Monday, December 5, 2022

Tough Anglican times England, Oz, NZ

With apologies to North American readers - your statistics are important too in the story of global Anglicanism, but the past week or so has highlighted the statistical realities of England and Australia ...

Continuing on from last week's post, but this time with an eye on statistics rather than on an argument re loss of influence, and focusing on Anglican churches in England, Australia and here in the Blessed Isles, there is sobering news to continue to ponder.

Australia

@austanglican whom I follow on Twitter, and who mostly keeps TwAnglicans up to date on anniversaries of bishops and deans, has done some statistical analysis and published the table below on his@austanglican thread


The point of the table being that every one of the Australia's 23 dioceses have lost Anglicans through the past few censuses, and Anglicans in every diocese are a smaller percentage of the general population of thir diocesan area. 

New Zealand

There is no reason to think NZ Anglicans are any different.

England

England has been in the news because recently published census data shows that for the first time, census-identifying Christians are a minority and not a majority of the population.

"On census day, 21 March 2021, 46.2% of people identified themselves as Christians, compared with 59.3% of the population in the 2011 census, a 13-percentage point drop in a decade.

A key finding from the census helps to explain this: the significant rise in people identifying as of no particular faith at all."

Cue much hand-wringing re CofE bishops remaining in the House of Lords and much delight in dusting off the longest word in the English language from the shelf of unused dictionaries: antidisestablishmentarianism. Of course, the word being used by the pundits gleeful at the demise of English Christianity generally and of the CofE particularly is "disestablishment"! This issue is not the concern of Anglican Down Under.

But, also, cue some hand-wringing on social media about "if only" the CofE had in 19XY changed its mind about Z then "things would've been different"!

Maybe, maybe not.

The Guardian published an interesting article in which several people said why they had lost their faith. I suggest it is far too simple to say that "if only" the church had done this or done that then things would have been different. Life is complex. Bad things happen, for instance, to people who have faith and doubts about the love of God understandably rise up and overwhelm faith. Alternative explanations for life and its meaning become more plausible as culture changes. Even when a brilliant book such as Tom Holland's Dominion shows that much of what non-Christians treasure in Western culture is deeply Christian, that doesn't mean that "nones" scurry back to such theological roots and declare a new found Christian allegiance in census box ticks.

Actual Church Life

Of course there is another story to tell in Australia, England and New Zealand. That is the story of actual church attendance, of children and adults' participation in the life of faith communities. There will be in the other two countries, as also here, a mixed bag of growing and declining church congregations, of shifts in allegiance from Anglican churches to, say, Pentecostal churches, and back again. As the general population grows in a district, region or country, Anglican allegiance may decline percentage wise but be relatively stable numbers-in-pews-on-Sundays wise.

But, let's not fool ourselves, even within this "other story" of actual church life, there are perceptible signs of the decline of general Christianity (e.g. church buildings being sold and becoming restaurants or being demolished and houses built on the land) and signs that we are in tough Anglican times because, despite many encouragements, and lovely stories of new people joining congregations, some even because they do so as a result of brand new faith in Christ, there is diminishment in the overall attendance numbers.

It is not rocket science that if I am the vicar of a parish which this year has counted 15 new people into the regular congregational life and I have taken 20 funerals of regular attendees, then the sober reality is that decline has occurred, despite the joy of welcoming those 15 newcomers.

Comments to last week's post made some good points, which are worth keeping in mind at all times, though tough Anglican times sharpen our minds. 

Two stand out for me. 

One is that we should keep questioning what we believe, asking whether a belief (an example was penal substitutionary atonement) is fit for purpose in the times we live in. 

Two is that we should keep focused on Jesus and the basics of his gospel message in word and in deed.

Tough times call for faithfulness rather than fear.

As we head towards the end of this year, I want to celebrate the faithfulness of Christians, and of Anglican Christians in particular. Wonderfully, we have many faithful believers in the Diocese of Christchurch. In the middle of this year, when Teresa and I travelled to and from the Lambeth Conference, along the way, and, of course, at the conference itself, we met many faithful believers from other countries.

Who knows where our times are heading. One startling aspect of the statistical decline of Christianity in Western countries is that it is not giving way to another (more vibrant, more exciting, more plausible, more ...) religion. Going on the English stats, it is giving way to people making their way through life preferring to avoid any explicit religious commitment, to live with either uncertainty about the reality of God or with certainty that there is no God.

There is room in the course of this century for a new wave of believers, converts who turn from being "nones" to being convinced that in Christ all fulfilment of life is found.

121 comments:

Anonymous said...

No apologies needed, Peter.

Our stats are mentioned far too much and explained far too tendentiously. How pleasant of you to discuss Oz instead.

In the 1970s, I wished that bishops would take some note of the Western numbers. It is good of you to beat a drum about this now. Must I admit to some Progress after all? ;-)

The media loyally support their states, which is good, but it biases them toward secularisation as a frame and explanation. Thinking scripturally and ecumenically, should we investigate whether churches have become too rigidly monocultural to occupy today's diverse niches?

Liberal states do by definition enable secularity so that people need not be churchgoers to be citizens. That does reduce membership by eliminating a whole constituency, but I would not favour autocracy as a way of getting the numbers back up.

Here up yonder, all voluntary associations have seen their numbers drop over the past generation. So shrinking churches belong to the same trend as shrinking service clubs, thinner amateur athletics, etc. Still a theological worry, but a different one.

But liberal democracies also enable diversity that normally inspires new sorts of churches. The Creator likes diversity (see Babel, Job, "baptise the nations," Pentecost), and our tradition is deep enough to support quite a lot of it, so where are the new churches? Or at least new practices?

So the question is not just--

Why are old churches shrinking?

--but also--

Why are newer churches slow to form and scale?

Down Under.

BW

Anonymous said...

Postscript

Modeling social theory on the physical sciences as moderns used to do, Max Weber (1864-1920) taught that capitalism and modernity absorb and rationalize all of a society's forces, inducing an episteme of *disenchantment* that will ultimately prove fatal to religion. His *secularisation hypothesis* has been severely challenged by well-known political events (eg Iran 1979, USA 1980-?, Yugoslavia 1991-2001, India 1996-?, Turkey 2002-?, Russia 2008-? etc), but it still frames the way journalists write about shrinking churches.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Weber

Anonymous said...

Here are the loglines of five somewhat related stories that not only challenge the one usually told, but the facts deemed relevant to church size.

Michael Snape's Redcoats and Religion (2013) and God and the British Soldier (2007) chronicle the religious experiences of men serving in Britain's huge armies from the C18 to the middle C20. Snape notes that throughout this period military service shaped men's faith more than the CoE did. We should not assume that churches influence personal faith most, nor should we ignore gendered experience.

Callum G Brown's Death of Christian Britain (2009, 2013) holds that secularization there was not a process but a catastrophe: in the 1960s, mothers abruptly stopped raising their children to be Christians. What changed? In Brown's telling, the CoE, unable to understand demobilized men after the World Wars, began to expect mothers maintain Christianity in the home alone. But as feminism spread and sexuality flourished, women saw this as an unfair double standard and rebelled. That cost the CoE the generation that parented the children of this century with what results we know. Looking at CoE church stats today is like peering in the dark at the light of extinct stars. We should not ignore demography, the long-term consequences of our stereotypes, or the lived experience of churchgoers.

Mary Eberstadt's How the West Really Lost God (2014) weaves a related demographic story on a tapestry-sized loom. Taking up the old idea that the decline of religion causes the decay of family life, she argues that the reverse is no less true. The Christian way of thinking about God is learned from a certain set of family relations and when those are awry, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit are in a primal way unintelligible. Then again, faith in the transcendence of these divine relationships generates a culture that can help a family through the cycle of generations. In her view, Western Europe's loss of religious faith has multiple causes, but all relate to the fraying of this double helix of interdependence. We should expect causal complexity, use more math, and listen to smart, contrarian, conservatives.

Rodney Stark's Rise of Christianity (1996) shows that the regime that crucified Jesus became nominally Christian in just a few centuries, not through a mass conversion as many have believed, but through two centuries of exponential growth. Even as a drop in the Roman ocean, early Christians kept their children in the faith and skillfully converted others. Like a kernel of wheat doubling on each subsequent square of a chessboard until Egypt sits on the last one, a faith optimised for conversion can spread quickly and in places establish a majority. Stark shows that this has happened from time to time through history, most recently with the Mormons. We should not neglect retention and conversion.

https://people.richland.edu/james/lecture/m116/logs/models.html

Finally, Virgil "Buck" Moyers (bishop, ELCA, Virginia, USA) more than doubled his diocese in about 20 years. How? Warned by denominational officials in the 1970s that his diocese faced the usual decline by the century's end, he built new Lutheran churches in areas where models projected that population would grow. One did not survive-- its swampy location had more ducks than people-- but most did. Had he been running a chain of grocery stores, this would not have been seen as genius, but churches rarely attract entrepreneurs or support scaling. We should enable missional leadership and think creatively about strategy.

The same fatalism that fascinates editors also demoralises pastors. Nevertheless, there is no reason to believe that church size is beyond all human influence.


BW

John Sandeman said...

On west Island, church attendance is growing. A true if surprising fact. https://theothercheek.com.au/wp-admin/post.php?post=182&action=edit

Peter Carrell said...

Hi John
Tha link asks me to log in to your site ...

John Sandeman said...

Sorry, try https://theothercheek.com.au/church-attendance-rises-in-the-great-southland
It is good news

Ms Liz said...

Content Warning: "the great southland" refers to Australia and not, as I fondly imagined, to Southland just over the regional border from me in South Otago, New Zealand. Lol.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi John
The stats you cite in the article focus on something different to what @austanglican offers, so there is not necessarily incompatibility between them, but a church life survey will necessarily be different around the completeness of population surveyed than census data.

Nevertheless, in view of the census data, the increase in attendance is encouraging. God Great Southland!

Mark Murphy said...

Thanks for the piece Peter and the reviews Bowman.

If war shaped faith more than church, what of other more contemporary experiences?

I don't think people are encountering God/Christ any less for these doomed figures or secularization. Where is Christ in climate change?

Another title that's relevant to this field: Alan Kreider's The Patient Ferment of the Early Church - that Christianity grew steadily in the first four centuries not by specific mass missionary projects but by the exemplary ethical conduct of it's members, a quite serious and thoroughgoing catechumenal process, and the virtue of patience.

Ms Liz said...

BW's paragraph about Callum G Brown's Death of Christian Britain reminded me of a recent conversation...

On Sunday I was chatting with my other half about the decline in church numbers and how I'd always understood mainline churches have mostly-female congregations. And I said to him it seems inevitable that after so much resistance for so long to women's involvement in top levels of the church, it stands to reason women would be unlikely to continue to support that structure. The lack of inclusiveness combined with what we now know about abuse is a huge turn-off, and I also noted that if the church loses women they lose kids too. Then I went on to imagine a church where women run the whole thing and men are welcome to attend but aren't eligible for the most senior positions! This would fix the "women mustn't teach men" objection as the only men present would be those who'd chosen to attend the women-led church. Having been bought up conservative evangelical I'm far from feminist but it really grates that there's still few women represented in the senior ranks of church leadership. I don't imagine there's a lack of interest from women. So I'm left guessing it's still a difficult path for females and only the most outstanding would have the confidence to try. ['Ms Liz' is only an occasional church-goer]

Jean said...

I can’t keep up : )

I had a laugh at you being happy to discuss Aus figures for a change BW and Ms. Liz your thought process regarding women in church had me in stitches.... To console you, we have two female vicars and celebrated last Sunday when for once we had more men than women : ) attend.

BW yes here too re a decline in all voluntary/service focused organisations and a distinct generational change in respect to commitment. A comment from the mouth of one 20 year old “my generation suck at committing to anything­čśé.”

Hope - a few weeks ago a 26 year old walked into our church where ten years ago he attended youth group which he described as the “best youth group ever” ... and even more suprisingly despite there now being no youth he has come each week since, he is now married and has returned to work in the area, volunteered to fix our rope for the bell and set up livestreaming if we want it... and last week bought his mother with him. Sow the seeds and when the time is right....

Craig L said...

I think I have pointed this out before, but the most recent Census in NZ (2018) changed the question regarding Religion - previously Christian was an option and it had a variety of denominations below (or next to that) which you could tick, Anglican, Presbyterian, Catholic etc.

On the 2018 Census it didn't do that - I think this was to make it more workable on-line. It simply asked for your Religion, but had no denomination drop-box for "Christian".

I know members of my family just put "Christian", while I put "Christian - Anglican" or something like that. My family won't be the only people that answered that way.

So this would have reduced the denomination counts and put more into "Christian nec" category. "Nec" is not elsewhere classified.

Craig L.

Anonymous said...

Busy week, quick replies.

Again, thank you Peter for challenging the complacent fatalism about this topic.

Yes, Mark, Krieder's book is relevant to a few themes of our threads. I am delighted to know that you have read it, and look forward to hearing your thoughts on some things.

Young people (like Jean's friend?) are not ready to join a conventional parish. So occasionally, I suggest dioceses that have several other kinds of street-level affiliation.

Congregations for women would surely be among them, Liz. Speaking very broadly, most women prefer to get spiritual direction from other women if they can. Last week, I sent you an anecdote comparing self-governance in the brother and sister branches of a certain monastic order, but that comment seems to have vanished into the ether.

BW

John sandman said...

The idea that there are 2.5 million Australians who are Anglicans has always defied my belief. but that's the census figure. The other stat that is available, church attending Anglicans might be safer. 219,850 was how the General Synod's 2014 viability report saw it based on 6 per cent attendance rate. This year's figure then might be 183208 taking into account the census decline. The number of Anglicans will be somewhere between those two figures.
The 2014 General synod report gives a detailed account of the diocese by diocese figure - using the dioceses own attendance figures. it might be closer to the reality of day-to-day Anglican life. but it is not a pretty picture. Sadly it is not on the ACA website.
But Ii can tell you, the actual attendence figures for all dioceses except Sydney were below the "expected rate" So even that church attendence figure is inflated.

Mark Murphy said...

Hi Liz

Love your contribution on women and church.

Lack of inclusive language in churches is also a big issue where I live. Being told every Sunday, again and again, that God is a Father (and not approachable as a Mother as well) rather sets the tone for everything else that goes on.

When our church - St Luke's in the City - dissolved through earthquakes and for other reasons, one of our parishioners (one of the first ordained Anglican female ministers in our diocese) lamented "but where will I go for an inclusive language service?"

Contrary to the nay-sayers, inclusive language in Christian liturgy is not dry and superficial. At St Luke's we would pray, as Julian of Norwich did, to God as *Father and Mother of us all*. It makes a big difference.

Ms Liz said...

Thanks very much Mark, I enjoyed what you wrote! With my conservative background, the first encounters with inclusive language have seemed pretty confronting at a personal level but I'm beginning to genuinely appreciate the added depth and beauty.. it's like another dimension of understanding - it's great you raised this for me to think about!

Father Ron said...

While statistics may provide 'The Larger Picture, it is in individual hearts and lives that the gospel if both born and is encouraged to flourish. In this vein, Pope Francis says this:

"UESDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2022

“Each of us needs to confess our own sins, our own failings, our own hypocrisy. It requires getting off the pedestal and being immersed in the water of repentance… Perhaps we look at others from top to bottom, thinking that we are better than them, that we have our lives under control, that we don’t need God, or the Church, or our brothers or sisters on a daily basis. We forget that in one case is it legitimate to look down on someone else: when it is necessary to help them get up. This is the only case; the others are not legitimate.”
Pope Francis"

While judgement of others may make us feel good it does nothing for the promotion of the Good News of Oue Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ - towards whom we look forward this Advent.

Mark Murphy said...

Hi Liz,

God the Father is deeply seeded in my unconscious too (I'm sure there's a lot of pros to that, too). But I remember when I first used God as Mother in my vocal and mental prayer: it was like half the universe opened up to me, and I was present to a very deep, dark, comforting, and *familiar* sense of divine being.

A beautiful example of big-hearted, spirited, inclusive-language theology and prayer is contained within our very own (Anglican) A New Zealand Prayer Book. It is Jim Cotter's version of the Lord's Prayer (you'll find it in the section entitled Night Prayer), and begins with the lines...

Eternal Spirit
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver....

It is just scintillating.

...Riffing here on Peter's wondering that perhaps the Church needs to find fresh, expressive language that conveys the bigness and bigheartedness of its vision to new audiences.

Anonymous said...

Liberalism really does confirm what Feuerbach said about religion.
The Catholic faith, however, is posited on the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ who is God Incarnate. If you think you know better that He who taught us to pray "Our Father in heaven", well, good luck. You'll need it.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Father Ron said...

Thanks for your contribution, Mark, on the Personhood of God - as Father (Lord's Prayer), and as Mother (Dame Julian's 'Father/Mother) God- also a Redeemer (The Incarnate Jesus Christ), and Life-Giver (Holy Spirit, without gender).

I well remember a visit to my parish on the Hibiscus Coast in the 1980s from Jim Cotter, who had been invited to host discussions on The Church and gender and sexuality in today's world.
Father Jim was a great inspiration to quite a few people here in Aotearoa/New Zealand at that time, helping many in the Church to understand these important issues, at the time of the N.Z. Government's discussions on the decriminalisation of homosexuality. What struck me about the Church of England priest was his deep and humble spirituality and his love of people.

Ms Liz said...

John 3v5: Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

I find it very difficult to see why there's a problem with recognising maternal aspects of God/Trinity when Jesus told Nicodemus that it was necessary to be born again - and directly compared human birth and spiritual birth.

Jesus himself spoke with maternal feeling for Jerusalem, "how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings,.."

I'm very open to learning more and welcome further recommendations whether directly from the Bible or other material (but keep in mind I don't have a theology background). Many thanks! ~Liz

Anonymous said...

Isaiah 66:13 “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem “. (In the context of the Lord speaking.)
Moya

Anonymous said...

Well, Liz, popular sentiment is as varied and polar as humanity since Cain and Abel. Hence the gospel is one of reconciled oppositions, and disciples are peacemakers or they are not disciples at all.

Some people love roller coasters and revolution and others bolt their furniture to floors and re-read last year's newspapers because they know how all the stories will end.

Among the interesting thinkers about prayer, two currents have differing tolerances for feminine imagery for God. Why?

At this stage, I chalk it up to their different sources in the C19 and mutual ignorance today. The ignorance arises because leaders have not sat them down and hash through their differences. Peacemaking, including ecumenism, begins at home.

The C20-21 has been the most trinitarian period in ecumenical theology since the C4-8. Enlightenment cluelessness about how the Persons inform our faith-- personal and ecclesial-- has been mere ignorance for a hundred years. Today, we-- everyone: Protestants who read Barth, Catholics who read Rahner, Orthodox who read oh John Yiannias-- think of the gospel as God revealing himself through the relations of the Persons. Nevertheless, people in pews still hear the fuzzy god-talk of say 1750 from preachers who all but wear wigs.

In that haze, another current tries to make sense of prayer as subjective experience not much informed by anything revealed. So anything that excites you-- imagery, sexual feelings, hallucinogens, etc-- when you pray must be integrated into your god-concept of because vivid immediate experience is what even old time moderns (cf Kant, Schiller, Schliermacher) regarded as divine.

Your two chosen examples should float in both currents. Trinitarians tend to trust the gospels, and joyriders seem not to mind thinking about their moms when praying to YHWH.

But grand projects for feminizing liturgies with Inclusive Language arouse trinitarian suspicion that the self-revelation in Christ is being rejected by yahoos who have never heard of it, whilst feminisers understandably wonder how the Trinity (of all cold, abstract unintelligible ideas) could be relevant to warm, fun things like emotion, subjectivity, meaning, etc. Neither reads the other's books.

The former hear paganism and ignorance, and the latter hear sexism and masochism. But truthfully, I call them "currents" rather than "sides" just because they barely touch and move by different energies.

In conversation, trinitarians wish churches were more serious about what they claim to believe, whilst feminisers wish they could wriggle out of the dank air of catacombs into their own culture.

A converting church needs some hybrid of them both.

BW

Anonymous said...

Well, that's the nearest BW can bring himself to saying he (more or less) agrees with me. I'll take that. But it's not really qbout 1750 - John Wesley was preaching then and so was Jonathan Edwards in BW's neck of the woods. Both strong Trinity men with a deep faith in God the Father, and in Edwards' case, an acute analysis of religious emotions.
No, the rot set in with Schleiermacher who really couldn't make any sense of the Trinity, then Feuerbach came along and showed that Schleiermacher's religion is realy projected humanism; and later Jung administered the coup de grace. American Episcopalianism is unitarianism in robes, served up with a large dose of Jung. Scratch a Tec'er and you'll find a Jungian- even a Morton Kelsey.
Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Ms Liz said...

Thanks so much Bowman.. it's really helpful how you paint a 'big picture' overview I can see/imagine my way through as I read - and very interesting!

Anonymous said...

Liz, you are much too kind. I tapped some notes into my phone on my way somewhere, stuck it in my pocket to review later, and it sent. They're a mess. I'll type and send a proper answer tomorrow.

If Wesley and Edwards had been typical of "the long eighteenth century" we would not wish that it had been shorter.

BW

Peter Carrell said...

Hello All
Thank you for a great thread of comments.
William: all revelation from God comes in words and those words come in different forms (as expressed in the variety of literature in Scripture), and, ultimately in the Incarnated Word Jesus Christ (though we only have access to that Word through the words of Scripture). But the words we hear in Scripture are themselves translations of what has been revealed, most obviously with Jesus, where his Aramaic becomes Greek becomes our English (and many translations approved for use in the church). And, then, some work is still needed on our understanding of what we read and hear in Scripture. It is not unexpected that some theologians and philosophers are going to get involved in this communication of revelation and our recedption of it. Then, it is not unexpected that some differences will have developed in understanding, through the centuries and across the schools of thoughts of Christianity; and some of those differences will have been very unhelpful (at least with the hindsight of historical assessment of developments in theology and in church participation).

What would be unexpected to me is that our understanding of revelation is as simple as you make it out to be. Even within the relatively tight understanding of theology in the Roman Catholic Church (cf the boundedness of the Catechism), there are great theological conflicts: Thomism versus those not keen on Thomas etc; Modernism is rejected initially and later elements are accepted. And, today, a great battle for the soul of the Catholic church is going on.

Is your approach in the comments above fairly reflective of the debates of theology in all churches?

Mark Murphy said...

What is our faith in? God as Father in the sense of the male parent-ness of divinity?
Is that why Jesus used Abba, Father, Daddy? To affirm the essential maleness of the first person of the trinity? Is this what our faith is about when we address God as Father?

Anonymous said...

Peter: no, not all revelation from God comes in words (unless you are an uber-Barthian): natural theology is God's self-disclosure in His works, which the Bible affirms (Psalm 19, Romans 1 etc), and not just Thomists but evangelicals like William Lane Craig affirm this as well. That's one of the reasons I bang away about natural law, which Protestants once knew and taught. Check out your copy of Calvin's Institutes.
I don't read the Bible (usually) in translation but in Hebrew and Greek (my Aramaic is rusty) so I am not particularly dependent on translators (exceptmyself). Personally I am fairly convinced also that Jesus had a fair grasp of Greek and maybe sometimes preached in it speaking to mixed crowds (look at the wordplay in the Beatitudes). I doubt if Pontius Pilate spoke Aramaic.
I also know that Jesus knew the difference between His Father and His Mother and how He taught His disciples to pray. And that's thr dispositive thing, as American lawyers say.
Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Mark Murphy said...

To insist that creator of the universe can only be approached in male human categories

And so insist this as a man...

Is a classic case of projected humanism.

# Our God is bigger that that

Anonymous said...

I have read that God’s maleness (as the Three in One) is in the sense of God always being the initiator in any relationship with human beings and with us (male and female) being the female responder to God as in the Bride of Christ.
Moya

Peter Carrell said...

Dear William
I certainly bow to your better familiarity with the original languages of Scripture!
Isn't "natural law" nevertheless a matter of (putting it somewhat crudely) translating the picture nature provides into precepts (words) we might abide by?
The character of God in respect to words and images we use about parenting is complex: yes, Jesus calls God Father and not "Father and Mother", yet the address to God as "Abba" is one of intimacy and to one from whom both fatherhood and motherhood stems. Can we be confident that in the new world of sensitivity to the female, Jesus today would not stretch our horizons (as he did then, by addressing God as "Abba") by invoking God as Mother and Father of us all?
Further, you place a lot of "depositive" weight on Jesus not invoking "Mother" also in the Lord's Prayer (as found in the gospels, in, let us not forget, two variant versions), yet the Roman church has found a deficiency in Scripture in respect of "female" and "feminine" and developed aspects of Marian theology which, frankly, are not discernible in the direct teaching of Jesus (whatever other weight of Tradition may support such developments).

Mark Murphy said...

Thanks for the contributions, folks.

Father Ron, that's a lovely memory of Jim Cotter. I gather his journey around sexuality was brave and pained.

Thank you Moya for the maternal image from my favourite OT book! There's just so much resonance between Isaiah and Jesus.

You're right Liz, I've never stopped to think about it...

"Born again" ....out of the womb of the Spirit, presumably. That's very rich.

Peter, I love these words you wrote:

"Can we be confident that in the new world of sensitivity to the female, Jesus today would not stretch our horizons (as he did then, by addressing God as "Abba") by invoking God as Mother and Father of us all?"

Let's not be afraid to stretch!

I'd like to share one more personal experience of God as Mother: for some reason, when I consider God this way, I don't feel quite as afraid of dying.

Mark Murphy said...

I am eternally grateful for the Roman Catholic bit of my upbringing for giving me such a rounded, feminine experience of the divine, even though other parts of the church work to suppress and control this dangerous, simple testimony.

I fondly remember my English/Irish aunties and grandmother with their "devotion to Mary". They would holiday in Ireland, and stop at all the shrines to Mary on the road down from Dublin to Cork in the south, while the men spent their time in the pubs.

I also fondly remember searching all over Lucerne township as a youngster on holiday with my father to find a little statue of Mary to purchase and bring home to NZ.

Anonymous said...

Come now, Peter, you have a doctorate in the New Testament yourself, haven't you? You can check the original texts as well as I, and note the consistent practice of Christ and His apostles - as well as their implications for Trinitarian theology. Jesus reveals the eternal Father and the name is no mere metaphor, as Schleiermacher and liberal Protestantism imagine, subject to the changing tides of culture. This is the difference between revelation (which Schleiermacher, benighted by Kant, didn't believe in) and part of 'the scandal of particularity' of the Incarnation. And as I said, Jesus knew that God was His Father and Mary His Mother - though He did also say that those who do God's will is "my brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3.35). Do you ever wonder why he didn't say 'and my father' as well? God's eternal name is not up for sale - or "improvement".
The "Roman church" has found "no deficiency" in Scripture. Whether you think Rome and the Orthodox churches have correctly exegeted the Scriptures on the Theotokos is another question (on which Ron Smith may disagree with you).
As for nature law, it is really nothing other than scientific observation of the world that includes teleology or "final causes" in understanding human and other life forms. Natural law asks: "for what purpose does x exist?" That question has been formally banned from modern atheistic science (which pretends to deal only with material and efficient causes), but the question of purpose and goals keeps smuggling itself back into biology. Even hardened atheists can't help themselves saying "The pancreas etc exists to provide x etc to the body." "Aristotle's revenge", as Edward Feser might say.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Father Ron said...

Jesus said: "I bless you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and clever and revealing them to mere children; for that is what it has pleased you to do". I find this quite encouraging for ordinary Christian folk who have no Latin, Aramaic, Greek or Hebrew, but have, simply, to rely on the gift of the Holy Spirit to understand the import of the Scriptures and the presence of Christ in their lives - via Baptism and Holy Communion. This is not intended to denigrate the gifts of scholarship; but to remind us all of how God can communicate God's-self to anyone disposed to believe.

If, William, you have an alternate meaning for what Jesus was saying here, perhaps you could enlighten us - in the spirit of your oft-quoted 'Pax et Bonum' - usually attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, who never claimed the gift of scholarship

Father Ron said...

In addition, William, I was quite amused to see your statement here:

"Even hardened atheists can't help themselves saying "The pancreas etc exists to provide x etc to the body." "Aristotle's revenge", as Edward Feser might say."

My amusement comes from the fact that I now have to rely on another of God's creatures to provide the necessary enzymes to digest my food, as my own pancreas has given up on that natural process. Here, surely, both God and science step up to the mark to keep me going.
'Porcine enzymes', however, might not be acceptable to some religious sensibilities! Despite that fact, I'm quite sure God doesn't mind this bit of human scientific ingenuity. Blessings!

Anonymous said...

Picking Mark’s 8.02 yesterday about the male paternity of God, I have read (and I don’t know where) that the maleness of God - the Three in One - is in the sense that God is always the initiator in connection with human beings and we - both men and women - are in a sense the female responders. That is why men are also part of the Bride of Christ. God’s initiatives are from his prevenient grace seen all through Scripture.
Moya

Ms Liz said...

Been thinking about William's contributions, and I've also found John 16:13 which refers to the Spirit of truth as 'he' and 'himself' despite what I shared earlier about spiritual rebirth...

Maybe the problem is with us humans.. the church is *the bride* and I don't recall any argument about the gender of the church!

I don't imagine John-Wayne-type evangelicals would enjoy being reminded the church is the *bride* of Christ. My beef is that the church has over-emphasised supposedly 'male' attributes at the expense of supposedly 'female' attributes.. but people are a mix of both and I don't like gendered constructs where 'male' attributes become privileged in a male-dominated society.

I think I'm actually ok with understanding the Trinity as male provided we keep in mind that all of us, male and female, are created in the image of God.. and an acceptance of God as male doesn't preclude or diminish all those good and beautiful 'soft' attributes that are thought of as "female".

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.."

In conclusion I wonder if the church prefers endlessly arguing about the nature of God as a distraction to the hard work of contemplating how the bride should prepare herself for the bridegroom (and perhaps re-discover her femininity).

Anonymous said...

“Isaiah 66:13”

Yes, Moya. And while you are looking at the OT, flip over to Proverbs 8. Wisdom, (like the Angel of YHWH in the Pentateuch) has traditionally been read as a figure of Christ (cf St John 1, Colossians 1). In the West, old lectionaries appoint it to December 17 to complement the first of the O-antiphons for Advent.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Antiphons

"To affirm the essential maleness of the first person of the trinity? Is this what our faith is about when we address God as Father?"

No, Mark. We do what Jesus did because Jesus did it. We do that because our relationship to God is his relationship to YHWH, rather than say Mirabai's relationship to Krishna.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirabai

“God is always the initiator in connection with human beings and we - both men and women - are in a sense the female responders.”

Abraham Joshua Heschel made this dialectic the basis of his Jewish theology in two volumes-- Man in Search of God, God in Search of Man.

God has never explained why he revealed himself as he did. There are mysteries.

That said, yes Moya you're right, there have indeed been men (eg Puritans, Moravians) in whose spirituality feminine receptivity was a leading theme.

Anonymous said...

"Then I went on to imagine a church where women run the whole thing and men are welcome to attend but aren't eligible for the most senior positions!"

Liz, this idea is much more timely than Inclusive Language. It pushes past petty, cranky squabbles about other people's ears for God and language.

Years ago, a nun with whom I studied iconography moved to Greece, rented a C14 stone monastery from a bishop, and invited Orthodox women in the West who had been praying alone to move in. They had a lot of fun planting gardens, repairing the chapel, and becoming a community! Open your church and, God willing, I will visit.

Here up yonder, we debated rather clumsy Inclusive Language in the 1970s. Down the decades since, arguments about it have often hit a wall at the Name of God. But there are other ways in which language might be adapted. As you and others point out, the Bible is not squeamish about using feminine language for God's attributes.

Since this topic was first broached when I was in high school, a lot has happened.

Appreciation of women's contributions to medieval liturgy has grown even in the secular culture. The glamourous and prolific Byzantine composer St Kassia was belatedly canonised by TEC just this year. St Hildegard, made a Doctor of the Catholic Church by Benedict XVI, had some hit records in the 1990s.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kassia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hildegard_of_Bingen

In contemporary English, many of the writers who have lately renewed the language’s capacity for spiritual expression have been women-- Denise Levertov, Annie Dillard, Barbara Kingsolver, Marilynn Robinson, Katherine Sonderegger, Sarah Coakley. It would be odd to think that any of them has contributed only on a list of women's topics.

And Sonderegger and Coakley are just two of many Anglican women with exceptional expertise in scripture, theology, or liturgy. Here up yonder and across the pond, there are Anglican nuns who think through these matters several times a day. Most obviously, when this topic first came up there were no ordained women, but today the Communion has women in all holy orders. The conversation of half a century ago is far behind today's Body.

I'd like to see several communities of believing women collaborate on a complete service book and then use it for a decade. Their perspectives on the local body and its world could shape prayer about both in interesting ways. It would be lovely if they at least considered the Protestant approaches to the mother of Jesus that lie disused in scholarly articles and ecumenical documents. And what would women do with the Pastoral Offices and the Ordinal? Ten years of that could show us a lot.

Across the Tiber, the man in white has lately been elaborating an ecclesiology in which a masculine *petrine* principle is in dialogue with a feminine *marian* one. Let's talk.


BW

Anonymous said...

The fact that there is a continuous and general public rejection of Christianity obviously does not worry the masses. In the least, does this not suggest just how inadequate the reasons are for being a Christian? Faith vs science, reason and information (in the digital age) is on a slippery slope.

Anonymous said...

The fact that there is a continuous and general public rejection of Christianity obviously does not worry the masses. In the least, does this not suggest just how inadequate the reasons are for being a Christian? Faith vs science, reason and information (in the digital age) is on a slippery slope.

Ms Liz said...

Many thanks for your generous response Bowman, rich with stories, info, ideas. It's wonderful!

Peter Carrell said...

Dear William
You comment above begs the question where motherhood is derived from, and why addressing God as Father is somehow exclusionary of God as also Mother of us all. Does the Spirit of God not enable our new birth?

Ms Liz said...

Interestingly.. my husband's reminded me that all males have some female, in that males have x-y chromosomes cf. females x-x !!!

Anonymous said...

Peter - since God is Creator and all things were created through the Logos, everything is "derived" from God, including motherhood and apple pie, but also parthenogenesis, vegetation, coronavirus and black holes. What that has to do with God's name, the Eternal generation of the Son by the eternal Father and the Incarnate Son's revelation of the Father and the Trinity, I have no idea. Are you saying Christianity is really projective nature religion, a la Feuerbach? Shall we worship trees which are "derived" from God? Polynesian animism, anyone?
As for "exclusionary" (the worst sin today!),
"How odd of God
To choose the Jews ..."
A good dose of Barth may be recommended! (See CD ad loc on Ephesians 3.14.)

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Pax et bonum

Anonymous said...

I normally ignore trolls, as all responsible citizens of the internet do. But Anonymouse at 3:45 is a perfect specimen in the right thread at the right time.

The creeds support the practice of anti-fragile lives in service to the Lord. People who have actually lived such lives sometimes get deep insight into scripture, sometimes get ecstatic visions, and sometimes get thrown to lions, but none of them fundamentally care how many of their neighbours the Lord calls into his service.

If the creeds are true, that's up to him. And a certain Christ-reliant anti-narcissism is integral to faith itself. Persecuted house churches in Iran or China are no less the norm than Westminster Abbey. Those in Christ have courage.

Disciples of Jesus just care about being the little christs that the creatures in front of them actually need. If they truly cannot find a need to fill nearby, then they go elsewhere in search of their true calling. Their citizenship is in heaven. They have done this for two millennia and more are doing it today in more kinds of places than ever. It works.

In societies like ours, some of the godless are outside churches, others inside them. From outside, churches can come across as whiny, neurotic lovers who keep reminding you that you need them because they are terrified that you will leave. And inside, some fragile souls-- often the ever-squabblers-- fear social rejection because their flimsy practice bottoms on social approval. In both cases-- Where the overall perception is that churches need societies more than societies need churches, the relationship will not be fruitful. St Matthew x 14.

There is such a thing as being oneself in the way of one's own message. Although we should recruit as many servants as the Lord can use, and help them to find their vocations somewhere under heaven, we should avoid the mad faithlessness of doing this ways that make God or the Body seem to be needy, fragile things dependent on social approval. When we get that wrong-- posing to the godless as their Customer Service Department or Bureau of Public Morals-- we confuse credulous trolls like Anonymouse.

The Bible says nothing much about ministry to whole societies of mass prosperity, and the Body has no historical experience of it. We do not know what flourishing churches in societies like these should look like. There is no need for us to pretend that we do. There is need for us to stop extrapolating from a rather different past to a somewhat different future.


BW

Mark Murphy said...

"We do what Jesus did because Jesus did it. We do that because our relationship to God is his relationship to YHWH, rather than say Mirabai's relationship to Krishna."

Happily, in her infinite mercy, God allows both: for those who prefer to stay close to Jesus's spoken words, if not always their meaning, to address God as Father or Daddy/Abba of us all;

and for who who receive her as Mother of us all, to approach and speak this way....without leaving the homelands of Christianity, for all the reasons threaded through these posts.

And God also provides us an abundance of imagery and experience for a non-gendered, more formless sense of the Presence/Light too.

*

Jesus said: "I bless you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and clever and revealing them to mere children; for that is what it has pleased you to do". I find this quite encouraging for ordinary Christian folk who have no Latin, Aramaic, Greek or Hebrew, but have, simply, to rely on the gift of the Holy Spirit to understand the import of the Scriptures and the presence of Christ in their lives..."

Beautiful, Father Ron.

I think of my aunties and grandmother, uneducated and dottily pious, who knew so much more about the depths of God's mothering love through their devotion to the face of Mary than through scholarship or ancient languages.


*

"...my husband's reminded me that all males have some female, in that males have x-y chromosomes cf. females x-x !!!"

And what a mixture we are psychologically - everyone of us an integration or chaos/non-integration of so-called feminine and masculine energies and forms.

How much more rich and comprehensive is the Creator and Source? How silly to think He/She/Them can be exhausted by our fixed forms and pronouns.

Anonymous said...

Postscript

In just ten months, the second most feared military force in the world has become the third most feared in Ukraine. What happened?

Many things, but at bottom-- Ukraine has a solidly trained army and Russia has an old-fashioned army of conscripted colonial regiments. On C21 battlegrounds, competence matters far more than mere numbers.

I see an analogy there.

BW

Ms Liz said...

Thinking over this discussion, I suddenly wondered about the use of the title 'Father' for priests and how this fits with what William said further back in the thread ...

[And as I said, Jesus knew that God was His Father and Mary His Mother - though He did also say that those who do God's will is "my brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3.35). Do you ever wonder why he didn't say 'and my father' as well? God's eternal name is not up for sale - or "improvement".]

Ms Liz said...

Some churches adopt ‘Women’s Lectionary’ this Advent, centering women’s stories, expanding language / ENS published today

https://www.episcopalnewsservice.org/2022/12/09/some-churches-adopt-womens-lectionary-this-advent-centering-womens-stories-expanding-language/

Father Ron said...

Looking in, this morning, on the blog of my friend (Bishop Jake's Blog), I found this little gem. In his article about learning to love one's-self, Jake mentions the work of Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, in North America, who stresses the need to practise Heaven in the here and now of everyday life:

'Patience is learning to stay with ourselves as imperfect and incomplete. Learning to be compassionate with ourselves. And from that patience with ourselves emerges our ability to be patient with others. Patience is how we love ourselves, how we love others, and how we love God.

Richard Rohr puts it this way:

"Our task is simply to embody heaven now. We cannot “get there”; we can only “be there”—which ironically is to “be here!” Love, like prayer, is not so much an action that we do, but a reality that we are. We don’t decide to be loving. Love is our True Self. It is where we came from and where we’re going. All spiritual growth is no more than a matter of becoming who we already are" (“The Search for the Real,” CAC, Dec. 20, 2017)

Patience is being here; I mean really being here—with yourself and with others as we actually are—because that is where God is. (Bishop Jake)

Ms Liz said...

I read that piece this morning too Father Ron, thanks for sharing it here.

During my tea break I've been looking through NT mentions of 'mother' and I wondered if any of you would be willing to comment on this from Galations 4:

24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. 25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. 26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

What does 'Jerusalem which is above' mean please?

Ms Liz said...

Since I asked the Q re "Jerusalem which is above", from what I've read I understand it to mean the Church with reference to our 'mother' Sarah who was the free wife of Abraham. Being her descendants we are also free (of Sinai law).

In the process of trying to find an answer, this article was an interesting read:

If God Is Your Father, You Have Seven Mothers
Christianity Today, 22 Aug 2022, by Andrew Wilson
https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2022/september/god-father-seven-mothers-andrew-wilson.html

Anonymous said...

Liz's comment reminds us that the Church is the mother of Christians, a point with which even (or rather especially) John Calvin agreed ("for those for whom God is their Father, the Church is their Mother", Inst. 4.1.1 on Galatians 4.26). It is worth remembering also that Mothering Sunday (Laetare Sunday) was originally a home visit to worship in the church in which one was baptised before that day was swallowed up by the American cult of Mother's Day: in other words, it was about our heavenly mother, not our earthly one (for whom I am also eternally thankful).
The Church as mother is a beautiful image in Scripture. Mothers are not very democratic (read: 'synodal') either. A Sicilian guide on Mount Etna told me that Sicilians call their mountain Mama Etna because she watches over them, makes the soil fertile and rumbles at them but doesn't harm them- and then added: "And she's not half as scary as our real mothers!"

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

"Some churches adopt..."

Personally, Liz, I trust the give and take of pastors and communities with a common life through time over single-interest, agenda-driven ideas that treat churches as a kit of parts. So again, your idea is superior to tinkering with lectionaries, translations, etc. We ordain women; we're past all that.

BW

Ms Liz said...

It was a joy to read William's response this (Sunday) morning. Thank you! All of which is new to me.. and I especially love the Mama Etna story!

Ms Liz said...

Thanks Bowman, I hear you. The church I grew up in was an 'assembly' with a few 'elders' and the services were very simple so it's going to be a long process for me to learn about the Anglican/mainline church universe. From what I could see, the closest USA equivalent to what I knew is the Southern Baptists and I was aghast at what happened with them, the terrible things hidden by their leadership. With some vehemence I can say I'll never return to that kind of church model. I'm just trying to understand, trying to figure things out. Especially with regard to women in the church, and it's only a few weeks ago that I even learned what the 'lectionary' is! The learning curve.. it feels pretty daunting tbh.

Mark Murphy said...

When we make God irrevocably male, and the Church irrevocably female, we just lock Christianity up in the patriarchy...and give patriarchy the ultimate seal of truth.

It's such a projected humanism a la Feuerbach, because of course it is men communicating this so-called transcendental truth to us.

From this flows all the power relations that are so problematic: men as in charge of the church, as representatives of Christ on earth, men as natural leaders and teachers, women as faithful supporters and followers.

It's also blasphemy, isn't it? Because we are limiting the bigness and bigheartedness of God, and invoking him to justify abuse of women (and men).

Jean said...

I have not the knowledge of language to debate with any confidence the biblical references to God as Father or He, nor the ‘gender’ of the Holy Spirit, all I can add is that it is something I have accepted sort of akin to Bowman’s early comment that ‘It is...”. At the same time I embrace the sense of God having attributes generally speaking (as Liz points out what we consider male and female attributes can be possesssed by both men and women) ascribed to women and which have offered much comfort over the years. Also that God created men and women in His image so it has always made sense to me that female character traits are a part of the nature of God.

Isaiah 49 - “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, Peter, but the "paraphrase" of the Lord's Prayer you cite from ACANZP prayer book reads lke a parody of a Californian creative writing class with a dash of Gaia worship and shamanism. I am old enough to remember the 1970 NZ Anglican version of the Lord's Prayer with its cloth-eared line "holy be your name" (the "reviser" didn't know the meaning of "hallowed" or the fact thag God's name is already holy). Don't any NZ Anglicans study the doctrine of the Trinity?. Read the Bible carefully (Ephesians 3.14 and every single reference to God by Jesus and his apostles) and you will see that God is *not our mother. Mother goddess religion is chthonic and nature-based. It was common enough in the Greco-Roman world of the first century (think of the cult of the Magna Mater). If NZ Anglicans won't read Augustine on the Trinity, at least they should read Barth. To repeat: God's name is revealed by Jesus the incarnate Son. If some moderns find that inadequate, where does the problem lie?
Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Ms Liz said...

A lot to think about there Mark! My mind's grown weary but the heart is in assent. What stands out for me is the 'power relations', that's hugely problematic. Having a title/office actually does matter, that determines who speaks to the world on behalf of the Body (and generally determines who gets consulted). I particularly noticed the contributions from powerful women with the Abortion issue in the States. Powerful women were standing up and giving testimony to their personal experiences, often never made public before. And they were informing debate and warning about consequences. I think the Church must needs embrace the feminine along with the masculine to embody the fullness of God from whom we've received every good thing to begin with, and for the Church to more deeply understand the world that we're in. Which also means I respect what you said about 'limiting the bigness and bigheartedness of God' - that seems profoundly true! Thanks very much.

Ms Liz said...

"A good dose of Barth may be recommended! (See CD ad loc on Ephesians 3.14.)"

William's mentioned Barth twice, and Bowman once, in this thread.

So where would I start? [Note I don't understand the 'CD ad loc']

~ any reading recommendation(s), please?

Mark Murphy said...

Dear William,

One of the neat things about A New Zealand Prayer Book / He Karakia Mihinare ┼Ź Aotearoa is that if one can't stomach Jim Cotter's beautiful paraphrase - if it feels forced, too unfamiliar, or even shamanistic - you can find a conventional copy of the Lord's Prayer on the preceding page, and a M─üori language version too, if you wish to hear it in the Reo.

Those with a concern for orthodoxy can rest assure all prayers in the prayerbook have been considered and and approved by theologians, liturgists, and bishops, all of whom have completed a solidly trinitarian education.

The Anglican Church in NZ is willing for us to be multilingual and have choice in our praise. I see this as a strength.

Anonymous said...

https://archive.org/details/credo_201912

https://www.scribd.com/book/399741478/Credo

https://www.amazon.com/Credo-Karl-Barth-ebook/dp/B015QOFAX6/


BW

Ms Liz said...

Gender and God-Talk: Can We Call God ‘Mother’?
by Richard S. Briggs, in Themelios Vol 29 - Issue 2
Link: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/gender-and-god-talk-can-we-call-god-mother/


Article in the form of a dialogue covering arguments from both sides, I found it interesting and helpful ~ also discusses Ephesians 3:14-15

*

For peace-of-mind I've got to a place where I feel comfortable with where I'm at on this now. Thanks to all who commented, your thoughts have pushed me to think and search much harder than if I'd been wondering about this on my own!

Peter Carrell said...

Dear William,
In the history of Christianity, we have been rather good at transforming what we find in paganism and making something Christian of it.

Isn't that, at least in part, the explanation for the veneration of Mary - that she takes up, takes over and becomes the Christianized form of those mother goddesses?

If so, what is difficult about then reflecting on where qualities of mothering/motherhood ultimately come from: not from the earth but from the earth's Creator.

And when we know that Creator has been revealed as like a mother hen, it is very Christian to occasionally address the Creator as Mother and Father of us all.

I would be surprised if Catholic nuns of my acquaintance shared your disdain for us NZ Anglicans on this point!

Ms Liz said...

Thanks for the links BW!

Anonymous said...

I don't have disdain for any Anglicans, Peter.
I do have varying opinions of the theology and truthfulness of particular liturgical creations, like the NZ Anglican prayer book and various Catholic compositions I could mention. They are human compositions which must be tested against revelation.
I don't think the Creator "has been revealed like a mother hen"; rather, Jesus in his mission likened himself to such a bird when he looked on unbelieving Jerusalem facing terrible judgment (Matt 23.37). Paul also likened himself to a mother (Galatians 4.19) and Moses asked a similar question (Numbers 11.12). These are similes, not names or identities. But I don't doubt for a moment that the Father possesses those qualities we conventionally call "motherly" because his Fatherhood far exceeds human fatherhood. Scripture uses many metaphors for God, including "man of war", "shepherd", "rock" and "fortress". What are we to make of these?
But how we speak of and to God is not in our gift. There are three main reasons for this.
1. As Benedict XVI reminded us, "Christianity is not our work, it is a revelation ... Consequently we ae not authorized to change Our Father into Our Mother." Jesus has named God definitively and finally for his disciples, and it is vain to imagine we know better than he. To say otherwise is to lapse into kenoticism. The fact that Jesus and the writers of the New Testament never speak of God as other than "He" and never name Him as "Mother" settles the matter for catholics and the Orthodox - as it should for evangelicals who affirm the supremacy of Scripture. It is liberalism which claims that Christianity is a human project that needs supplementing and correction over time.
2. Many Protestants (and not just they) don't appreciate the analogical nature of religious language. Analogy in theology means that statements made about both God and man are not equivalent in reference and meaning but overlap in some respects and differ in others. Because God does not have a body, his divine life is not biological or physical (as human life is) but sui generis. And neither is his Fatherhood towards all mankind and toward Christians in particular biological or physical. The divine Father does not require a mother to do his work of creation, regeneration and the paternal care of his spiritual children.
3. God's Fatherhood is transcendent - something more than and other than any possible creation. Not only is God's fatherhood the source of human fatherhood which is a pale reflection of its divine origin (Ephesians 3.14), but even if God had never created the world, he would still be Father within the Eternal Trinity, as the Unoriginated Origin of the Son: the Father is the Father of the Son and the Son is the Son of the Father. The language of the Father and the Son is mot negotiable. All of this is sketched out in John's Gospel in particular, especially in chapter 17.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

Liz, Moya, Jean? Catholic nuns down under?

What say you?

BW

Anonymous said...

Public worship enacts participation in the Three. That's what makes it Christian.

Postmodern Anglicans etc will struggle to make their practice and belief clear amid the alternatives if that backbone is not even clearer than it has been. Fidgeting with the Name looks suspiciously noncommittal to shoppers.

Private devotion among Anglicans has always been more adaptive and experimental.

BW

Ms Liz said...

Bowman, thanks. I came to a *personal* decision and didn't intend to comment further but I'll answer since you ask.

I did my best to follow the arguments in Gender and God-Talk: Can We Call God ‘Mother’? ~which I linked to just above in (10:39). IMHO that's worth reading.

After reading the article I felt vindicated that it's right and proper to address God the Father as "Father" while recognising that maternal language is also used in Scripture with respect to aspects of each Person of the Trinity, and remembering as I said before that every good thing comes from God.

In addition, I've since read a portion of Romans 8 (NIV):

"And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." ~this was in the context of the writer addressing "brothers and sisters".

That said, I personally think there should be more teaching in the Church about the maternal aspects of God's love for his children, and about the Church (Jerusalem above - mother of us all), and about the Church as the Bride of Christ. I don't know much about these things and have been reading as fast as I can during the course of this discussion! All of us, women and men, are co-heirs with Christ and it's not right that women are often treated as being in some way "lesser" especially if they seem "different" to what's expected. This maternal teaching shouldn't just be for women but for everyone (and perhaps especially for men!)

I feel moved to recall that in Luke 7 a "sinful" woman washed Jesus feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with costly perfume. (Interestingly in the NT a woman's long hair is described as her glory). She did all this out of love for her Lord but was criticised by the man who'd invited Jesus to dinner. In response Jesus told her that her love and her faith had saved her, that her sins are forgiven, and to go in peace. But to the man Jesus delivered an impromptu lesson about love - the man had shown little love when welcoming Jesus into his house but the sinful woman had lavished her love on Jesus. Our discernment of what is right must always come from a place of deep love.

As far as the NZ Prayer Book paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer goes, the wording is initially surprising for me given my conservative background but looking at each individual phrase I personally aren't troubled by that difference. Also I found Paul's advice to Timothy in 2 Tim ch2: "14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen." I don't know if I'm using that passage properly here, but it spoke to me.

In conclusion I'll personally, with much love and joy, worship God the Father as "Father". At the same time I hope to see more teaching in churches on the maternal and bride aspects of the Church. Above all, may all of us, male and female, love one another as Christ has commanded!

Father Ron said...

Yes, Bowman. That's why some Anglicans, when making the Sign of the Cross on their forehead, lips and heart are wont to say - whether aloud or silently - "In the name of the Father, and of The Son, and of the Holy spirit. AMEN. - a perpetual reminder, for the mindful, of their heritage.

As God is not gender-based - neither are our pronouns for God gender-based, but inclusive of every nurturing and sustaining quality of being we poor humans can ever conceive of or muster. "Never was God so great as when (GOD) became so small! Alleluia! Come, Lord Jesus, come!"

Anonymous said...

No, Peter, the same misconstruals, unfortunately.
1. The Eternal Trinity is NOT God's name. "trinitas" simply means "threeness" and describes (inadequately because ambiguous) the one God's tri-personhood. We could scrap the term in the interest of accuracy but any replacement would be awkward and cumbersome. I am very happy to keep using the calque "trinity" provided it is not misunderstood as denoting modalism or tritheism. But I repeat" "trinity" is NOT God's name, "Father" is.
2. Your second paragraph smuggles in a reified error, "God's Motherhood". Scripture nowhere says such a nature or identity (let alone a name) exists in God. Scripture does say, times without number, that God is Father, it never says He is Mother. The Bible is very clear on this, as any evangelical should know. Isaiah 66.13 states, "As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you". Of course. Good earthly fathers can learn from their wives how to comfort their children with gentle words and embraces; the heavenly Father knows these things already.The conjunction "ki" / like, as, shows this is a simile, just as YHWH is likened to a shepherd (Ps 23; but not a shepherdess- why not?), king (Ps 95.3 - but not a queen; why not?), a rock and fortress (Ps 18.2), and a strong tower (Ps 61.3). Are you going to talk about the shepherdness, rockness or towerness of God - or do you recognise these as pictures of God but not his name? Will you talk about the queenship of God? If not, why not?
3. You may "find it strange that human fatherhood has a faint connection with the Fatherhood of God", but you must take this up with St Paul (Ephesians 3.14, assuming he wrote this letter), the Psalmist (Ps 103.13) and our Lord (Luke 11.11-12).
The root problem is the failure to understand the analogical characted of language when speaking of God and humans.The second mistake is to confuse metaphors with names and identities. The third is to lose sight of the transcendence of God. The prophetic Hartford Appeal for Theological Affirmation of 1975 is worth a revisit.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Peter Carrell said...

Hi William
When I wrote:
"I find it strange that human fatherhood has a faint connection with the Fatherhood of God; why not motherhood with the Motherhood of God? Isaiah 66:13. Mothering comes from God otherwise we are dualists!"
I should have been clearer and written:
"I find it strange that when human fatherhood has a faint connection with the Fatherhood of God; why does not motherhood with the Motherhood of God? Isaiah 66:13. Mothering comes from God otherwise we are dualists!"

I am very puzzled as to where feminity, motherhood, and the like are derived from. A human father learns such things from his wife. But God has no wife!

So, notwithstanding my inadequacies of expression, I am puzzled indeed troubled that you cannot come up with a better explanation of the relationship of the female character of humanity than you do. Indeed I am not convinced you have any explanation which empowers or affirms women in the purposes of God (other than to be wives, mothers and helpmeets to men).

Father Ron said...

Thank you, Bishop Peter, for this response to William's so obvious denial of the feminine in God. One wonders how Jesus could have received His own humanity - except through the willing cooperation of the woman, Mary of Nazareth? If Mary was a part of God's Creation - and nothing of that Creation is not 'of God', then logic alone demands that there is something of the feminine in God. This leads us also to realise that it is only in the human sphere that the concept of gender and sexuality is necessary - to perpetuate procreation. As Jesus was both God and Man, He (alone among humans) needed to contain both the sublime and the earthly.
"And The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us1" Alleluia!

Anonymous said...

Peter, if the unanimous teaching of our Lord and his apostles on how Christ's disciples may and must speak of and to God isn't enough to convince you, then nothing I say will make any difference.
God created biological maleness and biological femaleness. But God is not a biological male. He doesn't have a body. You don't seem to have understood the analogical nature of religious language - as St Augustine was in his pre-conversion days and imagined that God must have a body, until St Ambrose helped him think more clearly about the Bible.
Read the NT and you will see that Christ and St Paul did not say that all Christian women had to be married; quite the opposite. So your last paragraph makes no sense to me.
All of this was prefigured in the Hartford Affirmation of 1975.
If theological language is as negotiable as you imagine, I do not understand why you do not declare that God is Queen (other thsn not to offend anti-royalists) or why you don't say that Jesus is the Son-and-Daughter of God. Or perhaps that is next. Remember the Episcopal crucifix of Jesa? Dif you find that offensive or a sensitive cultural development in imagining the Incarnation?

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Ms Liz said...

Just now via Twitter/Christian Century I read a review for a book that looks very interesting:

'Women and the Gender of God' by Amy Peeler. NZ$8.02 on Kindle via Amazon(Australia). Even a NZ review..

"In Women and the Gender of God, Dr. Peeler states, 'one can affirm the triune God's supremacy without calling that masculinity.' In supporting this claim, Dr. Peeler speaks life over women in general, and over Mary in particular--not only in the story of history but also in the very story of God. Unexpectedly, I walked away from this book with a richer, more worshipful picture of God through an encounter with Mary! For me, as a woman, Protestant, and theologian, this book was a breath of fresh air, though any reader simply born of a woman would be challenged and encouraged by this powerful work.
-- Christa L. McKirland, Carey Baptist College, New Zealand
executive director of Logia International

~ so I've bought the kindle version, and I look forward to reading it!

Fyi the Christian Century review is at:
https://www.christiancentury.org/review/books/gender-identity-god-and-jesus

Peter Carrell said...

Dear William and fellow commenters
Thank you for erudite and challenging responses here.

I know nothing about Episcopal Jesa crosses and I do not think I am on a crusade to (e.g.) stop calling God Father, or to deny that Jesus is the Son, let alone to deny the maleness of Jesus as the Incarnated Human of the male sex.

God (and Jesus) are addressed/described as king (of kings) and not queen (of queens) and likely that reflects a world in which leaders of nations were mostly kings and not queens. But kings/queens are names of human offices and not intrinsic to the experience of being human.

My questions, whether we might from time to time address God as Father and Mother of us all, and whether if human fatherhood is drawn from God the Father, we might also consider human motherhood is also drawn from God the Mother (since it is an error to suppose that motherliness has any source other than in God) still do not have an adequate answer here.

The issue is not whether there is infinite theological negotiability around how we address God (though there is remarkable latitude in the OT!!) but what is the nature of a truthful response to what we read in Scripture and match what we read to the inescapable fact of humanity, that we have been created male and female by the one and only one God.

Ms Liz said...

William, when you said:

"Peter - since God is Creator and all things were created through the Logos, everything is "derived" from God, including motherhood and apple pie, but also parthenogenesis, vegetation, coronavirus and black holes. What that has to do with God's name, the Eternal generation of the Son by the eternal Father and the Incarnate Son's revelation of the Father and the Trinity, I have no idea."

This seems very dismissive of motherhood.

*Motherhood* is the only 'thing' from the list through which our Saviour, Christ the Lord was born!

Also, none of those other 'things' were made in the image of God whereas men and women including mothers are.

Dismissiveness toward women/mothers can then lead to what Mark Murphy has already discussed (Dec 11, 9.12am): "When we make God irrevocably male, and the Church irrevocably female, we just lock Christianity up in the patriarchy...and give patriarchy the ultimate seal of truth [...] From this flows all the power relations that are so problematic..."

From my reading of the comments here no-one is trying to replace 'God the Father' with 'God the Mother' but simply recognising Gods attributes include those attributes that many *humans* perceive/understand as female.

Anonymous said...

Situation

At least here up yonder, merely modern churchgoers have not distinguished Judaic faith from Epicurean faith. They hear the triune Name over and over, of course, but inconsistently they also project into the One the foreign god of Epicurus. The minds of churchgoers are divided.

(Why? They also inhabit a civic order founded on the Enlightenment that has preferred atheism or a Deist opinion for Anygod to Judaic allegiance to YHWH.)

As pluralism increases, concern for clear identity increases along with it. Trinitarian faith offers such an identity because the creeds are a story of the soul in the cosmos than which no other story can be more fundamental. In the story-game of rock paper scissors, the Judaic YHWH defeats the Epicurean Anygod.

Nevertheless, because the minds of churchgoers are divided, every deep controversy of our time tends to divide those who take Anygod for granted from those who are faithful to YHWH.

Among churchgoers, this is manifest as *sincere incomprehension* between those who think the faith is about a god who is merely a malleable yet transcendent One and others for whom this and every possible cosmos orbits around the relation in time and eternity of Jesus-in-Israel to the Father and Holy Spirit who raised him from death to all power in heaven and on earth.

Both the humanity and the femininity of women have been accommodated by every major religion. Or women would not have practiced them.

Adherents of Anygod do this by filling in their divine blank with something feminine. Disciples of Jesus have done this by acknowledging that the story of the Three includes a woman, the Theotokos (= God-bearer).

Forecast

Because Anygod does not offer an identity and YHWH does, the churches that thrive amid pluralism will be Trinitarian. The assemblies of Anygod will gradually disintegrate.

Trinitarians will not play with the Name that recounts in itself the axis of reality. Disciples, after all, are in that reality, not in some unreal void beyond it.

Trinitarian openness to the feminine in humanity will be enacted in veneration of the Theotokos and in listening to women who have been doctors of the universal Body of the Son. Why? These are episodes in the story of promise of all possible worlds.

BW

Ms Liz said...

Growing up in church it was the name of Jesus that I remember being emphasised as in Philippians 2, "9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (some of the words were also in a song)

I don't recall discussion about Father language, and we didn't use a Prayer Book so that alone is new to me. I'm confused the NZ Prayer Book uses "Father and Mother of us all" and yet there's disagreement about using that wording even just in our ADU discussion!

Seems that unity in the Church is rare.

Anonymous said...

"unity in the Church is rare"

With occasional exceptions, Liz, I've mostly been pleased by the breadth and depth of the unity that churchly folk do have. And there can be more.

But as I point out from time to time, much churchgoing is more civic or social than spiritual. To Anglicans, this is missional not scandalous, but it poses the problem of maintaining the faith in a mixed body.

BW

Mark Murphy said...

This thread is still going?

Hi Liz

I wanted to say: one of the best features of the Anglican Church, IMHO, is it's embrace of difference. That can make church membership quite challenging too as the theological differences can, on some issues, feel truly vast.

Sometimes Anglican intra-church relationships almost feel ecumenical: and, at our best, we draw on the same charity, curiosity, and goodwill that we muster for, say, a dialogue with Islam or Buddhism.

And then we/I get fiery because these differences pull across what we believe is true and just.

I prefer this sort of honest disagreement - agreeing to have our disagreements in public as Peter once put it - to suppression of differences and sham unity/uniformity. But it's challenging too.

Ms Liz said...

Thanks for responding Mark. I agree with you about honest disagreement, it's just there never seems to be resolution, which is curious given that we're promised the Spirit will lead us into all truth.

A few minutes ago I read an article about abuse in a school for missionary kids in Nigeria. The school was started by Brethren but by 1982 was run by 10 groups from various denominations. SIM kids, among others, went to the school and one of my dad's closest NZ friends worked in Africa with SIM. So I felt closer to the story than I normally would.

What bothers me is surely there's something fundamentally wrong with our understanding about God when abuse is a constant theme in christian institutions? Why is there no fear in having to give an account to God in a coming day? No fear of what Jesus said about not offending or despising "these little ones". Love?

This is a paragraph from near the end of the article...

"Ultimately, it’s not just one group or one institution that survivors of abuse at missionary boarding schools are up against, he said. It’s the entire theology, the whole culture that first creates the perfect conditions for abuse to take place and then gives institutions unchecked power to cover it up."

Women, children, people of colour, etc suffer while the Church evidently can't get its theology sorted out! And we wonder why people don't turn up at church?

I'm feeling angry.

Link: https://www.christiancentury.org/article/features/surviving-hillcrest

Ms Liz said...

If I may quote what you said on Twitter today, Bishop Peter:

"In the end, unity among Christians is only possible for those who want unity, who work for unity and who will walk over the broken glass of differences to secure and to maintain unity."

I read the associated article but your words also work well on their own. It made me think about decision-making, whether to dig in or try and navigate the broken glass.. it can be hard to know sometimes!

Mark Murphy said...

Anger sounds a most appropriate response to what you were reading, Liz. Really sad too.

Fear of punishment (divine or human) doesn't seem to work that well as a deterrent in these situations. Your quote is onto it IMHO: authoritarian cultures that perpetuate unchecked authority. Repression of sexual energy and emotional powerlessness are also strong factors, as well as a culture that celebrates (religious) violence.

When any church justifies the above, that's a good reason not to be part of it.

Anonymous said...

Peter, I should have said "Christa", not "Jesa" - the female crucifix now in a place of honour in an Episcopalian Cathedral. A legitimate development or heresy? It's the same argument you want to push.

Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh

Mark Murphy said...

Who cares, frankly, William, what a church decides to put on its walls.

How does that church treat the poor? Do it's members feel close to the love of God? Do they meet Christ each day as they encounter the world?

Ms Liz said...

I can't see in what way the Christa crucifix relates to
the words we've discussed in the NZ Prayer Book, i.e.
"Father and Mother of us all"
so I'll score myself an 'E' :(

Mark Murphy said...

A few months back I went to a funeral in a Roman Catholic church. On its walls was a towering, dark image of Jesus.

He seemed massive and brooding. I felt in the company of an ominous school teacher, rather than the prince of peace.

Does just putting a beard and male genitals on Christ produce an accurate depiction of who he is? What are we wanting to represent?

The mass was mostly beautiful, the congregation warm and welcoming, and the parish had an awesome outreach to the local school and community.

*

If *after prayerful waiting on the Spirit and reflective discernment* a congregation chooses to display Christ in the body of a woman (or a towering school principal), who am I to judge?

No one's suggesting it's an historical depiction.

If such images feel strange, do we not meet Christ each day in the stranger?


Mark Murphy said...

Women as the suffering servant, undergoing crucifixion each day for the love of their sons and daughters, because of their identity as women?

Mark Murphy said...

When I visited Coventry Cathedral I remember feeling very moved by a metallic sculpture of a mangled Christ - dedicated to all victims of car crashes.

Ms Liz said...

Genuine thanks Mark for thoughtfully sharing your view. Mine is also a personal view and not a response to Mark's.

Naked female imagery is so sexualised that I have a problem with the Christa crucifix for this reason alone, let alone my thoughts about Christ's crucifixion being portrayed in this way.

A quote from Beth Allison Barr in the Washington Post, an article btw that's well worth a read,

"Theology, she said, is something woven through people’s lives from childhood. In this case, Barr said she believes that the theology that keeps women from leadership is shaped by attitudes viewing women as sexual temptations. Women are then saddled with a sense of complicity."

At the moment I'm a WP Post subscriber so I can share a gift link here which anyone should be able to use:

Title: A rape survivor’s careful activism in a place where #MeToo feels taboo
By: Michelle Boorstein ~ 13 December 2022

Sub-heading: After helping launch the evangelical offshoot of #MeToo, Megan Lively still does not embrace the label, but she remains committed to helping survivors

LINK: https://wapo.st/3W8R9fY

Anonymous said...

Yah, Liz at 9:28, I concur with brother Mark at 7:56, but would run somewhat farther down his path. In fact, I did, but the 'net heartlessly rejected the comment. Maybe later.

On the other stuff, those saying "I don't understand why other people say/do X" are interesting maybe once, if the impression is informative about X itself.

Tourists, for example, send postcards. "Visited the US Capitol today. Stunningly beautiful building with soaring architecture, inspiring statues, and panoramic murals. Watching a violent coup right now. Guns, deer antlers, crosses, and Confederate flags. Also a gallows. No idea why they are doing this. Wishing you were here! Gotta go... now... Bye."

After that, belaboring the point seems to be boasting that other people have tried and failed to achieve the pinnacle of perfection that is one's own gloriously normative self. For some reason, this does not convince.

Since you read so widely, Liz, you may enjoy moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt's old TED talk on why liberals and conservatives disagree.

It resonates more if you know the Five Factor Model of human personality, but Jonathan is an engaging speaker giving a fun talk to a general audience.

What will the 'net do with this one?

BW

Ms Liz said...

Oh my! I'm glad you mentioned the TED talk.. it's stunning Bowman. After listening, I returned to the graph and thought about it.. and realised vulnerable groups become the 'sacrifice' when the Group-In-Power favours Authority/Ingroup/Purity over Harm/Fairness. In this respect, the Christa crucifix holds great significance.

Anonymous said...

I agree with others that you are off the wavelength of this thread about the Father/Mother aspects of God, William.
That said, personally I would find it difficult to view a Christa crucifix, but I do wonder if the one who created it and those who put it up, were attempting to portray the dreadful abuse women have suffered through the centuries and do suffer even today. And that I can understand. It reminds me of a book by a Jewish writer Chaim Potok, called ‘My Name is Asher Lev’ where a Jewish artist portrays his mother on the cross in an attempt to paint the agony he felt for her. Powerful story!

Anonymous said...

That comment on Christa was from Moya

Ms Liz said...

Glad you're back Moya! My impression so far is that the artist didn't have anywhere near that level of conviction when she produced the work and I'm unsure how the Cathedral folk interpret it. It was initially in a Cathedral exhibition in 1984 but hastily removed, then back again for part of 2016/17. Perhaps permanent now (?) but I didn't find anything to suggest that.

If the Cathedral has Christa in recognition of female (or female/child) abuse/suffering I'd find it powerful, even deeply moving. That possibility only dawned on me after seeing the TED Talk that Bowman mentioned, prompting my (3:26) response. It was so interesting to see your book example. If the Cathedral's acquired Christa, I'd love to know their reason(s).

Anonymous said...

Protestants have been agile interpreters of sacred words and often sacred music, but hopelessly klutzy with any sacred visuality-- images and spaces, never mind images for spaces, or images for spaces for times. Even Anglo-Catholics. who did retrieve medieval ceremonial objects and counter-reformation meditation practices heavy on visualisation, lacked-- as everyone else in the West then did-- theological keys to unlock the sophisticated iconology of the East. By shrinking our imagination for the sacred to *causes that start fights*-- a sad dilution of old Ritschl-- all sides in the hyperpolitics of recent decades have in some ways made this worse.

In the '90s, I would occasionally show a slide of Christa to start a discussion, and then after everyone had dug their trenches, I'd drop Canon 82 of the Council in Trullo into the no man's land before they could unwind barbed wire. To bible-clutching Protestants still getting used to the possibility that there could be such a thing as a dogma, it was as strange as Christa that it could seem good to the Holy Spirit and a council to explicitly acknowledge a symbol in the scriptures and then go on to ban its depiction in churches.

Hospitality, experience, reflection, catechesis. Grappling with the distinction between didactic and devotional classes among sacred images was a way into the thought that YHWH has an aesthetic.

https://www.stjohndivine.org/art/the-christa-project

https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/the-lamb-of-god-in-orthodoxy-a-history-in-icons/

https://archive.org/details/MN40282ucmf_1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albrecht_Ritschl

BW

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Ms Liz said...

The Iconreader site is wonderful! After the Lamb post I also chanced upon an explanation of the 'Harrowing of Hades', a term I'd come across yesterday in a book I'm reading about Christ's descent.

And I've downloaded a pdf of 'The Art of Mental Prayer' after having a quick scroll-through.. the content looks like it'll be pretty interesting.

Thanks for the links!

Anonymous said...

Liz, your omnivorous appetite is impressive! Quick thoughts on the run.

The Christa crucifix is more a specimen of the C20 *artworld* of New York than of TEC. Yes, it's in a cathedral, but that cathedral has a very lively dialogue with Manhattan, which is not a little feminist. On one level, the sense that it makes is as local as eg a boy and a girl dancing a pavane in Barcelona every March 25 for the Annunciation. Churches have strong *family resemblance* (Wittgenstein), but they can't be replicas of a standard universal model. Happy warriors are benighted in part because they cannot just let places be places.

Speaking of which, I once stumbled across a cave church in the Ihlara Valley (near Goreme in Cappadocia, Turkey) that had only Christ painted in the apse and women saints everywhere else. Doubtless monastic, like the many others in that district.

BW

Ms Liz said...

Ha! Bowman, LOL :D

What you shared re Christa local context, thanks!
I adore the cave church description. What an experience! Again, thanks.

Unless someone sneaks in while I write, this'll be the 100th comment
...... 100 !!!

*

To conclude, some words about The Lamb, courtesy of Malcolm Guite (from 'Refugee') >> full poem: https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/refugee/

[part, from the end]

Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower

Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,

The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power,

And death squads spread their curse across the world.

But every Herod dies, and comes alone

To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.

Anonymous said...

Bowman makes my point, that the Episcopal Church of the United States has much more to do with liberal American culture and politics than it has to do with Christianity. In such a world, "Christian" language and symbolism are just a Rorschach test of the secular culture, a liberal version of America's civil religion. But we have already known that for years. As the northeast of the United States abandons Christianity (the Episcopal diocese of Connecticut is on life support now), the old churches will also abandon Christianity to find a (temporary) place in the novus ordo saeculorum, probably as a cultural center for privately educated folk who like choir singing and stained glass. Those culture centers will carry on for another 20 years before closing. Maybe a mosque or a gurdwara will take them over then.
With much less cash, NZ Anglicanism seems likely to follow a similar route. As Bosco Peters often laments, NZ Anglicans don't even keep records of how many weekly attendees they have but he thinks it's about 30,000. What demographic projections can one make from these?
Meanwhile, my daily reading through the Johannine epistles has reinforced to me how utterly central the Father-Son relationship and language are to understanding the nature of God. Who knows better how to speak and think truthfully of God than St John the Theologian? Or to warn us when Celsius is in the Cath-, I mean, bath house?

Pax et bonum vobis a Deo Patre nostro et Domino Iesu Christo,
quia natus est vobis hodie salvator qui est Christus Dominus in civitate David.

William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

D'oh! It was Cerinthus, not Celsius, who raised the temperature in the bath house.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Ms Liz said...

My own experience with TEC is that love for God and neighbour is clearly taught and it's expected God's transforming love will be expressed in action. What's there to criticise about that?

~copied from a sermon by Bishop Michael Curry, TEC (2012)

We need some crazy Christians. [...] Christians crazy enough to believe that God is real and that Jesus lives. Crazy enough to follow the radical way of the gospel. Crazy enough to believe that the love of God is greater than all the powers of evil and death. Crazy enough to believe, as Dr. King often said, that though “the moral arc of the universe is long, … it bends toward justice.”

~I also checked the TEC website for what they believe and 'The Catechism' heading referred me to The BCP. Reading The (Online) BCP, under 'God the Son':

Q. What do we mean when we say that Jesus is the only Son of God?
A We mean that Jesus is the only perfect image of the Father, and shows us the nature of God.

From the book "Looking for God in Messy Places", by (Bishop) Jake Owensby

"By comparison, the love of God in Christ will transform this world. God’s love will flow through Christ’s hands and feet. As it turns out, those hands and feet are ours. Through us, God’s love can restore, heal, and liberate this aching, shattered world. Here’s what Bishop Curry said about love in that sermon: “There’s power in love. There’s power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will. There’s power in love to show us the way to live.”" [referring to PB Curry's royal wedding sermon].

Father Ron said...

William, with all DUE respect. Do you not think it would be better for you to relinquish your claim to 'Pax et bonum' as your signature at the end of your messages on this thread? I, for one, find little peace or goodwill towards the rest of us (mostly Anglicans) in your messages. The use of this Blessing by Blessed Francis of Assisi was born of Love for ALL Creation

Anonymous said...

Ron, we should ALL love ALL Creation. We should all love sinners. We should not love sin. Do you Protestants sometimes miss this distinction? (I know that Catholics do.)
Do you love evangelicals, Ron? Do they find peace and goodwill from you toward them or do you ever call them "schismatics, unloving, judgmental, bigoted" etc? Is my impression from reading your website false?
If anyone presumes to teach Christian truth (a fearful calling), then he should heed St James's warning that teachers will be judged more strictly by God (James 3.1). Do we appreciate that if we teach contrary to the Scriptures and the consentient catholic voice of the Church, we are teaching error and leading others into error? Agreeing with and "affirming" people will make you popular with them but it won't necessarily help them. I didn't want my teachers to be my "friends" but to be my truthful guides. Sometimes that included the painful correction of my mistakes. One of the most fruitful experiences in my life was being intellectually roughed up by my doctoral supervisor who put me on the right track.
What did our Lord say about anyone who causes a little one to stumble?
Is the doctor who tells his patient he must change his diet and lifestyle radically if he is to get better acting out of malice or goodwill?
What do you think Francis was doing in Egypt in 1219? What do you think he said to the Sultan in their time together? That Christianity and Islam are just the same? Not what St Bonaventure recounted. Yes, "all you need is love." But it must be love of the truth, not our own desires magnified and deified.
Peace and good are on God's terms, not ours.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Ms Liz said...

Is God the Father, the Mother or both?
~by Sean Niestrath ("a male who is personally conservative but has a great deal of tolerance and love for those who are not.")
~Minister, Church of Christ, Madisonville

"This is not to say that we should pray to God as mother, but it might mean that for those so inclined there is both Biblical and historical precedent for such a reference."

Link: https://www.paducahsun.com/news/local/is-god-the-father-the-mother-or-both/article_c3e8bb3f-09ce-5ff3-98cb-30edbe69ba54.html

~the article I shared way back [**copied below] is far more comprehensive and has an excellent reference list however the Niestrath piece does include a couple of paragraphs re Julian of Norwich.

---------

**Gender and God-Talk: Can We Call God ‘Mother’?
by Richard S. Briggs, in Themelios Vol 29 - Issue 2
Link: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/gender-and-god-talk-can-we-call-god-mother/

Briggs concluded, "My own practice encapsulates my ability to defend both sides of the matter: I continue to pray to God as Father, but believe that God would not in fact mind if I did otherwise. If those of both opinions were equally at ease with, each other in this matter then perhaps that would be appropriate to the complexity of sorting out the question of gender and God-talk."

Anonymous said...

And each particular creature, Father Ron ;-) Every one of SMAA's parishioners is blessed to be in your generous company this Christmas.

Liz, the meditation methods that Bede Frost relates are ways of entering affectively into biblical narrative through the imaginative use of the senses. This warrants a few follow-up thoughts.

First off, this is a decidedly Western spirituality. The Philokalia, the vast anthology of traditional Eastern spirituality, has other methods and is wary of attachment to products of the imagination. Your morning routine as a nun at say Meteora in Greece would include a detached recounting of your thoughts for an eldress's help in discernment. The emphases of East and West can be compared in Thomas a Kempis's Imitation of Christ Nicholas Cabasilas's Life in Christ.

Second, the methods implicitly aim at participation in the action of YHWH behind the text. If you imagine yourself present when Jesus healed Legion, this is because the Creator was in that act hastening creatures on to the New Jerusalem and you want to be riding that wave. If the action of YHWH in the sagas of Adam and Eve, the patriarchs, Israel, Jesus, and the apostles are clear, then the meditations can make godly sense beyond schoolhouse moralizing that requires no faith.

Third, meditation on the story of scripture is different from meditation on the text, whether as a numinous string of words, as the testimony of an author, or else as divine address to reader personally. Difference is not necessarily opposition, but one does have to braid all of these together somehow.

Fourth, these methods are most used with the gospels. Here, a problem: you meditate on one Christ Jesus who lived one life, but you have four somewhat discrepant sources.

Anonymous said...

Since Bede Frost, many Christians only know the gospels from snippets read in church. Moreover, Albert Schweitzer showed a century ago that the Christ in lives of Jesus has a truly remarkable resemblance to their authors. In reaction, academic reading has emphasized the differences to get at the perspectives of the evangelists. This is more solid, but has perverse result that those who know the NT best are often the least helpful to those trying to find the one Jesus in the text for meditative prayer.

In the mid-C20, liturgist Romano Guardini's The Lord helped many C20 readers to imagine a connected life that Jesus might actually have lived. Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) carried this project forward with a multi volume biography of Jesus that better uses recent scholarship. Among the scholars behind that are N T (Tom) Wright and Richard Bauckham, who are also worth reading directly.

Anonymous said...

Fifth, there are ways of studying a text that are conducive to meditation on it as story. Here at ADU, Mark has explained the fourfold exegesis of scripture from an earlier age than Frost's counter-reformation influences. (If you like that sort of thing, + Peter has an old OP on Henri de Lubac.) Recalling that the family of Abraham has a calling among the nations and is in a relationship with YHWH makes the stakes of many stories, including those about Jesus, more clear. Several figures (eg Angel of YHWH in the Pentateuch, Wisdom in Proverbs 8, Law in Psalm 119 etc) throughout the OT were recognised after the Resurrection as Persons of the Trinity.

Finally, desire for *union with Christ* motivates this sort of meditation. That desire led Julian of Norwich to her Showings, and informs the spiritual theology of Walter Hilton. Luther had a quite interesting doctrine of *union* and Calvin is emphatic that all fruits of justification flow from it. George Herbert's poetry reflects often on this state (hear it in Ralph Vaughan Williams' Five Mystical Songs) as do the choral works of J S Bach. Moravian pietists taught this to John Wesley so that the idea is the fount of the Wesleyan and later Holiness traditions. Nevertheless, a roughly Victorian anxiety about *assurance* and later moralism eclipsed this until, over the past generation, it has quietly returned to the foreground of every major Protestant tradition.

(In the Great Plains here up yonder, Lutheran theologians never stopped teaching *union with Christ* straight from Luther because nobody bothered to tell them how utterly unfashionable that was. So in the cornfields, the startling Finnish retrieval of Luther's mystical doctrine only startled pastors into wondering what everybody else had been teaching.)

BW

Ms Liz said...

Wonderful, thanks Bowman! I've skimmed over the above and will return but what you said about 'four somewhat discrepant sources' reminded me I'd read about that yesterday - views from various professors (1998) all on one PBS page, I found it fascinating. I'd done a search on 'Synoptics' because +Peter had used the term several times, and that's how I found.. The Storytellers / What Are The Gospels?

Link: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/story/gospels.html

I see +Peter has just done a new post discussing the different accounts of the Christmas story in the gospels.. awesome!

From all the things you've discussed with me since I found ADU Bowman, I'm certainly not going to be short of reading in 2023!!! Thank you.

Ms Liz said...

Father Ron, I accidentally found a post at your blog, "Ordinariate nuns find new home at Prinknash Abbey". Immensely interesting story! I know zilch about that form of religious life so the story was full of surprises.

https://kiwianglo.wordpress.com/2021/08/12/prinknash-abbey,-houses-2-generation-of-anglican-converts/

Anonymous said...

Liz, you may possibly find these two occasions interesting. Both transpired in Washington DC on Mount Saint Alban in the Cathedral Church of SS Peter and Paul, informally the Washington National Cathedral.

https://goo.gl/maps/5ggtkujWnjB7FgY67

This is the historian Jon Meachum interviewing Bono about his memoir Surrender--

https://youtu.be/tO0bnQftMlA

And this is a blue eucharist-- one for those preoccupied by sorrow, grief, or pain-- for Christmas--

https://www.youtu.be/YlPzwCNGPXQ


BW

Ms Liz said...

So kind of you to share these links Bowman, I'd love to look at them, and I will as soon as time permits. I'm grateful for your explanation about 'blue eucharist', it explains something I came across recently that was shared by a US friend. Thank you.. and Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas to you and Nigel as well, Liz.

My few links and explanations are a poor trade for the privilege of seeing things through your eyes. I look forward to reading your blog.

Perhaps in the New Year? Don't let perfectionism stop you. The algorithms will not find you for a while, and by the time they do, you will be good at it.

BW

Anonymous said...

Happy Christmas, Mark!

Five postmodern questions in your wheelhouse--

(1) Can following Jesus in a stipulated Way improve a disciple's mental function along the five axes of the DSM-5?

(2) If so, could this also be detected in RDoC?

(3) Apart from that personal health, does following the Way enable qualified disciples to conduct therapy somehow different from that of others?

(4) Do the process and outcome of therapy mean anything to the Body of Christ?

(5) Does the practice of therapy validate themes of the gospel?

For clarity and timeliness, I'm distinguishing disciples (well-instructed believers called to a principled, tested, and teachable practice) from churchgoers (civilians who attend Sunday services with minds somewhat open to the experience).

Don't reply during the holidays unless you really want to do that, of course. I do hope that you'll post some thoughts on these before this time next year.


BW

Anonymous said...

Postscript

Both therapy and the practice of Jesus's Way have their respective ancillary ideas. These ideas have endured across generations, spread through many cultures, formed systems with family resemblances, and guided professional work in all modern societies and several pre-modern ones.

Authors from each practice have written about the ideas of the other. Some note their commonalities, resemblances, and shared goals. Others explore downstream clashes in practice that they attribute to irreconcilable differences upstream between empiricism and revelation or materialism and spirituality. Some on each side write with a very limited understanding of the other.

This dialogue is not unique to Christianity. There are roughly parallel exchanges between therapists and practitioners of every major religion.

(6) What is agreed and disagreed in the conversation between therapists and disciples of Jesus?

(7) What is similar or dissimilar in the habitus of the two practices?

(8) When therapists are also disciples, what do they find most and least synergistic in the practice of each, both in their lives and in their work?

(9) Are there changes in either practice that those well acquainted with both of them recommend?

(10) What insights from this dialogue and its parallels might improve the ethos of Christian institutions for works of mercy, either in the West or elsewhere?

I've decided to recast this as a survey and send it out next month. I have something in mind.

BW