"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Tuesday, February 06, 2007 Maybe I would have cared in 1978
I pretty much stopped reading the endless stream of blather on the ongoing political situation in the Anglican Communion or with various wranglings about human sexuality. Nothing so much against any of the authors or what is written, but more and more the whole situation seems incredibly disconnected from reality.
But this sermon from Marilyn McCord Adams came through my inbox a few days ago and I broke my pattern. Marilyn was one of my favorite and most brilliant seminary professors a decade ago at YDS, so I can't pass her stuff up. But even as I'm reading her sermon and weighing its merits, I'm feeling this disconnect.
I can't get over the feeling that the attention given to and energy expended on what is happening on the upper political levels of the Anglican Communion comes not from its real importance but because enough people are saying loudly enough: "This is important!" and enough people are believing that voice because volume and credibility are easily confused.
I've chosen my words carefully here. I've called this 'the ongoing political situation" and described it as what is happening "on the upper political levels of the Anglican Communion" because that's what I believe the energy is being expended on. There is a huge difference between that and there being a crisis in either TEC or the Anglican Communion.
The key question I see debated over and over again is about membership in the Anglican Communion. But the importance of that membership is talked about in terms of things I really don't care about because I think they are of minimal importance. Whether or not bishops can go to Lambeth. Who sits with whom at Primates meetings. It is about who gets seats at the human tables of church meetings. To that my response is -- I don't care. I don't care who gets invited to Lambeth. I don't care who snubs whom in Tanzania.
Now, until very recently, these gatherings -- young as they are -- were really important. We invested so much importance in structures like Lambeth and Primates meetings because even until very recently, they were just about the only practical avenues possible for us to be in relationship with one another in a global community. But in the last decade, the geographical and technological walls that divided us from each other have come crashing down.
It's part of why we have such a scramble for control right now -- we were used to the distance and being able to deal with images of each other rather than the reality of each other. The reality of each other is far more complex and it's much easier (and a natural human reaction) to try to establish command and control in the face of the chaos of real relationship than to take a deep breath and enter into it fully.
The importance of these meetings, the importance of these structures was based not only on practical issues of bridging divides that no longer exist but on a centralized organizational model that is passing away as fast as those divides are closing and walls are falling. The idea that there need to be "instruments of unity" that involve commissions and committees and gatekeepers ad nauseum to define and preserve our relationship is modernist thinking in a postmodern world.
Ask just about anyone under 30 if they think some small group should be able to decide who they are in relationship with and they will laugh in your face. Go to sites like Chat the Planet and Couchsurfing.com and you'll see young people talking with and staying with each other not based on whom principalities and powers say they should be in relationship with but based on their own ever-expanding webs of relationship based on affinity, common purpose and a desire to "do life" together (a wonderful term I've encountered frequently in nondenominational churches).
Huge shifts like this are really, really hard for those of us who grew up in other worlds. (Leonard Sweet uses the wonderful language of "natives and immigrants" when talking about the postmodern shift ... and as someone from a Generation that has one foot in each world, that image has a lot of resonance with me and I can only imagine what it's like for people who were completely formed by modernism). We need to be patient with each other. We need to realize that fear and anxiety are a natural part of these shift -- and that's why we see a rise in extremism in all walks of human life, because there is a surety to extremism that can feel like a safe bulwark against the incoming tide of time.
But as King Knut knew, shouting at the tide will not stop its advance. And if we continue to grant importance to outmoded and reactive ways of being, we are spending our energy shouting at a tide that will teach us humility whether we want it to our not.
Because the truth is, the future of Anglicanism will not be decided by Primates meetings or Lambeth Conferences or by these incredibly well-funded (on all sides -- you want to talk about sin, think about how this money COULD be being spent!) campaigns to subdivide the church. That's because God is ahead of the curve and a part of the tide. That's because despite all attempts to pretend it is, Communion is not a human construct that needs to be defended by us but a divine gift that calls us to enter into it. It is the Mystery that Marilyn preaches - and a Mystery needs not to be commanded and controlled but entered into with our shoes off and heads bowed, with awe and humility. The Mystery is not for us to define and it certainly is not for us to own. The Mystery invites us to participate.
It's true, God is calling the future of Anglicanism into being around a table. But not the Primates' meeting table or the meeting table of the Network or Integrity or CANA or General Convention or 815 or any other such table. God is calling the future into being around Christ's table of Eucharist. God is calling the future into being around Christ's table of common mission where we seek and serve Christ in the poorest of the poor. God is calling the future into being around Christ's table of the coffeehouse and the dining room and the IM chat and the countless other places where people treat each other's lives as the Mystery -- as holy ground on which to seek and serve Christ.
Of course, maybe I just don't get it. And there will certainly be plenty of people on all different sides lined up to tell me just that. But as much as my capacity to "not get it" is deep and wide, I don't think that's the case here.
"Not getting it" is when people refuse to sit at Eucharist with each other.
"Not getting it" is when people cling to old vertical, command and control models in a world that is becoming almost entirely horizontal in structure.
"Not getting it" is when we think something is important just because people with loud voices tell us over and over again that it is.
"Not getting it" is the thousand ways we shout at the tide in fear and anxiety instead of trusting that God is in it and that what is of God will endure and what is not will be washed away. When we look for the safety of the Wall instead of the safety of the Cross. That's right, the SAFETY of the cross. Because as my mentor Victoria Sirota preached to me, when we are on the cross there is no lower to go.
A friend of mine once saw the old bumper sticker "The one who dies with the most toys wins" and commented "wins what?" That's kind of how I feel about the current wrangling on the upper political levels of the Anglican Communion. In the end they will decide the winners and losers. Who is in and who is out. And I suppose that will have as much power as people give it. But with every passing day, people on this planet and, specifically, throughout our global church will attribute less and less power to gatherings like the Primates meetings.
And in the end, I believe the "victors" in this battle -- whomever they might be -- will end up realizing they haven't won anything at all. That the tide has come in. That the Church -- and God's dream -- has gone on without them.
| Mike at 2/06/2007 12:30:00 PM
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."