Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Focus of Unity? Inclusion?

One of the current problems afflicting Anglicanese especially as we concern ourselves with ecclesiologies and the Anglican Communion as institution is that oft repeated phrase that "the Archbishop of Canterbury is the focus of unity" and such similar turns. Let me be frank. As an Anglican, the Archbishop of Canterbury is not my focus, nor that Who binds me to all other Anglicans and more Christians besides. There is One Center, One Focus of our Unity, One Head, namely, Jesus Christ, Who is not localized but available in all times and places to all sorts and conditions of human beings whenever they call upon His Name or so gather.

There can be and is only One focus of our unity, Jesus Christ. This Reformation profession of faith is at the heart of our Anglican praying surrounding headship and representation, mediation and salvation. If and whenever one called to present and represent, that is, point we the Body to the One Christ among us, binding us, holding us, abiding with and in us, or the office that that one occupies rather becomes another Rome or Constantinople or Alexandria or Jerusalem, we have sold our inheritance for rotted pottage.

The second is like the first, inclusion is the work of God in Christ by the Spirit first and foremost, not our own. God's inclusion is likely to upset apple carts for those who don't want to be related to sorts considered unsavory wherever that lies for you and I. If we have no place for those we hold to be unsavory, Christ may have no place for us.

To be included in Christ's own life by Baptism, that is, to receive Christ's decisive once-for-all overcoming of sin, evil, and death calls us into a life of discipleship, but a life of discipleship is not a program, however, great the intellectual edifice and theological arguments for a formulaic response, but a living response to grace of which the fruits, as St Paul reminds, us are rather obvious.

Ascetical theology, thus, gives us time-and-community-tested shapes for what a faithful response looks like, not a pat-program for success or a one-size-fits-all formula that expects extraordinary things of a small group while being comfortable with the ordinary and even rather less than shining for the majority blessed. Adjustments can and will and must be made to the time-and-community-tested patterns in light of the ongoing observation of graced lives of peoples living in response to Christ as members of the One Body. We must always ask the question of one another, What is grace doing in your life? Fruits will surely tell us over time.

That is to say, any ascetical theology worth its catholicity requires observation and experience, and not just those of the majority. All the careful biblical, traditional, rational, theological, intellectual, ecclesiological, "objective" arguments and systems and programs regarding our current ascetical theological issue de jour end up making of these honorable enterprises a laughstock to our despisers when observations and experiences of real flesh with real flesh simply do not fit the edifice. Sometimes it requires the Word working in the world to turn us again to consider what He might be up to among the peoples and nations. Sometimes it is the Word at work in the world that catches our attention long enough to repent, that is, turn us again to reliance on the only Center we can or will ever properly have as Churches. We finally have to admit that theology too can disguise sheer loathing, prejudice, and ill will. And all in the Name of Jesus Christ.

To quote from F.D. Maurice:

This is the second characteristic of the Prayer Book I would speak of. It is expressed in the words of my text,—“With all that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both theirs and ours.”

The Romanists asserted that the Church was bound together by the common adherence of its members to a visible Person and a visible Centre. How was this notion to be refuted? Can you overthrow it by calling the Bishop of Rome Antichrist? By denouncing the Church to which he belongs as the Babylonian Harlot? Or by setting up an Anglican system in opposition to this Roman system—by determining that the centre in our fellowship shall be at home instead of Italy? Or is exclusiveness best defeated by Catholicity, cruel anathemas by an universal fellowship, a mimic Ecclesiastical centre, by turning to that invisible spiritual Centre which was made manifest when Christ rose from the dead and ascended on high? Our Reformers adopted the latter form of protest as the most reasonable, and they made it in this way. They found prayers which were based on this universal principle, many of which had been narrowed and debased by the local and idolatrous principle; they removed the outgrowths, they took the substance of the petitions. So they claimed for themselves and for us a fraternity with other ages and other countries, with men whose habits and opinions were most different from their own, with those very Romanists who were slandering and excommunicating them. They claimed fraternity with men who in every place were calling on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, whether they were tied and bound by the chains of an evil system, or had broken those bonds asunder. They claimed fellowship with men hereafter, who on any other grounds should repudiate their Church and establish some other communion—with men of every tongue and clime, and of every system. If they will not have a Common Prayer with us, we can make our prayers large enough to include them. Nay, to take in Jews, Turks, Infidels and Heretics, all whose nature Christ has borne. For he is theirs as well as ours. He has died for them as for us, he lives for them as for us. Our privilege and glory is to proclaim him in this character; we forfeit our own right in him when we fail to assert a right in him for all mankind. The baptized Church is not set apart as a witness for exclusion, but against it. The denial of Christ as the root of all life and all society—this is the exclusive sectarian principle. And it is a principle so near to all of us, into which we are so ready at every moment to fall, that only prayer to our Heavenly Father through the one Mediator, can deliver us from it.[1]

[1] F.D. Maurice, “Sermon I,”
The Prayer Book (London: James Clarke & Co. Ltd., 1966), 6-9.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Forget "Contemporary" and "Traditional": Other Directions

In teaching courses in liturgy last semester, I found myself having to give names to assumptions and observations I make about liturgy that move outside the usual categories, categories often used in derisive ways by those of various parties in worship warfare. While avoiding cultural tourism, I am cognizant that hybridity is ever at work. The idioms that move one generation may not move another simply because the overlap of popular and church music in everyday experience is different over time. Here are some thoughts:

Recycling - We have riches in orders of service for a reason. Each of these orders in their time, place, and culture intended an encounter with the Living God in a way consonant with the distinctive Christian tradition through a particularity of shape and content. To recycle is to familiarize oneself with these riches and to incorporate these riches into liturgical preparation, for example, the Minor Propers, such as the Introit.

Fusion - Whether or not recycling is well-received often enough depends on how it is placed in linguistic and musical idioms that will speak to people in a particular locale and cultural formation. In Twenty-first Century America this can be quite wide and understanding your own parish context is vital. Though I am white, of largely Isles origin, and partial to Gregorian chant, I also move to Latin and African beats that are both vital to American music formation in our various types of music. To take the Introit appointed in Gregorian chant, adapt it to a Latin, Gospel, etc. is not necessarily at variance or inauthentic to my own musical or idiom formation on the whole or to that of many in our cultural. It is wise to teach how it is inculturation need not mean dumping what is inherited. Fusion is a way to do this.

Directionality - How is it that the overall flow or direction of the service carries how we meet God and God meets us?[1] For Lutherans, this is generally an Incarnational, Christocentric, God comes to us, movement. For Anglicans, this is generally a Pneumatic or Trinitarian, God takes us into God's own life, movement. Neither is wrong, and neither is necessarily only to be found in either tradition, but they are distinctive "feels".

Formational Resonances - We are not tabulae rasae. We are already shaped before we shape. We come to preparing and doing worship already formed in certain ways. For example, assumption that there is an ordo is to already be formed without consciously recognizing this as such.

[1] "meets us" is language I received from two students, Holly Johnson and Michael Larson.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Marriage as Discipleship

My friend Lee points us to a piece how marriage is no longer traditional. The observations are true that marriage has changed a great deal in our time, moving away from a focus on alliances and property and begetting to love and partnership. But romantic notions too will not do. This wedding frenzy of modern American life is not consonant with relating the married estate to the gospel life of discipleship as I understand it, and so, I continue to raise the question of what marriage means as disciples of Christ. As a minority sort and condition, I have more freedom to do just that.

From here, it often seems like defense of marriage looks an awful lot like an unwillingness to examine how much Christians do not have a singular theology of marriage, and so, we're quick to resort to simplistic reaffirmations (of ourselves). A quick perusal of scripture, history, theology, and liturgies bears this out. And any who tell you otherwise have not wrestled with the fragments adequately. So the question for me is this, how will we arrange the fragments into a response to Jesus Christ? In vows? In rites? In ascetical or moral theologies or ethics? In the particularity of real human lives (no two marriages are alike)?

For me, marriage is about discipleship, about growing together in being for others in response to Christ. That will look different in each case even as all cases share similarities. In this regard, I do not see the monastic life and married life as unrelated, nor do I accept Manichaean tendencies in the tradition that would break eros and agape completely sometimes doing so by making of monastic life something superior (as if celibates are not sexual) rather than a particular way of discipling fallen connectivity. Both are oriented to bridle and disciple our fallen connectivity (sexuality) for others over the long haul. Nor do I accept the romantic lauds of marriage that somehow make of it in itself our sanctification if not salvation. Such is romanticism pushing into our ascetical theologies in an unwarranted way. On the level of systematics, we would call that eschatological collapse. Marriage is wrought with tensions of the incomplete and contingent. Rowan Willliams reminds us of this in The Body's Graces by observing that such notions do not bear out in examination of real marriages, where blessed and approved relationships harbor abuse and the like all too often. Such romantic, self-justifying notions are just too easy. In our own time, marriage itself has become something of an idol just as in the days of the Reformers was monastic life. And it is used to make oneself feel superior (justified) to the minority sort. That this seems to go unnoticed except by those of minority affectional orientation puzzles this Christian. That this subtle salvation by marriage trajectory flies in the face of God's unearned love in Christ astonishes and horrifies. It leaves no room for others to receive themselves from God as good and as also fallen in their connectivity. It has a program for you too... No receiving God's gospel first and having patience to see how that might work out or not in receiving a self for others.

Marriage is about disicpleship not some sense of feeling oneself glorious and superior for being made a majority sort (some sort of heterosexual theology of glory thinly disguised by a too quick and self-justifying read of nature without Hooker's and even Aquinas' recognition that minority possibilities are likely in creation and human life and need be accounted for within the same required virtues or rather gifts of the Spirit--as in, does this have any chance of showing any? Hooker does this by relating the minority sort to the usual cases as his reform of natural law by common law sensibilities. But moreso, all cases for Christians must be related first to Christ.

The Norm for us, and Marriage properly conceived, is not heterosexuality nor homosexuality, but Jesus Christ and his relationship to us in Holy Baptism. All others at best are derivative, pointing us to Him (that fruits of the Spirit thing again). Just as Bl. Julian makes of maternity something first reflective of Christ's own for and to us. And it is this directionality that leaves us wiggle room for rethinking several things.

Within discipleship, it is possible to have variety. I say this because there is more than one relationship of Christ to us, than Ephesians on Marriage or Luke on Mothering. John's Friendship is one, and one with which many same-sex partnerships resonate precisely because some of the other notions suggest domination and too easy pigeonholing of men and women without care for their particularity. And hence, why some of us continue to raise questions both about Christian conceptions of marriage and whether or not a third estate is not called for the same-sex affectioned. Or if not, marriage needs further rethinking. After all, same-sex partnerships bear many similarities to both married and monastic life. So much of traditional marriage rites have little to say about marriage as discipleship and I want little part in them. It very well could be that we are being given a gift in our time because of having to wrestle with the existence of same-sex affectioned persons to really rethink our rites to discipleship.

As I wrote in comment to Lee's post:

I think companionate is a key term here and maintains a central component of traditional notions of marriage that cannot help but be concerned with matters of estate, namely board and bed. To be a companion is one who shares bread together, and be extension, all that this requires as responsibles–work, home, hearth, children if so blessed, parents to attend in later years, etc. It does not allow you to fly the coop of responsibility as too much of romantic notions tends to do.

In companionship love unbridled and undisciplined and otherwise disposed not to care but for self (lust) needs takes shape as for others, firstly within the realm of hearth and home, but not without being so in the rest of life at work, extended family, etc. Romantic notions of marriage at play in our culture are a problem for me as Christian because what I am looking for, what I would discern as a mark of a healthy marriage, is are you overtime both growing in for others? And sometimes that starts with accepting that the beard shavings will never be wiped out of the sink!

What I would ask you, whether monastic or married, single or partnered is this, Are you growing in being for others in response to Jesus Christ? This question of the Incarnation, both in the Crib and on the Cross, is what makes or breaks our notions, ideologies, and prejudices all around.