Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Emergence of the Hidden Wisdom of God's People

In the last three posts, I've been talking about shifts that are happening in our culture, and how these shifts are impacting the Church. Authority, or the "freedom to act," no longer resides only with our institutional leaders, or even with the scholars. Instead, the authority rests within complex networks of relationships. Truth claims are refined and tempered as they run back and forth through this web of networks. While it is understood that scripture and tradition are part of this network, it is the living traditions, the people of God, informed through a discipline of prayer, study and action, that will discern the movement of God in the world today.

Last week, Bishop Peter Selby gave an address at the Inclusive Church's residential conference. It is entitled When the Word on the Street is Resist. It is quite good, and contains much worth noting. Mark offers some commentary on it here. Tobias offers a slightly different take on it here. But, what really caught my eye, as it is directly related to our recent conversations, is the section that Richard chose to highlight.

Here is that section again:

...First, though, a story: a colleague and his partner were to register their partnership, and a number of us were invited. There was no suggestion that there would be a blessing of this union, or anything else that might cause incongruity or unrecognisability. But it did so happen that the ceremony was arranged to take place closely after the usual time of the eucharist in the local Church, to which the guests were also invited. Not surprisingly prayers were offered for the pair, and the eucharist proceeded as usual - or not quite.

When time came for the distribution of the Sacrament, nothing had been said about what was to happen. But the congregation knew what was to happen: they remained in their seats until the pair whose partnership was to be registered had received together. Where was this unscripted choreography learned? Obviously through the attendance of many in the congregation at wedding eucharists. But this was not of course a wedding - or was it? Might not this event in the distribution of the Sacrament have been a picture of what at an earlier time the Archbishop would have called 'The Body's Grace', the mediation of truth through the liturgical actions of the people, while the official Church was still struggling to avoid an affirmation it was unwilling to make.

I tell the story not to argue against those others who have decided simply to disobey the rules. I tell it rather to show that while the Primates of our Communion labour at the question of incongruity, a different perception of the truth is being recognised in the actions of the people. Nor am I telling the story to suggest that actions of that kind can serve as a substitute for a just and faithful resolution of a conflict which has hurt too many and lasted too long. I tell the story because even as hierarchies struggle to maintain rigidities in place, even as persons are hurt and their ministries denied, something else is going on, namely the emergence of the hidden wisdom of God's people, a choreography of promise, a recognition which the official Church will surely have to take seriously. That will not be (as the Archbishop quite wrongly suggests) because the Church will have ended up conforming to social mores rather than critiqued them; it will be because truth has been discovered precisely in the context of biblical and theological reflection and acted out in worship; and what the pew sheet I quoted accurately called 'the current panic' will not outlast the God whose message is not to be afraid.
Do you see the significance of those words? Here is the key line again:

"...even as hierarchies struggle to maintain rigidities in place, even as persons are hurt and their ministries denied, something else is going on, namely the emergence of the hidden wisdom of God's people, a choreography of promise, a recognition which the official Church will surely have to take seriously..."

This is an excellent example of the kind of "authority" I've been trying to find words to talk about.

Listen for the Word of God. And expect that Word to come from the living traditions, who give voice to "the God whose message is not to be afraid."

J.

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