30 December 2003

Update on various

I haven’t written much lately, because the wireless node in my
neighborhood has weakened considerably of late, and so my access is
limited to dial-up right now.  It just myteriously dropped in
strength about a week ago, and it hasn’t come back yet.  I know
where the node is, and I can get access if I go down and sit on my
porch or walk around the street, but that’s inconvenient, to say the
least….

The Times ran an article
yesterday about the switchovers between the Episcopal Church and the
Catholic Church thaqt have occurred in the past year.  Fairly
interesting, and I think I will throw my two cents in….

The gist of the article was that many people are leaving or entering
the Episcopal Church due to the stands on ordaining openly gay bishops,
ordaining women to the priesthood, and its atmosphere of intellectual
humility or pride (depending on whom you talk to).

Typical of the leavers was a quote from a woman in Indiana, who said,
“The advantage of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches is that
there is a central authority that tends to hold the church together,
and unfortunately the Anglican experiment, which was a wonderful
experiment for almost 500 years, lacked that.”

(Actually, she may misunderstand the ecclesiology of the Orthodox
churches, which have a national hierarchy, but no hierarchy like the
Roman Catholic structure on the supra-national level.)

People who entered the ECUSA were pretty typically like this: “‘I don’t
see how and why God would want his church, his worshipers, his
sons and daughters to become carbon copies of each other,’ said Youssef
El-Naggar, a former Catholic in Front Royal, Va., who recently joined
an Episcopal church there.”

But it doesn’t come down simply to a liberal versus conservative,
Episcopal versus Catholic dichotomy.  The governance structures
that each church has say something about what the various peoples
prefer in each.  The Church of Rome governs by a more traditional,
hierarchical, oligarchical structure.  The Episcopal Church has a
more democratic structure, as a reflection of its origins in the
American Revolution.  The Anglican Communion does not govern, as a
reflection of its roots in resisting the Roman church’s attempt in the
early modern period to impose uniformity of practice, theology, and
dogma upon every national church. 

A core tenet for most Anglicans
remains the idea that local churches must have the latitude to practice
in their own ways, search out the meanings of the Revelation of Love in
their own lives and societies.  Just as Henry VIII and the
clergymen of the 16th century resisted the pope, less because of the
king’s desired divorce and more because they did not want to conform the Eucharist to
Roman edict and they wanted the freedom to choose their own bishops
(bet you thought it was just about the divorce, right?  I used
to…  It’s a common myth), modern Anglicans often try to resist
the desire for hierarchical control, even as they sometimes seek to
observe it.

Human beings, at least in the Western tradition and probably throughout
our civilizations, on some level, want to be told what to do — we seem
to seek and often to need to have someone tell us what to do. 
There seems to be a need for us to be controlled, and we seek all sorts
of systems to allow us to have external sources of authority.  We
use religions, Marxism, philosophical activism, and politics to get
this authority structure, and these sytems are often obliging in
providing us the direction we crave.  But each of the systems
contains within itself the seeds for creative diversity, also.

This current conflict is about that, in some small measure.  In
the American context, we are all Puritans, craving authority,
structure, and someone to tell us what to do and how to understand our
relationship to God.  Even Catholics are Puritans in this
respect.  As a British RC theologian of my acquaintance said to me
recently, it’s primarily in America that we see the Roman church
tearing itself apart over what the moral teachings of the church should
be, as it’s primarily in America where people see themselves as bound
by the same.  In other countries, he asserted, people just don’t
pay much attention to what any church has to say, which is why you find
priests with mistresses or common law wives and nobody makes much fuss
about said practice, as long as it isn’t flaunted.

Americans, for all their talk about democracy and democratic impulse,
don’t really want to govern themselves fully, I think.  That kind
of life requires a lot of work, self-awareness, and self-sacrifice that
even the best of us might have trouble with.  It’s even harder in
the spiritual realm than it seems in the political realm.  In some
sense, it may be that we only have so much to give to our lives, and we
are willing to cede control of some or all of what is part of us. 
In our religious lives, I think may of us are more willing to submit
control of our own minds, moral senses, and understandings of God to
external sources of authority, with positive and negative results.

Because the Episcopal Church, as an Anglican church, has minimal
dogmatic and theological requirements, especially when compared to
other Protestants and other Catholics, it’s a confusing church to
belong to.  If you ask an Episcopalian what it is that we believe,
he or she will likely tell you that we pray in a certain way, or that
we use the Book of Common Prayer
in our services.  More sophisticated ones will tell you about the
Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, wherein we affirm that an Anglican believes in
four things (but we leave curiously absent whatever it is that you are
supposed to believe about those
four things).  Others will tell you, “Lex orandi lex
credendi.”  (Rough translation: “The word prayed is the word
believed.”  Diversity and non-specificity are joyfully and
infuriatingly encouraged.  It’s freeing, in that we can search out
our own way and push our own path to God, embraced within a community
that does the same things.  It’s bloody hard and vexing, because
you have to push out your own path to God, embraced (some might say,
straitjacketed) in a community where everyone else works out those same
things in their own way.

This is not to say that what the Roman Catholic Church is doing is
wrong or somehow lesser that what the Anglican Communion is doing, but
the needs of the people in each piece of God’s Church  are
different: some need more guidance and authority, some need more more
latitude.  But the experiment of the Anglican Communion is hardly
over simply because no one can tell the Diocese of New Hampshire not to
ordain and consecrate an openly gay bishop.

What we all seem to forget in all of this is that God hardly faces the
constraints that we human beings do.  As my spiritual director
reminds me over and over, it’s not a matter of me getting to God, of me
or anyone having to chase after God, or working to reach God. 
It’s exactly the reverse — God works to reach us, God chases after us,
God gets to us.  We are all exactly where we need to be right now
for God to do work in and on each of us.  Our job isn’t to run
after God — our job is to remain open so that we can hear the call of
God when it comes.

Religious pluralist that I am, whether you’re Roman or Episcopal
Catholic, Protestant or liturgical, or Christian, Jew, Muslim,
Buddhist, or Zoroastrian, God works in each of these on each of
us.  our job is less to figure out what’s “right” and more to
figure out how to wait and listen for stillnesses that speak whole
lives.

Posted in Rayleejun on 30 December 2003 at 11:35 am by Nate