"Send out Your light and Your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling." Psalm 43:3

Monday, November 19, 2012

Unity, Grief, and Hope

Oh, how good and pleasant it is,
     when brethren live together in unity!
It is like fine oil upon the head
     that runs down upon the beard,
Upon the beard of Aaron,
     and runs down upon the collar of his robe.
It is like the dew of Hermon
     that falls upon the hills of Mount Zion.
For there the LORD has ordained the blessing:
     life for evermore.
~Psalm 133

I haven't really wanted to write about South Carolina.  I've been pretty downhearted every time I've thought about it.  It's kind of shaken my faith.  I haven't really wanted to write about anything for the last few days, but it's this that continues to occupy my thoughts, so I'm going to get them out here.  (Disclaimer: the disillusioned, long-winded rambling will now commence.)

I'm grieved.  I'm not really surprised, but that doesn't mean I'm not still confused.  I'm grieved that the church I love is continuing to tear itself apart.  It is a church that, I believe, has historically had a fairly unique calling to be a church of restoration and reunion, a church with a truly comprehensive vision, that embraces mystery and diversity in certain matters of faith because it believes that to do anything less would be dishonest and  would ultimately miss God, the incomprehensible mystery who yet lived with us as one of us, and lives also within us.  Clearly, we don't have God figured out, and we don't have all the answers (that should be obvious enough, despite the strident righteousness on display by both "sides").  As Archbishop Rowan Williams has said, "It takes the whole Church to know the whole truth."  I believe that strongly.  And so I'm grieved, because I'm watching that comprehensive vision fade farther into the background with each new schism.

I'm angry that this entire debacle has become one of opposing "sides".  I don't want to be a part of either side.  I don't want to be part of a church that is so confident in the rightness of its orthodoxy in the face of "heresy" that it feels justified in committing the sin of schism (surely one of the greatest heresies of all), and celebrates the fact that it will no longer have to be constantly battling to uphold the pure faith in the midst of all these liberal Christians, so-called, since most of them are apostate anyway and have chosen to lead TEC down a path that can only end in extinction.  "We're moving into a new and brighter future.  We don't need them."  I don't want to be part of a church that is so intent upon being a "prophetic witness" (and is so confident that it cannot but be so), that it is increasingly willing to set aside 2,000 years of Church tradition, and even the Holy Scriptures themselves, in order to "listen to what the Holy Spirit is telling us today" (or is that my own heart I hear?), a church that only tolerates a diversity of beliefs until one becomes too insistent on taking seriously that old idea of Scripture as truly foundational, even over and against the prevailing winds of the times in which we live, in which case we won't really be too sorry to see you leave, just so long as you don't try to steal our property as you go.  "We're moving into a new and brighter future.  We don't need them" (or much of the global Anglican Communion, it would seem).  But now there are many members, but one body.  And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."

I want to be part of a church that truly welcomes all types and conditions of people: Catholic, Evangelical, and Liberal; male and female; black and white; single and married; gay and straight; young and old; left, right, and every point in between.  I believe that Christ's one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is indeed catholic: proclaiming God's whole truth, to all people, everywhere and at all times.  How can we fail to  recognize the breadth, height, and depth that Church must comprise?  Obviously, such a Church will have more than enough opportunities for disagreement on any number of issues.  But such a Church will consist of members who all find unity in Christ, who gather at the Eucharist to be nourished with spiritual food in the sacrament of Christ's body and blood, who, whatever differences they may have, still look at one another in love and recognize and affirm a brother or sister in the Lord.  My fear is that such a Church is ceasing to exist in North America today.  I still pray that it is not too late to preserve such a vision of the Church, but these last few days have not been encouraging.
The whole thing is a ghastly horrible witness.  As some have rightly pointed out, the church is reflecting the very worst of the partisanship of the current secular culture, when it should be witnessing to the bankruptcy of such power politics by showing a better way.  And sadly, I suppose we can expect the litigation battles over property to soon get underway.  I know what the canons say, and I don't care; it's uncharitable to the point of spite.  I say this to your shame.  Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide before his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?  Actually, then it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another.  Why not rather be wronged?  Why not rather be defrauded?  And yet, I wonder: who cares?  I mean, how many people are even at all aware of what has recently transpired in South Carolina?  For all the church's seeming desire to be "relevant", on the cutting-edge of social justice, interfaith dialogue, biblical criticism, or whatever, we seem to be becoming more and more irrelevant.  Approach the man on the street and ask him what he thinks of the Episcopal Church, and it's a safe bet you'll get a blank stare (also likely he wouldn't even know how to pronounce the word "Episcopalian" if you showed it to him).  So, does all this even much matter?  I don't know; maybe it doesn't, at least as regards our witness, or lack thereof.  But it sure as hell grieves me.  And I'll be presumptuous and say that it grieves our Lord as well, and so, by extension, should grieve all His followers.  Would that some among our leaders would step down from the righteousness grandstand and issue a call for some intentional humility among all our people.  Blow a trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the congregation ... Let the priests, the LORD's ministers, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, "Spare Thy people, O LORD, and do not make Thine inheritance a reproach, a byword among the nations."    

It's times like these that almost make me wish I could relapse into the "personal relationship", individualist Christianity that has become so prevalent in the American church: just me and Jesus; what do I care about South Carolina and the nasty politico-theological battles of TEC?  But I can't do that.  I would be deceiving myself, and I know it.  Give me Jesus, yes, but I can't pretend that I can just leave this whole church thing alone, as if it were optional, there as a help for those who want it.  No, I was baptized into Christ, and made a member of the household of God.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  Well, we're having some domestic turmoil, but I don't intend to leave the household, and I certainly won't close my eyes and imagine that the household itself doesn't exist.

I've read somewhere that the Church itself is a sacrament, even and especially in its brokenness.  In its brokenness, the Church points continually to the One who can make us whole.  Our institutions, both ecclesial and secular, will fail us; we ourselves, as individual humans, will fail.  All the more reason to lift our eyes to that One; in Jesus Christ alone is our hope.  I believe this.  And maybe it's foolish of me to choose to be still hopeful.  Maybe I need to take off the blinders and stop the wishful thinking.  I honestly don't know.  But I do choose to live in hope.  Not just the hope that all will ultimately be made well in God, regardless of whether or not the Episcopal Church continues as a faithful witness to the gospel, for I believe that is a point indisputable.  No, I choose also to hope and pray that this tradition in which I have been raised in Christ will indeed continue, and will yet experience healing and renewal.  If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.   May it be so.

Show us your mercy. O LORD,
     and grant us your salvation.
I will listen to what the LORD God is saying,
     for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
     and to those who turn their heart to him.
Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him,
     that his glory may dwell in our land.
Mercy and truth have met together,
     righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Truth shall spring up from the earth,
     and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
The Lord will indeed grant prosperity,
     and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness shall go before him,
     and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.
~Psalm 85

O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
~ no. 14, a prayer For the Unity of the Church        

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