Archive for December, 2007
It seems a very wise thing for Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to welcome, as she has done, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advent letter to the Primates’ suggesting, among other things, that he personally invite to the table representatives of The Episcopal Church and those who are most upset with some of its recent decisions. Far from imposing some kind of preconceived solutions or an extra-provincial council of some kind, this seems to be perfectly in line with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s role and may actually be helpful in the run-up to the Lambeth Conference next summer.
There were some very tough things said about The Episcopal Church in his letter. And one wonders why we continue to be singled out on the issue of the blessing of same sex unions when it is going on all around the Anglican Communion, and in other Christian communions, ‘under the radar screen.’ Nonetheless, there was also appreciation for the hard work done by The Episcopal Church, and its bishops, and a recognition that we have probably gone about as far as we can right now in seeking to clarify our position with respect to the Windsor Report and the Primates’ requests from Dar Es Salaam.
As always, with Rowan Williams’ writing, I shall want to take some time to parse it more deeply instead of making some kind of knee jerk response (of which there will be, I am sure, many!). He has rightly summarized our current difficulties as being every bit as much about the scripture and ecclesiology (especially the ministry of bishops) as about Christian ethics and the presenting issue of the place of gay and lesbian persons in the Church.
All topics we very much need to continue discussing — at the Lambeth Conference…and in our “advent preparation” for it.
“When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water…” (Isaiah 41:17-18)
In this Reading from Isaiah, the prophet is describing the power of the holy God of Israel and the assurance that God will come to their help, even while recognizing that Israel’s failures are many and very serious in God’s sight. The image he uses here is of streams in the wilderness and pools in the desert. This stretches right back, of course, to the roots of Israel’s history and all those times God provided water from the rock during the Exodus and provided drink for his people when their tongues were, quite literally, “parched with thirst.”
So, water is symbolic here, as it is so often throughout Scripture, for salvation – for rescue and for new life. But, in a land where water is always the issue, it had more than symbolic power. In today’s world over 1 billion people still lack access to safe water near their homes for drinking, cooking and washing. More than twice that many lack a safe and effective way to dispose of their bodies’ waste. And that’s why nearly 5,000 children in the developing world die every day from disease caused by unsafe water, sanitation, or hygiene.
My step son, Andrew, lives here in the city and has gotten involved in something called “WaterAid.” It’s based in London and is the world’s champion of safe water, effective sanitation, and hygiene promotion. WaterAid provides practical, sustainable solutions, made more effective through local and international collaborations and is involved in advocacy, education and poverty reduction in some of the world’s poorest countries
Drew works in management in the Border’s Book Store system, and has arranged a volunteer program for people to wrap Christmas gifts in several stores for free in exchange for a donation to WaterAid and an opportunity to share information with customers about the program. We’re really proud of him! And he can provide more information for anyone who might want to get involved!
Because water is surely a sign of salvation and new life… but it is also the actual conveyer of salvation and new life! Jesus says, of John the Baptist, in today’s Gospel: “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” (Matthew 11: 10) In Advent, we remember that John was sent to prepare the way for the salvation Jesus brings. Perhaps programs like WaterAid and similar efforts to alleviate hunger and thirst around the world can provide a similar “John the Baptist” ministry.
Preparing the way for the Lord…and providing – quite literally – streams in the wilderness…pools in the desert!
While it is no secret that I support the full inclusion of faithful gay and lesbian Christians in the life of the Church, let there be no mistake about the costly nature of such decisions in the life of The Episcopal Church and beyond.
I write this post from Cairo, Egypt where I am attending the annual meeting of the Inter Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. This is a body which reports to the Anglican Consultative Council and monitors the activity and progress of the various Provinces of the Anglican Communion in matters ecumenical.
Since our General Convention decisions of 2003, these have been difficult meetings for The Episcopal Church’s representatives as well as our colleagues from the Anglican Church in Canada. Despite warm personal relations with our Church of England, Asian, African, South and West Indian colleagues, we are roundly criticised as Episcopalians for putting major stumbling blocks in the way of Anglican ecumenical relations.
Often cited are the writings of Bishop Spong, the confirmation of the Bishop of New Hamshire by General Convention 2003, and some bishops’ permission for the blessing of same sex unions in their dioceses despite the lack of an official liturgical rite in our church for such an event.
We were received by Pope Shenouda of the Coptic Orthodox Church here in Egypt one morning and subjected to nearly an hour of lecturing by His Holiness on the sins of the Anglican Communion and especially The Episcopal Church. This venerable monk and leader of his ancient church noted all the concerns I have mentioned above. He has actually read at least one of Bishop Spong’s books. And, is not impressed!
It would, of course, have been possible to take exception to much of Pope Shenouda’s hermeneutics, but “state occasions” like this are hardly the place for that. Particularly in a country where Christians are in the huge minority and undergo scrutiny and often severe criticism from their Muslim neighbors. We heard him out, acknowledged the difficulties we face, and asked for his prayers.
What would have been possible, however, had not the official dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox Churches been suspended over our actions, would have been to engage these issues together in a serious dialogue where our perspectives could be given a fair hearing rather than caricatured by the press or by voices from within our own church who wish the world to think that we are teaching some kind of “new faith.”
This is why I believe the Lambeth Conference must happen. No matter who is, or is not, invited and who chooses to come or not to come. Those of us who will be there must sit together, face to face, in the context of prayer, and both share and listen to one another deeply.
Only in this way can the wounds in our particular expression of the Body of Christ begin to be healed and a contribution perhaps made, by Anglicans, for healing the very Body of Christ of which we are a part.
My wife and I love Advent above all the seasons of the Church year. There is something about the chill in the air, the smell of greenery in the church, the great Advent hymns and lessons, and of course the approaching Christmas celebration which makes it all so rich. Those lessons from Scripture are filled with dire warnings, but also with hope.
Traditional interpretations of those passages would say that they are either literal or symbolic descriptions of “the end times” and warn us to “clean up our act” before impending judgment. Other scholars (even conservative ones like N.T. Wright) would hold that the prophets (and even Jesus) were warning of very real cataclysms which were about to occur — in Jesus’ case the likely destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans — if his people did not change their violent ways and follow him toward a different kind of Kingdom.
Either way, it is clear that God cares about how individuals and nations conduct their affairs, that the future is even now rushing in upon our present, and that our actions have consequences — eternal ones. So, let us use this season of Advent, not only to prepare for the Christmas celebration, but to examine our lives and the life of our nation, in the light of this great Collect for Advent 1:
“Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever.” Amen.