Archive for January, 2007

A word from Will D. Campbell

January 31, 2007

I sound pretty calm compared to Preacher Will! 

As most of you know my institutional flings didn’t work out. None of them. There is not time here to list them nor explain their demise. To do so would serve no purpose. Doubtless part of my failure within the structures had to do with my own intractable genes. Whatever. I was a pastor, a university chaplain, an employee of the allegedly most free religious institution in the world. I didn’t keep any job for long. But through it all I discovered one thing. All institutions, every last single one of them, are evil; self-serving, self-preserving, self-loving; and very early in the life of any institution it will exist for its own self. So beware out here this week. True soul freedom cannot be found in any institution. That is the guts of my testimony to you today. True soul freedom can never be found in any institution. If they will pay you, let them. I did it too. But never trust them. Never bow the knee to them. They are all after your soul. Your ultimate, absolute, uncompromising allegiance. Your soul. ALL OF THEM. Jesus was a RADICAL! And His Grace abounds.

As the sands of time run out on me I do not consider that I have had a ministry at all, except in the sense that all believers are priests. I have had a life. As to how well I have conducted it I am willing to leave to the One so mysterious, so elusive and evasive, so hidden as to say to Moses from a burning bush, I AM WHO I AM, to be the sole judge. I can only exult that grace abounds.  (from “A Personal Struggle for Soul Freedom,” Christian Ethics Today, December 1995)



January 31, 2007

A number of responses, public and private, to “Running free” have focused on the issue of accountability.  If there is no formal church organization with rules and consequences, will there be any accountability?  Perhaps it is worth saying a little more about that.

In an independent sacramental context, I may well be the founder of my church, the author of its rules, and be sitting in a current position of authority.  Even if that is not the case, if I get crosswise with my church’s rules or teachings or the people in authority, it is extremely easy to create or join another jurisdiction.  A huge percentage of us have served in more than one jurisdiction, for just such reasons.   Where is meaningful accountability?

I am accountable to each human being who enters my life, as well as to my culture and society, to animals and plants, to the earth.  I am accountable to my local faith community, to the larger Christian tradition, and to Christ himself.  Much of the most valuable feedback I receive comes from non-Christians.  In all these webs of relationships, is there any person or group who can say authoritatively just how badly I am failing, at any given moment?  No.  

If I seek out a priest, how do I know that she is a good person, and spiritually prepared to be of service?  Anyone who reads the news knows that all the best theological education and appropriate credentials from a large denomination do not necessarily mean anything.  If I seek a community, indie or mainstream, organized or free-form, how do I know that they are not an unhealthy bunch of crackpots?   There are no easy answers to these questions, no Good Housekeeping seals of approval.  I simply must choose, drawing on the best wisdom I have in the moment, and see how things play out.

 A paradox of the spiritual life is that, as we discover our deepest spiritual individuality, we simultaneously find our most profound connection to all people and all creation, in the love of the Spirit who holds us all in being.  How to embody this realization, in communities which truly set us free, is an ongoing question.

A word from Pietro Archiati

January 30, 2007

Christ, the Being of love, reveals Himself in divine powerlessness and foolishness – for to love means to renounce power and control over another, to give up ‘knowing what’s best’ for another.  The Being of love, the Christ Being, is not a divine power which overwhelms us and determines us from without, nor one which claims foreknowledge of our intentions. Christ’s love is an absolute and pure love which desires human beings to be free.  Christ wants us to be free. His will  is only done by those who practise and exercise freedom. (P. Archiati, From Christianity to Christ, p. 28)

While I have been taking some sacred cows to the BBQ in recent posts (or, given how veggie I am, releasing the sacred cows to graze free…), this is the independent movement and I am only articulating my own current vision – which continues to grow and change.  Your vision and vocation may well be different.  Some years ago, when I first read From Christianity to Christ by Pietro Archiati (a former RC priest), I was laboring in an oppressively controlling religious environment, and his words were balm for the soul and inspiration for action!

Every morning, I take a few moments to pray for my free sacramental christian sisters and brothers.  The image I use in this prayer changes, but at present, I see each of you as the burning bush, or perhaps all of you as its twigs and branches.  May you each grow into your unique individuality, while fully ablaze with the one fire of the Spirit.  From the very center of your being, may God speak “I AM” to the world….     (And, yes, Martha+ of St Junia’s House, this image is partly due to your recommendation of Marko Rupnik’s In the Fire of the Burning Bush!)

Running free

January 30, 2007

The following is intentionally provocative. J  I don’t claim to have any final answers to these issues, and look forward to discussion in the comments!

Upon leaving the Roman Catholic denomination, Ammon Hennacy (pacifist, anarchist, and Catholic Worker) wrote:

There are those “not of the fold” who remain followers of Christ.  I choose to be among them.  There is no reason for joining any other church for all churches support exploitation, and mostly they support war.  And I sure don’t want any Ammonites following me around. 

Ammon’s stance calls to mind the French philosopher-mystic Simone Weil, who refused baptism, preferring to sit outside the church, in the camp of heretics and sinners.  She wrote: 

The church is a great totalitarian beast with an irreducible kernel of truth. 

Caroline Casey (host of the “Visionary Activist” radio program on remarked during a recent show: 

The church is an ordeal – Take the sacraments and run! 

The issue of denominations or jurisdictions within the independent movement has only rarely been examined, beyond the simple observation that such groups split and multiply at a rate of knots.  Most jurisdictions are set up as miniature replicas of the larger churches, complete with elaborate hierarchies, codes of canon law, bank accounts, stationery, coats of arms, incorporation, not-for-profit status, and so on – even if the total membership is miniscule.  The purpose of the foregoing is difficult to detect, at least in my experience.  Frankly, it is often nothing short of comic. 

Dominique-Marie Varlet, the episcopal ancestor of many of us (as the consecrator of Utrecht’s first non-RC-approved bishop), initially got in trouble for exercising his ministry outside the approved geographic bounds, when presented with the need for confirmations while on a travel stop in Holland.  The relationship of indie ministries to traditional geographic dioceses has been shaky ever since.  Tim Cravens (  has argued that, in reality, most indie dioceses are defined by “networks of relationships and not by accidents of geography,” with people choosing to work with those who have similar sensibilities, regardless of location.  There is also much cooperation and cross-fertilization across jurisdictional lines, among individuals and groups which share a family resemblance (in Wittgenstein’s sense).  I agree with Tim that it is very helpful to understand the independent movement as a loose collection of families.  And the various families within the movement are kin to one another in ways that rival the multiple relationships of my rural
Tennessee cousins.

Obviously, some forms of organized connection and cooperation can be helpful, but, being an anarchist at heart, I believe we would be wise to keep such structure to the absolute minimum.  I would like to see no drawing of boundaries to impede communion, no catering to weak egos who want to be micro-popes, no accepting of privilege from the government, and no improper financial benefit to those in orders (e.g., clergy evading responsibility for personal taxes via a church non-profit).  Non-jurisdictional, fully independent clergy are already serving well in solitary vocations, in various forms of non-liturgical work, and in local communities (  They have taken the sacraments and are running free, unencumbered by jurisdictions. Communities do not have to be incorporated, look like traditional churches, or even have a name in order to provide spiritual nurture and accountability.  Friendship rather than organizational structure can hold us together, while allowing the flexibility needed to respond as fully as possible to the movement of the Spirit. 

 Update – I changed the above from “no financial benefit for those in orders” to “no improper financial benefit,” as I do not mean to address the issue of legitimate clergy compensation here….   “Tentmaking” is an issue for another post….

Gathering the scattered things…

January 30, 2007

First, you come to see where you are in the world, where others are, and then you begin to take care of all things that come your way, as many as you can.  It’s good to gather the scattered things of the world and bring them into a kind of happy, loving communion.  When you’re doing that, you’re well on the road to real illumination. – Robert Lax (in S.T. Georgiou, The Way of the Dreamcatcher, p.210)

Everything wants to be hallowed, to be brought into the holy… everything wants to become sacrament.  Things seek us out on our paths, what comes to meet us on our way needs us for its way… everything wants to come to us, everything wants to come to God through us… let the hidden light of God shine forth.   – Martin Buber (from The Origin and Meaning of Hasidism, p. 181, quoted by Georgiou, p.31)

A word from Jacques Ellul

January 29, 2007

I believe in God’s secret presence in the world. God sometimes leaves us in silence, but he always tells us to remember. That is, he recalls us to the word which he has spoken and which is always new if we rebuild the path from the word written to the word lived out and actualized.  He is a God incognito who does not manifest himself in great organ music or sublime ceremonies, but who hides himself in the surprising face of the poor, in suffering (as in Jesus Christ), in the neighbor I meet in fragility. (from What I Believe, 1989, p.148)

A word from Lloyd Meeker

January 29, 2007

In [patience] is the privilege of abiding always in the Service of the Father within, being ever ready to open the Door, that the Master [Christ] within may Serve mankind in every thought that vibrates through the physical body, in every word that flows from the lips, and in every act that comes into manifestation through the body.  This is the Lord’s Service, which He will render through each one who will become a doorkeeper in His Temple.  (from Seven Steps to the Temple of Light, Step One – 1930s?)

We patiently tend the flame of God’s presence within us, that every aspect of our lives may hopefully, gradually become an open door to God for others.

As Meeker was fond of saying, God does not give blessings to us, for us, to hang onto in some sort of selfish way.  (“My blessing!  You can’t have it!”) Rather, blessings are given through us to others, and through others to us. Each of us serves as a doorway opening to blessings, strength, and grace for others, and receiving the same through them.  If I have received a blessing, how am I called to share it with others?  And in all my encounters with other people, what blessing is God sending to me through them?

“Independent Sacramental”

January 29, 2007

When I was working on my dissertation, which became The Many Paths of the Independent Sacramental Movement, I was fishing for a term large enough to encompass the bewildering variety of groups I was considering.  These churches and orders were woven together through a common web of history, lineage, and/or practice, and yet used many different names for themselves – Old Catholic, Independent Catholic, Continuing Anglican, Apostolic, Independent Orthodox, Evangelical Orthodox, etc, etc, ad infinitum…    I happened to notice that The Christian Community described itself on its website as an “independent sacramental” church.  Then, shortly thereafter, I was reading the section on esoteric sacramentalism in Richard Smoley’s Inner Christianity.  Richard mentions the “many tiny independent sacramental movements” spawned by Old Catholicism (p.224).   As independence from the larger churches, and a high degree of focus on sacramental life were key characteristics of all the groups I was considering, this seemed as good a name as any.

“Independent Sacramental Movement” (or ISM, for short) began life as an etic term, possessing meaning for me as the observer, but not necessarily owned (as an emic description) by those under observation.   (Thanks to Alexis and Graeme of Grace Catholic Church for the fancy etic/emic language.)   For many whom I class as part of the ISM, I am sure it continues to be purely my somewhat questionable etic term.

However, the funny thing that has happened in the last couple of years is that “Independent Sacramental” has taken on life as an emic term, a meaningful self-description and chosen identity, for some including me.   The pros and cons of this development have been much discussed in yahoogroups and the blogosphere.  I don’t question that many folks have good reasons for choosing a name including more traditional words like Catholic or Anglican.  However, in my experience, those words almost inevitably create confusion for inquirers.  How are we (this little tiny group) related to the only church the listener knows as Catholic?   Or – If I am presenting myself as Another Kind of Anglican does that immediately set me up in a competitive stance toward Anglican clergy whom I happen to meet?   And does any use of words like Catholic or Orthodox tie our identities to imitation of, or protest against the larger churches?

I have almost completely ceased to use Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, etc, in any self-descriptive way, except when explaining history.  I am content to let the larger churches have these words, and have no desire to create confusion or a sense of competition with Rome, Constantinople, Canterbury, or Utrecht.  In practice, I have found it much easier to explain our identity in a positive way to inquirers and curious onlookers since switching to “independent sacramental,” or sometimes “free sacramental.”   Most people seem to understand quickly and accurately, without having to launch into long discussions of distinctions from a larger church to which there is only a distant, historical relationship. 

If readers have experiences and perspectives (even – or especially – if quite different from mine) on the use of names in the independent movement, please post in the comments!

Baking bread

January 28, 2007

If you have not seen Alexis’ excellent post on eucharistic bread baking and hospitality, I highly recommend it:

Hopefully Alexis will give us a lesson in making leavened (Eastern-style) communion bread, as he is quite skilled in that regard.  I have seen him in the kitchen, and partaken of the delicious result.  For those of us who use unleavened bread in communion, independent catholic priest Tony Begonja wrote an extremely useful book (back when he was an RC layperson) called Eucharistic Bread-Baking as Ministry.  It is out of print, but if you can rummage up a copy somewhere, it is well worth obtaining.

Just for fun, here is a recipe for communion bread, given to me by a friend who grew up in the Dunker (Old German Baptist Brethren) community.  It merrily violates a lot of traditional rules by adding things like sugar and butter.  Even if you don’t want to use it for communion, the end result is a tasty flatbread, somewhere in between a craker and a cookie.   Anyhow, here it is:   Mix 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Cut in 1 stick of butter and then add 1/2 cup of milk.  Roll out very thin, place on cookie sheets, and make holes here and there with a fork.  (You can make patterns with the fork that enable you to break up the bread easily and neatly.)   Bake at 425 for approx 5-6 minutes until done.   For vegan friends, I can assure you that a good vegan margarine (like Soy Garden or Earth Balance), and rice or soy milk can be substituted for the dairy products, with no ill effects.

Make my mind glad…

January 28, 2007

Today is the traditional feast day of Thomas Aquinas, best known as a philosopher and theologian.   To share a less known aspect of his work, here is a small selection from one of his sermons, preached in 1264:

This is the banquet at which Christ ministered to those who on earth were his companions and sat with him at table.  It is the supper to which the householder invited his son on his return from the feast of the prefiguring lamb.  O cleansing waters foreshadowed in earlier springs!  This Pasch in which Christ is offered requires that virtue supersede vice, and makes free those who are spiritually Hebrews.  This food satisfies the hunger of the devout heart.  Faith is the seasoning, devotion and love of the brethren the relish.  The teeth of the body break this food, but only an unfaltering faith can savour it.  What a ration this is for the march that brings the traveller as far as the mountain of virtue.  O living bread, begotten in heaven, fermented in the womb of the Virgin, baked in the furnace of the cross, brought to the altar hidden under the cover of the wafer; strengthen my heart to good, make it steadfast on life’s path, make my mind glad, my thoughts pure.   (borrowed from Every, Ware, and Harris, The Time of the Spirit, p.98)