Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Who's in? Who's out?

... and does God give a rat's rear end how we categorize? [Hint: I doubt it.]

Another crossposting: my chance to spout off about the disgraceful battles in the Anglican Communion.

In my sixty years I cannot recall ever being part of a congregation where I agreed with everything that was taught or done, even when I was the priest in charge (since the congregation was not an autocracy). Certainly there were situations where I felt more or less comfortable, thus I affiliated where my participation could be more wholehearted than it might be elsewhere. When it comes to my ability to worship, I try to keep focused on whom I worship, and that is always God and never the Church.

This has meant violating all manner of technicalities, such as when I attended Mass at Nôtre Dame de Paris as a student in 1967. At that time I was formally a Baptist but a very sacramental one and I took Communion, fully aware of the Roman Catholic position on what I was doing. No one else knew that, so the conscience of the priests could remain uncompromised. I certainly did not believe everything the Catholic Church taught and practiced, though I did believe in the Real Presence and quietly insisted on my right to be fed with Christ.

Since then I have worshiped in a far greater variety of circumstances, keeping my heart focused on the presence of God. [This includes sitting on the earth during sacred pueblo dances, joining in prayers at a mosque, listening to hours of song in a Sikh gurdwara, and rejoicing in the marriage of friends in a synagogue.]

Many persons have experienced superficial welcome in churches where the spoken "how wonderful to have you with us" is accompanied by an unspoken "so long as you are and act like our kind of people." What "our kind of people" is varies from time to time and place to place. I felt it when I arrived at the Anglican cathedral in Cuernavaca, Mexico, as the English service ended. When the English-speaking ex-pats at the door realized my friend and I had come for the Spanish service the warmth in their welcome froze over in an instant. We were clearly not their kind of people. The welcome we received from the Mexican congregants there, however, was warm and genuine.

So I find that we all need to work on the nature of our hospitality. We shall never match the gracious welcome of God, nor shall we ever perfectly embody the work of God's reign. Still, we cannot cease striving to do so.

Were Jesus not a social activist he would have had far fewer conflicts with religious and political authorities. His refusal to dissociate himself from sinners shocked the righteous and his concern for the poor and the powerless--in clear conformity with the tradition of the Torah, the prophets, and the writings--did not sit well with social and political structures of his time. Social activism in churches is not the issue, so the crux must lie elsewhere, perhaps in our tendencies to exclude those "not like us."

There are clear divides in how people understand the Good News of God in Christ: how they do theology, how they understand scripture, how they practice spirituality, how they proclaim Gospel.

I am one who came to the Episcopal Church and found The Book of Common Prayer and the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral a very comfortable framework in which to be Christian. Within that framework I can comfortably worship and join in mission and ministry with others, whether I agree with their theology, piety, or politics or not. Adding new criteria for being orthodox or Anglican makes it harder for all of us to get along and be about "kingdom work," and this would be true whether one's new criteria be "conservative" or "liberal" or "other (specify)."

I recall one Lent when I was in the church parking lot, hosing down palm branches that would decorate the church for Palm Sunday. Some Jehovah's Witnesses came by and asked whether I thought everyone would worship the same way in heaven. What an odd question! As my best friend commented, "Why on earth would God desire that? It would be like a symphony with only one type of instrument."

Now, some of us are especially fond of brass, others of winds, some of strings, yet others of percussion. All play a part. Music lovers include those who are into chamber music, vast romantic symphonies, dixieland, hip hop, chant, and the incredible varieties of music across the globe. To me, this variety is a great gift of a gracious God. I have my own strong preferences and dislikes. You will find me either shaking my body to "world music" with its polyrhythms or grooving on Bach rather than listening to rap or heavy metal. Similarly, I will usually be worshiping in a context where a strong emphasis on the sacraments and the mystery of the Trinity blend with very liberal social views. That's where I fit in. But I see no need
to disdain or excommunicate those whose expression of Good News and personal comfort zone differ.

A reality of our limitations and brokenness (and yes, let's include our willful proclivity to sin) means that we will not be comfortable in every situation. Can we avoid demonizing each other and reinforcing polarization? Anglicanism has traditionally been very broad, and consequently damned by Catholics and Puritans, though it can accommodate great variety in both those directions. I would like to think we can provide a broad enough umbrella for Christians of many styles to flourish in its shade. This may be one of the reasons we have been gifted with an image of a local church that is not the parish but the diocese. A variety of congregations within a diocese allow us to sort out where we thrive best. There is no reason these congregations should all be alike, think alike, or minister alike, because God has not made us all alike.

I sympathize with those who sense that there are churches where they would not feel welcome no matter how warm the greetings at the door. I have experienced the same reality in many settings.

I recall an older woman standing up at a parish meeting (in another state) and saying "everyone who comes in those doors and wants to worship with us is welcome." As frustratingly vague as that might sound at times and as imperfectly lived as it was, we all knew she had spoken of the God-given reality we yearn for and could agree on.

When it is my part to open that door and speak welcome, I try to embody God's welcome to all. Conversely, when I am the one coming in a church door, I try to remember God's welcome. The welcome I give and the one I receive will both be imperfect, but they all are grounded in and challenged by God's welcome. I want to put my energy on what God is up to.

On a larger level, several provinces of the Anglican Communion have already declared they are not in communion with a huge portion of the Episcopal Church. Since, so far, the provinces are autonomous, they cannot yet enforce an interdict, though this means that I, by their definitions, have already been excommunicated in some parts of the world.

I, as a proud liberal, cast my lot with Edwin Markham.

He drew a circle that shut me out --
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.

Returning to the title of this post, I wish to cite my bishop, the Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, eighth Bishop of California. In response to the communiqué of the Primates in Dar es Salaam, he wrote the following:
"... our task in the Church is not actually to include or exclude anyone, but to show forth an intrinsic co-inherence that simply is, created and sustained by God."

THAT is grounded in the lifegiving mystery of the Most Holy Trinity: our source, our goal, the ground of our being and becoming. Preach it, Bishop!

-the BB

My residual Protestantism

I admit it creeped me out to type the title of this post. There is something so inherently sacramental about me that I find it uncomfortable to think of myself as a Protestant. "Reformed Catholic" is a much more comfortable category, though nowadays I really prefer Byzigenous Buddhapalian (if I must accept a label at all). I was always a "crypto-Catholic" growing up in a Protestant context. I didn't sneak off to get ashes on Ash Wednesday or attend midnight Mass on Christmas Eve; I went quite openly. Not very Baptist behavior. The following comments are from a post I did elsewhere.

I was raised as a very conservative Baptist exposed to a variety of fundamentalists (in the traditional and technical sense of the word).

Of course, back when I was young Baptists still proclaimed "soul freedom"* with nobody getting between the individual and God. It was a great theory, though in most congregations whatever the pastor said was believed as though it had come directly from Sinai graven in stone. The phenomenological reality was that all the authorities were local, each pastor a primate among his (and they were all male, with women serving as DRE, running the missions, or else keeping silent in the church) own little, or large, flock.

Since "this world is not my home, I'm just a passing through," contextualism and history counted for little. "God said it. I believe it. That settles it." -- as the bumper sticker so beautifully summarizes the approach. This makes reasoned discussion a tad challenging.

Once I discovered the Episcopal Church, which answered my need for sacramentality, historicity, poetry of the soul, and the exercise of reason, I had almost no regret leaving my religious past behind. Deep scriptural rootedness came with me, just as knowing canticles by heart and being immersed in the theology of The Book of Common Prayer can carry me almost unconsciously now.

I did learn in Baptist seminary days that "a text without a context is a pretext," so that within me which is still protestant and individualist will always question what I hear and read, and test it against my own experience. This is precisely why although I was surrounded by fundamentalists I could never be one.

Added note: The quintessential Berkeley bumper sticker reads: "QUESTION AUTHORITY." As years have gone by this seems less the radical screed of The People's Republic of Berkeley and more a moral imperative.

-the BB

* "Soul Freedom" as described in Wikipedia:
Individual soul liberty
The basic concept of individual soul liberty is that, in matters of religion, each person has the liberty to choose what his/her conscience or soul dictates is right, and is responsible to no one but God for the decision that is made. A person may then choose to be a Baptist, a member of another Christian denomination, an adherent to another world religion, or to choose no religious belief system, and neither the church, nor the government, nor family or friends may either make the decision or compel the person to choose otherwise.

When it gets this bad

He's lied to Congress. He has made the United States Department of Justice into a shambles. He has supported illegal wiretaps and torture and called the Geneva Convention "quaint." The resident of the Oval Office won't fire him. Maybe We the People of the United States can help Congress get a spine.

Go to Impeach Gonzales and join me in signing the petition.

In the hope of restoring justice to the land, I thank you.
- the BB

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Tears and Sunshine

Pentecost 2007.

I have reached the age where the church year, like the civil year, seems to rush by. How did Pentecost get here so quickly? The usual way, of course.

The Spirit is notoriously dynamic: bringing forth life, enticing it into incredible diversity while also linking everything in levels of relatedness beyond comprehension, teeasing order out of chaor and then disrupting things again for the sake of new possibilities.

Today I am totally disrupted.

For whatever reason I have been "tender-hearted" all day long. This Memorial Day has been troubling; not that any Memorial Day is easy. It is a time we do our loving by grieving, by remembering, by acknowledging the wonders of lives lived and loss sustained... and enduring. The continuing loss of lives in an "optional" war that was based on and sold with lies, the senseless slaughter that my beloved nation has triggered - it is hard to contemplate.

So I found myself a bit teary this morning. As I drove to church an incredibly beautiful piece of music that I have never before encountered was playing. It was a blend of various styles and languages, shifting through the English choral tradition and Middle Eastern and African elements. I wept while driving, grateful for the tissues in the car.

Church, of course, if a natural and favorite place for a good cry. Joy, sorrow, and anything in between - they can all come together in that safe space where environment, music, ritual, symbol all speak in ways we do not ordinarily communicate. So there were several points in the liturgy when I was on the verge. After Communion I lost it, weeping for the dead and dying, the injured and grieving, for prisoners and refugees, for the sick, the lost, the screwed up - in short, for all of us.

I had a quiet space this afternoon, working on an icon of Guilhem of Gellone. Then I returned to my habitual reading of mostly political blogs. I had already pondered the list of the dead at one source, then came across Trudeau's annual tribute in Doonesbury. Diaries, articles, photographs, musings of varying sorts. More tears.

It might help to let my readers know that having gone through a big chunk of depression I am now rather delighted to feel my feelings. Whether I am angry or sad or anxious or frightened or excited, it is a good sign that I feel and know that I am feeling and what I am feeling. So a day of tears is a fine thing, a sign of life.

The most recent torrent this evening came from a mix of memory and horror.

Stopping at Mahablog I saw Barbara's Memorial Day posting with two snippets from the tribal rock musical "Hair" (see below).

We all have certain events in our lives that get linked to other events and emotions and thereafter act almost as "hooks" on which we can hang ideas, memories, and feelings. Popular culture plays a huge part in this. "Hair" is one of those events for me.

One needs to imagine a repressed Baptist youth who reads about exotic experiments in theatre - the kinds of things that happen on Broadway and off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway, but not usually anywhere near me. "O Calcutta" comes to mind. I had read about "Hair" when it came out in 1968, the year I graduated from college and Vietnam was a very hot topic. When "Hair" came to Hollywood I got tickets at the Aquarius Theatre and saw it. Twice. I danced on stage with the cast and authors at the end of the performance. Bought the album and the sheet music. Memorized all the songs and used to sing them in the shower at the dorm in grad school.

From the moment the cast crawled, oozed, swung, climbed, and descended from everywhere in the theatre onto a stage with no curtain, I knew I was in for a treat. Being a theatre lover, I was exhilarated by seeing all sorts of conventions stretched. Having Cubby O'Brien, former Mouseketeer, heading up the band was another nice touch. In your face, Uncle Walt!

"Hair" captured a lot of the rage and fear, questioning of authority and grappling toward alternatives, creativity and outrageousness of the time and of my generation. (Yes, children, we used to be outrageous. In that context, anyway.) Amid the refrain of "beads, flowers, freedom, happiness" lay the ever-present reality of Vietnam.

Maha brings it all back.

Let the Sunshine In
Filed under: entertainment and popular culture — maha @ 9:39 pm
I’ve been looking for an appropriate Memorial Day video. The best I could come up with are a couple of clips from the 1979 film version of Hair, which was actually pretty good even though only about 36 people went to see it in theaters.


Here’s the last scene of the film. Berger takes Claude’s place in training camp — temporarily, he thought — so that Claude (John Savage) can go on a picnic. The rest is self-explanatory.

When the opening notes of "Flesh failures" began [text = "We starve / look at one another...."], the sum of emotions I associate with the musical all flooded in and I sang along, sobbing. The kick in the gut came with the line "Listening for the new-told lies."

The new-told lies, of course, are the same old lies simply told anew. The horror that we are re-enacting so much of the folly and falsehood of the Vietnam era washed over me.

Yesterday I heard on the radio a snippet from Cheney's speech at West Point. My normal mode upon hearing Bush or Cheney is to become instantly apoplectic, turning red in the face as I scream at the radio while changing stations. This time I was more sickened than enraged. The blatant lying to our future officers felt as though I were facing a tsunami of evil.

As we look to the future, I want to say this to the graduates, and to all the men and women of the Corps, and to the families gathered in this stadium today: Whatever lies ahead, the United States Army will have all the equipment, supplies, manpower, training, and support essential to victory. I give you this assurance on behalf of the President. You soldier for him, and he will soldier for you. (Applause.)

These, of course, are our future soldiers. They know when to applaud (or the White House web site knows when to indicate that applause happened). What I wanted was to learn that a huge chorus of "Liar!" erupted. But it did not, though one of the most egregious of bald-faced lies (in these days of mass official deception) had just come out of the Great White Satan's mouth.

The conclusion of "Hair" - as the clip shows - is a reprise of "Let the Sunshine In." Fitting. That is what this nation desperately needs: a megadose of sunshine so We the People can know the truth, so falsehoods can be revealed for what they are, so corruption can be purged, and our Constitution be restored.

As we say of the dead in the Western Christian tradition: Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them. For those who now walk the star path, may they bask in the uncreated Light. For those of us who walk below the stars, may sunshine pour in.

My thanks to all who have served or will serve this country in our armed forces (and in all other capacities). To our troops now serving: you have love and respect, and even though the White House and far too many members of Congress have not given you the training, equipment, protection, benefits, and ongoing care that you need - not to mention leadership at the highest level and a mission and strategy worthy of your efforts - we who cry loudest for the Iraq occupation to end want you supported, cared for, and we look forward to welcoming you home.

-The BB