What if…

Here’s the thing – too many of us come to this Christian thing, this faith thing, this religion thing, this church thing not with an intent to learn (really), not in humility believing that I (we) need to be instructed on things we know little about. Instead, we come with the perhaps insecure intent to justify, support, or confirm what we want to believe already. Our culture has come to the point where we believe we can think anything we want to be true and it is therefore true, for us, and it matters not whether anyone agrees or whether real-life counters what we want to believe.
The “learning process” has changed from one of acquiring new/more knowledge from people who know far more than I do that will change me and my perceptions of truth or reality, to a process of seeking out anywhere “facts” that support what I want to believe. Sadly, for many people the anti-culture anti-intellectualism of our time reigns and they would rather simply remain ignorant.
As such, instead of giving ourselves to a teaching that challenges our preconceptions and may well demand that we align our opinion or belief to an established “truth,” we instead try to overtly or subtly change the teaching of this “truth” so that it will match up with what we can only already conceive of. We rely upon our own understanding of what is possible or our own ability to correctly discern, rather than yield to a very old and established teaching that effectively extends to multiple cultures and languages and billions of people over two millennia.
I well understand the good and arduous process of wrestling with stuff, but that is different than asserting that what I want to be true therefore is, even if just for me. What happens if we say, “I don’t know” or “I am probably wrong,” and begin there? What would happen if we give ourselves to a process that will probably turn everything we rely upon upside down? What would happen if we looked back over these past 2,009 years and step aside our own hubris and considered that what has survived all these years of trial and persecution, this wisdom, just might have something to say to us of the Truth, of God, and of God’s ways for us – not just the limited and myopic vision that we cling to?

Another Third Way

I need to be able to explain this without offending a bunch of folks, which is just impossible I know, but I need to try anyway. I just don’t know how to lay out my thoughts in a way that is precise in order to convey what I am really thinking, because right now my thoughts are a jumble in my mind. It would be too easy to land too far on one side of the argument or the other and not meaning to. Perhaps, just a series of statements and for now and leave it at that. In addition, it will be way, way too easy for me to sound like a reactionary, and I don’t mean to sound like a reactionary of any side. We’ve had way too much of that these past 6 years, already.
I keep thinking of the statement by the Mennonite pastor of Washington Christian Fellowship in D.C. that I heard one Sunday many years ago. In the context of his whole sermon, he said, “Jesus’ way is always a third way.” Ever since then, for really most of my adult life, I have always tried to look at issues and controversies, arguments and fights, accusations and declarations within the Church by asking, “What might be the completely different way that could be the third way of Jesus?” I believe that the attitudes and actions of most all things that separate us are a two-way-street. There is fault and blame on both sides, within both perspectives, attitudes, theories, theologies, visions, etc. We are human – we never get it “right” because of our limitations. So, looking for a third way to help solve the conflict or dispute or schism is where my mind goes almost automatically, now. Even though any thought of mine will really be only just another way.
After working with data over the past couple of years, there can be little debate that The Episcopal Church has suffered a tremendous decline in numbers and influence within our culture and our national life.
We have been on a 30-40 year experiment to remake this Church, and for many adherents of the experiment Christianity itself – just to very pertinent examples: retired Bishop Shelby Spong of Newark, the recently deposed priest trying to merge Christianity and Islam and seeing no conflict, the recently elected bishop of a small diocese that believes in the conflation of Christianity and Buddhism and proceeded to write his own liturgies and creedal statements.
There are plenty of other examples of leadership (clergy and lay) that are now in leadership that in years past would have been called skeptics of the faith, traditionally rendered. The skeptics may have been respected and honorably engaged to hear the why of the skepticism, but they would not been made leader of a Christian Church. It wouldn’t have made sense. Now, it is almost a virtue for a leader in this Church to be a skeptic of the foundational and traditional beliefs/principles of the Church catholic.
It’s like putting a person in charge of an airline company who doesn’t believe that aeoplanes can really go wondering through the air. The new leader believes he is on a mission to save people from the dreadful notion that we can safely go from one place to another by hurtling through high altitudes in a metal tube. What would be the result of hiring such a leader, regardless of how sincere he may be? If this happened, people would lose confidence in the airline (they have a crack-pot for a CEO), the airline would lose its place within the industry, ridership would probably tumble down drastically, and the airline would be destroyed. Of course, the solution to such a situation would be to find another CEO that actually believed that aeroplane flight is possible and safe. But, the conditions of the corporate culture at the time would not allow for the CEO’s removal.
The 30-40 year experiment continuing on in the leaders of this Church (and as a priest I have to include myself in this group) believing that the 2,000 tradition of the Church Catholic and Apostolic is obviously wrong in this modern age, that people are damaged by believing such superstitions, and that a new belief must be forged in order to save the organization and the religion (I don’t go there, however). We can look at denominations that have already gone down this path to see what the result will be. The Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ can be examples for what will result if we continue with this experiment we are engaged in.
This path is also out of touch with the wantings and leanings of younger generations, so the hope that our path will divinely meet up with the rest of the people is false. The demographic data reveal this. We are beginning to see the results of the experiment and the results don’t look too good.
I’ll stop for now. I don’t know how well this has “come out.” I don’t know if this is how I really want to describe all this. But, I can say that the way the conservatives and the liberals within this Church have conducted themselves over the past 30-40 years has not worked and has resulted in schism, division, tremendous decline, and loss of good influence. A third way needs to be found.