Our Anglican forms

A lot has been going through my mind over the last months concerning the proposed changes to our Anglican understanding of church structure, authority, mutuality, and communion. It is true that we are not at all Roman Catholic – no Pope, no Majesterium, no Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, et.al, yet we are in our ecclesiology Catholic, albeit in an Anglican form and locally adapted (as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral specifies).
Within the Anglican Communion, our traditional and juridical basic unit is the “province” or “national church.” The structures that have developed over the last hundred years or so (Instruments of Unity) have been to enable all those national churches to come together for support, encouragement, cooperation, and thinking together, but not to adjudicate (with the possible exception of the Anglican Consultative Council). The more recent calls for a fundamental change in our Anglican-Catholic structures would move us to be far more Roman.
It is odd that the Protestant pungent for rebelling against order, breaking away from established structures, ignoring the hierarchs, creating one’s own rules, et.al., has taken over in the minds of so many even though the solution proposed by them is far more internationally hierarchical and Roman.
One can easily say that the American Church did not have the authority to change the Communion’s understanding of morality or discipline or Scriptural understanding by consecrating bishop Robinson, or women for that matter. It is true, we didn’t and we don’t. However, and despite the assertions otherwise, we are not demanding such acceptance by all the other provinces – we haven’t the authority. No other provinces must agree with us, associate with Robinson or women bishops, or accept their authority. It is messy within Anglican ecclesiology, of course, but this is the reality.
None of our recent troubles had to happen. The same course could have been followed that occurred with women’s ordination. Agitators agitate for the purpose of agitation. They can’t help it and will find any reason that enables them to exercise their lust for agitation and division and to have their way.
If we talk about straw-men arguments, then it seems to me that the assertion that the American Church is trying to foist upon the communion homosexuals and women bishops is certainly a straw-man argument! We cannot do such a thing within our current international structures. It isn’t possible.
If, however, our structures change and we do take on a more hierarchal and Roman form (the Covenant, perhaps), then it can be easily understood that at some point in the future our new international body(ies) (our own pope or majesterium or congregation-for-the-doctrine-of-the-faith, or some such thing in Anglican form), will deem this or that idea, activity, or theological perspective to be normative for the whole Communion, and we will have no recourse but to obey in our various provinces. What then?
What happens when these new international authorities make a decision in thirty years that this or that groups detests (like declaring that Charismatic forms of worship be infused within the liturgy, or like opening the way for faithful homosexuals to be full members once again, or that all provinces must accept women bishops)? Those that hate the decisions will do what they are doing right now – being very American, individualistic, and Protestant by rebelling against current structures and breaking away to be more pure and creating a whole new set of structures that are “really” and “truly” “Anglican-Christian.”
The presumption that because right now some primates in various parts of the world agree with our reactionary American members – that they working their newly found power will “restore” right thought, faith, and practice throughout the Communion as a whole and always and forever, amen, is a deception of the Enemy of our Faith, particularly in its Anglican form.
Just because one group may haven the upper-hand now, does not mean they will later! The proposed structural changes could well be used against you in the future!
Anglicanism has understood this and has developed a means of being together in communion in a way that has allowed the various forms to remain one, even in tension and argument and while attempting to persuade all others that their party is more right about whatever. We are in the midst of tearing down those very forms and ourselves over demands for all to acquiesce to particularly sectarian theological and interpretive understandings.

The Harry Potter experience

I saw the latest Harry Potter movie this past week. I see in Harry as he moves into his teen years this frustration and loneliness – “you don’t understand! I can’t take this anymore!” – that alludes kids who don’t know yet that there could be something different. He is growing up. We watch and wait in anticipation of the process and the journey.
I missed the cultural excitement of a generation of readers who had to WAIT, sometimes years, for the next installment of the story. What would happen next? For the kids reading the books, who happened to be around same age as the characters, they see the images of themselves and what they have to go through in life. They relate, even if but a little, to the trials and tribulations, the friendships and the loves, that the characters must endure – for good and for bad. (And, the bad is never glossed over – it can’t be avoided!)
Such excitement. Such anticipation. Wait. Wait, and don’t tell me about it before hand because I want to experience the discovery myself!
I just read an article about the Harry Potter phenomena and some parallels (or anti-parallels) with the Christian faith and the culture. Interesting points. Here is an excerpt:

Those of us who have been reading the Harry Potter novels as they were being published were able to experience something special that future generations of readers won’t — the anticipation and suspense of waiting several years between each book. From now on, new readers can read all seven books straight through if they want to. But for the past decade, Harry Potter readers have been part of a global community that has experienced the dramatic tension of waiting for the next installment.
I wonder what it would look like for the gospel story to be more suspenseful. I think one of the most significant aspects about the experience of reading the final Harry Potter book is that we didn’t want to hear spoilers. We had come to know and love the characters so much that we wanted to journey with Harry and his friends. We needed to experience and discover for ourselves what they were going through. We didn’t want to find out in chapter two of book one how it was all going to turn out. Instead, we read seven books and thousands of pages, staying up into the wee hours of the morning, because the journey is every bit as important as the ending. Indeed, without experiencing the adventure of the journey, there wouldn’t have been as much dynamic power to the ending.
Are Christian “gospel presentations” less like the adventure of a Harry Potter novel and more like spoilers that tell you what happened but take all the suspense and delight out of the journey? Maybe Christians have been so intent on getting to the point and bottom-lining things, for the sake of saving souls, that they’ve taken the mystery and surprise out of the narrative. We jump to the end. God loves you, Jesus died for you, pray this prayer, yada yada yada.
It’s well-intentioned but self-defeating. We don’t get to know the characters, so we diminish the experience and the power of the biblical narrative. Often we are so concerned about getting people from here to there that they don’t experience the journey enough to really make the faith their own. We have short-circuited the narrative imagination. What a loss.

I couldn’t agree more. What have we done in the name of religion – or power, or prestige, or insecurity, or fear, or…
This thing called Christianity, this faith, this way of life, this way of being and thinking, is a journey that necessitates personal discovery. It cannot simply be told to us or demanded of us with the expectation of honest and real understanding – the kind that satisfies our inner-most being. Most of all, it takes a whole heck of a lot of waiting, anticipation, and more waiting – and work. This is how it is, no matter how we want it to be. Rawlings was not going to write any faster, no matter how much her fans demanded it. “Make me whole, right NOW!” “Solve all my problems, right NOW.” “Make me feel good, right NOW.” “Make me a millionaire, right NOW!” “Make me popular, self-assured, healed, powerful, funny, straight, ruler of all things, NOW!”
Christianity doesn’t work this way. It just doesn’t, and because the form of the faith that is now in the ascendancy says that it can, we all experience a very deficient faith. And you know what? Most people realize it and have said, “We don’t want anything to do with you all and this Christianity of yours’.” They see the superficiality, the hypocrisy, and the self-deception that runs rampant within American Christianity. It is empty, it is bland, it is irrelevant to the deep calling to the deep. I’m telling ya, the monastics have it right (or as right as possible this side of the divide), even though we cannot all be professed monastics. What then can we be?

Ah, youth

We, individuals in my parish, have been going through the discernment process for a program to engage and connect young people with their faith, life, and parish called “Journey to Adulthood,” or J2A for short. I must say that I think this is one of the best of numerous curricula or programs I’ve seen. It is based on solid developmental principles, thorough, flexible, and hits what I think are all the right targets. The question, of course, is whether this particular “system” or program is for us. The overall emphasis is for adults to enter the journey with young people as they navigate their movement into adulthood. Simply to be with them, offer guidance, be real and honest – nothing done to the young people, nothing but high expectations of honesty and forthrightness, and within the Faith.
One of the questions I put to the discernment committee is this, “What does a youth ministry in an Anglo-Catholic parish look like?” (To clear some things up, this particular parish is traditionally Anglo-Catholic, not because of some misplaced love of ceremony or desperate clinging to tradition, but because of a lived ethos that comes only from the ancient and deep practice of the Catholic faith in its Anglican expression.) What does a youth program in an urban setting, with young people who are scheduled to death, that have every opportunity and cultural expression available to them, in a church that has a lived tradition of the faith development of young people taking place primarily in the home (which isn’t really happening these days, for a variety of reasons), in a physical plant that was not designed for a “youth group?”
Our common notion of “youth programs” or “youth groups” come from a programmatic point-of-view that is not very old – perhaps from the 1950’s onward. Our expectations of a youth group and the Christian formation of young people come from the same place where we developed our misplaced expectations of education in general – parents have given over to the schools the responsibility of raising their children for things temporal, and in the same way they have given over to the Church the responsibility for the faith development of their children. Both are misplaced! Both will and are resulting in failure, but only time and a complete collapse will bring us back to reality and from our adult self-centeredness.
Anyway, parents, for the most part, have reneged on their primary role of overseeing the adult development of their own children (educationally, professionally, emotionally, and spiritually). That is a hard thing to say, but having worked for over 20 years with young people in higher education and faith development, I find it to be true in far too many cases (with definite and numerous exceptions, of course). So what do we do as a parish? Try to take the place of family and parents? It doesn’t work, or at least it doesn’t work very effectively. Kids aren’t stupid. They see too many parents that do or say one thing, yet expect differently of their kids. This is their example, and the follow it.
So, in this parish, with its history, and the trajectory of youth in this day and place, I don’t think an idea of “youth group” is the direction we should go. Not that J2A isn’t excellent – it is excellent for a time and place, which I don’t think is here and now. Perhaps an adaptation? I don’t know.
Whatever we decide to do, a re-emphasis on home and family-based youth faith development/Christian formation is essential. We, as a parish, must provide support and help for the parents, but the primary locus of development must remain in the home and by the parents/family. We also must do what is necessary to make younger parents feel capable of working with their kids – teach them, guide them, support them, hold them accountable.
The question remains – How do we do this? I keep coming back to some form of the monastic tradition – of postulants and novices and vows and Rules of Life. To something that is real, ancient, mysterious, honest, and quite counter-cultural.

Who am I to think such things…

An infection that invades our thinking is impatience and pride – thinking that we are the all-knowing ones who must act NOW in order to save God’s Church (or our little Anglican part of it). Come on. Why do we think (in all our various forms – liberals and conservatives – political or theological) that we now know God’s mind well enough to act as we do? We like our ways, frankly, better than God’s ways, don’t we? You know, love you enemy and all that.
God is in control and He doesn’t need our impatient hubris to accomplish anything, particularly the reform of The Episcopal Church – again, either liberal or conservative reform. It is His!, not ours’ (liberal or conservative)! He will do what He deems best and at the right time – even if that time is beyond our lifetimes’. The solutions to our current problems may well be beyond our lifetimes. So? God is still God and His Church is still His Church.
Sometimes I think we act so hastily and arrogantly because we don’t think God is doing what He should be doing (like casting into utter darkness the people with whom we disagree), so we have to help the poor guy along. My goodness.
Live faithfully. Live consistently. Most of all live humbly and seek wisdom – God will provide without our feeble strategizing and politicking. Boy, God, am I glad I am not like one of THOSE people! 😉

Lack of understanding

I was watching a video from the Network in the U.S. meeting in Texas this week. The “Network of Anglican Parishes and Dioceses,” otherwise known as the “Anglican Communion Network” is the reactionary group of people who oppose the direction the Episcopal Church has been heading over the past 30 years. The issues generally revolve around women’s ordination, the whole gay issue, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and the theologically and social liberal tilt of the Church. I am sympathetic to some of their concerns, even though I absolutely do not agree with their tactics to force a narrowly defined conformity upon the entire Communion and to attain power and control.
I watched an interview with three of the bishops who are big in the Network, Bishops Duncan, Iker and Ackerman – lead by the Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh Bob Duncan. What struck me most is an early statement by Bishop Duncan that it is a true shame that due to the lack of leadership by the Archbishop of Canterbury (the traditional determiner of who are members of the Anglican Communion), that the two “instruments of unity” – The Archbishop of Canterbury and the decennial Lambeth Conference – no longer function as such. His statement indicates that these Episcopal Church bishops (and many others, I’m sure, around the world) will no longer look to the Archbishop of Canterbury as the source of unity or the Lambeth Conference as the gathering of all actual Anglican Communion bishops.
These folks are infected with the same virus as are many of the “liberals” in the American Church and the lackeys of both groups. Duncan and his followers and co-religionists make decisions over things they do not have the authority to decide. They make grand pronouncements. (Now, I recognize that similar arguments can be made against the American Church’s decision to ordain women and consecrate a gay priest in a relationship to be a bishop of the Church, but I don’t expect “liberals” to abide by the similar traditional understandings and standards that the reactionary “conservatives” propagate and demand compliance to. The liberals simply do not believe in the same way.)
Regardless of anything American or other Anglican bishops what to declare, they do not have the authority in themselves individually or as a group outside of an intentional and Anglican ecumenical Council to redefine what constitutes the symbol of Anglican unity or who decides such things. (Despite the fact that I don’t have a problem with Robinson being bishop of New Hampshire, I also do not think the American Church acted prudently in the way it handled the new Bishop of New Hampshire.) In Anglicanism, it is the Archbishop of Canterbury who determines who is a member of the Communion, period. They can split off or declare they are the true expression of Anglicanism all they want, but they then end up being a break-off, a sect, a denomination. They won’t call themselves that, but that is what they will be.
Now, the “liberals” in the American Church who are determined to press forward with their agendas and who say such things as, “let them have it” or “we don’t need the Communion,” are just as guilty and liable for the demise of the unity of the Communion. Yet, for the liberals, since many of them no longer believe in all this mystical stuff anyway (after all, religion is devised by humanity anyway, as some are prone to think), it is consistent for them to say such things. What differences, in the final analysis, does it really make?
For the “conservatives,” (who accuse the “liberals” of disrespect for discipline and tradition, heresy, abuse of authority, lack of a moral standard, and the like) they make statements like Bishop Duncan’s that suggest that they are taking upon themselves an authority they do not have, well, they too are infected with the virus of American hyper-individualism and they are as profoundly blind to their central role in the demise of the catholicity and unity and the Communion. To claim that this Church is Catholic, part of the One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, they are certainly acting in a very Protestant and really congregational way. They do not have the authority to declare the Archbishop of Canterbury or Lambeth to be irrelevant to what constitutes actual membership in the Anglican Communion because these two entities will not do or declare what they want them to.
It is funny, really, childish, despite being very sad and profoundly frustrating. It is very American. It is diseased thinking and acting. It is not Catholic. The way things have been going, none of this is very Christian, period.
Ephraim Radner, from the Anglican Communion Institute, has resigned from the Anglican Communion Network as a result of Bishop Duncan’s recent statements. Read his letter here: