Posts Tagged ‘Episcopal Church’
Are there any among us who still wonder if we live in a world gone mad? Or have we become so numb to the almost boring regularity of various killings in our nation and around the world that the question fails to register? Last week I attended a national conference held by the Episcopal Church that sought to spark a discussion on this issue. It was host to a surprising (to me) diversity of opinion, including that of Dr. Edward J. Konieczny, the Bishop of the diocese of Oklahoma, a former vice cop who, even now, posses a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Konieczny was a poignant embodiment of a tension that runs through the center of our nation, and the location of the conference, Oklahoma City was also steeped in powerful symbolism.
The photo above is of a teddy bear placed on the memorial wall at the site of the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing. Our visit to the memorial was a visceral reminder to me of what is at stake when the church presumes to speak of salvation. Below I have reposted a brief reflection that I was asked to share with the diocese of Minnesota on the experience. I would like to thank Bishop Brian Prior and Missioner, Rolf Lowenberg-DeBoer for graciously inviting me along.
For a conference devoted to fostering a conversation on the topic of gun violence, what struck me most was a tendency to conceive of gun violence as the symptom of a deeper and more universal disease. In his address, the Archbishop of Canterbury was quick to point this out when he declared that any response to violence needs to be rooted in an adequate anthropology. This is a point that, to my mind, our faith communities are especially well suited to address.
Gun violence is a drastic act born of a radical insecurity. Our tradition is filled with imagery depicting a wonderful variety of ways that we are, all of us, estranged, separated, insecure. It was not always this way, say the scriptures. We began our lives in Eden, secure in the immediate presence of life-itself, of God. As we each emerged into our separate identities, we fell away from the immediate presence of God, and we all, to various degrees, learned what it meant to be on our own, separate, insecure, violent. Yet, at the heart of the gospel there is the image of one in whom the immediate presence of the Father was experienced beyond Eden. It was in this security that Jesus chose to undergo the violence born of human insecurity, and it is this security that we are invited to participate in and to live out.
What I heard in so many ways at this conference was that the Christian response to violence is to be found in the security of this unfathomable love. May we yearn to have the courage to receive it.
The following is my attempt to give constructive feedback to my local Episcopal Church as it undergoes what they call a “Missional Assessment” process. I served on the committee that went through the process, and as a relative new comer it was a fascinating process to witness. The Missional Assessment process is designed to tease out the sense of vocation in a particular congregation and to give some framework for helping that worshiping community further realize that sense of call. I served on the team that focused on “teaching.” Since I’ll be out of town for the last meeting, I submitted a few thoughts in writing. Here they are:
Our cultural moment is one largely characterized by opposing sides, both of which are quite clear on what they are affirming and denying. Those who are not given to residing on the polar ends of life are therefore left with few options, and not many of them possessing much by way of passion.
The Episcopal church has the resources to be a haven for these people, if we can learn to recognize it and articulate it. I think much of what has been said in the summary thus far is good [They’d sent me a document summarizing our progress so far], but there are two things I’d like to highlight, one is a caution, the other is a challenge.
In the first place, my past experience makes me wary of initiatives to help train congregants in how to conduct “one on one conversations.” [one of the recommendations] Invariably, what I’ve seen from efforts of this nature amounts to little beyond the impartation of a few sociological tricks and some rather superficial theology. Training, such as it is, ought to be training to be the kinds of people from whom the “mission of God” flows freely as a result of a genuine inner awakening. Such awakening can result only from our own “inner-crucifixion.” What is encouraging to me is the way that St. John’s possesses the theological and traditional resources to stimulate this very act. The contemplative tradition is nothing if not “training” in the self-death necessary for the flourishing of authentic relationships. This resource ought to be tapped into and expanded upon. There is a hunger for it since it opens up the depth of life without the superficiality and fanaticism that many fear about religion.
Now for the challenge. What the church needs (I am so bold to suggest), on the level of teaching, is the ability to articulate a vision of passionate faith that preserves the divine mystery. The culture currently deals in alternatives. Either one is passionate, or one is reasonable; either one is certain, or one is sure of nothing; either we each make our own autonomous decisions, or we submit unthinkingly to some arbitrary tradition. Etc…
The Episcopal Church, to my mind, is uniquely situated to speak a new word into these alternatives. Rather than being the merely “rational, relative, autonomous” liberals who hide behind a mask of traditional forms (as the caricature goes), the Episcopal Church has the potential to be grasped by the heart of the Christian tradition that cuts past each of the alternatives I’ve put forth. The Episcopal Church, can, in a way that most others cannot, live passionately into a tradition whose one certainty is the mystery that is revealed in releasing our quest for certainty, thus opening a rationality predicated upon a mystery that precedes both the autonomous self as well as the very structure of the historical world.
This is not easy to get across, because “teaching” resides on the superficial level of life. It resides in human language, concepts, and relationships. What I’m suggesting, however, is not on that level. It is wisdom: the dynamic understanding of that level’s relationship to the divine mystery, which precedes and transcends it. Contemplative spirituality is a practice in that dynamic relationship. The next step—so as to avoid the charge of acquiescing to “mere practice” with no concern for truth—is getting in view a theoretic framework that gives a home to the practice. In other words: Theology.
And so ends yet another attempt by the theologian at brevity and clarity. My apologies!