Many years ago I made an evening run to the hospital with friends/members of the congregation to which I then ministered. I rode with them. It was early in the course of treating a lung cancer that turned out a year or so later to be fatal. There were complications with the treatments. There needed to be tests for blood clots and so forth. The doctors wanted the man to check in. His wife wanted him to check in. He didn’t want to check in. At one point we left the hospital and got halfway home before turning around and going back. He checked in. It was all a process. About 3 AM it was decided I would take their car and go home. I would make sure their kids were about their day, get on with my own schedule, and wait to hear what developed. I was familiar enough with their old beater car (one of a series of beaters my friend used to deliver newspapers – a task not suited to nice cars) well enough to know that the hinges on the driver’s door suffered from metal fatigue. You had to lift the door to open it. I did and the door began to open but stuck. This was a new kink. On my knees in the dimly lit hospital parking garage, working the handle and craning my neck to stare at the exposed inner edge of the door, I determined that the latch was stuck. I had no tools. I looked around the garage a bit and found, of all things, a spoon. Using the tip of the spoon handle as a prying tool I managed to trip the latch and open the door completely. The fatigued top hinge chose this moment to give way completely. As I was unprepared for the sudden addition of several pounds of weight, the latch pulled from my fingers and the lower rear corner of the door crashed to the concrete parking deck. After a little head shaking and a long exhale, I got in the driver’s seat, rolled down the window, grasped the door by the top frame, lifted and closed it. Sort of. I could not get the latch to engage. This was in the pre-cell phone era. I could have gone looking for a pay phone and gotten my wife to come get me but it’s not in my nature. I decided I would drive home (a mere fifteen minutes) holding the door shut.
It turned out the whole sequence of events to this point had been observed by a very interested police officer whose current job it was to watch over the parking garage owing to some recent crimes there – specifically, people breaking into cars and stealing stuff. He fell in behind me as I navigated the spiral ramp downward and pulled me over just as soon as I got on the street. He asked for my license. I’m sure he appreciated the way I dug my wallet out and extracted the license with my right hand, never taking my left hand off the driver’s door. He then asked for the car’s registration. This was more difficult as the glove box was a stretch to reach without releasing the driver’s door. That difficulty was compounded when I unlatched the glove box and it fell to the floor. But I gathered up the handful of papers and sorted them – one handed – handing the registration to the officer. He disappeared to his car for a bit and when he came back he noted grimly that the names on the license and registration were not the same, that the plates were expired and instructed me to get out of the vehicle. I complied but first warned the officer – you might want to step back. He did, resting one hand on the butt of his pistol. I released the door and gave it a nudge outward. It crashed to the street.
The officer stood there a moment in silence and then said – ‘You want to tell me about it?’ He listened patiently as I recounted the details of the situation – all the time wondering who was going to feed my children while I was in jail. When I was finished, the officer grinned and shook his head. He returned my papers, allowed me to get back in the car and helped me get the door in place. He advised me to stay on the surface streets and go slow, got back in his cruiser and re-entered the parking garage.
I suppose that my friend’s beater would be an unlikely selection for a car thief. Beyond that, if a person was going to make up a story – they probably would have made up a better one. The truth has a ring to it. It explains the context without straining it. It’s usually simple. And the truth will set you free.
It’s been a while since I delved into another historical episode so, here goes. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) remains my perennial favorite among the ‘Church Fathers’ (I named a character after him in my first novel). For one thing the man showed such dogged persistence and devotion to duty it’s hard not to admire him. He began as something of a hermit monk who loved monastery life and lived to study and pray. His favored life though, was not to be. Recognized for his diligence, integrity and intellect he was called upon to serve beyond the monastery – ultimately becoming the Archbishop of Canterbury. Anselm didn’t want the post – or any of the lesser posts that led to the greater post. But the church NEEDED him and he answered the call.
It was not a great time for a man of integrity to step up to the plate – or perhaps it was the best possible time for it. What I mean is – the times were characterized by rough and tumble power struggles, political intrigues, land grabs, financial swindles, back-stabbing, patsy making, tangled romances, etc. It was even worse outside the church!
It is difficult to explain in just a few words how charged the atmosphere was. Pope Urban II initiated the first Crusade. He secured the papacy largely because the French bishops wanted the crusade. But the church was deeply divided on the subject – and almost every other conceivable subject. The struggle became bad enough that Guibert (former bishop of Ravenna) held Rome for a time – declaring himself the anti-pope. This chaos provided opportunity for already existing corruption in the priesthood to run wild. Things were no better in the secular realm and incentive for improvement shrunk with Urban’s declaration that anyone who served in the crusade would automatically have all their sins (past, present, and future) forgiven.
In the midst of all this, Anselm was called to be the Abbot of Bec. He quickly whipped the place into shape and (remember – at heart Anselm was an academic) Bec soon become the foremost seat of learning in Europe. This (unfortunately from Anselm’s point of view) led to promotions until he was called from his native France to England as the Archbishop of Canterbury. On the plus side, this gave Anselm an opportunity to implement reforms on a much bigger scale. On the minus side – the bigger and more corrupt the institution, the more it hates and resists reform.
And corruption in the English Catholic Church was rife, partly because the English monarchy was in a huge debate with the pope over ‘homage’ and ‘investiture’ ‘Homage’ concerned whether Catholic Church officials (like Anselm) owed any allegiance and obedience to the country – specifically to the king or government of the country – in which they served. ‘Investiture’ concerned the question of whether the king of a country could seat (invest holy authority in) his own bishops and clerics or had to settle for whoever the pope and his delegates chose. To both questions, the pope said ‘no’. William and Henry (the two kings under which Anselm served) both said ‘yes’. Henry in particular quit waiting for agreement and began investing his own bishops and clerics and insisting on their loyalty. It was the kind of controversy that got people killed. It got Anselm exiled – twice. But Anselm was never deterred. In office or in exile he worked steadfastly to lead both church and state through the strife and to some kind of peace. He did this without ever sacrificing his personal priorities of higher learning and reform.
Although Anselm was not fond of politics he proved quite adept at the game, equally handy with the carrot and the stick. He was particularly good at building chutes (ideological and legal chutes rather than physical ones) slowly narrowing the walls until he had herded everyone to the end he had in mind. Neither exile nor trial for heresy nor bribery (which was tried) nor anything else thrown at him could make him cease these efforts.
Just to reference a single chapter in this episode, Anselm travelled to Rome to argue for a special dispensation for Henry and the king’s right to insist on some degree of loyalty from bishops in English territories. Whatever Anselm’s arguments on the matter, the end result was the excommunication of three English bishops ‘invested’ by Henry. Note: investment/investiture referred to investing a man with sacred authority but ‘investment’ in terms of bribes, lands, important wives (Henry thought clergy should marry) were all part of the program in Henry’s attempts to win clerics over to his side. When Henry received word of the decision he refused Anselm permission to come back. For Anselm to defy Henry’s order represented the very real possibility of execution but his bigger concern was that even if he survived a defiant return to Canterbury, it would deepen the hostility between Henry and Urban.
Anselm bided his time while Henry slowly discovered that he needed the approval of the church more than he had supposed. As more and more bishops and prelates were excommunicated, confidence in the efficacy of the rites – including marriage, baptism, confession, penance, and last rites - administered by a shrinking number of clerics willing to serve under Henry and in defiance of the pope, regardless of bribes and incentives – fell. These days we would say Henry’s poll numbers fell as well and even a king needs the confidence of his people. When Henry finally got around to requesting Anselm’s return so as to have a reliable envoy to the pope again, Anselm declined the invitation and hinted at his own willingness to work for not only the excommunication of more bishops but perhaps of the monarch himself. This resulted in Henry travelling to France to meet Anselm on Anselm’s terms where it was agreed that Henry would forsake investiture if clerics appointed by the pope were allowed to express at least some degree of allegiance to the government of England.
Back in office in Canterbury and enjoying peace for a time, Anselm was finally able to institute his reforms including that English clerics ceased to marry, tax-bribes/extortion of church officials was done away with, and several other matters that lessened the king’s power over the church. It took Anselm most of his life to accomplish these reforms but there was no quit in the man.
As mentioned earlier, Anselm accomplished these reforms and all the political steps necessary to broker peace between Henry and Urban without giving up his cherished studies. Anselm staked out a position that seems common sense to most of us today but which was unheard of at the time. He held that while faith necessarily precedes reason, once faith is established – reason can expand it. (it is necessary to point out that Anselm correctly separated ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ – something we too often fail to do. Anselm believed that any intelligent person could reason their way to accepting that there is a God. Faith – putting yourself in the hands of that God and trusting Him implicitly – is something else.) In other words – you can’t reason your way to faith in God but once having received faith from God you can strengthen that faith by means of reason. Reason supports faith once realized. There is no need for the faithful to fear the pursuit of knowledge and reason. This thought won Anselm the title – Father of Scholasticism and his work is the prelude to the broader work of Thomas Aquinas. Anselm is also the first to formulate the Ontological Argument. It must be noted that the Ontological Argument is based upon Aristotelian logic which often makes my head feel like there are snakes crawling around in it. But the argument still has force all these years later and those who think they have easily dismissed it (Richard Dawkins et al) generally manage to show that they never understood it in the first place.
*Even an atheist can imagine a being than whom none could be greater.
*However, if such a being’s attributes did not include existence, a still greater being could be imagined with all the attributes of the first – plus existence.
*Therefore, the truly greatest possible being must exist.
The third step seems too easy. But, it begins with this: an existent being is greater than an imaginary being therefore, whatever may be known as the greatest of all beings must be one that exists rather than one that is imaginary. Thus far, we go without problem. And there must be a being who comes in first in the competition for greatest. Still so far so good. The greatest being exists. Behind this lies a layer not easily included in Anselm’s simplified proof. By what standard do we judge beings to arrive at a decision as to which is the greatest? Why, by those characteristics it is better to have than not to have. Whence do we arrive at such concrete and comparative values and virtues? How can we hold beings we see to exist to a standard higher than themselves if that standard is derived from the realm of the imaginary and anything extant is greater than anything imaginary? Feel those snakes yet? To Anselm it seemed clear that the ideal which represents the standard must exist else it could not be the standard. It’s a difficult argument to wrap your head around but easily dismissed.
Based on his ontological reasoning, Anselm was the first to state that God neither invented nor conforms to the ideal standard of morality but embodies it!
Some of you may well be asking – Can’t we just go back to his political accomplishments? But I admire Anselm for his studious philosophical efforts as well and especially for his insistence that faith need not fear learning.
This is all probably all more than you asked for – since none of you asked me to write anything about Anselm – but there you are. Something more light hearted next time.
Here it is again – Barn Sale Time! I continue to love the IRCC Barn Sale. The barn - here on-site at the church – fills up over the winter and early Spring. How? People move. A family member passes away and things need to be removed from a now vacant home. Some one buys a house to convert into a rental and it has items in that need to go. People just do Spring cleaning and have items to get rid of. By box loads, truck loads, and larger items that constitute a load in and of themselves, items arrive. This very minute, as I write, the big sorting is underway: furniture, glass ware, hardware, tools, books, art, games, toys, sporting goods, Christmas decorations, collectibles, small appliances and more are being examined, cleaned, grouped and priced. Some of it will be purchased by the people working on it – never fear, most of those folk also bring stuff in when they come to work. Some of it will already have been given to folks who had a need for a dresser, dinette set, or whatever. And more things arrive from out in the community even as the items that have been in the barn all winter are being sorted. Then, June 3-5 this year, the doors open to the public. That first morning there will be a frantic burst of activity and then it settles in to a stream. Come the last morning, prices are EXTREMELY negotiable. At this point we love yard-salers who may bargain for a truck load. When the doors finally close on the last day of the sale, what remains (Quite a bit usually!) will be divided up. Some will be free to anyone who has a need. Some will be taken to ministries like Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill, or the Blessing Exchange who specialize in getting certain kinds of items to new homes. Some will go to the congregation’s scrap and paper drives. Some will be converted to wood-burner chow to keep another home warm come Winter again. The proceeds from all the sales will be put to good use by the congregation’s Women’s Ministry. A tiny percentage of the barn full of stuff will end up in the dumpster.
This is the bottom line for me. We are such a throw away society. The barn sale gives people an option for shedding unwanted items other than the landfills. Almost all of those items will be put into service for another go round. Money will be raised for good works. It always strikes me as a win/win/win/win.
It also strikes me as an expression of our creation in the image of God. The same culture that regards so many things as completely disposable, frequently looks at people the same way. The world devalues the elderly because they have too many years of wear on them, the weak because they seem to have too little utility, the fallen because they are damaged goods and the different because – well they are different. News-Flash: we are all different and age and weakness come everyone sooner or later. But God is a God of restoration, redemption, and revitalization. God is a God of second chances – third and fourth chances too. God is not content to let us end up on the trash dump of history or society. We are still treasures to Him and He can put us into service again!
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Pastor of Indian Run Christian Church