Sunday, February 25, 2007

Fear and Trembling

In connection with the death of others, the salvation of self.

The Rev. Canon Francisco de Assis Silva (Provincial Secretary - The Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil), via the MadPriest:

At a recent presentation elaborated by the Rev. Dr. Carlos Calvani, of which I had the honor of presenting in Berkeley, before an audience of American Episcopalians, I reaffirmed that the Anglican Communion needed to re-discover the authentic meaning of communion and get over the illusion that the rationality embedded in certain "consensual textual instruments" could be the warranty of unity of this part of the Church of Christ.

Even having told that to an audience that was very heterogeneous (theologically speaking), their reaction was of a complete empathy with the pre-supposition that a communion is made of feelings in much more a horizontal rather than a vertical dimension of truths built by reason.

Sadly, this dichotomy ended up winning at the Primates' meeting, in Dar-es-Salaam, last week. Their final document simply submits an important part of the Anglican Communion to a scrutiny that reminds me of the famous papal edicts of the Middle Ages, against those who would dare to think differently. The "liberals", as they are commonly called, have a fixed date to formally apologize for their pastoral excesses.

Normally I use this space here for political and everyday analysis. Rarely I use it for expressing specifically theological opinions. However, I would have the freedom of expressing, at the beginning of the liturgical Lenten time, my deep sadness for such a huge step back in a process I would call the hermeneutical journey of the Church. I affirm peremptorily here the exclusive personality of my opinion, detached from any institutional role I represent. It is the opinion of a theologian who insists on believing that the Gospel is made of inclusion and caressing of all people.

Instead of being concerned with the issues that really disqualify our world, such as poverty, war, aggressions to the environment, among so many urgent ones, they keep spending words and money being concerned about their peers who have advanced in the comprehension that people who have a sexual orientation that is different from heterosexuality are equal before God and are also equal in their beloved God's service.

And this is just because the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada have decided to advance with respect to the way with which homosexuals are treated among their jurisdictions.

An uncertain future is before the Anglican Communion. And it is sad to realize that the climate of confrontation now comes to ecclesiastical discipline, which means power and a not very adequate use of it for maintaining the "neurosis of the discursive correction of the faith".

As I have commented somewhere else, the communion is broken. The fact that some conservatives refuse to take part of the Eucharistic table with their equals is an irreversible symptom that the Anglican Communion is agonizing.

Unfortunately, some of the primates - fundamentalists and sexists -have twisted the Church's agenda: from serving the world to a negative focus on sexuality. The world expects much more from the Church than value judgments or correct dogmatic formulas. This is part of the Age of Reason, that has shown to be innocuous as a tool for struggling with the real dilemmas of mankind!

Deconstruction wants to raise a hand here, and question the legitimacy of the metaphors of "horizontal v. vertical," the presumption that the "heart" reaches "out" while the "head" reaches "up". One, of course, is the direction of the Other; the latter is the presumed direction of God.

There are many ways to critique this view.

This is an old and well-worn dichotomy, one usually conducted in Platonic/Hellenestic terms, and more recently informed by the 17th century Pietist movement, itself a response to the insisistence on a hierarchy of reason, which always indicates a superiority of position; a superiority, all theologians should point out, that has no warrant in the basileia tou theou as it was first announced. There the first are to be last and the last first, and he who would be ruler of all must be servant of all. At one time the Kings of England themselves understood this, and on Good Friday would wash the feet of beggars and give them gifts, to honor the Christ of Matthew's parable. But like the sacrament that wasn't from John's gospel, that act required too much humility, and didn't last long. Today I know of it perpetuated only among Episcopal priests, and it makes the people recieving it uncomfortable. Pietism reintroduced us to widespread notions of humility, long afer we had asserted our superiority over the medieval society we labeled, in our own ignorance, the "Dark Ages." But soon even piety itself became a hallmark of superiority. The bird of Eliot's poem was right: 'Humankind cannot bear very much humility.' "

But there are subtler arguments than this available.

The "hermeneutical journey of the church" is never a journey upward; it is only a journey outward, a journey beyond the boundaries of self. The problem with an appeal to a hierarchy of truths is that some claim greater access to that hierarchy than others, and so claim a position of privilege and power.

Archbishop Akinola:

African Anglican bishops yesterday warned of a split among faithful unless the mother church stopped embracing homosexuality by September 30.

Led by Nigeria's Archbishop Peter Akinola and Kenya's Benjamin Nzimbi, the bishops said if Canterbury "does not come back to us by September 30, we will decide whether they will continue being with us or not."

"Let us know if they will have stopped celebrating same sex marriages and ordaining homosexuals," Bishop Akinola who is the chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (Capa) said during the launch of an HIV /Aids prevention plan at Panafric Hotel.
Canon David Anderson, President of American Anglican Council:

‘We are pleased. The American Anglican Council is pleased. We feel the communique is a workable document. It takes some of the slack out of the previous approach of TEC. It puts in place realistic demands and deadlines for compliance. It provides options for those in TEC that are in impaired relationships and allows border crossings, although lamentable, to continue until the situation in TEC is resolved. It gives a special status to both CANA and Amia. Even if the situation is resolved, CANA and Amia would have the option if they wished to negotiate in or not.

“It makes it so clear that Gene Robinson is unacceptable in his capacity as Bishop that he is going to have to go. He could either go gracefully and resign or he’s going to have to be removed. Otherwise, TEC cannot meet the demands of the communique.
These are not voices seeking a horizontal dimension but a vertical one, and one established on truths built by reason. But "Hang it all, Robert Browning, there can be but one Sordello!/But Sordello, and my Sordello?" How are these claims to be reconciled? Whose hierachy or reason, whose vertical dimension of truth, is to prevail?

"Demands." "Deadlines." Curious terms for a theological discussion. Consider the latter word alone: a dead line, a demarcation that indicates a boundary which cannot be transgressed, crossed (can death by crossed? by the man on the cross? and what of the double-cross? These are questions deconstruction longs to pursue, if it can be said to have longing at all), violated, stepped over; because it is the line that ends life, and begins death. And what is death? The negation, the cessation, the boundary and end, of life. So a deadline is an ultimatum. But from a God who shows the valley of dry bones to Ezekiel? From a God who raises Lazarus from the tomb, Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, to prove the ultimate power of powerlessness? What is a deadline except an exertion of power? And does power come from God, or powerlessness? Even the creation of the world is not an act of power. God speaks. Light is. God speaks. Earth is. God speaks. Animals are, plants are, rain is. God speaks. What exertion of power is that? It is the ultimate exertion: the power of powerlessness. God does not need power to be the Creator; neither does God need power to be the Redeemer. Why, then, do we seek after power? When, then do we declare deadlines, when God never declares one, never announces Israel dead and lost and beyond redemption, never declares death the ultimate finish and leaves it at that, waiting for humankind to do the impossible, to redeem itself after death, to raise itself from the dead. Shall these bones live? Not by the breath of humanity, pronouncing deadlines. As the Preacher said: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity and striving after emptiness. Of the making of deadlines there is no end, and the making of demands is an emptiness."

Hierarchies lead us this way:

Instead of being concerned with the issues that really disqualify our world, such as poverty, war, aggressions to the environment, among so many urgent ones, they keep spending words and money being concerned about their peers who have advanced in the comprehension that people who have a sexual orientation that is different from heterosexuality are equal before God and are also equal in their beloved God's service.
They lead us to regard ourselves with respect to our peers, and to show no regard for the others. We spend our time concerned with our peers, ignoring our brother starving outside our door. We know that; but we don't have to leave it as a glittering generality:

"Nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty"--a category that includes individuals making less than $5,080 a year, and families of four bringing in less than $9,903 a year. That number, by the way, has been growing rapidly since 2000.
Meanwhile we worry about who our bishops might be having sex with. We worry about what's in our closet, and who's in our closet, and ignore our sister in the streets with a hungry baby. Nigeria has terrible problems with poverty. Someone ask Archbishop Akinola why he's so obsessed with Bishops in America. Could it be because this is one area where he thinks he can exert his power?

This issue is all about us, and those we know, and what they think, and whether they think as we do. It is Hellenism and the integrity of the community, and it has nothing at all to do with Christianity. Says Creon: "Once an enemy, never a friend,/not even after death." This is the making of deadlines and demands; and it is not Christianity. This is the plaintive cry that comes too late: "Lord, when did we see you?" As always, the answer is: when did you look?

It comes back to the question: is your salvation in your hands, or in the hands of the Wholly Other? Do you work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, or sure in the knowledge that you know right, and God's mind, and the greatest surety is the integrity of the community? Deconstruction puts its hand down again. It will answer later. For now, simple Christian theology has the floor.

And in this vision he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, and to my mind's eye it was as round as any ball. I looked at it and thought, "What can this be?" And the answer came to me, "It is all that is made." I wondered how it could last, for it was so small that I thought it might suddenly disappear. And the answer to my mind was, "It lasts and will last forever because God loves it; and in the same way everything exists through the love of God." In this little thing I saw three attributes: that first is that God made it, the second is that he loves it, the third is that God cares for it. But what does that mean to me? Truly, the maker, the lover, the carer; for until I become one substance with him, I can never have love, rest, nor true bliss; that is to say, until I am so bound to him that there may be no created thing between my God and me. And who shall do this deed? Truly, himself, by his mercy and his grace, for he has made me and blessedly restored me to that end.
--Julian of Norwich

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