What The Lapsed Episcopalian Knew All Along

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A rearing in secular unbelief, first converting into broad Evangelicalism and then converting again into Reformed confessionalism is nothing if not packed with all sorts of interesting changes. In the first conversion, I met up with a piety of world-flight, a rather obvious yet unstated expectation that certain social, political and cultural mores were to be quickly adopted. Not only was it clear that one must get cozy with a certain, narrow band of activist politics and cheer on fairly bleary-eyed rants about rightist politics and a damnable media, one also had to understand that the consumption of certain substances was obviously not for the truly pious. Having been reared by a pair that included the man in the picture (circa 1975), that was all a bit much for this newbie to swallow. But for various reasons, one of which was that I wanted to be truly pious, I did my level best to keep certain balloons under water.

The second conversion did a lot to release a whole host of balloons. Fully affirming the material world, it was quite a relief to find out that the world in which I had always lived and enjoyed really wasn’t so fundamentally evil and retreat was actually more impious than pious. Yet, as I have gone on in certain circles that share with me the second conversion from broad legalistic-Evangelicalism into Reformed libertarian-confessionalism, I keep finding that the capped man sitting by the pool has known a few things all along without missing a beat. He may not yet be aligned with me on many theological and confessional specifics, but he gets what many in both my conversions still don’t grasp very well. Contra my first conversion, he always knew the material world was “very good” and there was absolutely no reason to fear it and every reason to pursue it. Contra my second conversion, he knew there was absolutely no reason to have to prove any of that to anybody.

Weaving in and out of my conversions, I have found it crowded with two types: ascetic legalists and sophomoric libertarians who used to be ascetic legalists. I find myself more and more pulling up a seat next to the bearded man as they both do silent battle. It’s a fun show. Here is what I observe:

The legalists are mostly the kinder and gentler variety anymore. Brute moralism has morphed into user-friendly advice which cannot be refused. Since ordinary is anathema to the therapeutic age, they seem to justify their austerity by appealing to the fashionable and extra-ordinary trinity of “happy, healthy and whole.” It is a sort of silent legalism, one a lot like our silent theocracy. Just as some may talk a good game about “the separation of church and state” yet really believe that the Gospel has a direct bearing on and obvious implication for the ordering of society, the unspoken rule in silent legalism is that true piety can indeed be measured by abstinence even as charity is feigned.

Then there are some within the liberty camp. Blowing smoke into the faces of their past, these find true piety to be measured by relative consumption. There seems always something to prove to some phantom somewhere in the individual or collective self, real or imagined. The way an adolescent speaks a bit higher on the phone so her parents know she is fraternizing with the neighborhood bad boy, certain libertarians want the details of their consumption known to their phantoms. It is sometimes to the point of absurdity: I recall reading an account of one Reformed pastor proud of the fact that his fourteen-year-old son had taken up smoking, making some lame, pseudo anti-Prohibition argument. But for any who still care about the category of authority and the sovereignty of God in the left-hand kingdom and all that, such behavior is against the law. And for those with any common sense left, it is not a little asinine for a parent to encourage a child to smoke.

I suppose it is all in a day’s experience within certain quarters of American religion. But when it comes to the rather negligible issue of substance consumption, I’d rather take my cue from the lapsed Episcopalian who has long since decided tobacco isn’t his cup of meat anymore and prefers only a nightly shot of Chardonnay, sometimes more on the weekends and holidays.

Cheers, Dad…or not…evidently it doesn’t really matter either way.

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12 Responses to What The Lapsed Episcopalian Knew All Along

  1. Pingback: What the Lapsed Episcopalian Knew… « Heidelblog

  2. Dave Sarafolean says:

    Love that photo.

    This post reminds me a lot of my own upbringing and religious experience. In 1975 my father was selling beer in New England as a sales manager for Schlitz. He spent more than 25 years in that business, first with Schlitz and later with Stroh’s.

    Having come to faith in college I have dealt with both the ascetic folks and the libertarians. I accept the ascetic crowd as weaker brethren. The sophomoric libertarian crowd is problematic. How juvenile it is to see some of these folks sloshing beer and smoking cigars as if to say, “Look at the freedom I have in Christ. You can have it too!”

    What they seem to forget is that they aren’t the first people to arrive at that destination. Some of us were born into that environment and long ago it ceased to be a novelty. I like having a beer as much as anyone but the thought of sharing it with such shallow people is a real turn off. I’d rather share a quiet drink with my non-believing family and friends than spend time with such phony brethren.

  3. Anyone who can drink beer out of a can while wearing that hat has my vote for king of anywhere….

  4. RubeRad says:

    I considered not circumcising my sons, just to prove I understood Galatians.

    In other news, I think that in order to preserve my own sanity, I’m going to have to institute my own petty grammatical legalism. Nobody is allowed to use “anymore” when they mean “nowadays”, OR ELSE…

    …or else I will be very annoyed.

  5. Zrim says:

    Dave,

    Join the crowd, we have plenty of tee-shirts, caps, checkered shorts and sunglasses to go around: the photo is one of those classic family pics.

    “I accept the ascetic crowd as weaker brethren.”

    Maybe your ascetics are different from mine, but one of the last things I have understood them to be is weak. They are some of the strongest folks I know and are fully persuaded (and I have the wedding reception specs to prove it).

    I have understood the weak brother to be he who struggles with a particular thing and is unsure in his own mind; I have yet to actually meet a weaker brother by this definition. It is actually this brother we should have a mind for. It is one thing to refrain for him, another to simply make certain situations with legalists as un-awkward as possible. It has seemed to me that to consider those who are fully persuaded in their own minds “weak” can often times be strategy in the silent battle between legalists and libertarians (i.e. a libertarian shot at legalists).

  6. Zrim says:

    Jason,

    It is decided then: Joseph Albert Zrimec is hereby stated as King of Farmington Hills, MI. (Sorry, Mitt, but you had to know that your asceticism just doesn’t register in southeast Michigan.) First photo op is with the new Miss America, for those o fus who keep up with such news.

    Too bad he lives in Florida anymore (sorry, Rube). He will just have to be content with chairing the building and grounds committee. That’s a good gig, you know, you get a pen that writes upside down and your son buys you a new caddy to drive to the early bird to choke down a steak a 4:30.

  7. Rick says:

    The checkered shorts really ties the whole outfit together.

    Good stuff here, Zrim.

  8. RubeRad says:

    Don’t forget — the son also buys a super-fancy tip-calculator, which makes it more convenient to pay for that early-bird special.

  9. RubeRad says:

    CSI alert: I have enhanced, zoomed in, and sharpened the photo in question, and determined that the King of Farmington is not just drinking a beer — unless he likes his brew on the rocks!

  10. Dave Sarafolean says:

    Zrim,

    I agree with your distinction about weaker brethren. I have met the real thing and also know about those whose convictions are quite strong in this area with regard to separation, asceticism, etc. I was speaking generally and putting them all in the same category. My intention was not to take a cheap shot at them at all.

    As for SE Michigan that’s where my folks reside. Went to the NAIAS last week in Detroit. Had a great time.

  11. Pingback: Parallels « The Confessional Outhouse

  12. Pingback: Another Pleasant Valley Sunday (Charcoal Burning Everywhere) « The Confessional Outhouse

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