Friday, June 18, 2010

Prefer Nothing to Christ or Keep Death Always Before You: CWOB and Patterns of the Cross

I am allergic to the word “inclusion.” The term does not fit well my concern for a rule of life, a discipline, or ascetical theology as needful expression of our christology in the day-to-day living of our own lives.

Something exists within the tension between grace and sin we find ourselves within as we live in the hope of the Consummation, of which Jesus Christ is first fruits, namely pattern. What ways does Christ’s Society discern over time that are most likely to deepen us to receive and renew us by grace (as expressed in our character by words and deeds) and root out and redeem deforming effects of sin? How is it that we shall be shaped over the long-haul to go out of ourselves for others, formed in the pattern of the cross? Sometimes these patterns vary in expression from place and time and culture. But one pattern is fasting, for example. Expression of this pattern as receiving simple meals on Wednesdays and Fridays is a time-tested example.

Within the poles of grace and sin, our monastic or ascetical inheritance asks Anglicans about patterns of life, patterns of life-for-others. We can disagree about practiced expressions of a pattern and still desire a shared pattern.

While other Christian traditions, I think of our Lutheran kin, who ideally live out their Christian freedom in direct response to neighbor in any given situation forgoing pattern (or so is claimed in much discourse but not so clear in actual practice), Christian freedom for Anglicans on the whole has been about taking up a pattern of life, especially and namely Common Prayer. We, of course, have our exceptions. For example, William Stringfellow, while insisting upon Common Prayer, tended to talk of the Christian life in more Lutheran terms.

I realize that some of you may be thinking, I’m sounding awfully evangelical or conservative. Well, in a sense, yes. Neither Benedictine, nor Anglican tradition lets us off the hook of discipleship. The difference, from say the bulk of our Reformed kin, is that we do not begin with the ethical patterns of our daily life (morality, moral theology, ethics), we begin with the pattern of praise—our dependency on God—namely, our being at prayer together. Our theology of patterns of the cross is thus filtered through our primary discipline of response to God's grace, namely, prayer. This sets the pattern for all else in our life together and in our social worlds. Christ’s faithfulness to us as we encounter him in prayer in turn leads us to ask ourselves together what patterns of life will reflect Christ in our daily living over the long-haul. While we hold these patterns contingent and Christ ultimate, being creatures, contingent is a very solid thing. On the whole, for example, treating our fellow creatures as particular, loved of God in their own right, worthy of our care, and where eaten, to be received by thanks to God at meals is more likely to form us as thanksgivers and Christlike shepherds/gardeners.

Inclusion, to my mind, implies not so much that we can revoke one another’s membership--we can't, but that we need not hold ourselves or one another accountable for patterns of life that do not display characteristics of Christlikeness: faithfulness, promise-keeping, courage, generosity, and so forth. Or that we need not hold ourselves accountable to disruptions of those patterns by our sinning. Discipline at all becomes anathema where inclusion becomes a singular hermeneutic. I have been told I am not inclusive enough because I do not think sleeping around on one’s partner is a positive expression of faithfulness, for example. This raises the question if Christ's sociality is any different at all from those of the social worlds within which we also live? Or does Christ's sociality (admittedly only imperfectly lived out among us as we live in hope of the Consummation) reform, challenge, correct the socialities of the social worlds within which we live and by which we too have been and are shaped?

Related to this is the same invitation of which yesterday I wrote some positive comments: “All who seek Christ are welcome to receive.”

We do not first seek Christ. Christ pursues us, challenges us, corrects us, builds us up to serve the worlds needs. Were I a proponent of CWOB, I would have to rather say, “All whom Christ has called to take up their cross and follow him are welcome to receive.” That, of course, would mean that as a priest, my sermon would have preached Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

1 comment:

  1. Christopher,

    Thank you for making a profound and powerful distinction here. It strikes me, based on what you write, that there is CWOB that is rooted in the self-offering, transformative message of the Gospel. Then there is unreflective CWOB that is merely trendy. Likewise, there is talk of inclusion to excuse us from the hard work of committed relationship to which we are all called. And there is embracing inclusion seated very much in the heart of our beloved Christ.

    As you say, where we start is what matters most. We must begin with Christ always, and his act of redemptive grace.