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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Evidence of The Divine

I've been thinking a great deal, these days, of writing a letter to Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury about the Anglican Covenant.

I understand that it would most likely be an exercise in futility. Someone on his staff will read it and it will, no doubt, end up in the circular file.

I've also been too angry to write anything that, even if it did, by some small miracle, end up in Rowan's hands, might have any sort of impact. Just another "Angry American" spouting off because she can.

Which called me to really look into my anger about all this. Which was helpful.

The first is obvious. The Anglican Covenant is neither Anglican nor a covenant.

The Anglican Communion is not a church. It's a communion of loosely federated churches which have their own structures of governance, held together by bonds of affection, not laws.

The emphasis is on 'communion' - it's about the relationships between individuals and churches in various provinces around the world, all held together by our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, assisted by the Holy Spirit who is still revealing the Truth.

Neither is it a 'covenant'. It's a 'contract'. A contract is an agreement often made in suspicion. The parties do not trust each other - which is why they have to write things down and 'set their seal' to it - and they set "limits" to their own responsibility. A 'covenant' is an agreement made in trust. It's a concept deeply rooted in all Abrahamic religions in which the parties love each other and put no limits on their own responsibility.

So, the first thing that makes me angry about the 'Anglican Covenant' is that it's a Big Fat Lie. And, I really hate lies - especially when telling the truth is actually easier.

The truth is that it's more a 'Contract Against America', based on principles of retribution, not reconciliation. Additionally, this 'contract' attempts to centralize power and authority which is decidedly un-Anglican.

I could go on and on about the way these things are true - and you can find lots of supporting information here - but I think the most offensive thing about the Anglican Covenant is this:

It lacks imagination.

Indeed, I think the problem with most organized religions in general and the Anglican Communion in particular, is that it lacks imaginative leadership.

I suspect that's because our present leadership style is one that operates on an assumption of pathology. Something is "wrong" so we have to "treat" it - or at least "fix" it.

What's "wrong" with the Anglican Communion, in the opinion of some, is that we are becoming "too liberal" as manifested and embodied in the full inclusion of all God's people into the corridors and councils of power and authority.

Women and LGBT people become the pathogen - the 'foreign bodies' - which have begun to inject themselves into - or have been allowed to enter - the system. Indeed, some women and LGBT people who are ordained - or elected and consecrated bishops - have taken up something akin to 'Resident Alien' status in some parts of the Body.

The less we understand - or want to understand - about the pathogen', the more afraid we become. The more afraid we become, the higher the incidence - or illusion of - chaos. The more chaotic things feel, the less control we think we have, the greater the impulse for rules and laws.

And, scapegoating.

And, the sort of punitive, retributive components we see in Section IV of the Anglican Covenant.

The Anglican Covenant has become our "vaccine" - our "inoculation" against this new viral strain some call "progressive" or "liberation" theology.

At least, that's how I've come to understand the advent of what to me is this perfectly horrid aberration on the landscape of the Anglican Communion known as the Anglican Covenant.

The other day, I listened to Leonard Lopate interview Bill Shore on his NPR program. Shore, the founder and director of Share our Strength, has written a book entitled "The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men" - a book about a small cadre of scientists — collaborators and competitors — who are determined to develop a vaccine for malaria — a feat most tropical disease experts have long considered impossible.

In this country, DDT has come close to eradicating malaria. Shore reports that last year there were 2.7 million Americans with the disease, resulting in a 9% malaria-related death rate. In Africa alone, there were 247 million cases, resulting in 30% malaria-related deaths.

Eighty percent of those deaths were children under the age of five.

80% !!!!

Covering bedding with mosquito nets treated with DDT has made a significant impact on reducing the death rate, but scientists have found that mosquitoes have both adapted to the DDT and are now coming out earlier in the day. Clearly, the problem is more complex than a simple solution like netting.

What is required, Shore maintains, is this:
"Character, ambition, imagination, and the stubborn conviction that good is not good enough are indispensable to every leader seeking higher ground.”
He calls on scientists to become "more entrepreneurial" in their spirit. To think "outside the box" - indeed, "outside the lab" - and employ their imaginations to find the pathway which leads to the eradication of malaria.

There's a message in there - in this modern parable - for the Anglican Communion, especially if her leaders insist on an approach from a standpoint of pathology.

It's easy to project our anxieties and fears and locate them in particular people - like women and LGBT people. That's a very common dynamic. The diagnosis - and therefore the 'treatment plan' - is wrong, however, because we have not done a careful analysis, employing our religious imaginations.

The 'problem' with the Anglican Communion is not 'resident aliens'.

The problem with the Anglican Communion, at its core, is the challenge of how to be an Anglican - indeed, a Christian - in an anxious world.

This is not a new problem to either Anglicanism or Christianity. I don't think I need to recite the historical evidence which supports my premise. Scripture and the history of Christendom are filled with stories about what happens to people - good, faithful people - when fear and anxiety lead to a perspective of pathology and chaos.

The people who cried "Crucify him!" were not bad people. Most were good people who loved God. They were just anxious and confused and afraid. Very, very afraid.

"Be not afraid". That's what every messenger from God ever said to anyone who was being asked to do a bold, new thing.

It's the first thing the angel Gabriel said to Mary.

Jesus said it over and over again to his disciples. "Be not afraid."

There's another interesting metaphor from Shore's interview which I think may give us an insight into how to be an Anglican in an anxious world.

There are two approaches to eradicating malaria. One is to develop a vaccine which will trigger the body's immune system to ward off the effects of the disease. The other is to find a way to block transmission of the parasite from the saliva of the mosquito into the blood system.

While neither one has ever been done before with a parasite, both are entirely within the realm of possibility. Indeed, the pharmaceutical company Glaxo Smith Kline is presently running a fairly controversial experimental program with 17,000 children in Africa which is very close to finding a malaria vaccine. This would be, as I understand it, the best route to the goal of eradication.

One blocks the pathogen from entry into the body. One allows the pathogen to live in a body which can now tolerate the pathogen without any adverse affects. The first is a very expensive and complicated endeavor. The second is less so.

The first approach relies on the fact that the "combination lock" of enzymes - a "lock and key" of molecular and genetic codes - in the mosquito's saliva which allows it entry into the blood stream is static. It is not.

Shore reports, for example, that the HIV virus has 13 or 15 gene strains. The malaria parasite has something like 53,000 gene strains. It has changed and mutated over the hundreds and, perhaps, thousands of years it has been in existence. It will no doubt do that again, rendering the "blockers" eventually ineffective. It is, however, a short term solution.

The second approach - transforming the body's immune system to enable it to live with the parasite - is key to eradicating the devastating effects of malaria on the rest of the body.

Are you following me here?

We can go with the Anglican Covenant Blocker approach or we can work on something more transformative. Something that allows The Body (the Communion) to build up a tolerance and adapt so that it does not become "dis-eased".

It doesn't take much imagination to understand that Love - Incarnate and Divine - is the transformative agent, the vaccine with which we all need to be inoculated so as not to become disabled and diseased by fear and anxiety.

"Perfect love casts out fear", said St. Paul, and he weren't no pathologist or malariologists. However, he did understand something about the nature of God and the human community as the Body of Christ as well as the idea of the 'communion of saints'.

I think we might want to go back and see what St. Paul had to say to the early churches in Corinth or Rome and get some idea about how we might apply ancient principles of How to be Christian in Times of Anxiety.

If we engage our religious imagination, we just might discover how to be Anglicans who are Christians in these anxious times. We'll have to "think outside the box" - or, beyond the pews, and outside the walls of the church.

We can do it. We can live together in peace without the punitive restrictions and centralizing power of an Anglican Covenant. I'm convinced we can. God has given us the grace to do these things. May God now give us the will - and the imagination - to achieve them.

The poet William Blake wrote, "Imagination is evidence of the divine."

If I could say anything and put it into a letter to the Good and Holy but Most Anxious Archbishop of Canterbury that might actually have a chance of finding its way to his desk, it would be this:

Gentle Sir,

I am certain you have read William Blake's poems "The Tyger" and "The Lamb" from "The Songs of Innocence and of Experience". Please re-read them. They may provide you some inspiration as you face the challenges of the days and weeks ahead.

Blake's words, "When the stars threw down their spears / And watered heaven with their tears" may well be an apt description of how you see the Anglican Communion right now. Indeed, many share that perspective. Rationalists have often been overwhelmed by the fact that our dream for a tame, gentle world, guided by kindness and understanding, must ultimately face the reality of the Tyger.
I do not believe that the Anglican Covenant is the answer to the problems that beset the Anglican Communion. I believe you know this. I believe you knew this before the folks from GAFCON, who had helped to provide the initial impulse to this endeavor, rejected it even as it was being approved by Synod to be considered by individual dioceses in The Church of England.

I believe that the Anglican Covenant is, in its most benign form, a misguided attempt to inoculate the Anglican Communion against the virulent pathogens of anxiety and fear which have become epidemic in our lives of faith.

We don't need more laws to contain our fears. We need more love - even if only manifested in the unwritten doctrine of Anglican Tolerance. The simplicity of this fact does not diminish its truth.

God made both the Lamb and the Tyger and it is Jesus who calls us to the Realm of God where both might live together in the Beloved Community. I believe that the Anglican Communion is one place where the Lamb and the Tyger might live together, one bringing a keener sense of appreciation to the other.

Indeed, I, and many like me, believe the mysterious gift of the Anglican Communion is precisely what the world needs as a place to practice the multiplicity of expressions and manifestations of our Christian faith.

I really only have one request of you. It is this: Please use the enormous gift of your God-Given intelligence in service of your "character, ambition, imagination, and the stubborn conviction that good is not good enough". These are indispensable to every leader seeking higher ground.

Imagination is, I believe, as William Blake wrote, evidence of the divine. The world needs - aches, groans, longs, waits in eager anticipation for - manifestations of the Incarnation. Now more than ever.

May God's abundant grace bless you and bring you hope and joy this Season of Advent and through the year.
Yeah, I know. Circular file. Definitely, circular file.

Well, at least I feel better.


Lesley said...

Preach sister!

Love the letter - why not send it?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Lesley. Oh, and not to worry. I will mail it.

it's margaret said...

Mail it. Now. G'wan!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

First thing in the morning. With the Christmas Cards.

june maffin said...

Pleased to see that you're going to mail it but before you do, decorate the envelope in some unique way (stay with me for a moment about this) ... use colours, place unique lines around the address, put drawings on the cover, calligraphically render the name and address ... do something that will make your envelope "stand out". If we lived closer to one another, I'd do it for you 'cause I don't let any envelope leave this house unless it's been decorated in some way --- mail art! The result? Postal employees love them; recipients open them first (and not surprisingly, they pass them on up the chain of command so often they make it to the appropriate person); and as I create the envelope, I pray for the recipient(s) and postal folk who pick it up, sort it (I usually bring my envelopes to the post office and ask them to hand-stamp it - that way it goes into a special bag and isn't glomped with everything else), and deliver it at the other end.

Try it - I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the result. And let us know when you get a reply. :-)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

June - what a fascinating concept. I'll bet it works. When I was a college chaplain, my RC colleague once told me that, when he printed ANYTHING - a flyer, a service bulletin - he always, always, always put a cross on it, because, he said, people were less likely to throw something away if it had a cross on it. The more byzantine the style, the better, he said.

I think you may be onto something.