Go Read This

I’m working on a thoughtful post at Bill’s behest on the Daily Prayer items from the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music which should be up in the not too distant future. However, as wonderful as thoughtful posts are, sometimes we just need a good rant (which isn’t saying that rants can’t be thoughtful as well…). One Episcopalian has had enough and has an open letter to General Convention that includes some nice paragraphs like this one:

What we do seem to have is a bumper crop of bishops and priests who want to be prophets, but do not want to be bishops and priests (except that it helps them to be prophetic).   We have clergy and laity who love to tinker with the liturgy, but are woefully or willfully ignorant of Scripture, Patristics, and the Anglican Reformers… the very wellsprings and sources of our Faith and Tradition.  We have hundreds of parishes with interfaith services and not a few with the actual prayer services to other deities or from other faith traditions, but precious few that offer the daily offices on a daily basis.

Go read the rest of it.

16 Replies to “Go Read This”

  1. Yeah, that’s good. Sometimes I think it would be just as well to let the whole thing come crashing down, though; maybe hitting bottom is just what TEC needs in order to come to its senses. I don’t think many people even realize that there’s a problem.

    I would have a lot more patience for the whole “prophetic” thing if there were some real and strong focus on the life of faith as its core. I do think it’s doable – some of the original Anglo-Catholics were strong that way – but it doesn’t seem to be happening. The sad thing is, though: I’ve been looking around at other possibilities for a church home and – for instance – the Old Catholics and at least some of the Lutherans seem to be saying and doing many of the same things. Perhaps it’s hard to manage a good balance there – and it’s probably especially hard at this time in history and in this place. There’s just been this total failure of nerve – a complete loss of faith in the faith itself. Sad, too, considering the origins of Christianity, and the people who came to it from the beginning as a lifeline.

    It’s all surfaces everywhere in the culture, now, though – so perhaps TEC is only reflecting that. I wish people would realize, though, that hardly anybody listens to TEC, or any of the mainlines, anymore – did they ever? – because they’re just not saying anything very interesting. Even the Quakers have lost their salt at this point.

    I’m glad that TEC found a way to give gay people a spiritual home – but it’s the “spiritual” part of that sentence that matters. If that’s nothing happening there, why bother at all?

    YMMV, I suppose. I’ve just about lost interest in the whole thing at this point, unfortunately. I survived without the church for most of life, and I’m sure I can find a way to do it for the rest of my life….

  2. (I mean, it seems to me that the really radical thing to do now would be to go deeper – to get busy tearing up the surfaces to get at what’s underneath. Deep and persistent self-examination – at both the personal and corporate level – is a means of living a life that’s constantly in motion; it’s truly revolutionary – and is maybe the only thing that is truly revolutionary.

    Wouldn’t it be smart to start offering something like that? I mean, to make people aware that Christianity is actually radical, by itself….?)

  3. I just made a somewhat similar point at the Cafe. Not everybody can be an activist, or a prophet, or an apostle. Heck, I’m part of an activist group myself, but I don’t really have the time or resources to contribute on the same level as other members. Like St. Paul said, all parts of Christ’s body are valuable, and sometimes it seems like we focus on one part to the exclusion of others.

    I have to admit, sometimes I find myself gazing longingly at the Orthodox. For all I disagree with them on homosexuality and women’s ordination, they do have a *very* strong spiritual center, and I have yet to meet anyone else as -enthusiastic- about their faith as the few Orthodox I’ve met. I truly believe that if TEC wants to recover, it needs to reclaim and amplify its own spiritual center, and like you said, be a *spiritual* home.

  4. I think people do believe the only use for the church anymore is “activism.” The truth is, though: nobody needs the church in order to be activist. I’ve been involved in all kinds of movements – political and social – my whole life, and have never once needed the church’s approval or assistance in order to do that. Perhaps people think we’re living in some other time, when people did need the church’s imprimatur for what they did and how they thought. But that time is over now.

    I actually quite strongly disagree with some of the things the blogger wrote. For instance, I doubt strongly that Anglicans – or anyone – were ever going to be able to re-unite the various churches into one big happy ecumenical family. And I certainly don’t think we need to back off our positions on Women’s Ordination or the LGBT question on the basis of that that entirely specious notion. But I am really, really tired of TEC fantasies, too – and the almost total disregard for the spiritual lives of its membership. People forget that the prophets called people back to faith.

    I totally agree with him, though, that GC should do precisely nothing this year and for the foreseeable future. From my point of view, we need to sit and take stock and see how we can be of real service to real people in their real lives; I just don’t think that producing resolutions taking this or that political position is accomplishing anything – mainly because I don’t think anybody’s listening, or cares.

  5. I think there is a problem of axiomatic, post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacious reasoning at the basis of some the urgings in the linked post. I don’t think the problems of dwindling churches is caused by pursuing some of the more controversial changes of late. Those losses are and have been occurring across former Christendom for decades. Actually, I don’t know that being popular is an appropriate metric for something as radical as Christianity.

    The real problems to me is why gather together, collaborate and worship as church at all. I am of like mind with bls in that the problem is not social issues or identity politics, but a shying away from Christianity. By Christianity I do not mean Fundmentalistic reactionarianism, Calvinistic reductionism or Capitalistic moralism, but the Christianity of the Gospels, the undisputed Pauline letters, maybe the deutero-Pauline letters (I really think that the pseudo-Pauline letters, as tools of Roman imperial co-opting, and have worked as intended, having domesticated it to a patriarchal, imperial society and thus undermined and done substantial damage to Christianity), the other apostolic letters, Revelation, the Old Testament, the patristics, the BCP, the Daily Office, the Sacraments. That is enough. Though taken together it’s plenty.

    The inevitable issue of change is problematic. There are real issues of ordering a common life modeled on a venerable, but sometimes tainted and problematic forms and patterns of of Church discipline and authority. There are also problems of shying away from the responsibilities and obligations of ordination in obedience. So, it’s complicated. At this point, taking a time-out from charging ahead and letting some dust settle, is a path of wisdom.

    I saw an interesting segment on Bill Moyers. It is an interview with Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist with a book to sell. He talked about the dynamics of conflict between liberal and conservative elements in our society at-large. Some of the points obviously irked Bill. Its content made sense to me, and I think they are particularly salient with respect to the tensions in TEC, of late and going forward. I was intrigued enough that I bought his book, though I haven’t read it yet. I think the interview is 50 minutes well-spent.
    http://billmoyers.com/segment/jonathan-haidt-explains-our-contentious-culture/

  6. Thanks for posting the link to this interview with Jonathan Haidt. It is excellent!

    This thread of discussion is actually most encouraging. I have been seriously wondering lately if what was perhaps needed over the last half century was a Christianity that was socially more “liberal” while at the same time being culturally and religiously conservative. Instead the cultural and spiritual foundations on which people relied were undermined, often because those in a position to do so took out their frustration stemming from other real issues on those foundations. Couple that with the misleading notion that people would be drawn in by liturgy, etc. that was “relevant” (something that does not really work in the long run) and the narcissism which is a natural temptation of the clergy and those in other forms of public ministry, and you have a perfect recipe for driving the people in the pews away and alienating them from the legitimate Christian project of social justice, which in their eyes became coupled with a religious-cultural vandalism and destruction fuelled by anger and narcissism. Not to assign blame here, as we all share in it, but if this analysis has any truth to it, then we need to face what actually happened.

    So it is encouraging to see that folks on this blog and elsewhere are beginning to realize that something spiritually solid is needed, not just on its own account (which would be reason enough) but also so that we can also meet the demands of social justice.

  7. I think that’s a pretty good analysis, Mike. One of the problems, for me, in imagining that “activism” is the whole reason for our existence is that it assumes that everybody coming through the doors has lots of free time and/or psychic and emotional energy to pursue it. But of course, lots of people don’t; some people need nothing so much as a place to rest for awhile, in fact – which shouldn’t be too much to ask. Certainly, these folks will not be at all comfortable in a culture that defines its worth by its activism.

    IOW, we’ll only be able to attract more people with time and energy (and the inclination) to be activists – and ironically it may happen that the very people who are ostensibly the beneficiaries of the activism won’t feel comfortable in our church. Some people are much happier at the Salvation Army, where they can get some help in living day by day. (I might actually be one of them, now that I think of it! The Sallie sounds pretty good to me right about now….)

    So there is a real and practical reason for a (prophetic) call back to faith. Another reason for the call is so that people can remember what the faith actually is – and why the prophets were prophets to begin with. They were saying: you have forgotten your faith, and because of that, you are no longer caring for the needy….

  8. There is much here I don’t agree with because it is overly simplistic. That being said, there are too many folks going into the priesthood/presbyterate who do seem primarily to want to be festively-dressed activists and social workers. Too few are interested in being prepared for Word and Sacrament and cure of souls as central to this vocation.

  9. A thoughtful post?? You should subject it to the ridicule it so richly deserves.

    Mcdoc, the thing I’m seeing is that the word “prophecy”, used in ECUSA, tends to mean nothing more than “stating the socio-political views of the liberal upper middle class”. Pretty much every Anglican of the first half of the last century would have reacted extremely negatively to this, not because they were all Tories or Republicans, but because they knew the scriptures and themselves well enough to understand that claiming to speak for God is perilous to the soul. From my political outsider perspective the hubris is obvious: leaving aside the question of whether the political positions are good in the first place, the result of this focus was and is a lot of preaching about the sins of others, the subtext being that we are actually pretty good people. And indeed I think part of what enables the whole communing the unbaptized thing is the sense that the only people who really need salvation through repentance are their political enemies; ordinary people who might wander into the Eucharist don’t need to be put through any conversion experience.

    And at any rate the major presenting problem in the stuff coming out of the SCLM is that the demands of socio-political “prophecy” are mangling the faith. I’m old enough to remember when the budget-po-mo notions that we have to change the way we talk in order to be right-thinking started invading the church from the academy, in which place they were always associated with decidedly anti-Christian intellectual movements. Criticism was and is deflected by associating it with the troglodyte traditionalists who can be dismissed as politically backwards; it’s a problem to talk about “Fundmentalistic reactionarianism, Calvinistic reductionism or Capitalistic moralism” as though those, and especially the first, don’t exist in large part as overcompensation to the sins of establishment liberal Christianity. The latter is where we are, and its sins are the ones that beset us: people shy away from us in no small part because we have too many clerics who don’t care about religion or whose religion is obviously a betrayal of their predecessors.

  10. C. Wingate, I sadly have to agree with your second paragraph up there. I think TEC has some serious problems with “hubris” at all levels, to be honest. I mean, even the idea expressed in the linked post – that we were going to be the saviors of the worldwide church, divided for more than a millennium – comes under this heading.

    I wish we’d learn to be just another church, in humility, at some point, and stop pretending to exceptionalism in every possible way…

  11. Dear C. Wingate,
    My point is simply that these veins of theology are not Anglican or Episcopal in origin or nature.

    I’m not so sure that they are caused by establishment liberal Christianity per se as they are a reaction to the rise of empirical materialism and corporate capitalism, the unshrouding of mystery and the preponderance of moral ambiguity. I think that developments in consciousness like unfolding chains of paper dolls. Developments in consciousness do not obliterate previous paradigms, they simply add to the panoply. For instance, the development of western modernity and post-modernity have not eradicated and will not eradicate medieval feudalism and pastoralism in south central Asia. Their inherent conflicts, even pre-emptive, will arise at their confluences.

    If Christianity is worth anything, then it will have to endure its encounter with modernity and post-modernity. I believe the answer will not be found in insisting on imposing theology onto scientific conclusions to the point of denial of empirical facts and the best current model. Nor will the answer be found insisting on concrete interpretive adherence to creeds in the face of doubt. Nor will the answer be found in mechanistic magical systemic control of the supernatural order in saying, doing and thinking certain things and not saying, not doing and not thinking certain things will then force a desired supernatural outcome, and that objective reality and its problems is inconsequential and essentially meaningless. Nor will it be found in the support of the dominant paradigm of the erstwhile-Roman, now western, imperial, capitalist, plutocratic, corporate, viral, assimilating juggernaut of power. It meant death to the people before. It means death to the people now.

    Christianity will have to be able to stand up to all of it, and withstand examination by science and reason and technology, and do so without precondition, without omission, without denial, without fear, and alternatively offer salvation, hope and life in the face of sin, despair and death.

    To me the only way is to keep the original texts, to keep the old forms, to keep the way of prayer, sacraments and charity. They speak for themselves. That to me is the Anglican, Episcopal gift to the world, the Via Media.

  12. “Christianity will have to be able to stand up to all of it, and withstand examination by science and reason and technology, and do so without precondition, without omission, without denial, without fear, and alternatively offer salvation, hope and life in the face of sin, despair and death.

    To me the only way is to keep the original texts, to keep the old forms, to keep the way of prayer, sacraments and charity. They speak for themselves. That to me is the Anglican, Episcopal gift to the world, the Via Media.”

    Well said.

  13. The big issue about talking about “scientific conclusions” is that, by and large, the ones that matter aren’t scientific, and the ones that are scientific, don’t matter in the end. Too much of what calls itself “scientific” is actually secularist; the quality of empirical facts in most of the fields that actually matter is often rather low. But what’s worse, and it’s especially the besetting sin of the theological overlords of this church, is that they are parasites upon that “western, imperial, capitalist, plutocratic, corporate, viral, assimilating juggernaut of power” when they aren’t actually its agents. All you have to do is look at the interchurch/intracommunion fight over homosexuality, which is manifestly about the rich, powerful, privileged, white 1st world churches telling the poor and black churches of Africa what they ought to think, and resisting mightily the attempts of the latter to dominate the communion as their numbers say that ought to be able to. And the thing is, they were delivered this agenda by their secularist academic and social peers. They are the ones the church needs to push back against.

  14. Check, except that is the way science works and always has. You use the data you have. Observe, hypothesize, test, analyze, repeat (different testers/observers), and repeat (different tests), and repeat (different technology), and repeat (etc.), and repeat etc., ….
    Check, unless they’re not so much.

    Well, clashes of civilization are almost never pretty.

    Again consciousness tends to arise in successive, adaptive iterations and recapitulations, not replace itself in toto. I think that each church develops in its own way under its own initial and subsequent conditions, at its own pace, and resides in its own milieu, and makes its way forward as best it can.

    I do not believe that “rich, powerful, privileged, white 1st world churches [are] telling the poor and black churches of Africa what they ought to think.” I think it is rather the other way around. From the former perspective to the latter, “Think and believe away! Do what you think is best; I will be here if you need me. Do you need any money?” From the latter to the former, “I hate you, and I never want to be like you!”

    We’ll see in 50 or 100 years. And so it goes.

  15. Don’t be ridiculous, C. Wingate. TEC simply consecrated a gay man as bishop; it never once attempted to force its views on anybody else. It’s been quite the reverse, in fact; others tried to force their views on TEC.

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