The Anglican Tradition—Part 2

My class readings this past week brought us through the “Great Schism” between Western Christianity and Eastern Christianity. This material was fascinating to me because Church history is not taught in the vast majority of evangelical churches (including the ones I’ve attended), and thus they seem to have little appreciation that for hundreds of years, “the catholic Church” (notice the small ‘c’) was simply the body of believers throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and wherever else the Holy Spirit led these Christ followers when they left Jerusalem following Nero’s (and subsequent emperors) persecution in the first century.

So let’s explore this. Let me stop here and say that what follows is probably overly simplified, mainly because I am still learning and also because I want to present a very simple overview in the limited space of my blog, without getting sidetracked with a bunch of other details. But this is important stuff…in my view, ALL Protestant believers should understand that our history dates back to the book of Acts…not to the Reformation.

As we see through Paul’s missionary journeys in the book of Acts, it was Paul’s practice in the cities he visited to leave the baby churches he planted in the hands of a “bishop” or “overseer” (see 1 Timothy 3, “pastor” in today’s vernacular), to provide spiritual and practical leadership. According to Acts, James the brother of Jesus was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Church history provides the name of the first leader, or bishop in Rome—Peter, one of the original twelve disciples. Besides Jerusalem and Rome, by the mid 300s, there were three other “patriarchal” cities that were significant to the spread of Christianity: Constantinople in modern day Turkey, Antioch in Syria, and Alexandria in Egypt.

As the only first-hand disciple of Jesus in these patriarchal cities, the fact that Peter was the bishop of Rome is significant. Rome (through Peter and later his successors) became the “keeper of the true faith” in terms of ensuring right doctrine and promoting Church-wide polity based on the general foundation laid in the first century Church. However, Rome at this time could not make policy…Church policy was made as a consortium among the bishops of the five patriarchal cities.

But let’s not forget that Rome was also the ruling city (via the emperor) of the entire Roman Empire, and so when the Roman Empire fell in 476, this had a dramatic impact on all of the churches spread throughout the West (i.e., Europe). Their relatively peaceful existence (since Christianity was accepted as an official religion of the Empire) was no more. As barbaric tribes infiltrated Europe, demolishing its cities, Western Christianity suffered tremendously.

Backing up a bit, people being people, there was always some tension between the bishops of the five patriarchal cities. Particularly, the bishops of the other four (Eastern) patriarchal cities were not always thrilled with decisions made in Rome. So it is easy to imagine that once Rome fell, these Eastern bishops took advantage of the chaos in the church in Rome. Animosity among these bishops grew over the years, even as Rome tried to stretch its muscles both politically and missionally. The “Roman church” (the main church body that had been sending missionaries out into Europe for centuries, including the British Isles) got a big shot in the arm when Charlemagne, who united much of Europe as Emperor of the Romans in 800, requested that the bishop (by now called the pope) in Rome preside over his coronation.

Over the next two hundred years, the patriarchal cities that had shared authority within and over the Church (meaning the Christian churches throughout the known world) vied for power. Finally, in 1054, the tenuous seams that had held the Church together for nearly 700 years ripped wide open, and communion was severed completely between the Roman church and the churches represented by the four remaining patriarchal cities, which all happened to be in the East.

While some might claim that the Roman Catholic church has been in existence since Peter became the bishop of Rome, this is not historically accurate. Peter was the head of the “Roman church” as differentiated from the other patriarchal churches…not the “Roman Catholic church.” The true birth of the Roman Catholic church took place in 1054, when the Roman church split from the Eastern churches and formed its own unique identity.

And so, dear Christian brothers and sisters, whether you are Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant, let’s embrace the knowledge that we have a shared history that spans over a millennia (before the Reformation)! I think that is pretty exciting. This also means, of course, that we “Western” Protestants do share about 475 years with the Roman Catholic Church, from 1054 to the beginning of the Reformation in 1517 (500 years ago this year!). And again, if we review Church history, there is much in that era to appreciate, as it has helped to shape who we are today. How I desire for all of us to focus on our shared common histories rather than on what divides us.

I will end this post by adding a personal thought. Since its inception with the Protestant Reformation, Anglicanism as a whole (the Anglican church has not been perfect over the years, by any means) has been concerned with finding the “Via Media” or middle road…blending the theology of the Reformation with the beautiful prayers and liturgies that had to that point lasted for fifteen hundred years. From my perspective as a member of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), the North American Anglican church is still concerned with finding middle ground and healing the wounds that separate us. I LOVE this about the ACNA, and I pray daily that the Holy Spirit will help each of us as Christ followers to find inroads to peace with our brothers and sisters in other denominations.

“They will know we are Christians by our love!”

This is Part 2 of a series.

The Anglican Tradition

This past year, I became an Anglican. This is an oddity for me to say, because even though I have attended churches in other denominations for long stretches of time, never before have I suggested “I am a Presbyterian” or “I am a Baptist.” I would say that I am a Christian attending these denominational congregations. This is the first time that I have been willing to declare with certainty that I AM something—I am Anglican.

This transition occurred after a group of circumstances that I wrote about previously (see Becoming Anglican, dated 3/25/2016), which then led to my current path toward being ordained as a deacon. To that end I have been attending online classes through Trinity School of Ministry in Ambridge, PA. At present I am enrolled in a class called The Anglican Tradition, through which I am learning about my still relatively new faith tradition.

Our first class readings have focused, among other topics, on the Sacrament of Baptism and its importance to the first century Christian church. In connection to this, I have been learning about the historic creed called the Apostles’ Creed, whose roots are intrinsically tied to baptism. For you see, as those early baby Christians left their Jewish roots, or Roman or Greek pagan religions, and claimed faith in Jesus Christ through baptism, they were asked to declare what they believe, according to the oral traditions and writings of the apostles. Long before the end of the second century, this statement of faith—also called the rule of faith at the time, or the “Baptism Symbol” (Symbol here meaning “summary”)—took the shape of a non-negotiable statement of belief upon which these new Christians were willing to stake their very lives. Over the course of the next few decades, this statement (or group of statements) took the form of the Apostles’ Creed as we know it today. Essentially, it is the earliest statement of faith that Christians ever made. Here is the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

 I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried: He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

 I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic [meaning “universal’] Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

One of my writing assignments this week was to think of “three points at which, when we say the Apostles’ Creed today, we’re committing ourselves to a view of life which is very different from modern secularism around us.” I hope my answer speaks to your heart, as you consider your own statement of faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

1) Since the Enlightenment, science has been at the forefront of providing explanations about the cosmos. Most scientists today do not believe in intelligent design (for an interesting commentary, see Ben Stein’s “Expelled” on YouTube), much less a Creator-God. So believing in a God-created universe is very counter-cultural.

2) My father was an atheist who openly scoffed at the virgin birth and the resurrection. Long before that, Enlightenment thinking began planting seeds of doubt about Jesus’s background as expressed in the Apostles’ Creed. In the past few years, the media, film makers, and writers have all exploited conspiracy theories about these truths and others (the sinless nature of Jesus, his miraculous conception, his deity, the true nature of his “supposed” death, etc.). Even within some Christian denominations and churches, these beliefs are no longer held as truth, but myth. It’s all part of a consumer mentality that encourages us to pick and choose what we believe about Jesus Christ. The Creed stands in stark contrast to this mentality by stating emphatically that ALL of these statements are true.

3) So many statements in the third section of the Creed run against today’s secular viewpoint, I will pick one—forgiveness. Forgiveness is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit living within us. One doesn’t have to look far (their own TVs or tablets) for signs of unforgiveness everywhere (gossip when wronged, betrayal, treacherous behavior, murder) in the guise of personal justice for wrongs committed, mislaid loyalties, even national pride or patriotism. Yet as the family members of church goers who were killed during the 2015 Charleston Massacre illustrated, forgiveness is extremely powerful. Their forgiveness of murderer Dylann Roof defused any serious repercussions and left an entire nation stunned with awe over the power of love. This is not typical secular behavior! Only the power of the Holy Spirit can bring about such counter-cultural behavior, as a testimony to the triune God.

This is Part 1 of a series.

Tenebrae

Tonight I attended my first “Tenebrae” service, held at Resurrection’s mother church, Trinity Anglican in Marysville. Tenebrae is Latin for “into the shadows.” The service is intended to recreate the emotional aspects of Christ’s betrayal, abandonment, and the agony of his crucifixion. The heart of the service takes place toward the end, when candles are lit to coincide with a number of Passion narratives recited by different readers. After each narrative, the reader goes up to a table full of candles and extinguishes one. Thus, one by one all of the candles are smothered, until the Scripture passage (John 19:31-42) where Christ is put into the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, and the room goes completely dark.

Dramatic? Absolutely. Some might say overly, unnecessarily so. Christ has risen! Why dwell on the sadness of the crucifixion? I think Ken Collins (www.kencollins.com) puts it well: “If you see only the happy ending of a movie, everyone who saw it from the start is elated, but you go away saying, ‘So they were all hugging each other? So what?’ But if you see the beginning and the middle part, with all the suspense and grief, you understand what the characters overcame, and the happy ending is all the happier. So to me, attending the Easter service without attending the Holy Week services is like watching the happy ending of the movie without seeing the middle—you only rob yourself of joy.”

But there is something else. The whole purpose of Lent is to try in some way to relate to Christ’s suffering and death in order to understand the depths to which God went to secure our redemption. The price was enormous, but if we never think about it, we may miss it. In Philippians 3:10, Paul states that there is value in knowing Christ, “—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” But again, if we never think about Christ’s sufferings, the value that God places on empathizing with Christ and his agony is completely lost on us. Even more so what it means to become “like Him” in death.

One particular Lent, spring was late in coming. There was still plenty of snow in the high country (like this year), and I went snowshoeing with a friend around Ice House Lake. At the turn-around point we sat down on top of boulders to rest; and being thirsty, I drank all of my water. Hiking back, I began to get dehydrated. Then I got really thirsty. Not good. I looked around at all of the snow surrounding me and practically drooled in my panic, knowing that I shouldn’t take even one bite of the white stuff (eating snow would only make the dehydration worse).

Driving home that day I thought about John 19:28, where Jesus makes the statement, “I thirst.” The Roman soldiers responded by filling a sponge with water and vinegar and lifting it to Jesus’s lips on a stick of some sort for him to suck some of the liquid out of the sponge. I thought I knew what real thirst was after my face-off with dehydration.

But tonight, another image came to me that brought Jesus’s agony into sharp focus. As I listened to the reader retell this part of Christ’s suffering on the cross, I was reminded of my dear husband mere hours before his own death last year, looking at me intently (he was unable to speak) and smacking his dried cracked lips. He hadn’t had anything to drink in nearly three weeks and he was absolutely desperate for water.

In a completely inadequate effort to relieve his distress, I was allowed to dip a sponge-on-a-stick into a cup of ice chips and rub it onto his lips. He wasn’t supposed to drink any of the water, yet he would take the sponge into his mouth and suck out whatever moisture could be found there. My heart broke into millions of pieces witnessing him suffer so.

Remembering this horrific episode tonight, a guttural sound I didn’t know I was capable of making escaped my lips, as I realized how fiercely thirsty my Lord Jesus must have been. True empathy was born in my heart at that moment. At least, as much as is possible for a very fortunate American Christian such as I, who has never known anything of real suffering on Jesus’s behalf.

It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how this knowledge, this participation, deepens one’s faith. How so? Threefold, at least: 1) it deepens my appreciation for what Christ suffered on my behalf; 2) it nurtures gratitude for God’s great gift of salvation through the forgiveness of sins…my sins (read Luke 7:36-50); and 3) it makes me a better witness for Christ, as I am now able to identify for others the lengths to which God went to save them, as well.

The Tenebrae service ends with a bare altar in near complete darkness. In the silence I could hear the sighs and sniffles of my fellow “participants” in Christ’s passion…many moved, just as I was. With no benediction to mark the dismissal, we were free to leave the sanctuary at our leisure, musing, and looking forward to Easter when we can say (with renewed and grateful hearts), “Alleluia! Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!”

Ash Wednesday 2017

“You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old,
the years long ago.”
—Psalm 77:4-5

In fall of 2015 I embarked on an eight month journey through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which begins with an examination of sin. As I progressed through the weeks it felt as if God were propping my eyes open, encouraging me to peer into my past and all the ways I had wronged him by what I had done and left undone. I had been warned that this would be a challenging point in the Exercises, yet there was no way to prepare for the barrage of emotions that came. Sometimes there was a flood of tears as I considered episodes in my life that I had never tried to view from God’s perspective before. Other times my eyes were dry, devoid of feeling. Just as Keith Green sang in the 1970s, my heart was hard and my prayers were cold.

For the first time I understood Jeremiah’s description of Judah, whose people had eyes but did not see, and ears but did not hear (Jer 5:21). I had been living in ignorance, and perfectly content to do so (vs. 31).

But no more. Jesus often told the crowds following him, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” I wanted to be a hearer, an obedient servant. Jesus taught many lessons, of course, but none so important as the one recapped by Paul:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are
justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in
Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood,
to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness,
because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”
—Romans 3:23-25

God passed over former sins. My sins. Like two sides of a coin, God calls me to be honest about my sins—past and present—while at the same time extending his completely unmerited favor (grace). This is the gift of God; this is the gift of Lent. And what a gift it is…today and always!

Give Him a Smile

Grief is a fickle thing. For the past few weeks I have felt the fog over mind and body lifting, at least at the corners. I still have some very dark days, but the light days have been brighter and more frequent. Then the holidays arrived.

A nebulous gloom began to fall once my house guests left after Thanksgiving. Then a strong sense of foreboding that the days ahead would challenge me as much as any I had yet experienced. The feeling proved true…as grief books predict, the holiday season IS hard. So many memories linger in the air, forever unfulfilled now in the present.

Last night, In the quiet of the moonless night, I tried to grasp hold of the meaning of Christmas outside of my self-centered world of loss. I thought of Mary Travis’ soulful rendition of “I Wonder as I Wander” and as the song suggested, I wandered my yard. In the extreme dark I could hear but not see deer, two owls “hoo-hooing” to each other, and a lost goose as it honked overhead. I pondered the King of the Universe who created and commands all things—”a star in the sky, a bird on the wing”—yet loved me enough to pave a way for me to enter His awesome presence. Tears streamed down my face as I wondered what I can give such a King who literally has everything he could possibly desire.

Then it came to me, the realization that in fact, He doesn’t have everything He desires. Because He desires a people to love and who will love Him (the whole reason for the incarnation), and all too often we forget, or turn our backs on Him. So out loud, amid the leafless oaks, the hooting owls, the bedding deer, the night sky, I said…”What do you want from me for Christmas, Lord?”

The answer came immediately. “A smile.”

In the midst of unrelenting grief, I determined to do just that…give God my smile for Christmas.

Merry Christmas, one and all! 🙂

Lighting My Darkness

The last couple of mornings have been in the 30s so I’ve been building a fire in the wood stove instead of cranking up the heater. There’s something very cheery about a cozy fire heating my home as dawn creeps through the windows, plus it keeps my PG&E bill down. Out of necessity, I’m getting pretty good at this task that Jack always felt was his duty to perform. Sitting before this morning’s fire, reading, praying, and watching the rivulets of flame dance very slowly within the stove, my mind roamed back thousands of years to our spiritual forefather Abraham. For him, building a fire meant warmth, a hot meal, safety, light for early morning and evening tasks, and a sense of “home” for the wandering vagabond who left the land of his fathers for a place he knew nothing about.

For nearly 48 years, I lived with light at the flick of a switch, bright street lamps lighting my way on the highways and byways, and shopping areas so well lit at night the sun might as well have been shining in the heavens. Certainly there was no hope of seeing the stars overhead. Out here in rural Placerville the nights are black unless the moon is up, and with the frequent power outages (two so far since fall began), even the indoors can look like pitch.

It took a long time after our move for me to get used to this level of outdoor darkness but now I enjoy it. There is a unique silence to a black sky filled with stars that transcends my fear of the night. Indoors is a different story, however. When the power goes off, or even when simply making a trip to the frig for cold water in the middle of the night, I want a nightlight, flashlight, or candlelight to pierce the darkness and illumine my way. Why is that?

There is a metaphor here that I didn’t know existed before Jack died. While my soul mate was alive, he was my strength and security in ways unrelated to his waning physical strength. He was my unwavering rock, my solid foundation. If you’ve ever lost a loved one you know that when they die, the inner space they inhabited is irrevocably vacated. Nowadays, when my interior is dim (faint, shadowy), the lions roar in their cages and there is a great deal of room for rumbling trepidation.

Staring into the dancing firelight, an “Aha moment” emerged. While my spiritual foundation has been Christ for many years, Christ has not been the solid rock undergirding my day-to-day existence. Just as important to this realization was the immediate movement from head to heart and soul of what it means to be a temple where the Holy Spirit dwells (1 Cor 3:16). Didn’t God reveal Himself in myriad times and ways through fire? The burning bush…the fire by night guiding Moses and his throng through the wilderness…the licks of fire alighting overtop people’s heads on Pentecost…. Isn’t that same flame indwelling me?

I have no doubt that in the days and weeks ahead, I will continue to face my inner darkness and the lions that dwell there. (Don’t we all have a beast or two, pinned up in our innermost being?) Sometimes I sense they are lunging against their restraints to seize the void that Jack once occupied. Not going to happen! The empty spaces within will be filled instead with my ever-present savior, friend and brother, Christ Jesus the Lord. How do I know this? Because GREAT is He who is within me.

To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!”  —Jude 24-25

Serenade

This is my first blog post since writing “Farewell to Jack, aka Lucky Girl” back in July. I have had many thoughts to share, but each time I took a step toward writing a new post my heart would not let me proceed. As I write this I wonder if I’ll have the courage to hit “Publish.” If you’re reading it now, you know the answer.

My beloved husband of nearly 24 years died on June 27. By mid-July I was still sobbing a good part of each day, and I knew I had to do something to help myself feel better. One of the things I looked forward to with our new dog Dixie (rescued this past March) was going for local hikes, which we had not been able to do with Jack’s critical situation. It was time to start a new habit.

The first place we went after making this decision was a place called Cedar Park Trails, a system of trails meandering through many acres of the El Dorado National Forest along Sly Park Road. It was a weekday, and not long after entering the trail I heard music. I stopped and let Dixie sniff around the base of a giant oak tree snag while I listened. At first it sounded like an orchestra tuning, followed moments later by Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”

Music in the middle of the forest!? I felt like I was in a dream, or maybe a movie. Particularly because a couple of my classical guitar friends played “Ode to Joy” at Jack’s and my wedding. Surely this was one of the most bizarre, most rapturous moments of my life. Before I knew what I was doing, my arms were up in the air and I was twirling slowly in place. If anyone saw me I didn’t care…the experience was pure euphoria.

As the dream-like quality wore off, I listened intently. No it was not my imagination, there really was an orchestra playing, and its music surrounded me. With no evidence to the contrary, I believed a heavenly orchestra was serenading me. Suddenly, a verse flooded my mind:

For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.    —Zeph 3:17 (NLT)

I heard music three more times in July and August, sometimes riotous, sometimes melodic. At last Dixie and I went in search of the sound, crossing Sly Park Road and following horns and strings into a camp adjacent to a fire station and the EID water treatment plant. Aha, Sugarloaf Fine Arts Camp! When did it move west from Kyburz to this location?

But do you know what? I still feel like I have been serenaded by God and His angelic orchestra rather than a group of school-age boys and girls. God knew I would be there at just the right moment to hear “Ode to Joy,” and He knew the significance of that particular piece of music. He knew I needed my spirits lifted. He knew the music would carry me through weeks of difficulty.

And do you know what else? I’ve come to believe that God serenades us a lot more frequently than we realize. And we’ll hear it, if we will but listen.