Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Why I Stayed, Part V

I am sometimes asked by clergy friends,
"How can you remain in an institution whose leader is not as convinced of the uniqueness of Christ as THE Way, THE Truth and THE life and who is THE ONLY way to the Father, as we are?" Embedded in this question is an assumption, specifically, that said "leader" is not a disciple of the same God we follow. I heard a prominent rector once say in a public forum to the Presiding Bishop, "After hearing what you've said here today, I have to conclude that you and I ascribe to two different religions," to which she responded, "I am struck by the inability to communicate, and I must say that makes me very sad." The first part of this clergy dialogue from that day in 2008 can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRjDnlNI1Qo Subsequent sections of the day's dialogue are also available within this link. The exchange that I mentioned above can be found in Part 13.

I went back and looked at a more recent video where she has allegedly proffered a weak christology. What she said was that God made some promises to people of an older covenant in the Old Testament that He has not broken, namely, the Jews, as well as the Muslims (Hagar and Ishmael). She also said that these of the "other covenants" do not "CONSCIOUSLY" look to Christ. "CONSCIOUSLY" is a key word here, because implied is that they (of the other covenants) will, through God's grace, wind up at the feet of Christ, to hear Him say, "It was I for whom you were reaching all along." She looks at the Christ-likeness of people like Gandhi ("I love your Christ, I'm wary of your Christians"), Thich Hat Nhan (Merton's friend), and the Dalai Lama. She sees the fruit of their peaceful, contemplative, spiritual lives. And she leaves the final question of their eternity in God's hands. Then she says that as for them, she believes that God has room for them in His grace. And that as for her she has to try to be the best Christian that she can be. 

And then it hit me. "She's a contemplative." Contemplatives are looked at with suspicion by some evangelicals because contemplatives leave a lot of room for contradictions. They tend to be more comfortable with the "gray" between sharply-focused dogmatic scripture-based interpolations and the more ambiguous realm of Divine Mystery. There can be a "pastoral disconnect", i.e., a difference between what a clergyman might say in compassion to a person steeped in sin and wondering how God could ever love him, and what the same clergyman might proclaim publically from his or her pulpit in order to be true to  his or her stripe. If the two are very different from one another, there might be some inauthenticity or even disengenuousness present. An evangelical might tend to fix this discrepancy via more strictness in the counseling office ("No, I won't baptize your baby until you repent of your lesbian lifestyle"). A contemplative might tend to fix it via less strictness (or, "Grace", perhaps?) from the pulpit ("All are welcome, regardless.").

I have had my own (re-) awakening to  contemplative spirituality.  Especially drawn to the spirituality of the Benedictines and their commitment to
Obedience, Humility, Stability and Hospitality, I have reclaimed some pastoral room in my life for things that might not fit in my previous doctrinal fences and dogmatic boxes. "Obedience" to the Lord,  chiefly through a commitment to follow the Rule of  the order. "Humility" to trust God to know what He doing within the community to which one has committed himself or  herself. "Stability" to remain committed to the community and the rule, even though some or much of what is  going on in the community may seem questionable or unpleasant. "Hospitality" to see Jesus even in the person who might seem least like Him. This, in practice, is a very Christ-like way of life. Obedience, Humility, Stability, Hospitality. I thought seriously about becoming a Benedictine Oblate (non-cloistered adherant to  a Benedictine community). But as I prayed through it, I came to the conclusion that I should be an "oblate" (poured-out offering) to my commmunity at St.  George's Episcopal  Church, which is committed to  the larger community of ECUSA and the worldwide Anglican Communion. You can begin to see how "leaving", despite contradictions and even theological differences, might be less and less a part of my vocabulary, and "stability" might provide an atmosphere of safety and dignity among every human being.

A parishioner who has explored Benedictine spirituality with me came to  see me  in my office some months back. He comes from a decidedly evangelical and conservative tradition. He said, "This blessing of same-sex unions would be a deal-breaker for me. I do not agree with it, and doubt that I ever will. But because of the discipline of Benedictine Stability, I want you to know that I am pledged to this community (congregation), and therefore I will remain. " This is evidence of true transformation. He has been doing his inner work, and has concluded that he can trust God to work for his good, even through the "infidel" and the "heretic" (my words, not his...a figure of speech, not an accusation). It reminds me of a book by J.B Phillips that my mother gave me when I was 12: Your God is Too Small.

So let's just say that I have been too lenient on Bishop Jefferts-Schori. Let's assume that she really is an equivocating "heterodox" with a watered-down christology and a weak view on the authority of scripture. If that were true, and I don't think that  it is (I feel that her words have been twisted and that she has been vilified unfairly), I made a vow to God within the context of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. My understanding of "Stability" asks my heart,  "Can you trust God to be God even in a place of what some people call "darkness"? Is there any place where God refuses to be present? Would  you dare take  it  upon yourself to  make that call?"

Next installment: Jesus' high-priestly prayer.


  1. Always love reading these things, often they teach me how to ACT more like christ and through your illustrations, give your experience of how you have used different tools to stay in tune with God. The last paragraph really poses a tough question that leads to inflection and has forced an answer that is hard to admit so thank you for sharing.

  2. Since all this division hit our Christian community I can't help but think that it all seems like who are you going to follow, him or her. I do believe most folks are really trying to follow the right teachings of Christ but with that becoming the main focus or dealbreaker for some it really is amounting to following the teacher rather than disciples following the Lord. The quality of one teacher wouldn't dissuade me from going to a particular school. If something was systematically wrong with the school its better to confront the situation than to leave the problem for someone else to deal with. Granted, fixing a systematic problem is not easy and will take a long time.