October 14, 2012
The United Methodist Church baptizes infants. It does not dedicate them. I’m genuinely concerned about what seems to be confusion on this issue. ‘Baptize’ and ‘dedicate’ point toward radically different theologies of sacramental grace and atonement, and it’s central to the UMC liturgical articulation of God’s grace.
Even if one doesn’t look beyond Wesley or our own doctrinal standards to the broader Christian Tradition, United Methodists affirm (and must affirm) infant baptism. This derives from (and is integrally related to) our affirmation of Christ’s commandment to baptize in the Gospel of Matthew and our affirmation of sacraments as means of Grace through which God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit communicates the person and work of Christ (atonement and sanctification) to Christian believers. Our affirmation of infant baptism cannot be separated from our understanding of Grace or from our understanding of the ways in which God prevails over the forces of sin and death to unite God’s people to God’s self.
This is important, friends, and we really need to cling to our UMC heritage, indeed the tradition of the entire Christian faith back to the apostles and the Gospels before we unknowingly sever ourselves from the Means of Grace by which we enter the Body of Christ, the Church.
A Very Short Bibliography:
Wesley, John. “On Baptism” John Wesley. Albert Outler, ed. Oxford, UK. Oxford University Press. 1964. 317-332.
UMC Book of Discipline, Article XVII of Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church (p. 63) and Article VI of The Confession of Faith of the EUB (both in OUr Doctrinal Standards and General Rules).
Jones, Scott J. United Methodist Doctrine. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 261-262.
Maddox, Randy L. Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1994.221-227.
October 6, 2012
…my perennial favorite for falling leaves, chilly mornings, and the darkening of the year.
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’s the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all the rest.
In me thou see’s the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie
As the deathbead whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perciev’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou mmust leave ere long.
April 7, 2012
Holy Saturday: what a weird liturgical moment. It’s that unexplained double-space between the psalmists lament and prayer of thanksgiving. Just a blank line with no text and everything changes. In the cosmos, we know Jesus is defeating the forces of sin and death, but we’re waiting. Holding our breath, crying, hoping, despairing who knows how to even go about feeling today? I read a great poem for good friday several years ago, Salvator Mudi Via Crucis– and in my sweet-I’m-a-sophmore-in-college-with-lots-of-feelings head decided the best way to process holy saturday would be a poem.
Here is the good poem: (about Good Friday)
Salvator Mundi: Via Crucis
Maybe He looked indeed
Much as Rembrandt envisioned Him
In those small heads that seem in fact
Portraits of more than a model.
A dark, still young, very intelligent face,
A soul-mirror gaze of deep understanding, unjudging.
That face, in extremis, would have clinched its teeth
In a grimace not shown in even the great crucifixions.
The burden of humanness (I begin to see) exacted from Him
That He taste also the humiliation of dread,
Cold sweat of wanting to let the whole thing go,
Like any mortal hero out of his depth,
Like anyone who has taken a step too far,
And wants herself back.
The painters, even the greatest, don’t show how,
In the midnight Garden,
Or staggering uphill under the weight of the Cross,
He went through with even the human longing
To simply cease, to not be.
Not torture of body,
Not the hideous betrayals humans commit
Nor the faithless weakness of friends, and surely
Not the anticipation of death (not then, in agony’s grip)
Was Incarnation’s heaviest weight,
But this sickened desire to renege,
To step back from what He, Who was God,
Had promised Himself, and had entered
Time and flesh to enact.
Sublime acceptance, to be absolute, had to have welled
Up from those depths where purpose
Drifted for mortal moments.
I’m a terrible poet. But I still struggling to get my hands on Holy Saturday and some of these same themes keep popping up. Don’t judge this on the theological terminology or style of poetry, please: I was 19 and painfully fond of parenthetical asides in poetry when I wrote it. I have no idea why. But I’m still kinda partial to the ideas. Anyway- this one’s mine:
Salvatore Mundi: Silence
What came then?
How was it next: when the Face had gone?
Because, what can it really mean;
what remains when the fingers and toes seem to have abandon us?
And what are we to do on the day He leaves his definition
to be a vestige of a oddly written history.
How can this silence, this vast frightening nothingness
signal the return to omnipresence, to Love?
Maybe it is true, their stories of the veil rent into pieces;
perhaps the sky did turn black,
and boil with unspeakable glory (as so many imagine).
But i saw, as Elijah touched, we too will hear.
As the beloved one and the rock, we will see
He is not there.
The crashing and rending and quaking of words is not Him.
He is the silence
where the Woman weeps.
He is the silence
in the rooms of the helpless clinging to one another, locked away.
He Was; Is; will Be, the door never opened.
(the need for such a movement, now dismissed.)
The gates splinter under the weight of glory:
Creator breaks into creature: then assumed, now redeemed.
“It is finished”:
March 27, 2012
I cam across this beautiful quote recently and wanted to share it. It is beautiful.
“The primary liturgy through which Christians experience the Real Presence of God in Christ is nothing more or less than “the liturgy of the world.” It is to this liturgy, smelling of death and sacrifice,” that all the church’s ritual actions return. There, God is met in the confused impurity of the human condition– in the weight of mineral; the light of honey; the sound of the words “night” and “good-by”; the heaping abundance of wheat, ivory, and tears; lifted objects of leather, wood, and food; faded photos that gather our lives like walls; the red noise of bones; the thunder of flesh; the smack of kisses, gasps, and sobs; the roar of water passing across bone; muffled snow; garlic and sapphires in the mud. There God is met as One who suffers with us, as One who forgives a thief on the cross. All this is what the liturgy of the world celebrates; all this is what the liturgy of the church points to. We arrive at mystery, at Real Presence, at God, only by embracing the human with all its poignancy and terror.” -Nathan Mitchell
…there may be further reflection to follow, but for now please bask in Dr. Mitchell’s description of the real presence we encounter in the sacraments.
February 22, 2012
I love Ash Wednesday. There is nothing better than a nice wallow in shame, scruples, and self-condemnation to lift the heart. Also, I get to feel super holy by not eating… ALL DAY LONG. Love. it. Every time my belly growls I get to feel close to Jesus, because look how hard I’m working! If warning bells aren’t going off right about now, please go find your spiritual director. Every one of those statements puts me in blown heresy, and the worst part is that if I’m honest, I can’t denounce them are as sheer sarcasm. I’ve been learning that the hard way all bloody day long today. I’m not engaging in what I personally consider a sufficient fast. I would normally not eat anything, and subsequently enjoy the glowing light inside that is one part Jesus and two parts unmitigated pride. Instead, not because I’m smart enough to have figured that out but because my superior ordered me to fast from excess in self-denial, I’m allowing myself to eat coffee and bread. It’s tasty and the equivalent of about half of one meal. It isn’t a lot, but it’s enough to jar me into realizing where my fasting focus has been the last several years. As I’ve read my usual procrastination gambit of blogs, emails, and Facebook statuses today it’s been a Thor’s-hammer-sized blow to my pride. One blog claimed that people who don’t wholly abstain from food on fast days are “what’s wrong with the western Church.” Ouch. I’m what’s wrong with the church. Another called out those who lack self discipline with pictures of Navy Seals- my coffee and bread won’t make me a navy seal for Jesus, I’m crystal clear on that now. The more I read, the more I felt like– well– super un-holy.
Like my scruple-wallowing practice, Ash Wednesday sometimes becomes a day for folks a day to beat their heads against the wall of self-condemnation (which we mistakenly name “the cross”) so that tomorrow when we stop it will feel so much better! But hopefully, I’m learning (and feel free to steal this lesson) one facet by which to one day enter into a properly ordered fast. Nothing about our practices on Ash Wednesday or lent have to do with “working for” our salvation or Jesus love. There isn’t anything about it designed to make us feel holy – or even unholy for that matter. In fact, it shouldn’t be about us at all. The crux of Ash Wednesday is turning our attention back toward the Cross and the Face of our Hope who hangs upon it. The words of Augustine and Paul- and the words of Jesus in today’s gospel- won’t let us get away with it. Instead Paul tells us via the Corinthians to focus upon reconciliation with God at all costs. Yes, we abstain, but the focus must always lie on reconciling with God our estranged Lover. Augustine reminds us that in Jesus, Adam’s fall becomes our fortune because it opened a door for Christ’s redemption and the sanctification of humanity. Morever the gospel reminds us that we shouldn’t fast like hypocrites– not because we should hide our witness– but because our witness isn’t to self-destruction or our own power but to the redemptive power and love of God.
Embracing the Cross today and every other day must finally be an act of unrestrained hope that clings to the promises of God. We fast to remember with gratitude that Jesus has given us his own body to sustain us. We abstain not make ourselves stronger in the battle against evil, but in order to remember that in God’s great Love we are already more than conquerors. We seek the Cross not as a weapon to use against ourselves, but as the means by which God draws all people into Jesus’ saving embrace.
I’m far from learning my lesson. I readily acknowledge that a full-blown Pelagian tendency won’t let me rest today. But- oh felix culpa, oh happy fall- the wheel’s begun its turn. The long and graceful shadow of the cross stretches out ahead, inviting me out of myself and into its embrace. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, help me grab on.
Ave Crux Spes Unica.