My continuing attempt to articulate what I’m thinking (painful, I know).
For over the last few thousands of years, since Abraham and our shared belief that he and Sarah were the beginnings of God interacting with humanity in ways that we historically understand, from the “trickle” of a stream that began with Abraham has develop a large and slow flowing river we call the Tradition (nothing to do with â€œtraditionalismâ€).
Still waters run deep!
It is easy in a cursory way to see this river as being almost stagnant, but if we look ever more closely we recognize that, indeed, it is moving with a strength and a surety that is unequaled. The river is going in a direction, it is steady, it is powerful to those who take the time to understand it. There can be all kinds of analogies, but this is where I will go.
Despite how Man tries to control this river by building levies or barriers or dams and so on, the river will not be contained by the mere efforts of men and women. It will flow where it will flow. It will accomplish what it will accomplish, despite our most strenuous efforts to divert its affects.
People enter the river, people exit the river, while many on the banks misunderstand the purpose and power of the river. Others curse the river because it cannot be contained or controlled or manipulated by the designs of Man. The river flows where it will.
Eddies develop both within the river and just off its banks. What gets caught in the eddies has a very difficult time escaping, even as the river continues to flow, even as the eddies stay in the same place, even as some thing caught in an eddy, die.
Those who enter the river must learn to navigate its course. They must get their “river-legs” (or “sea-legs” or “subway-legs,” you get the meaning). They must learn to swim, well. They must learn to “listen” as the river “speaks.” They can fight against the current if they wish, but normally to their own detriment. We have seen again and again throughout the history of the last few thousands of years those who self-assuredly enter the river thinking they know, thinking theyâ€™ve figured it all out, only to meet their end. The river confounds the thinkings and the doings of Man’s best efforts.
At the heart of the Tradition, is this: Redemption – the reestablishment of relationship between God and man first-off and then the re-enabling of men and women to be in right relationship with one other. Iâ€™ve heard older river people talk about their relationship with a river, as if personified. For us who claim Christ, living waters now feed the river that maintains and is the Tradition. It is a relationship through which we are absolutely changed, transformed, re-formed out of the “worldly systems” that work on us and mold us (form us) in ways contrary to the Life in Christ – life as intended from the beginning and made possible, again. If we regard the Tradition honestly, I think, we will see that this relationship is established, developed, and nurtured through disciplines that when interred into have their way with us – God’s way. We are re-formed! We are enabled to experience God and life anew.
I think over the last century, particularly the last 50 odd years (and really since the dawn of the Enlightenment), we increasingly have given ourselves not to relationship, but to kinds of teaching, kinds of philosophies, kinds of theories, kinds of politics, kinds of methods, kinds of confessions, kinds of acts that all in the end still work contrary to the will of God in our communities and in our lives. Rather than give ourselves over to the re-forming disciplines of the Tradition, we give ourselves to the Ideas of Man – even ideas that attempt to help us explain all this god stuff.
So, we fight, we argue, we demean, we cast dispersions, we torture and kill over these ideas of ours as we move further to the edges of the banks of the river until we find ourselves caught up in eddies. We swirl around and around as our attention and our eyes focus on ourselves only, and we get nowhere. We keep on in this way until we don’t even recognize that we are no longer moving with the river, slow and deep.
Part of the great Tradition, a least as my understanding of our experience in Anglicanism might suggest, is to debate and argue about all manner of things. I think this is partly due to our Jewish heritage, remaining, among many other things. After all, iron sharpens iron. A river rubs a jagged rock smooth. Yet, instead of remaining in the main flow of the river, we find ourselves in eddies. We find ourselves in eddies of identity politics, political correctness, fundamentalism of the left and right, philosophies and theologies that have more to do with the hermeneutic of doubt and disbelief born out of giving ourselves to the Systems of this World rather than giving ourselves to the disciplines that keep us squarely in the river, on course. To stay the course is to allowing us to be re-formed, to be reshaped so that we know well how to navigate, how to swim, how to be in right relationship with God and one another.
So much of Anglicanism and The Episcopal Church are caught in eddies of our own making. The river continues, and we are seeing renewed expressions of the passing on of the Tradition to emerging generations. It is the same Tradition, the river continuing to flow, but experienced anew by new generations. Yet, we remain in our eddies because frankly at this point we have become blind to our own plight. In some ways, our eddies are more comfortable to us than re-integrating back into the river â€“ even though to remain means stagnation, exhaustion, and a withering death.
I’m tired of it all. I’m tired of fighting. I want to step back into the river. I want to find people who want to dive in, head first. I want to be with people who are intentional in giving themselves to the transformative power of the Tradition, even if at present I or we don’t feel like it, or cannot ascend intellectually to what the Tradition demands, but that we think not too highly of ourselves and realize that there is far more to understand and to experience than we have thus far. We allow God to have his way with us.
Instead of coming to the Tradition and the classic Christian disciples and thinking we have to re-interpret them to fit into a “Modern world,” why don’t we engage the Tradition and the disciplines and allow them to reinterpret us! We yield in humility, rather than demand the Tradition yield to our great intelligence, our great coming-of-age.
There is nothing new hereâ€¦ all this is as old and tested as the slow moving river. I want the river, not the eddies. I want the relationship, not the systems, even as I try to understand it all through systems of thought. A “systematic theology” is important to consider, but it is secondary to the relationship. There is nothing sentimental about any of this, nothing nostalgic, nothing about longing for a past “golden era.” There is a gazing forward as the river flows, and I wish to give myself to the learning of how to swim, how to navigate, how to be in the midst of a deep and slow moving river of Tradition. Step out of the controversies and the fighting, out of the eddy, and into the living waters of the river.