Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ephraim's Epiphany: life is complicated!

Ephraim Radner has written an insightful piece entitled 'What I have learned these past five years: reflections in Advent 2008'.

Here is a taster:

"How does one navigate this time as an Anglican Christian? I have a number of friends and colleagues who have decided simply that it is not possible to do so. For various reasons, they have left Anglicanism altogether – becoming Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox (less common), non-denominational evangelical Christians (often) or finally (most frequently) “church drop-outs” altogether. A common theme among these persons has been a sense of exhaustion and spiritual depletion, even as they have discerned elements of doctrine and ecclesial life that they believe, in different ways, are best embodied in other Christian traditions. The ache of inner ailment has stirred up a theological ferment whose outcome has opened up the press for a new direction altogether.

Some of these friends wonder when the same will happen for me. “You cannot keep it up”, they suggest, noting that the efforts expended in working for Anglicanism’s integral witness in the face of its internal and external weaknesses and conflicts have not garnered renewing results. There have been moments, to be sure, when I have wondered this myself. Yet, in fact, I have grown less and not more anxious over the past year or so; more, and not less hopeful in the usefulness of this work; less, and not more impatient over its eventual fruit. This change has happened, not without pain to be sure; but precisely through the continuing process of seeing some things afresh, of letting go of ill-founded assumptions, of being wrenched from selfishness.

What, then, have I learned? A good bit of it falls within the scope of traditional Advent concerns – attentiveness, penitence, hope, eagerness, waiting, and finally receiving from God."

But the words which I like best were these (with one sentence emboldened by me):

"Recognizing that one’s own way turns out not to be so obvious to lots of other people, even if you think you are faithful and knowledgeable, and sufficiently upstanding so as to be trusted, allows one to accept the even more obvious fact (often ignored in my own self-certainties) that we live, as Christians, in non-uniform communities. Big news!, one might respond. But it is news, when it comes to actual decision-making and comportment within the Church in times of struggle. One thing that conservatives have had to learn, just as much as liberals, is that their parishes, which they thought were all so “orthodox” (according, of course, to one’s own self-image), are made up of people whose views, virtues, and emotions are actually quite varied. One may well believe strongly that TEC’s decisions and discipline are deeply flawed and requiring of rejection and drastic reformation, without believing that the “right thing” is to engage in a fight with the local bishop. One may believe the opposite. Some people are “activists”, some people are steadfast servants in a place. There are manifold variations in how people understand “good strategy” or “demanded witness”. And, even more fundamentally, there are many people in churches of every sort, who in fact are in different places when it comes to interpreting the center of the Gospel and the Scripture’s application."

As in North America, so down under, in respect of the emboldened sentence int he above paragraph. Some of us down here would like a more decisive response to the general Anglican situation of this time in which toleration of TEC's stance on human sexuality continues. But the reality of a synodical church is that we vote on matters relating to the formal structure of our life. An 'orthodox' vicar in an 'orthodox' parish or an 'orthodox' bishop in an 'orthodox' diocese does not mean 100% support in the parish or the diocese for the apparently 'orthodox' strategy of response X or response Y which the leadership wishes to pursue. It is notable at this time, for example, that the secession of the Diocese of Pittsburgh is not the secession of the whole of the Diocese but the secession of a majority of the Diocese. However helpful and advantageous it is for that majority in Pittsburgh to have followed the path they have taken, it is a resolution which creates another problem, especially for the outsider: why are there two Anglican/Episcopalian dioceses of Pittsburgh, which one is better/truer than the other (better or truer by what measure?), would it be better to belong to neither and join another denomination? But, since those are questions for people in Pittsburgh inclined towards Anglicanism, the pressing issue for those of us far away is (say) this: if we pressed for a more decisive course of action than 'watching and waiting' would we find ourselves in a similar place of confusion for the mission of God?

But, to underline the messiness of it all, no matter which way one turns - the recognition of which lies at the core of Ephraim's Epiphany - the mission of God is also confused by 'watching and waiting' since that involves the presentation of a structurally united Anglican church bitterly divided in its theology of sexuality.

What is our most fervent prayer at this time? Maranatha or save us from ourselves?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ephraim Radner counseled 'watch and wait' for years - and it was on the whole ineffectual because he missed the point of Ephesians 6:10-20, that we are involved in spiritual WARFARE (unpopular word, that!), not just spiritual 'waiting' - or rather, our waiting is upon the Lord, not clerical popinjays with scant fidelity to the doctrine and discipline of the Apostles.