General Convention 2009 was exhausting. I've been to every General Convention since the Special Convention in 1969, with the exception of 1973 which was just too depressing to even think about. (At that convention Bishop John Allin was elected Presiding Bishop and the ordination of women to the priesthood was rejected.) They have each been involving and exhausting, but this one more than most. Until the mid nineties I was at Convention as a lobbyist or staff person. Since then I have been there as a Deputy. Being a Deputy is more exhausting.
Now some weeks later and spending some time on our boat (see picture of said boat on the right) I realize that the exhaustion was more than physical, it was emotional.
In General Convention 2009 The Episcopal Church's governing body did important work and I am proud to have been part of the deliberations that led to passage of D025, C056 and D020 (on election of bishops, gathering materials on same sex blessings, studying and using the Anglican Covenant.) There was a great deal of effort to maintain our connections with other parts of the Anglican Communion, to further the missionary work of the Episcopal Church both within this Church and world-wide, and to address the economic and social realities of this time.
It was a difficult Convention in some respects, but over all I believe it was a Convention of things done decently and in good order. It was also a Convention that began to find a voice as a Church committed to quite discriminate inclusivity. Contrary to Bishop Mark Lawrence's comment that The Episcopal Church is wedded to "The false Gospel of an Indiscriminate Inclusivity," the General Convention carefully, discriminately and with profound regard for the implications of its actions, released its members, and particularly its bishops, to exercise their theological, moral and pastoral duties in ways that can be true to the everlasting Good News and true to the experiences of people in the nations and peoples this church is called to serve.
There is no question in my mind that unless we can argue for an understanding of the Gospel in which discriminate inclusivity is always in order we will indeed be charged with holding to a "false Gospel of an Indiscriminate Inclusivity" or a false Gospel of the closed fist. Unless we can speak to inclusion as inclusion in something that itself is quite discriminate, The Episcopal Church will be marginalized in the Anglican Communion and be excluded from several of its decision making bodies. I think we worked at that at General Convention and I believe Bishop Lawrence is flat out wrong in his assessment of the work of The Episcopal Church.
Part of my exhaustion is due, I suppose, to the intensity of my hopes that The Episcopal Church would precisely begin to find its way to express its sense of vocation in the particular context of post modernity, the end of Christendom and the emergence of a virtual (via communications) global village. Given that what we become "post" modernity is unclear, given that the end of Christendom goes unrecognized by the great imperial powers of Christendom, and given that a global electronic village is not a citizens community, there being no city but only a village, this is a lot to expect.Of course those hopes were only partially realized at Convention.
It has been a month since the end of General Convention. The Archbishop of Canterbury has written from afar about the actions we took and the actions he believes the Anglican Communion might take. Otherwise there has been the usual bangs and thumps from various bloggers and then in the past two weeks an odd falling off of comments and even much news.
What is going on?
These are, of course, the dog days of Summer. According to Wikipidia, "Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies" according to Brady’s Clavis Calendarium, 1813." According to The Book of Common Prayer (1552), the "Dog Daies" begin on July 6 and end on August 17. (See HERE.)
Well, we are getting near the end of those days and perhaps the time of dogs growing mad, creatures becoming languid, men "burning with fevers, hysterics, and phrensies" is coming to an end. Perhaps we in Anglican Land have become languid, burning with fevers and not with a Gospel call. Nobody is stirring much, not even the mice. Part of my exhaustion is with the whole busyness of it all. The Dog Daies have indeed come. The One who has come into the world is known, but we are busy parsing His words rather than celebrating his presence or living in holy fear anticipating his coming again.
It also feels to me like the ninth hour, the 3 PM time when it seems, well, finished. It feels somehow as if The Episcopal Church is experiencing that strange time when the curtain of the Temple is torn, when the death comes, and when all things new are not yet known because not yet experienced. It is quiet in Episcopal and Anglican Land perhaps because we all know that The Anglican Communion of our particular expectations is done, finished, dead. What the Anglican Communion might become is another matter. Whether or not any of us would particularly like to be part of that is as well.
Additionally I have listened these past weeks to the arguments one way or another about just why salvation is found only in Jesus Christ, and I have wondered, sitting on the boat, if perhaps we Christians have about used up the right to claim that salvation is possible only through Jesus Christ. The thing is, Jesus Christ turns out to be defined by those of us who make the claim to particular and unique salvation through him. It is a very tightly circular argument and while suitable to the dog days of Summer, when dogs go mad and people are overcome with fevers, hysterias and frenzies. The claim has run its course because the followers of Jesus Christ, all of us, turn out not to know just what we are talking about.
Maybe its just the moment, or the boat, or the hour, but it seems to me just now that our salvation is hidden in God. Through Jesus we who follow him have the assurance of that saving grace. And we may sing of the glory of it: that Salvation is of Christ the Lord. But that's it. But we don't get to demand that people take seriously that it is only through specific belief in Jesus Christ (as we define that) that salvation comes. Jesus may be getting it together to save people who think the Jesus advertised by Christians is a sham. Maybe for them God, in Jesus Christ, is hidden in the form of a twelve year old girl who plays a mean fiddle. Who knows?
These are the dog days, the ninth hour, the time to be just a bit dumbfounded by it all.
Preludium has been an instrument (not a very good one I am afraid) for several things: at first for thoughts about what was emerging in the Anglican Communion and The Episcopal Church, then for thoughts about what to do as the Anglican Communion began to morph into some new as yet unclear possibility, and now for the Episcopal Church in its vocation to be a church among the Anglican churches. Essays and analysis here has been directed towards understanding just what the Anglican Communion is about these days and what part we need to play in it. It is time to make an assessment.
I have come to several conclusions - if not for ever, at least for the time being:
(i) Regarding "prophecy and exceptionalism." There is talk that The Episcopal Church is engaged in "prophecy or exceptionalism" in its decisions and actions through successive General Conventions. (See Tony Clavier's very interesting essay on this charge HERE. ) I think that is nuts. Many of us in The Episcopal Church are engaged with The Word, meaning by that, trying to live by The Word of God which as we know is not the words on the pages of Scripture alone, but by the informing presence of the Logos who has given these words flesh and blood. We are engaged in The World, meaning by that in the whole of Creation and humankind finally as something to be engaged with joy.
We may act sometimes with a certainty that we are being prophetic, but as we all know the prophecy game is not for the faint of heart. We ought not go down that road too much. God has surprises in store for us all and woe to the prophet who thought some action of General Convention was prophecy.
As for exceptionalism - the notion that we are some how set apart by vocation as an exception - that God may be using The Episcopal Church as a test or special case and therefore lifting the restrictions otherwise incumbent upon us all - it is difficult to see this as our vocation as a church when we, in General Convention, have been clear that we know that what we do has consequences, that we are not exempt from criticism and even censure. What we claim is not exceptionalism, but rather the claim that we are responding as we believe our faith requires us to respond.
(ii) Regarding "Indiscriminate Inclusivity."
Bishop Lawrence supposes that The Episcopal Church is involved in promoting "The false Gospel of an Indiscriminate Inclusivity." Nuts to this as well. I believe The Episcopal Church is involved in quite the opposite, a discriminate inclusivity that will, as it plays out, be a means of true witness. As to his long list of grievances and his recipes for solution, we ought to be watchful.
The grievances are all about the business of indiscriminate inclusivity. The recipes for the solution are all about binding together the orthodox into a solid effort "to undertake an intrepid resistance to the tyranny of the majority over judicious authority." The protest movement Bishop Lawrence is proposing includes most of the agenda of the Communion Partners.
He writes, "We need to find a place not only to survive, but to thrive, and that this needs to be faithful, relational and structural. But this is not merely for our sake, but for others. I have been in conversation with bishops of other dioceses in TEC which find themselves in similar positions of isolation. We have discussed the possibility of developing gatherings of bishops, clergy, and laity for the express purpose of encouragement, education and mission." That effort will also include a project to, "support conservative parishes and missions in dioceses where there is isolation or worse."
The bishop is on target to suggest that the so called "orthodox" who are not leaving need to get more organized. Go for it. But the little addendum about "supporting conservative parishes and missions in dioceses where there is isolation or worse" opens again the whole mess of jurisdiction and permission. Sitting on the boat, let me say the whole thing does not interest me very much, except that it is an opportunity to practice watchfulness.
(iii) Regarding the Archbishop's assessment of General Convention and the Two Track solution:
The Archbishop of Canterbury has made it clear: as far as he is concerned our actions as a Church have been insufficient as signs of restraint. OK. So that means what? At some point in the future the wrecking ball will come swinging down and the fragile thing called the Anglican Communion will tumble. And on that wrecking ball will be inscribed, "The Covenant divides before it unites."
The notion of a "two track" Communion, or of an inner circle part of the full deliberations of the Anglican Communion and a second outer circle that involves partial fellow travelers, is no Communion at all.
All the muttering about being a Communion rather than a Federation is meaningless. Federation is one way of organizing a lump of entities like states or dioceses, but it is that - an organizing principle. Communion is something we do together - it is not a way of organizing, it is the reason to organize. We ought to work together and share resources and people and clergy and whatall because we share in the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus. THAT is communion.
Federation, confederation, imperial, princely or other forms of government of the Church is quite another thing. So I am less and less interested in organizational solutions to the issue of communion. Organization has little or nothing to do with why I find myself concerned for Anglican communities elsewhere in the world. I hope the same is true towards The Episcopal Church as well.
(iv) Regarding the Anglican Covenant:
The Anglican Covenant, the text we have with some few changes, will be passed around the Communion for signatures. I believe it is irrelevant.
The powers that be in the Anglican Communion "Instruments of Communion" already have in had the necessary powers to exclude and include who they wish. So including them in the Covenant is a mere convenience, or perhaps a statement of the obvious.
The covenant to work always in tandem with the whole Communion so that nothing done in one place is seen as an impediment to common life in the Communion is a promise that cannot in reality be enforced. The various Churches of the Communion will do as they finally feel called to do. And yet the desire to act in accord, and the willingness to share concerns and challenges, is there, has been there and is a great conserving force.
So again, the Covenant can name the reality of the desire for sufficient unity but it cannot force such unity when there is urgent need in this or that Church for action. As for the rest of the Covenant, it provides a reasonable summation of the variety of core beliefs and values held by the various Churches. But signing it will not make Communion when there was none before, and not signing it will not break Communion where there was before.
Communion is much tougher than organizational fabric. The fabric of Communion has not been torn at all, contrary to Archbishop Gomez and friends. The fabric of Communion is not ours to tear. It is whole and entire and is a matter of the Spirit.
So my sense is that the Covenant is irrelevant to the unity we seek. If it will serve to provide a better basis for belonging to this or that organization (whose unity is radically incomplete given the mess that is Christ's church organized) so be it.
(v) Concerning the Life and Death of the Anglican Communion:
I have for some years held that the Anglican Communion as a organizing function, is an organic thing: it grows, changes, develops, and in the end it will die, as all organisms do. What we must hope for is that in the future, beyond its death, there are Christians who will look back and give thanks for our witness, peculiar as it is. I take comfort in this belief.
(vi) Finally, I a quite aware that I have little tolerance for people who want to dismiss The Episcopal Church, its leaders, or in a much more minor way, me as being heretical, exceptionalist, indiscriminate, un-orthodox, un-Christian, etc. Otherwise, the report is the Dog Days are coming to a close. Cooler air is predicted by the end of the week. There is family here and all over, a youth group to work with, time for the joys of community here in the village by the bay and the big water, and a boat on the water.
'Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING--absolute nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,' he went on dreamily: `messing--about--in--boats; messing----'ReplyDelete
Sorry your post put that in mind.
I'm not a Christian though my ancestry in part is CoE and I have friends who are Episcopalian. Perhaps one day each of us will truly see all our neighbors (including those who were once our enemies) and freely and joyously share food and drink.
Take what rest you can.
I think TEC has been too accomodating of the institutionalist call for unity....GC09 was much better for its honesty than GC06 (I respect the honesty). Institutional unity is not a good aim for any of us....it merely costs us all some of our integrity. So what if the club cannot be sustained? It is better to have genuine communion and unity than stay in the club when fundamental disagreements can never be reconciled. Institutional unity is not the ultimate goal...it has been given far too much weight for years - all have suffered as a result. Better times ahead...now that greater honesty has broken out in the ACReplyDelete
Mark+, Love the boat and I can think of few places better than the Delaware bay to put in for some marine prozac therapy, or landing big black drum fish. Is that boat a Nimble?ReplyDelete
"According to The Book of Common Prayer (1552), the "Dog Daies" begin on July 6 and end on August 17."ReplyDelete
Thanks, Mark. That's a bit of BCP trivia that would have tripped me up if somebody asked at Coffee Hour! But, following the link, it looks to me as if they end on Sep 3, not Aug 17. Not an easy Kalendar to read, in any case.
You have come up with the most perceptive, most insightful, most appropriate, and most cogent reaction to the Right's babbling: IT'S NUTS!ReplyDelete
And it is -- plain NUTS! It's simply cuckoo. It's off the rails. It's only got one oar in the water. It is so much gaff and self-righteous guff.
I think the progressives' error has been measured, careful, studied politeness -- when, in fact, it's NUTS!
First, I love your boat! It looks Dutch to me.ReplyDelete
Second, I had quickly to read to the end just to make sure you weren't going to announce you were folding Preludium. I can only go through so much blog withdrawal and not all at once.
"I have for some years held that the Anglican Communion as a organizing function, is an organic thing: it grows, changes, develops, and in the end it will die, as all organisms do. What we must hope for is that in the future, beyond its death, there are Christians who will look back and give thanks for our witness, peculiar as it is."
There you say it. I came to peace before GC 2006 and Lambeth 2008 that if the Anglican Communion died to what it is now, I would be OK with it because of our belief in the resurrection. Maybe, too, it's because I bank on that wonderful collect used at the end of the Solemn Collects on Good Friday, the end of the readings at the Easter Vigil, and ordinations that says plainly: let those things which have grown old be made new, those things which have been cast down be raised up and all things being brought to perfection... so perhaps it really is time for the AC as we currently know it to die so we may start anew. In some ways, so much TEC. And I am at peace with this though the dying is always hard.
Thanks for the laconic words of a man who is learning to mess with boats!ReplyDelete
Yes, NUTZ is the right word. Thus named, we can go back to the notion that TEC and the AC can go on doing what it has always done--the important work of proclaiming the Gospel and the work of God in our lives.
I think it is in our 60's that we finally come to the realization that the Church will go on without us no matter what we do, neither can we end it nor direct it. And we sometimes wonder what we have worked ourselves to death for. All I know is that I have done what I believe Christ was calling me to. I have to leave the rest to the next generations to make sense of it.
bless you, St. Mark. You give too much too all of this. I envy you your boat! You deserve to relax and let go. I always read you, but good Lord - relax and enjoy the Bay... with deep thanks..ReplyDelete
Jesus liked boats too... just don't try walking on the water, okay?ReplyDelete
I loved the wrecking ball image --and that the Covenant divides before it unites. A most excellent line. Thank you.
And, I am not at all sure why I feel compelled to say this --but big grief is disorienting. And, for me, there is certain grief in all that has happened in the Communion, the fracturing, the power grabbing, the fundamentalism.... I am seeking the peace that Lee has found. I am confident it will come, it is just the discipline of staying focused until then.... and that is exhausting work indeed.
God bless you, Mark. And thank you for your witness.
Mark, you are simply and categorically a true mensch, and we would all be the poorer without your generous insights! Along with Caminante, I was for a bit anxious that you might be hanging it up, but it appears that, God willing and barring your falling off the boat and drowning (be careful out there!), we can count on continued food for thought. Even in these Dog Daies, your words reflect the unshakeable hope in my own heart for continuing reflection on the Word and the living it out in our lives - together!ReplyDelete
Mark, with Lee, I thought your post was a prelude to your signing off to Preludium, and I'm pleased that's not the case.ReplyDelete
You sound weary, still. I hope you have a bit more time on the boat.
Thanks for all that you do, and may God bless you.
Having seen what happened at the 2006 GC, many of us conservatives knew that this GC would turn out the way it did. The progressives simply have too firm a control on the machinery of the Episcopal Church. We are not surprised or alarmed - sad, to be sure, for a heritage has been squandered, but not outraged.ReplyDelete
And the ACNA has been formed, an alternative way to be both Anglican and Christian. Many of us are moving over to ACNA - why raise a fuss over what the Episcopal Church is doing? It is becoming ever more a social service agency with ceremonies. I imagine that, like the Unitarian-Universalists, it will continue to exist as an organization, and it may attract some "progressive" Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists who want to be religious without having to be too disciplined - but it will not attract those who are unchurched and seeking God. The Episcopal Church's numbers have been dropping and will continue to drop.
Mark: Enjoyed your comments, and understand a bit why, after so many conventions, (09 was my first as deputy) you're needing some much deserved rock-and-roll rest on the boat. After a month I'm still processing GenCon 09 but still hold on to my initial assessment that it's all about relationships..and I saw and experienced a whole lot to be hopeful about. Keep blogging, planting those seeds.....and celebrate the possibility of a hundred-fold harvest. MikeReplyDelete
What was the problem with John Allin? Was he a bad man? Or just a bad choice for the times?ReplyDelete
I have just read an essay on "bound conscience" from the ELCA website - included as background material for "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust." As I read it I wished that Dr. Williams had a similar understanding of how important it is to respect the convictions of those with whom we disagree, those whose serious engaging with the Scripture have led them to different convictions from ours.ReplyDelete
"Part of my exhaustion is due, I suppose, to the intensity of my hopes that The Episcopal Church would precisely begin to find its way to express its sense of vocation in the particular context of post modernity, the end of Christendom and the emergence of a virtual (via communications) global village. Given that what we become "post" modernity is unclear, given that the end of Christendom goes unrecognized by the great imperial powers of Christendom, and given that a global electronic village is not a citizens community, there being no city but only a village, this is a lot to expect.Of course those hopes were only partially realized at Convention."
Mark, I'm sorry, but your words amount to a pile of incoherent nonsense. You are loaded with non-sequiturs and unwarranted assumptions and "givens" that aren't given at all.
You speak of a "sense" of vocation. The excessive use of "sense" is characteristic of someone who isn't sure of what he's talking about.
You are as bloated with detritus as a haggis.
You phase in and out with us Christians, as your real faith occasionally finds our abiding doctrines useful or attractive; but in your heart you are not one of us.
Mark, please get a sense of retiring, and enjoy the whole sense of not talking any more.
l'eveque cache... you have used up your time here. bug off.ReplyDelete
This is the last time you post here.
The turning point is, "You phase in and out with us Christians, as your real faith occasionally finds our abiding doctrines useful or attractive; but in your heart you are not one of us."
It may come as a shock to you to understand this, but you have no business pronouncing that I am or am not "at heart" a Christian.
And how remarkably kind and Christ like to say that I am as "bloated with detritus as a haggis." I makes me feel, you know, special, kind of like never wanting to have anything to do with you again.
Did your boat weather Hurricane Bill?ReplyDelete