Anglican Communion. If CANA wants to stop critique here, it needs only to stop the attempts to take what is not its property.

    FWIW
    jimB

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  24. There's lots to mull over in this piece and in the comments. I particularly appreciated the story you shared, Mark, about visiting the Romanian church. What I am beginning to wonder, and Matt may be able to shed light upon this, is whether, despite my otherwise orthodox beliefs, I am viewed by some as not a Christian, based entirely upon the fact that I think homosexuality is not a sin. It continues to seem to me that we keep talking past one another, and I am still not sure why.

    I am already converted, but remain open to the possibility that my faith may be made complete... simply lovely.

    Thank you for all of this.

    Laura

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  25. Thank you, Canon Harris, for such a thoughtful and graceful post. We are blest by your efforts. Your offerings are of great benefit to me, coming back into the community of believers after some years of "neglect" of group worship. From my zen practice I can pray (better) now and listen (hearing more) now and perhaps best of all, I can live with the people in the church I don't agree with, now. Keep reminding us of our Lord's teaching of not shutting out anyone for love and prayers (as you said so well last week), we need to keep hearing it, sigh.

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  26. Hi Ms. Toepfer,

    I do not know whether you hold a teaching position in the church. If so then, yes, sadly I would say you are a false teacher and/or heretic and I would hope and pray that you repent because you are leading others into the darkness and away from Christ.

    If you do not hold a teaching position, I would say that you have embraced a heresy and that it is not an unimportant one. 1st Corinthian 6 is very clear that our sexual lives are important to God. To order your sexual life in a way that is displeasing to him will result in your spiritual and physical harm and I pray that you will not act on the false belief you have come to. I'd be happy to speak to you more about this.

    Matt Kennedy

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  27. Too far gone. No wonder we are losing the equivalent of a diocese a year...and more.

    Unitarian Universalists will welcome the Episcopal spokespersons such as Redding, Harris, Forrester, etc. to join their mish-mash of religious confusion. Meanwhile TEC's own Blue Book report on the State of the Church pretty much confirms that alarming numbers of our people are walking away from this heresy and giving up on this kind of leadership...all except those whose pensions still need funding.

    Canons? What canons?

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  28. OK gang... time to step in.

    (i) Really tacky remarks about Matt Kennedy or anyone else will not be tolerated, not because Matt is all that likable, particularly when he is on a rant, but because it is either necessary to get back at him on focus around the issues or we are just bashing him.

    No bashing.

    (ii) Allen: you've been silent for a while. Your most recent message is no improvement over silence. You laid a pile on us and to what effect? Just stop it. I've left it on just so we all know the pile it is.

    (iii) Matt: You have no idea who Ms. Toepfer is do you? You set her up as a teacher so you can call her a false teacher, smack her down and move on. And if she is not a teacher you smack her down for her belief, shared by many of us, I might add, that "homosexuality is not a sin."

    I don't know who she is or where she is on it matter, but I believe homosexuals, just like the rest of us, are sinners in need of saving, but no, I don't believe that has very much to do with their being homosexual or even acting on that fact. It has a lot to do with how they treat others and how they work for justice, just as it does for me, a miserable sinner of the heterosexual sort.

    Your post was uncalled for.

    I appreciate Matt's visits here at Preludium. He is working hard as a pastor to do what he thinks best. I'd just as soon he felt welcome.

    But it works both ways: stop bashing each other. Matt, try...

    And Allen.... you've used up your fifteen minutes.

    Meanwhile Matthew and Fred and Elizabeth and Laura and everyone else: remember that beyond the bashing there is the trashing and beyond the trashing there is the open gate to a place with no light. Better we stick to the program and seek the light.

    The program is: try to deal with what people say, not what you want to fight.

    Unless of course you are just itching for a fight. In which case take it elsewhere.

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  29. When the American Revolution was fought something close to 80% of the Anglican clergy remained loyalists and left the church at the end of the war. The small remnant that remained built a better, stronger, American church that has survived for over 200 years now. It has weathered slavery, Civil War, prohibition, women's suffrage, women's ordination, the Pill, and more things than can be listed here. I have no doubt we will continue to find resurrection at the end of our time on the cross this time as well. We need not worry ourselves. The rumors of the death of the Episcopal church are greatly exaggerated.

    Matt, the Nigerian church may encourage that very evangelical of habits, proof-texting to shame and condemn the believers but it won't work with experienced, mature, and intelligent beings who realize that scriptural interpretation is anything but settled in the church, as the Windsor Report so clearly points out. Pulling verses out of context to make a point is the laziest of approaches and not at all Christ-like. Yet you continue to throw verses at people like they were ninja stars.

    Out of respect for Mark I have tried my best to be respectful of you but I feel that I must point out that your actions appear immature, pretentious, and generally unholy and I am concerned about your spiritual health.

    I urge you to repent of the sinfulness you continue to exhibit here. As an elder member of the church it is my obligation to call this to your attention and urge you to seek forgiveness and repentance for the harm you are causing before you dare to approach the altar of the Lord again.

    In God and Christ Jesus you will find wholeness and peace if you will stop trying to confine them to a historical myth and an man-made book and simply allow the living God and living Jesus into your heart. It is my sincerest prayer that you do so with all haste for the goodness of your soul and the souls you continue to harm here and elsewhere. I wish you peace and love from God in Christ Jesus.

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  30. The program is: try to deal with what people say, not what you want to fight.

    Words have power to damage and destroy, too, Mark. Sometimes, one has to fight for what is good and right.

    I have great love for you and great respect. I understand and will respect your views here, but please don't fall into the trap of mistaking enabling for tolerance. We on the liberal side tend to be overly harsh to ourselves and one another in an effort to be fair.

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  31. As Mr Kennedy makes his distressingly glib comments about the evils of homosexuality, I would send him to the thread here, and remind him that the merciless condemnation of people who share his views of this as an evil over evil, drove a young man to suicide in what can only be considered a gross, awful tragedy.

    Some pastoral care.

    Perhaps we should first pick out the logs...

    oh, well, never mind.

    IT

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  32. Father Mark,
    I understand your rules. I find Father Kennedy, in spite of his education, training and experience to be imprecise in language and inflammatory in tone. Given his experience and education I see no reason to provide more than a very short leash for this Pastor of souls.
    One of my many trips through pop psychology I took a test that demonstrated that I was the type of person who would only do one of two things -- fight or flight. For those things I do not care about I tend to leave alone and go away -- for those things I care about I tend to get feisty. You know me and you know "that I am not as good as I once was but I am good once as I ever was. (Thanks Toby Kieth) ;-}
    That being said, I will once again put a muzzle on it!

    Interesting my posting letters are "waricer"

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  33. Hi Mark, I will certainly respect your wishes on your blog and if you desire not to publish this post, I will certainly understand...Mrs. Toepfer asked me a question that I took seriously:

    "What I am beginning to wonder, and Matt may be able to shed light upon this, is whether, despite my otherwise orthodox beliefs, I am viewed by some as not a Christian, based entirely upon the fact that I think homosexuality is not a sin."

    I don't think she was asking that in a flippant way. So I did not want to give her a flippant answer. And since, as you say, I do not know her or her position in the church beyond what she told me about her position on human sexuality, I felt obligated to answer in the fullest way possible for her own sake and mine. I sincerely hope that she comes to a better mind, and I hope the same for you and for others on this list...as I am sure you hope for me. I do not think it "bashing" for you to suggest I (and those who agree with me) am in the wrong and leading people astray and call me to repent...what else can you think seeing as how you have taken the stand that you have. Were I to ask you what Mrs. Toepfer asked me, I would expect the same answer.

    Matt Kennedy

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  34. Matt

    to answer in the fullest way possible would have meant to point out that there is now some excellent pro-gay theology and that, although you don't have to subscribe to it, it is possible to be a genuine orthodox Christian while having different views on this issue.

    You would then be free to explain your own view.

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  35. Dear Mark and Matt,

    That was indeed a genuine question, meant neither to trick or to bash. Because I think the conversation seems to keep getting derailed. One of the reasons I hypothesize for this is because on one side, we keep sitting down thinking, "We're talking about this as fellow-Christians who disagree about an issue" and on the other side, we sit down saying, "We don't simply disagree; this is heresy." And so I think it's helpful to have this out on the table.

    Obviously, I think both sides want the other to change, but I think there is a qualitative difference between thinking someone is wrong and thinking someone is a heretic. But maybe I'm wrong about that, too.

    Again, this really was a genuine question and I'm glad to know the answer; I think that helps me to understand more about the conversation.

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  36. Hi Erika,

    I do not think the option you present is one that I could in good conscience offer since I believe it is not true.

    Matt Kennedy

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  37. I fed William Stringfellow graham crackers and orange juice once when he was having a diabetic episode.

    I accompanied Ann Holmes Redding when she sang.

    Bill, although a Rite I Episcopalian, was content to be annointed with blessed Vasoline.

    Ann sings from the heart, even when her voice is not completely up to the challenge.

    One thing I will say about deposing Ann. She is still baptized. If we keep her at arm's length, we lose. In times such as these, why would anyone push away a sister in faith - or strip her of her obvious authority? Especially if she has grasped the essential things? I thought evangelism was about listening. N'est pas? She's welcome at my altar, anytime.

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  38. Rules are rules, and I don't blame Bishop Wolf for his decision to depose Ann Redding, but I must say that I like what you say, Scott. It touched my heart.

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  39. Scott Hankins, that was a beautiful post - and it helped me connect all the thoughts I have had on this thread. Someone said they knew both sides wished the other would change...I don't think that. I just think that we all wish the judgement would stop. For nowhere does it say that it is our job to separate the wheat from the chaff - that is only the Lord's.

    When some are so assured and rigid in their doctrine that they condemn others to heresy, it feels to me as if they are saying that THEY are the way the truth and the light...Unfortuntely, that is all I hear when I see their words.

    Heidi

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  40. I empathize with Forrester and Redding. I too have benefited greatly from a religion stemming from the East. I am amazed by the depth and diversity of its spiritual and contemplative practices. The wisdom and beauty of its scriptures and teachers are at times breathtaking. I hope the clergy of our church would take an interest in this spiritual tradition as well, and perhaps bear witness to its strengths; it certainly has benefited me.

    It's called Christianity.

    My goodness! The visualization techniques of the Ignatian tradition; the hesychast practices of the Orthodox tradition; the practice of lectio from the Benedictines; is there any end to the depth and diversity of spirituality and contemplation in this tradition? The wonderful narrative we celebrate this very week and the hope it gives us! Does anything beat this?

    I wish our clergy could be turned on by these things instead of exotic practices of other faiths. One gets the impression that Christianity has been found boring -- that not only are there other ways to God, these ways are better and preferable than the one we have.

    I don't buy it.

    I pray that our clergy would fully explore and teach the depths of our own tradition and practices, and then gain from other traditions from the position a solid footing in and commitment to our own.

    Frankly, it doesn't seem like all that much to ask.

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  41. That's the problem, Scott. As I noted in my earlier comment here, she has NOT grasped the essentials, indeed, has embraced contradictories. And done so publicly and willingly. I'll be blunt in saying that I think this is misguided inclusivism. She has professed a faith at odds with the Creeds, and like our Orthodox kin, I would suggest that admittance to the table would require a period of conversion.

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  42. The focus of opposition to Kevin Thew Forrester now seems to be his apparent liturgical innovation. So I had a look and thought his collect was particularly useful for a Unitarian service I am taking on Easter Day - different denominations and faiths and doubt etc. is compatible with a Unitarian approach.

    Except I can't use it except as a personal expression for then congregational reflection, because it is too Christ centred. To have everyone say it, as he did, would assume an assent in the congregation that's not there, even for Easter Day. Statements like "proclaim the gospel" and "the healing Spirit of Christ" which "we proclaim" indicate that he is clearly Christian and statements of others thus cohere around these affirmations, and this is not comparable, for example, with Anne Redding and her adoption of the Shahadah which lacks that sort of coherence.

    Anne Redding might well express her dual faith diversity in, say, a Unitarian setting, whereas this is unnecessary for a position as held by KGTF, even if it might overlap with some Unitarian individuals - those who have a trinitarian belief or close.

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  43. For some reason I think Canon Harris understands the following words from Baby Blue's favorite artist a bit more fully that Fr. Matt -

    Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
    Too noble to neglect
    Deceived me into thinking
    I had something to protect
    Good and bad, I define these terms
    Quite clear, no doubt, somehow.
    Ah, but I was so much older then,
    I'm younger than that now.

    - Bob Dylan

    Grace, peace and may our Holy Week be the path it was meant to be,
    -miserable sinner

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  44. Grandmère Mimi ,

    Bp. Wolfe is most charmingly female. This has caused some considerable consternation on Fr. Matt's home blog where some posters want to applaud her decision and deny her standing as a bishop at the same time.

    :-)

    FWIW
    jimB

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  45. Jim, thanks. Then that should be "her decision", shouldn't it? Obviously, I don't keep up as well as I should.

    I think I liked it better when I paid attention only to my home church. I didn't even take much note of the activities in my own diocese. We should remember that as we huff and puff and stress over the wider church, many folks in the pews are still as I was only a few short years ago, not paying all that much attention.

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  46. RB, they are SO like that old innovator the New Testament complained about, aren't they? I mean, really!

    Why on Earth did he feel the need to ignore all those laws the Pharisees had spent so much time formulating in their strict adherence to the biblical truths?

    Why on Earth did he defile himself by consorting with tax collectors, adulterers, and Samaritian exotics instead of publicly condemning them and reviling their sinful natures loudly and clearly for all to hear so they would repent in fear and trembling in front of all?

    Why on Earth did he think that he was above the sabbath laws once delivered for all time?

    Why on Earth did he think he could or should make a new covenant different from the one God had made with Abraham? That kind of innovation is why those exotics aren't keeping kosher and following the Levitical code like they are supposed to!

    I mean, I could go on and on about all his unorthodox, innovative changes that clearly show he was somehow bored or uninterested with the biblical truths of his own tradition and that's no solid footing, is it?

    How out of touch can one be? If only that Jesus fellow had followed the rules!

    And one would think that there are mountains of evidence that Judaism and Christianity, as portrayed in the Bible, are syncretic masterpieces, what with all the ancient flood stories, resurrected gods born to virgins, and all that stuff they took from the Babylonians, the Egyptians, and the Greeks and all those other cultures. And then there's all this syncretistic stuff they did in Europe to convert the pagans, Easter and Christmas and all that. Shameful!

    It's a disgrace, is what it is, when people actively seek to find God and share God in foreign lands and through foreign ways. King James Version and original prayer book for me, just like the ones Jesus and the apostles used. . . .

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  47. Christopher,

    Sincere thanks for your post. My most trusted mentor once had a friend in the Unitarian Church. He reported to me (and I still trust him) that she was more "Trinitarian" than most Episcopalians. He (and she) meant that she understood and believed the divinity of Christ Jesus.

    Go figure.

    I know that I am (trying to figure).

    blessings...

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  48. (I think my last was responding both to Adrian and Christopher; sorry, Adrian!)

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  49. Priscilla:

    If Redding and Forrester want to start their own faiths uniting Islam and Christianity, or where we get to be in the Trinity as well, I'm fine with that. It's a free country. And they can set up their own Reddingist and Forresterist churches and invite people all they want. (I wonder if there's money to be make in do-it-yourself religion kits?) But in the Episcopal Church, I thought we already had a religion, and don't need a new one. I don't believe it is right that they use their Episcopal orders to proclaim something other than the Christian faith.

    I do not grant that Jesus was bored with Judaism; his interpretation of it was simply different than his contemporaries. But He had an authority that Redding and Forrester do not have, because of who He was. I am content to worship Him and follow His teachings. I am not okay with those who wish to claim his authority and rewrite our own faith to their heart's content, until it is no longer recognizable.

    (BTW, I don't have much of a problem with Forrester using Zen Buddhist meditation techniques. I think we have better ones already, and are a people that has lost its own spiritual practices and need to recover them, not borrow someone else's. But my real difficulty with Forrester is his positions on the Trinity and Christology, his loss of core Christian teaching within his own teaching.)

    I do believe we should honor and respect other faith traditions. I think we can do so better by letting them be other traditions, and not pretend we are all the same. If we do that, we don't really understand and know them, and we've lost our own moorings.

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  50. Actually Priscilla, Jesus was stricter than the Pharisees when it came to obeying the revealed law of God...the problem was not that the Pharisees were narrow biblicists and Jesus wanted to loosen them up. The problem was that the Pharisaic traditions, human teachings and principles, if followed often led to transgression of the divine commands...as in the case of the Corban regulations (Matt 15; Mark 7) He was not upset that the Pharisees tithed their mint and cumin (Matt 23) but he was angry that they had neglected to obey th weightier matters with their whole hearts.

    I think today we have a very similar situation...a group of teachers in the Episcopal Church have created whole cloth a series of false teachings that they claim have been inspired by the Spirit and they are leading the people into behaviors that conflict with God's law. And they are more than willing to use legal and ecclesial coercion to punish dissent.

    Ironically, it is those pushing for same sex blessings sit in the seat of the Pharisees today.

    Matt Kennedy

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  51. Ironically, it is those pushing for same sex blessings sit in the seat of the Pharisees today.

    No, Matt, the irony is that while this thread is about Forrester and Redding (about whom I know precisely NOTHING regarding their SSB attitudes), it just ALWAYS comes back to this, THE ISSUE for you, doesn't it?

    Talk about a one-track mind...

    Oh well: Happy Easter anyway. He is Risen! :-D

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OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with comment moderation but with some cautions and one rule:
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