Thursday, May 31, 2012

Of Babel, Rabble, and Community

"Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, 'Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.' And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.' 

"The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said. 'Look, they are one people, and they all have one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another's speech.' So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth."--- Genesis 11:1-9

"When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 

Amazed and astonished, they asked, 'Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs- in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power."--- Acts 2:1-11

These are some of the readings some of us heard on Pentecost Sunday. Some of us heard something slightly different. I don't think I have ever seen our priest move so fast without a bicycle beneath him. Ha!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The politics of division

This Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, we will hear the story of the Tower of Babel and the gift of the Holy Spirit to the apostles, resulting in them speaking in a myriad of languages.

We are hearing these readings when the Anglican Communion still struggles to remain unified. We are hearing these passages when our country is more divided than ever-- by race, by class, by gender, by sexual orientation, by religion, by politics. Unity is a great dream, but unity is also at the same time a great challenge.

The problem is, we are often not honest with ourselves when we say we want unity. We want people to be unified with us through agreeing with us and validating our position. We want unity to occur when others move to US, rather than being forced to move to THEM. We want unity on our own terms.

Which is why we never get it at all.

We say we want unity, yet we worship individualism. Note, I said "individualism," not "individuality." "Individuality" is the reservoir of various characteristics which make us unique from others. "Individualism" is the idea that the interests of the individual to act independently are of paramount importance. A companion word in the political cant of the times is the word "liberty."

 Those who currently like to imagine that their liberty is being taken away by nebulous forces are fond of quoting our founding fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry. Jefferson famously said, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants." What people do not understand is that he said this attempting to justify the most horrifying excesses of the French Revolution. When this quote is used today, it lacks this context. For instance, many people also do not remember that this is the saying that was sprawled across the chest of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, when he was captured after killing and maiming hundreds, all in the name of his own "liberty" which he claimed the federal government was attacking. Patrick Henry, of the famous "Give me liberty, or give me death!" exclamation, was a slaveowner, as was Jefferson, which certainly was understood by those of our founding generation as being the absolute opposite of liberty. And neither Henry nor Jefferson ever actually served militarily during the Revolution, greatly reducing the chances that the blood to be spilled in defense of liberty would be their own. I am not saying that they were not great patriots, but their words did not always match their deeds, as is so often the case for all of us.

In modern society today, we see the same people bemoaning the alleged crisis in "morality" also trumpeting the right of the individual to trump any consideration for one's fellow human beings or citizens. This hypocrisy is generated by a failure to think about what these terms actually mean.  Questions of morality only arise when one lives in the society of others. Further, these questions almost always arise when one is seen to be violating the community standards of morality by expressing one's individuality in a way that is seen as being detrimental in some way to the functioning of the group. You might even say that those accused of immorality are actually living in truth to their individuality.

The handmaidens of unity are compromise, civility, and kindness toward one another. Vitriol and hatred are poison to society. It is time we remembered this, both in the affairs of our Anglican Communion and in our political discourse.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Of Communion and Covenant

With General Convention coming up, the topic of the Anglican Covenant is on everyone's minds, it seems. Even though the Church of England itself has shot the thing down pretty resoundingly, I think that the advice from our Scottish friends cited in the recent Episcopal Cafe article is wise. Kelvin over at What's in Kelvin's Head? writes:

I was surprised though recently to hear from American friends who were saying that they thought that the US based Episcopal Church was likely to affirm the first three sections of the Covenant but not the fourth section. The fourth section is the one that deals with discipline – the ability to throw a naughty Province off the councils, networks and committees and what have you that make up the Anglican Communion’s ways of working.
I was surprised because it meant that there were no apparent fears about the first section, and it is that which I think is the more dangerous. This may be because theological statements are sometimes read differently by different people.
In Scotland we used to get people saying that we should affirm the first three sections but not the fourth section only up until the time when we really got down to talking about it. At last year’s General Synod it became apparent that some of us were very troubled by section one – particularly because affirming it would mean that once again we would have to affirm the Thirty-Nine Articles.
Now there are all kinds of reasons why affirming the Thirty-Nine Articles isn’t a good idea. I was on my feet a year ago saying that coming as I do from a city troubled by Catholic-Protestant sectarian tensions, the last thing we need to be doing is affirming once again the anti-catholic Thirty-Nine Articles. And that isn’t even to begin to deal with the things that those articles condemn which some of us hold dear in our worship still.
Now, the US-based Episcopal Church has the Thirty-Nine Articles in its Book of Common Prayer and we in Scotland don’t. (We did for a bit but we don’t affirm them any more). The Americans cope with them, I think, by thinking of them as Historical Documents – things that show us where we have come from but don’t necessarily regard them as things which should guide our faith for today.
Not so the Church of England. Or at least, not so all of the Church of England.
The release this week of a long denunciation of same-sex marriage from the Church of England Evangelical Council should give the Americans pause for thought before they affirm any part of the Covenant which promotes the Thirty-Nine Articles. Anyone reading it will be in no doubt that the Thirty Nine Articles are no mere historical document in some parts of the Church of England. For some, they are the Thirty-Nine Weapons of the Church of England in this long and tiresome culture war in which all the bullets are theological concepts ad all the collateral damage seems to be in terms of souls lost to the church and wholesome relationships between gay folk traduced by the loud, the ignorant and the shallow.
The US based church should make no assumptions at all about the nature in which the documents listed in the first section of the proposed Anglican Covenant are read in other parts of the world.
I remain convinced that we need to say No to the Covenant and say an unequivocal Yes to the Anglican Communion. And that No needs to be a clear and deliberate rejection of all the sections of the Covenant. Our American friends put themselves at some risk from those who would do them harm if they don’t understand this.
This is so well-stated, and it brings up a point I think many of us overlooked in our anger over what seemed at least to me to be an attempt to punish the Episcopal Church for disagreements about human sexuality and what that means for how we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ. Kelvin makes a good point that even removal of the most obviously punitive part of the Anglican Covenant still makes it possible to use any instrument derived from the Covenant as it now is into a punitive weapon of division. 
As Grand Moff Tarkin said to Senator Leia Organa in Star Wars, "You're far too trusting."

Monday, May 14, 2012

Reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated

There has been some interesting discussion while I have been away about the demise of Church, especially the flavor known as Episcopal, around the blogosphere. I was challenged, in a good way, by this discussion over at the Episcopal Cafe, in a discussion of a "manifesto by Crusty Old Dean (aka Tom Ferguson, dean of Bexley Hall). Here is a link to the original post.

But one of the points that has been discussed all over the place is restructuring the Episcopal Church. Crusty Old Dean challenges the idea of restructuring in order to preserve the status quo, and challenges us to think outside the box. I am still digesting this.

But for all of the criticism of some Episcopal parishes as being comfy "clubs" (the word "country" just aches to be inserted there, doesn't it?), I also have to notice that those congregations in American Christendom that are showing phenomenal growth have gotten there exactly by functioning as clubs. I am thinking of those loosely- denominational or non-denominational mega- mini malls for Jesus that sport climbing walls for the kiddies and the prosperity gospel behind toothy grins and viciously shellacked hair. It seems those congregations are reeling them in by focusing on the personal relationship with Jesus over engagement in the world at large. All this in a supposedly "post-Christian" era, too.

For me, I am deeply concerned about my place in a society in which the surest path to power is trumpet one's mediocrity as a lure for the votes of everyday folks; in which the politics of jealousy, envy, and division are the easiest ways to rally masses to one's cause; in which self-proclaimed identity is more important than achievement or attitude.

It is obvious that there safe many parts of the Christian message that are out-of-step with the temper of the times. But is that necessarily a bad, or more importantly, permanent, situation?

If I believed that, I would certainly despair.

No, I believe our message is one this world is literally DYING to hear. Is it really so bad to be counter-cultural in times such as these? Yet how can we claim any sort of traction against dwindling membership numbers so that we can get the message of God out into the world that certainly needs it desperately?We just have to find a way to make ourselves heard among the din of the snake-oil salesmen who promise that salvation is to be had through selfishness, that love of self is the path to love of God. We just need to figure out how to do it. But it is obvious that the path to reclaiming the gospel message of love must begin with mission, mission, mission, something with which the Episcopal Church has been historically been quite uncomfortable.

This post is not finished. I put it out there anyway.

I'm baaaaccckk....

For those who have been wondering, I have spent the last month immersed in preparing my students for their advanced placement exam, dealing with some family schtuff with my mom, and being driven insane by other family members. Sorry for the drop-off. Add in that blogging from an iPad, which I have been using most often due to the impending death of my laptop, is not the easiest thing in the world, and it adds up to me being a bad blogger.

I will try to be better now that I can take a breath and the school year is almost over.