What Do You Mean by Anglo-Catholic?

What Do You Mean by Anglo-Catholic?

J. Barrett Lee:

Even though, as a Presbyterian, I do not technically qualify for the ‘Anglo’ part of ‘Anglo-Catholic’, the approach to Christianity described in this article pretty closely resembles what I believe. I would call myself ‘Reformed Catholic’ if the term wasn’t already used by another denomination. Most of the time, I settle for saying that I’m ‘catholic with a little c’…

Originally posted on The Curate's Corner:

One of the parishioners at my parish came into my office a week or so ago and asked me this question.  IN the process of working on moving tables in our parish hall, I mentioned to him that I considered myself an Anglo-Catholic.  Coming from a Presbyterian background, he had never heard this term and I bumbled through a quick history lesson, but came to these points, which are so much more eloquently put than I did in that moment:

What is Anglo-Catholicism?
A Response in Six Parts

by the Revd John D. Alexander, SSC
Rector of S Stephen’s Church, Providence, Rhode Island
formerly of the Church of the Ascension, Staten Island, New York

1. A High View of God. Anglo-Catholic worship at its best cultivates a sense of reverence, awe, and mystery in the presence of the Holy One before whom even the angels in heaven veil their faces.

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Heart to Heart

We modern folks, Protestants in particular, have a hard time conceiving of ministry that doesn’t somehow involve an exchange of information. We talk a lot. Many words.

We ask for prayer requests and affirmations of faith. We made the sermon the central feature of the worship event. We analyze hymns based on their lyrical content. Especially since God cannot be seen directly with the eyes, we are tempted to reduce Christian faith to exchanging the right kind of information in the right way.

Let me be as clear as possible: I have come to believe that we have made a vital error in this. Faith and ministry are adamantly not primarily about the exchange of information.

I experienced this firsthand in a new way last spring when I visited St. Gregory’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Three Rivers, Michigan. During my week there, I shared that space with the monks who live there year-round and with several other visitors: an Anglican priest, a Quaker pastor, a woman going through a difficult life transition, two young women in campus ministry, a group of men on retreat from a nearby Episcopal church, and a rabbi in the throes of a psychotic episode.

Each of us had our own reasons for being there, but what I experienced most deeply was the sense of togetherness and connection that emerged, not from our conversations, but primarily through the space shared in silence. We got to know each other while knowing very little about each other. This was intimacy minus the exchange of information. It runs completely counter to the style of relational building that our culture has trained us to pursue (which could be described as the exchange of information without intimacy).

There is a similar kind of ministry that grows among us at North Presbyterian Church, where I serve as pastor. Most of the people we do ministry with have some kind of serious, chronic mental illness. Some of our people are barely verbal in their cognitive expression. I stand up to preach every Sunday, but it’s not the main event of the service. My sermon could be good or bad, short or long, and the ideas would still go over the heads of several people in the congregation. They don’t come for the sermon.

Instead, they come to sing their hearts out (loudly and off-key), to share a hug and a smile (maybe the only one they’ll get all week), to voice their weekly joys and concerns in words that are sometimes unintelligible (but known to God in prayer), to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist (which we celebrate weekly, a rarity among Presbyterians).

Our liturgy is messy and rowdy: quite the opposite of Benedictine silence and Presbyterian “decency and order.”

Our worship and ministry at North is not about the exchange of information, but the intimate connection of heart to heart in the gospel. It happens in music and touch, in bread and wine.

The following video illustrates this beautifully. While none of our members are as impaired as Ms. Wilson, the principle of ministry is the same. St. Francis of Assisi is thought to have said, “Preach the gospel always; use words when necessary.” This video shows how it’s done:

Practicing Pluralism (or, Why Your Brain Won’t Fall Out if You’re Open-Minded)

“Don’t be so open-minded that your brain falls out.”

I’ve had many people toss this pithy little turn of phrase in my direction many times over the years. Not once has one of them ever actually explained what they mean by it. Here’s how their message comes across:

  1. “People who disagree with me are stupid.”
  2. “I think I’m witty.”

If one were to give the benefit of the doubt to another who uses this phrase, one could say that they are expressing their distaste for relativism in religious truth, ethics, etc.

Relativism is the philosophical position that there is no absolute truth to a given matter. Therefore, what is true (or right) for one person is not necessarily true (or right) for another. Therefore one person (or culture) cannot pass judgment on another person’s (or culture’s) beliefs or ethics. Relativism is a cop-out and easily debunked.

Philosophically speaking, relativism is “hoist with its own petard” (a phrase that appears in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, among other places). A petard is an antiquated explosive weapon, a kind precursor to the grenade or landmine. If a petard were to detonate in the face of the one setting it, that soldier was said to be “hoist with his own petard” or “destroyed by his own weapon.”

Such is the fate of relativism as a philosophical theory: It is self-contradictory, refuted by its own argument, hoist with its own petard.

If one claims that there is no absolute truth in religion or morality, then one must hold this belief to the exclusion of all other beliefs. To the extent that relativists hold themselves to be correct in their relativism, they are absolutists. This is a logical contradiction.

Similarly, if one holds that all perspectives are equally valid and there is no ultimate truth (as relativists do), then they must necessarily regard absolutism as a philosophical perspective of equal value alongside their relativism. This too is a logical contradiction.

This is why we say that relativism is “hoist with its own petard.” It contradicts itself and falls apart under the weight of its own argument.

Relativism is a cop-out. It’s a way of ending dialogue when one party is sick and tired of debate over a particular issue. It could be argued that those who say “Don’t be so open-minded that your brain falls out” are actually encouraging people to stay engaged in the process of critical thinking, rather than take the easy way out (i.e. adopt relativism as a philosophically weak non-position).

If this were what folks meant by “Don’t be so open-minded that your brain falls out,” then I would heartily agree. However, I’ve noticed the opposite to be true. In my experience, those who use this phrase are falling into a similar trap as relativists: They are refusing to engage in the process of critical thinking. They are unwilling to consider viewpoints other than their own and are derisive of those who do. In sense it is their own brains that are “falling out” (or “being stifled”) due to minds that are too closed to engage in rigorous debate. Ironically, they fall into the same hole as relativists, but from the opposite side.

A further mistake they often make is their failure to distinguish between relativism and pluralism. We’ve already defined relativism as the position that there is no absolute truth, therefore what is true for one person is not necessarily true for another. A robust pluralism, on the other hand, states that there is an ultimate truth, but it cannot be fully known by one person or captured by a single perspective.

Take the parable of the elephant, as told by Ramakrishna Paramahamsa:

A number of blind men came to an elephant. Somebody told them that it was an elephant. The blind men asked, ‘What is the elephant like?’ and they began to touch its body. One of them said: ‘It is like a pillar.’ This blind man had only touched its leg. Another man said, ‘The elephant is like a husking basket.’ This person had only touched its ears. Similarly, he who touched its trunk or its belly talked of it differently. In the same way, he who has seen the Lord in a particular way limits the Lord to that alone and thinks that He is nothing else.

Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_men_and_an_elephant

The relativist would say that there is no elephant and each blind man was equal to his counterparts in accuracy. The pluralist would say that the elephant is real and its reality is greater than each blind man’s individual experience.

Another way I have described pluralism to my students in the past is to imagine a statue illuminated by spotlights. A light placed on one side of the statue will illuminate some features while leaving others in shadow. A light placed on the otherside will have an opposite effect. The relativist would say that there is no statue. A reductionist might limit discussion to those parts of the statue that are illuminated by both lights (e.g. those who reduce conversations about religion to discussion of the “golden rule”, an ethical principle that appears in multiple religious traditions). Pluralists, on the other hand, see the statue and take note of what is illuminated, where the lights overlap, and what parts remain in shadow.

Pluralism is the virtue of humility, applied to the life of the mind. Practicing pluralism requires of us a high degree of empathy and goodwill for one’s interlocutors. It requires that we remain critically engaged with one another and honest with ourselves. Being a pluralist is a moral commitment to love one’s intellectual neighbors as oneself. Being an open-minded pluralist, in this sense, is the exact opposite of one’s brain falling out. I would daresay it is the human mind at its best.

Getting Serious About Racism

In the midst of public outcry over the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, a lot of white folks have accused their African American neighbors of ‘being oversensitive’ or ‘playing the race card’. Part of us would like to believe that ‘we’re beyond all that now’ because of the Civil Rights movement. White people want to think: “We used to be racist, but then Dr. King came along and changed our minds with his ‘I Have a Dream’ address.”

Our unconscious script goes something like this: “Racists are bad people. I am not a bad person. Therefore, I am not racist.”

We justify this argument by saying things like:

  • “I have no problem with black people.”
  • “I even have friends who are black.”
  • “I’m color-blind.”
  • “I don’t see race.”

We have achieved a general consensus in North American culture that conscious discrimination based on race is morally wrong. Relatively few people are proud of being labeled ‘racist.’ However, that doesn’t mean we’re ‘over racism’. Despite claims to color-blindness, the following video paints a sobering picture:

The most insidious aspect of racism is not what we choose to believe, but how our unconscious assumptions shape the way we act without our realizing it. If we want this reality to change, we white folks have some work to do.

1. Confession.

First of all, we need to undertake that good old spiritual discipline of repentance: We need to confess our sins. We should never let the words ‘I’m not racist’ escape our lips because the truth is that we are racist. I made my first attempt at this confession last year in the following post on this blog:

I Am Racist

Read it and try writing your own. Get honest with God and your neighbor. Confession is good for the soul. Without it, we are little more than hypocrites and ‘whitewashed tombs’ as Jesus said. What we have now is a society where it’s okay to be racist, so long as we don’t say we’re racist.

2. Education.

We white folks need to be more knowledgeable about the truth of American society seen through the eyes of our African American brothers and sisters. I recommend the following books as a very basic starting point:

Race Matters by Cornel West

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

3. Proximity.

If you’re serious about fighting racism, you need to ally yourself with others who do the same. Join your local chapter of the NAACP. It’s not enough just to march in protest rallies. Go to meetings, serve on committees.

It’s also not enough to simply “have a black friend.” How about having some part of your week when you are the only white person in the room? Listen without passing judgment. When you hear the outcry against injustice, don’t close your ears. Don’t try to justify yourself or dismiss the grievances of the oppressed. Even if you’re not sure you agree with what is being said, show up and listen with an open mind. Resist the urge to put your two cents in before you’ve earned the right to be heard. Your silence in listening will speak louder than any words you might say.

Liturgical Animals (1)

J. Barrett Lee:

Human beings are liturgical animals. I’ve often said the same.

Originally posted on Imaginary Visions of True Peace:

monksinChoir1The reality of mimetic desire guarantees that we will engage in liturgical activity. What kind of liturgical activity and for what end leads to many possibilities. However, since we instinctively react to the desires and intentions of others, we also instinctively move and sing with each other and act together. Since we are mimetic animals, we are also liturgical animals. Much liturgy takes place in churches and temples but liturgy can be done anywhere at any time and it is indeed done all over the place.

René Girard’s theory of scapegoating violence places the origins of ritual and liturgy in the spontaneous mob violence against a victim that “solves” a massive social crisis. At first thought, one would think there is nothing liturgical about collective violence; it just happens. But actually collective violence is a very predictable phenomenon that consistently works in a certain way once it gets started. We…

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On Gathering with Those who Keep Oil in their Lamps

J. Barrett Lee:

From Abbot Andrew of St. Gregory’s Abbey:

Originally posted on Imaginary Visions of True Peace:

eucharist1Like many parables, the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Maidens is obvious and yet puzzling in some respects. The notion of forfeiting eternal life for failing to be prepared at a certain level is oppressive, but we can lift this degree of oppression by noting that the Kingdom of God is something we are supposed to be living NOW, in this life. This is what we are to be prepared for. If we are prepared NOW for the kingdom, entering more deeply into the Kingdom when we die will take care of itself.

It is worth noting that just before this parable, Jesus has thrown out the parable of the household where the wicked servant beats his fellow servants and gets drunk with the drunkards. Here we have an image of the violence humanity commits and suffers for not being alert to God’s Kingdom. Ironically, the wicked servant thinks…

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