On Mottos, Part 1

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The question whether we should keep our diocesan motto, “we are Resurrection people” came up recently.  My first reaction was “of course”- who wants to suggest we aren’t?  My second was a query. Why that sentence and not another: “we are atonement people,” or “we are justification people,” or “we are Gospel people,” or “we are mission people,” etc.  Those are true as well. 

This led to a third thought, that mottos are judgments that, at this time, in this situation, this is what needs most to be heard.  I thought of other sentences we might have picked (and plan to list them in my next blog), each also speaking into our moment as traditional Christians in the Anglican tradition in this post-modern circumstance. 

The marketers know their business, as I have been reminded by sitting in on sessions with one of the pros recently. They would say that mottos should communicate immediately. If you have to explain you’ve lost: “just do it” with the swoosh doesn’t need a commentary.  By contrast Biblical symbols are amazingly fecund and of the making of commentaries on them there is no end!  That is a sign of their truth.  But that density of meaning also implies that they can be misunderstood, as that teller of parables Jesus of Nazareth was. 

My fourth reaction was that the folks who decided on “resurrection” did well, as this symbol is particularly suited to being a summary of the whole Biblical message. How economically that one sentence can entail a thousand pages of sacred text is remarkable!  But a great deal more must be said.

Finally, and fifthly, we should retain our motto because we are Anglicans in the Prayer Book tradition. Cranmer’s genius was to keep as much as possible, changing only what the truthful communication of the Gospel required. His was an ethos of conservation. The new regime going and changing everything around willfully was what was wrong with that era of our history, and ours too!

Peace,

+GRS

Moving On

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In recent news, we behold again extraordinary events in Iran, as we did eight years ago during the Green Revolution that protested election results and presaged the Arab Spring. In their grassroots nature and spontaneous beginnings these are classic cases of movements as opposed to programs promoted by institutions.  In our culture, though we have relatively strong institutions, with its trend to distrust institutions, such movements are particularly admired. 

Our ecclesial context is very, very different, but we would like to recast ourselves as a movement, so as to benefit from this popular perception. This gains some credence from studies of early Christianity as a movement, though we need to be somewhat leery of the desire to leapfrog backwards to that early period. 

My goal here is simply to reflect on this recasting. I suspect it is trying to finesse several things. First some want to emphasize the salvation-related claims about Jesus, while others would emphasize his prophetic teaching mainly. “Movement” talk is meant to appeal to both by a certain ambiguity. Given our Presiding Bishop's strong statements about reclaiming salvation and resurrection language, I do not think he wishes to put the traditional claims on the back- burner, but others well might. 

Secondly, as I mentioned above, is the discomfort with institutions particularly among the young. “Movement” talk soft pedals the dimension of being a shrinking mainline denomination. No one confesses faith in an institution and so is saved - agreed!  But behind our talk is also anxiety about the institution on the part of us who are responsible for it. Self-knowledge and candor are good New Year's resolutions. 

The important thing is to make sure the communal, personal, experiential, and hence ephemeral are connected to the concrete and the on-going. That's a big reason we have a Church, “until He returns.” Perhaps the key word to contrast with “institution,” in addition to “movement,” is “practice.” It implies ordered acts we do together as a community over time, laden with doctrinal claims, and invested with our own pious and personal meanings. Their renewal, their rediscovery, their implications, are their own kind of revolution.  

Peace,

+GRS

 

 

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