8/16/2009

The Strange and Wonderful Witness of Bishop James Pike


Forty years ago, come September, Bishop James A. Pike died in the Judean desert. It happened while The Episcopal Church was in the midst of the Special Convention being held in South Bend, Indiana. At that meeting the House of Bishops would have taken formal notice to certify that Bishop Pike had abandoned "the communion of this Church." By the time he died Bishop Pike had become a confounding presence for everyone liberal and conservative. (photo to right from Wikipedia article on James Pike.)

William Stringfellow and Anthony Towne, in "The Death and Life of Bishop Pike," noted that "The day when Bishop Pike was missing in the Holy Land coincided with a general convention of the Episcopal Church held at Notre Dame University. A newspaperman tells me that he noted no prayer was said at the convention when the report of Pike being lost first reached South Bend. The journalist asked a dignitary -- "Can't you guys even pray for Pike?" "We haven't had a chance to consult about it," was the reply. At the next session, my informant reports, there was a prayer - a "composite" prayer, he called it, mentioning in the same breath Bishop Pike and Ho Chi Minh. As the reporter concluded: "They prayed for all their enemies, all together." (p.435)

When his death was finally confirmed, the House of Bishops unanimously adopted the following resolution,

"Whereas, Many in the Church were and are hurt and bewildered at the seeming inability of our normally inclusive community to accept and understand James Pike in his pilgrimage, so that at the end he felt forced to renounce our brotherhood; now therefore, be it

Resolved, that the House of Bishops give thanks to God for the life and prophetic ministry of James Albert Pike, and recognize the depth of our loss in the dying of this creative and compassionate man." (p.400)

Stringfellow and Towne wrote the definitive story of Bishop Pike published in 1976. By then it was clear that Pike, who had absorbed the wisdom of others and found provocative ways to weave the continuing challenges of faithful living both for himself and for others, had finally moved from being a knowledge machine to a faithful and compassionate "earthen vessel."

Stringfellow and Towne wrote,

"The death to self in Christ was neither doctrinal abstraction or theological jargon for James Pike. He died in such a way before his death in Judea. He died to authority, celebrity, the opinions of others, publicity, status, dependence upon Mama, indulgences in alcohol and tobacco, family and children, marriage and marriages, promiscuity, scholarly ambition, the lawyer's profession, political opportunity, Olympian discourses, forensic agility, controversy, denigration, injustice, religion, the need to justify himself.

By the time Bishop Pike reached the wilderness in Judea, he had died in Christ. What, then, happened there was not so much a death as a birth."

In the past few weeks I have been reading a trilogy of novels by Philip K. Dick, the so called VALIS trilogy - Consisting of
VALIS, The Divine Invasion, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. The last of these, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is closely based on the life of Bishop Pike and reaches much the same conclusion regarding what really happened to him. Philip Dick writes, (remember Tim is Bishop Pike) "It was Tim who came back out of compassion." "That's right...He sought wisdom, the Holy Wisdom of God.. and when he got there and the Presence entered him, he realized that it was not wisdom that he wanted, but compassion....he already had wisdom but it hadn't done him or anyone else any good." (p. 241, Vintage Book edition)

It turns out that Philip Dick knew Bishop Pike. According to the Wikipedia article on Pike, he officiated at Dick's wedding to Nancy Hackett in 1966, so the wheel goes round and round.

I was put on to this trilogy by Matthew, our son, who I in turn provoked to reading Philip Dick's other novels. He sent me the trilogy in particular because of "The Divine Invasion." a book by Dick that grew from his having a cluster of profoundly psychological and spiritual visions.

So here we are in Episcopal / Anglican land, forty years after Bishop Pike's death and we are still struggling with all the same issues. The struggle to be inclusive continues, the push back with charges of heresy is always there, the pilgrimages we are all on continue.

Bishop Pike at the end believed he had to give up the church in order to keep up the struggle to be authentic to his pilgrimage. His needs for autonomy in his pilgrimage were met by other means. He died still a bishop in the church.

18 comments:

Fred Schwartz said...

The journalist asked a dignitary -- "Can't you guys even pray for Pike?" "We haven't had a chance to consult about it," was the reply. At the next session, my informant reports, there was a prayer - a "composite" prayer, he called it, mentioning in the same breath Bishop Pike and Ho Chi Minh. As the reporter concluded: "They prayed for all their enemies, all together." (p.435)

What a fascinating prayer. Whatever one might think of Ho Chi Minh (Uncle Ho to millions) he was unviersally proclaimed as a patriot. It seems that the prayer, though somewhat twisted in appearance, works for me. Jmaes Pike was a TEC patriot.

PS: Glad to see your modulator/demodulator is working again.

James said...

I had written a post I was putting up on the anniversaryu this September, and you beat me to part of it. I, too, knew Bishop Pike although I was young. I remember when he was at our parish how divided the Episcopalians were about him. Funny thing, though, time has proven him to be correct and a prophet. And all those who called him a heretic, well, most of them, accept what he said then as fact now.

I think we, who are trying to be about the business of Jesus, can take some comfort in the story of Bishop Pike - it's not easy to be a prophetic voice, but in the end, God vindicates the prophets and the prophetic voice.

Ann said...

Bishop Pike spoke at our HS baccalaureate (a public high school in Portland) -- it may have been for all the High Schools in the area. I still remember what he said.

Kurt said...

Well, 40 years ago all one heard from the Episcopal right was "Pike! Pike! Pike!" Today, it's "Spong! Spong! Spong!" The more things change...

Sharon said...

Wiki says he was an alcoholic and that adultery led to his divorce, even while he was a priest and a bishop.... Is this correct?

Mark Harris said...

Sharon... yep. I quoted Stringfellow on this: "He died to authority, celebrity, the opinions of others, publicity, status, dependence upon Mama, indulgences in alcohol and tobacco, family and children, marriage and marriages, promiscuity, scholarly ambition, the lawyer's profession, political opportunity, Olympian discourses, forensic agility, controversy, denigration, injustice, religion, the need to justify himself."

He had given up drinking some time before he died, it is unclear how much he relied up uppers. He was involved in "marriage, marriages and promiscuity." His second marriage ended in divorce the reason (I believe) being his being in an adulterous relationship. There were all sorts of reasons why he could have been expelled, if they had been either widely known or strongly confronted. Instead he was confronted on issues of heresy.

There is no question that Pike pushed way beyond the norms of acceptable behavior, both personal and ecclesial. I think Stringfellow's assessment was correct, in the end he died to all this and in a wild last effort in the desert died in a search he never gave up on, the search for the presence of God.

Mark Harris said...

Ann... what did he say?

Bob McCloskey said...

IMHO some of the keenest theological minds and prophetic voices have been guilty of the types of behaviors which Jim Pike exhibited. I could name famous names but I won't. I'd prefer to remember that he and my apologetics prof at GTS, the late Norman Pittenger, co-authored the official church teaching series on theology and belief in the 1950's.
Bishop Pike attempted to hire my dad as a canon on the staff of the Diocese of California. I often wonder how our paths would have differed, had that happened.
One of the sad but amusing stories in Stringfellow and Townes book was the invitation from the host bishop of West Virginia to Pike to offer the blessing over the food at a dinner during the House of Bishops meeting dealing with his 'heresy'. AS soon as Pike concluded, there were audible murmurs of heresy from some of his detractors. Stringfellow muses that the prayer he gave, was the one Jesus used at the last supper.
He continues in my prayers for the departed, regularly.

Beryl Simkins said...

I have to acknowledge that I am intrigued by the book. There are some who worry so much about heresy, but the seekers will continue to question, and have this desire to pursue understanding, as though they are driven. And perhps it is of the Holy Spirit. I am not afraid of the questions or of those who question, and can't imagine why I should be. It is interesting that he came to the realization that it wasn't about knowledge or wisdon, but about compassion.

Anonymous said...

I've read several of Bishop Pike's books and think he was one of our greatest bishops.

das said...

Thanks for writing this- I am currently rereading Philip K Dick's "VALIS Trilogy" and was looking for some more background info. It was a pretty remarkable thing that happened to them, at that time. Divine Invasion indeed. "The Empire Never Ended." ;)

Adam Luebke said...

I have been reading Dick's VALIS trilogy, particularly because I was interested in Bishop Pike. The way he's represented as Tim Archer, he's incredibly smart, intelligent, and passionate.

Great post!

Nadine Scott said...

BISHOP PIKE WAS AN AMAZING MAN, AS A FRIEND HE WAS LOYAL, AS A LOVER HE WAS EXCITING AS A BISHOP HE WAS REMARKABLE AS A MAN HE WAS AN EVOLVED HUMAN BRING. WHAT A PITY THE CHURE WAS TO BLIND TO APPRECIATE HIS MESSAGE|: WELCOME ALL...PASS NO JUDGEMENT...CHRIST BELONGED TO EVERYONE.
NADINE SCOTT

b56f0a04-04a3-11e2-878c-000f20980440 said...

It was the likes of James Pike, john Hines, and Paul Moore that drew me to the Episcopal church and priesthod. I count as one of the greatest compliments of my life when a parishioner with a loving smile looked at me and said: "Do you know who you remind me of?" And stammered cautiously: "no". And he smiled and spoke in the most complimentary way: "You remind me of bishop Pike." thank you for your post. jeff rahn dmin

Ann said...

He used the image of the carpet -- we only see the knots and threads on the reverse side - but God sees the top - the pattern of it all - and that as we become more like Christ we too will see the pattern and the beauty.

Theodore Calvin said...

Bishop James A. Pike was a regular visitor to my wife's next door neighbor, a prominent Bay Area psychiatrist. My father-in-law actually participated in a seance attended by Pike held there circa 1963-64, much to my mother-in-law's horror, so I've been "aware" of the bishop's story for many years.

The undisputed facts of the man's life (serial addictions and adulteries) prove that he had profound psychological issues which he could never reconcile with orthodox Christian doctrine (see, e.g. The Westminster Confession of Faith, Scots Confession, etc.).

Had James Pike truly surrendered himself to Christ, as some here suggest, he would have accepted the revealed Truth of Scripture in faith. His steadfast refusal to do so was nothing short of a manifestation of unbridled human pride and its inevitable rebellion against God. It is therefore not in the least surprising that he left so much misery and death in his wake.

Sadly, this poor, deluded, unregenerate man could only be celebrated in an hopelessly debased and Godless institution like the Episcopal Church.

Val said...

Val said....I agree completely with Theodore Calvin....this man's life was tragic, as was his death. The true message of the gospel of Jesus Christ sets people free from the kinds of things he involved himself in....

Anonymous said...

dear father ,im episcopal priest also. I admire ur page and love bishop pike also . I think in many ways he is our patron, stan mcgraw