Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Letting a hundred flowers bloom

Being conservative theologically yet somewhat centrist in church political outlook runs the grave risk of being misunderstood. A fellow Kiwi cleric, for example, on the current Thinking Anglicans thread on the Covenant places me with GAFCON and Sydney plotting to take over the Communion(!!), which is two mistakes, incidentally, because I am not with them and they are not plotting.* But it is also possible that one is cast into being among those with little or no imagination or radical edge to one's thinking: let a steady Christian train of thought run along a narrow track to an already known destination, could be a description of conservative-and-centrist Anglicanism!

The alternative can seem, well, just a little more exciting. Mark Harris of Preludium, just returned from a trip to India, so no doubt stimulated in all sorts of ways by the experience, offers an apologia for TEC's radical decisions of 2003 with a hurry up for his Epicopalian brothers and sisters to be ever more bold in their mission. One point of lift off in his lyrical essay is the prophetic writings of William Blake:

"What is at stake here is whether or not the General Convention in these actions was in reception of the Spirit of Prophecy. To deny that it might be so is to take away any hope we have that the church will move beyond “the same dull round” which condemns and does not give life. The answer to the demand that we present ourselves at the bar is to either go believing in our hearts that we have been receptive to the Spirit of Prophecy or to stand condemned for having made the decision without warrant, for without the faith in the presence of the One who pulls us forward into the light there is no vision, and finally nothing new at all.


By an agenda of “poetic sensibility," I envision Anglicans as having a Christian vocation to understand the Word, biblical and otherwise, and compassionate action, from a poetic standpoint, in which we expressed their meaning in ways that open our imagination to the new world for which they are the signs. The poetic sensibility is vital to the project of carrying the Good News in Jesus Christ into a world beyond the edges of western enlightenment thinking, in which the same “dull round” of theological debate continues ad nausea.

For us as Episcopalians and Anglicans, in the forest of our night the Tyger burning bright has come: action beyond the edges of rational biblical theology has been engaged. With small hesitating steps, the Episcopal Church moved beyond the dance of rationality and into the prophetic and poetic moment. It is, I would suggest, our agenda, and perhaps our vocation."

Essays such as this are very clever! They tempt the conservative into critique, but the critique is bound to be mundane and non-poetic, asking dull epistemological questions such as, 'How would we know the Spirit of Prophecy was upon us?'

Let me instead simply acknowledge the potency of this essay by Mark to inspire Anglican minds. In the spirit of Mao, when he said, "Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land", perhaps this kind of thinking needs not critique but space, with elapsed time being the ultimate judge as to whether it is a blossoming flower that gives way to fruit.

But it is interesting, is it not, if I might make one imaginative observation, to consider what the state of play might be in 2035. Will we look back and say '2010 was the turning point in the life of TEC which has grown in all sorts of ways since, including numerically', or '2003 is now recognised as the point on its journey with the Spirit of Prophecy from which TEC never recovered'? Not myself having the Spirit or spirit of prophecy I give no answer, but suggest this reflection is worth noting on the fluctuating fortunes of the United Methodist church.

* I would like to think I share many good things about being conservative, evangelical and Anglican with GAFCON and with the Diocese of Sydney. But I am not 'with' GAFCON to the extent that it is distant from the Anglican Communion; nor with Sydney on matters such as being a diocese which has many parishes not permitting women to preach or lead mixed gender congregations as well as a diocese which will not appoint women as rectors or priests-in-charge of parishes. Given that GAFCON includes bishops who stayed away from Lambeth, and that Sydney is but one diocese in a larger province, and it is provinces which are member churches of the Communion, it is absurd to suggest that GAFCON and/or Sydney are plotting to take over the Communion. Pressing for the Communion to be different, yes ... but so are many groups within the Communion. Committed to change via the Covenant? I fail to see where either GAFCON or Sydney has made a significant push for the Covenant. As many searching questions about the Covenant seem to come from such quarters of the Communion as they do from their liberal counterparts!!


Anonymous said...

Peter, quite amazing ... a fellow Anglican regarding you as being a Sydney evangelical!

I can imagine the reaction amongst some of our Sydney brethren.

Peter Carrell said...

I know. There could be quite a lot of unnecessary anxiety on all sides :)

Kurt said...

You may be a somewhat conservative Evangelical, Peter, but you do not at all strike me as a Sydney Calvinist! ( I wonder where someone got that idea?

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn USA

Flowers said...

Excellent article. It was helpful and informative. hope to see more greats posts like this. Enjoyed it very much.

liturgy said...

ummm... I know you moderate your comments: you do realise, Peter, that comments like the one from "Flowers" is not in response to anything that a human has actually read, but is from a trawling of the internet to generate links with "Flowers" to a Valentine's Day ad. Sorry :(

Peter Carrell said...

That one slipped through alright. Thanks for the alert, Bosco!

Scott said...

Hi Peter,

A minor correction, it's not accurate that the Sydney Diocese does not permit women to preach - or to preach to mixed congregations. It was a bit unclear which you were claiming, but I can say from experience that they are both untrue.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Scott,
I agree that I was ambiguous in that comment/description. More accurate (I believe) would be that there are many parishes in Sydney which do not allow women to preach, and no parish in Sydney is led by a female priest.

Scott said...

I agree, that is more accurate. Can I humbly submit you may want to correct you post? Misinformation on the internet tends to spread very quickly.

Feel free to delete this comment however.