Monday, February 12, 2007

Some Points to Ponder About the Primates' Meeting

There's a number of things that it might be wise for us to keep in mind as the events of this week unfold:

1. First of all, don't pay too much attention to the early news reports coming out of Tanzania. Make sure you read Jonathan Petre's report to get an idea how tight security is at this meeting. Note that an "alternative" headquarters has already been established by the extreme conservatives. So, when the reporters are turned away at the door of the actual meeting, there's little doubt where they will go for some tidbit of news. And there is also little doubt that the extremists have already written their press releases. Early reports will be quite biased. Take them with a grain of salt. Wait until at least next Monday for any real news.

2. Keep in mind that, regardless of what anyone else tries to tell you, the Primates do not have the authority to make changes within the Episcopal Church. That authority rests with General Convention, which will not meet again until 2009. Any statement from the Primates is advisory. The notion being floated about that they have the authority to reject our elected leader and select one of their own is simply absurd. Our membership would never stand for such high handed tactics. Consequently, what we do know for sure is that come Monday morning, nothing of any immediate importance will have occurred at this meeting. Most likely there will be various recommendations. We may choose to consider these recommendations at GC2009. And then again, we may not. It seems to me we have dwelt on these issues long enough. Other than rescinding B033, I think it is time that we moved on to other concerns.

3. There is little doubt that our elected leader will be treated rudely, and most likely will be subjected to verbal vilolence. Those who participate in such behavior need to be noted. As far as responding to such unChristian acts of violence, I think it would be wise to follow Bishop Katharine's lead on this. There is no question that we are called to stand up against oppression, but responding to violence with violence usually results in more violence. This whole mess has already created enough victims. It's time we brought things to a close. As Josh said in a recent comment, let's disarm the extremists with the truth, so that reconciliation can commence. Once again, let's avoid the temptation of making knee-jerk responses. Wait until we have heard from our Presiding Bishop. Let's let her show us the way forward. Let's allow her to lead.

4. Don't be too quick to discount the Archbishop of Canterbury. Regardless of our frustrations, those of you who are familiar with Dr. Williams' writings are aware that he is a deeply spiritual man; and first and foremost a man of prayer. As ABC, he is caught in the middle of some very concrete and practical dilemmas. He is called to figure out how to keep the largest and fastest growing segment of the Communion and the wealthiest Province, on which the Communion has come to depend, from each going their own way. In the end, I don't think that paradox is his utmost concern, although it may be the highest priority among many of his advisors, which has succeeded in keeping these more practical matters in his line of vision. I sincerely believe that Dr. Williams is seeking God's will in all of this. I have little doubt that he will spend many hours in prayer during the days ahead. Let's remember him in our prayers.

5. Please don't misread what I have said above as a dismissal of our current unpleasantness. This struggle is of great importance to me, but not for the reasons that you might assume. I see it in light of some of Walter Wink's insights in his Powers series. Whenever there are struggles on the physical realm, they are symptomatic of struggles within the spiritual realm. This same idea can be seen in the perspective that is often boiled down to the saying "as above, so below." My point is that we can no longer deny the nature of this struggle; it goes beyond mere human personalities. It includes the powers and principalities. It matters very much.

Having said that, I've probably already lost many of you who do not traffic in such speculations. For those of you who are still tracking with me, let me say this, which I consider very important. I can discern the struggle. But I cannot know without a doubt which powers are aligned with whom. Using my limited understanding, and judging from the fruit that I see, I have made my best assumption regarding the will of God, and have attempted to move with it. But, in the now infamous words of the Priest who is Mad, "of course, I could be wrong." Recognizing that is essential. It keeps us humble. It keeps us from imagining we know the will of God and plunging forward, only to make a further mess of things. Let's avoid playing God. And if we can't do that, let's at least avoid making any new victims.

6. And finally, let's never forget that, as Christians, we believe in redemption. As Paul wrote to the Church in Rome, "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." We may see our lives as a series of good times and bad times. As Episcopalians, we may see this as one of our bad times. I think it is beneficial for us to remember right now that the movement of God is always from glory, to glory. We are called to move from faith, to faith, trusting that God is moving among us, working all things for good.

Will I be monitoring the events in Tanzania? Sure, but not as closely as past events. On Wednesday, my focus will be on those near me whom I love. On Thursday and Friday, I'm planning to get out of Dodge for a couple of days with Demi. Saturday is our parish Mardi Gras. Sunday, of course, will be set aside for the worship of God. So, we'll see what we shall see next Monday. It probably won't be until then that we have real news, anyway.

I want to leave you with another quote from Paul's letter to the Romans:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
May our hope rest in things eternal.

Pray for the Church.

J.

1 comment:

Marshall Montgomery said...

Thanks for the comments about discernment and humility. It's important to keep those two things in mind. I wonder, however, whether you think authoritative discernment is possible? I write a lot about this question on my own relatively new blog, http://communioninconflict.blogspot.com/ If you click on the "Marilyn Adams" link on the right, you will get (at bottom) a sermon that she preached at Christ Church, Oxford which has gotten some attention, and my reflections on it. I'd be interested what you think of them.