Saturday, May 23, 2015

Under the Rainbow Bridge on Memorial Day

Under the Rainbow Bridge: A Family Tragedy

Late in 1941 three things came together: the new Mustang, the newly constructed Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls, and a young fly-boy named Nelson Perdue. The Mustang was a small fighter plane that out performed the Spitfire and was destined to take a major role in the war. The Rainbow Bridge had some strong romantic connections as the replacement for the Honeymoon Bridge, which collapsed due to an ice jam in the Niagara River. The new bridge had a marvellous view of Horseshoe Falls. Put those two tempting items together with the newly engaged Nelson Perdue and a sunny day in the fall of 1941 and you have the stuff of family legends. The tragedy is that Nelson was lost somewhere over Germany later in the war, leaving only the sparse legend surrounding his name. My aunt lost the most, and the event coloured her life for some time to follow.  The rest of the family barely knew him. I never met him. Now sixty-five years later I know only the brief legend which was always told with joyful admiration, “Nelson flew under the Rainbow Bridge!”

What comes to mind is the admonition of a 8th Century Saint, John of Damaskos, “All human affairs, all that does not exist after death is vanity. Riches vanish, glory leaves us… every man born of the earth troubles himself in vain… by the time we have gained the whole word we shall be in the grave, where king and pauper are one.”[1]

What is truly important? What is it that exists after death? Certainly if God is our one true Love, all other loves and relationships will exist in him. Here I want to raise a very important question for those of us in The Episcopal Church today.  Sixty-five years from now what will remain of the conflicts, vested interests, and personalities of the crisis within the church today? The simple answer is not much!

In 1771 conflict arouse in the Church of England.  250 clergy who were deeply affected by the spread of Unitarianism submitted a petition to parliament.  British Statesman Edmund Burke responded: "These gentlemen complain of hardships: let us examine a little what that hardship is. They want to be honored as clergymen of the Church of England … but their consciences will not allow them to conform to the doctrines and practices of that Church. That is, they want to be teachers in a Church to which they apparently no longer belong; and that is an odd sort of hardship. They want to be paid for teaching one set of doctrines, while they are teaching another."[2] Today’s conflict is only a variant of an ongoing debate between the orthodox and those who, like the second century heretic Marcion, refused the authority of Scripture and the Church wherever either disagreed with him. 

Marcion we know, because the theologian Tertullian named him, but who are the 250 clergy who petitioned Parliament in 1771? Their names are lost to posterity and they are only an obscure footnote in the history of the Church. At least my family remembers that it was Nelson Perdue who flew under the Rainbow Bridge.  Karl Barth said something to the effect that it is one of God’s miracles that the Church still exists. For twenty centuries, battered and bruised, the Church, the Bride of Christ rises from the ashes of conflict and opens the door to Salvation, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

From the perspective of history, there is nothing novel, or particularly earth shaking in the current attempts to deny the authority of Scripture in faith and practice.  Roseanne Roseannadanna was right, “it just goes to show you, it's always something! If it's not one thing, it's another!” Of course it is. St. Paul clearly warns us, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”[3] So what’s new?

Conflict within the Anglican Church is like waves crashing against the beach.  No matter how many times they come in, they always recede again. In the meantime, what are we to do? First, and it ought to be obvious, don’t build your house on the sand.  Build your house on the rock!  This is precisely where Jesus presents a stiff challenge to today’s Church.  What is the rock?  The One whom we call the Rock says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”[4] 

The rock, very simply, is the self-revelation of God in Holy Scripture itself.  By definition, “In the name of Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.”[5]  The poet John Donne said it very nicely, “The Scriptures are God’s Voice.  The Church is His Echo.”[6] I am well aware that not everybody wants that to be the solution for the painful stresses within the Church today, but I’m afraid that it is, and I don’t see away around the rock except by walking on the sand. Stability in times of distress is a matter of basic principles firmly held. I have always enjoyed the seashore, but for some reasons which should be obvious, I wouldn’t insist on building my house on the sand.

The second thing we are to do is follow the advice of Jesus who said “Fear not!”[7] and “Love one another!”[8] Instead of worrying over things that are out of your control, put your trust in Him who is our steadfast love[9] and do the amazing thing he told you to do, and “love one another.” That’s a whole lot better than pushing and shoving and saying uncharitable things.

The third thing we are supposed to do you already know.  Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."[10] He didn’t mean for you to do it only on mild sunny days, but in all kinds of weather, even when it’s stormy.  The secret of Church Growth is this: Go and make disciples!  That is as simple as inviting people to Church.  How do I know?  Because that is the way most of us came to faith in the first place; somebody invited us.


[1] John of Damaskos, quoted by St. Peter of Damaskos in “The Fifth Stage of Contemplation” in the Philokalia, Vol.3
[2] Alfred Plummer, The Church of England in the Eighteenth Century, (London: Methuen, 1910), edited in contemporary English, Rob Smith 2006, p. 168
[3] Acts 20:28-31 ESV
[4] Matthew 7:24
[5] The Articles of Religion, BCP, p. 868
[6] John Donne, Sermons VI. 5-7
[7] Many places in the gospels, but for a helpful verse look up Psalm 64:1b
[8] John 15:12 etc.
[9] Psalm 144:2
[10] Matthew 28:18-20

No comments: