"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
I've wanted to change the title of my blog for a long time ... because even though I loved the quote from C.S. Lewis it came from, I just couldn't help feeling like it was WAY too self-important.
Of course it takes a certain kind of twisted mind to, in an effort to make something sounds less self-important, change a title to something in Latin!
I've been toying with various ideas for a couple months, and this is the one that stayed with me. It's from a couple different sources. It would be cooler and more rc (religiously correct) to say that it came from St. Peter's conversation with the resurrected Christ on the way to Rome (though "where are YOU going?" is the question Peter supposedly asked Jesus then), but the truth is it comes from the final episode of the excellent and short-lived Aaron Sorkin show, Sports Night.
Calvin Trager is not some great philosopher, he's a character that emerges as the show charged toward real-life cancellation. The show, which is about the staff of a SportsCenter-like show, is living in fear because their network is for sale and they figure anyone who buys it is going to sell it -- and them -- for scrap.
Only a new bidder emerges, a strange entity called "Quo Vadimus"... which means "Where are we going?" Around the same time, Dana Whitaker (played wonderfully by Felicity Huffman) begins running into this strange, coy man in a pub down the street who seems to know things about the negotiations before they happen.
That man's name is Calvin Trager, he's a venture capitalist who has made a huge success of himself because instead of being afraid of failure, he has embraced it. Because failure is an opportunity to stop and ask the all-important question "Quo Vadimus" ... "Where are we going?" And so he tells Dana:
"Dana, 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."
It takes an incredible amount of humility, groundedness and just plain common sense to take that approach to life. And as I've been back-burnering this blog name over the past couple months, that phrase and that philosophy kept coming back to me.
And I've come to believe that Quo Vadimus is at the heart of the Christian faith. We have a faith borne out of failure -- out of Jesus not being crowned king but raised up on a cross. A faith out of which our savior saves us by continually asking us to look at our lives and ask that question: Quo Vadimus. Where are we going?
If arrogance and putting ourselves in the place of God is original sin, then certainly a corrective to that is not fearing failure but embracing it as an opportunity and gift from God. Of continually stopping and re-examining our lives and asking that question -- where are we going? Is it really where we should be going?
But we don't do that. Candidates for public office get roasted over open flame for "flip-flopping" on issues ... and while sometimes that is suitable when the cause is pandering, it creates an environment where self-examination and legitimately changing one's mind is admitting grave weakness. It's given us a president who will still not say the words "I made a mistake." It's given us trench warfare in the church between sides that are so dug into their positions that they refuse to give even an inch to the "other side" for fear of being overrun.
Where are we going?
Bill North once told me that most priest really only have one sermon and they find a way to preach it in lots of different ways. I don't know if that's true or not, but I find as I post my thoughts here, a lot of them have to do with that question -- Quo Vadimus.
A 16-year old boy quotes Martin Luther King to me as he curses what our country is doing to his.
I travel to Ghana, Sudan ... and soon to South Africa and Rwanda ... and see a world where a child dies every three seconds while the wealth and power that could save him is in the hands of so very few. And yet also a world where so many are coming together in hope and joy with the conviction that this deep brokenness is not a death sentence but an opportunity for deep healing.
Abbie Coburn tells of Palestinians who literally live surrounded by walls cut off from their families ... walls built by my tax dollars.
I watch my children grow up, I watch my wife with them, and I know I've never seen anything so beautiful in my whole life. I listen to my son tell me he wants to make a lemonade stand and send the money he makes to the people in Africa I'm going to visit.
I travel around the church and meet amazing people for whom church is not a place they go on Sunday but a community that challenges them and prods them to live their faith out loud in the world. Who look at the movement to make poverty history and respond with a simple "where do I sign up?"
Where are we going is not an easy question to answer. It's probably one of those questions where the point is at least as much in the asking of it than the answering of it.
Sports Night was cancelled ... which allowed Aaron Sorkin to say "quo vadimus" himself ... and develop another project called "The West Wing." (looks like he'll have to do that again after the Studio 60 debacle).
Tuesday, February 20, 2007 "Mohammed's" Postcard from Baghdad
I haven't heard from "Mohammed" more, but I have been reading the current entries on the blog he uses. Through intermediaries, I have found out more about him. That "Mohammed" is not his real name -- he has to use a pseudonym for security ... fear of being targeted for his postings. He's a 16 year old boy and the person who has organized the blog has given him and a few other bloggers laptops that they can charge and use. Only because of the frequent electrical outages they are able to charge the computers infrequently and it makes posting difficult.
I'm hoping he will continue our conversation, but I also won't be surprised if that doesn't happen. Needless to say, he has a lot going on. But I will continue to read his posts and comment on them there -- and occasionally to pull posts out and link to it here.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007 A Response from Baghdad
The world is getting smaller, flatter and more interesting by the minute. Ten years ago, I never would have been able to preach a sermon using text from an online journal from occupied Baghdad. And ten years ago, I never would have had the young man who wrote that journal read my sermon and write a response to it.
But that's exactly what happened. (You can get a little bit of how the connection was made by reading the comments from that last post)
A friend who monitors references to this site using google alerts forwarded a link to this internet version of a sermon called “Things Of Infinite Importance” of a priest who is a member of the American Christian sect called “Espiscopalians” (sic)
It seems to me from reading about them that they are the American version of the English Christian Sect called the “Church of England”. These episcopalians which seems to mean people who follow the guidance of bishops split from the English sect at the time of the American indpendence from England and called themselves episcopalians because the American revolutionaries forbade that there be a “Church of America.” The “Church of England” are in turn a sect that has split from the sect called “Roman Catholics” because some English king or another wanted a new wife. Wherever they went the English brought wth them their Church except that they called it things like the “Church of Nigeria” and the “Anglican Church in Kenya” Keeping track of all these sects can be confusing and is not relevant to my purpose which is to reply to his criticisms of how America is behaving which he is making using his terms as an American and as a follower of the Prophet Jesus (PBUH).
My reply is in my terms as Muslim and as an Iraki. My purpose is not to open a dispute but to show some of the differences and to show that despite those differences all who try to submit to the will of God and who recognise that though we are not brothers and sisters in religon we are brothers and sisters in humanity have common ground and a common interest in opposing the idolatorous worship of empire which is I believe the root of the war against the people of Irak being waged by the modern colonial power called America and that it has its roots in idolatry. To do this I have used the teachings of Islam and also the teachings of another American Christian who was a member of one of the many Christian sects called Baptists.
(Snip ... I'm cutting out three lengthy quotes from my sermon here)
This is my reply, this is a follower of the Prophet Jesus (PBUH) speaking to other Christians using the terms they will understand, I am not a Christian I am a Muslim and I am an Iraki this is how I see the matter:
The Prophet Jesus (PBUH) taught the importance of compassion and performed miracles by the grace and power of God who restrained the children of Israel from violence to him when he showed them the Clear Signs, and they mocked him as nothing more than a magician.
This also is why God lifted him up when they thought they had killed him. My father’s Irish friend markfromireland the follower of the Prophet Jesus (PBUH) has told me often of how the Prophet Jesus drove the defilers from the Holy Places because they had turned it into a place thieves. He has told me also that the Prophet Jesus (PBUH) said that he had come to bring not peace but a sword.
From this we can see that Christians who truly try to follow the teachings of the Prophet Jesus (PBUH) also know that they are required by God to resist the tyrants who arise using either money or arms and seek to crush those who strive to submit to the will of God under their feet.
This is why I think this:
“History speaks to us — if we have the ears to hear. And if we don’t, it will gently, powerfully repeat itself until we get the message.”
is in error in the Holy Qur’an God speaks and tells us that he created us of a male and a female, and made us into nations and tribes, then God tells us of his purpose in doing this which is that we should know another not not that we despise each other.
From this we can see that those who despise the different tribes and nations are to be resisted. This is why we fight. Because they despise us they are false prophets and in opposition to God’s will which alone is what we are required to submit to.
As a Muslim you cannot say ”history …..” as though that is some abstract force that exists independently. This is because history is the unfolding of God’s will as he constantly engages in creation. What Gandhi was saying was that because the British despised his nation they were in opposition to God’s will and that God would destroy their empire which he did.
Similarly America despises all other nations and God is saying “stop or I will punish you” There was an American follower of the prophet Jesus (PBUH) called Martin Luther King who warned of this:
“Don’t let anybody make you think God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with justice and it seems I can hear God saying to America “you are too arrogant, and if you don’t change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power, and I will place it in the hands of a nation that doesn’t even know my name.”
The Vietnamese as communists denied God but still God used them to work his will to start to break the backbone of the power of the American and European tribes who despised and exploited all others because of the colour of their skin.
What Martin Luther King was warning you of was that Americans like to believe that just because they are Americans they are better than everyone else more kind more charitable more benevolent and therefore everybody should be more like them and that therefore all who resist must of their nature be evil. They also believe that they are entitled to take what they want. In the way that a corrupt policeman lies to himself and says that this is not corruption but his just reward. A corrupt policeman is not only a common criminal he is worse than that because he has betrayed his sacred trust to uphold the order decreed by God. This is what America has become.
America has set itself to despise all others in defiance of God’s clear will and see them not as your brothers and sisters either in religon or in humanity but as “legitmate targets” ripe for exploitation to be destroyed if they resist.
My message as a Muslim to those who call themselves Christians is you should listen to the teachings of true Christians like Martin Luther King.
You should be more like us not us more like you :-).
This is my reply.
I am honored that you would take the time not only to read my words but to consider and answer them. It gives me more hope than I can say that even though we are separated by miles and perhaps by distances greater than those miles that we can have this "conversation." I hope you will have the time and desire to respond again, but I certainly understand if you do not. You can also respond to me privately at MKinman (at) gmail (dot) com.
In reading your response, there was much I agreed with -- and even more about which I think we're essentially in agreement but for differences in phrasing and point of view.
First, let me tell you how I approach this. As an Episcopalian Christian, I have three sources for authority in my beliefs. The first is our Holy Scripture. The second is the tradition of the church as it has been handed down through the centuries. The third is reason -- our belief that the Spirit of God works through our minds and hearts ... and through conversations like this one ... to reveal the divine will in new ways even today.
That's an inexact way to do theology. It leaves much room for interpretation. It also demands theology be entered into and proceded from not with absolute certitude but with deep humility -- recognizing that we need God to redeem even our best attempts at faithfulness.
Now ... to your response.
First, about "history." I believe God acts through history -- but not in a micromanaging, proscriptive way. God gave us free will, and yet did not abandon us to it. God is present in every moment of creation, luring us deeper into the heart of the divine. History is the chronicle of creation. And so when I say "history teaches us" I am really talking about God's patient and steadfast presence with us ... not some random force. We might agree or disagree over how much control God exerts over specific events ... but I think we agree that God is the force behind all history. It would have been more accurate for me to say "God teaches us through history."
So let me begin by telling you some more about how I see Jesus -- particularly in terms of some of the points you made. I'm not going to get into some of the finer points of doctrine but broader issues of Jesus' nature and the nature of his teachings.
I believe Jesus did not just "teach the importance of compassion" but that he was literally the enfleshment of God's compassion for us. This might seem like a small point, but it is not. C0mpassion -- and more than just compassion but the complete self-giving love that comes from ultimate compassion -- is not just an important quality to exhibit but the very nature of God. And since what is happening in your country at our hands is the polar opposite of compassion, this becomes critical.
Elsewhere, Jesus preaches that if someone strikes you on one cheek you should offer them the other. Certainly, as both Gandhi and Martin Luther King and our Christian scripture often reference, Jesus did not shrink from conflict or hesitate to stand up against unjust authority ... but he did using nonviolent means. Jesus ultimate weapon for justice was his own self-sacrifice on the cross. Gandhi (who was not a Christian but who drew from the best of Christ's teachings) summed up the life of Christ and the Christian life in general when he talked of causes for which he was willing to die but there not being a cause for which he was willing to kill.
Taken together (history and Jesus), I believe God's dream for the world and for all of us is the life of the divine ... the life of self-sacrificing love. And God has created the world and set it in motion in such a way that though we have free will the only lasting success and joy and, ultimately, life will come from embracing that life. God does not wish us to despise one another. God does not wish us to exalt ourselves over one another (that is idolatry). God wishes us to love one another and give ourselves up for one another. That is the way of joy. And though other ways might seem to prosper for a time, all else is ultimately doomed.
For that reason, I would not say that God destroyed the British Empire, but I would see that God knows how the seeds sown by our freely-chosen actions will sprout and in that way the British Empire was doomed as surely as if God had "destroyed their Empire."
Similarly, I do not believe God is saying to America "stop or I will punish you" ... but I do believe God grieves not just for what America is doing but for the ultimate fruit of the seeds we are sowing -- seeds of our own pain and destruction. So it is more "stop or you will be punished by the fruit of your actions." The end is the same, but I think the difference in God's attitude is significant -- though in the end, perhaps both my view and yours (or what I'm interpreting as yours) can be held together in truth in some way.
And so that is how I would interpret Dr. King's words -- and I do think those words convict us today. You have interpreted his words -- words that express the heart of the Christian faith -- most accurately and have pointed them at us most appropriately. That was the point I was trying to make comparing us to the Roman Empire -- another Empire that was governed by a myth that exalted itself and who because of that myth was destroyed.
Arrogance is chief among our sins as a nation. It is our original sin, founded as we are by stealing land from indigenous people with proud, long histories in the name of "civilizing them." And as our wealth and power has increased, our national arrogance has increased -- to the point where today all that is truly good about America and the values upon which we tell ourselves we were founded are being betrayed. It is a piece of that arrogance that you know more about my nation and history than I know of yours.
And you are right to note that race plays a huge role in this -- that a strong current of white supremacy runs through this national sin of arrogance. It exists in our own society and it most certainly exists in the way we seek to dominate and exploit nations of darker-skinned people and even in the condescending and disempowering way we give (or withhold) aid from nations of the same.
I agree with all of those points you have made -- and that is why I preached that I believe God's blessing is not upon us because we are the oppressor. God's blessing is upon the oppressed of the world ... of which includes you and your family and friends in Baghdad and throughout Irak.
And I further grant you that it is up to we who have the power of being American citizens to make this right -- to not just save you but to save ourselves.
And this is where my question is for you. If we were to be more like the Christians that Martin Luther King (and I would say Jesus) dreamed we would be... If we were to be, in your words "more like (you)" ... what would that look like? What would American atonement for sin look like to you?
I ask you because it would only be a continuation of the sin of our arrogance to think I knew an answer only you and those like you can give. And I really want to hear your answer.
I love my country. It is my home. I believe there is much good in my country -- both because I believe there is good in people everywhere but also because I believe the ideals our better angels strive for our deeply good. And that is why it is all the more painful for me when we fall so short, when we embody just the opposite to the world, when we so continually let our sin overshadow our virtue.
I do love my home. And I have no idea what it must be like for a home you love to be utterly destroyed by invaders. I am humbled that as I am one of those whose taxes pay for the weapons and soldiers that have invaded and devastated your home, as I am one who has certainly not raised his voice enough to stop this invasion and devastation, that you would take the time to engage my words.
I hope this conversation can continue ... for all our sakes.
Please know I hold you and your family in my prayers ... and for me that means not just fondness and good wishes but asking God to use me to bless you. Your words have already been God's blessing to me.
| Mike at 2/13/2007 08:22:00 PM
Sunday, February 11, 2007 What Will We Talk About Today, You and I?
A sermon (basically) that I preached at Christ Church Cathedral this morning. It is the family worship service, which is more informal (I preached without a text and this is what it would have been with a text). Also, we are not bound to the lectionary at this service, so at the suggestion of the Rev. Susan Nanny, I split the Lukan Beatitudes up into two weeks. I'll deal with the "woes" next week. It's a service that has a lot of children in it, so I did some background explaining of things that I won't include here -- and also edited some of the langauge (you'll know what I'm talking about when you get to it). This will be the "over 16" version. Oh, and because of the wonders of the internet I've edited things to be read instead of heard. Got it? Anyway, enough introduction.
What will we talk about today, you and I?
I didn't get a lot of sleep last night, and it was Gandhi's fault.
Well, not exactly Gandhi's fault ... but Richard Attenborough's Gandhi's fault. I was flipping through the channels trying to find something that would lull me to sleep and instead I found that movie, one of my favorites of all time.
And it got to the point in the movie where Gandhi is sitting at a table in the government council room. With him are Patel, Nehru, Jinnah and Azad. On the British side are the Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford, several generals, and a senior civil servant, Kinnoch. And Gandhi says:
We think it is time you recognized that you are masters in someone else's home. Despite the best intentions of the best of you, you must, in the nature of things, humiliate us to control us. General Dyer is but an extreme example of the principle. It is time you left.
Now, the British are stunned almost to speechlessness – the audacity, the impossibility of it – and from Gandhi of all people. The senior civil servant, Kinnoch, is the first to recover.
"With respect, Mr. Gandhi, without British administration, this country would be reduced to chaos."
To which Gandhi responds, gently and patiently:
Mr. Kinnoch, I beg you to accept that there is no people on earth who would not prefer their own bad government to the "good" government of an alien power.
I sat there watching this and my mouth dropped open. Gandhi's words were so elegant and gentle ... and timeless. And I could think of nothing else than our own occupation of Iraq as his words echoed in my ears.
Let me play devil's advocate for a second. Let me take the current administration completely at its word and accept all its best intentions -- even as that word has changed from time to time, but no matter. Let's accept that we went into Iraq as liberators to save the people from a cruel tyrant. Let's say we came to bring peace and establish order. Even if that is true, there is no escaping the current reality.
You can't get any decent news of what is happening in Iraq from the major networks or major media. You have to look elsewhere. One place I look is several excellent online diaries written by people on the ground there. This morning, I read an account from a young man named Mohammed Ibn Laith, who lives in Al-Sadriya, Baghdad. It was poetry and tragedy. I want to share an excerpt from it with you;
When I heard the bomb explode last Saturday the first thing I did was telephone my father. But there was no reply. Again and again and again I tried to phone him. My fingers hurt I stabbed them onto the buttons on my phone so hard. I fell onto the floor and prayed please let him not be dead. Please let it be that he died quick if he is dead.
And my heart was sick inside me.
What will we talk about today you and I? I do not want to talk about last Saturday. Shall we talk about peace? I would like to talk about peace. I love the word. No, perhaps we are not ready to talk of peace yet you and I, we are not at peace, we are not even at truce.
My father is one of the organisers for the men who protect the people in our neighbourhood who have fled here from the death squads. When they go to get food we go to the market with them my father, my brother, myself, some of the men in our neighbourhood.
They do the same for us.
What will we talk about today you and I? I do not want to talk about last Saturday. Shall we talk about peace? I would like to talk about peace. I love the word. No, perhaps we are not ready to talk of peace yet you and I, we are not at peace, we are not even at truce.
Does “peace” mean that your aunt does not weep as she talks of how the young couples she serves ask her after the X-Ray
Well is it a child or is it a monster?
And how she curses the Americans who littered our land with Uranium munitions and then denied us the cancer drugs. Because we needed to be,
We sand niggers who had been abandoned to the tyrant you had supported for years needed to be,
And though it was hard for you, though compassion swelled in your noble and peaceful heart we sand niggers needed to be,
For my own good. I needed to be,
The new world order and the peace dividend required that the sand niggers be contained, and you assured the world, that I was indeed,
You told me that though it was hard for you :
We think the price is worth it.
Shall we talk about peace you and I? I would like to talk about peace. I love the word. No, perhaps we are not ready to talk of peace yet you and I, we are not at peace, we are not even at truce.
Will we talk about how the Americans urged our people to rise against the tyrant? Will we talk about that you and I? Will we talk about what happened to the men who believed the American lies and rose?
History speaks to us -- if we have the ears to hear. And if we don't, it will gently, powerfully repeat itself until we get the message.
Two thousand years ago there was a great empire, beginning in Rome and stretching as far across the world they knew as any empire they had ever known. And they believed the gods were with them -- and that their great success in conquest was a sign of the gods blessing on them, a sign of divine providence.
And that empire had a story -- a governing myth that they told themselves and they told the people they conquered. They were there to bring peace and order. Pax Romana they called it -- the peace of Rome.
Yet the people knew then what Gandhi knew in India, what Mohammed knows today -- that there is no people on earth who would not prefer their own bad government to the "good" government of an alien power.
And it was in this empire, in a small backwater of this empire that a teacher arose named Jesus. Now the people were looking for a leader. They were looking for a hero. They were looking for someone to rise up and smack down the Romans, to defeat them and send them back to Rome so that they might have home rule, control over the land they believe was destined for them. And as Jesus' teaching began to draw crowds and stories of his signs and wonders began to sweep across the countryside, some began to wonder if he was the one -- the one who would lead them out of oppression.
But that's not the leader Jesus was. Jesus was not there to overthrow the Romans by force of might, but eventually he would lead to the downfall of that Empire with a question.
Where is God in this? Where is God's favor in this life to which we are resigned?
And Luke's Gospel tells us that a huge throng followed him and crowded around him, drawn by his power. And he lifted up his eyes and said:
Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God
Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
Where is God's favor? With the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the outcast. Jesus was not going to mount an army and defeat the Romans, but no matter -- the war was already won. For the Romans' strength was not a sign of divine favor, but the Jews' poverty.
My friends, this passage is not about us.
Yes, there are times when we relative to others we think we are poor, times we feel hungry, times when we are deeply grieved and times when we endure the hatred of others ... but not like this. This passage is not to be read in the context of our lives but in the context of life on this planet. Jesus' words play out in places like Iraq, like Darfur ... and on the cold streets of our own city every night.
The word "bless" literally means "to speak well of." Whom does God side with? Whom does God speak up for and speak well of. It is those. It is Mohammed and his family. It is not us.
But if we are not the blessed, then there is but one question for us to ask:
How can we be part of the blessing?
When we see the face of the poor,the hungry, the bereaved, the hated. When we read Mohammed's words. When we read Nick Kristof's missives from Darfur. When we hear Deb Goldfeder tell of our daughters and sons in Lui who can't go to school because there is no water for the makeshift schoolhouse. When we hear and read and see these people, we know that they are the blessed, not us. And so what God leaves for us is not reward but privilege:
How can we be part of the blessing? How can God speak well of them through us?
What will we have to say to them. What will we have to say for them, on their behalf, in the halls of power their voices cannot reach.
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
Friday, February 02, 2007 Back to Africa
It's official. I'm heading back to Africa next month. At least it's official in that I've bought the plane tickets. This time it's a two part trip.
The first part is the TEAM (Toward Effective Anglican Mission) conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. TEAM was put together by Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, the Anglican primate of Southern Africa and Desmond Tutu's successor as Archbishop of Cape Town. (I had a chance to spend some time with him several years back when he spent a few days in St. Louis talking about the MDGs ... and even preaching at a Wednesday night at Rockwell House). It's a gathering of people from all over the Anglican Communion to focus on the Millennium Development Goals and specifically on how the Church is addressing the AIDS pandemic.
For me, it's an incredible opportunity to network and listen. Even as I learn more and more about what is happening in the American Episcopal Church to eradicate global poverty, I know so little about what movements are happening elsewhere in the communion. Unfortunately, the press about the Anglican Communion is almost always about certain leaders screaming about sexuality (though read an article here that finally exposes the house of cards I believe this truly is) and we hear precious little about how people are living out their faith in ways that are literally saving lives.
Whenever I have had chances to be around people from around the Communion (for example at General Convention when we got to spend time with Bishop Ochola from Kitgum in N. Uganda), it's been an incredibly moving experience and I have come away just in awe of how huge and deep and wonderful God's creation is. As much as we hear about the terrible things happening all over the world -- and they are terrible -- there is such deep beauty. I've never been in a place where there are literally people from all over the world gathered for one purpose (the Ikea at Potomac Mills probably doesn't count) and to say I'm excited would be a definite understatement.
As much as I feel a sense of awe about the TEAM conference, it is far greater with going to Rwanda. There was something I felt powerfully in Sudan -- that in places ... physical places ... where people had undergone great suffering, there was a hallowing effect. Lincoln spoke of it at Gettysburg and we know it from those places in our own lives. Places become sacred by what we and others go through there.
But what's even more amazing than simply surviving is that the stories I hear coming out of Rwanda are those of thriving. That Rwanda is becoming one of the great success stories of sub-Saharan Africa. That out of this devastation -- and in many ways because they have been through this devastation and are committed to never going back there again -- there is springing new life.
I'm drawn to Rwanda because from my safe vantage point here in America, it seems a nation of crucifixion and resurrection -- not just the linear chronology of genocide and reconstruction but lived as crucifixion and resurrection happen in our lives ... over and over again, overlapping each other, feeding into and off of each other.
Jesus promises us that we will find him in the poor, in the destitute, in the hopeless -- but he will also be the form of abundance of life, a fullness of joy, and hope. When it comes down to it, I'm going to Rwanda not to see the great work being done on the Millennium Development Goals. Not to see what the Anglican Communion is up to. Not even to spend time with my friend. I'm going as part of my ongoing search to meet Christ.
And if I can let that encounter change me. And if I can bring back here even a bit of the sense of that presence ... a sense of the gift God is giving us when we are drawn closer in relationship with each other ... then, well, that's why I think God has made this movement and EGR and all this happen.
| Mike at 2/02/2007 06:14:00 AM
Thursday, February 01, 2007 Daily Affirmation with Senator Smalley
Perhaps the most sobering thing about that news was my first reaction to it:
Not cool in the same way that it was "politics as entertainment" cool when Jesse Ventura ran for governor of Minnesota (after all, outside of Minnesota, what harm could that do?). No, this was honest excitement ... as in "finally a voice of reason in the Senate" kind of excitement.
It's come to this.
Al Franken does have opinions with which I largely agree. He's also articulate in expressing them, clever and witty in debating opponents and uses humor well to make a point. He might just make a darn good senator -- who knows? He's running in the right state for this kind of campaign and because of the nature of his media image he's likely to be one of the few Democrats not to cower in the corner saying "please, don't hurt me" when the political pressure heats up.
But still, the main reason we know this guy is because he sat next to a mirror on SNL and said, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me." (which , incidentally, was probably his rationale for running for Senate). Most recently, he's been the left's answer to Rush Limbaugh on Air America Radio (which was doomed to either failure or embarrassment because truly dealing with the nuances of situations is considered bad radio and Democrats trying to act like idealogue tough-guys is just pathetic).
So why does this bother me?
Well, first of all, we are a nation of brilliant and creative minds in a world of brilliant and creative minds. And yet fewer and fewer of those people seem to find their way to public service. I think the reason is similar to the reason why St. Louis as a city has such a hard time retaining good, young, creative people. St. Louis is a city of old money and as such is very conservative and phobic where change is concerned. There are too many barriers for creative people with new ideas and ways of being to breach for many of them to stay here. Most get frustrated and leave. (This is the theory of several friends of mine in their 30s who have worked extensively in the city and it completely jives with my experience).
Same thing for politics. You have to jump through so many hoops and become beholden to so many people to even get on the state stage, much less the national stage, that most creative people realize that they can have much more freedom, money and fun in the private sector. We end up with a lot of candidates who are basically picked by the larger (on the national level, usually corporate) interests that dominate parties -- candidates picked by their willingness to shill and/or their marketability.
So the fact that I'm happy because a smart, creative guy like Franken is running for office is really an indictment of how bad it's gotten. It's a microcosm of Obamania. I don't know if Barack Obama has what it takes to be president. Frankly, he doesn't have any kind of a track record to prove it either way. But he's got this American Idol-type thing going for him which is completely apart from any substance he might or might not have.
Joe Biden is getting nailed today for his idiotic remarks about Barack Obama -- as well he should (particularly the "articulate" crack, as if it's an anomaly to have an articulate black person). But really he should be getting nailed for saying in his fumbling "what I really meant" on the Daily Show that what he really meant to say was that Obama had fresh, new ideas. WHERE? I haven't heard any! I've heard commentary on what others are doing delivered very charismatically and enthusiastically by him but I haven't seen any broad new vision for America. I haven't heard him say one thing that I haven't heard others say many times before.
So the first reason it's sobering that I'm so excited about Al Franken is that in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king. And Al looks like he's got one good eye.
The second reason is that it's just one more piece of evidence that our elections really are a lot more like American Idol and Survivor than serious discourse and discernment. Of course, this is nothing new. But it's still disheartening. It's like the Biden thing again. He gets scrutinized for attacking Hillary and John Edwards about their Iraq policy. And all the attention was on the fact that he attacked them -- not on the substance of what each said and who might be right about the best way to proceed in Iraq! It reminds me of a moment midway through the Dean campaign when Howard said that the war in Iraq had made America less safe. He got slammed from every side for being unpatriotic and not supporting the troops ... with little or no attention paid to whether or not he might actually be right (which, BTW, he was).
This has devolved into a full-on rant, which isn't where I meant to go with it. I need to learn more history because I'm sure part of it is just idealizing a past I don't know enough about. I'm sure a certain amount of this is just the 21st century, public and tabloidized version of the smoke-filled room.
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"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."