Sunday, March 04, 2007

How long is 'long enough'?

A Season of Fasting

A parallel to this situation in our tradition might be seen in the controversy over eating meat in early Christian communities, mentioned both in the letter to the Romans and the first letter to the Corinthians. In those early communities, the meat available for purchase in the public market was often part of an animal that had been offered (in whole or in part) in sacrifice in various pagan religious rites. The troubling question in the Christian community was whether or not it was appropriate to eat such meat - was it tainted by its involvement in pagan religion? Did one participate in that religion (and thus commit apostasy) by eating it? Paul encourages the Christians in Rome and Corinth to recall that, while there may be no specific prohibition about eating such meat, the sensitive in the community might refrain if others would be offended. The needs of the weaker members, and the real possibility that their faith may be injured, are an important consideration in making the dietary decision.

The current controversy brings a desire for justice on the one hand into apparent conflict with a desire for fidelity to a strict understanding of the biblical tradition and to the main stream of the ethical tradition. Either party may be understood to be the meat-eaters, and each is reminded that their single-minded desire may be an idol. Either party might constructively also be understood by the other as the weaker member, whose sensibilities need to be considered and respected.

God's justice is always tempered with mercy, and God continues to be at work in this world, urging the faithful into deeper understandings of what it means to be human and our call as Christians to live as followers of Jesus. Each party in this conflict is asked to consider the good faith of the other, to consider that the weakness or sensitivity of the other is of significant import, and therefore to fast, or "refrain from eating meat," for a season. Each is asked to discipline itself for the sake of the greater whole, and the mission that is only possible when the community maintains its integrity.
Nobody likes PB Schori's words about fasting and Lent. And this seems almost calculated to pour salt on the wounds:

"We are being pushed toward a decision by impatient forces within and outside this church who hunger for clarity. That hunger for clarity at all costs is an anxious response to discomfort in the face of change which characterizes all of life," she said. "The impatience we're now experiencing is an idol _ a false hope that is unwilling to wait on God for clarity."
The problem with her words are, that she's asking us to be humble; and we don't want to be humble. We've been humble long enough! We want them to be humble! After all, you can't be humble and exact justice now, can you? Was the woman who pestered the judge humble? Was the judge humble when he finally heard her case and allowed her at least access to justice? So we don't want to be humble anymore! Away with humility! We. Have. Been. Humble. Long. Enough!

How long is 'long enough'?

This is the problem with Christianity. We'd like it better if it wasn't so damned hard! So Joel Osteen tells everyone God wants them to smile and enjoy the world of Pharoah, to have the pleasures of the material world with none of the anxieties about keeping it, because God's got your back! We like Christianity much better that way. We like a church that says "We believe in you!", and they mean me, the person reading the billboard. We like a church that puts up billboards. Billboards are friendly, billboards are familiar, billboards sell us stuff we want to buy.

No one wants to buy humility. Nietszche was right: that's a religion for slaves. We don't want to be slaves, we want to be owners! We want to be rulers! We want to be in control! We want to be the dealers in justice! Waiting for God's justice takes too long. We don't want to wait anymore. We've waited long enough!

How long is 'long enough'?

We are comfortable talking about "justice" because it gives us an excuse to wield power, or to feel like we do. Humility just focusses on our powerlessness, and we don't like that. So we talk about justice, and indeed we must, since the power of the institution is being used against our brothers and sisters, and how does humility help us to oppose that injustice? The power of the institutions is even being used to support the state that would criminalize our brothers and sisters for simply being human beings, for simply being who they are? How can we not oppose such injustice?

Except those laws don't apply to most of us, certainly don't apply to us in America, certainly are no threat to those of us in America. And the laws that did apply in Palestine 2000 years ago were used mercilessly, ruthlessly, unjustly, against a man from Nazareth. Who humbly accepted that fate, because his faith was that all was in God's hands, and that justice came from God, not from human efforts, nor human laws, nor human institutions. He modeled humility, and because of that model he inspired his dispirited disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel. A gospel of the Anointed One crucified, crushed by the power of the State in the cruelest and most humiliating manner possible. Humility is humiliating. We are tired of being humiliated. We are tired of being humble We are tired of waiting for justice to come; we want justice to be done! Things have been unjust long enough!

How long is 'long enough'?

We don't want to fast! Fasting means we are not in control, that we are dependent upon God for our very life! We've fasted long enough!

How long is 'long enough'?

Psalm 22 begins:

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why are thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
And it ends:

The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: you heart shall live for ever.

All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.

For the kingdom is the LORD's: and he is the governor among nations.

All they that be fat upon the earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his soul.

A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.

They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people thta shall be born, that he hath done this.
And it is followed by Psalm 23.

Easter was the event which inspired the disciples, but it came at the end of three days of despair and mourning at the injustice of human justice, at the horrific cost of such humility as Jesus showed. Our Lent takes 40 days to prepare us for those three, and especially when you are fasting, it can seem like a very long time. But without Lent, what is the real meaning of Easter?

How long is 'long enough'?

Even as I say this, I am aware of this, a long and well written objection to Schori's statement on Tanzania. Well-written, but clearly not written by someone responsible to others who disagree:

It seems that no matter how much experience we have of the goodness and grace-filledness of openness, movement and change, each invitation is always met with the same hackneyed resistance, on the part of those with an infantile or pathological need to lock God in their time limited expressions and idiosyncratic experiences.
That's the clinch-point, isn't it? As soon as we can describe those who disagree with us as "infantile" or "pathological," we've made the break which permits us to freely talk about:

a new reformation.... A reformation that convenes thinking members from across all Christian denominations to lay claim to a shared identity and faith that distinguishes itself from mindless expressions of belief and holds up a viable thinking alternative before the eyes of an increasingly faithless world?
Because, clearly, the people who disagree with "us" are not "thinking." And all "thinking" people would agree with "us."

'What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
'I never know what you are thinking. Think.'
And then, of course, all would be well, because only those who "think" deserve to be in "our" church.

And so the drawing of lines goes on. There are lines, of course, which should be observed. And Fr. Alagna is right, the Primates failure to rebuke those who are ignoring the boundaries of the Commuion as are guilty of sins against the Church as The Episcopal Church is alleged to be. Two wrongs do not make a right, and the powerlessness of the Primates to act is shown by their refusal to even criticize the practice, while still demanding some conciliation of TEC. And Fr. Alagna is also right, that the polity of TEC doesn't allow any action to be taken absent a special meeting of the House of Deputies, which PB Schori wishes to avoid. But Fr. Alagna speaks as a priest, not as the Presiding Bishop. He speaks for himself, not for The Episcopal Church, or his congregation, or his diocese. He speaks his own opinions, hopes, wishes, fears, not on behalf of many different people with many different points of view. He speaks of unity and singularity as if they were the same thing, and both desirable as only one thing. "Purity of heart," said Kierkegaard, "is to will one thing." But what one thing is that, and can you do it for others, or only for yourself?

And so the question remains: how long is long enough?

God who holds all in your loving hands, gift us with true humility that, in knowing how frail and small we are, we may rejoice even more in the magnitude of your love and the wonders of our own giftedness. We ask this through Jesus and the Spirit. Amen.

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