Thursday, August 14, 2008

Blessed company

Cypress knees
Brookgreen Gardens, June 2008

I've tinkered with this post for nearly 2 weeks and I quit. I'm posting it, even though I can't quite get satisfied with it. I think the issue is the reason - no satisfactory solution exists.

My first reaction to the Lambeth Conference articles was a verbose think-piece (longer than this, believe me!) on how the Anglican Communion should and could maintain unity, though even as I wrote it I was practically apologizing for chirping "Can't we all just get along?" This fight over the legitimacy of same-sex relationships and the role of gays makes Christians look like bleeding idiots and guess what? We are.

I changed my mind about the unity thing. Followup stories like this are the reason.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams' willingness to set aside his own belief on the issue, in order to work against schism, seems selfless, and I think he means it to be. But how much personal compromising, and I mean by all sides, would it take to prevent a split in the Anglican Communion, and what the bleep kind of price is this to pay for unity?

The gay issue hits the Big Three Jackpot of being: (1) hotly felt; (2) uncompromisable; and (3) elevated to article-of-faith status. Christianity has been dividing and subdividing and sub-subdividing almost the whole 2000 years over things people consider so important that they insist they rise to the level of "articles of faith."

I might sort of understand that: yeah, isn't sin exactly the issue at the heart of Christianity? The faith is built on the belief that we need redemption, so how can it be unimportant to define whether something is a sin?

I can sort-of-understand it and still think it's boneheaded stupidity to define whether one is of the "true" faith based on such things. It doesn't rank these issues as trivial to say that not every important thing is of crucial primary importance.

In my opinion only one article of faith is needed : Christ's atonement. That's it. That's all. We'd be more like what I think we're supposed to be, the "blessed company of all faithful people."

That wouldn't solve everything. Even atonement has a bunch of interpretations, plus it still leaves out people who don't hold that belief, but here's the thing -- it would move us whole lot closer, though not all the way, to the ideal of excluding only people who want to be excluded. The more specifics we build into the rule book, the more people we exclude without their consent.

Maybe it's my bad mood ("Really? We couldn't tell...") but I'm fed up and I say: end it. Split. I'm starting to think it’s the necessary evolution of Christianity. Maybe we need for the church to become a mosaic of a gazillion small groups -- and I mean way more splintered than it is even now -- for any underlying core belief to at last become dominant and maybe unite us again in the distant -- very distant --future. To fight it is to drag out a process that apparently has to play out before Christianity can leave schism behind and get back to healing the world.

Isn't every problem it faces one of healing? We talk about healing the body and about healing the mind. We say we need to "heal" personal and social rifts, as though that's a metaphor, but it's not. I think it's literal, because if there is an Absolute Truth that defines what is right or wrong in every issue, why are we unable to see and unite behind that truth and close the case, unless our insight is broken? The controversies would vanish if we could get our lines to God repaired. Till they are, I'm for this or anything nonviolent that ends the stalemate.

I admit I don't care deeply about my denominational identity. My brother, too, left the Episcopal church 20 years ago for one that reflects his more conservative beliefs and that helps us be at ease with one another. If we were fighting for denominational "territory" bad feeling would run higher.

It's different for people who are strongly bonded with the church they've attended with their friends and family for a lifetime. The idea of schism is deeply painful. Am I advocating a nice healthy thing where everybody affiliates with a fellowship in which views they find abhorrent intrude less, enabling them to cool off? Or am I a defeatist? Am I shooting too low? I admit I'm not sure.

As long as humanity is riding this ball of confusion, unresolvable issues will divide us, and maybe we need to treat the journey like a trip through a maze, in which we have to take paths that seem to veer away from the center in order to actually get to the center. Maybe we need to face the pain of formalizing our differences before we can make them secondary and view each other as fellows in the blessed company. This post is loaded with "maybes", but there's a saying: "The only way out is through." I think it might apply here.

I wanted to include a recommendation for this profile over at nellieblogs. Not because I think it supports this largely grouchy and negative post of my own -- on the contrary, it was actually one of the few mood-elevators I've run into this week+. If my post is a downer, follow the link for an antidote. Reading it reminded me of what's good and healthy and blessed about the company.

1 comment:

Mike said...

The hardest part about being in a church that can't stifle its internal wars is the feeling of unease you sometimes have in the pews when you are hearing something from the pulpit with which you disagree or when you don't hear something that you feel ought to be said or when you hear something you feel is right but also sense people around you bristling. While lively debate is valuable, it's hard at these times not to feel like the fellow in the temple saying "I thank thee, Lord, that thou hast not made me as one of these."

Priests must be able to speak of things that matter, and there will be moments it takes courage. But when the schisms are such that you are spitting into the wind, maybe it's time to create a congregation with a more coherent starting point.

Thanks for the link to my thoughts on the Cardinal. A good example of a man who said things people didn't always want to hear -- but in his case, the vast majority of his listeners knew that he was right, and, most critically, that he had not abandoned those who disagreed. There aren't many like him.