Epiphany, Theophany, Old Christmas, and Priests Forever

It is the midnight of Christmas in the old calendar, celebrated by Orthodox Christians. It is bitter cold outside, three degrees the last time I checked, and the furnace is working overtime. There is a commotion, a bright star shining, angels singing, all in my soul, and I, a lowly shepherd am confused and frightened and trying to figure out what it all means.

Saturday was Epiphany, Three Kings Day for the western church. On the front door to our house, we chalked “20 + C + M + B + 18”. I posted a picture on Facebook, including a prayer to go along with it

The three Wise Men,
Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar

followed the star of God’s Son who became human
two thousand
and eighteen years ago.
May Christ bless our home
and remain with us throughout the new year. Amen.

In the morning, I went to a local Orthodox church to join in the celebration of the Feast of the Theophany. As we said the creed, “I believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church”, I thought about being baptized and confirmed Congregationalist, received into the Episcopal Church, and worshiping with the Orthodox. I looked at the young boy in the pew in front of me and prayed for him. Had someone prayed for me, the same way when I was young? Had someone else prayed for that person in a similar way? Is there a hidden apostolic succession that ties us together throughout the ages?

As we approached the blessing of the waters, small children ran around, joyful at the expectation of Christmas and at getting splashed with holy water. Women holding onto tradition filled their jars with holy water for the year. I rejoiced in the ample holy water splashed on me at the end of the service and wished I had a jar I could bring home some holy water for my family. A young boy gave me an ice cube from the holy water that he said I should take home to my mother. I carefully tucked it in my coat pocket until I could get in the car and put it in an empty cup.

In the evening, I returned with my daughter for Vespers. At the end of the service, the priest marked us with holy oil, myrrh, or Myron. I savored its smell as I drove my daughter to her grandparents’ house; the chrism of confirmation after the water of baptism. I did not know that Myron was another name for the holy oil. My middle name is Myron. May I too be used by the Holy Spirit to sanctify and consecrate.

I went to bed early and read for a bit more. I am reading “A Priest Forever” by The Rev. Carter Heyward. At times I’ve been sharing quotes from the book on Facebook. This evening, a few quotes jumped out at me. “Any attempt to postpone justice is a sign of weak faith.” A few pages later, she talks about Kairos, God’s time. “Kairos cannot be calculated by clocks, calendars, or conventions. Kairos bursts without warning into chronos”.

I seek to live into Kairos. I experience it when I pray in various churches and monasteries. I experience it when I partake in sacraments. There are moments of Kairos in family life or while spending time with people in need.

My thoughts go back to “A Priest Forever” and I think about excuses that have been given for not welcoming certain people into certain ecclesiastical ordination processes; wrong gender, too old, there’s already too many priests, impediments of health, finances, or family, all of which sound like the excuses for a lack of faith in pursuing God’s justice.

Mine is not a great cause, easily understandable, like Carter Heyward’s quest for the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church, but it feels like it is of the same essence. It is about renewal. It is about “looking ahead to a future with even more novel forms of ordained ministry” to use the words of a resolution from the Episcopal Church in Connecticut’s Annual Convention.

The star continues to burn bright in my heart. Kairos has burst in and we are all shepherds at the manger, children running around the church on Christmas Eve, aspirants to holy orders, and priests forever. Amen.

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit, New Years 2018 and the Perpetual New Year

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit. Happy New Year. A new month begins. A new year begins. I’ve often written blog posts starting with Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit remember a childhood idea that doing this would bring good luck for the year. I’ve often celebrated the new year with champagne toasts, herring, lentils, or other things thought to bring wealth and good luck for the coming year.

Last night, my wife and I went to dinner at a neighbor’s house. After dinner, we came home, and I went to bed not much later than usual, and I awoke this morning, not much later than usual. I’ve been thinking a lot about the social construct of time. Last night was New Year’s Eve in the Western Roman calendar, coming on the last day of the final month, the tenth month, December, not counting the months added for the Emperors, Julius and Augustus , and before the first month, January, named for the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions.

It was not New Year’s Eve in other calendars, like the Hebrew calendar, the Persian calendar, or various Asian lunar calendars. In reality, any moment, every moment, can be viewed as the beginning of a new year.

Yet even this is based on the idea of time as dimension that we move sequentially through, that what is past is past and what is yet to come, is yet to come. It is as if we are walking along a path and think of what has disappeared beneath the horizon behind us has ceased to exist and what is coming up on the path ahead of us doesn’t exist until we see it.

In the Christian Gospel of John, we find some interesting thoughts about Jesus and time. “Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’” Does something special happen to us when we celebrate the Eucharist or when we pray? Do you become part of an event that goes beyond time and location, joining a heavenly crowd? If we pray without ceasing, as 1 Thessalonians 5:16 calls us to, are we ceaselessly participating in something beyond space and time?

Where does this leave us when it comes to New Year’s resolutions? Is every moment a moment of new resolutions? What can we resolve for the new year, for the new us, moment after moment? I’ve always like the resolution, “to live each moment more fully and more lovingly than the previous”. I’ve often failed at this, but it remains a great goal.

Where does this leave us as we try to discover, as we try to live into, the future that already is, into God’s loving dream for all of us?

1 John 3:2 comes to mind:

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

Yet this raises an interesting question. If we are all going to be like God, to a certain level, especially if we apply some elementary math like the commutative and associative properties, then we are going to be like one another. In what ways am I going to be like the homeless man fighting addictions and other mental health issues? In what ways am I going to be like one of the first lesbian priests ordained, or a professor of black liberation theology? In what ways am I going to be like a conservative voter?

How does exploring this change who I am? How does it relate to living each moment more fully and more lovingly than the previous?

I guess these are aspects of my resolution for this coming year. I’m starting off by reading “A Priest Forever” by Carter Heyward. I hope to read a bit of “Martin & Malcolm & America: A dream or a Nightmare” by James Cone. Perhaps I can add in some writings from indigenous people here in America and around the world as well copies of various street newspapers.

How do we take this further in changing our daily media diet? What ideas, resolutions, or resources do you have?

Deconstructing the Established White Christmas: Homelessness, Immigration, and Pain

“I need help,” the old man said. He had come to the Homeless Memorial Service and was looking for food, shelter, and comfort. It had been a long day and I suspect all of us wanted to get home to dinner. He had been saying the same thing for probably half an hour as we tried to get him to head up to the soup kitchen for dinner and then return to the warming station at the church afterwards. After telling his story several times and describing the extent of his few belongings we finally got him on his feet and heading towards the door. He had a 2018 calendar because he was hopeful for 2018.

The day before, I had been to a Blue Christmas service at another church. I prayed for my friends and family members who have lived on the streets. A couple have their own apartments now. Another is in jail after getting into a fight.

I prayed for my friends and family who have been fighting illness. Some have fought cancer this year and are doing well. Others are still in the middle of that fight. Some have died. I prayed for those who have pain yet to be diagnosed. Some are at home. Others are in hospitals or rehabilitation centers.

I prayed for those who have been separated from their families this year. Those U.S. citizens who have seen their hard working tax paying parents deported under new administration policies. Those U.S. citizens who have seen their parents take sanctuary in local churches to avoid deportation.

A vigil outside of one church particularly stuck in my memory. The church was a Spanish speaking Pentecostalist church in a rough part of town. Years ago, when that part of town was where the wealthy lived, it had been a beautiful mainline Protestant church. Some of the stained glass windows survive. Others are now covered with plywood.

On Facebook, a friend with OCD posted about his torments, questioning whether the Episcopal church was Christian enough. Many criticised his post while others offered prayers or tried to help people understand what OCD is really like.

I have just finished my first semester of seminary and I am missing my classmates and my readings. I’ve been thinking a lot about post establishment Christianity and if we can learn anything from post colonial theory. I’ve struggled with how theory and praxis intersect and I think there is something in these experiences to be explored.

Last night, I listened to an An Interview with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. I think about the “subalterns”, those suffering outside the existing power structures. Mostly, I exist fairly comfortably within the power structures, although there are places where I struggle or have been rejected by the power structures.

This evening, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. The established churches will sing beautiful carols. Some will have incense. I will be there, thinking not only of God becoming human and living with us, but of God becoming a subaltern. Fleeing to Egypt from the power structures, coming back from Egypt leading to a conflict with the power structures that resulted in crucifixion.

If you want to keep Christ in Christmas, walk with the homeless man saying, “I need help”. It is a modern vernacular translation of “Lord have mercy”. Pray with those struggling with pain and illness. Confront the political and ecclesiastical power structures. Most importantly, keep your eyes open for where the subaltern Christ has been born around you. O come, let us adore him.

Ember Letter December 2017: Crossing Boundaries

There is a tradition in parts of Christendom for those on certain spiritual journeys to write quarterly letters about their journey. I’ve taken this up as one of my disciplines with my own unique imprint on it. This includes posting them on my blog and emailing them to various people that have been involved, in one way or another, in my journey recently.

Much of what follows may sound dry, scholarly, or analytical while at the same time only briefly exploring the ideas. I enjoy the analytical, and there just isn’t enough space to go into all that I’ve been thinking about. I know that at times of stress, I can retreat into intellectualizing things, but I don’t think that is a significant factor here. Instead, it is more about how exciting my studies have been.

To put things into the proper context and framework, however, we must remember our starting point. We are called to serve a Loving Creator. We are called to share our Creator’s love with those around us. I continue to do this with ministries through church to the lonely, hungry and elderly. I continue to do this with my friends on the street near where I work.

I also continue to experience God’s love through each of you, as you share excitement about my studies or concern over the health of members of my family. Know that I have felt comforted and loved, through your words and actions. Thank you. Your words and deeds have meant more to me than you realize.

Besides the sheer joy of intellectual pursuits, my studies this fall have had a flavor of courtship in it. Remember those early days of a great earthly relationship, when you spent hours on the phone talking, when you drove great distances to see your new lover, when you constantly wondered what new and exciting things you would discover about your new lover?

This is part of how I am experiencing my studies. God is our lover, whom we can never know well enough, either intellectually or affectively. Our heavenly lover is greater than we can ever understand and that there are always exciting things to discover about God, no matter how learned we might be.

As I mentioned in my last letter, this semester I took Introduction to the Old Testament and News and Religion. They were both very good courses which gave me a lot to think about around ideas of context and identity.

Perhaps the most obvious idea to explore was the historical context of the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s a pretty common thing to think about and we used David M. Carr’s book, An Introduction to the Old Testament as a key text book.

Yet Professor Carr appears to be, like myself and many who have shaped my understanding of scripture so far, a cisgender heterosexual white male of European descent. One of my hopes for the course was a chance to gain new perspectives. The course provided some good opportunities. We read various commentaries that were post-colonial, feminist, queer, African American, indigenous, and so on. I had great discussions with classmates that represented a various sexual orientations and gender identities. We explored masculine, feminine, and queer aspects of God.

We read a commentary on Daniel by Mona West in The Queer Bible Commentary. She spoke about Daniel’s ability as a court eunuch to cross boundaries and compares it queer people‘s abilities throughout the ages to cross boundaries. I wonder about my abilities to cross boundaries on my spiritual journey.

I also have been thinking about what the post-establishment church can learn from post-colonial theory. I suspect that this thinking may lead me to reading an odd collection of Stephanie Spellers, Martin Copenhaver, Roland Allen, Gayatri Spivak, Frantz Fanon, Musa Dube, and who knows whom else.

In the News and Religion course, I explored context from a different perspective. Mark Silk’s book, Unsecular Media: Making News of Religion in America provided a nice starting point for exploring religious frames in U.S. news coverage. The course involved a fair amount of writing, some of which I shared on my blog. I hope that it has improved my writing and to keep up aspects of that writing on my blog.

All of this leads to questions of my own identity. I now feel comfortable identifying as a seminarian, even though I am an online seminarian who is also working full time supporting a family. I don’t get to hang out with other seminarians as much as I would like, and even when I do, I am aware of how different my experiences are.

In one discussion with a fellow seminarian, I spoke about being a bi-vocational seminarian. Various people talk about the need for bi-vocational priests, and I wonder how well we can prepare people to become bi-vocational priests if we don’t embrace the idea of bi-vocational seminarians. There is something about crossing boundaries in this.

Likewise, I have spent time pondering how to respond when someone calls me a priest. I get that a fair amount. I don’t want people to think that I am currently ordained, but in most cases it doesn’t make sense to get into details about ordination or the process. One friend recommended I read Carter Heyward’s A Priest Forever. With all my reading for my classes, I’ve only gotten a chance to read a small section of it, where she talks about the days right before her ordination and discussions of being an “ontological priest”. There is something here I am exploring as well, something important for many of my friends who are ontological priests that have been damaged or rejected by the process. There is something here about crossing boundaries as well.

This leads me to another question about my own identity. I was baptized, brought up, and confirmed as a Congregationalist. In college, I was received into the Episcopal Church which has been my denominational home for decades. This past year, I have been spending time with folks from Andover Newton at Yale. I had an opportunity to travel with a couple seminarians and a dean up to a UCC church in Massachusetts where the dean was preaching. It was a truly wonderful trip up and back, with the four of us talking non-stop the whole time.

As an advent discipline, I’ve been attending Great Vespers at a local Orthodox church. I also went to a concert at another Orthodox church sung by seminarians from St. Tikhon’s seminary. My wife and I had a wonderful time talking with the seminarians after the concert.

These ecumenical explorations have been important to me as I try to find the communities I am called to.

It leads me back to important metaphors about the journey, about being a peregrino, a pilgrim. It is a wonderful journey and I am thankful to each of you who are walking along side me. I look forward to the vistas on the next leg of this journey.

In Christ,
Aldon

Transatlantic Hate Speech

This is the final weekly commentary I wrote for the News and Religion class I took this fall:

This week in the News and Religion class I’m taking, we explored Hate Speech. The Ethical Journalism Network has a A 5-Point Test for Hate Speech for Journalists. We’ve been asked to write about “one country in which the media have reported on religion and hate speech and discuss the issue.” The problem is that hate speech cross professional and political boundaries.

President Trump provided an opportunity to explore this recently when he retweeted Jayda Fransen, Deputy Leader of Britain First. Fransen had posted VIDEO: Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!. This immediately became a large news story with articles like FactCheck’s Trump Spreads False Anti-Muslim Tweet, Anne Applebuam’s opinion piece in the Washington Post, President Trump is now a troll, the NewStatesman’s article, What Donald Trump retweeting Britain First reveals about the UK’s far right.

The Guardian reported British Prime Minister Theresa May condemns Trump's retweets of UK far-right leader’s anti-Muslim videos. The article went on to list other dignitaries including the archbishop of Canterbury who said, “It is deeply disturbing that the President of the United States has chosen to amplify the voice of far-right extremists”.

There is an old saying online, to the extent that anything online can be referred to as old; “Don’t feed the trolls”. This is easier to do when the troll is your crazy uncle whom you can ignore or even block online or a mostly unknown pastor in Florida. It is a much greater challenge for journalists when the troll is the President of the United States.

How should journalists cover this issue?

The five point test from the Ethical Journalism Network provides some guidance. The first point is to examine the status or position of the speaker.

When people who are not public figures engage in hate-speech, it might be wise to ignore them entirely. A good example is Terry Jones the Koran-burning pastor in Florida who was an unknown person with marginal influence even in his rural backwater but who became an overnight global media sensation. On reflection most ethical journalists might say he was entitled to no publicity for his provocative threats.

The same could perhaps have been said about Jayda Fransen. The NewStatesmen puts it this way:

Jayda Fransen, whose content was picked up by the US President on Wednesday, has been arrested numerous times, and was convicted of religiously aggravated harassment towards a Muslim woman in a hijab last year.

Her tweets, now retweeted to Trump’s 43.6 million followers, contain misleading and unsourced video clips.

The Guardian describers her this way:

Fransen, 31, is deputy leader of Britain First, a minor anti-Islam party with an estimated 1,000 followers that has had no electoral success. Fransen lost her deposit when she stood for parliament in a 2014 byelection, receiving just 56 votes.

She has been charged with using threatening or abusive language following an appearance at a far-right rally in Belfast this summer. She is due to appear at a Belfast court next month.

The Ethical Journalism Network sums things up with:

Even when people are public figures media have to make sure they do not draw undue attention to politicians and other influential people whose only aim is to create a negative climate towards people whose rights should be respected, particularly those from vulnerable and marginalised groups.

The Ethical Journalism Network’s second point is to explore the reach of the speech. They talk about the impact of speech distributed via the internet. The NewStatesmen addresses speaks about with the tagline to their article, “With the decline of ‘traditional’ street fascism, white nationalist groups gain traction online.”

The third point is to explore the objectives of the speech.

Normally, ethical journalists and well-informed editors will be able to quickly identify whether the speech is deliberately intended to attack or diminish the human rights of individuals and groups

Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman put it this way: “Britain First seeks to divide communities by their use of hateful narratives that peddle lies and stoke tensions.”

Point four examines the content and form of speech.

Journalists ask themselves: is this speech or expression dangerous? Could it lead to prosecution under the law? Will it incite violence or promote an intensification of hatred towards others?

The article in The Guardian provides some pretty clear answers on this.

[Fransen] has been charged with using threatening or abusive language following an appearance at a far-right rally in Belfast this summer. She is due to appear at a Belfast court next month.

The final point of the five point test for hate speech explores the “economic, social and political climate”.

Speech that is dangerous or controversial arises particularly when times are hard, social tensions are acute and politicians are at war with one another.

By the standards of the Ethical Journalism Network, it sure appears that the videos posted by Jayda Fransen constitute hate speech and that President Trump acted unethically by retweeting them. While we may not be able to undo the damage of his actions, having serious discussions around the ethics of reporting on hate speech may provide a silver lining of getting people to think more seriously about when speech is helpful and when speech is harmful.

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