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Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Obvious Answer

It began simply enough.

A group of about ten clergy gathered for our monthly meeting. One of us was presenting a paper on The Resurrection.

It was a very good presentation, indeed, exploring what the synoptics and John and Paul had to say on the matter - with some good contextual explanations as to the theology of each disciple - as well as a little venture into myths and redactive, form, and literary criticism.

One of the comments made was that the Resurrection is less a cognitive and more an experiential experience.

I was reminded what my friend and colleague Robert Corbin Morris, who has frankly talked about his struggle with depression, once said: "We go to bed at night. We get up in the morning. It's an every day resurrection."

I also found myself scribbling notes to myself about difference and similarities between words like "revelation", "insight", "vocation" and "resurrection".

As I said, it was a very good presentation with much food for thought.

At one point I asked, "So, am I to assume that no one in this group believes in the 'bodily resurrection'?"

There were giggles around the room. The obvious answer was 'no' - not unusual for a group of Episcopal clergy.

Perhaps, however, the not-so-obvious answer was that, even if someone DID believe in the bodily resurrection, no one was going to admit it. Not in that group.

I offered as how I asked the question because, since I've moved to Delaware - or, more specifically, Sussex County, DE - there are three questions I'm often asked, whenever it is discovered that I am a member of the clergy.

The first is my least favorite question: "You're a pastor/minister, eh? So, what do we call you? Reverend? Pastor? Mother? Father?"

Sometimes the question is asked with a less than obvious snicker. More often than not, it's a genuine question because folks want to be polite and respectful and ordained women are - still - something of a novelty in these parts.

The second question is also like unto it on my popularity scale: "Are you born again?" Sometimes, it's: "As an Episcopalian, are you born again?"

I give the obvious answer: "Yes, I'm baptized."

That's usually not good enough - or, perhaps, too obvious - and, before too long, I find that I'm in the middle of a story of how that person "came to the true faith" and "committed my life to Jesus Christ". The obvious implication is that, as an Episcopalian, I have not.

I have learned not to engage in an argument but simply listen. That's the obvious pastoral thing to do because clearly, this person wants to be able to "witness" to someone about his faith.

The third question least favorite question is: "Do you believe in the bodily resurrection?"

The obvious way to answer this question is to throw it back with a question of my own: "Well," I ask, "what do you believe?"

It's obvious because, what I've discovered is that the question isn't so much a question as it is a test. I said to the group that I've learned that it's really not so much a faith question as it is a political question - especially here in the rural areas of Sussex County.

Actually, these three questions are not so much questions of faith as they are political questions. I believe that I'm being asked not so much because anyone wants to hear my answer because it's an issue of faith with which they have been struggling, so much as they want to hear my answer because they think they already know my answer (and, they are probably right on that), and want to argue with me.

Moreover, I think I probably get questions like these because I'm "from away" (as they say here), and because I'm ordained and...and...and... because I'm an ordained woman.

As such, I'm not only an oddity, I'm a threat to "traditional" (read: patriarchy) thinking. They want to know whether or not I will be teaching and preaching "the party line".

Well! One of our members took great umbrage at my statement. A younger man, he has, once before, challenged me on a statement I made which was prefaced by, "As a woman . . .". He said, "Well, I talk with lots of ordained women, and that's just not their experience."

Talks to lots of ordained women, he does. How 'white' of him, eh?

When I offered a further explanation - which obviously began to make some sense - he dismissed it with "well, it must be a generational thing".

Right. I felt the sting of that, but I let it pass.

This young man then went on to chide me about the fact that I was getting it all wrong. These were 'faith' questions, not political ones, he said. And, obviously, I was missing the mark.

Faith, he said, is not political.

Well, there were a few challenges to that statement from around the room which only served to make him obviously uncomfortable.

Finally, he said, "Well, no woman I know gets asked questions like that."

"Ah," I said, trying to diffuse the suddenly escalating tension in the room with some humor, "The obvious answer is that I guess I get these questions because I'm queer."

"No," said one of my colleagues, "It's obvious that you have weird neighbors."

We all laughed and moved on. It wasn't worth it.


Except, I find that I'm still sitting and stewing about it this morning.

Oh, not about that young man. I believe him to be a fine priest and a good pastor. He's young and he's smart and he's got 'career aspirations' which, I have no doubt, will find themselves in fulfillment. He's very committed to the institutional church - which I find a bit disturbing for someone as young as he - but, then again, so was I. Once.

He'll do just fine, I'm sure. There will come a moment when he discovers that we - as a church and as a nation - have not brought about parity and equality for women. In that moment, he'll have an opportunity to make a choice about what he's going to do about the truth he's learned.

And, it will change him. Or, not.

And the church will be better.  Or worse. 

Either way, I've learned that there is obviously nothing I can do, in the short term, to change any of that.  As the Buddhists say, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."

I guess I'm stewing about the obvious. Or, more specifically, what's obvious to me but not so much to others.

That's probably because I was brought up on the feminist aphorism, "The personal is political."

And, there's nothing more personal than one's faith. 

Except, perhaps, reproductive rights and abortion.

Or, the color of one's skin.

Or, one's gender and sexual orientation.

Or, one's age or physical ability or class status.

Which is why these issues are political.  It's also why religious organizations and denominations are so involved in all of these 'human rights' issues.

Jesus was frequently 'tested' on issues of the resurrection and sin and grace and the commandments. These were not questions asked because people were struggling with issues of faith. They were political questions, designed to 'trick' Him - or, at least, discover where He stood, politically, on certain issues.

I suspect women are 'tested' - or, at least, I am being tested - because women in authority in the church are a challenge - if not an out right threat - to the status quo.

The ordination of women, for some, is not about the change and transformation of the church.  It's really all about changing the faces at the top who will maintain the status quo while giving us all the illusion of change and transformation.

I understand. It's what comes with the territory. At least, it's been part of the religious landscape of my life for the past 25 years.

The obvious question is: What are we really afraid of?

The obvious answer is, I fear, obvious.

And, it has everything to do with death and resurrection. 


Kirkepiscatoid said...

Heh. I bet your young colleague has never had one of those conversations like "the last time I started my period in a white alb and the thoughts that interrupted me on the altar." LOL

Career aspirations, eh? Like "If I tossed a pointy hat out the truck window, he'd almost kill himself in traffic trying to snag it and try it on?"

Dang--I secretly wish I could have been there at that meeting, as an "empowered, curious, and halfway theologically articulate layperson." I think I could have had some fun.

Here's my take on what those evangelical people with them wanting the "obvious" (loaded) answer...Why do they do it?...'s because all of us...every single one of us...every now and then feels the grip of that awful thought of "What if this is all that there is?"

No heaven.
No resurrection.
No glory.

Just a big fat dark nothin'.

So they hedge their bets by believing in an obvious answer, literally, and can make no room for anything else.

Me? Personally, I found I could most believe in the Resurrection when I gave up it being "my idea of one." When I accepted that, yes, I could be totally and unequivocally full of toro ca-ca about this God stuff and this Jesus stuff, and said, "Yeah, maybe it is," it was when I first found that living the life that Jesus taught us to live REALLY mattered, and over time, I came to believe in the Resurrection in a way that it can never be taken from me. How goofy is that?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Actually, Kirke, you would have loved this presentation. It was really good. And, the conversation was wonderful.

And, you know, I think your thinking is so obviously goofy, it makes great sense.

Grace-WorkinProgress said...

I was surprised that your post stirred so much in me. I am a recovering pentecostal and spent my childhood either in or out of God's favor. It never stops surprising me when people are so sure they are right. Right about everything.

I have found that as I get older I realize I haven't been right about anything. I understand why people want to be right is feels safe and secure when you know something.

Jesus made people questions all of their beliefs. He made them feel real uncomfortable with all the love and forgiveness. Why is it so important to decide who is in and who is out.

I have come to terms with my childhood and made my way back to the Jesus I loved. I wish that people were motivated more by love than by fear.

I am content these days to be in the world but not of the world. Great post.

it's margaret said...

--what we are really afraid of...

Oh. You mean, like, Gospel stuff, maybe? --like turning the tables over, maybe... ?

(can't help it --toro caca--I LOVE that kirkepiscatoid! Love it! --as for bleeding on your alb --oh yeah! A pseudo-warrior once asked me --but what do women know about blood? --right... it ain't the color of wine...)

I am remembering helping out in the HOB at GC2009 and I was standing at the door where bishops were supposed to enter and no one else was supposed to even come close, and a young woman approached the door and I made a move to interrupt her stride --and she laughed, and knowing what was going on, said, 'there are a few of us.' --I wanted to burst in to tears... on so many levels... in unexpected shame, in hope, in thanksgiving.... --and I had a little moment of Resurrection... right there. Despite the church....

Bodily Resurrection --you betcha... Now, let's talk --whose Body? And those who have a throttlehold on individuality will always have a hard time with my continued response.

...thanks for this post Elizabeth... a lot to think about.

Anonymous said...

I would not have appreciated the guy's tone. Maybe he did not realize how he was coming off.

But reading your post makes me wonder if I am attending the right church. Why shouldn't I believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ and Mary? With God all things are possible, right?

The TEC newcomers class did not go into this theological area. So when the Assumption of Mary came along I naively asked why there wasn't a service. I received a long pause and then a historical answer indicating the RCC made the whole thing up.

Are my beliefs way off from the standard TEC theology?


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Grace - In the world but not of the world - that's the tension we try to maintain. Thanks for your great comment.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Margaret - So glad for your post. We are sooOOOooo fearful of the gospel. And yet, we are sooOOOooo attracted to it. It's the real power of the gospel.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Maria - First of all, who cares if there is an "Anglican standard", much less what it is. I would say that the "Anglican standard" is one of questioning doubt. To be a good Anglican, I think, is to be a good skeptic. Welcome to the fold, my dear.

susankay said...

Well, I have always believed: Could have, did in some way, the fact that it happened WAY more important than the way it happened. Ditto Virgin Birth. I do sorta like the assumption of Mary, tho

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

SusanKay - Me, too, actually.

Brian said...

Thanks, Elizabeth, for another wonderful post!

I’ve come to the point of realization that I don’t really care if I “know” what I believe about things like this. I know that after half a century of conflicting emotions, doubts, and denials that God is still there in a very real and personal way for me. That’s enough.

Perhaps it’s my forays into paganism and Buddhism in the past that somehow led me to a peaceful place where I am totally willing to “let go and let God”. I can articulate so much more about things I’ve rejected as ridiculous and unGodlike than I can about the things that feel right and Godly to me.

I can’t do anything to prove or disprove things like this so I don’t spend any time thinking about it anymore. I’ve stood close enough to death enough times with friends and family that I no longer fear it nor worry about what comes after. It is what it is. Natural and necessary and a mystery wrapped in an enigma and I’m fine with that.

Whether I achieve a resurrection, bodily or otherwise, will be up to God. If there’s nothingness I figure I won’t know anyway so what’s to worry about? I trust God to do what God does. And I like the BCP prayers and services for the dying and the dead so that’ll work for me when my time comes and I doubt very much that it matters much to God at all how that all plays out.

Deep and profound you are, a treasure!

Peace be with you and all who enter here.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Brian - I love living into the mystery that is our faith. Thank you for visiting here and for your wonderful, faithful post.

David and John said...

I am about as open-minded as they come in many areas. There are many things that I am likely even left-of-center by Episcopal Church standards.

But If I didn't believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, I honestly think I'd give up my faith all-together. In the absence of Christ's resurrection, I just can't see the point of Christianity.

I am also quite surprised about there being many members of the clergy who don't believe in the bodily resurrection. I know a great many Episcopal clergy (about 95% of which are just as left-of-center as I am), but all of them believe in the resurrection.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I believe in the Resurrection. I can say that part of the creed without crossing my fingers. I don't think belief in the "bodily resurrection" is necessary for my salvation. Now, if you don't believe in the incarnation, well, I mean, why bother?

Geeklet said...

I'm curious as to the distinction between the resurrection and bodily resurrection. Would you terribly mind clarifying?

MarkBrunson said...

I believe in bodily resurrection, without having the temerity to believe I know what that looks like!

Jesus wasn't recognized by some of those closest to Him after resurrection. We're told we'll be clothed in new and radiant bodies. For that matter, the simplest reincarnation theologies imply a bodily resurrection. A body does not necessarily have to be a human body, or a body of flesh and blood.

I'm content to find out when I get there.

Matthew said...

I think the politics depends on the questioner too. I am often asked this question by evangelicals ......... AND Unitarians, with very different motives. The unitarians seem to want to know if I'm rational or logical or superstitious or whatever and for evangelicals it's an orthodoxy test.

I think for unitarians they want to know if you believe in science -- what happened to the body scientifically.

I tend not to answer. I think it's usually a trap. Simple categories. Sort of if I asked am atheist if she believed in moral relativism.

walter said...

Time has come to us by the Vitale Kaeton Grace to rejoice by the broad attentional focus in the understanding that the second volume of the Libby Vitale Spiritual Collection has been empowered by the bodily resurrection and the incarnational faith of the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton. Needless to say that we must experience broad attentional focus in the context of the powerful distinction of broad attentional focus, narrow attentional focus, objective atttentional focus and inward attentional focus. In the name of One God.

Walter Vitale

JCF said...

I believe in a "bodily resurrection" of Jesus . . . but that's only where it STARTS, not where it ends.

I think probably most of us can imagine a bodily resurrection. Esp from this: "We go to bed at night. We get up in the morning. It's an every day resurrection."

But I think by definition, anything divine must be MORE than I can imagine. Bodily resurrection must be BEYOND a mere physical resuscitation (which all of us have seen on medical dramas. God the Father didn't just apply the "Holy Paddles" on his Son!)

Ultimately, I just don't think it matters very much. I'm saved BECAUSE Jesus died&rose, not HOW Jesus died&rose!



@Maria: the RC Feast of the Assumption of the BVM is the same day as TEC's Feast of St Mary the Virgin. Your local "High Church" Episcopal parishes will celebrate the feast w/ a mass. If your parish doesn't keep it, try another (calling your diocesan office may be able to offer you suggestions in this matter. The cathedral may celebrate the feast, too!)

As w/ the resurrection of Christ, so w/ Mary's assumption: we believe she's in paradise w/ her Son---it's not HOW she got there! [Personally love the "Dormition of Mary" icons. Mary "falls asleep", while Jesus comes to carry away lil' Mary: the reverse of how she held him as a baby! Aw. :-)]

parodie said...

This is an interesting post because it touches on a conversation I had with a colleague today. We have both found that we had come from simplistic answers, through the messiness of the questions (and as a previous comment pointed out, the acceptance that there might not be anything at all) to a deep faith that - when push comes to shove, or when asked to articulate it in a simple sentence for a 5 yr old - could be expressed in simple answers.

And I think - for all the condescension I can hear from that young man, who reminds me of many gifted young priests in our dear church - that there is something generational about it. Or at least rooted in a time and place. When I talk to people - lay and ordained - who are "boomers", they want the "fuzziness", the scientific explanations that make the miracles less miraculous but easier to understand, etc. They want the option to say "resurrection" and mean... something. Whereas (studies show) those who are younger - especially "millenials", as they're called - are more comfortable with paradox. Which means that they're more comfortable saying "Sure, bodily resurrection. How? Dunno. But I have faith." -- not as a simplistic response but as one of deep faith.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Friends, Here's the thing - for me. I don't believe you have to believe in the bodily resurrection - or the virgin birth - or the ascension - in order to be a "good Christian", much less secure your own salvation.

What I do believe is that all of these things are secondary to the incarnation - which is about as deep a mystery as I'm able to embrace and still claim to have any intellectual or spiritual integrity.

That doesn't mean you have to believe what I believe, or I must believe what you believe in order to be a "good Christian" and have access to salvation.

It just means that I'm not going to break a sweat over whether or not Jesus was resurrected "in the body" - or not. I believe he was resurrected. I believe the church as the Body of Christ is evidence of that resurrection. That's enough for me.

It's obviously not good enough for some Christians who use this as some sort of 'litmus test' for membership in The Body or evidence of one's personal salvation. Which is reason enough for me not to concern myself so terribly much with the details of His resurrection.

I can say the most ancient form of the Creed - "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again." - without crossing my fingers behind my back.

I think that's good enough for Jesus, and if it's good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me.

Hope that's helpful to y'all.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oops, sorry Geeklet. I didn't mean to ignore your question: the term "bodily resurrection" means just that: an actual, physical resurrection. Not a ghost. Not a mirage. The gospel (especially John) is very careful to tell stories of the actual wounds in his hands and sides and has him actually eating fish with his disciples after he resurrected. It was a critically important thought in the early church b/c resurrection was being claimed by lots of folks purporting to be the "real" Messiah.

Nick Payne said...

For me the physical resurrection is absolutely central to Christian belief. It is the sign that the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross was acceptable to God. It also falls into line with scripture.

I think where a lot of people's problem occurs is that they mistake resurrection for reanimation.

Jesus didn't just resuscitate, his body became something more than what it was before. He demonstrated the ability to phase through solid matter on several occasions (1st the tomb (the angels moved the stone after he was no longer present), and then in the upper room). Some might argue that he was spirit... yet this falls down on two counts - 1) the absence of his physical body in the tomb and 2)his repeated demonstration of having a real, physical presence (eating, touching, breathing on, appearance to individuals and groups).

I read a very interesting article that mused that Jesus had somehow changed on an atomic level.

With regard to the Virgin Birth. Again this is a deal breaker for me. If Jesus was merely fully human, then he would be subject to our blemishes/brokenness and would not have been an acceptable sacrifice.

I think it human arrogance to subscribe to the notion that a man can ascend of his own ability and transcend to become a god.

While I don't agree with Pelagius... I certainly don't fully agree with Augustine though. I don't think we are evil in nature. I think we were made in God's image and that image was broken. That means we were designed for good but have by our own rebellion become corrupted with a capacity for evil that needs to be dealt with.