Saturday, September 18, 2010
Monday, August 30, 2010
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Whatever happened to dialogue and discussion? It seems that much that passes as interchange has disappeared, with the online world being the biggest killing field. Almost everywhere you go looking for intelligent input there is little or no thoughtful response to something that has been said or been posted. An honest and astute interplay of ideas is becoming rare because instead of responding rationally people seem determined to respond viscerally, ad hominen, and with raw emotions rather than enquiring mind.
Online forums (fora?) have become settings in which moderating or dissenting voices are literally drowned out by those who shout and pontificate. Each online setting develops its own peculiar brand of political correctness, and woe betide anyone who crosses a particular line in the sand. Often these correctnesses are contrary to the original intention of the owner of the site, and they will lean heavily in one direction or another. There is in many places what can be described as a Rush Limbaugh approach to conversation: not to listen to what another is saying but to shout the so-and-so down because he or she has no right to say such things in this setting, and besides, any fool knows that their position is wrong and not worthy of serious consideration.
The result of such a quarrelsome modus operandi is animosity so that those with helpful insights on a particular subject in that setting refuse to post there any longer because, honestly, life is too short to put up with that sort of wrangling. There is a particular site that I have visited for a long, long time and will probably continue to visit because it is helps me to stay up-to-date with things that are going on, but last week I wrote the owner to say that I will no longer be contributing because I just don't have the stomach for the bruisings I so often have been given. I am delighted to engage with people who read the materials and want to discuss them, but I am no longer willing to be treated as if I am weak in the head, apostate, someone who taken up arms against the western world.
Wherever I look, on either side of the Atlantic, there is animus being hurled around online as one adamant group takes on the other. Scurrilous things are said which people should not be allowed to get away with -- but because people like me have now opted out, they do. This only makes them bolder, less reflective, and more bombastic, so the whole sorry cycle is intensified. Whatever one's principles or presuppositions, some of the things that I have read about the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Newt Gingrich, James Dobson, and so on, and so on, should be challenged because they are a parody of the reality. If there is such a thing as freedom of speech, and I believe there is, then individuals should not be allowed to get away with some of the things they write or say.
In a sane and ordered setting this is possible, but in one where an unyielding pack mentality prevails, the pack's job is to pounce on anyone who strays into their little domain and questions what they hold to be precious and true. Anyone doing so reaches the point in the end where we find there is no longer any delight in banging our heads against this particular brick wall. Besides, no one is listening. The result is that creative debate does not take place, lines in the sand become concrete bunkers, and constructive dissent becomes impossible.
When I was in seminary and university in what is now the distant past we were rigorously schooled in the fundamentals of logic so that we might learn rationally to analyze an argument and respond to it in an informed and reasonable manner. It was some of the most valuable teaching I had, but in today's forums that rules of logic and principles of rhetoric have all but disappeared. We have delineated ourselves into what are essentially two armed camps slugging things out. Moderating voices are sidelined and so the answers now HAVE to be right or wrong, black or white, left or right, liberal or conservative, traditional or progressive, and so forth, and so forth.
I am not sure that discussion in most places on the Internet as they are presently configured can be redeemed, partly because I am not sure that those who shout and holler from atop their particular soap box want to hear any other position or view than their own. They are convinced that they are right, they have the truth, and others are so wrong that alternative voices do not deserve to be heard. To function this way is to stray into very dangerous territory that will have disasterous consequences in the long term.
When this happens among Christian people then we have to examine ourselves to see if this is how we learned Christ.(Also posted on www.covenant-communion.net)
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Yet, alas, there seems to be almost an imperialism about the Catholic tradition that allows for little variance from their church's dogma.
Given the concerns Pope Benedict has about the secularism and godlessness of Europe (and so out into all the world), it seems that some kind of common front under the charmanship of the Bishop of Rome would be of great benefit to the churches. This, of course, would require a measure of acceptance of the differing emphases of other Christians by Catholics, especially those of us who are rooted and grounded in the historic creeds and statements of faith of the church. However, it is sad that Rome is not able to stretch that far.
The whole recent flap around the Pope's overtures to dissident Anglicans is an example of this. I understand very well that there are fellow-Anglicans who have lost confidence in the Anglican tradition, and if their own faith is more happily accommodated in the Roman setting, then so be it. But as we mull over the small print it seems to be more hard line than the gentle invitation of concerned fellow-Christians.
A genuine, fraternal invitation, for example, would at the very least turn the expectation of re-confirmation and re-ordination into conditional rites, but Rome seems unwilling to reconsider the 1896 declaration that Anglican orders are, in effect, no orders at all. This un-churching of Anglicans has a tang of dishonesty about it because on the ground in most settings Anglican and Catholic clergy work alongside one another, mutually accept one another's status as ministers of word and sacraments.
The Apostolic Constitution makes it quite clear that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is definitive theologically and doctrinally for all those who move along the path Rome is offering, which, in effect, obliterates theology that is distinctively Anglican and nullifies the richness of the Anglican tradition. You can come in, we are being told, but you have to leave what we perceive to be Protestant baggage at the door.
As I read the small print of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, it is phrased in such a way as to suggest that only certain Anglican liturgical texts will be acceptable for use by those who want to make this transition, which would suggest that anything that does not dot the 'i's and cross the 't's of Roman Catholic eucharistic theology, etc., will be unacceptable. This would then probably declare out of court much of the historic Prayer Book tradition which has been the foundation of Anglican life for nearly half a millennium.
While I don't really wish to nitpick to death this document that codifies an invitation that some are likely to take up, the more I look at it the more I suspect the spirit in which this invitation has been made. It comes from a mindset that because it believes it is the one true expression of the Christian faith, it possesses the trump cards, and can demand rather than entering into conversation accepting the graces and charisms of another tradition.
Last week I cooperated with the most gracious Roman Catholic priest in the funeral Mass and burial of my nominally Roman Catholic brother-in-law. The priest was a prince among men, godly and caring, and the manner in which he presided over the Eucharist was both sensitive and genuinely moving. He was genuinely embarrassed that he could not invite to the Lord's table those Christians of other traditions, so there I sat behind the altar, with my faithful Anglican extended family sitting in the pews (together with a few family Baptists), while the handful of Catholics present took participated in the sacrament.
This to me was an acted parable of the situation in which we find ourselves as two Communions that maybe respect one another, but nevertheless talk past each other. By excluding Anglicans from their sacramental life they are treating us as non-Christians, while at the same time in the day-to-day elements of church life in local communities considering one another to be believers. The are plenty places in the world where Anglicans and Catholics even share the same buildings. If the Catholic priest had not thought me a Christian, would he have allowed me to preach in his church, and would he have accepted that committal by me according to the Book of Common Prayer was appropriate in any shape or form?
In the Apostolic Constitution the Roman Catholic Church is saying, "Well, if you jump through the hoops we think necessary then we will accept you," while all the time jumping through those hoops is a negating of what are already our convictions -- in which they may see inadequacies, but little fundamental heresy.
The challenge facing us is missional, and it gets more pressing as each day passes. While accepting that each church has its own ordering that should be respected and taken seriously, it would seem that the time has come for Rome to be willing to enter a conversation with the same generosity as is expected of Anglican Christians.
Monday, October 19, 2009
The 20/20 Initiative was deceptively simple: it was to do all that we can to double the size of the Episcopal Church between 2000 and 2020. Such notions have visionary potential, and we felt that as we did our work, this was more about launching a movement rather than becoming mired in a program. Perhaps those of us who were part of the 20/20 Task Force were naive, but we were cautiously optimistic that our recommendations would be taken seriously, and if that happened that they would bring a fresh evangelistic fervor to the church. Doubling the size may have been a little optimistic, but we believed that the Episcopal Church was capable of a good crack at that sort of challenge.
A few days after I had reacquainted myself with the 20/20 Report the 2008 Episcopal Church statistics were published. They do not make happy reading. While numbers may not be everything, they are a record of just about wholesale retreat on every front. Rather than being twice the size it was by 2020, things will be going well if it is only half the size. And like a patient ignoring the doctor's warning after a full physical comes up with some disturbing outcomes, the denomination continues to deny the realities.
We had worked hard during 2000 and 2001 to come up with this Report, which we then took to the Executive Committee in October 2001. It was hardly a fortuitous moment for the nation was still reeling from the shock of 9/11, so grief and anxiety were never far from the surface. But we made the best of the opportunity.
The Executive Council was meeting at a pleasant hotel on the Jacksonville Beaches in Florida, but even before we made our presentation I sensed a degree of hostility toward what we were all about. Our potential agenda was passe, another was brewing and would eventually prevail. We would, no doubt, be indulged, it was highly likely that the product we presented would be watered down to the point of being neutralized, with the institution pulling its teeth and domesticating it. That is precisely what happened.
The agenda which prevailed, and which would start having its most significant impact around the General Convention of 2003, was already gathering momentum. Since that time the church has been divided, financial resources have been dwindling, and the shrinkage has been nothing short of disasterous. Congregations, clergy, bishops, dioceses, have headed for the exits, with litigation being used as never before in the history of the Episcopal Church. Church planting, which was an encouraging component of church life in 2000, is virtually at a standstill, and heads are buried deep in the sand whenever anyone attempts to make honest sense of the truly appalling statistics that get dished up now each year. What is bizarrely fascinating is that no one seems to have the heart to ask the very difficult questions of this distressing reality, or act constructively upon them.
For me, the final chance of an exciting future for the Episcopal Church was nailed into the coffin not during General Convention 2003, but at that meeting of the Executive Council in a comfortable hotel by the beach in Florida in 2001, when the 20/20 Report was received with phony smiles and blue-penciled to death. I think that was when the Episcopal Church broke my heart, what followed from that time was merely a further trampling of it into the dust. That was when I retreated, burying myself back in parish ministry and avoiding the national scene.
It was, however, while I was at that hotel in Jacksonville Beach that I had the worst nocturnal experience of my life. Not long after switching off the light one night, and when I wasn't sure whether I was asleep or partially awake, I found myself face-to-face with a kind of gray featureless creature which was doing its level best to suffocate me. I was in terror, and truly thought I was dead and was being dragged down to hell. My body thrashed as I fumbled for the light switch. When eventually I managed to illuminate the room I was alone, drenched in sweat, heart pounding like a sledgehammer, and frightened out of my wits. It was a long time before I was calm enough to face the darkness again, and try to get back to sleep.
I have spent eight years attempting to make sense of that episode, whose reality is as intense and frightening today as when it happened. Did it emanate from somewhere inside me? Was it something to do with the room in which I was staying? Did it have something to do with the recent events at Ground Zero and the Pentagon? Or, perhaps, was it related in some way to the spiritual conflict related to the Executive Council meeting? I cannot answer these questions with any sense of certainty, which would be presumptuous. It may have been due to none of the above, or all of them may have somehow contributed to this particularly unpleasant situation.
What I do know is that imperfect as the proposals of the 20/20 Report might have been, the Episcopal Church would have been a very different place today if the strategy suggested had been pursued. If a red-blooded 20/20 had happened perhaps there would not have been the agonizing parting of friends, perhaps the financial dilemmas would be ameliorated, and perhaps the challenge would have continued to be planting new congregations, while training to recruit and train the sort of leaders who could nurture these little green shoots and turn them into something significant.
During these last years there have been many casualties, and perhaps I am one of them. I remain a priest in good standing of the Episcopal Church, but my ministry is now an ocean away. I find what I am doing fulfilling, satisfying, and (I hope) making a constructive contribution to the advance of God's Kingdom. However, the temperature of my passions starts to rise when I think of the extraordinary adventure 20/20 would have been as a movement in the hands of the Holy Spirit.