Thursday, April 05, 2007

"Now I'm sad and tired."

I wrote this some time back, in high dudgeon. Now my dudgeon is not so high, and my fervor has cooled. Partly that's a result of being further away in time from the radio program that got me started. Partly it's the fact that the complaints that fired me, seem to have faded; or at least I'm less worried about them than I was before. Partly, it's Holy Week, and more important matters claim my attention.

But I'm still prone to feel this way, which is a good enough reason to go ahead and post it. Besides, at some point, it needs to be said.

So my local radio station re-ran this series from "This American Life" today. I could only get partway through Act 2 before I had to leave, but just re-living the bridge blockade debacle I sat there wondering: what has happened to our country?

As the show points out in the opening, contrary to what Bush and Chertoff and every other Federal official said, once Gov. Blanco declared a state of emergency in Louisiana, and Bush did the same, Bush and Chertoff had all the power they needed to go into New Orleans and do what needed to be done. And they still do.

And it still isn't getting done.

So we have New Orleans, and the Gulf Coast. Nigeria has it's own coastal problems. And what is the Anglican Communion worried about? Poverty? Exploitation? Economic inequalities? Hunger, starvation, homelessness? Any of the "least of these" Jesus told us where we would see, and be able to help, him?

No. We're frantic over whether or not any bishop, anywhere, is gay. Oh, or female, but that last one embarasses us; so let's just fear teh gay, as the kids say on these intertubes.

We had another tsunami this week. Are the victims of the last one okay, that we don't need to worry about them? Are there no refugee problems anywhere in the world? No victims of war, no homeless people on the streets of American cities, no poverty in the Rio Grande Valley? No suffering, no starving, no person on the planet who needs our compassion? What's that? There is? They are still there?

Then why in the name of the God we worship and obey, are we so concerned with who gets ordained a bishop?

I understand the dispute in the Anglican Communion is all about power. I understand Nigeria has set itself up as the "Lord Protector:"

The Primate of all Nigeria has said “Our argument is that, if homosexuals see themselves as deviants who have gone astray, the Christian spirit would plead for patience and prayers to make room for their repentance. When scripture says something is wrong and some people say that it is right, such people make God a liar. We argue that it is a blatant lie against Almighty God that homosexuality is their God-given urge and inclination. For us, it is better seen as an acquired aberration.”
I even understand that I am an insignificant blogger and an insignificant and very new member of the Anglican Communion, and that I should be quiet and let this matter be thrashed out by those who understand that polity of the Episcopal Church and who know the traditions of the Anglican Communion and who will fight for the property that is rightfully ours. I understand all of that.

What I don't understand is what any of this has to do with taking care of the least and lowest among us. What I don't understand is what any of this has to do with the race to the bottom that Jesus commanded us, as his followers, to pursue. How are we being least of all and servant of all when everyone on either side of this contentious issue, is determined to be ruler and decider of all?

"There is one thing that a bishop should say to another bishop," Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglicans' spiritual leader, told the Anglican leaders and several hundred worshippers in a packed cathedral Sunday. "That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great savior."
And where did that sentiment go? Down the Episcopal blogistan memory hole as rapidly as it was uttered. It was even more ignored than PB Schori's comments urging TEC to fast for Lent. How can we fast when we need strength for the righteous fight?! How can we fight if we are being humble?!

I know this will be ignored, as my past posts have been. Or it will be misinterpreted, misunderstood, mistaken. I can't even help that. Probably no one will notice, and my little pebble will not even make a "plop!" as it hits the roiling waters of bloggy contention. Blogs are so good at letting us get all stirred up, at drawing to us the righteous like us who alone understand the peril that is before us. But do we understand? Do blogs show us the true peril? Or are they just another symptom of the disease?

The fear on both sides of this struggle is that, if one side fails, the institution will be lost. If that is so, then I say: good riddance! Any institution that God is not with, especially one that claims to be the body of Christ, will not stand if God abandons it. Any institution that God is with, cannot be shaken. It is idolatry to say that God must be with us, and we must be with God, else all is lost. God is with us because God is just, not because we are. If God decides we need a new Exile, a new destruction so that we build on better foundations, so be it. Come, Lord Jesus! But I will not presume to speak for God, no more than I will presume to be protecting God, or God's word, or God's work, or God's way. God needs no protection from me. I cannot make God a liar. I don't have it in my power. Nor does anyone else have it in their power to make me a liar about God.

This is not a fight I will engage. This is not a fight anyone can win. This is not about Christianity, nor even the Body of Christ. This fight is about power. And everyone engaged in it is tarred with that brush. Even me. I am a great sinner. Christ is a great savior.

There isn't any question what is happening in New Orleans now, or why. A picture is worth a thousand words, but I can easily give you a thousand pictures. Pictures can't even scratch the surface of what is going on there, now, almost 2 years later. Where is the outrage of the religious community? Where are the cries for justice, the demands for mercy, the commitment to walk humbly with our God by taking care of the least among us in this, the richest country in the world? During the flood, Gretna closed the Ponchatrain Bridge out of New Orleans:

"If we had opened the bridge, our city would have looked like New Orleans does now: looted, burned and pillaged." Arthur Lawson, Chief of Police, Gretna Police Department.
That's the point where I had to stop listening to the radio show. But it left me wondering: if we can't teach the world reconciliation, if we can't teach the world not to be afraid of others, why are we here? What is church for? And do we teach them, by fighting ourselves?

Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?

7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

8 He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
Why am I going on about this. In part because tt's the same old rub, over and over and over again. Here we are, ready to sacrifice rivers of oil and thousand of rams and even give up our firstborn for God's approval, for God to smile on us and say "You win!" and so we get to claim the prize and keep the church we love, the one "they" want to destroy. And does God settle on the winner, sated like Zeus with our offerings and our piety? No. God wants nothing from us, God simply wants something of us. God wants us to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. So what do we do with all these rams, these rivers of oil? We've been told to fast, but that proved too easy, or too difficult, and we rejected that, too. We wanted action! But again, not the kind that would really require us to do anything, not even to fast. We want something done to them! Those people we think we can control; those people we think we can grab by the throat, even as we think they are grabbing us! We don't like the lesson of the power of powerlessness. If I may be so bold as to quote myself:

I'm a stickler on this point: power only and ever and always serves the ends of power. If God is not about the power of powerlessness, then Paul and I are agreed that the crucifixion was pointless, and all we're really waiting for is for God to get around to making us all believers, whether we like it or not.

But if God is about the power of powerlessness, then even taking up power in God's name is contrary to God's purpose. And a basiliea tou theou where the first are always last, and the last first, is a place with no political power at all.
And still: what does the Lord require of us?

5Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?

6Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

7Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

8Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward.

9Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;

10And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day:

11And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.

12And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.
That's where Lent started. How far along have we gotten?

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