Monday, February 26, 2007

Keen Intellects

Tobias Haller+, as promised, has just posted his first take on possible ways forward through the mess. I have not yet had a chance to read it in full, but will hope to have time to later and post my own reactions and reflections both here and over at In a Godward Direction.

Also, along different lines, but certainly well worth a very thorough reading, is Christopher's respectful but critical and incisive Ash Wednesday open response to the Presiding Bishop's initial reflection on the Primates' Meeting. Find it below in its entirety. He posted this to the House of Deputies website and it also made it up a few days ago over at MadPriest's blog.

Christopher also posted last July a cutting indictment of the current trends in Anglicanism, offering a fascinating and important counterpoint to the Archbishop of Canterbury's presidential address to the General Synod in the Church of England.

Finally, Fr. Jake has signed off for the season, desiring quiet contemplation and reflection. Prayers go with him as well as hopes that he will return the blogosphere in Easter. His faithful, tireless witness over the past few years and his blog's "A-list" status have brought considerable weight to bear in the current conversation. I can only echo Mark Harris' sentiment that silence can be a profound response in this explosive climate. In Fr. Jake's case, given his blog's status, I can only remark that I find his silence humbling and a call to a faithful Lent.

God's peace to all of you.

Christopher writes:

21 February 2007

Ash Wednesday

Dear Most Rt. Rev. Jefferts Schori,

Grace and peace be to you from our Lord Jesus Christ.

May this letter find you enjoying spiritual refreshment and gentle company following your return from a tense and complicated meeting with your fellow Primates of the World Wide Anglican Communion. Under our present circumstances, negotiations and decisions are admittedly fraught with the potential for injury, and I doubt that any of us can fully understand the enormity of your burden. Again and again, I have found myself marveling at your ability to remain calm under such immense pressures, offering a word of faith and a testimony to God’s graciousness in the midst of much acrimony. Your words in media statements have made clear repeatedly your hope for LGBT sisters and brothers, so, as I have read and read again your Lenten statement, it is with a heavy heart that I have found myself after each reading simultaneously filled with immense disappointment, great frustration, and profound sadness.

Most LGBT Christians have in life experienced hurtful expressions of the Christian faith, and many of us carry the wounds, scars, and calluses to show for our faith despite others’ misuse and misapplication of Christ to our lives. Others, perhaps most, walk away from the Christian faith altogether. To, therefore, use the Lenten season (this time of recognition of our own separation from one another and from God) and the practice of fasting (a time honored way of relinquishing one’s status and privileges for others that others might simply subsist or of deference that others might be acknowledged in their Christ-touched dignity in imitation of and participation in the Holy Trinity and God’s own for us in Christ and the Spirit) as a framework to justify in liturgical and theological language moratoria on the consecration of partnered bishops and on the authorization of (and it would seem now, even the allowance for) the blessing of same-sex unions is in a most charitable construction, inappropriate.

Such a construction reads as a further misuse and misapplication, and threatens to make of even this most democratic of seasons, being sinners one and all, yet one more occasion for abuse. Such colonization of our shared calendrical and liturgical inheritance converted to institutional justifications cannot help but raise questions about God’s graciousness under such conditions. That LGBT Episcopalians might find themselves angered by your remarks should be expected:
A brother asked Abba Poemen, "What does it mean to be angry with your brother without a cause? [The reference is obviously to Matt. 5:21ff.] He said, "If your brother hurts you by his arrogance and you are angry with him because of this, that is getting angry without a cause. If he pulls out your right eye and cuts off your right hand and you get angry with him, that is getting angry without a cause. But if he cuts you off from God - then you have every right to be angry with him. (R. Williams, Where God Happens)
Lenten fasting under such an interpretation, in contradiction to the words of the Prophet Isaiah, which we all heard today, becomes an occasion to justify living with our divisions and distinctions as foundational to our relating and coexistence for a season of undetermined length, overturning—for some other purpose—the intent of this august and most ancient Christian discipline meant to right our relationships in a Christ-like manner.

Worse, in your Lenten message you write of LGBT Episcopalians in objectifying terms as if we are a third-party witness to our own lives, as if we are listening in on others as they determine our fate for us. I have yet to hear a personal and public I/Thou/Us word from you to us following this latest thickening miasma that addresses us not in the third person, not as those for whom some work for inclusion and others work to maintain a traditional teaching, but as “we”, as full, active, participating, being redeemed, human agents, who alongside you, are being taken up into God’s own story and life. Even such a word would go some distance toward mending the breach that continues to widen as the goodwill between LGBT Episcopalians and yourself is given away to maintain other affections.

In essence, your Lenten address uses LGBT Episcopalians and our abstaining as a means, wrapped in Lenten and Pauline language, to justify an end, what is needed to hold our institutions together in a difficult time, and done so in such a way that those truly being asked to abstain are not properly addressed as persons. Those being asked to abstain on a personal level are not The Episcopal Church entire, but LGBT Episcopalians. And thus, in so doing, you have weakened both the intent and meaning of Lent and of St. Paul’s own words, and sadly, further frayed the tattered trust between LGBT and heterosexual Episcopalians, between yourself with the difficult office your carry and those whom you are charged to shepherd who are LGBT Episcopalians.

The fast you have called for is not a fasting for all of The Episcopal Church, but a fasting for LGBT Christians who are Episcopalian and a fasting from being able to truly share the Good News of Christ Jesus with LGBT persons outside of the Church, for all of this does publicly affect (and increasingly negatively) our witness to the Gospel among LGBT persons. If you doubt this, please check out The Advocate or PlanetOut on-line where many LGBT persons keep abreast of current Anglican affairs. What is reported of us Anglicans is little cause for coming to Christ. I have no doubt that many heterosexual sisters and brothers outside the Church also stay away seeing how much we Christians love one another.

I must admit that I have become increasingly surprised at the failure of some of our most capable minds to come up with more creative solutions not beholden to other powers and authorities, but turning the tables upside down, by offering the other cheek, walking the extra mile, handing over even our undershirt. Solutions that would expose the shameful ill treatment of sisters and brothers through solidarity that sacrifices no one, but instead, draws a fence around the Law of Love rather than capitulate that Law to some other notion.

Solutions that would maintain the courage of our convictions regarding God’s hospitality toward and God’s inclusion of LGBT Christians in God’s own life, this, God’s work for us presently only limitedly expressed for us and among us in The Episcopal Church. Solutions that would cede nothing of our convictions while making space for ongoing conversation Communion-wide. In other words, solutions that would put an end to scapegoating mechanisms among us in The Episcopal Church, return us all within The Episcopal Church to the kenotic and perichoretic imagery found in Paul’s own writings, especially on the Body, meant to lead us into a life that undoes rivalry among us. I recognize that amidst the acrimony and hard lines drawn, this may be nigh impossible, but if so, it is time to be honest publicly that this is indeed so, that some one organ of the Body must suffer and be repeatedly humiliated so that the rest might at least find some modicum of peace. After all, I know many who fail to rejoice under such conditions, and given your own stance previously, I suspect you are among them.

We’re all prone to harm others because of standing in society given us simply for who and to whom and where we were born, are all capable of beating the proverbial dog. But in the Body, it is not these things which shall endure or be remembered, but those who go out of themselves for others and pay more heed to Christ than to the fallen human demand for the blood of sisters and brothers. As that great twentieth century theologian, Karl Barth, once wrote on the eve of his repentance of anti-semitism and the rise of National Socialism: “Every idol worth its salt eventually demands human sacrifice.” Only the power of Christ shall last, all other notions even now already have been brought to an end.

To offer a rhapsody on mutual forebearance or fasting in the Body, drawing upon St. Paul’s words on the eating of meat sacrificed to idols, as further justification for LGBT Episcopalians to fast under the guise that all are mutually fasting in this regard is at best a half-use of his own notion of mutual forebearance. Again, in the sides for inclusion and maintenance of traditional sexual morality as outlined in your address, we are third party to such notions even as we are the first party to actually bear the recommended course of action.

The first problem with your use of Paul’s words is that when one is rather on top of matters, mutual forebearance sounds quite lovely because as you have framed this matter, the moratoria do not really require an abstention on the part of yourself and all heterosexual Episcopalians equivalent with the abstention demanded of we LGBT Episcopalians asked to “mutually” forbear for the sake of the whole even as we are repeatedly humiliated and then offered muted words of reassurance. If this is truly the best we can do at this time as The Episcopal Church, an honest word to this reality would be in order as would a heartfelt and public “thank you” to LGBT Episcopalians, rather than recasting this as the fasting of The Episcopal Church generally. Though this affects all, those who in their persons bear the damning up of our gifts and the pastoral and ritual privatizing of our relationships should be properly, personally, publicly, and openly addressed.

As Dr. Luise Schotroff has suggested in her lectures, the Body imagery in First Corinthians 11-13 is intricately connected to how the poor and working poor (the least, those not honored) were treated at Eucharist in chapter 11. Discerning the Body in this instance is primarily about seeing the Body in those before us face-to-face whom we might consider lowly and of no account. Depending on one’s read of the situation, Paul basically points out to the wealthy, who either ate before the poor and working arrived or who ate in front of those who have little, that they effectively spat upon Christ. The result was unhealth and illness in the community in participating in such feasting at others’ expense; the discord and disharmony of such relating carries with it communal consequences as Christ’s own going out of himself for the world becomes a distant memory. Paul’s use of body imagery is deeply steeped actually in Roman cultural metaphors, in which it was common to depict Imperial Rome as a body in which the wealthy, represented by the mouth and stomach, were to be serviced by the rest of the Body, the poor and the plebs and the slaves. Paul radically reorients this image in such a way that the outcast, the slave, the lowly, those of no account are those given pride of place and honour in Christ’s Body. Indeed, the mouth and stomach are called to relinquish their tendency to take up the whole and to defer to the other “lesser” organs that each organ might have a proper place in the Body. In this way, the Body might function properly as God intended for us from the beginning before we had fallen into sin and death.

In St. Paul ’s image, we move from the Body of Empire to the Body of Christ. Under such conditions, we have to examine the multiple ways that imperialist, colonizing, paternalistic, patronizing, and self-serving ways of relating show themselves in our current structures and contexts as the Body of Christ, and they are legion. The Body as expressed in The Episcopal Church and more expansively in the World WideAnglican Communion is multivalently caught up in ways of relating that are imperial rather than Christic or kenotic. Under such conditions of Sin, none of us is without sin. And as we move into this most holy season of fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and acts of love, serving Christ in all whom we meet, words about the joy, life, and light of Christ make way to recognizing the rifts and separations among us due to Sin. Those rifts and separations are not only across the World Wide Anglican Communion among Provinces, but within The Episcopal Church, including those division based on gender and orientation.

That we all live “betwixt and between”, to quote Dr. Victor Turner, being on a life-long pilgrimage of conversion to what is already accomplished, however, should not keep us from naming those structural matters that infect our life and create rivalry among us, Sin, and at present the one structural matter in our life together publicly and repeatedly justified by many and excused by many more is heterosexism in its blatant forms and perhaps more insidiously in its subtle forms of genteel violence that often go unnoticed by those who think themselves free of such infection, who can speak of “wait” and “someday” because at first glance it’s no skin off their own back.

Nonetheless, when faced with controversies among varieties of practitioners both Jew and Gentile, St. Paul does as you suggest, recommend abstention when in mixed company. This question is not, however, without a corollary, which I have previously discussed in his conception of the eucharistic-body.

The question which you posed more generally, but which I pose personally to we who must personally bear the burden, is not shall LGBT Episcopalians abstain from blessings of our unions by bishops, priests, or deacons or fast from seeking elevation to the episcopacy, the former of which is indeed a pastoral matter especially when we have so often heard cursing of our persons and relationships by Christian authorities, the latter of which is something as a layman and a lover of St. Gregory the Great that I would count, with no disrespect to you, a fool’s errand no matter one’s orientation. In most cases in our Episcopal Church we simply must abstain because such is standard practice. Our abstention and fasting are already the facts on the ground for most LGBT Episcopalians irrespective of our desire otherwise to offer our relationships by blessing God in Eucharistic community with particular words in vows and promises. Since B033, the likelihood that a LGBT candidate would even be considered for the episcopate has become quite improbable.

Drawing upon both St. Paul’s meat example to which you allude and its corollary, St. Paul’s eucharistic-body example, if we cannot maintain unity except by engaging in notions of fasting, abstention, and sacrifice, we cannot put this to others without them putting the same question to us for the sake of mutual forebearance and mutual prevention of rivalry and scandal—that the Gospel of God’s hospitality, courtesy, and generosity toward us might still work God’s desire out among and through our sad divisions.

The question is will you and all of our sisters and brothers who are heterosexual abstain from eating before (in both senses of the term) us through the ecclesial blessing of your marriages (and the innumerable celebrations linked with this over time, which some few of us who are LGBT are blessed to experience in sensitive parishes which recognize our anniversaries, adoptions, et cetera) and from elevation to the episcopate to the degree that our episcopal polity can sustain such an interdict? Will our mutual forebearance be a fully and truly Pauline exercise or the required abstention and sacrifice of a few under the guise of Pauline terms?

Such a mutuality could be modeled on the Medieval notion of the interdict, an action meant to restore bonds of affection and tattered relationships by highlighting our separation and returning us to Who actually unites us across our divisions. This usually occurred by putting a stop to the Eucharist that all might enter a time of repentance to remember in Whom they were one. Without resorting to an interdict on the Eucharist, a lesser interdict on that which divides us would show a sense of good faith in calls to fasting, instead, pointing us one and all to Whom unites, especially in Eucharist. An interdict, in effect until 2012 if not 2015, on the blessing of all unions (different-sex marriages, same-sex unions, consecrations to celibacy, friendships) and on the consecration of bishops except to maintain our episcopal polity, would make ample space among us to repair the relationships strained by one portion of the Body indulging while another is asked to fast (and regularly humiliated) and would make space among us across the Communion as listening continues to unfold and LGBT Christians find their own footing within their particular cultures.

This would truly be a season of fasting for one and all in The Episcopal Church that took seriously St. Paul’s own language and imagery not bent to serve those who personally in their own flesh and bone are unaffected by lesser interpretations, such as your own call for a fast in your Lenten statement. Such a fast would be a mutual going out of ourselves for others that all might share in one another’s joys and burdens together beyond our present divisions between LGBT and heterosexual, between those who applaud our actions and those who abhor our present course. Indeed, we would be free again to talk about pressing matters of poverty, hunger, globalization, and climate change among others without pitting right relationship against right relationship.

But secondly, another problem arises. If we can only frame our communion together in terms of another’s being sacrificed or require that another abstain that we might remain seated together, necessitating the proverbial of skin off of someone else’s back, so to speak, we are already far from Christ. For we are then trying to, in the words of the Reformers, “to add on to Christ’s once offered, full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice”, God’s very self become human who on the Cross and in the Resurrection puts an end to all notions of coming to God by our own means, especially through bloody offerings. God simply deigns to dwell among us, even in all of our mess, and sin, in infinite patience and boundless compassion, drawing us into this embrace through Christ’s self-revelation that God is indeed for us. And in light of that infinite capaciousness, we find ourselves coming up short and at the same time drawn into a new way of being human together.

For what can we possibly add to this infinite Gift of God’s own self? Our response can only be to in Christ offer ourselves already prompted by the Spirit in turn to God and to others, especially those who do not have enough to subsist, deferring to one another in mutual upbuilding and mutual forebearance that we might have hope of imitating the harmonious perichoresis of the Holy Trinity. This is our liturgy, our service, our living sacrifice. So as my priest rightly notes, all of these sacrificial notions that require the offering up of another rather than oneself making a willing self-offering are bad theology and shoddy praise—if not outright heterodoxological. As Dr. Geoffrey Wainwright notes, “sacrifice”, in its proper Christian sense, is one’s offering of one’s self to and for others for upbuilding. But might we not be inspired by leaders of vision to mutually offer ourselves in upbuilding and forebearance? I know of a number of heterosexual men, fellow Episcopalians, who have been willing to show such solidarity. One refused to seek to celebrate his anniversary in his parish, another wrote a General Convention recommendation for the above outlined interdict, a third has pledged to bless no unions should we disallow the blessing of same-sex unions.

The question remains, for the sake of staying together a season longer, can we continue to build up one another amidst so many toxic words and mutually forebear our own prerogatives and liberty in Christ that we might at least still find common footing at God’s font and table?

I forward this to my own bishop and to my priest in the hopes that they will take up this and perhaps other creative solutions, which bear commitment to binding up broken relationships near and far while sacrificing none. Perhaps others can offer even a more excellent way?

Sadly, I doubt that The Episcopal Church has the courage of its convictions regarding Episcopalians who are LGBT, that as our miasma thickens we will do what we hope not to do and will not do what we hope to do. I recognize that it is unlikely that The Episcopal Church would willingly and truly fast in such a way as I propose, sacrificing none but willingly forebearing together, for as Dr. King understood so very well, such matters are rarely voluntary.

Nonetheless, let it never be said that our leadership was not presented with options that would have sought the highest levels of communion within our common life as The Episcopal Church and across the World Wide Anglican Communion without making one organ carry the brunt of the burden for our continued unity and which would have worked, in the words of Mahalia Jackson, to “move us all up a little higher” to the foot of the Cross. For it is here, at the foot of the Cross, where in Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist, we might move beyond our hostility, tear down our dividing walls, and turn us one to the other in beginning to rebuild broken trust and shattered bonds of affection through means not rooted in fear, resentment, or power unsubordinated to love.

I trust nevertheless that we LGBT Episcopalians will continue to provide and indeed increase our support of and to one another, publicly celebrating and acknowledging God’s blessing on our unions by our blessing of God in Christ through thanksgiving and praise and by our rejoicing in the many other passages in our lives marked by Christ even should deacons, priests, and bishops be prohibited from joining in our joyful noise. That we who are lay will provide even greater succour to those who are LGBT and ordained, that their burdens will not be to no avail.

I trust that we will continue to provide comfort and care to those who have been sorely wounded in body, mind, and spirit by the legion of words about us and host of actions toward us by both the well-meaning and the hostile that tear us down through abstraction and issuization and third person addresses while offering nary a word to us in I/Thou/Us terms about how much we also are valued for our various ministries of service and loved infinitely as fellow heirs in Christ.

I trust that we will put to good use our own burdens and marks of faith, building up others whom our society tears down and holds as of no account that in so doing our stripes might truly heal.

I trust that with our heads high and our backs straight in the hope of the Resurrection, our bearing of the multiple manifestations of the Cross placed upon us in society and in the Church by both the well-meaning and the hostile shall prove witness to the Lord of Life. A Lord of Life who did not go first up to glory, but down to the grave; who did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, but went out of himself in the form of the least for the sake of the world, even unto death, shameful death by hanging as a criminal on a tree; who once-for-all on the Cross brings an end to worldly ways of relating requiring the sacrificing of some for the sake of the many, and thus, exposes our Sin and calls us to new life together, that all might have life, life generously and without measure.

Even now in this very season of Lent such ways are being brought into judgment in us and among us in the light of God’s infinite mercy and unfailing compassion toward all whom He has fearfully and wonderfully made. God’s Good News shall out even should The Episcopal Church capitulate for a season to the ways of the world for fear of losing our status and place. God’s place shall remain a sure bulwark and never failing foundation no matter how far we might wander.

I leave you with these prescient words from a modified version of “The Invitation to a Holy Observance of Lent” found in the Lutheran Book of Worship:

Brothers and sisters: We were created to experience joy in communion with God, to love all humanity, and to live in harmony with all of creation. But sin separates us from God, our neighbors, and creation, and so we do not enjoy the life our Creator intended for us. Also, our sin grieves God, who loves us deeply, who does not desire us to come under judgment, but to turn away from separation and live.

As disciples of the Lord Jesus we are called to struggle against everything that leads us away from love of God and neighbor. Repentance, fasting, prayer, and works of love—the discipline of Lent—help us to wage our spiritual warfare. I invite you, therefore, to commit yourselves to this struggle and confess your sins, asking our gracious and loving Creator for strength to persevere in your Lenten discipline.

Your brother in Christ.

One Baptized,

W. Christopher Evans

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