Saturday, September 22, 2007

Virtual Bishops

Our bishops gathered today not to debate the latest conversation with the Archbishop of Canterbury or our future disposition with the Anglican Communion, but to help, with their own imperfect hands, re-build a still Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast.

Meanwhile, a handful flew to Pittsburgh to continue plotting the usurpation, if not complete demise of our "lost" Church. It apparently wasn't worth their time or effort to stay present with the House of Bishops and engage in the hard conversation of what kind of statement the House will offer the Church next Tuesday...or even just submit a humble hand to recovery efforts in New Orleans. Perhaps they have made plans to help in other ways instead. I hope so.

Tomorrow, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria stands up in Wheaton, Illinois, apparently to speak to those sympathetic with his clear view that we are a raving bunch of heretics and need a Christian revival. He flew to his destination without any hello in New Orleans, and, it seems, not even a single word to the Bishop of the Diocese of Chicago.
Heretics are easiest to cope with when they're virtual, after all. Then they are conveniently encapsulated in sound bites or, worse, locked in the hell of our bitter imaginations.

And framing all of this for me today is a marvelous piece from the Church Times by Giles Fraser, where he writes in part:

Call me old-fashioned, but I think the diocese is necessarily a geographical unit. It is geographical because communities are necessarily geographical. It may be the web that is responsible for the idea of non-geographical communities. On the web, I can be a member of a discussion group for dachshund-lovers, Star Wars fanatics, or like-minded Christians. But these are virtual communities, not real ones.

Now I'm a techie, no doubt about it. I enjoy (too much, my beloved Hiroko would remind me) blogging, Facebook, RSS, HTML, and podcasting. But this is all meant to support something else -- a real, fleshy, incarnational community that we call The Body of Christ. It has a place. It has a culture and local color. It has foibles, mistakes, tragedies, joys, sorrows, and challenges. But it is real people engaging with a real God on a journey towards a destination more real than even the reality of our blood and bones.
Dear Mr. Fraser: I'm old-fashioned, too.
Giles Fraser is right. A lot going on in the Anglican Communion these days is in someone's head or ephemeral bits and bytes set to disappear when a plug is pulled. Too much, I'd say. And it's not always rooted in what's real, what's incarnational.
The other attractive thing about a virtual reality is that we can walk away at any time with impunity. It's safe for us. Maybe the luxury of having what Giles Fraser calls a "virtual bishop" is precisely that. We can batton down the hatches and preserve a world view that feels safe and non-threatening. We can swap out a bishop or our allegiances like swapping a CD, a browser window, or changing our home page. Okay, so it's a bit more involved than that, but at least we can work to a place where we don't have to deal with any undesirable differences, or if one comes our way, we can always hit the off switch or its moral equivalent:
We're leavin'.
And as we all know in the blogosphere, I can always write or say things in a virtual church that I couldn't say or write if I were facing a real human being, a breathing person made in the Image of God, with nothing between us but air and the charity not to throw punches, metaphorical or otherwise.
In the final analysis, our bishops were brilliant -- and I mean that -- to invite Rowan Williams for a face-to-face, in-the-flesh meeting. Whatever the ultimate outcome of the meeting, the language of the Archbishop of Canterbury before the press yesterday was conciliatory -- even hopeful.
Maybe next time, they should invite Archbishop Peter Akinola to come. But then, the way he talks and if he remains true to form, he would probably decline the invitation. Should we wonder why?
The problem is that while our detractors keep us virtual, they remain virtual to us as well. Someone(s) at some point, on one side or the other, will have to break this pattern, before Christ can fully reconcile the real, incarnational, fleshy, crucified and risen center of our fragile and fractious Communion.

1 comment:

Paul said...

You are not only old-fashioned where it counts, you have also confirmed suspicions that you are truly Anglican in that you have emphasized once again the Incarnation and its implications for lives lived in the flesh and in history.

Your point about keeping those with whom we disagree virtual is spot on. It is so much easier to disagree with someone we don't know face to face, to analyze their reported word and alleged deed seeking fault, to denounce their sins and errors, to vilify and demonize. At a distance our shared humanity is easier to deny, though it remains bedrock reality no matter how we ignore it.

Thanks for your comments.