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Archive for the category “Musings: Religion”

Abington Templeton Foundation Committee

I have been asked to join the Abington Templeton Foundation Committee.  Evidently a couple of local clergy put my name into the mix and the person heading the Committee selected me to join.  I am very honored and humbled by their selection of me.  The Templeton Foundation Committee is tasked with creating a manual for use in orthodox Christian evangelism, teaching, and apologetics.  The Committee consists of a handful of local clergy and other Christians who are hopefully equipped to accomplish the Committee’s goals.  We are using 1 Peter 3:15 as our inspiration: “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.

Our goal is to address the reasons for lack of faith in our culture by tackling head on religion’s interaction with science, faith, and politics.  We hope to clarify just what the word “God” means and why God, faith, religion, and Christianity is important in someone’s life.  Perhaps most importantly, the manual will – God willing – help people interact with non-believers in a more loving way to communicate the faith in a loving and gentle way.

As you can see, our goals are ambitious and will entail a lot of work and dedication from all involved in the committee.  We need prayer.  Please pray that our efforts will be fruitful and will have a positive impact on those involved in the creation of the manual and those who receive it in some way.  Please pray the Holy Spirit works through the Committee so that we can produce a manual, and present it in a way, that advances the Gospel.

I will post updates periodically as the Committee works through its tasks.

Bought With a Price: Every Man’s Duty to Protect Himself and his Family from a Pornographic Culture

As many of my readers know, one of the primary areas of my law practice is family law.  Unfortunately, family law deals with many very deep and profound problems in the family structure which result in custody disputes, abuse, divorce, and other related issues.  A common problem which often underlies these issues is the use of pornography.  Recently my friend and my former parish priest, Fr. K. Brewster Hastings from my old church St. Anne’s in Abington, PA, emailed me about a new publication issued by the Most Reverend Paul S. Loverde, Roman Catholic bishop of Arlington, Virginia called Bought With a Price: Every Man’s Duty to Protect Himself and his Family from a Pornographic Culture.

Pornography is an enormous blight in our society and plays a significant role in the diminishment of the American family and sexuality in general.  The problem of pornography has become so prominent that Bishop Loverde felt led to prepare a comprehensive published essay on the subject.  You can find the entire piece in .pdf format here.  You can read more about it here.

Instead of summarizing the piece, I will let its author do the talking for me.  Accordingly, here is a statement from the Bishop about his publication:

“Seven years into his addiction to online porn, John wrote to tell me of his struggles. His addiction began when he misspelled a word in an online search and was taken to a hardcore porn site. When I received his letter, he was nineteen. If anything, his exposure to pornography at the age of twelve was later than some: studies reveal our children’s first exposure is even younger.  With the release of Fifty Shades of Grey, I wonder what we are saying to John and his female peers. I wonder what our decision to objectify women in situations of sexual violence—and to support the industry which fuels it—says about us and about our society? Though by the entertainment industry’s standards this movie is not classified as pornographic, it normalizes the intertwining of sex and violence, that old pornographic standby.

I have not had the privilege of a sheltered life. As a young priest and campus minister in the ’70s, I saw the early fruit of the sexual revolution: broken relationships, devaluation of sexual union, and rising divorce rates. In the lives of those I served, I saw prolonged adolescence, rising numbers of fatherless children, more addictions, and isolation. I listened, counseled, and tried to listen some more. With the dawn of the Internet, we awoke almost overnight to new dangers. Men began to chase online fantasies through progressively more explicit images, ones in which men were violent and controlling of female subjects. Virtual fantasies now broke apart real marriages, careers, and families. Wives stumbled upon their husband’s online history. Young adults lost their jobs viewing porn online at work. Children imitated what they saw in adults and began “sexting” one another—the end result of which was suicide in several cases.

By the mid-2000s, I was fed up with the silence surrounding this issue. In 2006, I wrote Bought with a Price, a pastoral letter aimed at empowering men and women to protect themselves and their children from porn. Since publishing that letter, I have been welcomed into many lives. Victims and addicts often share their stories with me—through letters and conversations. So too, many have confided their stories of hard-won freedom in overcoming addiction. With each new victim’s face, name and story, I find the $97-billion-a-year global porn industry less anonymous. The Internet and cable TV providers—the “white collar pornographers” who guarantee 24/7 access to porn in our homes—strike me as more culpable. It troubles me that many adults will watch Fifty Shades of Grey. My greater concern, though, is for the children like John whose entire moral ecosystem will be marred by the cultural mainstreaming of porn. I suppose we have the option of shrugging our shoulders, ignoring it, or cracking a joke. But I challenge every adult to reflect on this cultural moment from the perspective of a father or mother of young children.

Anyone listening to Pope Francis has heard his call to resist unjust social conditions and go to the margins: to the poor, weak, and defenseless in our “throwaway culture” marked by a “globalization of indifference.”

At the margins, I see twelve-year-old John fighting an addiction he did not seek. I see our daughters and sisters and wives viewed as objects for pleasure, victimized, and even trafficked. And I see a predatory porn industry that is nothing short of euphoric over these developments.

“There’s a greater sense of optimism,” a leader in the porn industry was quoted as saying earlier this year. “I believe the companies that have stood the test of time . . . have figured out a way to stay viable. I would say it’s a new era for the industry.”

It is most certainly a new era. The time has come to join our children at the margins and to defund the industries that prey so viciously and unjustly upon them.

The choice before us is stark. It is anything but grey.”

More Christian Clergy Are Saying “I Don’t” to Civil Marriage

Last week I posted an exploratory paper called Civil Marriage, Uncivil Times by The Reverend Canon Mark Rudolph, about whom you can learn here, who the rector of Saint John the Evangelist Anglican Church in Abington, Pennsylvania.  You can see the aforesaid post here.  The basic thrust of the paper is the movement of Christian clergy away from issuing civil marriage licenses and merely conducting Christian (i.e.: religious) marriages.

Fr. Rudolph drafted this paper as its proposition gains steam in American Christendom.  Indeed, just recently Philadelphia Roman Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput suggested that the Church get out of the civil marriage business (see here).

Apparently Fr. Rudolph and Arbp. Chaput are onto something as the idea that Christian clergy discontinue issuing civil marriage licenses has gained traction in other Christian circles.  Jonathan Meritt in On Faith & Culture reports here that this idea is becoming more than just a merely theoretical action to be taken.  Indeed, First Things has now issued a so-called “marriage pledge” calling and challenging Christian clergy to withdraw from issuing civil marriages.  You can see the pledge here.  Of course, there are also Christian clergy who wish to slow down this movement a little in order to allow for more time for discernment, and you can read about that here.

So, needless to say, this is a very interesting development and I will be following it and reporting on it here so please stay tuned!

Civil Marriage, Uncivil Times: An Exploratory Paper

The Reverend Canon Mark Rudolph, about whom you can learn here, is the rector of Saint John the Evangelist Anglican Church in Abington, Pennsylvania.  As it happens, St. John’s is my home parish and Fr. Rudolph is my priest.  St. John’s, like every other church which remains steadfast in supporting the traditional, historic, biblical, and Christian teaching about marriage, is struggling to find its place in a cultural, legal, and governmental environment where Christian marriage is in steep decline and battling back things like divorce, adultery, unmarried cohabitation, and homosexual relationships, among many other things.

Christians are finding various ways to address the various social ills described above, and one way, though certainly not the only way, to do so, is described by Fr. Rudolph in his exploratory paper entitled Civil Marriage, Uncivil Times.  In the paper, Fr. Rudolph surveys the status of civil marriage in the United States, takes account of where it is going at this point, and suggests a way for churches to deal with their involvement in civil marriage in the near and foreseeable future.

His paper is rather thought provoking and appears to reflect the direction many churches are going right now.  I have attached his paper to this blog to spark a conversation and invite comments and questions about it.  It can be reviewed by clicking on the images below or, at the bottom of this blog, by clicking the link to the .pdf file.

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Here is a downloadable .pdf of the paper: civil marriage uncivil times.11-17-14

Clash of the Canons and Civil Law at GTS

This post is from Anglican Curmudgeon which you can find here.

An excerpt of the Anglican Curmudgeon post is as follows: “The recent meltdown at the country’s oldest theological seminary (and the only Episcopal seminary under the direct supervision of ECUSA) puts to the test some of the canonical abuses and litigation strategy implemented in the last few years by the Church’s leadership at 815 Second Avenue. Eight of the ten full-time faculty employed by General Theological Seminary declared in a September 17 letter to the Board of Trustees that due to the “hostile work environment” created by the Seminary’s Dean and President, the Very Rev. Kurt H. Dunkle, they were unable to continue to work under him.

The phrase “hostile work environment” is drawn from the well-developed body of labor law enforced in the United States by the National Labor Relations Board. However, ever since a decision by the United States Supreme Court in 1979, the NLRB’s jurisdiction has been held not to extend to religious schools and their faculties (including lay faculty), due to concerns over entanglement with religious rights under the First Amendment. Just as with all the recent Church property disputes, ECUSA has been at the forefront of insisting that the civil courts must defer to it in all civil litigation involving its religious affairs, governance and operations.”

You can learn more about this issue here.

Book Review: A Certain Kind of Affection by the Rev. K. Brewster Hastings

I have recently finished reading the latest work by the Rev. K. Brewster Hastings entitled A Certain Kind of Affection (you can find this book on Amazon here).  This is his second published book of fiction, his first is a novel entitled The Only Way Out for Henry Clatt, and is a collection of short stories.

I have known Father Hastings for many years.  He is an Anglican Christian priest and the rector of Saint Anne’s Church in Abington, PA, and was my pastor for the years I spent as a parishioner there.  As it turns out, Fr. Hastings is the only published author of fiction whose works I have read that I have known personally.  I believe that this affords me a unique view and perspective of his writing that another reader may not have.  While another reader may appreciate his writing in his own way, I find Fr. Hastings’ words a little more intimate and personal than I would of other writers.  I have spoken with Fr. Hastings many times and have been blessed to hear many of his sermons over the years.  As a result, when I read his fiction, I cannot help but recognize many of his word choices or turns of phrase or descriptions of people, places, and/or things as something that can only be described as “very him.”  Indeed, my internal ears heard many of the lines of his books in his voice while I read them.  Perhaps knowing Fr. Hastings personally colors my view of his writing, but rather I think it allows me to appreciate his writing in a deeper way.

This brings me to A Certain Kind of Affection.  The book is a slim volume which consists of several short stories.  As one reads through the stories of the book, each story presents a main character different from the previous story, ranging from a monastic novice, to a disabled man, to a little girl, to a thirty-something woman, to a bishop.  Perhaps expectedly, considering Fr. Hastings is a clergyman, each main character encounters with God/spirituality in his or her own way in his or her own circumstance; through this device, Fr. Hastings draws out the reality that, whether one wants to admit or acknowledge it or not, God will meet someone where he is no matter who or where he is in a way that speaks to him.

The real strength and attraction of the stories lies in the emotional and spiritual depth of the characters.  It would seem Fr. Hastings’ experience in pastoral contexts over his many years in ministry helped him understand and really bring out the emotional and spiritual reality of the characters.  Further, if I may say so as someone who was once in Fr. Hastings’ spiritual flock, one of his strengths as a pastor is his ability to empathize with the emotional states in which people find themselves, and this strength is on display in this book in how the characters are presented.

I found it interesting that the stories did not preach or judge the characters regarding their spirituality.  In other words, the flaws and/or imperfections and/or misunderstanding (or whatever term one wishes to use) the characters have regarding God and/or spirituality is presented merely as the reality of that person at that moment without a judgment on it.  Instead, the stories present people, in their individual context and extent of spiritual development, honestly and realistically wrestling with his or her own spirituality in his or her own way, each revealing God intervening in their lives in ways unique to each character.

Interestingly, the various stories do not really come to a tidy conclusion that ties up all of the loose ends of the plots.  Instead, each shows a window into someone’s life at a specific moment in a person’s spiritual development, but leaves the reader to wonder how the characters will wind up at the end.  This seems intentional as the purpose of the book, and its stories, seems to be, as implied above, simply giving a vignette of various people of various types in various times and situations encountering God and spirituality and working through it in those brief moments.  It allows the reader to identify with the characters as, I would think, most people have found themselves with the thoughts and feelings presented in each of the characters at one time or another.  The stories, I think, help the reader identify the moments of his own spiritual life and development in those of the characters in the stories.  The encounters with the divine in the stories are sometimes obvious and other times subtle, but always identifiable and relatable.  At the end of each story, the reader is often left with a knowing recognition of the spiritual component in each story as something he can identify with in his own life as well.

Ultimately, I would recommend this book of short stories to anyone who is interested in reading short, compelling, punchy stories which involve realistic people encountering God in ways that should seem familiar to us all.  May God have mercy on us all that when he does encounter us, we respond to him with acceptance and surrender.

NT Wright Responds to Stephen Hawking on Heaven

Here is a fantastic retort by the Right Reverend N.T. Wright to Stephen Hawking.

Fr Stephen Smuts

What Stephen Hawking doesn’t understand about heaven.

It’s in the Washington Post:

It’s depressing to see Stephen Hawking, one of the most brilliant minds in his field, trying to speak as an expert on things he sadly seems to know rather less about than many averagely intelligent Christians. Of course there are people who think of ‘heaven’ as a kind of pie-in-the-sky dream of an afterlife to make the thought of dying less awful. No doubt that’s a problem as old as the human race. But in the Bible ‘heaven’ isn’t ‘the place where people go when they die.’ In the Bible heaven is God’s space while earth (or, if you like, ‘the cosmos’ or ‘creation’) is our space. And the Bible makes it clear that the two overlap and interlock. For the ancient Jews, the place where this happened was the temple; for the Christians, the place where…

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Hypocrites in the Church

Over the years I have heard many reasons for why people do not go to church; what perhaps tops the list is this one: “the church is too full of hypocrites!”  Now, I am not sure if it is any consolation, but if this is one’s objection to going to church, then one is in good company as Jesus objected to hypocrisy as well (see here).

The objection to hypocrisy in the church is, I think, really an objection to a lack of kindness and/or mercy of/in some people in the church, which results them being judgmental toward others.  Now, most know the church’s teaching against being judgmental toward others (see here and here for examples), but that does not really help at the time when one is being judged.

Being religious, but especially being Christian, is risky as it puts the person claiming to be religious and/or Christian at risk of being hypocritical because being religious means that one publicly proclaims belief in a certain way of life and morality.  Obviously the rub is that, while proclaiming a certain way of life with one’s lips, failing to live a life that matches what one proclaims causes a disconnect between the two that could be considered hypocrisy.  Perhaps more importantly, and more starkly, when that person whose life does not match with his words judges the behavior of others, it will inevitably rub others the wrong way and drive people from the church.

So, how should one approach hypocrisy, especially if one has been driven from a church and/or has been hurt by people in a church and do not wish to go back and experience the hurt again?  In answer to this question, I would make a few suggestions.

At the outset, I think it should be remembered that the church is a hospital for the soul.  In fact, Jesus makes this same analogy as recorded in St. Mark’s Gospel (see here), so I think the analogy has merit.  We are all born with a sickness in our soul and that sickness needs to be treated just like a sickness in our body.  The church is the only hospital where we can go to receive treatment for the sickness in our soul.  Somehow, if someone had a sickness of the body, I doubt he would refuse to go to the hospital just because the people there, and perhaps even the physicians, were also infected and/or had a bad attitude or bad bedside manner.  Those other people are irrelevant to one’s ability and need to receive the treatment from that hospital.  In the same way, one should expect the people in the church to be infected, including the clergy, with the same sickness of the soul as oneself, but that should not stop someone from going to church to receive the treatment he needs as well.

When recoiling against hypocrisy it is important to remember that, at root, we are all hypocrites in some way as no one (save one person of course) can (or has) lived in such a way that his actions always matched up with the morality to which he subscribes.  Therefore, be aware of the irony that your negative (and perhaps judgmental) view of the hypocrites in the church, even if it is the result or consequence of the hurt you received, may cause you to be hypocritical toward them as well.  Always remember that you need healing just as much as someone else.

Instead of being turned away by those in the church, and missing out on the healing of the church has to offer, try and pray for those who you believe are judgmental and/or hypocrites and offer the undeserved suffering you experience(d) due to them to Jesus as a way of participating in his undeserved suffering for you (see here for authority on this point).  It is important to remember that the undeserved hurts you receive from others reflects the undeserved hurts Jesus receives from you and, it is equally important to remember that Jesus’ response to those undeserved hurts from you (e.g.: his response of loving forgiveness and self-sacrifice) ought to be reflected by you to those hurting you.  This is hard.  This is difficult.  This is contrary to your instinct and initial emotional response.  Despite all of these challenges, take heart!  God has given us strength to endure and find our way through these challenges.  Moreover, all of the suffering we experience was also suffered by Jesus, so he knows how we feel and can specifically help us with our particular suffering.  How judged was Jesus by hypocrites?  He was adjudged to be condemned to death despite being an innocent man.  So, do not be turned away; instead, be like Jesus and, in so doing, receive the healing you need while participating in the healing of others at the same time.

See, we all need our souls to recover and our recovery is necessary regardless of whether the others in the church are also in need of recovery and/or judge us for our need for recovery.  Indeed, we ought not impair our own soul’s recovery merely because those in the church are also infected (and may not even know it!).  Instead, we must go to the church, receive the graces we need despite what the others in the church may or may not think and/or do, for our own soul’s health.  Do not sacrifice your own soul’s health on the altar of someone else’s hypocrisy.  We need to recognize that the hypocrisy and/or judgmentalism we find in people in the church is a symptom of the same sickness of the soul that afflicts us as well (but perhaps in different ways).  In fact, our perspective must be one of prayer for the others in the church and our attitude ought to be one of mercy and kindness toward those we believe are hypocrites.  Perhaps our attitude of kindness and mercy may provide an example to help bring the others out of their hypocrisy.  See, the church is a place where each person sharpens another like iron sharpens iron.  By not going to church, one misses out on being sharpened by others and misses out on the opportunity to sharpen others in turn.

In sum, do not let hypocrites in the church turn you away from the church.  Do not miss the opportunity to receive the healing to your soul.  Do not miss out on the opportunity to be sharpened by others.  Do not miss out on the opportunity to sharpen others.  Do not let other people determine your life and your soul’s health.  Do not let others define and determine your life, reality, and relationship with God.  Just remember that we are all, at times, hypocrites and an attitude of kindness, mercy, and forgiveness can overcome any hypocrisy.

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