The blessing of kindred people

Yesterday morning, as we began our House of Bishops meeting, we were greeted by two representatives of the native communities on whose ancestral lands we have gathered. The speakers began by telling us that this was the common custom of the native people’s of Alaska – that when people came for a visit, it was proper to be greeted by the people who lived in the place.

One of the speakers was a the leader of consortium of tribes and native communities in the Fairbanks area. He talked at length of the challenges facing his people, how they were trying to balance the resources of the modern world with the wisdom and traditions of their people. He talked specifically about an issue that had arise regarding the foster care for a village child. The state system wanted to take the child out of the village and place the child with state certified foster parents. But the community insisted that the child stay with the village and in their extended family so that the child would know their customs and would learn how to live according to the traditions. The chief who spoke to us said that they had been successful, that the child was now a young man who was doing well and starting a family – and because he had stayed in the community and learned the traditional ways – had not fallen into habits of drinking, etc that are such a challenge for the native communities right now.

It’s a reminder that there is a great deal of wisdom already in communities with which the missionaries engage – and we learn as much as we share when we go to talk with them about the work that God is doing in the person of Jesus.

The second speaker was also a former chief – but it was clear that he was a minister and spoke as a theologian. He spoke in particular about the ways that the native people had encountered God in their lives and had understood God before the missionaries came. He mentioned in particular that while there were stories about multiple spirits, the Great Spirit, who was named “The One on Whom We All Depend”, was singular – and a natural revelation of God. He spoke about the joy with which his people had received the news of the particular expression of God in the person of Jesus, and the particular revelation of the Truth that they had encountered in the Gospel.

He then went on to point out something that I found quite striking – he drew our attention to the encounter of Abram and Melchizedek described in Genesis – the encounter where the two men greet each other as brothers and Abram is blessed by Melchizedek. He pointed out that Melchizedek, a native to the land in which Abram had journeyed had blessed the father of the Chosen people of God – and called him brother.

It’s quite an arresting thought – that rather than Abram supplanting the native people, Abram is blessed by them, and welcomed to live beside them.

(And according to the speaker, it’s the first instance of such an encounter in the biblical narrative.)

It’s something that I’ve been thinking about and upon which I’ll be reflecting for the week that we’re here in Alaska.

Two pictures from later in the day. We were visiting the Alaskan Heritage and Cultural Center. The first is the Antler Arch that welcomes you to the bank of the river in the center of the city.

The second is Bishop Gordon’s plane – sometimes called the “Blue Box” after the UTO fundraisers that allowed the church in Alaska to purchase it for his use. It’s the plane he used to visit the communities he served across the state. (No need for a plane in Rhode Island – but I’m told some of the earlier bishops did have boats that they used instead.)

The Lamb replaces the Scapegoat

For those who are preaching this weekend on John the Baptist’s proclamation of Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the World”, this ancient song is worth reading:

The Lamb Replaces the Scapegoat. Romanus Melodus:

Now the the garment of mourning is rent; we have put on the white robe
Which the spirit has woven for us from the lamb’s fleece of our Lamb and our God;
Sin is taken away, and immortality is given us, our restoration is clear.
The Forerunner has proclaimed it.…

O, the message of the Baptist, and the mystery in it!
He calls the shepherd lamb, and not only a lamb, but one to free from mistakes.
He showed the lawless that the goat which they sent into the desert was ineffective.
“Lo,” he said, “the lamb; there is no longer need of the goat;

Put your hands on him,
All of you who confess your sins,
For He has come to take them away, those of the people, and of the whole world.
For lo, the One whom the Father has sent to us is the One who carries away evil,
Who appeared and illumined all things.”

Kontakion on the Epiphany 6.12–13.

Elowsky, J. C. (2006). John 1-10 (pp. 70–71). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Bishop Nick Baines on Reconciliation – holding together those who experience has torn apart.

People regularly ask me about the meaning of reconciliation. This quote below, from a longer essay by Bishop Nick is a good starting point. (It’s part of longer essay, the full version of which is linked below.)

Words like “peace and reconciliation” can appear bland; but the task of reconciling is demanding and costly. It’s about trying to hold together people whose experience has torn them apart. The whole point of it is that already divided, damaged and conflicted people can choose to break the cycle of hatred.

The symbol of Christianity is a cross – a man nailed to it with arms open, exposed to all that the world can throw at him, but not throwing it back. Open arms can represent welcome to all-comers; they can also hold together those at extremes who otherwise might pull apart into different worlds. And there’s the risk that those doing the reconciling find themselves being pulled apart in the process.

via Reconciliation | Nick Baines’s Blog

Grace for Creation: free!

We have a great tradition of holding classes for parishioners in Lent, but once Easter comes, and Spring springs, we tend to focus on other things. But, what would happen if we tried an Easter class – like a Lent class, but later?

Have I got a deal for you:

In 2011, the Episcopal Church House of Bishops issued a pastoral letter on the environment. In response, a five-week study course titled A Life of Grace for the Whole World has been created. The curriculum follows the five sections of this letter.

via Curriculum – Grace for Creation

This is the result of work done by the Episcopal Church in New England, spearheaded by Bishop Tom Ely and two incredibly talented priests, Stephanie Johnson and Jerry Cappel. It’s a perfect fit for a springtime course, and it’s basically turn-key. Download it and go. The only thing we ask is that if downloadbutton.jpgyou use it, you let us know how it went. What could be easier?

New video curriculum on Faith and Science

I’m really happy with how this turned out:

[Episcopal News Service] Are science and faith compatible? Ordained scientists in The Episcopal Church offer insight on this sometimes controversial question through a new groundbreaking video curriculum offered by Forward Movement, now available for free download. The curriculum, offered in partnership with the Committee on Science, Technology and Faith, invites a sense of wonder and discovery to play a part in building care for creation in our faith communities.

In the Beginning explores the Bible’s basic doctrine of creation, the modern scientific worldview, perspectives on the Big Bang and evolution, and the biblical roots for environmental care. The Rev. Stephanie Johnson says it is a “thoughtful, engaging invitation into a deeper understanding of all God’s Creation.” Featured clergy-scientists include Katharine Jefferts Schori— former Presiding Bishop and oceanographer; Nicholas Knisely—the Bishop of Rhode Island and physicist; Rev. Lucas Mix—evolutionary biologist; Rev. Alistair So—microbiologist; and the Rev. Stephanie Johnson —environmentalist.

via Forward Movement announces new video curriculum on science and faith

You can view the videos here:

(Here’s a taste:)

 

 

The End of Moral Relativism

Jonathan Merritt writing in the Atlantic:

Thoughtful conservatives who are less concerned with waging culture wars have begun to admit that such a shift is occurring. In The New York Times last week, David Brooks argued that while American college campuses were “awash in moral relativism” as late as the 1980s, a “shame culture” has now taken its place. The subjective morality of yesterday has been replaced by an ethical code that, if violated, results in unmerciful moral crusades on social media.

A culture of shame cannot be a culture of total relativism. One must have some moral criteria for which to decide if someone is worth shaming.

“Some sort of moral system is coming into place,” Brooks says. “Some new criteria now exist, which people use to define correct and incorrect action.”

I’ve been thinking that the pendulum has been swinging for a while now. Looking back at the 70’s and 80’s when there really was an “anything goes” season, we’re definitely in a very different moment.

I’m not sure if anyone can put a finger on the moment it changed, or what might be identified as the proximate cause, but we clearly are in a different moment.

Either way, this is certainly what we’re seeing happening on Social Media – which is probably the most effective window we have into the collective Zeitgeist.

What does the Church say in such a season?

Towards a theology and ethics of nanotech

Something for you to think about on the other side of the Triduum:

Russell Cowburn is Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge where he leads a large research team studying the physics and applications of nanotechnology. He is also a Christian. In this talk he describes what nanotechnology is, how it might be used to help solve global problems such as climate change and how we might begin to answer questions such as ‘what does God think about nanotechnology?

Prayers for Brussels, Tuesday in Holy Week

Gracious God, the comfort of all who sorrow, the strength of all who suffer: Let the cry of those in misery and need come to you, that they may find your mercy present with them in all their afflictions; and give us, we pray, the strength to serve them for the sake of him who suffered for us, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

(The Book of Common Prayer, p. 279)

I awoke to the news of another coordinated multi-site attack in Europe, with many people dead and wounded. And this following the attack over the weekend in Turkey, following the unspeakable horrors and carnage caused by the ongoing war in Syria. It seems to me the only response in this moment is prayer and service to the victims of this violence wherever it is happening.

A prayer for Monday in Holy Week

O Lord God, who gavest to wise men of old a glorious star to lead them to the Christ: Grant that we whom thou hast given a yet more glorious sign, even his holy cross, may follow and be led by it the whole way to our salvation and thy heaven, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

From “A Procession of Passion Prayers” by Eric Milner-White OGS, CBE, DSO, one time Dean of York Minster.

(Hat tip to the Rev. Ned Gammons)