Like An Irresistible Wind

This weekend we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, our “name day” Feast, marking the day when the early followers of Jesus experienced God’s Spirit as something like the rush of life-giving wind, inspired speech, and tongues of fire alive in each person. (Acts 2:1-13).

The aftermath of that event was the formation of a community, animated by the love of Christ at its center, sharing God’s mission of healing and reconciliation in the world. The Holy Spirit moved them to unite, to join together, to connect what had been torn apart. And seeking to make these vital connections between people and nations might simply be another of saying that the work of the Holy Spirit is the work of love.

In that light, we might more sensitively understand why many people today describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”  What many experience in some religious corners of the world today seems closer to the opposite of love (I pointed out an example of this in remarks made by a certain “evangelist” in my sermon last Sunday).

These “spiritual but not religious,” folks experience some forms of religion as promoting conflict and rigid certainty, rather than generosity and helpful dialogue. My friend, Brian McLaren has said that such exclusive communities might actually be practicing “de-religion” instead of “religion.” In other words, some religious groups can actually become “anti-religious,” in the sense that they tear at the bonds of our common humanity rather than strengthen them (Naked Spirituality: A Life With God in 12 Simple Words).

That’s why the Feast of Pentecost is such a helpful event to celebrate on a yearly basis. We are reminded by the energizing and creative presence of the Holy Spirit that life has a sacred dimension that cannot be reduced to formulas, rules, performance, or religious locations. The Holy Spirit breathes aliveness, meaning, beauty and sacredness into the world. We only have to look at the human face of God that we see in Jesus, and indeed to people who remind us of him, to understand that truth.

Is it time for a renewal of aliveness, beauty, and purpose in your life? Would you like to reflect on some habits or practices that can help you live with a greater sensitivity to the sacredness of your life and of those around you?  Would you like to hear the sound of a rushing, irresistible wind once again?  If your heart says, “yes,” to those possibilities, then we’re in good company. Join us for an exploration of this theme on Pentecost Sunday at Church of the Holy Comforter.

Bishop Greg Rickel on Revitalizing the Mission of the Episcopal Church

Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times

Bishop Greg Rickel of the Diocese of Olympia is someone I’ve been watching over the last year.  I’ve been impressed by his commitment to help the clergy and parishes of his Diocese engage the new “missional era” we find ourselves in by focusing on the development of authentic faith and seeking new creative ways to connect with those seeking spirituality but who are skeptical of the traditional church.

The Seattle Times featured a report on Bishop Rickel over the weekend:

In this season of baptisms, and given that he’s a bishop, it seems strange to hear the Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel speak proudly of the time he talked some parents out of baptizing their child. He was convinced the parents were doing it only because other family members insisted. And that, says Rickel, who is preaching this Easter Sunday at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, is dumbing down the faith.

“My goal is not to baptize as many people (as I can) so I can count them up as Episcopalians,” he said. “My goal is to have an authentic faith that people can really articulate and understand.”

That approach might seem counterintuitive, given the decline in the numbers of Episcopalians — and other mainline Protestants — over the past decades, both locally and nationally. But it’s characteristic of Rickel, 46, who arrived 2 ½ years ago as head of the Episcopal Church in Western Washington.

Read the full article here.

Religion Among the Millennials: Less Religiously Active Than Older Americans, But Fairly Traditional In Other Ways

The Pew Research Center has posted a new series of reports exploring the behaviors, values and opinions of the teens and twenty-somethings that make up the Millennial generation.

From the overview:

By some key measures, Americans ages 18 to 29 are considerably less religious than older Americans. Fewer young adults belong to any particular faith than older people do today. They also are less likely to be affiliated than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations were when they were young. Fully one-in-four members of the Millennial generation – so called because they were born after 1980 and began to come of age around the year 2000 – are unaffiliated with any particular faith. Indeed, Millennials are significantly more unaffiliated than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their life cycle (20% in the late 1990s) and twice as unaffiliated as Baby Boomers were as young adults (13% in the late 1970s). Young adults also attend religious services less often than older Americans today. And compared with their elders today, fewer young people say that religion is very important in their lives.

Yet in other ways, Millennials remain fairly traditional in their religious beliefs and practices. Pew Research Center surveys show, for instance, that young adults’ beliefs about life after death and the existence of heaven, hell and miracles closely resemble the beliefs of older people today . . . And though belief in God is lower among young adults than among older adults, Millennials say they believe in God with absolute certainty at rates similar to those seen among Gen Xers a decade ago. This suggests that some of the religious differences between younger and older Americans today are not entirely generational but result in part from people’s tendency to place greater emphasis on religion as they age.

Read or download the full report here.

Credo: Better is a world built on love, not Darwinian struggle

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes in the Times Online about a central conviction of his faith:

If the Universe was brought into being by One beyond the Universe, then it was created by a being who desires to bring things into being. The simplest way of expressing this is: God created the Universe in love. For it is love that seeks to bring new life into being. It is love that makes space for the other. God’s love made space for the Universe and for that astonishing sequence of events that produced us.

If so, then each of us is here because of God’s love. That fact transforms the human condition, rescuing it from ultimate solitude. We are not alone. We exist because someone wanted us to be, someone who believes in us even when we lose belief in ourselves, who knows our fears and hears our prayers, giving us strength when we falter and lifting us when we fall.

And just as God creates in love so He asks us to create in love. The Abrahamic monotheisms are the only systems to place love at the heart of the moral life. There are other codes of ethics: every civilisation has them, secular or religious. All civilisations have something like the golden rule: treat others as you would wish to be treated. Many of them have forms of justice: treat equals equally. But only a vision that sees the world as God’s work of love makes love the highest value. Love God with all your heart, soul and might. Love your neighbour as yourself. Love the stranger for you know what it feels like to be a stranger.

And yes, there is another way of seeing the world and our place within it. The Universe came into being for no reason, and one day for no reason it will cease to be. There is nothing special about humanity: we are mere primates with a gift for language. There is nothing special about any of us. We are born, we live, we die, and it is as if we had never been. Our ideals are illusions; our hopes mere dreams. We have no souls, only brains; no freedom, only the hardwiring of our genes. And the biggest illusion of them all is love, the smokescreen created by humans to hide the fact that we are here to reproduce.

I know which I prefer. Better is a world built on love than on the Darwinian struggle to survive. Greater the mind that lifts its eyes beyond the visible horizon than one that refuses to believe anything that cannot be measured, mapped and scientifically explained.

Read the full article here.

Vatican: Pope to Meet with Archbishop Rowan Williams

Rowan and BenedictFrom the New York Times:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI will meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury next month in the leaders’ first encounter since the Catholic church moved to make it easier for disenchanted Anglicans to convert to Catholicism, a Vatican spokesman said Friday.

Archbishop Rowan Williams, the Anglican leader, was already due to visit Rome in November for ceremonies at a pontifical university to honor a late cardinal who worked for Christian unity, said the spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi. Taking advantage of the archbishop’s presence in Rome, Benedict will receive Williams on Nov. 21 at the Vatican, Lombardi said in a telephone interview.

The Vatican’s move, announced last week, to ease Anglican conversions to Catholicism is designed to entice traditionalists opposed to women bishops, openly gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions in the church headed by Williams.

Full article from the AP here:

Rome’s Anglican Annex

henry_viiiFrom the Washington Post:

The Vatican is making it easier for Anglicans — priests, members and parishes — to convert to Catholicism. Some say this is further recognition of the substantial overlap in faith, doctrine and spirituality between the Catholic and Anglican traditions; others see it as poaching that could further divide the Anglican Communion. What do you think?

My favorite panelist responses to the question are found here: Bill Tully, George Weigel, Brad Hirschfield.

Don’t miss the informative article in today’s WSJ, “Pope’s Wooing of Anglicans Challenges Archbishop,” which includes the idea that if enough conservatives take up the Vatican’s offer, it could diminish the need for a “two tier” approach in the Anglican Communion.

Ironically, some say that the Vatican’s appeal could simplify the church’s politics going forward. “This could be the answer to [Archbishop Williams’s] prayers,” said Forward in Faith’s Mr. Parkinson.

Recently, while in London for the Annual Meeting of the Compass Rose Society, I had the pleasure of hearing Archbishop Williams speak about the ongoing difficulties of the Communion and the need, while working hard to maintain the deepest bonds of affection possible, to also remain focused on the Gospel imperatives.  “What ever goes on at the level of hierarchies and councils and so forth,” Rowan stated, “what is most remarkable about the Anglican Communion is that it carries on at the grassroots level, delivering the Gospel in areas of real need, practically and theologically.”  He reminded us that the opportunity to live the Gospel and build communities of transformation remains greater than ever.

Anglicanism is not at its core merely a unique system of belief or ecclesiology. It is first and foremost a way of following God in the way of Christ that is generous, orthodox, and open.  Hands to the plow my friends.

Vatican Bidding to Get Anglicans to Join Its Fold

popupFrom the New York Times:

VATICAN CITY — In an extraordinary bid to lure traditionalist Anglicans en masse, the Vatican said Tuesday that it would make it easier for Anglicans uncomfortable with their church’s acceptance of female priests and openly gay bishops to join the Roman Catholic Church while retaining many of their traditions.  Anglicans would be able “to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony,” Cardinal William J. Levada, the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said at a news conference here.

It was unclear why the Vatican made the announcement now. But it seemed a rare opportunity, audaciously executed, to capitalize on deep divisions within the Anglican Church to attract new members at a time when the Catholic Church has been trying to reinvigorate itself in Europe.

Full article here.

Archbishop of Canterbury: Hell is being alone for ever

When asked if hell exists and what it is like, he said: “My concept of hell, I suppose, is being stuck with myself for ever and with no way out. Whether anybody ever gets to that point I have no idea. But that it’s possible to be stuck with my selfish little ego for all eternity, that’s what I would regard as hell.”  When told that this does not look sound like the Biblical image of the damned being tortured in lakes of fire beneath the earth, Dr Williams replied that being alone for ever “is torment enough if you think about it”.

Read the full article here.

The Real Decline of Churches

Three news stories in recent days point to significant change in the landscape of North American religion.  For decades now, the conventional wisdom about church growth has been that only conservative churches–those that take the Bible literally and embrace conservative politics–could grow.  But it appears that conventional wisdom is being seriously questioned.
Take a look at these stories:
1.     The Southern Baptist Convention–the largest and most conservative Protestant denomination in the USA–records a continued decline in baptisms and an increasingly aging membership.  The oft-reported number of 18 million members has declined in the last decade to just over 16 million.  And, according to journalist Christine Wicker (see her book, The Fall of Evangelical Nation), the internal number of active members may well be around 5 million people.
2.     The Anglican Church of North America, the umbrella group for conservative Episcopalians who have left their denomination over women’s ordination and full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons, has long claimed over 100,000 members.  Recently, they admitted that only 69,000 persons in 650 churches in the USA and Canada have joined their association. There are 2.2 million Episcopalians in the United States and approximately 1 million in Canada.  Thus, the conservative group–the one that has garnered so much media attention in recent years is a very small percentage of the entire North American Anglican membership–some 2% of the total.  And with their rigid opposition to women’s ordination, it is hard to imagine that this group will find much appeal with young North Americans.
3.     President Jimmy Carter last week publicly explained why he renounced his life-long affiliation with the Southern Baptists in an opinion piece appearing in The Age.  He denounced the Convention’s leaders statement that women are inferior to men (created “second”) and responsible for original sin as inherently discriminatory and that Southern Baptist views on gender were contrary to both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the teachings of Jesus.

From Diana Butler Bass on Beliefnet:

Three news stories in recent days point to significant change in the landscape of North American religion.  For decades now, the conventional wisdom about church growth has been that only conservative churches–those that take the Bible literally and embrace conservative politics–could grow.  But it appears that conventional wisdom is being seriously questioned.  Take a look at these stories:

1.     The Southern Baptist Convention–the largest and most conservative Protestant denomination in the USA–records a continued decline in baptisms and an increasingly aging membership.  The oft-reported number of 18 million members has declined in the last decade to just over 16 million.  And, according to journalist Christine Wicker (see her book, The Fall of Evangelical Nation), the internal number of active members may well be around 5 million people.

2.     The Anglican Church of North America, the umbrella group for conservative Episcopalians who have left their denomination over women’s ordination and full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons, has long claimed over 100,000 members.  Recently, they admitted that only 69,000 persons in 650 churches in the USA and Canada have joined their association. There are 2.2 million Episcopalians in the United States and approximately 1 million in Canada.  Thus, the conservative group–the one that has garnered so much media attention in recent years is a very small percentage of the entire North American Anglican membership–some 2% of the total.  And with their rigid opposition to women’s ordination, it is hard to imagine that this group will find much appeal with young North Americans.

3.     President Jimmy Carter last week publicly explained why he renounced his life-long affiliation with the Southern Baptists in an opinion piece appearing in The Age.  He denounced the Convention’s leaders statement that women are inferior to men (created “second”) and responsible for original sin as inherently discriminatory and that Southern Baptist views on gender were contrary to both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the teachings of Jesus.

Be sure to read the entire article here.