The sting of death
What was the most memorable event on Australian television in the last fifty years?’ This was a question posed to five people in a recent newspaper vox pop column. Little surprise that two responses were the first moon landing, one was the death of John F Kennedy and another the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre.
However, the last fifty years were immediately put into focus with the answer given by one young woman, who declared that it was when the news was broken about the death of Steve Irwin, known to some as the ‘Crocodile Hunter’.
Agreeing with Germaine
‘Crikey’, thought I. ‘What is becoming of the world?' And so it was that whilst I could not count myself one of the 300 million viewers of his Memorial Service, I did find myself in a metaphoric bed with Germaine Greer who seemed to be the only voice of reason as the monkeys took control of the zoo.
For it was Germaine in her London Guardian column who wrote, 'The animal world has finally taken its revenge, but probably not before a whole generation of kids in shorts seven sizes too small has learned to shout in the ears of animals with hearing ten times more acute than theirs, determined to become millionaire animal-loving zoo owners in their turn.’
It is not the first time I have found myself agreeing with the authoress?) of The Female Eunuch. It is remarkable how often we find those on opposite sides sometimes our greatest allies, whilst those who are supposed to be fighting the same cause provide little comfort. The other day I was encouraged to look at the internet blog of the Bishop of Ballarat, and an interesting attack he makes in it about the Traditional Anglican Communion who are about to consecrate two more bishops in Australia.
First of all Bishop Hough lets off steam about the ‘illicit consecrations of bishops into their schismatic movement.’ How it can be illicit, when the Traditional Anglican Communion can ordain whom they like, is beyond me. Aside from that, the bishop states, 'These men seem to be more concerned about their own advancement than they do the preaching of the Gospel... creating ghettos and making a mockery of things Catholic' His railing continues as he states that ‘There is no way that they will be accepted in any traditional Church as being authentic disciples of Christ.’
It must be a great comfort for this married bishop, who was once a Roman Catholic priest before becoming an Anglican, to have found his way into a church which has no people seeking self-advancement and which could never make a mockery of things Catholic.
In another part of his less than thrilling blog, he writes that ‘FiF Australia has found itself in the forefront of isolating our Catholics and marginalizing them in the minds of much of the rest of the Church, and of turning the Catholic agenda into a one item crusade... They are as bad as ECUSA, seeking to ignore the rest of the Church and to create and shape a church that suits them.’
A defensive reaction
Ben Cropp, a marine documentary filmmaker, speculated that the stingray which killed Steve Irwin ‘felt threatened because Steve was alongside and there was the cameraman ahead.’ He explained that it was a ‘defensive thing'.
The Bishop of Ballarat may care to describe the actions of the Bishop of the Murray in taking part in the consecration of David Chislett as ‘slinking of' to consecrate a ‘mate’. What he fails to appreciate is that neither he nor the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church have made any realistic attempt whatsoever to secure a future for traditional Anglicans throughout the nation. If anything is a ghetto, it is the present federal go-it-alone structure of the Australian Anglican Church, not those whom Hough criticizes, who are in some way trying to find a way forward with integrity. (It may not be my way, but it is a way.)
Perhaps the consecration of David Chislett and the two impending consecrations are simply a defensive reaction in the face of a hierarchy which has made the orthodox feel truly threatened. If the Bishop of Ballarat feels the sting, perhaps he should expend his time into a national solution rather than venting his anger on a blog site.
In the meantime we could do with some ecclesiastical Germaine Greers to say it as it really is.
Beyond the litmus-test
Christians understand that Jesus is ^•the route to God. That is not to say that Muslims or Sikhs or Jains come to God in a radically different way. They come to God through human experience - through human experience of the divine. Christians talk about that in terms of Jesus’ (Bishop Katharine Jeffers Schori, in an interview with Robin Young on Here and Now, October 18, 2006).
The recent interview with the new Presiding Bishop almost two weeks ago is a ‘must hear’. As it demonstrates, the ascending Primate of the Episcopal Church is a politician of rare polish. By comparison her predecessors are a dim bulb (in the case of Edmond Browning) and a clownish dancing bear (in the case of Frank Griswold). Schori is probably the only member of the HOB with gravitas and (in a word) star power.
Her star quality
Soft-spoken, articulate, urbane, she hits all the buttons that excite the liberal mainstream of the new Episcopal religion. Let’s not underestimate the eleventh hour genius of the collective unconscious of the Columbus Convention in surfacing Schori as the new icon for The Episcopal Church. She embodies the ‘clarity' of the church’s liberal mainstream that has been so much commented on ever since. Indeed, in her own person she reveals the church’s renewed identity. Beyond that, she points to an underground tributary with the civil religion of Americas past.
The Episcopal Church was a washed-out rainbow coalition on its way to Convention 2006. They knew only one thing for sure - who their enemy was (their own Christian past) - and they instinctively flailed against it in legislative sessions and public gatherings. The election of Katharine Schori was truly a surprise. Even more of a surprise was the instant eruption of institutional coherence. Suddenly all the parts fit. The church’s splintered, moth-eaten radicalism now had a single thrust and a fresh vitality.
This new vitality explains the shift to ‘mop-up' mode in dealing with the recalcitrant orthodox in recent months, which hourly increases in intensity. And don’t look for a ‘kinder, gentler conversation with The Episcopal Church’s new Mother in God - not before you have spoken with Bishops Iker and Ackerman.
Robin Young’s October 18 interview captures the verbal component of the new icon - the kerygma, as it were. Essentially it is this: we come to God by our experience.
A God of experience
Schori's views have been decried as radical and heretical so many times since June that such a bald reduction of her message does not at first appear to say anything. It doesn’t decry her obvious universalism, denying (as she clearly does) the unique role of Jesus in salvation. Nor does it parade indignation over her ‘radical' views on sexuality - snatched up, like all of ECUSA’s radicalism, from the clearance table of secular politics. These are litmus-test issues for Evangelical Christians. Orthodox Episcopalians get so stirred up by our own sabre-rattling in response to some heresy-du-jour, that we don’t see here the essence of a new Gospel.
The rising Primate stated concisely the de facto doctrine of salvation of The Episcopal Church, probably speaking for the majority of Episcopalians in most of the years that the American Church has existed: Christians are not saved by grace, nor by a God of grace: that is, supernaturally, by God’s sole initiative, breaking through an impenetrable barrier of human sin, against our wills, in spite of our utter powerlessness and rage against the One who loves us and gives himself for us.
Here ‘grace' refers to the wilful (arbi-trius, hence 'arbitrary’) act of God on our behalf - hence, sovereign and providential - by his choice (i.e. his ‘election’) to act on our behalf, when we were dead in sin (not just mortally wounded), not out of response to us based upon our worth or merit (i.e. as a wage owed) nor any reason at all, but strictly as an expression of his divine love. The model of this love is the Blessed and Undivided Trinity.
We are saved rather through our own experience, through craning our necks toward the Divine, and being graciously' drawn in by Him/Her/It, as if by nature. Here ‘salvation (which, on account of its ‘terrorizing' associations ought only to be placed in quotes) is not really ‘necessary’, but certainly it ‘helps'.
This second Divinity would be described as gracious’ and grace-ful,' but it is the grace’ of the Nanny Church. It expresses an entirely different species of ‘condescension from that of the Incarnate Second Person of the Trinity. It proclaims a ‘love' that expects nothing, because it really has nothing to give. It does not lift the beloved, but professes
out of love' to allow the ‘beloved' to persist in his/her/its present degradation. It lacks the strength of conviction to reproduce itself in the ‘beloved,' or to say with confidence that as a result of its loving ministrations ‘the servant will be like the master,' or even ‘the child will be like the parent.' It knows its so-called ‘life' will be replicated in its children out of inertia, so it doesn’t need to muster conviction, or risk embarrassment.
The model for this form of ‘love' is the Welfare State, sustained by the illusion that such a social organism has ever, anywhere produced the good it proclaimed. It is the perfect ‘gospel’ for the twenty-first century. Its full articulation, in the person of The Episcopal Church’s twenty-sixth primate, is a stunning revelation.
Eversince Episcopalians were known to be the main signers of the Declaration of Independence, it has been assumed that most Episcopalians have been Deists for most of our nation’s, and our church’s, history. Here, then, is an added dimension to the ‘clarity' we’ve witnessed since this past summer in the re-emerging Episcopal Church. More than ‘clarity' there’s a ‘resonance' - a ‘ringing true' - and the revealing of a thread that goes beyond the past thirty years of recycled campus radicalism, into the mists of Enlightenment religion in the New World. The election of Katharine Schori thus ‘rings true' for what The Episcopal Church has always been, perhaps for a majority of her members.
While orthodox observers have long complained about the Deism of the American Church (even long before the era of modern radicalism), there have rarely been accusations of heresy. Deism is an ancient, if rather senile, heresy - even tame and respectable.
The god of Deism is perfect for the Me-Generations especially as a ‘bridge’ between Eastern and Western forms of religion. While Schori's drifting toward the divine via ‘experience' has an Eastern flavour to it - and she is quick to farm Eastern religions by name. Once again she ‘resonates' with something old and something new.
Let us not miss what is really wrong about the present moment. The Episcopal Church is not just wafting between hot-button slogans. She is, perhaps for the first time, steeled to a position to do actual battle with the primary genius of historic orthodoxy - the utterly unique God of Grace.
The Church finds itself, in spite of itself, poised with a revelation. Here is the
Dragon that lay dormant, or seemed too insipid to be confronted or even named, for centuries. By an unplanned, unthinkable coincidence of circumstances, ideologies old and new have coalesced in the person of this rising prelate in this time and place.
The Nanny Church finally has a real nanny. This is no accident. It is what finally accounts for the ‘resonance' of the present moment.
Canon J. Gary L’Hommedieu is Canon for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral Church of St Luke in Orlando, Florida
These are excerpts from the inaugural address of the Twenty-sixth presiding bishop of TEC. The spelling has been left as in the original.
Where is home for you? How would you define your home? Some people who engage this journey we call Christianity discover that home is found on the road, whether literally the restless travel that occupies some of us, or the hodos that is the Way of following the one we call the Christ. The home we ultimately seek is found in relationship with creator, with redeemer, with spirit. When Augustine says ‘our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee, O Lord’ he means that our natural home is in God.
The great journey stories of the Hebrew Bible begin with leaving our home in Eden. ...And eventually Israel begins to realize that they are meant to build a home that will draw all the nations to Mount Zion. Isaiah's great vision of a thanksgiving feast on a mountain, to which the whole world is invited, is part of that initial discovery of a universal home-building mission, meant for all. Jesus' inauguration and incarnation of the heavenly banquet is about a home that does not depend on place, but on community gathered in the conscious presence of God.
There’s a wonderful Hebrew word for that vision and work - shalom... Shalom means that all human beings live together as siblings, at peace with one another and with God, and in right relationship with all of the rest of creation. It is that vision of the lion lying down with the lamb and the small child playing over the den of the adder, where the specter of death no longer holds sway. It is that vision to which Jesus points when he says, ‘today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ To say ‘shalom’ is to know our own place and to invite and farm the place of all of the rest of creation, once more at home in God.
You and I have been invited into that ministry of global peace-making that makes a place and affirms a welcome for all of God’s creatures. But more than welcome, that ministry invites all to feast until they are filled with God’s abundance. God has spoken that dream in our hearts - through the prophets, through the patriarchs and the mystics, in human flesh in Jesus, and in each one of us at baptism. All are welcome, all are fed, all are satisfied, all are healed of the wounds and lessenings that are part of the not-yet-ness of creation.
That homecoming of shalom is both destination and journey. We cannot embark on the journey without some vision of where we are going, even though we may not reach it this side of the grave... Shalom is the fruit of living that dream. We live in a day where there is a concrete possibility of making that dream reality for the most destitute, forgotten, and ignored of our fellow travelers - for the castaways, for those in peril or just barely afloat on life’s restless sea.
This church has said that our larger vision will be framed and shaped in the coming years by the vision of shalom embedded in the Millennium Development Goals - a world where the hungry are fed, the ill are healed, the young educated, women and men treated equally, and where all have access to clean water and adequate sanitation, basic health care, and the promise of development that does not endanger the rest of creation. That vision of abundant life is achievable in our own day, but only with the passionate commitment of each and every one of us. It is God’s vision of homecoming for all humanity. [Applause]
What keeps us from the tireless search for that vision of shalom? There are probably only two answers, and they are connected - apathy and fear. One is the unwillingness to acknowledge the pain of other people, the other is an unwillingness to acknowledge that pain with enough courage to act. The cure for each is a deep and abiding hope. If God in Jesus has made captivity captive, has taken fear hostage, it is for the liberation and flourishing of hope. Augustine said that as Christians, we are prisoners of hope - a ridiculously assertive hope, a hope that unflinchingly assails the doors of heaven, a hope that will not cease until that dream of God has swallowed up death forever, a hope that has the audacity to join Jesus in saying, ‘today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’
And how shall that scripture be fulfilled in our hearing? In the will to make peace with one who disdains our theological position - for his has merit, too, as the fruit of faithfulness. In the courage to challenge our legislators to make poverty history, to fund AIDS work in Africa, and the distribution of anti-malarial mosquito nets, and primary schools where all children are welcomed. In the will to look within our own hearts and confront the shadows that darken the dream that God has planted there.
That scripture is fulfilled each time we reach beyond our narrow self-interest to call another home.
That scripture is fulfilled in ways both small and large, in acts of individuals and of nations, whenever we seek the good of the other, for our own good and final homecoming is wrapped up in that.
God has spoken that dream in us, let us rejoice! Let us join the raucous throngs in creation, the sea creatures and the geological features who leap for joy at the vision of all creation restored, restored to proper relationship, to all creation come home at last. May that scripture be fulfilled in our hearing and in our doing.
Shalom, chaverim, shalom, my friends, shalom.
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