Watching the commentary on North Korea’s latest moves, the tragedy in the Middle East and then going on line and reading the latest on the Anglican Communion and I was struck by the similarity of tone and even language. How depressing!
It’s difficult enough for individuals who seek to imitate Christ. All sorts of influences claim a place in our ways of thinking, speaking, acting and reacting. It’s not simply a matter of identifying “bad” things and guarding against them, because lots of the unchristian pressures on us begin by being neutral, or capable of a number of interpretations.
My mother, a Yorkshire woman, was blunt. It’s a tribal characteristic. When one of my uncles was dying of a stroke, his wife, mother’s sister, called to tell what was happening. My mother’s immediate retort was: “Well, I never liked the fellow.” Capable of enormous warmth and friendliness, such an accompanying harshness seems incongruous.
I have a feeling that we are all becoming Yorkshire. E-mail, this blog, cell phones, televisions, satellites create instant experiences and instant reaction. I know of mild-mannered people who on e-mail lists become ramping and roaring lions, seeking who they may devour.
I’ve always struggled, and often lost the battle not to say it as it is. I might be right, but I may also offend, damage relationships and incur hostility. None of these actions and reactions demonstrates the Gospel too well. Yes, Jesus was blunt, and took a whip to the money-changers. But I’m not Jesus. Certainly there’s a certain inevitability that where the Gospel is lived and told, there will be hostility. It goes with the territory. It’s not the job of a Christian, however, to exhibit hostility or to court martyrdom.
If all this is so difficult for the individual Christian, how much more is this true for the collective church? One of the greatest temptations experienced by the church is that of nationalism. We are seeing this vividly at the moment. Anglicanism is particularly susceptible to this disease because we began as a “national” church and have carried the virus with us around the world. Oddly, at least in the American Episcopal Church, those who resist nationalism and promote world-wide agencies such as the United Nations are the most likely to succumb to ecclesial jingoism. Those on the political right stress their unity with Provinces abroad.
In both instances one suspects that politics gives birth to position. To liberal Episcopalians the world has become a hostile place peopled by unenlightened Anglicans who wish to meddle in our affairs and impede Spirit-driven progress. To conservatives the world has become a welcoming place peopled by like-minded Christians who have growing power in the Communion.
Both positions give plenty of ammunition for hostility. Perhaps we call it righteous indignation? What we do not see is the sort of self-examination we urge individual Christians to observe in their daily life and work. Rather, we take political action, and talk the talk we expect to hear from nation states, and we justify ourselves by reference not to the Gospel itself, but to a Cause for or against which we act.
The Windsor Report, like it or not, started where we should all start. It asked us to examine our positions in the light of the Gospel, of the Scriptures; of the Tradition, using sanctified reason. It asked us to re-visit our doctrine of the Church and the churches and compare our claims with the vision of the Church set forth in the New Testament.
In a word, it asked us not to be blunt, that is not to speak hastily, act hastily, take sides easily, but in prayer, examine ourselves in the light of Jesus and the Church of which the Holy Spirit is the author and guide.
There’s an excitement about politics, church or secular, shared by many. Sitting in solemn assembly, making decisions about all sorts of things, issuing statements, all this is extremely addictive. Writing e-mails telling the Archbishop of Canterbury he’s no good, sitting in Episcopal synods suggesting that another part of the church is cancerous, forging complicated positions about provinces and over-sight, declaring we bishops won’t follow the wisdom of General Convention because we didn’t like the outcome, all this is so addictive and so dangerous.
Rather like prayer, taking time to reflect, to do theology, to examine our roots, to invoke Jesus who died for all, is a disciplined activity. Prayer is so hard. It seems so impractical when we want to get on with it. But without self-examination, repentance, thanksgiving, magnifying, loving, we cannot be that which we have been called to be for God and the world. It is time for our church to shut up for a season and engage in self-examination in the light of the Gospel and the Catholic Church.
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