Mass at the Episcopal Church in Troy, St. Mark’s

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Last Sunday Tyler and I attended Mass at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Troy, and the experience was something completely bewildering.

First, the Mass shattered my image of what Christianity has meant to me in the past.

Second, the Mass was absolutely beautiful.

Third, I’ll be going back to attend Mass next Sunday, which is the First Sunday of Advent.

This blog will necessarily tie in with the Memoirs of My Religion at some point in time in the near future.

A few years ago, I attended Mass at a local Catholic parish. Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed with the service; it was not very traditional, I feel highly uncomfortable the whole time, and I had absolutely no desire to return.

That was in a different era in my life, and perhaps at this point I would feel more comfortable were I to attend Mass there again.

But we won’t focus on that at the moment.

Rather, allow us to focus on the beauty of the Mass I attended this past Sunday.

The service was absolutely gorgeous, from beginning to end. The Presence of God was truly there in a way I have never known in Christianity; the Mass was solemn but friendly, High and stylish but full of a deep spiritual essence.

Naturally, the best part of the Mass was going to take Christ in the Holy Eucharist. This was the first time I had ever partaken of the Eucharist, and the walk up to the altar, the kneeling, and the accepting of the Body of our Lord and His Precious Blood was the single most complete mystical experience I’ve ever had. Truly, it was humbling, and it was quite real, real in a way that Christianity has never been for me.

I’ll reflect about the Holy Eucharist more later. Until then.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I originally wrote this blog a few days after attending Mass. I’ve now posted it a week later, after attending the Advent service as well. If time and energy so decree, I will necessarily post about the Advent Mass.

Beaux


On Being Concise/Relating to Memoirs of My Religion

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Years ago, because of the sheer voluminous amounts of reading I had to go in response to losing my religion, I came upon the tendency to write rather verbosely, such to the extent that many people questioned my age or assumed I was far older than I actually was.

In time, people came to criticize my style of writing- wordy and long-winded, saying that they “shouldn’t have to read sheer paragraphs full of words they didn’t recognize” every time I had a response or statement to make.

So I took this advice and set out to become more concise with my style of writing.

Now I realize that this was a failure as well, in that being excessively brief in writing when one needs to be painfully clear on what one means will almost always result in people misunderstanding, misinterpreting, and abusing one’s words.

Thus for my religion blog, I will certainly clarify things, I will certainly be as long-winded as I wish, and anyone who wishes to know precisely where I stand on a given issue or on matters theological or liturgical will need look no further than my written words, posted on the internet for the whole world to see; everything will be spelled out in black and white, written pristinely, and any edits or future changes in perspective based on observations, education, reason, and experience will hereto be added.

Recently, online, I have been involved in a few different debates with people I can only term as “nasty Christians.” The nature of the arguments could not really be had, as there would be too much for me to argue on my end, too much information to give them, too much to point out, and the end result would not be worth it. To argue with someone that one does not know to no real end is ultimately fruitless and, more so to the point, against my principles as a mystic.

Thus, I am torn when I see people spewing vile and wicked things, pure hate in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, whether by racism, misogyny, homophobia, fundamentalism, or any other evil that has masqueraded as “orthodoxy” and “tradition.” I feel helpless and outraged, and the need to speak out arises in me; alas, I realize it is the inner change, the Great Work and Transformation of the Soul that will ultimately cause the change I seek, not the attempt to convert others to my particular vantage point.

So, too, I am barred from responding by the sheer number of words I would need to make an accurate and appropriate response! Attempting to argue with fools is one of the most dismal feelings in the world; I would ultimately suggest to not engage in the argument at all, as your energy would be better spent cooking or writing.

Beaux


Working Towards a Definition of “Catholic” and Some Observations

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Within certain traditions, notably that of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, there is huge debate on the meaning of the word “Catholic” and the means by which one can identify specifically as Catholic.

With no doubt, there are a number of people in the Anglican Communion which identify as “Anglo-Catholic,” and the official position of the Communion is that it is both “Catholic and Protestant,” or more appropriately, “Catholic and Reformed.”

But within the Anglican Communion, there is a wide spectrum of worship styles: the High Church, which is no less than a Mass and Catholic, and Low Church, which is rather evangelical and would identify with being Protestant, and the Broad Church, which incorporates elements of both.

The actual word “Catholic” means “universal” and refers to the Christian Church as a whole. In the common language, people use it to mean “a member of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Initially, during the 1500s and the Protestant Reformation, the term “Protestant” referred to someone who was anti-papal; this came because of the continued abuses of the papacy in the Roman Catholic Church in those days. These days, however, “Protestant” has come to mean more so “anti-Catholic.”

If we should suggest that the Episcopal Church is anti-papal, in the sense that Anglicans as a whole do not recognize the Bishop of Rome/Pope as the absolute pontiff or having authority over their church but rather as a Bishop of special honor and recognition among other equal bishops, we might rightly use the term “Protestant.”

However, if we should suggest that the Episcopal Church retains the historical episcopate, that is, the Apostolic Succession, that the Church retains the Sacraments of old, that the Church celebrates the Holy Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Christian Faith, that the Church relies on the councils of the Church in the past and on the writings of the Church Fathers as well as on the Nicene and Apostle’s Creed as the sufficient summary of the Faith, then we might rightly deem them, unabashedly, to be Catholic.

The Episcopal Church under this situation cannot be deemed “Roman Catholic,” but certainly “Anglo-Catholic” or “English Catholic” may suffice.

On another note, it is oft-quoted that Henry the VIII “founded” the Church of England.

The Church of England was founded, strangely enough, in the 600s. Henry the VIII, in his political debacle with the Pope, declared that he, not the Pope, was the head of the Church of England. Thereto in addition, we must also consider that the concept of the Pope having primacy above and beyond other Bishops was a doctrine defined later in Christianity, around the year 1000 or so. It is, in fact, this very doctrine that contributed to the Eastern Orthodox Church breaking with the Roman Catholic Church. As I understand it, the concept of the Pope never did completely become accepted in England.

Many Anglicans also subscribe to what is known as the “Branch Theory.” The Branch Theory entails that the Original Church is comprised of three denominations- the Anglicans, the Roman Catholics, and the Eastern Orthodox.

When religious debates begin on online forums, many snide Roman Catholics will claim that the Anglican Holy Orders are simply invalid. The Anglican Holy Orders are, however, recognized by the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and the Anglicans issued a statement back as to why their Orders are valid.

One thing to also consider is that there are, believe it or not, Independent Catholic Churches. That’s right, Catholic Churches that are not Roman Catholic, Anglican, or Eastern Orthodox. This is part of a movement known as the Independent Sacramental Movement. The Ecclesia Gnostica and other Gnostic Churches recognize the validity of the Holy Orders of the Church of England, and therefore it is the Roman Catholic Church’s ancient prejudice and political agenda that is invalid, not the Anglican Holy Orders.

Just some more thoughts.

Beaux


Quite a Nice List!

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From Dianne Sylvan’s blog, “Dancing Down the Moon: Witch, Please.”

Here are the things I don’t care about:

I don’t care what the name of your religion is.
I don’t care what the names of your gods are.
I don’t care how old your religion is.
I don’t care if your great-great-whatever grandmother passed down your famtrad Book of Shadows under the watchful eye of the Inquisition.
I don’t care if an entire civilization worshipped your Goddess for ten thousand years.
I don’t care if you made Her up based on manga or Tolkien or a dream you had.
I don’t care where you place your altar.
I don’t care which direction you call Earth.
I don’t care how psychic you are.
I don’t care if you’re smarter than me.
I don’t care why you eat meat, or don’t.
I don’t care how many shields you think you need.
I don’t care how your childhood trauma made you a powerful magickian.
I don’t care if you spell “magic” with a k.
I don’t care if you were an Atlantean Magus in your last life.
I don’t care if you’re brand-spanking new.
I don’t care how much you hate Christians.
I don’t care how many degrees you have.
I don’t care if people call you “Lady” or “Lord.”
I don’t care if you’re King of all Londinium and wear a shiny hat.
I don’t care if you can read minds or light candles with your breath.
I don’t care how the world owes you a living.
I don’t care if you’ve been studying the Craft for thirty years or thirty minutes.
I don’t care what your totem animal is, especially if it’s a wolf, raven, or unicorn.
I don’t care if you can trace your lineage back to Gardner.
I don’t care if you think I’m a moron, fraud, or basket case.
I don’t care how many books you’ve read.
I don’t care how much or how little money you have.

What do I care about?

I care that your religion has made you a kinder, more compassionate person.
I care that you can hold down a job.
I care that you’re growing past whatever happened to you as a child or last year.
I care that your gods help you become stronger without coddling you.
I care that you are willing and able to adapt and change as your life does.
I care that you care about the Earth.
I care that you care about someone and something outside yourself.
I care that you practice your religion with devotion and reverence.
I care that you respect others’ paths.
I care that you never stop learning.
I care that you can conduct adult relationships with respect and understanding.
I care that you get how hilarious life is.
I care that you know when to ask for help.
I care that you realize that someone will always be smarter, more powerful, and more together than you.
I care that you realize it doesn’t matter, because tomorrow you’ll be smarter, more powerful, and more together than you were yesterday.
I care that you have reasons for everything you do, even if those reasons are purely intuitive.
I care that you can admit when you’re wrong.
I care that you know you’re both a tiny speck in a vast universe and a rare, precious jewel in the darkened sky.
I care that you’re making a difference.
I care that you know when to speak and when to shut the hell up.
I care that you are seeking a relationship with Deity and with Nature.
I care that you are healthy.
I care that you’re contributing to your family and community.
I care that your capacity for love and joy increase with every passing year.
I care that you believe in yourself.
I care that you’re doing the best you can.

You can visit her blog here:

Dancing Down the Moon

She’s got a pretty good list going there, and I have to agree with her.

Beaux


Heirs to the Tradition that is Christianity I

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Many people do not necessarily understand why I even bother with Christianity, in any form, at this point in my life or in the progression of humanity. I established this blog in part for the sake of explaining, in as much length and grandeur and detail as I might deem appropriate, precisely why I would continue to bother with Christianity.

The problem is that the projection of Christianity is often one of conservatism and fanaticism. Christianity is claimed most loudly and boldly by, for want of better terms, the stupid and the hateful.

The people who attempt to deal with these things by holding varying theological opinions or, God forbid, actually doing research and inner spiritual work are quickly labeled as “progressive” and “liberal” and demonized as attempting to destroy the Gospel and as Satan’s henchmen.

Another form of Christianity we often see is a watered-down, semi-therpeutic variety that screams about the transformative power of Jesus but offers none of said transformation; people so often give the spiel about how Jesus Christ can heal you and offer it and offer it and offer it, and so rarely does it ever happen.

Salvation, too, has been watered down from an actual ontological alteration of the human being on all levels (body, soul, and spirit) into a new creature, a process which is lengthy and devastating in many regards, to simply being a mental event in which you shift gears and start using the secret password of “Jesus is Lord.”

I, for one, do not buy into the notion of the so-called “getting saved” or “salvation experience” that is marketed by evangelical Protestantism; it’s the equivalent of putting a band-aid on cancer and saying someone has been truly transformed. This is, however, a blog for another day.

Christianity does not belong exclusively to people who are ultra-conservative, hateful, dogmatic, and rigid; it is a system, a religion, a faith, a revelation of God to mankind as a whole. There is a nucleus to it, an essence, a core of Love, yes; there are sustaining aspects, manifestations and references back to the essence that is the Love of Christ, which take many forms; there are traditions and scriptures that refer to the essence that is the Love of Christ and through which Christ speaks to all mankind.

Christianity is not solely understood through a literalistic, immediate reading of the Scriptures, which is a point that, incidentally, both fundamentalists and atheists alike often miss.

Fundamentalists and those who believe in Biblical inerrancy on all matters scientific, social, and otherwise, will insist that if God wanted us to know something, He would spell it out, and that is that, never considering that maybe what God has told us is something that is quite powerful, perhaps too powerful for an ordinary and easily corruptible person to be given, as they could cause harm.

Likewise, fundamentalists are often people who want things spelled out for them, like dogmatists. Dogmatists differ from fundamentalists in that they may not accept Biblical inerrancy, but they accept Church Authoritarianism and Pronouncement as the absolute authority on all matters. Either way, both groups are likely to argue and throw around the word “liberal” as though it were a slur. These are the sort of people who, in reality, are so very confused and doubtful of their own faith and understanding of religion that they scream with fury at anyone who dares question it.

Provided, it is far more comfortable in reality to have something spelled out for you, so you know where the boundaries are, you know what rules to follow, and you don’t get in trouble. However, that’s not really how God and His Reality work, so…be wary.

Atheists, (and by atheists, I mean more the Modern Evangelical Atheists, not your garden-variety doesn’t-really-care type atheist) also ask stupid questions, such as, “What else could it mean but the surface meaning?” These are the sort of people who look around, and not seeing a man on a throne, declare there is no God, no meaning to life, that they can do whatever they want, that we live in an irrational universe but use rational means to understand the universe, think that if you are at all interested in religion that you’re a complete, ignorant nitwit…you get the picture.

But getting back to my blog: we are all the heirs of the Tradition of Christianity; it does not belong solely to one denomination or another or one theological persuasion or another.

It is the duty of people of any culture to carry on the customs of that culture, and the religious rites of a culture, in so far as they are not hurting anyone, by practicing those religious rites.

One thing we must remember is that the Tradition of Christianity has produced immensely valuable tools for spiritual journey. Somehow, whether by intuition or by other means, I can perceive these so-called “tools” in Christianity very well. Having been raised in a Christian context and having had a familiarity with the symbolism from an early age, I can easily relate to them in a way that I cannot with other religions. That doesn’t mean I find the traditions of other religions any less alluring, but they are less immediately connected to me, my culture, and my own psychic heritage, if you will.

In many cases, it is difficult to separate the spiritual current running through a religion and the cultural context in which the religion evolved. There are many, many cultural artifacts which are written into the Bible, into Tradition, hold-overs from a different era that are not Divine Mandates but rather world views as those people understood the universe according to their science and culture at the time.

Yet these are the very things that so many people become so nit-picky over! The leftover garbage that happens to be the incidentals and not the meaning of the story suddenly become deified and elevated to the level of Holiness, and frankly, if you will forgive my harshness, enough of us have smelled the bullshit long enough.

On track again: I cannot know if any of my ancestors were ever Buddhists or Hindus. I can know with some certainty that many of my ancestors in the last 2000 years were Roman Catholic, and with greater certainty that some of my ancestors within the last 500 years were Anglican.

Thus I can reason that my own ancestors at some point worshiped in a soaring church buildings and knelt at the altar to take the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, and somehow, feeling that connection with them and with Europe is important to me.

As I write this blog, it is late, and I’m tired, so I’ll have to return to the theme at a later time.

Beaux


Christianity: Pros and Cons

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A blog with some thoughts on Christianity.

What I like about Christianity:

  • The imagery and symbolism
  • The art
  • The music
  • The connection of Christianity with my own culture and history (familiarity)
  • The rituals, specifically the Sacraments
  • The Holy Tradition
  • The mysticism
  • The intellectual and philosophical tradition of theology, where and when present
  • The Awe and Mystery that the Mass inspires in me
  • The Love of Jesus Christ (saved the best for last)

What I do not like about Christianity:

  • Fundamentalism and ignorance; at times, outright stupidity
  • The denial of its origins and connections with other world religions
  • The excessive dogmatism and obsession with rules and legalism
  • Its claim to exclusivity of Truth
  • Its discouragement of free thought and opinion
  • Its ignoring data from science and variation in opinion
  • The squabbling and bickering among various denominations
  • The exclusion of the Gnostic Scriptures and other important historical Scriptures that would have actually enriched Christianity and its message, not detracted from it

Now, I do want to point out some things: this isn’t meant to represent every last Christian perspective, but it is a summary of what I personally have encountered in Christianity that has both attracted and repulsed me.

Instead of allowing the sickening feeling after reading various forums and arguments among more orthodox-minded Christians completely turn my stomach and drive me away from the Lord Jesus Christ, I’ve decided to stick with it and spell out exactly what I like and what I don’t like. This helps me and others to have a better understanding of where we stand and why.

As I will come to mention in one of my Memoirs blogs in the future, I’ve been working for literally years now to reconcile myself with Christianity, or perhaps more properly, to allow the Lord Jesus Christ to reconcile me to Him.

The problem is that my understanding of Christianity is by far more Gnostic in nature than orthodox, and I consider the Gnostic Scriptures equal to if not superior to the canonized Scriptures. That therefore leads me to be damned as a heretic before I’ve even entered into the Church in a proper sense.

Provided, there are Gnostic Churches that exist- but they are situated across North America, far-flung from one another, and thus I am again put in a position where I cannot attend such a church.

Given, Gnosticism is highly misunderstood and frequently demonized by the more orthodox churches, being one of the earliest and most powerful so-called “heresies.” However, the joke is on the Church- God’s Presence, the Holy Gnosis of knowing Him one-to-one, continues to manifest even this day and cannot be simply killed or persecuted out. Instead, it will return, time and time again, as we see in the great Christian mystics.

Unfortunately in this day and age, there are a number of groups that pop up as self-proclaimed “gnostics” that are neither Gnostic in a historical sense nor connected with the modern appearance of the Gnostic Church; this doesn’t help the Gnostic movement in any way or proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Perhaps this smacks of the No True Scotsman fallacy to make such a pronouncement, but even Gnostic Churches that are not formally affiliated (the Ecclesia Gnostica and the Apostolic Johannite Church being the two predominant ones that come to mind) are overwhelmingly similar to one another. Just slapping the label “Gnostic” on isn’t a good idea if you don’t know what that means in the first place, and as misunderstood as Gnosticism is, it only adds to the stew-pot of confusion.

These are my thoughts for the moment.

Beaux


How Oddly “Conservative” of Me!

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Under most circumstances, I don’t like to have all kinds of labels attached to me. For many years, I understood labels as being nasty constrictions on the True Soul which underlies all things, and that to label ourselves was to become “attached” to something in the world, to some aspect of our transient selves.

Laying aside the Buddhist dogma and focusing on things from a practical angle is also an option.

The reality is, practically speaking, that we must necessarily identify ourselves to others in some way if we are to live in the world. This same rule does not apply equally to a monk living in a monastery among other monks.

But I am not a monk. Have I considered it? Sure. But I am not a monk, and I cannot live my life as one.

Perhaps the middle road of labels should be taken as well- accept labels when they are useful, as in social situations, but do not sit around and twiddle your thumbs thinking about the label when you are not socially engaged. Labels are simply reference points of convenience; use them as such.

The preface being said, I’ll get to my point- under normal circumstances, someone might label me as being “progressive” or “liberal.” This holds especially true in south Alabama.

I found myself on the other side of the spectrum concerning a recent situation (early 2009) that happened in, of all places, the Episcopal Church. A woman Priest by the name of Ann Holmes Redding claimed to be both a Christian and a Muslim.

They defrocked her.

(Wait for it.)

AS THEY VERY WELL SHOULD HAVE!!!

There you are, the “conservative” statement that I was planning to make the whole time.

Whereas I feel that a person can identify with the Beauty, Truth, and Holiness of a given religious tradition that is not one’s own, and in many cases, one can adopt certain practices from that tradition and its culture that are congruent with one’s own, I think that it is also intellectually dishonest for someone who is a representative of a particular tradition and not merely a lay practitioner to try to represent multiple traditions.

The situation of the layman varies from this. Depending on the religious tradition, a layman may be able to practice more than one religious tradition. Layman represent the tradition, but not in the same way that the Priesthood does.

True, I think that the core of religious traditions are the same- the internal essence remains the same across most of them, the Holiness, Love, and Bliss that are God.

But think of it this way: Alabama elects Jane Doe to be our Senator, so she goes to the US Congress to represent Alabama.

Not Georgia.

Not Florida.

Not California

ALABAMA.

Now, some might argue that the political situation differs from the religious one, but the point I’m making is that this Priest came from a specific religious “territory” but was attempting to hypothetically represent two different religious “territories,” which in this case are separated by a wide gulf of theological opinions and commentary.

Another situation that is similar but offers a solution is the Kevin Thew Forrester, an Episcopal Bishop who has a decade-long history of practicing Zen Buddhist meditation. Having reading his statement on the matter, the difference is that Forrester was led full-circle to the mystics and contemplatives of the Christian Tradition; in essence, he took a method, found it in his own tradition, and went on his merry way. The so-called “lay ordination” he received merely means that the Buddhists recognize that he’s trying to alleviate suffering in the world, and what could be more Christ-like?

The difference is remarkable, as well- the Zen meditation isn’t exclusively owned by Buddhists, and that particular practice is not incompatible with Christianity, as meditation is a huge part of the Christian Tradition (unbeknownst to many Christians themselves who would argue otherwise.)

This is not about “my God is bigger than your God” or “my religion is better than your religion,” in case you’re wondering. Rather, it is a matter of integrity and consistency; it is a matter of the preservation of certain traditions that we already represent and finding fulfillment in our being representatives of that tradition without having to take on the traditions of others as well.

There. I’ve said my piece.


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