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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Lambeth: Something Old, Something New


A long, long time ago, in a galaxy of reality far, far away, I was once a labor-delivery room nurse. My shift was characterized by long periods of anticipation and boredom, punctuated by intense moments of activity.

A very short while ago, in a galaxy of reality which seemed further away than it actually was, I was at the Lambeth Conference 2008 in Canterbury, England. My time there often felt very much like my shift in the labor-delivery room.

Our Presiding Bishop believes that something new is about to be born in the Anglican Communion. While she may be right, that was not exactly my experience or perspective. Rather, it felt to me as if some things very old and most ancient were struggling to stay alive.

What things, you ask?

Patriarchy. Hierarchy. Sexism. The certainty that comes with the traditional cultural paradigm, the structure that supports it and the system which enables it.

The Indaba Groups, from the South African term for “doing business” proved, for the most part, to promote “business as usual”. The prelates in our church spent much of their time learning what it means to be a bishop in the Anglican Communion from a variety of personal perspectives and worldviews.

I suppose that is, in and of itself, not a bad thing, especially if it was as necessary, as the Archbishop of Canterbury and his planning team apparently determined that it, in fact, was.

It does, however, beg the question, “Why?”

In the tediously long hours of anticipation and boredom, I had some time to consider this question. The short answer is that when we elect or, as in the case of some provinces, appoint a bishop in the church, I think we forget ourselves, what it means to be a bishop in and of the Church. We forget our own catholicity at our own peril.

Too often, we elect or appoint leaders who will make us feel good locally, who won’t rock the board. We want someone who is strong, but not necessarily courageous. We want someone who is articulate, but not necessarily outspoken. We like to think we have elected a prophet, but woe be unto the bishop who actions are considered ‘prophetic.”

We forget that, increasingly, a bishop is someone who will be a participant not only locally in our churches, or at the diocesan level or even nationally at General Convention, but internationally on the world stage of the global Anglican Communion.

Suddenly, the stakes of our actions in electing spiritual leaders in the church have become almost as high as electing the political leaders of our government.

Let those who have ears, hear.

Which brings me to an insight about Lambeth in general and the Church in particular: I think we, in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion, are living out in microcosm the tensions the world knows as globalization.

One of the highlights at Lambeth was listening to Sir Jonathan Sachs, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, UK. An orthodox (but not in the sense that many Anglicans use that term) Jew, he is very concerned about the impact of the market-driven nature of communities around the world – from the most remote citizen in a primitive culture to the individual person in the pew in churches, mosques, temples, and synagogues in the sophisticated cities of the Western world.

He argues that globalization is ‘profoundly destabilizing’ and that organized religion can provide identity and meaning, which lead not only to the stabilizing development of moral and ethical codes of behavior, but also to the development of sacred covenants of faith verses fate (this was the topic of his presentation to the Primates and Bishops which you can read about here.)

In his book, The Dignity of Difference, he writes, “If we are to live in close proximity to difference, as in a global age we do, we will need more than a code of rights, more even than mere tolerance. We will need to understand that just as the natural environment depends on biodiversity, so the human environment depends on cultural diversity, because no one creed has a monopoly on spiritual truth; no one civilization encompasses all the spiritual, ethical and artistic expressions of mankind.”

Not only do bishops need to hear this from and about their own cultural and spiritual contexts, so do we who elect and/or influence the appointment of these spiritual leaders of our Christian communities need to be mindful of the need and respect for diversity in our own church, our Communion, our world.

One thing has become very clear to me, post Lambeth: something that is struggling to stay alive must die in order that something new can emerge and have life. It will require patience, as it will take some time – perhaps another decade or so – which will produce long moments of institutional boredom and anticipation.

In my experience, the institutional church never does well with boredom and anticipation, especially in times of cultural anxiety. We always end up using Scripture as a political football (see cartoon above).

Mostly it will take what Rabbi Sachs calls a “spirit of generosity” to make room for others who are different.

The good Rabbi didn’t say that we must ‘change for others’. He said that we will need to ‘make room for others'. That doesn’t sound like anything vaguely familiar to patriarchy, hierarchy or sexism to me.

It sounds more like life on a galaxy that is moving closer and closer to becoming our present reality.

Are we ready for that?

If Lambeth is any indication, I’d have to repeat a phrase we sometimes used in the labor and delivery room: “Ready or not, here it comes.”

7 comments:

Jim said...

Going on two years ago, Bishop Griswald described to a break out at our diocesan convention how different we are from our British cousins. He offered two little examples:

When he attended one meeting in England, he was asked by NT Wright why he had not simply vetoed the election of Gene Robinson. His explanation, that the presiding bishop does not have veto powers was met with amazement.

In conversation at one of the many meetings, he was told that in England,'certain subjects' ie homosexual clergy, are simply not discussed and he should keep them out of the HoB conversation. When he finished laughing he told the observed that all he had to do to assure a topic's place on the agenda was say it was not to be discussed.

I think "Indaba" whatever it means in South Africa, meant to Dr. Williams "getting the bloody yanks to act like real bishops and shut up the radicals!" In that context, his final address and 'pastoral letter' almost make sense. they are the result of his desire to move the bishops into being what he thinks they should be - not leaders but directors. His use of "Anglican Church" where a prior less elitist archbishop might say, "Anglican Communion" also make sense in context.

Something indeed has to die. It wont be sexism, or homophobia. Those evils will always I fear be with us. But the institutional expression of them is what we will see die as something new is born. With them, I fear, will die the "Anglican Communion" as Dr. Williams envisions it: not a communion but a church. That model, with the (white) male or occaisional (acceptably grateful) female in front directing the obedient laity is simply not going to survive.

It is I think time to build. Not a hierarchy as much as that appeals to our British would be overlords and non-global Southern purists but rather a web of relationships.

This is going to be tough on archbishops who have climbed over the hopes, and vocations of so many to get their titles, but the world is no longer open to pyramids. It is a world of webs, flat structures based on relationships.

FWIW
jimB
Jim's Thoughts

gerry said...

Greetings, and welcome back from vacation.

This has nothing to do with Lambeth but rather is a comment on your "Mass Card" post over on HOBD. Not being a member I chose this way to pass on my information.

At Trinity Memorial we pray for the dying, corporately on Sunday in their final days and weeks, by name during the prayers for the people.

After their deaths, we pray for the repose of thier souls during that section of the prayers for the people while offring thanks for their lives and ministry. This is usually for three weeks to make sure many members know of their passing. We also do an e-mail notice to the list.

We also have memorials including flowers, etc. Recently memorials have ranged from new fair linens to the restoration of the Trasnfiguration Window.

We don't offer Memorial Cards, but every funeral director in the community does. I would estimate that perhaps a third of the Funeral or Memorial Services place the cards either in the pews or insert them in the programs.

Hope this helps.

The Exegesis Fairy said...

"This is going to be tough on archbishops who have climbed over the hopes, and vocations of so many to get their titles, but the world is no longer open to pyramids."

Owch. That's not very polite. Nor, I think, is it fair on an archbishop who is trying to preserve some shred of unity in a Communion at each others' throats. Nor the Archbishop of York. I couldn't speak for any of the others, though your PB seems like a woman with her head screwed on right.

Ok, not all of the indaba groups were helpful, but some made real progress in listening to each other. And that is what they were for, really. The differences between the sides of the debate are not insurmountable, but they are huge. And they will get nowhere if labels are slapped on hither and thither: "godless liberals", "homophobes", "heretics", "throwbacks". I'm no great lover of GAFCON, but it occurs to me that the only way we're going to get through is to show them all the love we can muster by the grace of God.

God only knows what will become of us, but He knows His business. "Love your enemies", He said. That includes those who define you as the enemy, regardless of your common heritage.

Relationships are important, both in terms of our relationships individually and corporately to God, and to each other. I agree entirely. Hence the need for all the grace, because we're people and we kinda suck sometimes.

British people are different to Americans. This is hardly news, I'm afraid. For example, the phrase, "this great country" will rouse wave upon wave of apathy in England, Northern Ireland, and probably Scotland and Wales as well.

You're not bloody Yanks to us. You're our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we love you, even if we don't always agree with you. Same goes for all the GAFCONites. I mean, at least you came to Lambeth. You engaged. You're going to fight for change in the context you've been given. And that's a wonderful and terrible thing.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for writing, Exegesis Fairy - and where where you when I was learning to do exegesis in seminary? I prayed to you a lot but you never showed up! ;~)

Here's the thing, EF - well, two things, actually:

The first is that to LGBT people (well, I can only speak for Americans), "polite" or not, it HAS felt like +++Himself and lots of other Archbishops have climbed over the hopes and vocations of so many of us. Indeed, what they've done is not only not polite, it's hurtful and antithetical to what I know of Jesus, whose sacred body we say we are as the Church.

The second is that I do believe the assumption of those who read and leave comments on this blog is that Americans are reading this, so when we use phrases like "this great country /church of ours," we don't mean to bore you; rather, we are talking amongst ourselves.

I can agree with almost everything else you write. It is a matter of grace, isn't it?

One final note: I was absolutely aghast and appalled by the level of assumed male privilege and outright misogyny displayed in UK - even among those who claimed to be part of the "inclusive church" network. No clue. Even the lesbians looked like Bambi in the headlights when some of the Americans started to call them on it.

I found it astonishing when I wasn't completely appalled and then, angry.

You don't have to defend that or agree with it. Just my observation, is all.

Thanks for stopping by. Hope to see you again. And this time, when I'm praying for help during an exegesis, please respond ;~>

The Exegesis Fairy said...

"The first is that to LGBT people (well, I can only speak for Americans), "polite" or not, it HAS felt like +++Himself and lots of other Archbishops have climbed over the hopes and vocations of so many of us. Indeed, what they've done is not only not polite, it's hurtful and antithetical to what I know of Jesus, whose sacred body we say we are as the Church."

I'm so sorry for that. I have to say, I plead ignorance: being of the female persuasion, I get a bit of the 'you? Priesthood? Nah...come back when you're male', but never from the clergy.

"The second is that I do believe the assumption of those who read and leave comments on this blog is that Americans are reading this, so when we use phrases like "this great country /church of ours," we don't mean to bore you; rather, we are talking amongst ourselves."

No no, this wasn't at all in response to you guys, it was an example I thought of because I was listening to Sarah Palin and thought, "You'd never get away with that over here. Post Tony Blair we expect your speech to have CONTENT, not just yammer about how great the country is." Also, British people like to talk about how BAD things are. We're constitutionally grumpy.

"One final note: I was absolutely aghast and appalled by the level of assumed male privilege and outright misogyny displayed in UK - even among those who claimed to be part of the "inclusive church" network. No clue. Even the lesbians looked like Bambi in the headlights when some of the Americans started to call them on it."

Really? Goodness. You go to all the best parties, clearly! Can you give an example to help me understand what you mean?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

An example, EF? Well, let's start with something really simple. Like, the Trinitarian formula at the end of the Psalms.

Rather than "Glory be to the Father, and the Son and Holy Spirit," . . . how about something like, "Glory to the holy and undivided Trinity, one God, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever, Amen."

All of the beautiful cadence for chanting, none of the exclusion.

But, what about those pesky Psalms? Well, simple - especially for those who use "The Kings Language" but have Queens on your thrones.

Change "Kingdom" to "Realm", "King" to "Ruler" or "Sovreign" and "Lord" to "Holy One."

Instead of addressing God in the third person, how about addressing God directly in the first person singular? Avoids all that unnecessary gender-specific "he, he, he."

See? Not only easy, but fairly painless. More importantly, it avoids inflicting pain on those who feel excluded by "traditional" language and makes an important statement about justice and inclusion.

And, no, alas! I don't go to all the best parties, but I always have a grand time wherever I go. Which is probably why I don't get invited to all the best parties.

The Exegesis Fairy said...

Easy? Yup.

Theologically dodgy? Not in the slightest.

Why aren't we doing this? Easy: (all together now) "We've always done it this way". Or if you're into that sort of thing: "It's the language in the Bible, it's the language we use." (mumblemumblebadtranslation mumblemumbleinaccurateexegesis mumble. Me? No, didn't say a thing.

Then again, I have never been part of anything that was called 'inclusive church' in the C of E. It sounds akin to the concept of radical welcome (somewhat disparaged and I think, "err...isn't that what Jesus did?"). Is it a similar principle? (Be proud: you're educating the masses. Well, this mass.)

Then again, a lot of the churches I've been to DO mostly address God in the first person, are light on liturgy of the king/lord variety, and generally focus on people and Doing Good and Personal Relationship (I'm quite addicted to Random Capitalisation, apologies) with God. Oh, and the Bride of Christ metaphor. Well, that was just the one.

*shrug*

Unfortunately the church seems to lag far behind the world in some things. I mean, it has the advantage that when we get something we know it has staying power (good or bad), but the intervening decades are 'Argh! I will beat you with a Clue By Four!'

We'll get there. In the meantime we're going to need some love.

But hey, I hear we know Someone who can help with that...

And in the meantime, let's skip the best parties. I'm a dangerous heretic, they're not going to invite me, and the 'best' ones are the dull ones anyway. :)