19 August 2010


I pause this day to give thanks for the ministry of Clark Pinnock, who died unexpectedly on August 15, 2010. It is fitting to link here to the obituary published by Christianity Today, which is, of course, the leading magazine for evangelical Christianity.

Clark Pinnock was one of my heroes during the height of my own journey within evangelical Christianity. In college in California at the time (1974-1978), I was a leader in the Occidental Christian Fellowship, and I attended both Hollywood Presbyterian Church (where Lloyd Ogilvie preached) and All Saints Episcopal Church (when George Regas was rector). I also participated at Lake Avenue Congregational Church, and I actually attended classes at Fuller Theological Seminary during my free time.

I believe it was at a retreat sponsored by Lake Avenue where I first met Clark Pinnock, and I was immediately attracted to his quick intellect and his warm, engaging, and open spirit. He was thoughtful, orthodox, and open to the Spirit. I liked those qualities.

Apparently, those qualities also created friction in the more partisan evangelical circles of the day. Pinnock began to question his own views on scriptural authority, and he allowed that non-Christians might gain heaven. He wrote more progressively on both those issues, and I usually agreed with him. I loved those collegial arguments within evangelical Christianity, of good will in those days.

Then, I lost track of Clark Pinnock. Every now and then, I would read with interest that certain evangelical groups had ostracized him. But I was proud of his journey, and I was especially appreciative of his concept of "open theism," a fairly direct refutation of classical Calvinism.

Most evangelical groups, and certainly all Calvinist and Reformed types, have been quite wary of me, too, for some time, though I share deep commitments to biblical revelation. I want to be on Clark Pinnock's side. There's a wideness in God's mercy, and I believe fervently in that mercy which welcomes Clark Pinnock into the kingdom.

18 August 2010


Today, 18 August, is the remembrance of my man, William Porcher DuBose. I have spoken of him previously (my post of 26 Aug 2009), when I quoted these lovely words of his:

“Contraries do not necessarily contradict, nor need opposites always oppose. What we want is not to surrender or abolish our differences, but to unite and compose them. We need the truth of every variant opinion and the light from every opposite point of view. The least fragment is right in so far as it stands for a part of the truth.” (from The Gospel in the Gospels (New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1906, page ix).

William Porcher DuBose remains a pure representative of stained and incarnational Anglican theology for me. In particular, he was faithful, in a comprehensive way, to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, while also living authentically as a Southerner through the tragedy of the American Civil War.

He was, if you will, “entangled.” His lot in life was to live in several places at once. In fact, I believe that is the lot for all of us in life. We live in the Body of Christ, the Christian Church, which nurtures and challenges and informs us in the catholic faith. But we also live as human beings in our space and time, in a particular culture during a particular generation. It is absurd to consider any of us apart from our culture and generation.

William Porcer DuBose was able to use his entanglement to forge an incarnational theology that was revelatory both for his time, and for succeeding times. Actually, one might make the case that his theology is more valuable for our time than it was for his time.

10 August 2010


In a wise and provocative essay, Simon Critchley demonstrates again how the existentialist hero of Christianity, Soren Kierkegaard, speaks equally as forcefully to atheists as to believers. In "The Rigor of Love" (from "Opinionator," in The New York Times, 8 August 2010), Critchley argues that non-believers might come closer to meeting the exacting demand to "love one another" than do creedalistic and ritualistic believers.

Says Critchley, "...faith is a proclamation or pledge that brings the inward subject of faith into being over against an external everydayness. Such a proclamation is as true for the non-Christian as for the Christian. Indeed, it is arguably more true for the non-Christian, because their faith is not supported by the supposed guarantee of baptism, creedal dogma, regular church attendance or some notion that virtue will be rewarded with happiness if not here on earth, then in the afterlife. Thus, paradoxically, non-Christian faith might be said to reveal the true nature of the faith that Christ sought to proclaim. Even — and indeed especially — those who are denominationally faithless can have an experience of faith. If faith needs to be underpinned by some sort of doctrinal security, then inwardness becomes externalized and the strenuous rigor of faith evaporates."

Critchley's argument here uses the unfortunate straw man of simplistic and non-thinking Christianity, the "Christian" who claims that merely because he/she attends church and believes perfunctorily the ancient doctrines and creeds, then he/she is a proper believer. (Though I acknowledge that most Christians these days, and probably most of humanity, do not think strenuously enough, I do not agree that Critchley's sort of simplistic Christian actually exists; every Christian I know also proclaims that he or she is a Christian through "faith" or "action," not merely through having been correctly baptized or through believing the correct cerebral doctrines).

Be that as it may, Critchley has uncovered, in this essay, the challenging force of Kierkegaard's examination of faith. It is a deeply subjective, existential, voluntary appropriation of the infinite -- either of the infinite God or of the infinite existence of another person. Critchley wisely notes that, for Kierkegaard, the deep faith in, or even love for, another person, is also a reaching out for the transcendent God; and this is where Critchley claims that some non-believers are better able to sense transcendence than are believers.

Critchley's argument would be wiser had he settled for the more modest claim that non-believers are equally able to apprehend faith as are believers. There is no need here to posit a superiority of atheistic faith over believers' faith. The mere equating of the two is forceful enough.

Of course, as a believer, I would claim that the equating of the two provides another argument for a transcendent God. I would use Critchley's argument, from subjective faith, as the foundation for the existence of some sort of transcendence. It is this transcendence, whom Christians name God, that drives us beyond our inner selves.

Again, the fierce subjectivity of Soren Kierkegaard shines as a beacon for both the faithful and the faithless in our age. Even for Simon Critchley, an admitted atheist it seems, Kierkegaard's examination of faith provides a route into transcendence, into a reality beyond our ordinary human existence. I am grateful for his essay.


I admire, and often agree with, the opinions of Ross Douthat, who has the moral courage to contribute comparatively conservative essays to The New York Times. On 8 August 2010, he tries to put forth an argument for the distinctive and preferential nature of lifelong heterosexual marriages (in "The Marriage Ideal," New York Times, 8 August 2010).

He wisely refuses to accept the more common arguments against same-sex marriage, such as: "Marriage is an ancient institution that has always been defined as the union of one man and one woman, and we meddle with that definition at our peril. Lifelong heterosexual monogamy is natural; gay relationships are not. The nuclear family is the universal, time-tested path to forming families and raising children." He acknowledges that these arguments are wrong.

However, his inability to state clearly the positive and preferential arguments for heterosexual marriage should be an example to us all. Douthat can say that such relationships are "unique" and "distinctive," but he cannot tell us why their distinction should be preferred over the existence of same-sex marriage.

All he can say is:

"So what are gay marriage’s opponents really defending, if not some universal, biologically inevitable institution? It’s a particular vision of marriage, rooted in a particular tradition, that establishes a particular sexual ideal.

 This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.

The point of this ideal is not that other relationships have no value, or that only nuclear families can rear children successfully. Rather, it’s that lifelong heterosexual monogamy at its best can offer something distinctive and remarkable — a microcosm of civilization, and an organic connection between human generations — that makes it worthy of distinctive recognition and support."

Again, Douthat is surely correct to point out the distinct features of lifelong heterosexual marriage. But he has not therefore made the argument that same-sex marriages should not be permitted. Thus, he represents a perspective that is surely prevalent across the generally tolerant United States of America. Most people are heterosexual and would prefer heterosexual marriage if marriage is in their plans. However, more and more people also do not want to deny gay and lesbian neighbors the opportunity to make a similar sort of lifelong, monogamous commitment.

Still, there are many people (including many politicians running for office this year) who do not want to admit that heterosexual marriage and same-sex marriage are the same thing. If they are not the same thing, then, is one institution to be preferred over the other?

I do not believe that one needs to make the case for preferential treatment. Douthat's inability to argue an actual preference for heterosexual marriage should be a lesson for us. It is difficult to argue successfully a rational or logical preference for heterosexual over homosexual marriage. Therefore, let them both exist.

The existence of homosexual marriages will not be a threat to legitimate and life-giving heterosexual marriages. In fact, the willingness --and need-- of homosexual persons to enter into the same types of lifelong and life-giving commitments as heterosexual persons is actually part of the conservative argument for marriage itself. It is a conservative position, not just a liberal one, that gays and lesbians should order their lives and relationships by entering into lifelong and disciplined relationships with the one they love.

03 August 2010


(a sermon for St. George’s Anglican Church,
Magnetawan, Ontario, Canada, 1 August 2010)

“The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities!
All is vanity.

I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; 
it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.
--Ecclesiastes 1:1, 12-14

How amazing it is that the Book of Ecclesiastes is even in the Bible. It is a dark and skeptical book, known primarily for its despair that anything worthwhile can come of our earthly strivings. “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity,” it begins, and it does not let up. Everything is futile. There was a time when the Jewish rabbis were against including it in Holy Scripture.

Today, it is known as one the “wisdom” books of the Bible, including the Book of Psalms, Proverbs, The Song of Solomon, and maybe even Job. The wisdom books of the Bible don’t tell supernatural stories and miracles; they contain natural philosophy and an ordinary, earthly wisdom. If you know the Bible at all, you know that these books are not always cheery and hopeful. Instead, they represent humanity’s search for God in a deeply intellectual way, a hard, realistic way.

I love the book of Ecclesiastes, maybe ever since Pete Seeger wrote that great song of the sixties, “Turn, Turn, Turn.” “To Everything There Is a Season…” The lyrics of that song are almost entirely taken from Ecclesiastes:

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

In fact, Pete Seeger donates 45% of the royalties of that song to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, because he admits that, except for the music itself, he contributed only six words of the lyrics. Those are the lyrics that appear at the end of the song, “I swear it’s not too late.”

When the Byrds recorded that song in 1965, and it hit number one on the charts, it was proclaimed the number one pop hit with the oldest lyrics ever, because they dated way back to Ecclesiastes. The great line was that King Solomon had written a number one hit, since it was supposed that King Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes.

But Solomon probably did not write Ecclesiastes. It was someone called, simply, Qoheleth,” which means “the preacher.” He is called the preacher not like we might call Billy Graham the preacher. Qoheleth is a wise and crusty old man preacher, who does not seem to have a church at all; instead, he gazes sardonically at the world and speaks a wisdom that is self-authenticating. He does not need ordination, because everyone realizes immediately that his words ring true. He is the fool on the hill.

Even if they are dark and sometimes faithless, the words of the preacher, Qoheleth, ring true.

“Vanity, vanity, all is vanity,” he says. “I, the Preacher, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.”

“A chasing after wind.” These words are worth reading every year, or even every month. The Book of Ecclesiastes has an edge, a dark side. It reflects the dark side of our souls. Remember, the dark side is not necessarily the bad side. It’s just the dark side, which, when we know it well, enables us to see the light all the better. When we know our own dark side, we are better able to know the light.

Ecclesiastes is like the poetry of great Canadian singer, Leonard Cohen. It is dark and sharp, revealing secrets that we would rather not admit. So, Ecclesiastes is the Leonard Cohen of the Bible.

“Everybody knows,” Leonard Cohen wrote, “Everybody knows that the boat is leaking, everybody knows the captain lied./Everybody got this broken feeling, like their father or their dog just died.”

“Everybody knows. That’s how it goes.”
“Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything.”
“Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.”

It is a chasing after wind, a chasing after wind. We all know that empty and frustrating experience. It is disheartening to be always searching, and to have that inner, gnawing feeling that our search is futile. All is vanity; all is empty. The Hebrew word for “vanity” is “vapor,” like an airy mist, a slight breath, that disappears.

Our search often presents the frightening possibility that perhaps we will not find anything. What if we have searched for ourselves all our lives and realized that we have not found anything yet? This is the truly desperate realization, a calamitous one. A chasing after wind.

But, this morning, I have another angle. I have another angle on what it means to chase after the wind. I have another direction from which that wind might blow.

The word for wind in the Bible is actually the same word as Spirit.” Ruah” in Hebrew and “Pneuma” in Greek. From Genesis to Jesus, the word for Spirit is the same word as wind. The Holy Spirit is often compared to the wind.

Across the world, throughout time, the wind rolls in. Sometimes from the ocean, sometimes from across the plains. Always the wind develops from the perpetual spinning of our earth on its axis. Movement is being generated. Clouds are gathering, but clouds are also dissipating. The wind blows in fair weather and inclement weather alike.

And there are times, beautiful times, when it is good to chase after the wind. Sailors on this lovely lake surely chase after the wind in our dinghies and sunfishes. We were chasing after the wind just this past week, just as Ecclesiastes says. Some of us look for the wind the moment we step out of our cabins or cottages.

The wind can be decidedly dark and negative. Like all of you, I can remember some scary storms on Ahmic Lake. I’ve seen a grove of trees leveled by a microburst. I have tried to paddle a slippery canoe against whitecapped waves being driven by a west wind.

The wind can flow right through you and reveal secrets you would rather not admit.

But the wind can also refresh. It can be the delightful refreshment on a hot summer afternoon. It can blow clouds in, but it can also blow clouds out. All this, I believe, is part of the identity of the Holy Spirit, the identity of God. God is in the wind.

When I spoke with my assistant this past week, I told her that I had sailed with my cousin in the Kelly Cup race, but that I had not done too well. The lovely Judy Johnson replied, “Does that mean you didn’t go very fast? Maybe that’s just because you were enjoying it longer.”

That’s now my line of the summer. I was just enjoying the wind longer (what there was of it). The next time you step outside, stop and sense the wind. Enjoy it. At that moment, you might realize something else: the ultimate reality is not us chasing after the wind. The ultimate reality is that the wind is chasing after us. It is the wind, the breath of God, the Holy Spirit of God, who is chasing after us.

I read the Book of Ecclesiastes earlier this summer, when I was on my annual sabbatical. That sabbatical is always a time for me to leave civilization in order to search for the wind again.

And this summer has revealed something about wind to me. I have been chasing after wind my entire life. In school, in relationships, in jobs, on hiking and canoe trips, in churches, in sports, in my writing and my own preaching.

I have been looking for something, searching, chasing after something that –most of the time-- I cannot quite define. I have been chasing after the wind, just as Ecclesiastes says. All is vanity and a chasing after wind. The same fate befalls the wise and the foolish, The Preacher in Ecclesiastes says, the rich and the poor, the smart and the stupid, the slow and the fast. All is vanity.

I have been chasing after wind. But I sure do enjoy it. Something in me knows that this chasing after wind is really a search for spirit. The wind is Spirit, a Spirit which can enliven and envigorate us with passion, even if we sense just a slight breath of it.

I think Jesus actually knew the Book of Ecclesiastes quite well. He knew about its wisdom, and he also knew about its references to wind. One night, in the dark, he told the old man Nicodemus, “Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3.7-8)

In today’s gospel, when Jesus speaks of a rich man who says to his soul, “Soul! Eat, drink, and be merry,” it is perhaps an allusion to Ecclesiastes. Jesus is building on that reference when he says that a person’s life does not consist of an abundance of possessions. Jesus is speaking to the soul. Remember, the soul is that part of us that seeks and senses Spirit. (Luke 12.13-21).

One of my favorite psalms is Psalm 104, which is really a praise anthem to all of creation. Verses 3 and 4 say of God,

“You set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
You make the winds your messengers.”

Oh, Pete Seeger, in his time, wrote plenty more songs, including one called “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” The answer, as you may have heard, is blowing in the wind.

All this is testimony that if we study the wisdom books long enough, if seek the ordinary wind long enough, we will touch the Holy Wind, the Holy Spirit. If we study ordinary Nature long enough, we will be studying Supernature, the supernatural.

The answer is out there, blowing in the wind, carried on the wings of the wind. I say let’s keep chasing after wind. It’s not always vanity to chase the wind. It is a spiritual and deeply satisfying pursuit. It is the pursuit that leads to spirit and to energy, to the breath of God, to the Holy Spirit, of eternal life.


The Very Reverend Samuel G. Candler
Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip