So, what now? How often do we ask that question? For life? For work? For love? For faith? In excitement – in frustration – with anxiety – with joy – in anticipation – in wonderment? What is our disposition when we ask such a thing?
I find myself at this point, once again. So, what now? No bad, mind you, but a bit anxiety producing. It is through the struggle that the most precious… most worthwhile… most significant is realized. Unless, of course, we let it stymie us into inaction – we are stuck and can’t move forward. So, what now?
American exceptionalism today – the same as or similar to American “messianism” of the mid-nineteenth century… right before the Civil War? Yes, I think – and what it does, negatively, to the religion, the common perception of it all, and the spiritual welfare of Americans.
Professor Mark Noll in his book, “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis,” writes about the debates going on between pro- and anti-slavery theologians and biblical scholars leading up to the Civil War. The following quote comes from his analysis of Moses Stuart, considered one of America’s most competent biblical scholars of the time, a Reformed theologian, and how Stuart allowed his American citizenship (American messianism/exceptionalism) to overwhelm his scholarship and common application of scripture.
According to Noll, Stuart was compromised and thus blantantly inconsistent – his advocacy for slavery within his sense of “America” clouded his exegesis to the point of believing in the scriptural allowance of it. Are we are doing the same, today, in allowing notions of “America” to infringe upon and cloud what we are supposed to be and do as citizens of a different kingdom? We (many of us who claim Christ) make an idol of this nation-state and this notion of American exceptionalism. (This need not infringe upon the imagination of the American Ideal grasped by so many around the world and often forgotten by us, the supposed holders of it.)
From Noll, dealing with the specific debate over returning escaped slaves to their owners:
“Stuart, however, did not seem to feel that escaped slaves – considered as either Christians or potential Christians – had a higher claim on fellow believers than did Southern slaveholders considered as fellow American citizens. Rather, by overriding his commitment to standard Reformed theology, Stuart’s strong sense of American national messianism constrained his interpretation of Scripture. Even for this rightly honored defender of strict biblical exegesis, race exerted a powerful sway. White fellow Americans counted far more than black fellow Christians. Analogical Israel meant more than Spiritual Israel. A dubious theological warrant (treating America as the chosen people) exerted more force than a strong theological warrant (including blacks in the fellowship of the Church.” (Noll, p. 61)
“I am almost a hundred years old; waiting for the end and thinking about the beginning.
“There are things I need to tell you, but would you listen if I told you how quickly time passes?
“I know that you are unable to imagine this.
“Nevertheless, I can tell you that you will awake someday to find that your life has rushed by at a speed once impossible and cruel. The most intense moments will seemed to have occurred only yesterday and nothing will have erased the pain and pleasure, the impossible intensity of love and its dog-leaping happiness, the deep blackness of passions unrequited, or unexpressed, or unresolved.
“And still the brain continues to yearn, continues to burn, foolishly with desire. My old man’s brain is mocked by a body that still longs to stretch in the sun and form a beautiful shape in someone else’s gaze, to lie under a blue sky and dream of helpless, selfless love, to behold itself, illuminated, in the golden light of another’s eyes.
“Time erodes us all.”
[“What I Was,” Meg Rosoff, p.205]
“Underneath the worship of God lies silence, a wordless praise, an eyeless vision. When a mind gets faith, it does not get it as it gets a knowledge of England’s history, or as it gets a knowledge of sparking plugs. For ‘gets’ is the wrong word. The word which rings true is not ‘gets’ but ‘receives.’ If you get faith at all, you feel as though you receive it. You hardly asked for it. You may not have wanted it. It came. ‘Nulla fides divina nisi infusionem’ – no true faith without a descent upon you; as it were, poured out, from on high.”
[Owen Chadwick, “The Spirit of the Oxford Movement”, p. 307]
From the Dean of Bexley Hall Seminary (Ohio), in his personal blog, “Crusty Old Dean,” on the situation at the General Theological Seminary after the Board of Trusties refused to reconsider their decision to rid the seminary of the eight professors. Click the link to read the post.
Fear leads to believing control works. Fear leads to flailing around attempting to find a solution, any solution, any shiny thing, whether based on rational, calm consideration or not and if not generally only leads to continued failure. Wisdom is set down and forgotten. Laudable assertions and beliefs and convictions fall by the wayside. We are in the midst of chaos born of fear in this Church of ours.
The institutional decisions and directions I’ve seen over the last decade within my Church make me believe that we are in an eddy swirling around and around and having no clue how to get out of it. I don’t know whether we honestly want to get out… whether we want to succeed… whether we want to be a part of what God is doing all around. I hope, truly, that I am very wrong.
Last week I attended a conference full of young pastors of congregations in New York City that are thriving – tens of thousands in their congregations and dramatically growing. (It is good to learn from those who are succeeding in these new contexts!) They are joyful, excited about the Gospel and their people, and they pastor congregations that are the same. My inclination is to want to be a part of them – in all their disjointed glory. The Body of Christ is alive and well, but the question is whether we want to be a part of it or not. Thankfully, my parish decides to to be a part, even if imperfectly. I choose to be a part, even if imperfectly, but there are consequences.
The very sad thing is that I have heard from a number of priests, alumni of GTS, who are afraid – yes afraid – to say anything publicly for fear of what will come their way from ecclesiastical authorities. I well understand this! How ironic. The very people in this Church who screamed through the ’70’s, ’80’s, ’90’s, “Speak truth to power”… well, they did until those screaming found themselves to be “the power”, and, well, there goes any tolerance for “Speaking truth…”
Oh yes, we will come through this. We will be an example. We will teach, something. The decision is ours as to what we will example and teach. What we decide will determine whether what we example and teach lead to the good or the bad.
My seminary – for which I have great love, within which I made fast friends and found colleagues, from which I was formed in worship in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd (what incredible symbolism in that name, alone) and in scholarship found in classroom and conversation – this seminary of long tradition (honored by many, ridiculed by others) is in a very difficult place, a different kind of trouble in these days.
I don’t know the details. I don’t, so I can’t bring myself to throw down the club of blame and accusation on either side. I have to wait. I know the Dean as a fellow seminarian. I know some of the faculty as teachers and mentors. I know them all, and respect them all. We not only studied together, but we lived together in the tight confines of the Close.
This is, I’m afraid, what tends to happen within institutions as they go through profound change. Frankly, this is what happens within communities and nations, too. We see it in our own politics, in the events in the Middle East, and in other graduate institutions, too. These types of things happen as a result of our very human nature – sources of great good and great evil, incredible creativity and deadening banality. This is way we need, frankly, the One who redeems and restores and saves us from the worst of our human nature, from ourselves – individually and collectively.
What we see happening at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church we will continue to see with increasing frequency and ferociousness until the turn comes. This is a microcosm of what is stating within the entire Church. How will we respond? The question asked within the title of a book by Francis Schaeffer comes to mind – “How should we then live?” This is the crux, isn’t it? How are we each to live out the commands of Jesus in this very difficult, but practical, situation? How will each of us love God with all of our being and then, and here is where the significance really finds it’s ground, how will we love our neighbors – deans and faculties and pundits all around?
Will GTS and will the entire Church make the decision to do the profoundly difficult thing, the profoundly counter-cultural thing, and be reconciled, be redeemed, be reformed, and be transformed in the glory of the grace and mercy and love and faithfulness shown to us by the One to whom we owe everything? We have a choice, don’t we? Frankly, we have to “man-up”, we have to “woman-up”, we have to “Christ-up” and do the right thing, else we are just another example of hypocrisy – a failed thought-system, a worthless religion. We know what we need to do, and with God’s help we can do it, if we are willing. Are we willing? If so, just watch what God will do! Amazing!
In the book I’m reading, two people are having a conversation by a river – the aristocratic fisherman and the cleric. It picks up, here, “There was a silence. The river went on flowing and in the meadows the cows continued to graze.”
In the midst of unexpected, perhaps uncomfortable silence, in the midst of trouble, in the midst of confusion, in the midst of heartache – the rivers flow and the cows continue to graze… and it is a good thing, a comforting awareness. There is continuance. There is a new day.
For those who have ears to hear… What do you think? It is my experience, and from what I witness and read concerning leadership in many denominational and even “emergent” structures, that we honestly only want to gather around us those who scratch our itching ears… we don’t want to step back and carefully consider what is going on around us and what then is necessary to do. If it fits our preconception and personal want, fine, but it if doesn’t, we ignore or reject it – to our own peril. Click on the link, below, for the article.
What do you think?