Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Snow, Cyril and Methodius

I woke up early this morning and had a wrenching parting with my place of comfort in bed. You know the feeling, I am sure, of coming to consciousness while at the same time being at ease and relaxed...and warm...while also becoming aware of the fact that the moment you leave your place of repose there is awaiting you a cold, chill and assuredly damp wind.

That was my experience of rising to turn off the alarm this morning.

I had an 8 AM liturgy to observe the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. So, it was up early, shovel the drive and walk the dog...come back for a quick breakfast and then head in to the church for the morning.

I even beat the guys who clear the driveways, sidewalks and parking areas of the church to the punch. They had only just started when I rolled up. So, I braved the low accumulation of snow, sleet, ice and wet to get from car to office and from office to chapel...

And no one else showed up. Ah well, I suppose it is to be expected. Nice enough with the winter weather outside, warm heat and light inside and prayers to be said. There is an unparalleled quiet in moments like these. I rang the church bell, lit some candles and said prayers in memory of Cyril and Methodius-man, and on behalf of my Church and my family in God.

These are tumultuous times. The primates of the Anglican Communion began meeting today. Some of the emails I have gotten from colleagues contain ruminations and wonderings on whether or not we, as the American arm of the Communion's Body, will be considered brethren or not at the end of this meeting. To be honest, I am tired and sickened by the revel of division that so many seem to enjoy. Some consider themselves defenders of some true and orthodox faith. Others see themselves as champions of the underdog. None on the extremes of these arguments are talking about discerning the will of God. It seems that they are already certain of that Opinion, and no more questions need to be asked...and none more will be answered. Sad case.

Still, I do believe there is hope in the seeking.

I got an email from a buddy about an experience he had this past Sunday. He preached a sermon referencing a blog by a young man in Baghdad...and received a response to that sermon from the young man via an intermediary in Ireland. Now, the two are in conversation.

I think this is the blessing that the Internet offers to us. Dialogue as human beings without restriction to issues of distance...and a lowering of the boundaries that cultures and empires have imposed upon us for the balance of human history. My friend and his dialogue partner have a lot to learn from each other, and God willing they will find opportunities to teach us as well--both in better ways to ask question, but also I hope in ways to seek answers to the things that divide us.

Same thing is happening on a local level. The clericus of my deanery gathered yesterday as the snow began to fall to talk about life, ministry and matter of the diocese. To say that ministry and collegiality are strained at the diocesan level is an understatement. We have a great deal of work to do, parish and mission communities in crisis and limited resources with regard to time, energy, talent and money to get much done. Immediate to our concerns is the life of the Church in the lower tier of our deanery, the geographic county of Bucks, here in PA. We have a number of smaller churches that don't quite have enough in terms of resources to survive on their own. Yet, our bishop has held up that the trend, and the reality of success in ministry, is to be found in larger, better resourced parishes. I am the rector of one of those communities, but I fail to see the deeper virtue of our life in Christ over and against some of the vibrant, smaller parishes that are our immediate neighbors. We all exist as a community within and for this diocese, and yet I feel isolated from the concerns of these churches in crisis, and to be honest this bigger church has problems of its own.

The dean talked to us of a "failed ecclesiology" that I find myself agreeing with overall. This Church has for generations toyed with a schizophrenic mania of being both congregational and diocesan, both parochial and conciliar. I think it is time that we begin to make up our mind that the parts cannot exist without the whole. Also, we have to allow that the bigger, more forceful and dominant entities are NOT the "deciders" of the things that are true and good for all.

That goes for my friend and his dialogue with the young man from Baghdad. The Iraqi boy makes good points, that we as Christians need to remember that Christ did NOT make distinctions between the righteous and the sinner--but for the fact that he seemed to prefer the company of the sinners to that of the righteous--and that all were welcomed into fellowship in his Name. There was no litmus test for orthodoxy. We have done that to ourselves. Same as the United States of America and our multi-national corporate culture of new age imperialism. Not every human being needs access to Coca-Cola products. Human beings need clean water, food and shelter, education and access to health care. Not everyone needs to want an ipod, or whatever else the popular culture of this society deems essential to life and happiness.

We, quite literally, need to get off each other's backs. Figure out ways to share, enjoy and experience fellowship in Christ beyond the usual Sunday morning niceties.

Take, for instance, good old Cyril and Methodius. Two brothers of considerable talent, they were philosophers and theologians of incredible accomplishment in their day. Empowered, ordained and called as missionaries to the Slavic cultures of the late Roman and early Germanic European empires, they had to fight throughout their lives and ministries for the simple right to celebrate the divine liturgy of their church in Slavic dialects. German bishops, princes and kings tried almost continually to force popes, archbishops and local judges to force them to give up that "vulgar tongue." Today, though, the sacred liturgical language they originated is still used in the orthodox rite. On top of that, we call the Slavonic alphabet by a name attributed to its progenitor, "Cyrillic."

Sitting here in my library, meditating on how small and immediate this immense human experience of life is becoming in my generation, I wonder when we Anglicans are going to climb off our high horses and take some time to walk in the shoes of the fisherman. Time to get over ourselves, hike up our tunics and roll up our sleeves and get to work at the craft Christ called us to. Time to net people for the kingdom. Let's start that off by tossing our nets of faith into our own dark, inner waters of doubt.

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