Bitter searching of the heart and rising to play a greater part.

2013 was a difficult year. So many dreams were smashed and left broken on the field. And yet we - individually and as a church - rise again.  As always we hope that God who has taken a place among us - not over us as distant thunderer, but as someone with us, in us, through us - will be with us again and that we will indeed rise to play a greater part.  But I am a bit blue at the moment.

A bit of blues: "From bitter searching of the heart, We rise to play a greater part."  These  are words from Frank Scott's  poem "Villanelle for our Time." Leonard Cohen set that poem to music and it echoes about in my head these days.
From bitter searching of the heart,
Quickened with passion and with pain
We rise to play a greater part.

This is the faith from which we start:
Men shall know commonwealth again
From bitter searching of the heart.

We loved the easy and the smart,
But now, with keener hand and brain,
We rise to play a greater part.

The lesser loyalties depart,
And neither race nor creed remain
From bitter searching of the heart.

Not steering by the venal chart
That tricked the mass for private gain,
We rise to play a greater part.

Reshaping narrow law and art
Whose symbols are the millions slain,
From bitter searching of the heart
We rise to play a greater part.

Incarnation is the answer to the blues and Resurrection an invitation to take it to the next level.  So some remarks on shaking the blues at the time when we celebrate the  incarnation and know its counterpoint in resurrection.

The Ecclesiastical  Blues: 

I have not had much to say recently about things Anglican and Episcopalian, not for lack of thought about them, but for lack of any way to see beyond the "narrow law and art" that has made so much of what the church does irrelevant at best and irresponsible at worse. 

Christians are part of a world wide community of believers. But its hard to see much community spirit in Christendom, much less in its Anglican expression. 

We pick at one another more than we ought and support one another less often than we should. Our lack of love for one another is astounding.

And more astounding is the remarkable extent to which Christians of all denominations shy away from the reality of our captivity to secular and religious idols - most notably avarice and raw power.  Astonishing too our ability to translate the desire for, and worship of, avarice and power into ecclesiastical terms.

This continues to be a world that is vicious and consuming of "the millions slain," and "narrow law and art" has supported that viciousness, including the narrow laws of ecclesastical polity and the arts of our common liturgical life. 

The larger issues of the bitter searching require greater time and effort than I have at the moment, but about the narrowness of eccleastical polity and liturgical practice I can say something.

It is time for us as Christians "to play a greater part," to break the chains that keep us captive to the idols of our own theological world views, to find a new freedom to be part of the presence of God in the world.

So here is a start:

Broken Church, Broken Body, Empty Self.

Every Christian and every Christian community, church and denomination, misses the mark, and is an instrument of brokenness. Church institutions fail and Christians sin.  Period. So our relations with one another needs to begin not with righteous pride and power, but with mutual compassion and empathy. 

Every Christian and every Christian community, church and denomination is capable of doing great harm, for every Christian entity, save Jesus, has fallen short of self-emptying. And what remains is self seeking power. 

Every Christian entity then is subject to the critical analysis of its use of power.  It is vital that this analysis be itself respectful, compassionate and empathetic. But it is also vital that such criticism be given and received.

Almost all of what counts as the division among the churches is irrelevant to a future in which we "rise to play a greater part."  And, for that matter, almost all of doctrine fails the test as well. This is because Incarnation and Resurrection both are products of self-emptying, not right belief, doctrine or practice.

Self-emptying trumps creed every time.
Self-emptying trumps Abraham's seed, and Nordic pride and every tribe and nation's stamp on history.
Self-emptying trumps prayer books and bibles and sacred texts and sacred places.

Self-emptying trumps all belief, save this:
That we can indeed by incarnation and resurrection play a better part.

Now to get down to Anglican and Episcopal Church cases:

The future of the Anglican Communion.

Some Anglicans disagree with way in which decisions for the ordination of women and the inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the full life of the church was achieved, where it was achieved. These Anglicans disagreed with the content of the decisions, but also with the manner of reaching such decisions. 

From these disagreements has grown division in the various churches of the Communion and those divisions are said to threaten the existence of the Anglican Communion as a world wide body.  The blame game is in full swing, but it is mostly a losers game. Like blame in divorce, blame in schism is a fantasy activity. But the divisions are real.

There it is. There is now The Anglican Communion and also a second communion of Anglicans, a "fellowship of confessing Anglicans."  There have been a variety of communions of self-described Anglicans.  What distinguishes the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans is its make-up.  FOCA is made up of whole "provinces" of the existing Anglican Communion that have turned their attention to a new principle of configuration. The FOCA "communion" is an alternative model of international Anglican organization. 

There it is.  It is time to get over it. The Anglican Communion will continue, and this second thing, this second communion - whose name is not yet clear and whose modus operandi is unknown - is taking form.

The Anglican Communion is an organic thing and will live or die as God wills, and it will not be the end of the only story that counts - that God is with us as a gathered people by whatever name, among us, by us, and we know that in Jesus Christ.  

I believe that the Anglican Communion has a long and fruitful life ahead of it, provided that it does not succumb to the temptation to become a World Wide Church. 

To the extent that each church (province) in the Anglican Communion believes itself to be essentially a religious community - bound by common prayer and a very simple rule of life - and the Communion is viewed as a linkage among such communities, the Anglican Communion will prosper.  To the extent that it acts like, becomes, or is forced into becoming a world order it will fail.

The day of a world wide church, outside which there is no salvation, has passed. The attempts to form such an empire have failed, and its

       "narrow law and art
        Whose symbols are the millions slain"

are now seen clearly to be an obscenity.

GAFCON strategists and for that matter The Anglican Communion institutional apologists to the to the contrary, nothing of value about Anglicanism will be saved by purity codes, litmus tests or better Communion wide covenants.

What is needed is community that engages, not disengages, that has many disagreements, but rises daily to prayer and to the open heart of prayer, and looks to Jesus for the perfection of our faith. Power is a distraction.

 About The  Episcopal Church:

The Episcopal Church will need to practice both incarnation - being a presence of God in the world - and resurrection - being made new.  This will be hard for a body that often views itself as an assembly, an ecclesia, rather than a koinonia, a gathering of companions or comrades (a community of people who eat together and have a common life).  

The assembly gives rise to images of power, possibilities of success measured in terms of greed and wealth, and so forth. The assembly hears "body" and thinks "corporation."   The assembly has had to defend and protect its corporate body.

The community hears "body" and thinks"incarnation." Community is a presence, a thing in itself, and sees its own vitality in frequent renewal by self examination, mutual respect and forbearance, and constant hope. For the community corporate existence is secondary to life together.

So I continue to hope that The Episcopal Church will see its vocation as being a community of companions and comrades who live out a life of prayer and action in Jesus Christ, resting with ease on the common life of prayer as received from those who have so lived in the past, and open to the prayers of the community as it moves forward.  It will of course have to pay attention to corporate matters, for it is after all a social entity in a corporate world. But my hope is that it will see those matters as secondary to its primary life as a community.

It remains to be seen if The Episcopal Church can keep the corporate and incarnate needs of the Church in proper perspective. 

I am convinced that the Episcopal Church  must be about

Reshaping narrow law and art
Whose symbols are the millions slain,
From bitter searching of the heart
We rise to play a greater part.

Barring its ability to do this, I am prepared to move on. The bitter searching of the heart is not enough to feed the soul. Only new birth, even in a life of many years, is enough. 


  1. Bob McCloskey8/1/14 9:04 AM

    I have let your New Years article sit for a week for a couple of reasons.
    1. I wanted to hear what others might have to say in response. With one brief comment that has not otherwise happened.
    2. I needed to read and re-read your article to absorb the richness and insight which you predictably bring to your writing and thinking.
    I am somewhat curious about why this article did not provoke the usual replies, and I think I know the answer. I think you scared the hell out of a lot of clergy and laity who firmly agree with you but are despondent and don’t want to go there. For me, you resonate firmly with my feelings and perceptions at this point in time. I think that a fair number of our generational colleagues would agree.
    Amidst the institutional collapse and debris and myriad new twists on the scene I recall it was Peggy Lee who made popular the song “Is that all there is?” Most of us were given a vision in seminary, nurtured in decades of parish and other ministries, of which leadership is unaware or determined to need replacement. So with the aim of assuring you that you are in a much broader company and also once again grateful for your insight and your willingness to share it, I thank you. And oh yes, whatever comes of the institutional church, the conflagrations of 19th century-minded reactionaries, and the tinkerers with alluring fads, there really is something much more important to many of us and that can not be taken away.
    Pax, Bob McCloskey

  2. Bob...thank you more than you can know. I too wondered about the lack of response. On Facebook there were several responses, but of course they don't translate as comments on the blog. Still, I wondered. So your comment made me feel less alone at a time when such tender response is most valuable.

    Pax yourself.

  3. Mark, Are you the priest at Canterbury House in Ann Arbor back in 1971? If so, you had a key role in leading me and my wife Nancy to faith from atheism.
    We started a house church and it's now Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor. Anyway, I remember you with gratitude and affection. If you are another Mark Harris, you've probably had similar impact on someone who hasn't contacted you! (Anyway, my email is senior pastor@annarborvineyard.org if you want to confirm).

  4. I think there is a general quiet across the board. Look at how few responses there are at T19, for example. But I put this down to the recognition that we are coming apart, and that only the details are unclear. There will be a split. It appears that official TEC will move fully ahead with its SS agenda, as will its counterparts in Anglican Church of Canada. The Primate there speaks of space for conscience at the diocesan level and individual priest level. I suspect this is a reality check. It would be good if TEC would follow suit, but I doubt it will in any public statement re: Diocesan opt-out. So we will simply watch as two entities emerge. The only real question is the charitable character (or not) of the formal separation. Will the litigation end? Will dioceses be able to make their own way forward without signing on to the SS agenda? Things will remain quiet until we see the details of this separation come into play. Even in South Carolina we have recently seen the spectacle of the TEC remnant in suit with the insurance company of TEC! This kind of thing costs huge sums and just shows the degree of chaos. Let the separation ensue with charity.


  5. Mark, I think this is one of your most valuable posts ever. I have continued mulling it over for the past couple of weeks and have sent the link to other people. The theology of kenosis is absolutely crucial for the church(es) at this time. You said it all so fully that I can only say, Amen.

  6. I happened upon your beautiful post this New Years Eve 2014, as a result of 1) thinking of Time, which reminded me of the song "Time After Time" then, 2)viewing an interesting Vimeo of Cyndi Lauper's song, then 3)seeing another Vimeo titled Bitter Searching of the Heart that intrigued me to know more about the phrase, then 4) Googling the title and here you were, informing me of the Leonard Connection to the piece. I have since found YouTube videos with him reciting it and love it. Two highlights in my lifetime were seeing Leonard Cohen in concert in Portland, Oregon. I adore the man and his body of work, but was unfamiliar with this one. And I thank you so much. And I wish you a beautiful New Year. Peace to the world in 2015.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.