Showing items filed under “The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin”


Out of sync with the world, that’s yours truly. “We don’t serve decaf after noon,” she said to me. One would think there are lots of people who shift to decaf after their morning coffee. I hear people all the time saying, “I can’t drink caffeine after noon; it messes up my sleep.” But if it were true that people shifted to decaf, it would be available. There would be people lined up around the block asking for their post-meridian coffee unleaded. Entrepreneurs would be falling over themselves to meet the demand.
    But the demand isn’t there. It’s only me.
    I can’t figure it out. But it’s true: I’m out of sync with the world.
    Is it good to be out of sync with the world? Some three decades ago (back in the dark ages before cell phones and social media), my first rector was driving me around the parish. We were getting to know each other. I let it drop that my wife and I didn’t believe in TV.
    He, sitting behind the steering wheel, turned to stare at me. “Victor,” he slowly said, “TV is real; it’s not something you can believe in. It’s there.”
    Susan and I had decided to live, and to raise our children, without letting that intrusive thing into our home. So it happened that, when she was in second grade, our daughter was invited to speak to a neighboring class about growing up without a TV. It was as if their teacher said, “Today we have a visitor from Mars.”
    Someone asked her what she did without a TV. “Well, we read a lot of books,” she said.
    Clearly out of sync.
    God made this world and he loves it enough to die for it. The world, although fallen, retains created goodness. And at the end of all things (as N. T. Wright has taught us) the world will be redeemed, not discarded. So it is not good to be out of sync with the world.
    On the other hand, the world is in rebellion against God. Candidates for baptism traditionally renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world took Jesus’ measure and spit him out, stringing him up on the outskirts of the city and spitting on him. So it is good to be out of sync with the world.
    Decaf? It’s of course of trivial importance. But like many trivial things, there’s a sign there for me. And perhaps there’s a question there for you. Am I in sync with this world or not? And should I be? It's a real question, and it calls for discernment.

    Out & About. This is a “save the date”: The Fall Theology Lecture by yours truly will be given at Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, on Sunday, October 22, at 6 p.m. in the church. The topic is “What Good Is Authority?” There will be time for questions, and a reception will follow.

The Common

In the early months of my first attending an Episcopal Church, I thought the title was odd. “The Book of Common Prayer,” it said, which struck me as rather dull. Why “common”? Common stuff is uninteresting stuff, it’s what always happens. I didn’t get it. Why have a book of dull prayers, of everyday prayers?
    Yet I liked the prayers; they were far from uninteresting. They used old language, or everyday words in unusual senses. Over the year I learned about God “preventing” us, which didn’t only mean getting in our way as a sort of Providential care (keeping us from doing bad things), but actually going ahead of us. Which is to say, I learned that “prevent” has an old meaning of “go before” or “go in front of.” There was a line about Jesus’ sacrifice and our giving thanks “for the innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same.” “By the same”: I never talked that way, but what lovely words! This wasn’t common, ordinary speech. This was intense and deep and extraordinary.
    So then when was it, a year later perhaps? The dawning came that “common” in “common prayer” did not mean ordinary (as opposed to special). It means “shared,” as we say when something is “in common.” (You may think someone as slow as I am should never have been let out of college. But there it is. I didn’t get it for a long, long time.)
    The Book of Common Prayer has the prayers that are “in common,” prayers for all the people. I learned later that the ordination rites were not originally part of the BCP, and the title page usually indicates that the Psalter is added onto the Common Prayer. Most basically, then (and setting aside for now confirmation and marriage, and litanies and forms for special occasions), the BCP is Morning and Evening Prayer, Holy Communion, and Baptism and Burial.
    The common is what we share, and it identifies us as who we are.
    The church is that society wherein prayer is said daily and Communion is had weekly (sometimes, of course, more than weekly). One enters that society through Baptism. One does not leave that society at death, for the church is not a human institution. But at death one passes with hope to another part of that society, and one’s passing on is marked by the Burial of the Dead.
    Daily prayers. Communion. Baptism. Burial. This is what’s common to every one of us, and it is the most important thing to say about us. The common is more important than the unusual or the particular.
    I was a relatively new priest when a senior colleague and friend pointed out to me a striking feature of the traditional BCP Burial service. It had no place for a sermon or homily, no place to say anything about the person who had died. The only thing said about him or her, in particular, was his or her name. Everything else was common: We bring nothing into this world and we take nothing from it; blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; and so forth. The prayers were constructed as appeals to the saving work of Jesus, himself dead and risen and now reigning on high. The scriptures were selected as foundation texts for those beliefs. The entire service was not about what this person had done in life, but about what Jesus has done; and with that context, the service was a turning over of this person to God.
    At your death, this is what’s important: what’s common to all Christians. There is a place within the common for our special contributions to the whole. We have various talents, and we will be responsible for what we have done with them. Remember 1 Corinthians 3:12-15! But those particularities have no significance whatsoever apart from the common things of the church: our Triune God; the Incarnation of the Word; the Cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension; the entire stretch of cosmic history under the final judgment; the hope of a resurrected body and eternal life in the Spirit.
    This is another way to see why theology matters. Theology helps us grasp the common in common prayer.

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."