Thursday, June 29, 2006

Images of Inclusio: Feast of Peter and Paul

This morning, I am listening to ++Frank Griswold's interview with Terry Gross. In a little while, I will tune in on my computer to Diane Rehm's show. She interviews the new PB-Elect, +Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Amazing to see the reality, albeit in the midst of a media storm of controversy, of the Anglican Communion's presence in the minds of the popular media. We are actually quite "popular" right now. Odd thing. For years, we were this quiet little, backwater denomination. I grew up in a Church in which I had to figure out creative ways to explain what an Episcopalian was, exactly, to kids who knew "Catholic" or "Protestant." How does an 8 year old kid explain that his Church is, sort of, both.

On top of that, I am seeing and hearing more and more that the Church is possessed of an opportunity to make a statement on behalf of the Christ laboring for the salvation of the world.

Today is the feast of Peter and Paul. At this morning's Eucharist, I reflected on the idea that this day is OUR day as Anglicans. We live, truly, suspended between Peter and Paul. In Peter, we experience the apostolic succession. We look to the see of Peter and to the historic episcopate and its ministry as being the heart of our sacramental experience. On another note, though, we also live in Paul. Paul is for many the provoking voice of the Reformation. I have friends in more evangelical...More "Protestant" churches...That look to glean from Paul a deeper sense of God teaching and leading us to lead faithful lives. Anglicans, well, we live into both. That can create for us a wonderful and provocative tension in a call to proclaim Christ to the world.

We cannot, however, dispense with either. That creative tension means that we live into places that make us uncomfortable while at the same time expressing our diversity in Christ. The Prayer Book is quite clear in calling us to fellowship, prayer, reconciliation, justice/peace-making and evangelism. Regardless of our foibles, we are the Body of Christ. So, I am in fellowship with ++Akinola. I am brother to my sister +Katharine. I am called to love and pray equally for each. I am also called to strive as a leader of my Church to do my best to express my communities common commitment to its baptismal ministry, to grow in Christ and to proclaim the kingdom.

What does it mean to me when matters of compliance supplant a common call to ministry? I am disappointed. We waste time and money arguing about who is in charge, and we forget to allow Christ the sovereignty. In that environment, we get into "butter battles." Once upon a time, I was given a copy of Dr. Sousa' "The Butter Battle Book." Two cultures go to war over the issue of the correct way to butter the bread for their tea. One culture butters on the top. The other, on the bottom. Things quickly escalate and get out of hand. Much of the struggles in the American Church, though supposedly over lofty issues, boil down to a question of just who has the authority to say what is the correct way for us to butter our bread. Some may argue with me...And believe me, I am passionate about what sort of bread and butter is appropriate for use (and I even have some opinions about which side is better to butter-up); but if I am to be a faithful servant of the Gospel, then I have to be willing to listen to your butter opposite.

That challenges others, I think, more than it does for most liberal US citizens. Some basic, and I fear increasingly rare, attributes of our culture are predicated on individual liberties. What I do in my own back yard is of no ultimate concern to you, right? I reserve the right to think, believe and act in accord with my experience of what is good and right and true. When we strike flint and steel with each other, then the need for common ground of respect for individual rights is asserted, mediated and hopefully some settlement is achieved.

What happens when that sense of individual right is not assumed? When structures of authority and society are not categorically supportive of each of us finding the right way in God? Butter becomes very important: in those cultures, the butter-use quotient is more important that the individual's butter-preference. And that is just over an issue of behavior. What becomes of matter of being? When those issues center on identity, gender, sexuality and class the complexities create the opportunity for gross misperceptions. People angling for power, influence and control are given more voice than may be appropriate. We stop hearing of the inclusive nature of the Christ in favor of a Christ who sorts out left from right, top from bottom, right from wrong.

Why are we in this religious game? Is it to make sure we get into heaven? It is because we are struggling to come to terms with life and its challenges in the present moment? Or, perhaps, is it because we have experienced a particular grace...And we seek to share and proclaim that experience to others?

Mine is not an exclusive Church. But that only makes my work more challenging. When old standards and divisions are torn down, it means common and safe assumptions about what is acceptable become open for revision. Now, the hard work of theological discernment begins. Everything from liturgy to budget to which socks I wear in the morning becomes a radical statement about Christ proclaimed. OK, perhaps not the sock choice...But I hope you get the idea of where I am going with all of this: If this is about right practice and doctrine, then we had better get off our tails and down to the river to bail out our neighbors. In that activity, we affirm a theology of CHURCH. The rest is wind and thunder, really.

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