Thursday, July 30, 2009

A voice from St. Clement's

Another good reflection, post-General Convention, this one from the Rev'd. Canon Gordon Reid, Rector of St. Clement's, Philadelphia....

Our Church has been having a busy time, with General Convention having stirred up as many controversies as usual. Although I certainly do not agree with all the conclusions they came to, nevertheless I was impressed by the civility and candour with which weighty matters were discussed and decided on. This is in marked contrast with much of the hysteria and sheer unpleasantness of many of the opponents of the Episcopal Church.

I must say that the people who amuse me the most for sheer illogicality are those who accept the ordination of women, but who then react violently against the ordination of openly gay priests and Bishops. Talk about “straining at a gnat, and swallowing a camel”!

Such people claim to believe every word of the Bible, but there is less in the Bible against homosexuality than there is about women being decidedly inferior to men and having no part at all to play in conducting the Church’s worship. If they really believed the Bible, no woman would be allowed to read a lesson in church, much less be a priest.

In the same way, Jesus is not recorded as saying anything against homosexuality, but he had a good deal to say against divorce. Yet many of the priests and bishops who have left the Episcopal Church over its many liberal stands have themselves been divorced and remarried, sometimes more than once. I find it hard to believe them when they say they are against homosexuality because the Bible forbids it. They don’t really believe what the Bible says at all.

Well, neither do I – at least not in the way that fundamentalists, both Catholic and Protestant, claim to believe the Bible. I am an Anglican because I believe that along with the Bible, we have to take into consideration both tradition and reason. And as far as tradition is concerned, it can be changed, and often has been changed through the centuries. For example, it used to be a cause of excommunication for a Christian to serve in the military. And Roman Catholics ought to remind themselves how short a time ago it was that they could be excommunicated for reading eh Bible in English, and how many martyrs were burned at the stake in England and Europe for this “crime”.

These traditions were changed because of the third leg of our doctrinal stool – Reason. As cultures change, so the Church has changed with them, while always maintaining the same Good News of Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection. All else is secondary and can be changed. The Church has done this boldly from the beginning: even in Scripture it is recorded that the apostles in Jerusalem decided that Gentiles could be admitted to the Church without circumcision – now there’s a revolution for you if you are a Jew!

So although I wish that the Churches could act together and that the Anglican Church did not have to go its own way on certain things, nevertheless I cannot rationally oppose this – after all we certainly had no hesitation in going our own way in the 16th century when we broke away from Rome because of the corruptions of the medieval Papacy. I am quite content to remain an Epicopalian, because I am sure that schism and the self-righteousness that comes of thinking that only I am right and everybody else is wrong, so that I cannot worship our Father with them, is far worse than the mess and muddle which has always been one of the consequences of the Anglican insistence on Reason as well as Scripture and Tradition. Some would say more strongly that this is indeed one of the glories of Anglicanism. I used to dislike the phrase used by Episcopalians in the 60’s and 70’s about our Church as “the thinking man’s Catholicism”, but it had some truth in it (as long as we are willing to add “the thinking man’s Evangelicalism” too!)

If you want certainties, the Episcopal Church is not for you. But we walk in faith, not sight, and the only certainty we need is that our Lord Jesus Christ was sent by a loving Father to live, die and rise for us, and that we now walk with him in his Spirit till we come to that heavenly Kingdom where we shall “know as we are known”, face to face with reality.

Analyzing Rowan

The sun is out today. Finally! Recently, the Archbishop of Canterbury published a reflection on the actions of the 2009 General Convention. Here are but a few words from the larger writing found here....

1. No-one could be in any doubt about the eagerness of the Bishops and Deputies of the Episcopal Church at the General Convention to affirm their concern about the wider Anglican Communion. Their generous welcome to guests from elsewhere, including myself, the manifest engagement with the crushing problems of the developing world and even the wording of one of the more controversial resolutions all make plain the fact that the Episcopal Church does not wish to cut its moorings from other parts of the Anglican family. There has been an insistence at the highest level that the two most strongly debated resolutions (DO25 and CO56) do not have the automatic effect of overturning the requested moratoria, if the wording is studied carefully. There is a clear commitment to seek counsel from elsewhere in the Communion about certain issues and an eloquent resolution in support of the 'Covenant for a Communion in Mission' as commended by ACC13. All of this merits grateful acknowledgement. The relationship between the Episcopal Church and the wider Communion is a reality which needs continued engagement and encouragement.

2. However, a realistic assessment of what Convention has resolved does not suggest that it will repair the broken bridges into the life of other Anglican provinces; very serious anxieties have already been expressed. The repeated request for moratoria on the election of partnered gay clergy as bishops and on liturgical recognition of same-sex partnerships has clearly not found universal favour, although a significant minority of bishops has just as clearly expressed its intention to remain with the consensus of the Communion. The statement that the Resolutions are essentially 'descriptive' is helpful, but unlikely to allay anxieties.

3. There are two points which I believe need to be reiterated and thought through further, and it seems to fall to the Archbishop of Canterbury to try and articulate them. To some extent they echo part of what I wrote after the last General Convention, as well as things said at the Lambeth Conference and the ACC, but they still have some pertinence.

Archbishop Williams then goes onto say some very disturbing things about how gays and lesbians ought to be treated in the Church. Things that contradict in very harsh terms the positive statements he has made about the place of gays and lesbians in the Church in the years before he became Archbishop. I will not try to argue or explain the changes he has made--he must do that on his own--but I would like to reprint part of an analysis about +Rowan's statement...

Now again, Williams is a smart man. If he fails to nuance any of this, he does so willingly and willfully. It is not choice that bothers, but what Williams leaves unsaid (the nuance) and what he then goes on to say (the consequences) in drawing his conclusions. No, if he fails to nuance, he does so purposely. I can only conclude that he chooses to tell half-truths about us and our lives. And to justify his own behavior toward us. And that his pitch is meant to denigrate even to lie about us (for that is finally what half-truths do—they lie), throwing about as he does tired themes about gay and lesbian persons that do not fit either the evidence, nor the stereotypes (or even his own former writings and their recognition of such nuance, including that marriage is no guarantor of Christian virtue). That is all to say, Rowan Williams knows better. He knows this is not how we understand ourselves, and neither does the best dispassionate research findings or those who get to know us as persons in relationships. And that makes his words morally culpable, indeed, guilty of Christ's flesh by taking swipes at the lgbt members of His Body--members who are quite vulnerable in most parts of the world, including in Williams' own corner, the United Kingdom, where hate crimes against lgbt persons are a regular feature in lgbt news feeds there. And knowing better, Williams is morally culpable. To use the Lord’s Name to justify all of this, indeed, to suggest that God is on his side in treating lgbt persons like this in the Body, is damnable.

This is a must read if you are interested in what has gone on at General Convention and global reaction to it. Christopher's reflection is a powerful piece 0f writing, and it can be read in its entirety here...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thoughts on a rainy day

What are the essential, the absolutely essential features of the Anglican position? When it is proposed to make Anglicanism the basis of a Church of Reconciliation, it is above all things necessary to determine what Anglicanism pure and simply is. The word brings up before the eyes of some a flutter of surplices, a vision of village spires and cathedral towers, a somewhat stiff and stately company of deans, prebendaries, and choristers, and that is about all. But we are greatly mistaken if we imagine that the Anglican principle has no substantial existence apart from the accessories. Indeed, it is only when we have stripped Anglicanism of the picturesque costume which English life has thrown around it, that we can fairly study its anatomy, or understand its possibilities of power and adaptation....

If our whole ambition as Anglicans in America be to continue a small, but eminently respectable body of Christians, and to offer a refuge to people of refinement and sensibility, who are shocked by the irreverences they are apt to encounter elsewhere; in a word, if we care to be only a countercheck and not a force in society; then let us say as much in plain terms, and frankly renounce any and all claim to catholicity. We have only, in such a case to wrap the robe of our dignity about us, and walk quietly along in a seclusion no one will take much trouble to disturb. Thus may we be a church in name, a sect in deed.

But if we aim at something nobler than this. If we would have our Communion become national in very truth--in other words, if we would bring the Church of Christ into the closest possible sympathy with the throbbing, sorrowing, sinning, repenting, aspiring heart of this great people--then let us press our reasonable claims to be the reconciler of a divided household, not in a spirit of arrogance (which ill befits those whose best possessions have come to them by inheritance), but with affectionate earnestness and intelligent zeal...

...I've pondered these words as something that might have been said at the recent General Convention, but in truth they are words penned more than a century ago by William Reed Huntington, whose commemoration we observed on July 27th.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Humility and our common life

The Right Rev Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, has an interesting piece in The Times about humility being at the foundation of community is a good read for an increasingly divided society...

Behold how good and joyful a thing it is when brethren dwell together in unity” — so the psalmist sang, comparing it to the precious perfumed anointing oil that set aside the priests of the Old Testament.

How the human community lives together as a family, a school, a church, a city, a nation, a continent or the whole world, is indeed demanding and challenging. Both in microcosm and in macrocosm the challenge is real. Claims and counter-claims about territory; different histories and human stories; different ways of looking on the world; extroverts and introverts, thinking people and feeling people — all are challenged to find how the good and joyful dwelling together in unity can be realised.

Jesus taught that there were two overriding and shaping commandments: the love of God with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength; and the love of our neighbour as ourselves. The two are inseparably linked, and St John reminds us that it is impossible to love God whom we have not seen if we do not love our neighbour whom we have seen. St Anthony, generally regarded as the first Christian monk, withdrew to live a solitary life in the desert east of the Nile, where you can still find his monastery, and the cave in which he lived. Despite that solitary life, pilgrims came to seek him and to ask his advice, and one of the pieces of advice he would give is “that your life and your death is with your neighbour”. For all his commitment to the solitary life of prayer, and his wrestling with the temptations of distorted desire, Anthony knew that human flourishing and growth in the likeness of Christ was never a narcissistic cultivation of the soul.

His contemporary Pachomius was not, as Anthony was, a hermit of the desert, but was one who saw monastic community life as that which enabled the shaping of souls. The rule that Pachomius gave was one which sought for what we might call today a life-work or life-style balance, seeking a middle way between conformity and excess. He told his brethren: “If you cannot get along alone, join another who is living according to the Gospel of Christ, and you will make progress with him. Either listen, or submit to one who listens.”

Some two centuries after Pachomius St Benedict, whom the Church commemorated last Saturday, composed a rule of life for his monks. It is one of the shaping documents of the Western Church, and a guide not only for monks but for all who seek to live the Christian life. Benedict called it “a school for the Lord’s service”. The abbot, the father of the monastery, has a key role. He must have a wise discernment, for he has to serve a variety of temperaments, “coaxing, reproving and encouraging them as appropriate”. The abbot, although he has authority, is not an autocrat, he has to consult. Listening is important, and not just to the older and more senior for, Benedict tells us, “the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger”. “The love of Christ must come before all else. You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge. Rid your heart of all deceit. Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love.” Benedict’s brothers are told that they are never to lose hope in God’s mercy. When guests arrive at the monastery they are to be welcomed as Christ himself.

If there is a duty of obedience to the abbot this obedience is also to be shown in relation to each other: “It is by the way of obedience that we go to God.” At the heart of the common life is the learning of humility, and that is sustained by the praise and worship of the community, which is expressed in the psalms and praise of the divine office and in prayer that is “short and pure”.

The rule of common life is an imitation of Christ. So Benedict concludes with words summing up his rule, telling his monastic brethren that they are to “prefer nothing whatever to Christ”. The rule, Benedict insists, is a rule for beginners. The practice of the presence of God is not something in a separate religious compartment from “the rest of life”, it is simply the whole of life lived towards the God of love who is the source of all life. What Benedict offers us is indeed a “school for the Lord’s service”.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

GENCON up and running

Hi all! After a week of fun in sunny California with the family it is now time for business. As Convention gets up and running, I wanted to post a link for info about what is going on out here...

Click here for any up-to-the-minute info on General Convention 2009. From time to time I will be updating as my schedule allows. Say a prayer and light a candle for me...Peace.