Posted on: January 31st, 2009 Commuter Rail in Austin (finally)

Finally, on March 30, Austinites will be able to enjoy the benefits of commuter rail. Good timing, too, because my car is on its last leg. My hope is that this will be another key to making this even more of a bikeable city than it already is.

For the long range plan Cap Metro is working on, see here.

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Posted on: January 26th, 2009 Acts 1:1-5 (Class #3: Jan 25, 2009)

This is the outline for class #3 in our Bible Study in Acts at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX.  The title of the course is “A New Kind of Conquest.” For the outline of Acts we are using, see here, and for more info please contact Matt.

I. Resurrection leads to a New World.

Features of this new world (from Luke 24):

A. Surprise

B. Hope & Joy from Loss & Despair

C. New Prominent Role for Women

D. Holy Spirit Power

II. Holy Spirit

A. “This coming baptism will be like John’s baptism.”

1. plunged into _____ / _____.

2. restored _____ / _____.

3. But not just outside, rather on the inside.[1]

B. Don’t do anything yet; just wait … on the Spirit.

III. What do these 2 things tell us about this “new conquest?”

[1] Jesus is becoming King, and you will know this as a reality inside your own selves.

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Posted on: January 23rd, 2009 Approaching Acts: Historical Perspective (Class #2)

This is the outline for class #2 in our Bible Study in Acts at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX. For more info contact Matt. The title of the course is “A New Kind of Conquest.” For the outline of Acts we are using, see here.

Today’s Thesis: If the Gospels are about a different kind of king, then Acts is about a different kind of conquest.

I. Jerusalem to Rome (1:8)

“In the Acts of the Apostles we find a highly evocative story of the church’s beginnings that traces its dramatic growth from sacred Jerusalem to imperial Rome.”[1]

a. Jerusalem: 1:4

b. Rome: 28:16

II. A different kind of conquest (I Mac 1:1-4).

“After Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian, who came from the land of Kittim, had defeated Darius of the Persians and the Medes, he succeeded him as king. (He had previously become king of Greece.) 2 He fought many battles, conquered strongholds, and put to death the kings of the earth. 3 He advanced to the ends of the earth, and plundered many nations. When the earth became quiet before him, he was exalted, and his heart was lifted up. 4 He gathered a very strong army and ruled over countries, nations, and princes, and they became tributary to him.

a. Canonical context: kingdom, king.

b. Historical context.

i. Imperial Hellenism

1. Philip II (d. 336 BCE)

2. Alexander (d. 323 BCE)

3. Ptolemy / Seleucid

4. Antiochus IV Epiphanes[2] (d. 164)

ii. Jewish Revolt / Independence

1. Desecration of the Temple

2. Hasmonean Dynasty

3. Judas Maccabeus[3]

iii. Roman Rule (63 BCE)

the point: feelings of exile / bondage

III. Discussion: What kind of conquest is this? A new conquest for today?

[1] Robert Wall, The Acts of the Apostles, 3.

[2] Seleucid King (not Ptolemaic).

[3] Judas took back control of the Temple in 164. His brother Simon expelled the Seleucid army in 142.

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Posted on: January 23rd, 2009 Approaching Acts: Canonical Perspective (Class #1)

This is the outline for class #1 in our Bible Study in Acts at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX. The title of the course is “A New Kind of Conquest.” For more info contact Matt. (For the outline of Acts we are using, see here.)

Theme: If the Gospels are about a new kind of King, then Acts is about a new kind of conquest.

I.    A window onto the larger narrative (of Scripture & liturgy)

II.    The Deeds and Teaching of King Jesus, Part II

III.    Kingdom of God

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Posted on: January 23rd, 2009 Big Picture Outline of Acts

Here’s the big picture outline of the book of Acts we are using at St. Mark’s for our Sunday afternoon study group:

Outline of the Book of Acts

I.    Prologue: 1:1-5
II.    Initial Events 1:6-26
III.    Birth of the Church in Jerusalem 2:1 – 5:42
IV.    Beginning of Persecution: 6:1 – 9:31
V.    Spread of Christianity to the Gentiles 9:32 – 12:25
VI.    Paul’s 1st Missionary Journey 13:1 – 15:41
VII.    Paul’s 2nd Missionary Journey 16:1 – 18:23
VIII.    Paul’s 3rd Missionary Journey (primarily Ephesus) 18:24 – 20:6
IX.    Paul’s Journey to Jerusalem 20:7 – 21:17
X.    Paul in Jerusalem 21:18 – 23:35
XI.    Paul before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa 24:1 – 26:32
XII.    Paul’s Journey to Rome 27:1 – 28:31

If you would like a word doc of this outline, email me at

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Posted on: January 22nd, 2009 The Formation of Virtue (GOE’s 2009)

A couple of weeks ago I took my GOE’s (General Ordination Exams) as part of my process of pursuing Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. All seven of the questions / areas (Holy Scripture, Christian Theology, Ethics / Moral Theology; Church History & Ecumenism; Liturgy & Church Music; Pastoral Theology; and Contemporary Society) were good and encouraging to me, but in particular I was stimulated by the ethics and moral theology question:

Lesser Feasts and Fasts tells us that in March of 1965, Jonathan Daniels, a seminarian at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, heard the appeal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to go to Selma, Alabama, to join in the campaign to secure the right to vote for disenfranchised African-American citizens in that state.  One afternoon at Evensong, the words of the Magnificat spoke to him: “He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek.  He hath filled the hungry with good things.”  In that moment, he said, “I knew I must go to Selma.  The Virgin’s song was to grow more and more dear to me in the weeks ahead.”  Daniels went to Selma that summer; in August, he and three fellow volunteers were arrested.  Released six days later, they walked to a small store; a young black woman approaching the store, sixteen-year-old Ruby Sales, was threatened by a deputy sheriff.  Pushing her aside to protect her, Daniels was killed by a blast from the man’s shotgun.

Respond to the following question in an essay of three pages:

How does a virtue ethics approach in moral theology provide a way to interpret and un­derstand an example like that of Jonathan Daniels?

Here is how I responded:

The most fundamental way in which the virtue-centered, Christian moral tradition (for the purposes of this essay, I take this to be tantamount to “a virtue-ethics approach to moral theology”) differs from modern ethical theory is that, according to the former, there is more to the moral – or even the decisional – life of persons than merely the consciously rational dimension. It is this “more than,” this dimension of the human psyche beyond reason (or perhaps behind and under reason) which must be formed or shaped according to an informed rationality. For the most part ignored by modern ethical theory which tends to focus on reason alone (as if that is possible in the first place), whether in its (post-)utilitarian or (post-)deontological forms,  this dimension of the human psyche will inevitably be shaped and conditioned by something: left to its own devices it will be imprisoned by the drives and desires of human appetite (or, in the context of Jonathan Daniels, by human self-preservation).

What is interesting to me about this tradition (magisterially articulated and developed by Alisdair MacIntyre) is that, finding its synthesis in Thomas Aquinas, it absorbs and develops strains from both the “pagan” tradition of classical antiquity (especially represented by Plato and Aristotle in Fifth-century Athens) as well as the Judeo-Christian biblical tradition (including its emphasis on law in the form of torah, translated by the LXX and the NT as nomos).

For this tradition, how is this more-than-simply-rational component of our human nature (our will, our dispositions, our attitudes, our tendencies, our habits, our emotions) to be informed, influenced, and shaped? A good place to start is with the Greek word paideia, for this word occurs and recurs in both of the two traditions mentioned above which merge to form our virtue-based tradition of Christian moral theology.

In his What is Ancient Philosophy?  Pierre Hadot describes this practice of paideia in the context of fifth-century Athens. It was “a fundamental demand of the Greek mentality: the desire to form and to educate” (Hadot 11). Primarily intended to form the character of children “within the social group itself” (Hadot 12), the point of this discipline was to form the “future citizens [of Athens] by physical exercises, gymnastics, music, and mental exercises” (Hadot 12). Similar programs of formation, Hadot shows, were practiced in other social sub-groups within Athens and indeed larger Greek society, including the philosophical schools of Epicureanism and Pythagoreanism as well as Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum. But in all of these cases, the common denominator is that they all implemented and practiced paideia as a way to foster virtue of soul, in service of the primary community in question, the Greek democratic city-state.

It no coincidence that the writers of the New Testament (let alone the translators of the LXX) adopt this word in their writings, for example in Hebrews 12:11:

“Now, paideia always seems painful [or difficult] rather than pleasant at the time, but later iyields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (NRSV)

The most common translation of paideia here in English is “discipline,” which can be misleading if taken to refer to some kind of mechanistic or litigious law-based system of church discipline. But if we take this word in the context of community formation of the kind which was common in the social world of the author of Hebrews, it makes better sense to understand it as referring to the (trans)formation of character and soul, analogous to that of the “pagan” world, but also baptizing it the latter with the Holy Spirit and the love of God in the Gospel, the caritas which is the queen of the theological virtues, and therefore the queen of all the virtues.

Here, too, in the mind of the author of Hebrews, as well as that of St. Thomas Aquinas, the purpose of paideia is to form persons of virtuous character, in service of our primary community of commitment: the Christian church. Of course, a fundamental presupposition of Christianity is that the walls of the church are porous (all people, all image bearers are, at the very least, potential or possible Christians), and so the virtues are designed to enlarge the church as well, spilling over into the larger world.

In the life of Jonathan Daniels, we can see this formation of virtue at work. As he worshipped in the chapel at EDS in Cambridge (in the context of a personal struggle for the fullness of truth) his formation was epitomized and crowned by his experience of singing the Magnificat. And if he was singing the Magnificat, then he was doing much else besides: we was doing things like praying the Daily Office, in which the Magnificat is found, in and with a community of believers, a community of habituation, as Thomas Aquinas would put it. This practice, this celebratory discipline, had the power to do what Kant’s Categorical Imperative, for example, never could: to infuse into his soul the necessary habitus which would (over time, no doubt) allow him, even require him, to sacrifice his life for one of God’s children, victimized by the forces of evil.

Lesser Feasts and Fasts shows from Jonathan’s papers that this kind of formation really was going on in his life, at least in his own view: “the lived faith of the sacraments was the essential precondition of the experience [in Selma] itself” (346).

Rational principles alone cannot produce such virtuous action. But when reason governs our hearts (emotions, attitudes, appetites, desires, etc.) not so much like a king or a monarch, but rather “democratically,” as Thomas Aquinas teaches, this kind of loving deed is the fruit. In the split-second during which Jonathan saw the gun appear and point at the sixteen-year-old girl, there was not time to reflect upon what rational principles might apply in this situation. (Even if there were enough time, these principles are often – perhaps usually – morally inconclusive in isolation of other considerations.)

And yet, the split-second decision to jump in front of the bullet is only one of Jonathan’s ethical decisions which we are considering, and it is possible that it was the easier of the two. What caused Jonathan to “know” that he needed to go to Selma, consciously putting his life in danger? (Many other deaths and martyrdoms had already occurred by this point in the Civil Rights Movement.)

Here is where the Christian virtue tradition provides resources which are lacking not only in modern ethical theory, but in classical (ie, pre-Christian) virtue thought as well. For even Aristotle (for example in his Nichomachean Ethics) promotes such virtues as self-sufficiency and self-preservation. “Charity is not a virtue for Aristotle.” (MacIntyre, 175).

As Christian moral theologians Stanley Hauerwas and Charles Pinches argue, however, the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love turn virtue, as classically envisioned on its head. For with these Christian realities as well as that of grace, we are taught and empowered to live and die for God and for others, as the long line of Christian martyrs throughout history bears witness.

I am not arguing that only a Christian can lay down his life in sacrifice for another; St. Paul disabuses us of this notion in Rom 5:7. But no other “ethical approach” has produced as many martyrs as this Christian moral tradition, which shapes and forms our hearts, our characters, our dispositions, our desires, our emotions, our habits, not simply into the pattern of virtue in general, but into the shape of Jesus Christ, who out of love laid down his life for others, for us.

If there is any doubt left that this is, in fact, what was going on in Jonathan Daniels’ reality, then the following quotation, again from his papers as quoted in Lesser Feasts and Fasts should dispel it:

“I began to know in my bones bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and resurrection… with them, the black men and white men, with all life, in him whose Name is above all the names that the races and nations shout…. We are indelibly and unspeakably one.”

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Posted on: January 22nd, 2009 Anglican Eucharistic Devotion & Practice

The Anglican tradition in general, and the American Episcopal tradition in particular, has developed over time greater belief in and devotion to the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It was, however, not always so. In fact the original architect of our prayer book tradition itself, Thomas Cranmer, was (at various stages of his career) beholden to a quite “low” view of the presence of Christ: memorialism after the fashion of the Reformer Zwingly. Since Cranmer’s day, however, our tradition has heightened its view, and development is seen in at least three ways: the words of administration in the Eucharist, the American church’s adoption of the Scottish Eucharistic tradition, and the presence of the epiclesis (sometimes known as the “invocation”). All of this makes Anglicanism’s embodiment of the Eucharist unique to the global, ecumemical Church of our day and of the future.

The tradition involving the words of administration is quite telling. While it is true that Cranmer’s – and indeed the tradition’s – first iteration of the prayer book included relatively robust words of administration (“The body / blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life”) nevertheless three short years later, in 1552, these words were changed in a strongly memorialist direction: “Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ’s [body] was [broken] for you; feed on him in your heart by faith…..” Now, the key point here is that the tradition – especially in the Scottish – American tradition but also in subsequent English tradition, moved away from the 1552 version and embraced (to some extent) the 1549 version. The 1637 Scottish book of the Nonjurors simply rejected the 52 version and opted for the 49; as for the English tradition, Elizabeth in 1559 mollified the previous (ie, 1552) language by combining it with that the 1549 book. In both cases, then, it is clear that the shift is toward the objective body of Christ which is key, and not simply (though this is not simply negated) the subjective faith of the recipient (where nothing is happening to the elements), as the main emphasis of the language.

Second, the growing devotion of Christ and his true presence (now in the American tradition) is seen in the American church’s adoption of the Scottish tradition’s version of the Eucharistic prayer. We have already noted that this tradtion rejected the 1552 words of administration in favor of those of 1549 (although the Nonjurors did include the prayer of worthy reception). More important, perhaps, even that this however, is a development conserning the shape of the Eucharistic prayer overall. Thanks to the scholarship of the day (a sort of “proto-liturgical-reform-movement) and thanks to the ecclesial / political situation in Scotland (ie, the Scottish church was “underground,” without official Episcopal oversight) the Nonjurors were able to do two things at once. Their discovery of ancient eastern liturgies (liturgy of St. James, etc.) combined with  their freedom to create directory-like “Wee Bookies” (thus rearranging material in ways which conformed to the ancient eastern patterns) allowed them to discern a fundamental structure of the Eucharistic prayer, that of:

[Words of Institution] → [Oblation] → [Epiclesis]

This pattern or shape put this church in deep solidarity with ancient eastern churches and allowed to perceive the “deep structure” of the Eucharistic prayer, and Christ’s true presence with that context.  (Note: the Scottish and American churches also rejected the Black rubric from the outset.)

We have already mentioned the epiclesis, but this point is so important (for the Scottish-American tradition) that it merits a consideration of its own. What’s going on here is that the Scottish-American tradition simply started out by adopting a strong epiclesis (consistent with Cranmer’s 1549 book, but with the epiclesis now located later in the prayer, toward the end). The theology behind this move comes primarily from Calvin (and, in turn, his reading of the eastern fathers), and it is shared by (the early) Cranmer and the Scottish-American tradition alike. (Note that the Eucharistic liturgy inherited by Cranmer, the Roman mass and the Sarum rite, had no epiclesis.) The epiclesis (from the Gk kaleo) presupposes that the Eucharist is all about the action of the Holy Spirit. It is the role of the Spirit to unite things that are far apart (by space and by time), and so the Spirit unites us to Christ who is “in the heavenlies.” It is the priest’s (nay, the entire congregation’s) ritual action – a movement through time – which invokes the spirit to do his sanctifying work, both of the elements (the corpus mysticum) and of the people (the corpus verum). So then, this Eucharistic theology is deeply pnuematological: the Spirit makes Christ truly present by bringing us to where he is.
In all these ways and more we see that, over time, the Anglican tradition, particularly in it Scottish-American form, has grown into a deeper grasp and understanding of the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It is not identical to “the Roman view.” It is not identical to “the Eastern view.” It is certainly not identical to “the Protestant view.” Indeed it is (part of) our unique contribution to the Christ’s larger oikonume of faith.

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Posted on: January 14th, 2009 The Anonymous Author & the Four Dimensions

James Finley, in his Christian Meditation (pp 170ff) quotes the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing:

A [person] who prays [contemplatively, using a word such as “love” or “God” to pull him back to singleness of intention in prayer] prays with all the height and depth and length and breadth of his spirit. His prayer is high, for he prays in full power of his spirit; it is deep for he has gathered all his understanding into this one little word; it is long for if this feeling could endure he would go on crying out forever as he does now; it is wide because with universal concern he desires for everyone what he desires for himself. (italics mine)

As Finley interprets the anonymous author, in this kind of meditation involves us in “nothing less than the heights, depths, length, and breadth of our whole being, now absorbed in a single, naked desire to be one with God.” The anonymous author goes on to say:

It is with this prayer that a person comes to understand with all the saints the length and breadth and height and depth of the eternal, gracious, and almighty God as Saint Paul says, not completely of course, but partially and in that obscure manner characteristic of contemplative knowledge. Length speaks of God’s eternity. Breadth of his love, height of his power, depth of his wisdom. (italics mine)

The anonmymous, author, of course, is alluding to Ephesians 3:18-19.

Finley then points out that, in this writing of the anonymous author, man’s four dimensions are linked up to God’s four dimensions:

– our “length” is the desire, if we could, to go on like this in prayer for ever. God’s “length” is his eternity.

– our “height” is the full “power of spirit”. God’s “height” is God’s power.

– our “depth” is the gathering of all our understanding into this one little word. God’s “depth” is his wisdom.

– our “breadth” is our desire for everyone what we desire for ourselves. God’s “breadth” is his love.

Finley’s point is intriguing for any contemplative and for anyone groping toward, as I hope to be doing, an understanding and participation in what the Eastern Orthodox call “deification.” (Indeed one could compare this four-fold or four-cornered depiction of the human person with St. Maximus’ comparison of the human soul with the four corners of the world, etc.) Finley writes: “and so it is with each dimension of our spiritual nature laid bare in a single burning desire that flows into and merges with God’s own nature. So it is that meditation lays bare our true nature, and in doing so lays bare God’s nature given to us as our own nature.”

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Posted on: January 12th, 2009 Paideia: Training for Righteousness

The author of the book of Hebrews writes

Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12:11)

What does this “discipline” make you think of? Until about a month ago, I always took this to mean something like being reprimanded for doing something wrong, for example the kind of thing that happens in formal or informal “church discipline.” I think that is how this word sounds to most conservative evangelicals, as well. 

The Greek word, however, which here gets translated into English as “discipline” is paideia. Pierre Hadot, in his magesterial What is Ancient Philosophy discusses the ancient practice of paideia with which the author to the Hebrews was surely familiar. For it is the practice or the formation which is paideia which undergirded so much of what, say, Plato or Aristotle or the schools of Epicureanism or Pythagoreanism were trying to do. The practice of paideia was, as Hadot puts it, “philosophy before philosophy.” It was what formed members of the community to uphold the common good as that community understood it. The primary community in question here in the democratic city-state of (5th century) Athens.

As Christians, however, we have a different community (actually, we are a different community) to which we commit ourselves and around which we order our lives: the church of Jesus Christ. This community, as well, has its own distinctive paideia which shapes and (trans)forms its members: the liturgy of the church, and all of the practices (alms, fasting, prayer, Bible reading, meditation) which flow out of it.
Truly, this “discipline” is painful at first. It is difficult to conform one’s life to, especially for modern Americans, addicted as we are to pleasure, “self-fulfilment,” convenience, material possession, entertainment.
Yet this discipline of the liturgy, this paideia, at least according to the book of Hebrews, is the way to righteousness.
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Posted on: January 12th, 2009 MacIntyre, Milbank, & Sesame Street

Someone once said that everything you know you learned in Kindergarten.

Well I don’t know about that, but I did learn something in my Kindergarten years which has stuck with me for a long time: “Which of these things is not like the other?” is often a really good question to ask.

I realized last weekend while reading John Milbank on Alisdair MacIntrye that they answer this question differently when it comes to the following three things: classical antiquity’s virtue tradition of Plato & Aristotle, Christian theology, and the enlightenment ethics of modernity.

MacIntyre’s answer: the enlightenment ethics of modernity is the unique one of the three. Milbank: No, it is Christian theology.

Another way of putting this is that MacIntyre sees the classical antique tradition of virtue as having so much in common with Christianity that they can make common cause over against modernity. But Milbank responds by saying that, no, in fact classical antiquity has more in common with enlightenment modernity than it does with Christian theology, which is truly unique.

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Posted on: January 12th, 2009 And you thought the Episcopal Church was Bad?!

Within what Anglicans call the Apocryphal / Deuterocanonical books of Scripture, in the book of I Maccabees, we read in the first chapter that, after many years of Jewish struggle to maintain its own faithful identity in the context of Gentile rule,  that

certain renegades … from Israel … built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined themselves with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil. (I Mac 1:11-15)

Of course these are also the same folks, or at least the same types of folks, who wanted to cozy up with Antiochus Epiphanes IV, who would sacrifice a pig in the Temple of YHWH.

And yet, I don’t recall faithful Jews leaving their church to start some new organization. Certainly Jesus the Messiah did not do this, despite the presence of rank heresy in the midst of his church.

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