Saturday, September 17, 2005

Natural disaster and a distracted Church

An ancient tradition of the Faith holds the Church to be a type of rescue vessel. Pope Boniface VIII described the Ark of Noah as a prophetic symbol of the Church, each vessel adrift in an endless sea as a sign and offer of rescue for souls floundering in the chaos. As early as the second century, Tertullian writes of the Church as navis, as ship. This tradition lies behind the name of the space in which we worship: the Nave. The Church can well be understood as a ship of salvation, driven by the windy motion of the Spirit of God, and propelled by the collective energy of all in it steadily pulling their weight. It’s an inspiring image. But the practical reality of a close fit aboard even as noble a vessel as the Church would lead to problems, and this seems to have been on Jesus’ mind.

‘If your brother, your sister, a member of your family in the Faith, a kindred in Christ should wrong you, then there is a way to handle this.’ And though few take time to notice, there is a first condition that must be met before one person may address the sin of another. The ‘sinful behavior ’ must be directed at the person who claims the status of one offended. It’s worth considering how much discord in the Church might be laid to rest if this qualifier were applied. But supposing an offense truly exists, then step after tedious step is to follow. And if resolution still proves elusive, the offended party is then simply be done with the offender if need be, and move on. All this said, and in order to adhere strictly to the text, we should note that when Jesus says, ‘if your brother,’ the ‘you’ is singular. There is nothing in this prescription that calls for a collective dismissal of a supposed offender. It is a personal, even intimate, process. And it is ponderously slow. It imposes patience. One wonders if perhaps Jesus intends the tedium to bring perspective in order to challenge his followers not to indulge in being too-easily offended; and perhaps to discover a better way.

Friday, May 27, 2005

HoB Covenenant Statement 2005

Criticism is easy of the recent Covenant Statement from ECUSA’s House of Bishops, their response to the recommendations of the Windsor Report and the ‘requests’ from the February meeting of the Anglican Primates. Simply to criticize is a cheap and easy imitation of true critical thinking; it demeans both the object of criticism and the critic. So, no criticisms here. The House of Bishops have taken a definitive position on the concerns churning the Anglican Communion. And they are to be commended.

In forming the Covenant Statement, the HoB has done something that actually borders on the courageous and wise. Our bishops have responded constructively and with integrity, graciously reminding folks (anyone who cares to pay attention) that they simply lack the authority that some wish them to exercise. They have nevertheless agreed to “withhold consent to the consecration of any person elected to the episcopate…until the General Convention of 2006” and to “encourage the dioceses of [the] church to delay episcopal elections….” Some see this response as petulant. But surely this is a narrow criticism. Simply put, there is nothing more that the bishops can do, constitutionally. And it’s a mark of courage that they have done no less. With regard to the Primates’ request that ECUSA withdraw its members from the Anglican Consultative Council, the HoB’s agreement to “defer to the [ACC] and the Executive Council…” reminds their critics again that the bishops of ECUSA have limits to their authority. The HoB has been both respectful and educative in their reply. They have responded from a renewed sense of the mutual accountability that all of us have in relationship with the wider Communion, and that the wider Communion has in relationship with us.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The HoB's Burdern of Irresponsibility

The Report of the Primate’s Theological Commission of the Anglican Church of Canada on the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions, also known as the St. Michael Report, is a document worthy of study, and an example of the kind of focused work that the Episcopal Church should be doing. It is available for review at . Whether or not the Church of Canada follows through is up to that Church. What ECUSA does is up to us. One hopes we’ll soon decide to take upon ourselves the responsibility that is ours, and if not from the episcopal order, then perhaps better still, this decision will emerge from the order of the laity.

It’s very disappointing to see that, stateside, something quite to the contrary has been unfolding. As recently reported in The Living Church, a scandalous number of our bishops have been busy demonstrating how well they are able to speak from both sides of their mouths. Rather than genuinely supporting a prayerful and reverent response to the call to enter into a sophisticated, credible, respectful, and respectable process of defining the theological groundings for what we do, and thus for who we are, they have been hiding behind a deceptive pretense.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Being Unafraid

A friend of mine once needed to consider moving from Austin to continue his work in ordained ministry. But he was loathe to leave his adopted home city. He told me that if it was true that he’d gotten himself into a rut here in Austin, nevertheless, it was for him, “a velvet rut.” Routine predictability, safety, and comfort are commendable goals. But before an individual, family, community, parish, diocese, or entire Church seeks single-mindedly the comforts of predictability, the safety of routine, and the peace and quiet of peace and quiet, they do well to pay close attention to the consequences that accompany this pursuit. For if the velvet rut is a furrow into which one may comfortably descend, there is also a hand that pushes one in and holds one there. Comfortable as the rut itself, it is a velvet glove fitted over the nasty claw of Fear.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Judging God

There are particular reasons that we are having this dispute about this particular topic. Certainly the dispute does indeed involve “how one regards Scripture,” and more importantly, I’d suggest, it involves how the Church as a whole regards Scripture. But let’s not delude ourselves. This is primarily about sexuality and love.

The current dispute among Episcopalians, indeed among many Western Christians of any stripe, has not been piqued by someone rising up at General Convention to ask ratification of a particular view of Scripture. Similarly, we’re not arguing here about the washing of hands, the eating of shellfish, the consuming of milk with meat at the same meal, or any of a large number of other scriptural commandments. We are not arguing about Moses’ edict that we “must neither add anything to what I command you nor take anything from it.” Nor are we arguing about the fact that Jesus himself violates this Mosaic command when he says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you l have love for one another.” We will do well to admit to one another and to ourselves that this dispute is about sexuality and love; more specifically, it is about same-sex sexuality, and love.