I always thought I was a Jerry, or maybe a George – with a bit of Kramer thrown in. But as it turns out, people might think I’m a Newman.
Unless you’re under 30, you probably know I’m referring to characters from the greatest sitcom in the history of the world, Seinfeld. (You heard me, Friends fans. Deal with it.) But you’re probably unsure about what the short, portly mailman played by Wayne Knight and I have in common.
Let me take you back to a seventh season episode called The Calzone, courtesy of our friends at Wikipedia:
George: Shouldn’t you be at work by now?
Newman: Work? It’s raining.
Newman: I called in sick. I don’t work in the rain.
George: You don’t work in the rain? You’re a mailman! “Neither rain nor sleet nor…” It’s the first one!
Newman: I was never that big on creeds.
There. Get it now?
OK, OK. I’ll explain: If you attend Holy Trinity Anglican Church, you might notice that I, as one of the leaders of our music team, almost always head to the bathroom about a quarter of the way into the service – usually at the same point in the liturgy.
Yup, one could conclude that, like Newman, I’m not all that big on creeds.
At Holy Trinity, we recite the modern-English version of the Nicene Creed every week – right after the readings and before the sermon. It’s just about the right length for me to make it to the Little Guitar Players’ Room, do my business and be back for the sermon.
I need to skip to the loo sometime, you see, and I admit that part of me sees the creed as a bit expendable – well, moreso than the rest of the service at least.
After all, it’s the same every week. It’s the time when we confess/profess/proclaim our faith, and I know that I’m a Christian. So does everyone else in the church. So does God. If skipping the creed allows me to be present (and undistracted by an increasingly loud call of nature) for the Scripture readings, sermon, prayers, offering and Communion, what’s the harm?
I stand by that little piece of rationalizing, and will probably continue the visits to The Holy Office during the creed. But only because I don’t have a better idea – not because I actually agree with Newman.
Not anymore, anyway.
Last fall, at a Cursillo weekend near Regina, Saskatchewan, my friend, the Rev. Jonathan Hoskin, pointed out the central role the creeds can play in a Christian’s life.
Jonathan, who is rector at St. Stephen the Martyr Church in Swift Current, is an Anglican’s Anglican. He’s a priest. His grandfather was a priest. His dad’s an archdeacon. His uncle’s a retired bishop. Jonathan has more zeal for Anglicanism, and The Book of Common Prayer in particular, than anyone I’ve ever met, and he loves the creeds. All three of them.
Yes, there are three.
The Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds get most of the spotlight, but as Jonathan pointed out, there’s another one in the Book of Common Prayer, and it’s worthy of some attention.
The Athanasian Creed isn’t used liturgically quite as often – probably because it’s 650 words long, compared with about 110 in the Apostles’ Creed (not to be confused with Apollo Creed from the Rocky movies) and 225ish in the Nicene Creed (depending on which translation you use).
In church every Sunday, we liturgical Christians use the creeds for proclamation. Jonathan is a big fan of that practice, but he pointed out that they’re also great tools when it comes to meditation – particularly the Athanasian Creed.
Go find a quiet room, give it a slow read sometime. Pause over each line and contemplate its implications. Here’s a sample:
And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited.
The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite.
So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God.
As meditation tools go, it kinda puts ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’ to shame, doesn’t it? If you’re not confused – and filled with wonder – about the Trinity when you start reading the Athanasian Creed, you will be when you’re done.
And better for it.
The Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds can also be used for meditation, but I find them most useful for reminding me of who I am, and whose I am.
We Christians can (and do) disagree about a lot of things, but if you can say the Nicene or Apostle’s Creed and mean it, you’re my brother/sister.
(Incidentally, if these creeds don’t apply to you right now, let’s get together for a coffee sometime.)
So I’m decidedly pro-creed.
Whenever I feel like I’m drifting away from what brought me to the Clearwater of baptism, where I became a new man (not a Newman), a little Creedence can bring about some Revival.
Peace be with you.