Thursday, July 30, 2009

The English Way of Doing Things

There was an old bearded archbishop/
Who dreamt the church would not blowup/
He danced in the middle/
Spouting nonsensical babble/
While putting two lumps in his teacup.

I have heard it said that there is an English Way of doing things that needs to be understood if we are to understand the leadership of Rowan Williams. At least on the surface this is true; there is a quality of gentility, of courteousness, of subtlety and understatement that often characterizes this way of doing things. Yes, there is an English Way of doing things, but as a child of the commonwealth I ask you to remember the other side of the English way of doing things. Remember that this English Way of doing things brought us the Opium Wars in China, the American Revolution, the Boer Wars, the continuing conflict of Northern Ireland, and the disastrous partition of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that troubles the Middle East like a volcano always on the edge of irrupting into massive violence. Finally, please remember that the English Way of doing things lost England its far flung empire, an empire where once upon a time the sun never set.

You see that English Way of doing things in microcosm in the fumbling gyrations of Rowan Williams. The English Way of doing things is characterized by Neville Chamberlain stepping off the plane in September of 1938 and proclaiming, “"My good friends this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honor. I believe it is peace in our time.” You know the result. It took the strong leadership and powerful voice of Winston Churchill to pull England through coming inevitable war. Obviously Churchill demonstrates a different way of doing things.

Remember that the English Way of doing things is not always courteous. In a scheme intended to confiscate the lands of the Irish nobility, the English government under James I in 1609 created state-sponsored settlements and gave the lands of the Irish nobles to encourage impoverished Presbyterian Scots to settle in Ireland. That has given birth to centuries of violence and death. There was in this no more courtesy, gentility, or subtlety than the English exercised under George III at the time of the American Revolution. Throughout English expansionism we see a velvet riding glove wielding a riding crop on an unwilling nag. The image is contradictory; surface gentility all too frequently cloaks a frequently arrogant and violent agenda. Beneath the courtesy one has to ask, what really is going on?

Not all the English do things in this stereotypical way. For every Neville Chamberlain, England is capable of raising up a Winston Churchill. Like the all the rest of us the English can provide either waffling ineffective leaders, or stalwart heroes. We have had our own General George McClellan, but we have also had a Robert E. Lee and a Ulysses S. Grant. At this point in history the English Church needs a Churchill, not a Neville Chamberlain, and the whole Anglican Communion suffers from the English way of understating things with such incomprehensible gentility. The problem in part is obfuscation. It is hard, perhaps impossible, to trust leadership that will not express its true intent with frankness and clarity when you have so many historical examples of the negative exercise of power in English history. Leadership to be effective requires integrity, courage and clarity.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Roots: A Prayer

My Heavenly Father: Over the years I have often said, “I am an Anglican first, and an Episcopalian second.” That declaration and awareness has comforted me in the past, but what if the Anglican Communion itself is torn asunder? I am saddened, but not shaken by the prospect, because the fact is that my roots are sunk even deeper than the few centuries of our specific Anglican history.

I am on the Canterbury Trail to the defaced shrine of the Holy Martyr Thomas á Becket. Well he understood the problems of royal privilege and its potential for contaminating the Church in England. As an old colonial boy I find it frustrating that the royals and parliament have so much say in the life of the Church, but you know I love the pomp and ceremony, the skirl of pipes and the rumble of drums.

My roots reach back through the long history of the English Church, through Milton, and through Blake who prayed, “And did the Countenance Divine Shine forth upon our clouded hills? And was Jerusalem builded here Among these dark Satanic Mills?” Through John Jewel and “ the Coming Down of the Holy Ghost and the Manifold Gifts Thereof,” through Cranmer and the Book of Common Prayer, through Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, through Walter Hilton and Richard Rolle, through blesséd Anselm who teaches me that the strength of my salvation is the strength of Christ.

My roots reach further back through Augustine of Canterbury, through Saint Benedict and the ancient Monks of Nursia, through Antony of the Desert and the wild-eyed desert hermits. My roots reach back through Canterbury, past Roman paving stones to ancient Celts and Britons by their smoky fires smouldering in the damp of an English spring.My roots reach even further back through wandering missionaries, Christian tradesmen, and Roman soldiers who bearing the cross on their hearts first tread upon the soil of the land of my forefathers.

My roots reach even further back through the long and dreadful glorious history of the martyrs of the early church, through the letters and missions of Paul and Peter, Jude and James and John and all the Gospellers now radiant in glory. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-20).

It is actually that last declaration that binds together the whole of this tumultuous history of the Church catholic and militant, that I have loved, and still love with every fibre of my being. My Father it is immersion in your Spirit, poured out upon the Church through the hands of Jesus our Head, that makes sense of the whole. It is one of your miracles that the Church in all its brokenness over the centuries still survives.

Time and time and time again you gather the broken shards together and craft again a golden vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the Master of the house, ready for every good work (2 Timothy 2:21). I find that instead of grieving or despairing, I am excited by the shaking of the foundations of our beloved Anglican Communion. When “the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the well” (Ecclesiastes 12:6), nothing less than your holy hands are at work. My Lord, let me see! Show me the new golden vessel as it rises like the Phoenix from the ashes. Break us, mold us, make us, fill us again most glorious Lord and Father. We are yours, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Heresy: That Horrible Word

It may seem odd to approach the problem of heresy with some observations about falling in love, but it is precisely here that the descent into heresy begins. In his Outlines of Romantic Theology,[1] Charles Williams says, “The experience of love is here followed to its distant and dreadful end in a complete betrayal of itself.[2] The descent starts with “the prolongation of the self-indulgent moments…The next step to preferring oneself in ‘the two of us’ against all else, is to prefer oneself alone. And this leads, inevitably, on that lost and secret path, to the hatred of others who have their own desires,” [3] or in the context of heresy, the hatred of those who hold other views … For every mistake made on the Way of Romantic Love there is pardon and grace; for the deliberate and continued perversion of it, there can be, by the nature of things, no pardon—‘neither here nor in the world to come….The greater mystery deepens….What is heresy? (It is) the clinging to a particular thought or idea because it is one’s own, although it is against the known decision of the Church—the disintegrity of the intellect, the justification to oneself of error and evil. Here that self-indulgence has gone very far.”[4]

C. S. Lewis remarks that errors come in pairs of opposites in a malign mockery of balance. We hear these days equal weight being put on two decisions from a past Lambeth Conference; one the call for a moratorium on same-sex marriages and the ordination of homosexuals and lesbians, and the other, on the insistence there be no cross-border incursions of conservative dioceses and provinces in the dioceses or provinces of the revisionists who are going on full steam ahead with their sexual agenda. These are not two equal and opposite errors. The two things are not moral equivalents. The first involves a clear departure from Holy Scripture and the moral stance of the Church for the last two thousand years; the other a tradition voiced periodically in the Church but not uniformly held semper et ubique et ab omnibus[5] even in the history of the Anglican Communion or in the history of the founding of The Episcopal Church.

Nothing caused St. Augustine of Canterbury to cease from consecrating bishops among the Celts where Celtic bishops already were in place; and nothing stopped Samuel Seabury from receiving consecration from non-juring Scottish bishops in Scotland in defiance of the English Church. One might be tempted to cry foul at offences to courtesy in the incursion of African bishops in the United States, but that is not nearly the moral equivalent of the defiance of some in the leadership of The Episcopal Church regarding what has been believed always, everywhere, and by all; not only in some of the General Convention Resolutions of 2009, but more importantly in the clear, continual disavowal of the authority and teaching of Scripture and two thousand years of Christian tradition and history.

The revisionists in the Episcopal Church have been told quite clearly that they are in defiance of Scripture and tradition. I don’t think stupidity is the issue, but rather willfulness. They know what the large majority of the Anglican Communion thinks about these things, but they really don’t care. Theirs is the deliberate twisting of truth in favour of their own self-satisfaction; they suffer the disintegrity of the intellect, the justification to oneself of error and evil. As St. Paul says, “Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”[6] They willingly and gladly believe the lie that they have made because it is their lie and precious to them.

George MacDonald observes that “the more a man is a beast, the less he knows it.” As one begins to fall ever more deeply into heresy there is a hardening of the heart; a dulling of the mind, a fettering of the imagination, that ends not only in alienation from God, but also in alienation from others, especially those who take opposing views; and those that fall into heresy no longer have the capacity to hear others and often are quick to accuse or mock those who adhere to timeless truths. A sterling example of this is the Barbara Harris quip regarding her fellow bishops at Lambeth, “It assholes had wings this place would be an airport.” Now that’s theology !?

The most recent salvo to be fired by our revisionists is of course the General Convention Opening Address of our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in which she decries what she calls “the great Western heresy.” This heresy, according to Jefferts Schori is “that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that that salvation depends on reciting some specific verbal formula about Jesus.” In saying this she commits two errors. The first is perhaps a willful misunderstanding that this acceptance of Jesus as Saviour is somehow separate from becoming united to the Body of Christ. The second misunderstanding is the failure to grasp that this is the very heart of our baptismal vows. Here, and here only in The Book of Common Prayer the decision is decidedly personal, and it is that decision that unites us to the Body of Christ. The personal decision for Christ happens in a variety of ways, some slow and subtle, some quick and blunt, it matter’s not how, but the essence of the matter is in these questions which all the faithful embrace, not only in their baptisms, but also in the renewal of the baptismal vows in Confirmation.

Question Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior? Answer I do.
Question Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? Answer I do.
Question Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord? Answer I do

I have up to this point been treating those who are spiraling down into heresy as though they all understood or had even worked out the issues theologically. That of course is ridiculous; there is every expectation that not only will there be mindless conservatives, but there will also be mindless revisionists. The former may cling to their conservatism out of habit or fear, but such habits and fears are not necessarily fatal in the spiritual realm, but the latter place themselves and others in peril, not that they believe there is any such thing.

Those who embrace revisionism without theologically working through the issues often seem to embrace their heresy with no moral compass other than that change is in itself good, and that liberalism does not go as far as it needs to in order to create change. What is the standard against which this need for change is measured? The model for change is revealed by Saul Alinsky who wrote: "From all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins – or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom (was) - Lucifer."[7] Far from being a shining morning star Lucifer is a black hole, a no-thing, but the no-thing can be very powerful in a negative sort of way. Ultimately such a press onward and downward into the no-thing is itself the end goal of destructive heresies within the Church. The no-thing hates created order and the Creator of order, and seeks to tear down and destroy. The no-thing puts on justice, fairness, compassion, and the fulfillment of the millenium goals like a stolen cloak for their usefulness in bringing down order into chaos. It should go without saying, but it usually doesn’t, that justice, fairness, compassion, and the fulfillment of the millenium goals are a legitimate outworking of Christian faith, but these things are a fruit, not the cause of faith, and they are not just a means to an end for creating change.

What complicates things is not the incursion of African bishops in an increasingly apostate church, nor even the flight of the faithful from dioceses where they are clearly not welcome unless they apostatize. But while that extreme circumstance does exist in some dioceses, it is not reflected everywhere in The Episcopal Church. What we do see, even in a basically conservative and orthodox diocese is the flight of some, but not all Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Anglo Catholics, from the faithful Body of Christ of which they were previously a part. This new but by nature shallow coalition signals the rising of an old, but perhaps lesser heresy in a new garb. It is the failure to understand the nature of the Church, the Body of Christ; and this failure and flight may well be a departure from the Head Who will not Himself be separated from His Body. On the surface this new conservative coalition confesses the words of a common faith, but a serious question must be raised as to whether or not they all understand those wonderful words in the same way; certainly they don’t when they confess that they “believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church,”[8] and at the same time in practice take an essentially congregationalist stance on a practical level. That is to say they confess one holy catholic and apostolic church and immediately break it up into pieces that agree, or don’t agree with their views. Even conservatives need to hear Jeremiah, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.’ But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”[9]

There is a deep and perhaps more significant failure, the failure to understand the call to commitment to one’s roots. We are after all to be rooted and grounded in Love Himself and that rootedness runs down through all of the history of The Episcopal Church, through Canterbury, through the Early Church Fathers, through the Apostles themselves, all under the unction of the Holy Spirit of God who has called this church into being. It is a dangerous thing to cut oneself off from one’s roots whether you are a revisionist or a conservative in reactionary flight.

G. K. Chesterton points out in his book Orthodoxy that, “A man belongs to this world before he begins to ask if it is nice to belong to it … to put shortly what seems to be the essential matter, he has a loyalty (to this world) long before he has any admiration[10] … it is a matter of primary loyalty.”[11] We are a people with particular histories, the stories of our origins, both genetically and spiritually. But here in the West we are an adolescent people in the sense of the long history of our heritage, and here in the West we have suffered the struggles for independence at times needlessly cutting off the very branch of the family tree we have been sitting upon. There is a way for mature humans to be independent and at the same time affirm and live out our heritage, our genetics, our very rootedness in our particular histories with joy and integrity. I find in my seniority of years that I laugh like my father, but that is no very bad thing. I am his son, but also very much an independent son who after adolescent rebellion has had to go back to affirm just who I am by affirming my roots.

Again Chesterton says, “We say there must be a primary loyalty to life: the only questions is … shall it be a reasonable or unreasonable loyalty.”[12] As Chesterton applies this to his own historical context, so I apply this to ours as Anglicans Christians. Chesterton says, “The man who is most likely to ruin the place he loves is exactly the man who loves it with a reason. The man who will improve the place is the man who loves it without a reason … the worst jingoes[13] do not love England, but a theory of England …Thus also only those will permit their patriotism to falsify history whose patriotism depends on history. A man who loves England for being English will not mind how she arose.”[14] There are many these days who have left our roots as Anglicans because it is not Evangelical enough, or not Charismatic enough, or not Catholic enough.

It is not unusual that an age marked by the failure to understand the bond of marriage should also fail to understand the ineradicable bonds that tie us to our roots whether or not we like it. The failure to remain in a marriage, or to stay rooted in our own particular history is not an affirmation of either independence or faith. What we have is a failure to affirm identity itself and to deny the ongoing redemptive activity of the Christ who still actively works to redeem the Episcopal Church that is. We live in a rootless age, and that is not a good thing, but rather a tragedy. This has a direct application to our historical roots through Canterbury and the English Church. What Chesterton, and I, would ask is, can you hate the Anglican Communion enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing; but bear in mind that Anglicanism historically, for good or ill, has been and remains rooted through Canterbury. There is in this apparent rejection and desired divorce from Canterbury a failure to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in the long history of the Anglican Communion and in our own particular branch of it. The flight from Canterbury is a denial of the unction of Spirit on the sinful and glorious history of the church.

It is not a mere matter of the succession of hands laid on heads, some dirty and some clean, but rather the principle of the Incarnation of the Spirit resting on an historical people that despite everything is still an ongoing work of the Spirit. What those who have departed from the church have failed to appreciate is that coming out from among doesn’t guarantee doctrinal purity or holiness of life. Like the east coast evangelical college that advertised itself as twenty miles from any known form of sin, they carry their humanity and imperfections with them. It is my conviction that you either accept the Body of Christ as you find it, or in rejecting that Body you will fail to recognize that the Life of Christ is still being lived out in the midst of that Body.

1 Charles Williams, Outlines of Romantic Theology, (Berkeley: Apocryphile Press, 2005)
2 Williams, p. 100
3 Willaims, p. 100
4 Williams, p. 101
5 Vincentian Canon: that which is held always, everywhere and by all.
6 Romans 1:32 ESV
7 Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals, from opening page Introduction.
8 The Nicene Creed
9 Jeremiah 6:16 ESV
10 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, (New York: Doubleday, 1959), p. 65
11 Ibid., p. 66
12 Ibid., p. 69
13 One who vociferously supports one's country, especially one who supports a belligerent foreign policy; a chauvinistic patriot. – The Online Free Dictionary.
14 Ibid., p. 69