Sunday, October 2, 2016

You're a Pal and a Confidant

I have found that in the autocephalous Catholic world the bond that is stronger than anything else is friendship. It overrides so-called "communion agreements," distance, liturgics, even sometimes complex (but not generally not basic) doctrine. I think there is a good reason--because we all want to connect with each other on a human level. We want to find others out there, like us, who want to belong. A close friend was recently consecrated a bishop, and I wish I could have attended but travel plans prevented my attendance. The event brought together people of differing views and even some whose official policy is cautious towards interjurisdictional participation. It happened because of common friendship and care for the consecrated, who is an exceptional person.

The modern ecumenical movement hinged on the 1925 Wold Conference of Life and Work in Stockholm, Sweden. During this event, members of churches from around the world (with the exception of Roman Catholics) came together. They shared stories, experiences, and wisdom. Events such as these often serve as a springboard for further efforts to work together, because people simply get to know each other.

It can be common in the movement to attempt replicate the model of larger churches. That is, to say "we're different so we will have nothing do with them." This can be done out of fear, out of the desire to maintain purity, out of a sense of control, out of concern of being affected by a negative image, and out of many other reasons (both good and bad). But, I have found that as people get to know each other organically these arguments often fall apart. Relationships form and people come together--just as is happening with mainstream Christianity in the USA.

What this means for the larger movement, I don't quite know. As I said, there can be legitimate reasons to be wary of a person or group. This largely because the movement does not have the resources of institutional churches, so cannot control for clergy who may be ordained where they really should not have been in the first place. I think we need to control for people who can be emotionally and spiritually damaging. But, I think we have to realize on some level that our attempt at building walls will see them crumble when people meet, speak, and share a meal.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Orthodox Challenges

For quite a long time I have felt a draw to Eastern Orthodoxy. Orthodox view on theology are very appealing to me for their sense of mystery as well as lack of rigid dogmatism. So, too, is the idea of theosis and the spirituality of Orthodoxy. It seems to offer the ability to become truly close to God without the strictness of the West. For the East, economy heals a multitude of problems. Their liturgy and sacramental forms are equally beautiful, although I will confess that their length and complexity seem daunting to me! For this reason, Western Orthodoxy seems to be an ideal draw. Here is the very best of Orthodox theology with Western prayers and a familiarity that feels "like home." It would also take a bit of work to get used to the extensive fasts!

This view towards Western Orthodoxy is the first of three challenges I see for people who are reluctant to "swim the Dnieper." In America, there has been a great interest in Western Orthodoxy. This is often from former Episcopalians, who are upset with the idea of LGBT inclusion as well as women priests. Often attracted, as well, are Roman Catholic traditionalists who are unenthusiastic about the Novus Ordo liturgy. Despite Westerners willingness to become Orthodox it is apparent that the welcome is not always warm. The Antiochians and ROCOR have set up Western Rite Vicariates, but they appear segregated from the rest of Orthodoxy. I would imagine that a Western Orthodox lay person who shows up at a Bulgarian Orthodox Church will likely receive a confused welcome. The truth is, I don't think Orthodoxy quite knows what to do with this little part of the Body of Christ. I suspect that many secretly (or openly) wish they would just adapt to the Eastern Rite. Also challenging is the politics of some of the converts, who can come from traditions that are much more involved in culture wars than many Orthodox. Like the Ordinariate, they seem to be frozen in a place that is neither miserable nor truly welcomed.

The second challenge is the issue of ethnicity. This is not to say that other churches do not experience challenges with ethnicity. In fact, at the turn of the century it was animus towards the Poles which spurred the growth of the Polish National Catholic Church. Not to mention the establishment of buildings like "St. Anthony Italian Catholic parish" and "St. Patrick Irish Catholic parish." But the Orthodox seem to dislike each other with a glee that is unparalleled in other parts of Christianity. Sometimes, it is over power. The case to which I am referring is when one Church ceases to commemorate the leader of another because they have encroached into their (missionary) territory. There are numerous examples of this occurring. Other times, it seems to be just plain ethnocentrism. With territorial boundaries constantly changing in Eastern Europe people built an identity based on a common history, faith, etc. Flecks of nationalism crept into Orthodoxy so extensively that it had to be condemned (phyletism). It has (and continues to) reached a boiling point in America, where multiple jurisdictions overlap. This produces things like the Bulgarian Diocese of the Bulgarian Church as well as the Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church in America. It also can produce hurt feelings at a local level, as numerous articles have detailed instances where people were not welcomed because of their backgrounds. It can seem perplexing to Greek Orthodox Church members why a John Smith or a Mary Jones would want to join their Church. This can, perhaps, be addressed by constant vigilance.

The last challenge is more specific to certain groups. It is the challenge of extremism. This largely seems to escape many "mainstream" Orthodox jurisdictions, except among converts. It seems to be frequently demonstrated in so-called Old Calendarist or resisting groups. Perusing the Facebook profiles and blog posts of clergy of these groups, it is evident that there is something disturbing about their outlook. There can be a promotion of secrecy, conspiracy, and contrarianism. To the average convert these can seem quite off putting. Again, the West is not exempt from these things either. There are numerous Roman Catholic traditionalist groups who believe the "real pope is locked in the basement of the Vatican" or subscribe to elaborate conspiracy theories about those who aim to hurt them, their beloved church, and their nation. In Orthodoxy, however, it seems to be condoned at the highest levels and even promoted. Attempts at rational debate or providing facts can be met with downright hostility. The idea of "everyone is out to get us" promotes insularity as well as fear wrapped in mistrust. Equally challenging is the close tie of religious authorities to political leaders in many countries, where the Church can be seen as an extension of the state. This is a dangerous precedent and, I would venture to say, is entirely foreign to Americans.

For these reasons, I have resisted any closer link to Orthodoxy. In the vagante world, Orthodox infusions can be promoted. Blending Western liturgies with Eastern views is quite popular. It also has the appearance of being exotic, as the average American is unfamiliar with Orthodoxy except when it's been on the Simpsons. This may be a landing point for many people who seek to avoid the above pitfalls.

"With respect to the attitudes of others towards us: We are not responsible for what other people are or what they may do, but we are responsible for our sins against them." - Elder Sergei of Vanves

Sunday, November 29, 2015

What's In a Name?

Well, folks, I'm back. The world has become so crazy that I feel compelled to write again. In 3 years I have abandoned some things, though, and I thought you should hear about it.

I have largely stopped using the phrase "Independent Sacramental Movement." This term was largely popularized by my friend Bishop John Plummer. I have long felt it was useful but, to be honest, I have come to a point where I feel it might be too inclusive. Is there such a thing? Yes, Virginia, there is...! 

I have largely come to realize that such a large tent creates chaos. I personally believe that for there to be validity of sacraments there must be something equivalent to the scholastic phrases of matter, form, and intent. To intend is to "intend to do what the church does." But, for many people this is not clear. If they are Baptists disguised as Catholics, as noted in a previous post, are they "intending" to create sacrificing priests? Or, if esoterically inclined, are they intending to create sacrificing priests who adhere to the Nicene Creed and the tradition of the Church? These are, I believe, important questions. We can form bonds with each other but if we disagree on basic, established dogmas there can be a challenge to the relationship.

There is a bit of discomfort for me with the term "Independent Catholic" as well. After all, our groups were among the first to acknowledge that the divisions of Christianity were largely created by politics rather than faith. Therefore we have often offered the sacraments to various members of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. We are never truly independent because we are united with each other by a common Baptism and a common faith.

Then there's Old Catholic. My own jurisdiction uses a derivative of this term because we believe in the premise and ideals of the So-Called Jansenist Church of Holland. But, it also causes a hell of a problem. I've had so many people who are "in the know" ask me if I am a SSPX-type priest in the past. Still others are wary of our liturgies because they are concerned they are only in Latin (not that there's anything wrong with that!)

I think I've settled on Autocephalous Catholic. Or maybe Self-Ruling Catholic. Calling myself Catholic but Not Roman sets up a relationship where I define everything I do in relation to Rome. And we have seen how well that works for Continuing Anglicanism! But Autocephalous Catholic insinuates that we control our own destiny. That we are Catholic but not controlled by a foreign patriarch or power. This is, to me, how the Church was envisioned. 

Now I just have to pass out dictionaries so people I meet can look up "Autocephalous."

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Mental Illness in the ISM

This is, perhaps, a bit more of a serious post than my lighthearted usual posts. It deals with the topic of mental illness. I have been fortunate to have many friends in the psychiatric profession and done significant personal research into this issue. Clergy with mental illness are nothing new. There are numerous examples, in the past, of clergy who have suffered some type of infirmity. For example, modern psychiatric professionals regard Pope Pius IX to have possibly suffered from extreme narcissism or bipolar mania (grandiosity). An example of this is his ring, displayed at the right, which he had set with a cameo image of himself in diamonds.

There were also various saints who, while often displaying holiness of life, had what we now identify as a mental illness. In fact, there can often be a fine line between mental illness and holiness. One man's hallucination is another's vision! This is precisely why it is so important to test the spirit as directed in the Gospel of John ("Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God..".)

Mental illness among clergy is now being addressed. With 500,000 clergy persons in the United States alone (between Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy) it is statistically impossible not to have a segment who are mentally ill. Some are able to receive appropriate treatment, while others are asked to leave. This does not have to manifest itself so visibly as sexual misconduct--it can be inappropriate displays of anger, inability to feel empathy, delusions, paranoia, phantom illness, etc.

The ISM is complicated because we do not have a unilateral system for psychological testing. I cannot beg and implore jurisdictions enough to REQUIRE PSYCHOLOGICAL TESTING. It can be relatively inexpensive and is absolutely essential to not opening up the jurisdiction the ordaining bishop to lawsuits. It must complement a criminal background check. Even if it can't be universally implemented for all candidates, if there is any question about a candidate from the bishop he should reserve the right to request testing.

I have believed and continued to believe in the goodness of sincere, good people who have been prevented ordination in other churches finding somewhere to minister in the ISM. Because I may not agree with their candidacy does not mean that they cannot share God's love with others. However, there are some people who either cannot be ordained because it is dangerous to the general public or who need treatment from medicine or therapy to manage their illness before they are able to minister. Unfortunately, so much stigma surrounds mental illness that they may not be comfortable being honest about their issues.

People of faith and clergy should be vigilant about issues of mental illness. There are certain warning signs that are evident. Studies have pointed to the hypothesis that gay men and women may be more susceptible to borderline personality disorder. This can be apparent in intense personal relationships, addictions, frequent created illnesses, abandonment fears, etc. Men in general may be more susceptible to antisocial personality disorder and may display a lack of remorse, aggressiveness, deception, etc. Narcissism and other personality disorders may present themselves as well.

The more we can be open about the issue of mental illness the better we can understand clergy we know or who may seek ordination. Again, it is not a shameful issue but one which presents in every profession, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Baptists in Disguise and Apostolic Succession...

There is a new movement among Southern Baptists in my area. They graduate from the local seminary or bible college and start a "community church." These community churches usually have names like "Faith" or "Sojourn" or "Gateway" or "Grace" or some other generic name. However, when you read their statement of faith it is distinctly Baptist. Well, Baptist of the hellfire and brimstone type. Young couples come to the churches hoping for a type of open environment where they can learn their faith in this post-Christian world. Often times, they sink into a type of fundamentalism.

The ISM has a similar problem. Yes, I will call it a problem. It is the new influx of seemingly evangelical ministers who claim apostolic succession. These individuals wear the clothes and were ordained by bishops in the apostolic succession, but they have no concept of sacramental theology. This begs the question--why would they want apostolic succession of they do not believe that they are participating in a sacrifice on an altar? Or, sometimes they do believe in some type of sacramental theology but then dually emphasize the Bible and its superiority over tradition.

I believe there is a parallel with the Reformed Episcopal Church. Bishop George Cummins, the founder, stated very clearly that "I act as a Bishop, not claiming a jure divino right, or to be in any Apostolic Succession..." According to traditional Catholic theology (as mentioned previously) there must be an intention to "do what the church does." If you do not intend to ordain a sacrificing priest, do you do what the church does? That is not for me to say. But, it is pertinent given the large influx of evangelicals into the ISM.

Don't get me wrong. I think the ISM is a big tent, and I realize that the Anglican tradition (in particular) has always had a low church camp. But, really, what is the point of advertising one's self as a "bible believing Christian" who celebrates "the Lord's Supper" and claiming apostolic succession? We believe that the apostolic succession is intrinsically linked to the apostolic tradition, a fact elaborated on quite eloquently by one young Joseph Ratzinger. Without the apostolic faith the apostolic succession is problematic.

I have no problem with Pentecostal preachers wearing Catholic garb. If that's your thing, live it up! Well, at least wear them correctly please. But, it's shaky ground then they claim to have apostolic succession without holding the sacramental deposit of faith that is dependent on that succession. Biblical literalism is, after all, only about a century old.

"We are not to credit these men, nor go out from the first and the ecclesiastical tradition; nor to believe otherwise than as the churches of God have by succession transmitted to us." Origen, Commentary on Matthew (post A.D. 244).


Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Homily About Listening

One of the readings today, depending on which lectionary you use, has the miracle of Jesus healing the deaf, mute man. This is regarded by female theologians as the greatest miracle of Jesus. He made a man listen! Still, out of the 37ish miracles that were documented in the New Testament this one was chosen. I think it is because listening was as difficult then as it is now. We live in a world where we are told not to listen to each other. We aren't supposed to listen to those that are politically different, especially during this election season, because "they're crazy." Other religions, too, are labeled as having no inherent value. We strive more than ever to reduce people to one common denominator. You're conservative, liberal, gay, straight, black, white, etc. The many complexities that make up you and your essence are not honored. You are just put into a box from which you can never escape. This, of course, makes it much easier to not listen to each other. This is a shame.

Similarly, while listening to each other we need to listen to God. We have a wonderful example from the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose birthday was celebrated yesterday. Mary was likely a girl in her early teenage years who wanted nothing more than to live with her bethrothed, Joseph, until the end of her life. Instead, she answered the Archangel Gabriel with the words "Let it be to me according to thy word." This simple action took her to many dark places. She saw her son, the only son she had ever known murdered as a common criminal. His friends and disciples were similarly murdered. She lived in excruciating emotional agony. Yet, she listened to God's will for her life. She listened.

The two cannot be mutually exclusive. Sometimes we hear each other and it is hearing the very voice of God acting through us. Who better than our sisters or brothers to let us know that we need to change our ways. Sometimes God tells us that we must reach out to each other. Regardless of how it happens, the take home message today is that we must listen. It can't be a half-hearted listening, but it must be fully aware and sincere. We don't have to agree with the message, but we are duty bound to listen to the story. To care about the speaker regardless of their background or differences. Perhaps in this we will hear the very voice of God.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Judge Not...

There are a lot of people that are down on the ISM, including within the movement itself. Sure, we have our crazies. But, we have the directive that the Church is a "hospital for sinners." There is no perfect church because, by definition, they are filled with imperfect people. However, this obviously does not give anyone the right to misuse their authority in any way. Unfortunately, this will never be completely avoidable. However, the one difference is that it happens on a much smaller scale in the ISM than in mainstream churches.

For instance, if I were a Roman Catholic leader, I could not live with the fact that I was complicit in the abuse of children. Yet, for some reason the ISM is derided as flaky, dangerous, spiritually hurtful if people should find our churches. Similarly, an Orthodox jurisdiction recently had a bishop placed on leave for allegations of impropriety. This same jurisdiction has investigated two primates, had a primate resign, is investigating a bishop on molestation charges, removed another bishop, had a priest accused of rape, another priest accused of financial improprieties.... well, you get the idea. Soon, they won't have any bishops left!

This is not gloating. The fact that there have been people hurt by religion is awful. Yet, it stands as a testament that when the ISM is accused of all those negative things and being "not real," is the alternative so much better? Instead of talking about how horrible we are as a movement, we must make a move to more positive discussions. When questioned about perceived negatives, we have an obligation to highlight the wonderful aspects of our tradition. This includes how much more true we are to the model of the early church, how we offer ordination opportunities to qualified individuals who would not have an opportunity elsewhere, how we permit greater access to the sacraments, etc.

Each tradition offers the opportunity to participate in the life giving sacraments of the church. This is, obviously, preferable to the empty fundamentalism that is becoming a fad in America.