Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Post-Convention Meanderings

Like many of you I have watched during the last several weeks as claims and counter-claims have been made in the wake of General Convention 2006. I have seen the statements from Africa, from the various competing bodies on the USA, from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and so forth. The more I read and look at the situation, I can honestly say, the more confused I get. Add to this that there are an awful lot of egos being played out on this particular field.

Interestingly, I have had emails from a number of folks, ordained and lay, who share my sense of bafflement at the present confusion, although as one friend has pointed out at the moment there does not seem to be the same sense of panic there was in 2003. Part of the reason for this is that many of us have done our mourning over the passing of this elderly and frail relative who we had already concluded did not have much time left in this world. It has been sad to watch her go, but the time is arriving to dream fresh dreams and seek God's vision for a 21st Century church.

I suppose it was inevitable that there would be a huge rush to judgment in the wake of the disappointing failure (as far as an orthodox Anglican is concerned) of GC2006. Interestingly, the left are as disappointed as the right about the Convention's outcomes, although for wholly different reasons, and some of their statements and attitudes are exceedingly shrill, to say the least.

More than ever we are being forced to realize that the left-leaning activists in the Episcopal Church are in a different place and have a different worldview from the likes of lifelong Anglicans like myself. Never before has it been so clear that such wildly different Christ-views and worldviews exist within this one denominational family, so much so that the ties that have bound us together now seem stretched beyond their previous elasticity. Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury has basically said that there have to be appropriate boundaries if communion is to be sustained and faithful Anglicans need to learn to live within them.

In all the harrumphing and posturing that is going on I see a polarization set up that promises little more than mutually assured destruction. Some of the mentors of my youth were men who fought on the Western Front in 1914-1918 -- one of the most willful acts of inane warfare that humankind has ever perpetrated. It was appalling that gaining real estate that was measured in yards rather than miles was used to justify the inhuman slaughter of tens of thousands in a single action. Not only was the war inconclusive, but there was a rematch of this "war to end all wars" less than a quarter of a century later. Clearly, polarized battling is seldom the answer to intractible human problems.

This morning I read a letter in The Living Church by Don Stivers, my predecessor in one of my former parishes. Don asks whether "the Holy Spirit may be guiding the Church int a deeper spirituality of love for one another often obscured in older models of the Church that demand uniformity by exclusion." I do not know whether he is right, but I would suggest that the Holy Spirit ought not to be left out of the anguish we are passing through, and that perhaps we are tending to talk too much about the Spirit without necessarily having listened carefully for his voice.

I would further suggest that a certain creativity and imagination needs to be brought into play at this moment. Our creativity and imagination are gifts that God has given to us, and which the Holy Spirit can use in circumstances just as these. Maybe all the older models, conservative, liberal, or moderate, are inadequate and need thorough rethinking, recognizing that we have reached a Rubicon of some kind.

It is my observation that few of us wish to tear apart those with whom we are in such deep disagreement; indeed, if we are going to live Christ as well as talk Christ then we need to seek every viable alternative to some of the more negative scenarios that are floating around.

One of the games that has been played up until now has been the one which might be described as "The-winner-is-the-one-who-ends-up-with-the-most-toys" game. That is, if we have the political power to push forward our agenda, then we will do so regardless. On the national level those on the left hold the trump cards in this particular game, however, at the diocesan and local levels in many places things are less clear. Perhaps it would be wiser instead of keeping on hitting our perceived opponents over the head with lawsuits, canons, or whatever, to step back and ask that simple but telling question, "What would Jesus do?" in such circumstances.

While I am not sure I know the answer to that question, I am fairly certain that he were we to address it with the seriousness, fairness, and openness that it deserves, we would probaby start coming up with some very different answers to the difficult questions and decisions that lie before us.

If there is to be any constructive break out from our present entrenched positions, then it is vital that we stop and prayerfully ask fundamental and searching questions about theology, ecclesiology, soteriology, evangelism and mission, and in the process try to define the nature of the society in which we are called to be both salt and light. These are mammoth undertakings, but we move forward at our own peril if we sidestep our obligation to do so. At the moment, this is what I think we are doing. And the key word in what I have said does not have to do with studying and asking questions, but is "prayerfully."

During the last couple of weeks I have had a steady procession of people getting in touch to ask me what I think will happen. I have honestly said to them that I don't have the slightest idea. I have long since stopped having hopes and dreams because in our present fluidity they turn out to be little more than that.

God is clearly at work, and our responsibility is to walk forward with him, incarnating the love of Christ as we do so. What worries me is that we are all failing to live out the meaning of Christ's incarnation, death, and resurrection, and instead are fighting an ideological battle which is ultimately unwinnable for every party involved.

Over the last few days I have been reading Crystal Downing's intriguingly titled, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith (Downers Grove: IVP: 2006). In this she attempts to unravel the various worldviews and relativisms that confront us, recognizing that the configuration of the playing field has now altered. If we are to cut any ice for our beliefs in the world that is emerging, then it is vital that we as a community reflect in our individual and corporate lives the riches of our inheritance. The question is whether we have even started to do this.

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