Monday, July 10, 2006

What is the middle way?

I posted this as a response at a friends blog in discussing what the middle road is all about. Some would believe it is only about avoiding conflict or having no convictions. I believe it is something else...

Dear friends,

As a person who has committed himself to walking the middle way, and being committed to expressing it and teaching it in the parish I serve, I am convinced that it has nothing to do with selling out, with compromising for the sake of avoiding conflict, or any thing to do with lack of conviction!

Being willing to walk the middle way means practicing a type of sacrifice where a person is willing to lay down their own opinions, and their own comfortable resting place within an ideology to be able to minister to all conditions of people. As a parish priest, I am called to minister to liberal and conservative, pro-life and pro-choice, pro-gay rights and pro-no special rights for homosexuals alike. I am not afforded the luxury of political opinions that I wear on my sleeve like some club membership pass. As the examination reads that Episcopal priests affirm before ordination...

"...As a priest, it will be your task to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to fashion your life in accordance with its precepts. You are to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor. You are to preach, to declare God ’s forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce God ’s blessing, to share in the administration of Holy Baptism and in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ ’s Body and Blood, and to perform the other ministrations entrusted to you.

In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ ’s people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come..."

I don't recall anywhere taking a vow to be a prophet. That doesn't mean I don't have standards or that I don't call people to confession who are in need of repentance...But the reality is I'm not the one deciding who is in and who is out of God's grace. I have simply and and times with some difficulty vowed to be a minister of it. It means being able to be very articulate about the differences between the priestly role and the prophetic role.

And in that articulation between the priestly and prophetic role, Bob Duncan and Gene Robinson have failed miserably and oft times tragically. They are sacrificing the Church they have been afforded the privilege to help govern on their individual altars of self-satisfaction. These altars all too conveniently vested in the mantle of being lead by the Spirit. But God does not send a spirit of division...Only the enemy does.

In the end, it is not about me or my opinions and it is certainly not about groups like Integrity and the Anglican Communion Network, it is about taking the Grace of God to a hurting and broken world, and bringing healing to the people through the Sacraments of the Church. And for those who choose to ride on the extremes wings of the Church and find they cannot in good conscience any longer be a part of the Episcopal Church as it is currently constituted...the middle way has always known the solution to your dilemma...its called being a non-juror...look it up! Because what you are currently doing by dividing spoils only shows your hand that lust for power is what you are after and not the faith of the Church.

The middle way has nothing to do with being luke warm or indifferent...or walking an easy path...It is about a higher calling, a higher road that leads to self emptying so that we might be filled with the love of God.

I remain, albeit sick and tired of taking hits from the right and the left, your fellow servant, JQ+


*Christopher said...

While I think it true that a priest is called primarily to bring the grace of the sacraments to all sorts and conditions of people, it is untrue that a middle way is not political. This has been a red herring of speaking from the middle. The middle way has political ramifications because politics is people interacting and no matter where you are standing, you are interacting and the interactions say a great deal about how the community is constituted. As such the middle way also can sow divisions and hurts to the community. The only difference I see between these spirits is emphasis on process, not that politics and politicking aren't involved. And sometimes divisions are not only from the Evil One, Jesus sowed divisions as well and St. Paul tells us that only through them will we discern what is true. I guess what I chaff at is when someone claims the middle and says they are not being political but pastoral. For whom? And how?

It is quite political (not to mention says a lot about our ministry or lack thereof) that in the average middling parish I've experienced ministry to opposite sex couples and those soon to be married can involve public rites, joyous announcements, encouragement from the pulpit, celebration of their marriages and families in clapping and the like even during Eucharist, anniversary celebrations in the parish, and the like. I have rarely seen the same done for a same sex couple seeking community support or a rite of passage for their relationship in middling parishes you describe.

That such is the case is in fact political and does in the mind of many gay persons tell us something about our lives being less important in the life of the community and that the ministry we are given is not of the same quality and respect and concern, as if, contra for heterosexuals, rites of passage and pastoral support are not necessary for our faithful lives. That I arranged our holy union without a priest present had much to do with these real political differences and has suggested to me that in the future we will need more lay persons doing that kind of respectful pastoral care for lgbt persons where our priests and bishops are constrained.

I once wrote to the unwillingness to recognize middling positions as political:

In most cases the middle ground is not neutral or without having made choices for a particular side, often by default or for fear of disruption or simply because we're "nice". For a stark example, Switzerland refusing to take sides during WWII was not a neutral act; to this day we continue to learn the extent to which their policies in deed actually cooperated and sided with the Nazis.

Often, in a given dispute, middle ground tends toward upholding the status quo at the expense of someone, usually the weaker or the disadvantaged or marginalized or those seeking to be treated with dignity. The middle ground itself can be an extreme to those experiencing oppression and marginalization and inhumane or undignified treatment. Middle ground can in deed, if not in word be life-destroying.

In such cases extremer positions are a likely outcome be it because poverty goes unaddressed while a few consume the earth, dictatorships are propped up by foreign powers in the name of democracy and freedom, one is locked out of economic stability, pushed to the back of und so weite.

Very rarely, the middle ground is a position that refuses violence toward any, acknowledges one's own complicity in violence even if indirect, while also not backing down from confronting oppression, scapegoating, violence in one's self and in society. This middle ground come from a different place. A place that recognizes the abundance of God's graciousness and love in the world; and that given this Reality, we are free to live creatively in the face of center/margin constructions and identity formations.

Such a middle ground may or may not be activitist, but it is always contemplative. Such a middle ground is profoundly prophetic. Prophetic not necessarily because of raised voices or marches (though there are place for these), not prophetic because of roaring condemnations (though from time to time this is so), not prophetic because of gathering movements (though this too is a possibility), not prophetic because of righteous indignation (though this may be so) but because those who live out this middle ground open up spaces of hospitality and community NOT of this world. Such a middle ground turns anger into compassion, and does not simply fight the world or put one's middle finger in the air at the world, but works with the Holy Spirit in creating the New Heaven and New Earth among us right now in the world, though not of it.

In fact, that is the primary task of one called to live out this middle ground. Such a middle ground takes off his sandals before each who enters and bows, for all who enter are holy no matter who they are or where they've been. Such middle ground refuses to allow harmful words or deeds toward another (more on this this next week when I've time) and creates space for freedom for each to become herself in a Centered yet diverse unity.

The marginalized can let go of their pain and hurt and identity as marginalized because here is a space where they are of the esse of the gathering (not simply included which nearly always implies an includer(s) who are usually other than God), where they too can see themselves as gift, perhaps for the first time. Those who have much are freed from grasping, tight-fisted control, fearful planning or strategic concerns on who and where and when shall another be of the esse, for here is a space and convocation where there is blessings enough for all.

In this sense, Catholic Worker houses are prophetic. Many Benedictine communities are prophetic. Some parishes are prophetic. The nepenthe of embrace for the marginalized, the balm of release for those holding to their special place either explictly or implicitly. This middle way frees us all. We are well to expect fruitful creativity from such convocations that break down barriers and dividing walls.

This is the Way of Jesus, the Way of the Cross, the very heart of Christianity though this way is covered over again and again by we extremists in our triumphalist strains as we launch crusades of all stripes and strains and wring our hands in the face of chaos.

The difference then is really between a middle ground that often has a self-protective quality to it (though this may be denied) and a middle ground that recognizes that the only Center Whom we find is Christ so there is none worthy through his own self or deeds, though there is blessings enough for all.

In Christ, the Center of the Universe has become the margins, and given this, dynamics of polarities, of defining ourselves over and against are shown up for what they are: fallen. But so are our pretending to objectivity and rationality by claiming moderation. Where moderation marginalizes even as it protects privileges or makes way forward with good things for some and not for others so that good things are always contingent on a human "yes" or "no" rather than on God's "Yes", this too is shown up for what it is: fallen. Such moderation "does for" another and offers no freedom for the other to also "do for" the doer. Such moderation always makes the justice of another contingent on the good pleasure and good time of those in control or who are the majority populace of the structures.

Such ways do violence and lead to other- and self- contempt in marginalization and oppression and making one'self the arbiter of God's goodness, though this may be more obvious in the suicide bomber than in the withholding of economic aid until development meets our standards.

Moderation in all things, blessings enough for all.

*Christopher said...

Here is a link to an on-line book of resources being put together that lgbt Anglicans and other Christians can celebrate our faithful lives and passages irrespective of whether a priest or the parish community will with us. Hopefully, as the prayers and rites develop, we'll move it to print as well.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I entirely agree. I have a similar parish with peopleof all shades and convictions. I seek to be a faithful pastor to them all and not to impose my own rather quirky views on the parish as a whole. I preach and teach the Propers week by week. The parish is growing and most new people are under forty.

The Underground Pewster said...

I agree with your comments. I posted a defense of the "middle of the roaders" at

When I put my letter on our Church's message Board this is the response I got from one of our members:

"For all who choose the middle ground, who don't want to take a position and who prefer to be neither hot nor cold but, rather, lukewarm:

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth..
Revelation 3:16 (KJV)"

True to form don't you think?
I posted this in reply "I always thought they should have left Revelation out of the Bible."
That ought to ruffle a few feathers.

Anonymous said...

You vowed "[...] to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor. You are to preach, to declare God’s forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce God’s blessing [...]"

By precept and example you have so far fulfilled that vow admirably, in my humble opinion. You have been an inspiration to my ministry, which had been getting kind of tired.

Thank you.