I’m spiritual, but not religious

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I’m spiritual, but not religious

The Church of Our Saviour at Oatlands, November 10, A.D.2014 – Rev’d Elijah White
First please read Psalm 78:1-12; Joshua 24:1-3, 14-25; Matthew 25:1-13

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

“I’m spiritual, but not religious” – how often have you heard or read that? Ever wondered what those words really mean? Let me approach what Churchill would call “the soft underbelly” of that attitude through the discipline of the readings appointed for this Sunday. One thing they have in common is that all three of them presuppose and refer to a Law, God’s Law, as a given, with standards of right and wrong, do and don’t do, that are known to the hearers but ex-ternal to them, not coming from them but given to them by and from an authority independent of, different and separate from them, to which – get this – to which they are accountable and answerable.

Thus Psalm 78 begins “Hear my Law, O my people” – my Law, not yours… then Joshua 24 verse 19 warns the faith-professing people who solemnly swore that they would keep God’s covenant, that “If you forsake the Lord He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good…’ then in Matthew 25 (lest we think that Joshua’s warning was just primitive Old-Testament stuff) Jesus presupposes His hearers’ understanding of the rules for guests invited – note, invited, not entitled – to a wedding feast, including the rule that those who disregard these rules will find that in verse 10 Jesus Himself declares “the door was shut” … “and the door was shut!” What a fearful sentence, a fearsome sentence in both senses of the word…

What’s this got to do with “being spiritual but not religious?” Quite a bit. Think for a moment: how do you define the word “spiritual?” ‘Having to do with the soul?’ But what does that mean? Often vaguely defined by what’s it’s not, ‘spiritual’ as opposed to ‘material’ or ‘materialistic?’ I knew a couple in Berkeley, the husband had played football at Stanford, he’d found or devised a form of Buddhism in which only the spiritual mattered, only the spirit was eternal, material physicality was temporary and transient and so didn’t matter – including whatever his mere non-spiritual body did with the utterly irrelevant bodies of various other women… His wife didn’t see it that way – she wasn’t spiritual enough.

Yes, ‘spiritual’ is a rather vague term – ‘religion,’ however, is quite specific. My big Oxford English Dictionary favors its root origin as religio, which my Cassell’s Latin dictionary translates ‘to bind, tie, fasten, secure’ as when St. Patrick’s great hymn begins “I bind unto myself today / The strong Name of the Trinity.” To believe, to believe in, to be in a religion involves being bound by certain doctrines, beliefs, teachings, ethics, morals, rules… which is the very last thing that any aspiring would-be-“free” spirit wants to hear or accept. I can’t speak for you, but I am a sinner, one definition of which in wish and action is “I want to do what I want when I want and I don’t want anyone telling me what to do or not do – I’ve got to be free, I am free!”

Which freedom, so defined, is at the heart of choosing to be spiritual rather than religious – and it is a choice. One great attraction of spirituality-without-religion is the cardinal sin of Pride with a capital P, ‘cardinal’ because it’s the primary root of all other sins, primary because one’s spirituality is always precisely and exactly that, one’s OWN individual personal feelings about, stemming from and rooted in… oneself, one’s Self – which suits me, sub-jective – whereas such ‘organized’ religions as Christianity and Judaism are ob-jective, given, givens, revealed faiths whose message and requirements come from outside human origin, agency or control, revealed by some external and (dare one say it, admit it?) a higher Power – higher than me? Rubbish!

Revealed religions all include specific ‘Thou shalts’ and [worse] ‘Thou shalt not-s’ that are the last thing my ego wants to hear – ‘religion’ takes away my precious freedom! But being ‘spiritual’ has no ethical or moral code from any ex-ternal source, such matters being left to one’s own in-ternal guiding light [feelings? desires? lusts?], whatever term one chooses to describe such subjective jurisdiction – check out the etymological roots of “autonomous.”

Which leads us right back to the perhaps-divinely-inspired truth of what was the effective operative key to man’s Fall from Eden, the paradisical life God wanted and still wants us to enjoy, the Serpent’s subtle seductive hiss-whisper that “Ye shall be as gods, knowing {better translated as ‘determining, deciding [for yourselves]} good and evil.”

Hubris, Pride, Superbia, call it what you will, the central permanent ongoing temptation of the Self is always and ever the exaltation – deification? – of itself, the Self… to be as, like unto gods? Our first forebears fell for it then and, I don’t know about you, but I fall for it all the time. I’d love to be as god, deciding for myself what was good and what was evil – wouldn’t you?

Freudian theory may be outdated but some of its terminology can be useful: in working to guide human decision-making, organized religion functions as the Superego attempting to exercise control over the Ego, but the Ego does not like that at all, preferring the freedom-autonomy of the Id, the libido, those basic human drives struggling to erupt from what some theorists call the reptilian core buried in our brain – think rape, murder – our most basic human drives by which we’re so embarrassed that we call them sub-human.

But what of the much-beloved theory tacked onto the end of The Diary of Anne Frank that “All people are good at heart?” We love that notion because it makes us feel good about ourselves, and we’ll gobble up anything that makes us feel good about ourselves, however contrary it is to the evidence of human history, every evening’s news headlines, and our own observations – a remarkable inability, refusal, to draw conclusions from irrefutable evidence.

This pleasant notion comes from claiming that what remains in our Western societies’ collective unconscious morals (which originated and are distantly rooted in 4,000 years of Judeo-Christian religion), claiming these remnants of ethical instinct to be innate, inborn, natural to all human beings, as if intrinsic and permanent rather than derivative and fading. We are capable of tender thoughts and occasional unselfish acts, but our Western moral and ethical heritage is now too watered-down, we have forgotten its origin in religion, we have lost interest in it and are now expending and living off its capital – which can have only one outcome: the ruin of every great fortune begins with confusing capital with interest-income.

Recall today’s appointed lessons: feeling spiritual, being spiritual, has room for none of the eternal-permanent-punishment penalty provisions of which Joshua and Jesus warn – a covenant with no enforcement mechanisms is worthless paper. Holy Scripture is consistently clear throughout, “Do right or go down” – whereas feeling spiritual by today’s or any given day’s societal standards is fleeting because cultural behavioral norms are inevitably impermanent, local, transient, merely here-and-now for now: just think how what is socially or legally acceptable has changed just in your brief lifetime…

Only organized religion claiming ex-ternal, supernatural, divine origin can (if accepted and believed, however imperfectly practiced by imperfect practitioners) effectively exercise authority over Pride’s in-ternal self-satisfying desires. Therefore religion has to go, so that the spiritual can reign and the Self be supreme. Objective religion must go so that the subjective spiritual can rule.

So you see, being religious can be very difficult, whereas being spiritual can be very easy — because being religious means obeying someone else or Someone Else’s standards, which are set givens, but being spiritual means obeying only one’s own standards, which are easily changeable.

“I’m spiritual, but not religious…” Please, good Christian people, in evaluating any assertion follow the Ego, follow the Pride, ask Qui bono? Who benefits, who is being served by this ‘new’ theory, theology, ‘liberating’ discovery, latest modern thinking? Can you not hear behind it the Serpent’s beguiling, ongoing, so-seductive whisper, “Ye shall be as gods…?”

Whom flee, as ye would an adder fanged,

in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen, Amen.

He descended into hell

He descended into hell

Rev’d Elijah White

Did you ever wonder why Jesus who was totally good went to Hell between his death on the Cross on Good Friday and His Resurrection on Easter morning? ‘So that all the world might be saved by Him,’ John 3:17.

These words in the Apostles’ Creed confuse us because today we think of “hell” as a place of torment where only bad people go, sinners who are not sorry for their sins, cling to them, and reject the goodness of God. Obviously this did not apply to Jesus, who was all good.

When the New Testament was written 2,000 years ago people understood “hell” differently. Jesus’ first followers were Hebrews who thought of the souls of everyone who had died as being in sheol, a Hebrew word correctly translated on Prayer Book pages 15 and 29 as “the place of departed spirits” – all the departed. It was neither suffering nor paradise, just a dull pointless place.

Most of the early Christians spoke Greek so the New Testament was written in that language, using not the Hebrew sheol but the Greek hades. Both words refer to a place where every soul went – including Jesus.

The Apostles’ Creed follows St. Peter’s teaching in his first letter that Jesus “went and preached to the souls in prison” (sheol, hades) so that those who died before He was born had the chance to hear and believe in Him. This continued His loving ministry that every soul might hear the Gospel Good News of God’s love offered to us.

The Church of Our Saviour at Oatlands, October 22, A.D.2014

What’s on the other side?

What’s on the other side?

The Anglican Digest

A very ill man turned to his doctor as he was preparing to leave his room and said,

“Doctor, I’m afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side.”

Very quietly, the doctor said, “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know? You, a Christian man, don’t know what’s on the other side?”

The doctor was holding the handle of the door; from the other side came a sound of scratching and whining – as he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room and leapt on him with an eager show of gladness.

Turning to the patient, the doctor said, “Did you notice my dog? He’s never been in this room before – he didn’t know what was inside – he knew nothing except that his master was here, but when the door opened he sprang in without fear.

“I know little of what’s on the other side of death, but I do know one thing… I know that my Master is there, and that is enough.”

The Anglican Digest

This Life

This Life

Martin Luther

This life, therefore, is not righteousness,
but growth in righteousness –
not health, but healing –
not being, but becoming –
not rest, but exercise
We are not yet what we shall be,
but we are moving toward it –
The process is not finished,
but it is going on –
This is not the end,
but it is the road –
All does not yet gleam in glory,
but all is being purified.
 

Do this in Remembrance of Me

Do this in Remembrance of Me

Dom Gregory Dix, Anglican priest

Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to very continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacles of earthy greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth.
Man has found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover;
in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetishism because the yams had failed; because the Turk was stopped at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so, wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheater; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church;
tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Alurmansk; gorgeously, for the canonization of Joan of Arc – one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them.
And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei – the holy common people of God.

Attitude

Attitude

— anonymous

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude to me is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home. The remarkable thing is that we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change the past, nor the inevitable – the only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is attitude…I am conviced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it – and so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes."

How Much is Enough?

How Much is Enough?

Rev’d Elijah White

A parishioner once told me that he was giving up his very successful practice on Capitol Hill to stay home and build up something smaller here in Loudoun.
I said, by way of chit-chat cliche, "Blessed are those who know how much is enough” – to which he responded in all seriousness, “Yes…and damned are those who don’t.”

This set me to thinking. Of course: if you don’t know how much is enough, whether of money, praise, sex, public acclamation, power, election and re-election, then you don’t, won’t, can’t know when to stop. I’ve seen many careers, families, marriages, lives wrecked by people who didn’t know when to ease up, when to relax, didn’t know how much was enough.

An accurate translation of Jesus’ teaching His Followers "Be ye not anxious” is “Don’t be hyper, don’t let yourself be up-tight.” Let us pray for His wisdom to protect us from our own foolishness.

What to Believe? Whom to Believe?

What to Believe? Whom to Believe?

Rev’d Elijah White

What to Believe? Whom to Believe?

Dear Fellow Students of the Bible and the Faith,

Many who take the Christian Faith seriously often ask a very serious question: How are we to know just what basic Christian doctrine and teaching is? Who has the authority to say so?

If one has no objective reason to accept the authority of any particular group of sinners rather than that of any other group of sinners –
for instance, to accept Thomas Aquinas or the Pope of the moment rather than some Germans in the 1530 Augsburg Confession or the 1580 Book of Concord – or some French-Swiss in Calvin’s Institutes of 1539-1560 – or some English-Scots in the 1647-48 Westminster Confession – or whoever had the most votes at the most recent Episcopalian General Convention or Church of England General Synod –
then how can a believer know whom, and therefore what, to believe? A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is quite literally crucial, but does not in itself tell us what to think about the Trinity, the Holy Communion, the doctrine and practices of the Church, or other matters of teaching and faith.

Below is a summary of the Vincentian Canon, the ancient standard for determining authentic Christian Faith.

Think, pray, enjoy, revel and delight in the Faith always, and may God guide, guard, direct, defend and Bless us all, Lige

The Vincentian Canon

‘Canon’ in this usage means ‘measuring stick’ – a canonical book of the Bible means one which has been determined by the competent authority of the undivided* Church to ‘measure up’ to the standard of godly inspiration for inclusion in ‘the canon’ of Holy Scripture.

Saint Vincent of Lérins (died before A.D.450) summarized in his Commonitorium study of the Christian Faith what came to be known at The Vincentian Canon setting the measure for authentic orthodox biblical apostolic and patristic teaching:

Quod ubique,
quod semper,
quod ab omnibus
creditum est.

That which has been believed everywhere, always, by a

Grief

Grief

by the Rev’d Alfred J. Heine, St. Augustine’s, Metairie, Louisiana

An inscription on the 9/11 Memorial across from the U.S. Embassy in London reads, “Grief is the price we pay for love.”

Everyone who has lost a loved one to death knows that powerful truth: love comes at a cost. Grief is the price we pay for love, but the life given by loving relationships is absolutely worth the cost. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead demonstrates this.

Each of us has grieved the heart of God. Nevertheless, the Word became flesh and risked further grievances. The Word felt grief at the death of Lazarus, being betrayed by Judas, being abandoned by most of his friends, and yet, incredibly, God raised Jesus from the dead and His first words behind the fearfully locked doors were, “Peace be with you.” He came back for more love, despite the grief that inevitably comes with it.

In our earthly relationships we experience the joy of love and the pain of grief that comes with them. The Resurrection, however, changes the balance. It’s not that heartache has been removed from human relationships – instead, the Resurrection points to a deeper truth beyond emotions. The love of God never dies. Grief exists, but it doesn’t get the last word. Love is worth the grief it may cause, because love never ends.

This is the love – costly love – that we are called to share with others as Christ shares with us. Faith in the resurrection allows us to enter into relationships fully aware, yet unafraid, of the costs of love. We celebrate the relationships of love within our parish fellowship. We proclaim this love to the children of our parish, school, and community. And we welcome the gift of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost so that we may be empowered to love with the spirit of the risen Christ – the Spirit that will take us all the way to relationships with the people of the Church of the Holy Spirit.

There are costs associated with loving as Christ loves us, but through the power of the Resurrection we also know that love never ends — beloved, let us love one anot

— I Corinthians 13:8, I John 4:7