Johannite Conclave 2016

I always have such a great time at my church’s annual Conclave. It’s historically been a gathering for the clergy to learn new things, share what’s working in the parishes, and recharge our batteries a bit. Conferences are always good for reminding us what made us excited about a thing to begin with, and Conclave is no exception. In the last several years, however, more and more laity have been attending Conclave, and it’s been a real infusion of energy and new ideas into it.

I’m very proud of the Johannite Church’s commitment to its members. We try really hard to make sure that the work we’re doing as a community benefits people in the real world, and not just online. Both parts are important, but, in my opinion, nothing beats coming together as a religious family and actually talking face to face. I actually miss active ministry quite a bit. Since Saint Martin’s Parish in NYC closed, I haven’t said mass in public outside of Conclave and a few times filling in for Fr. Donald at St. Sarah’s. There’s something very special about participating in the mass, and since the work Bishop Mansfield and Rev. Mr. Stewart have been doing on Temple Theology, the eucharist has taken on an even more profound significance.

Anyway, I’m excited to see where that work goes, but in the meantime, I made a vlog while at Conclave, and I hope it gives you an idea of what it’s like to attend. Maybe you’d like to join us next year in Denver!

Membership Has Its Benefits

I recently had a interesting conversation with a Episcopalian about the need for “membership” in a church. His argument (I think) was that if a church has official members, it creates an “us vs. them” mentality. I think he’s probably right, but I wonder if that’s bad. Let me explain… no, there is too much. Let me sum up.

He was trying to convince me that I would be welcome “in his church,” which I took to mean, as a member. As a member of the Johannite Gnostic clergy, I thought this would be unlikely. This began the fundamental misunderstanding on both our parts. After some circular discussion I finally realized what he was actually trying to tell me. I would be welcome to attend mass and take communion at his parish. Great! I’ve done so at Episcopalian churches before, and he would also be welcome to do the same at my parish. His parish, as it turns out, doesn’t have any formal membership process at all. People are welcome to come and go as they feel the need to, and that’s just fine. (I should be clear that he wasn’t talking about his entire denomination, as I’m positive that the Episcopal Church does, indeed, have members.)

The Johannite Church, on the other hand, does have members, and I think that the option to become a member is spiritually useful. I also think it creates an “us” and a “them” but I can’t find too many reasons to think that’s a detriment. Yes, that kind of thing can be abused, and has been in the past, but I don’t think that’s something we do. Our membership procedures are extremely loose. At this point there is no formal process, and each parish does it slightly differently. Members in our church are not required to “renounce” their membership in other churches, or anything else, for that matter. Membership is self-selecting, and the only commitment you make to become a member is to yourself. If your path takes you elsewhere  go, with my blessing. Also, our church doesn’t require membership to participate in our sacraments (with the possible exception of Holy Orders, but even that is unclear logistically). A non-member can fully participate in the life of the AJC as much or as little as s/he wants.

My problem with the “no members” model is that there is very little middle ground for the laity. You either go to mass on Sundays or you train to become clergy. Now, I realize that this is overly simplistic, but it seems to me that the “community” aspects of a church with no members would have to be transitory by their very nature. To me, the very word “church” implies a dedicated family of believers. A religious institution that has no method of formally affiliating is not much more than a community center.

It’s not that I don’t think there is a need for exactly that kind of institution. I think there is a perfectly viable niche for a non-denominational, Christian, feel-good, drop-in-when-you-need-to social club. I would just call it something other than “church.”

I’m sure I’ve created a strawman of this particular argument. I’m positive I misrepresented the reality of this particular parish. I’ll be sharing this post with the person who inspired it, with the hope that he understands that the conversation was merely a jumping-off-point for these ideas. I will be sure to post any comments he would like to make, and hopefully we can have an interesting dialogue.

Altar Boxes

I’m thinking about putting together a few “cigar box altars” that I could offer for sale. I’ve mocked up a version of what they might look like, which is the picture below. Here’s what I’m thinking they will include:

– A wooden box, either painted or natural finish, decorated with the AJC “Triple J” logo
– 4 Archangelic tea-light candle holders (smaller than the ones pictured so they fit in the box)
– 1 Sacred Flame votive candle holder
– A linen altar cloth
– A pamphlet with the text of the Logos Service
– A copy of my book “Sanctuary of the Sacred Flame”

I’ve done some research into the prices of the components, and it looks like I would have to sell them at about $35 a piece, plus $12 shipping (in the US). I could do $30 if you don’t want a copy of the book.

My question is, would anybody be interested in this? I’d like to get at least 5 or 6 people who are really interested in it, and would be willing to pay that much for one, before I start buying any of the materials.

Do you want one? Please let me know in the comments below or email me at Showing interest will not be construed as a commitment of any kind, but I’d like to get a sense if there is interest before I go any further.

What It Means to Give Up

Well, I finally missed a day blogging. I knew it would happen eventually, but it’s okay. I blogged in person instead at St. Sarah’s parish in Boston. By that I mean I blathered on incessantly to anyone who would listen. Fortunately, I think I was entertaining enough that people didn’t mind.

Fr. Donald gave a lovely homily last night. I don’t remember all of the specifics, but it boiled down to something like “don’t be a dick.” (TM +Wil Wheaton) Alright, it was actually much more complex than that, but I have a bad memory. It was the parish’s commemoration of the martyrdom of the Cathars at Montsegur. The Cathars made the ultimate sacrifice for their faith, they gave up their lives instead of denying what they knew in their hearts to be true. I pray that nobody should even have to pay that price again.

So the Cathars gave up everything, and it’s Lent, and the subject of “giving things up” is usually prominent at this time of year. The spring is actually full of festivals commemorating martyrs in the Johannite liturgical calendar. Jaques de Molay and Tau Harmonius are also right around now. These are people who were forced by the religious and secular authorities to give up their lives for their beliefs. What can we do to honor their memories?

In my book I talked about these commemorations and some possible ways to honor the martyrs through your own spiritual practice. My suggestion is to fast on the days when we commemorate martyrs. I would recommend the Roman Catholic style “no meat” fast. Fasting is not done for the sake of ego, because that would defeat the purpose of it entirely. Eliminating meat and eating only simple foods is plenty to keep you in the spirit of the thing. Anything more extreme, if you haven’t sufficiently prepared for it, could become spiritually and physically dangerous*.

The point of a fast is to remind you throughout the day that there is something special happening. The Undifferentiated Ground of All Being (sometimes also called God) doesn’t care if you fast or don’t. The only thing God wants from you is for you to return to the Fullness as a fully realized being. Doing the same thing we always do day in and day out is not going to get us there. We need reminders that we are Spirit experiencing the illusion of separation. Fasting triggers this reminder in us every time we are hungry. We fast, not for God, but for our own selves.

The upcoming martyrdom commemorations are:
– Montesegur Day: March 16
– Holy Jacques de Molay: March 18
– Martyrdom of Tau Harmonius: March 22

Will you commit, with me, to honor the memories of these brave people and fast on these days? Let us give up a little so that we too may have a share and inheritance with all those saints and adepti who have gone before. If you make your commitment publicly in the comments you are much more likely to remember.

Photo credit: Meat by Phillie Casablanca

*Fasting can be bad for you. Consult your doctor if you are considering some extreme fast.

The Virtual and the Actual

My boss in the Church, Mar Thomas, did a lecture this past summer at the Church’s annual Conclave. His topic was Gnosticism: Ancient and Modern. You can watch part one of his lecture, which was just posted today, on the Church’s YouTube channel. He talks about the definition of Gnosticism, a subject that could be debated for the rest of time.

One point I’d like to tease out a bit is the difference between the “spirit vs. matter dualism” and the “actual vs. virtual” that His Grace describes in the video. I really like this distinction. It implies, or, at least I inferred, that there can be an actual/virtual split in all aspects of the Divine emanation, from the undifferentiated Fullness down to ourselves. Subject and object.

There is, however, a distinction you can point to. At some point the actual and virtual are different. Like ice and water, you won’t confuse the two. Each has its characteristics. I’ve only just started thinking about this, so I will probably have a lot more to say on the subject.