Thursday, April 29, 2010

Scotland: theological center of Great Britain

Several days ago, an earthquake of sorts rumbled through the theological world. The announcement came that the current Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright would be stepping down, and taking a position at St. Mary's College, the Divinity college, at the University of St. Andrews. What a coup for the most ancient of Scottish Universities, and St. Andrews, the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland!

N.T. Wright is arguable one of the greatest New Testament scholars in the world, and has written voluminously. He was written a series of commentaries on the New Testament, (bringing William Barkley's commentaries upto date), and a number of provocative theological works, beginning with The New Testament And The People Of God (1992) and several other volumes. A more general work, Simply Christian (2006), is considered by many to be a classic along the line of C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity (1952). For more about N.T. Wright, check out the N.T. Wright page linked here. Beware, you could be at this site for weeks, as it contains lecutes, videos, podcasts, and reviews.

What a great moment for theological studies in Scotland, and for those of us who are interested in Celtic things! Wright follows a long line of great New Testament scholars from Scotland including James Dunn, Andrew Black, and I. Howard Marshall. And of course, I cannot omit a reference to my old professor of New Testament, the late J.C. O'Neill, a most humble and distinguished man. He possessed the gift of story telling, and I'll never forget one remark he made. He stated that "theology was conceived in Germany, corrupted in America, and corrected in Scotland."

Amazing to think that in such a small country as Scotland (as compared to us big boys in the States) has at least four nioteworthy theological colleges at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and St. Andrews. This certainly bodes well for the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church, and current and future students. Indeed with this news, I am sure that many letters for admission are now being sent to St. Mary's (pictured above) on South Street in St. Andrews.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Listerning to the Heartbeat of God

J. Philip Newell is a popular writer on Celtic spirituality. Of Newell's many books, one of his best is Listening to the Heartbeat of God (1997). It's a wonderful introduction to the magic and depth of Celtic Christianity, and dicsusses some of the major themes in the history of the Celtic Church.

The book explores how one of the major tragedies of the Synod of Whitby was that one "brand" of spirituality was dsiplaced by another (Celtic vs. Roman) where both could have existed together. The Celtic mission was inspired by the apostle John, who embodied the practice of listening. The Roman mission took Peter as a symbol for faithful action. This became a contrast between listening to the heartbeat of God in the heart of life vs. the teaching and life of the Church.

The first chapter discusses the importance of listening for goodness, and is represented by Pelagius, the first great Celtic theologian. Pelagius was involved in several theological controversies. One centered around the practice of teaching women to read, and that the image of God could be seen in the face of a newborn child. Pelagius's teachings on the goodness of human nature contrasted sharped with the negativity and pessimism of St. Augustine.

Chapter two focuses on listening to Creation. John Scotus Eriugena may have been the greatest teacher the Celtic Church ever produced. A central part of Eriugena's teachings was that Christ is revealed in two major books or forms: Creation and in Holy Scripture. Key elements to Eriquena's theology are the mysticism of the Apostle John, who he described as "the observer of inmost truth". For Eriugena, God is in all things, and at the very core of life. Such a view has been termed "panentheism", or "God in all things".

The third theme, listening for God in all things, revolves around the Carmina Gadelica, a collection of oral prayers by Alexander Carmichael. These prayers are noted for their ordinary contexts, and prayers in every imaginal situation. The collection means "songs of the Gales" and celebrates God as the "King of the Elements". Carmichael actually went to different parts of Scotland and recorded many prayers and songs which had never been written down.

Newell's book is one which every person interested in Celtic Christianity should buy and read. It's a short book, easy to read, and one worth reading over and over again. It presents some of the major themes and personalities who helped shape Celtic or insular Christianity. I cited the book perviously as one of my top ten books on Celtic Christianity. For more on J. P. Newell visit his website linked  here.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Good beer: Irish and American style

I have a friend who often asks me "how's you're drinking?". I've never heard it put that way before, but I understand what he is trying to say.

Any student of theology and certainly anyone of the Celtic persuasion understands that drinking and theology go together like fish and chips. I often recall going out with the boys for a few pints at the end of the day, and talking about theology and other serious matters that came up in seminary class that day.

We are fortunate that we live during a time where there are so many good drinking beers available. Even though I live in Hawaii, it's easy for me to purchase some great beers, both Irish and American. My favorite beers include Murphy's (when I can get it) Guinness, Harp, Samuel Adams, and Gordon Biersch lager.And make no mistake, American beer is as good as any in the world.  I like smooth, creamy beers and for my taste, nothing tastes better than a Guinness of Sammy's from the tap.

I was somewhat spoiled I guess living in Britain, where I was introduced to many fine beers. Drinking is  engrained into the culture. I remember one ocassion clearly when I was at an Irish bar in London. At the bar, there were a dozen pints of Guinness that the barman was constantly topping off. I went up to him and asked him what he was doing. He replied in a thick Irish accent, "I'm letting the beer breathe". What a great image-the beer breathing as if it were alive! That image has stuck with me through the years and underlines the seriousness of which many of the Celtic persuasion have when it comes to drinking a good beer.

Good beers are works of art, and something to be enjoyed. Go have a cold one! And drink responsibly!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

St. Andrews Cathedral Hawaii: Thanks for what you do!

This past Saturday several people from St. Andrews Cathedral helped to spruce up the kitchen, transforming it and basically doing a makeover. Their support and best wishes for our ministry to the homeless, and the Micronesians does not go unnoticed.

I want to thank a number of people publically. They scrubbed the cabinets, cleaned the refrigerators, defrosted the icebox, and threw out stuff that needed to be thrown out. When several of us walked in on Sunday morning, we could not believe our eyes. The kitchen looked magnificent. 

Several photos were taken which I'd liked to share. 

I'd like to say thanks to the following folks for spearheading this effort. They are:

Susan Hays
Tiny Chang
Melvia Kawashima
Theone Vredenburg
Dorothy Pierce
Joseline Acosta
Judy Masud
Karen Ogata.

Once again, thanks from the bottom of ours hearts for your support and assistance with this important ministry!!!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Marriages on Oahu, Hawaii

Yes the Celtic Church does perform marriages on the beautiful island of Oahu!!! And over the years I've performed marriages in homes, on the beaches, on golf courses, back yards, five star hotels, and of courses in Parke Chapel.

We offer reasonable rates, and use a beautiful Celtic liturgy. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or want to plan a wedding. You can also reach me though Facebook, which is linked on this site.

A few weeks ago, someone made a short video of a wedding performed on one of the local beaches here. He did a great job, and posted it on Youtube. I've attached it so you can enjoy.

Wedding video

Tonsure and why it matters.

I remember a few years back, telling my Dad that as part of my training I had been "tonsured". He laughed and said "your kidding, they still do that?". His response shows just how deeply things have changed in our religious landscape! Actually tonsure is part of many different religious traditions. Buddhist as well as Christian. You might even say the military has it's own form of tonsure. Just ask a US Marine. And before I forget, the Bishop only took off a snippet of my hair!

The Celtic Church was their unique in its understanding of tonsure, and were somewhat out of the mainstream. Tonsure refers to the shaving of part or all of the hair on the head. According to F. L. Cross's The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1957), tonsure became popular in the 4th and 5th centuries and when it was linked with admission to the clerical state. According to Cross,  three kinds of tonsure were practiced. The Western Church left a fringe of hair round the head, and symbolized the crown of thorns. This style is shown above and made famous by Friar Tuck. The Eastern Church shaved the entire head. The Celtic Church shaved in front of a line running from ear to ear. I recall from my Celtic studies that the Celts intentionally took a different position and reasoned this was a more authentic form of tonsure because it depicted servanthood, and was linked with slavery, albeit slaves of Christ. By contrast, the Roman tonsure was linked with the aristocracy.

Such a discussion reveals two very different kinds of Christianities. One linked with empire, the artistocracy, and magnificent cathedrals and choirs. The other, a more democratic, popular brand of Christianity marked by servanthood and community instead of buildings. Even though these contrasting ways of seeing things are 1400 years old, in my estimation they are also ways or viewing our common era. No doubt I am biased towards the Celtic understanding of what it means to follow Christ in today's world, and what it means to be a "church". We live during a time where service to others, and servanthood in Christ is a message which can both challenge and transform our predominantly pagan culture. This is why tonsure really matters. It's a symbol of service and commitment both to God and the community of Christ, the church. It represents an alternative kind of lifestyle, a lifestyle which is not built around oneself, and trying to get ahead in this world. On the contrary, the Christian faith in its most beautiful from, is represented in loving service to others, especially the most needy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Green Man

"The Green Man's archetypal presence reminds us of other possibilities. By honoring the natrual energy he personifies, we may yet find a way to reintegrate ourselves into our natural environment. If we succeed we will certainly find the Green Man waiting for us, holding out the hand of fellowship, as we envision the possiblity of a new earthly paradise, or at least of rediscovering the lost greenness of our own souls"
The Green Man John Matthews

A cardinal principle of Celtic Spirituality is a reverence and healthy respect for nature. And no doubt, this specific strain has attracted many to Celtic Spirituality especially those who are "green" in their thinking and concerned about environmental issues.  And rightfully so. These are important Christian teachings, as Nature (our home) is something to be cherished and cared for, and not merely manipulated for profit. One theologian has penned the term "panentheistic" to describe what we refer to above. Not pantheism, but that God is "in" everything.

Such a spirituality rings true to my own experience. I recall as a boy, being drawn to the mystical quiet of the forest and would often go for walks in the woods that were above my home in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. The Green Man (Nature) also made its presence known to me in plants, fruit trees, and flowers, which I love to this day. Just the other day, I was cutting back on some wild bushes here in Hawaii, and realized that in just a few months, these branches will grow back. For those of us who love being out of doors, we realize that Nature is always there, pushing forth its roots, its growth, cracking through the cement and concrete or whatever we as humans place down on the Earth.

This is also the experience of others down through the ages. There is in fact, a long standing tradition in the Celtic world which shows both the power and terrible beauty that is Nature. Many of you might be familiar with the tradition of "the Green Man" who is a symbol for Nature, and a popular figure in British fiction and myth. In several churches, you might see an unusual carving or icon of a foliate head, that is a face which seems human, yet if you look closely, appear to be made of leaves. I've attached a picture from Rochester Cathedral in Britain so you can see what one looks like. I've also included a variation of this theme, and have have included a painting by the Italian Giuseepe Arcimboldo, who painting of a man consists of fruits and vegetables, to demonstrate how popular this notion was throughout Europe. And for something completely different, take a look at Arcimboldo's paintings which all seem to have a naturalistic theme to them.

You may be familiar with "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight". Set in Arthurian England, the tale tells the story of a Green man who plays a "Christmas game" where he will exchange blows with any man, on the condition that whoever gives the blow, will accept a blow in return. Gawain accepts the challenge, and going first, cuts off the head of the Green man. But to his surprize and horror, the Green man is not killed, but continues to speak though his head is depacitated!. We must also recall the influence of the Druids, who were known as "the people of the Oak" and who lived in forests. No doubt, the Christian Church "baptized" many of the local traditions as the young church began to take a greater role in the Celtic world.

One of the great values of knowing something about the tradition of the Green Man, is that it helps one to be aware of just how far the culture has come from an Earth based tradition. The development and growth of cities, caused many to leave rural areas, and move into urban communities. In addition, the forests of the world, were often depleted in order to build navies and cathedrals. As a result the landscape of the world has been significantly altered. Even so, Nature, the Green Man, raises his head in the most unusual ways and shapes. I am often struck by the beauty of flowers, the shape of trees, or the tinest plant which somehow works its way into a crosswalk or crack in a wall. These are reminders that Nature is there, and that the Green Man is alive and well.