“What We Think We Are Doing,” Bishop Whalon

Bishop Whalon, of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, has written an excellent and I think very important opinion piece on Anglicans Online.
It is entitled, “What We Think We Are Doing,” by The Rt Revd Pierre W. Whalon, D.D.
Basically, he says in very strong terms that this Church of ours has gotten the cart before the horse when dealing with the issue of the full-inclusion of gay and lesbian people. Because there has not been a clear and faithfully formulated theology supporting the relationships of gay people leading to their full-inclusion, we are acting unjustly and unfaithfully as a Church when we ordain partnered clergy and bless unions.
We have acted politically, not theologically, and we have done all this before we are able to make a cogent and thorough theological defense – particularly since we are changing the universal Church’s understanding from the beginning.
Here are the two final paragraphs:

Finally, I am quite aware that changing a part of the church’s teaching may be in error, and that those leaders who lead others astray will fall under God’s judgment. I do not expect to get handed one day a millstone with my initials on it fitted to my neck size, so to speak, but those are the stakes, and we need to own up to it. Moreover, as a matter of justice, not to mention love, it is simply wrong, that is, unjust and unloving, to continue as a church to live into a new teaching without giving clear reasons—carefully argued and officially accepted by our own church—for doing so. While justice delayed is justice denied, the global scope of our actions is in fact hindering the acceptance of gay and lesbian people elsewhere.
Some have said that the moratoria will end when we act to end them. Such an action, undefended, would only perpetuate the present anomie, and raise a real question about a “General-Convention fundamentalism”—“the majority voted it, therefore God said it, and that settles it.” Rather, we need to continue to keep “gracious restraint” until we have done the necessary work in order to end it. We do not have to wait for the rest of the Communion to approve our arguments, of course. But it is terrible that we as a church have continued to avoid that work, and all therefore continue to pay a heavy price, both within and without The Episcopal Church. If we go on blessing same-sex unions and consecrating people in those partnered relationships, and yet continue to refuse to do that work, will that mean that we cannot justify our actions? And if we cannot, then what — in God’s name — do we think we’re doing?

I highly recommend the article.

The Church must change?

How often I hear these days that “the Church must change or die.” I think this kind of talk comes generally from people bent on institutional survival when things don’t look very good for the coming years. Funny thing, most of them seem to be anti-establishmentarians. I think it comes more from a place of insecurity and a lack of assurance that the Tradition has any longer much to say to contemporary culture. I could be wrong. I think they are wrong.
Of course organizations and institutions change. But the question I have to ask is what must change – everything, organizational structure, teaching, belief, attitude, expression, etc… Perhaps all, perhaps one, perhaps none.
Here’s the thing… When I hear that “the ‘top-down’ authority structures have to change or else the Church will die.” I don’t believe it. Why? Because the world totally functions within a “top-down” authority structure. There is nothing wrong with it, but then again there is nothing pre-ordained about it either. It simply is, and it is neutral. When I read or hear this kind of assertion, what I come away with is an experience of bad leadership. Rather than focus on helping leaders – be they priests, bishops, CEO’s, mayors, or any other authority of rank – be better leaders (which isn’t easy, I know), we would rather tare down the structure and replace it with what?, something we imagine will be better?
Here’s another thing… When I hear that “the teaching of the Church must change or it will die!” I don’t believe it. Why? Because the core teachings of the Church have flourished, when given an chance, in more cultures and languages than can be counted for over 2,000 years. There is something reliable there, folks. I think the panic comes from people who have lost their sense of imagination. Of course, there have been a whole lot of adiaphora forced onto the Church from centuries past that was (is) never necessary, and these things should perhaps be let go of, but this is a different matter.
What the Church and its members do need to do is learn from the enduring understandings and experiences of the Church in Christ and from the lives of countless Christians over two millennia. Too many of us, I think, have a somewhat vague notion of what a Christian is supposed to be like intellectually, but too many of us do not have the experience of God that enabled martyrs to endure their suffering and death, the down trodden to endure their hardship with a semblance of self respect, the grieving to somehow have joy, the pained to rejoice. This knowledge comes only through relationship, however too many of us have dysfunctional relationships with God. The problem is that we too often demand to stay in our dysfunction. God has other ideas, however, but He will respect our decisions.
What the Church does need to do, I humbly assert (and of course the Church is only individual people), what we need to do is learn how to translate the Faith and the Tradition and the Experience that have endured for all these centuries to emerging generations.
Our problem is a translation problem! Our problem is that we don’t translate or reflect the imago Dei very well in these times and in our own contexts. Many do, of course, and they don’t seem to have the same kind of “change everything” panic that tares at the heart of what enlivens the Church and enables Christians to be.

Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday, as it was explained:

The day before the beginning of Lent is known as Shrove Tuesday. To shrive someone, in old-fashioned English (he shrives, he shrove, he has shriven or he shrives, he shrived, he has shrived), is to hear his acknowledgement of his sins, to assure him of God’s forgiveness, and to give him appropriate spiritual advice. The term survives today in ordinary usage in the expression “short shrift”. To give someone short shrift is to pay very little attention to his excuses or problems. The longer expression is, “to give him short shrift and a long rope,” which formerly meant to hang a criminal with a minimum of delay.

[The Rev. Ron Lau, Vicar of Christ Church, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, NY]

Three-dimensional thinking

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave the Presidential address to the Church of England’s General Synod, yesterday.
Of particular interest, aside from his more balanced thinking on the whole LGBT issue and of the troubles within the Anglican Communion, of particular interest to me was his explanation of the distinctiveness of the Christian understanding and definition of freedom and liberty. (this starts around the 17:51 minute mark)
I also find very interesting his presentation of the concept of “three-dimensional thinking.” In many ways, he is presenting something that should be natural for Anglicans – really it is a re-presenting of the Via Media extended beyond the original middle way between Roman Catholicism and the Continental Reformation.

“Seeing something in three dimensions is seeing that I can’t see everything at once: what’s in front of me is not just the surface I see in this particular moment… So seeing in three dimensions requires us to take time with what we see. It may help us look more critically at solutions that seek to do too much all at once; and perhaps to search for structures that will keep open the ability to learn from each other.” (Source)

This is something I want to thank more about.

Times and times again…

Another big snow storm is supposedly upon us. Friends of mine in Baltimore said they measured three feet from the last storm. We, in Brooklyn, lost out. We got barely a dusting. This time, however, may be different. The weather guy said last night that we could get 8-12 inches. I’ll believe it when I see it. Snow is falling at this point…
I have been mulling over in my mind how this blog might take shape in the future. As I have always intended, it is a place for me to “dump” things to which I can return later – to keep track of links or quotes or ideas and to “think out loud” as I try to figure out this crazy world of ours. I’ve been doing less “thinking out loud” and more posting of quotes.
I thought that I might us this space to chronicle this new ministry project in which I find myself. It is the creation of something completely new from scratch, from the ground up. It makes me nervous, but also excited. Getting used to doing ministry full-time is challenging. For the past 4 3/4 years, I’ve been a working priest. I’ve worked full-time and then did ministry during my “down” hours. I worked two jobs, and that was very frustrating. Months would go by and I would have no days off. It wore me out… it is an unhealthy way to live. Now, for these past three weeks, my job is my ministry. I don’t quite know what to do with myself. I feel guilty spending hours in a row planning or reading or thinking about the work of a priest and the work of the Gospel of Christ in this blistered world of ours.
Society and culture is changing so quickly. As a tech-guy, I love the advances in technology and what they allow us to do – and be. But, the changes that are going on go far deeper than just the advancement of technology and our use of the new technology. My mind whirls when I think of the possibilities of the iPad (and like instruments), but my mind shutters at the thought of what is developing within the hearts and minds of people. The changes go to the heart of who we think we are and how we deal with one another. Technology may augment or finder aspects of that deeper reality, but technology is neutral – it is we that change. (Should I use “us” there instead of “we”? I’ll be lazy and not use the technology to investigate the correct grammatical usage. My failure, not the technology’s failure!)
Add to this the “gift” of the last generation that pulled us away from any mooring or tether to anything tried or solid to help ground us in something other than the immediate, the trendy, the superficial… as we stumble along trying to find our way unable to receive and recognize the lessons from lives past.
The next twenty years should be amazing, from the standpoint of a neutral observer of people and society. I don’t know were we will be, and I think few people will be able to imagine where we will be. These are strange times, as if all times are not strange, but these truly are fundamentally strange times.
As people who deal with people who are living out their lives in “real time” and as people who talk amongst ourselves a lot, I keep hearing from priests that something just isn’t right. Something strange is doing on in the underlying strata of our society and lives. There has been some sort of turning, and we can’t at this point quite figure out to what. Some say they think we will enter into a new Dark-Ages. Some say they think we may be coming close to an end of the age of democracy. I don’t know – that may all be extreme. Something, however, is certainly up.
In the changing and the new contexts, where is the Gospel? Where are the people who live lives so rooted in the Way of Christ that the image people see in them, in us, is something profoundly different than what is “imaged” or seen in most worldlings?
The way we live out our Faith in the coming days will have little in common with what has been commonly experienced in this country since its inception. These are heady times, these are challenging times, these are times that will look in many ways far more like pre-Constantinian times that post (our recognizable times). How do we navigate these coming days?
The snow is falling hard, now. Perhaps we will have a big snowfall, after all.