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“I Said to the Man…”

I know that years are artificial constructs, convenient ways to plot the passing of time. The political events of the past year both in the United States and Great Britain could be construed as challenging another idea linked to time; that of progress. It’s not only liberals who subscribe to one of the fundamental planks of Liberalism. That is the doctrine that things are moving from darkness into light and if that progression doesn’t seem to move swiftly enough, it is our job to give it a push.

 

When the twenty first century began it was largely assumed that one sign of progress was that nationalism, a polite descriptor for tribalism, was now definitely one of those dark ideas which time, now armed by methods of instant communication, would finally eradicate. Mind you, America presented both a prototype of internationalism and a challenge to it. For over four hundred years, successive waves of immigrants largely supplanted the original inhabitants. The aboriginal population was derided as being primitive and “savage”, decimated by sword, musket and disease. Spaniards, Britons, the French, the Irish, Africans (themselves enslaved), Italians, Asians, Jews, Eastern Europeans and others, staked out land and neighborhoods, and delineated three nations.One of those nations in particular looks like an example of what globalization is intended to resemble. The United States looks like a United Nations. And yet, in the recent election, it opted for locality over globalization. Whether that decision is a temporary regression, or a re-establishment of nationalism, with its accompanying mantra of patriotism, remains to be seen. The “Brexit” vote in my own homeland, may point in the same direction. The sort of “liberalism” which inspired the Founders of the United States, it is suggested, is now up for challenge. This lengthy preamble may suggest to you that I’m about to opt for the future or the past, as projects. Not so.

 

I belong to a nation that has co-existed with liberalism, conservatism, autocracy, monarchy, republicanism, fascism, communism, theocracy to name the major political themes. My nation has managed to co-exist freely in areas and territories where one or another of these theories, or combinations of some of them, existed. In some my nation has been persecuted, even eradicated. At other times my nation has collaborated, even with regimes propounding philosophies in obvious conflict with the moral teachings of it Founder and founders. Not all of these regimes were or are overtly repressive. At times my nation has favored one political philosophy over another and even suggested that its citizens should follow suit. At times my nation has embraced fear, fear of the future, fear of the past, and even fear of success.

 

My nation is the Church, against which the gates of Hell, or of political theories, of progessivism or conservatism, shall not prevail. Unlike secularism, the Church’s greatest foe is ecclesiastical nationalism. That is a strange concept for an Anglican to propound. Anglicanism became a separate face of Christianity when, using fantasy as a prop, it invoked the idea that every Christian Empire has the right to its own “national” church, free to propound its own version of Christianity. So that tyrant Henry VIII encouraged his henchmen to unearth “histories” of a post-Roman Empire nation, ruled by merry old souls like Olde King Coel. So the ruler of part of an island, detached from continental Europe, claimed imperial status, and a church as part of his trinkets. And yet this tiny Imperial Church continued to chant the anthem of the whole church: we believe in “one holy catholic and apostolic church.” Indeed one version of the Creeds printed in the Imperial Church’s Liturgy affirmed not only belief in, but simple belief: “I believe one Catholic” etc.

 

Reliable history, as opposed to history as propaganda, informs me that my nation, the Church, can disappear from a nation or geographical area. Yet, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is numerically stronger now than it has ever been. Jesus warned against faith in statistics when he said “When the Son of Man returns shall he find faith on earth?” Henry VIII’s project of a discreet local church mercifully developed into a world-wide Communion committed to the reunion of the Church.

 

Let me try to be clear here. Of course local or “particular” churches should be free to govern their own affairs. They should not claim freedom to construct their own religion, their own creeds. The divisions which bedevil the Church, weaken and compromise its witness and make local area churches prone to cultural domination by national forms of secularism. Such a malady weakens the ability of the church in a nation or area to act as an effective conscience. At the same time, too much focus on universality makes it equally difficult for the local church to act as an effective conscience.

 

It is so hard for us to place our baptismal certificates on top of our birth certificates. And yet my hope, and the world’s future hope lies in Kingdom Come, when heaven and earth combine, and the kingdoms of this world becomes the Kingdom of our Lord Christ. My citizenship in that new world rests on my being born “from above” by baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The water and oil mark on my forehead enables me to trust the man who stands at the gate of the year, as he exhorts me to step out into the darkness and put my hand into the hand of God.

 

 

 

A Traditionalist Contemplates the Jesus Movement.

Let me begin by saying how encouraged I am by the Presiding Bishop’s emphasis on Jesus and his saving works. It is not my purpose to pick apart aspects of the “Jesus Movement’ which might give someone of my persuasion pause. Rather I want to seek a way to contribute to Bishop Curry’s visionary call.

 

“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” So wrote the author of the second Epistle to the Thessalonians. 

Paul, let’s call him the author of this short letter Paul, encourages his hearers and readers to stand firm in the faith communicated by the spoken and written word. He describes his teachings as “traditions.” We get here a glimpse of the earliest “Jesus Movement.” Across the Roman Empire, and perhaps beyond, groups of people drawn from different classes, regions, nationalities, religious backgrounds, male and female were uniting in the belief that Jesus is Lord. They prayed that the Kingdom of God would come and that God’s will and purpose established.

Before a decision had been made about the authority of a growing corpus of Christian writings  appended to the books of the Jewish Holy Books, these Christians sought to stand firm on a foundation made up of oral and written “tradition.” This tradition told of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of a man named Jesus, from Nazareth, a Jewish carpenter’s son whom they worshipped as God. Already, through their devotional lives and particularly their principle act of Christian worship, a fundamental if rudimentary Trinitarian awareness was becoming “traditional”. At least weekly, if not daily, and often at great risk, the followers of the Way, of the Christ, met together to break bread in prayer and to be instructed in the the teachings of the Apostles and those “Apostolic Men” set apart by the laying on of hands.

 

When 2 Thessalonians was written, a second generation of Christians was emerging. This was made possible by the evangelical zeal of those called to be “witnesses” Beginning with Jesus’s household, his family of followers, and gradually by a growing company of those who heard and received the “evangel” and submitted to an adapted Jewish purification rite, Baptism, the movement of Jesus followers spread far and wide, even into the household of the Roman Emperor, a potentate who soon found himself challenged by the imperial claims of the carpenter from Palestine. The Christian movement was thoroughly subversive. It eradicated even the differences of ethnicity, gender and status. Within the community slaves and aristocrats were equal. Christianity challenged the fundamental areas of human division, nationalism, class, gender and human rights. These causes of division and violence washed away in water poured and were thrust back down daily as all broke Bread and prayed. There was no magic fix to humanity’s ancient sins. They were to be confronted again and again, as we note in St. Paul’s and St. Clement’s letters to the Corinthian church, written decades apart but on the same subject, division.

 

Those of us who remain in the Episcopal Church, who some call “traditionalists” offer this tradition to the Jesus Movement. We seek to be “witnesses”, life-givers, armed with the “traditions” upon which we are grounded, “the Evangel” we have received. We believe ourselves called and sent people, of differing race, nationality, gender and social class, made one, forgiven our sins, made new, redeemed through baptism. We worship God through the perfect offering of Jesus on the Cross, in the power of the Holy Spirit. We believe that it is within the family or household of Christ that racism and all other sinful “isms” are vanquished and particularly in the offering and receiving of the Eucharist. We believe that the most vital program for justice is the project of passing on that which we have received in Word and Sacrament. Our firm foundation is built upon the received Scriptures, the Church’s Creeds, the writings of the Church’s teachers particularly in the first five centuries, the Councils of that period and their decisions and the traditions of every age which express what St. Vincent describes as the faith received “everywhere, always and by all.”

 

We hope that this offering equips us and qualifies us to be partners in the Jesus Movement.

 

 

 

 

POLITICS?

I was leaving for England when the election results were published. I thus spent three weeks away from the fray, although the BBC kept me up to date about affairs in the USA. It was fascinating to receive a preview of “Government by Twitter”.

 

In England progressives are still in shock about Brexit and its aftermath. On both sides of the Atlantic daily blog posts attempt to explain and analyze how the very people “liberals” claimed to support turned against the Left, the Labour Party in England and the Democrats in America. I grew up in post World War 2 England. The workers had rejected Winston Churchill for Clement Attlee and his socialists companions. Seventy years later the working class rejected the Establishment leaders of both major parties and opted out of Europe. Many supported Ukip, a party which makes Churchill look very liberal indeed. In America, the workers rejected both party Establishments and voted in an apolitical building magnate who promises to put the clock back and restore lost jobs.

 

These “working class” voters were convinced that the political elite had forgotten them, or, worse still, were contemptuous of their lifestyles and beliefs. Whether true or not, contempt works both ways. Goodness knows what happens if an independent Britain, or the paradise offered in America fails to help those whose incomes have decreased, life expectancy has decreased, jobs evaporated and in America, medical care has been denied.

 

My purpose in writing this is not to advance one political ideology against another. I write to raise the question, have the mainstream churches in America similarly failed the working class? Yes, there are many projects aimed at alleviating poverty and championing the underclass. However these worthy projects emanate in those parish churches and diocesan and denominational offices, far from the places where the “underclass” actually live. The Episcopal Church, for instance, is retreating from rural America. In urban areas, those churches which remain, are often venues to which the well-off, or at least not poor drive to make common cause with those of their own religious flavor or social beliefs.

In the 19th Century slum priests, mostly Anglo Catholics, went into places of enormous poverty, built churches, and lived among the under class. True many of these priests had independent wealth and could support themselves. Today “starter churches” survive if enough people are drawn in to pay the bills. No one even contemplates recruiting clergy and lay leaders who will support themselves by one means or another. The way we recruit ordinands often excludes pioneers and favors safe, bland men and women, who are capable of sustaining established congregations, often with skill and quiet heroism. But where are people of holy zeal, ready to move themselves and their families into deprived areas, places where violence may be normal, and the scourge of drug and alcohol abuse endemic? Where are the “denominations” (I hate that word) that would contemplate sending consecrated priests, deacons and lay leaders to live with and evangelize the workers?

 

And, anyway, working class people nowadays are rarely progressive.They have their own sort of denominations. Who needs them? Meanwhile we will continue to offer free meals once a week to the homeless and the poor, and champion them with resolution and check book.