Wednesday, January 16, 2008

January 14, 2008

A whole week has gone by and life at All Saints’ has been ‘rich and full’ as usual. Don Shriver, former President of Union Seminary and prolific author in the field of Christian Ethics (with particular reference to national life) was our preacher on Epiphany. That was preceded by a café night in which his wife Peggy read her published and more recent poetry to a small by enthusiastic group. A web search will lead you to all of their books. They are gracious people and we were blessed to have them among us for a couple of days. A new series of enquirers’ classes began on Monday and a new season of GIFT (Growing In Faith Together) began on Wednesday. There I am revisiting the work I did over a number of years in Bowen systems theory with Edwin Friedman and it seems that it is still life giving stuff judging by the response of those present. I’ve also been revisiting that material for the purposes of the contextual education class I help lead at the Candler School of Theology, with the second d semester about to get under way, and for a staff retreat which I will be leading beginning today.

The real work of the church has saved me from the blogosphere in which I learn that our Presiding Bishop has begun canonical proceedings against the former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joachin on the basis that he has renounced the ministry of this church by his own statements and his acceptance into the Province of the Southern Cone. His PR firm have made a gaffe that they are trying to connect claiming that there is no problem with Bishop Schofield being a member of the Episcopal Church and the Southern Cone at the same time. That, of course, would mean that he does consider himself a member of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church and therefore subject to discipline. Whoops. The separatists are creating maximum confusion and both spending and causing to be spent millions of dollars in the service of attempting to leave or destroy or takeover the Episcopal Church (whatever their motive) while retaining control of church property. This thing which could have been clarified by greater clarity on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury, with whom we are all claiming to be in communion, will teeter on through the courts, --notably in California and Virginia—with (I would guess) judges as confused and disgusted by this Christian behavior as are many of the Christians involved.

In his book A Failure of Nerve (Seabury, 2007) written before his death in 2003 and published later, we read:

Viewing the Civil War through this principle of leadership, it is possible to see that the war was no more ‘caused’ by the issue of slavery than a divorce results from the perceived differences between spouses. In either case the ‘cause’ had more to do with the ways in which family emotional processes turned those differences into divisive factors. From this perspective ‘the great American divorce’ was ultimately the failure of the five Presidents before Lincoln (particularly Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan, but also to some extent Polk and Taylor) to function in a differentiated manner. The way in which these glad-handing, conflict-avoiding, compromising ‘commanders-in-chief’ avoided taking charge of our growing internal crisis when they occupied the position ‘at the top’ is exactly the same way I have seen today’s leaders function before their organizations (or families) ‘split. (p.18f)
Interesting, yes? I continue to be grateful to the bishops of our church who are doing what they have to do to keep faith with the vows of their ordinations and to stay clear (even when they personally do not like the direction we have taken with the consecration of Gene Robinson) about the Church to which they belong. No one likes law suits, inhibiting Bishops from their ministry or any of the other wrangling that is going on. But they are being grown ups rather than whiners, and doing what they must do. Example: Bishop Wimberley Of Texas, and convener of the self identified ‘Windsor Bishops’ was one of those required to sign allowing the PB to proceed with the inhibition (which will ultimately lead to the formal deposing) of Bishop Schofield. No one likes it, but it is what happens when someone leaves the Episcopal Church and joins another church. The confusion comes from the fact that these cross boundary arrangements do not seem to impair communion with Canterbury and are viewed by the separatists as the moral equivalent of a church (namely the Episcopal Church) in its properly constituted councils taking a different view than the majority on whether a homosexual man can serve as a bishop, or (Diocese of New Westminster in Canada, lest we forget) the church can pronounce blessing on couples of the same gender who wish to make a lifelong commitment to each other. I see their hatred of any kind of affirmation of gay and lesbian people as immoral and their actions as destructive. They see my affirmation of gay and lesbian people as immoral and the consequent actions of the Episcopal Church (which I support) as destructive.

“Test all things and hold fast to that which is good”. Which position is about love? Which appears to be about hate? Which gives evidence of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, of love, joy, peace, and so on? Did Jesus ever get into major fights about religious rules? Arguably it was the religious response to his clarity of purpose that led to his death, but in his trials he did not use a PR firm and did not engage the argument, thereby giving credibility to the system that brought him to the courts. He was the quintessential non-anxious presence.

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