Thinking About Parties

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 A distant relative, Mary Sumner was the founder of the Mother's Union. Meanwhile  her brother-in-law, John Sumner, Archbishop of Canterbury, was busy in lawsuits over...issues of “high” and “low church, one of the great fractures of the 19th century Church. (Sumner was on the “low” team.) What were those battles over?

Sometimes a fight at least means people take the issues involved seriously. And in this case those were first of all sacramental. All agreed upon the great affirmations of the creeds. All agreed that something momentous happened by the hand of God in baptism and Holy Communion. They disagreed in the degree to which one should see that work through our faith on the one hand and the elements on the other. Still for none was the key issue, at least originally, a stylistic one.

There was a second issue at stake, related to the first. What are we to make of bishops -- a legitimate question indeed! The immediate issue was how to understand apostolic succession (though, again, all agreed our faith needed to be rooted in the witness of the apostles).  But deeper still was the issue of how distinct the church was from that of the state. The presenting issue was the selection of bishops by Parliament.

Today the division of high and low does not define our life in the same way. There is a new generation who would define themselves in fact as “evangelical catholics”! (Whatever theological questions this may generate, it also represents a working definition of Anglicanism itself). What does this inherited distinction leave us as a legacy? First of all, both sought to retrieve the apostolic tradition in the modern era. Secondly, the need to distinguish the church from state and culture becomes yet more acute. Thirdly, the very concept of comprehensiveness, itself a subject of debate, was influenced by the era of church parties in the 19th Century. In all three of these ways, even in a new era, these Episcopal sub-identities still matter for our church's future welfare.



The New Sabbath

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When I was a seminarian almost 40 years ago at Yale Divinity Scbool, the star on the faculty was Henri Nouwen. I enjoyed listening to him, but a course centered on silence did not play to my strong suit, shall we say. Years later I heard from a Trappist that when he was on his yearlong retreat to Genesee monastery, he would talk to friends after dinner via the guesthouse phone until his privileges were withdrawn by the abbot. He was ADD too, and searched most for what he felt he had least, like all the rest of us. It was comforting, I must admit, and made him to less a remarkable person.

As the least likely messenger, I am perhaps the right person to offer a word about keeping Sabbath. To be sure, there were debates about its specifics in our tradition. Anglicans, for example, in contradistinction from Puritans, allowed games on the village green on Sunday; play was a form of rest (what they would have made of the NFL, however, is another question!) There was a similar debate among missionaries in east Africa, which we recall, about working in your garden. But for all Christians, including Episcopalians/Anglicans, until recently, it was a given that Sunday should have a different feel than other days. Until fairly recently, returning to Church for evensong, after Church in the morning and family dinner, was standard operating procedure.  

All of this comes to mind after reading an article by Andrew Sullivan, formerly of the New Republic, about his struggle to overcome an addiction to internet, phone, etc. He claims that the besetting sin of our time is not hedonism, as many claim, but distraction (I would have said obsession with ourselves undergirds both). In such a world, he predicts, restaurants may soon market themselves as places where there isn’t WIFI. In such a world there is surely an evangelistic opening for the rediscovery of silence as a part of Christian contemplation. And in a world where we eat together less, race our children around more, etc. the Sabbath will come to be crucial too.

Of course the Lord God did not institute the Sabbath to ease our jangled nerves. He created it so that we would worship Him, and in so doing come to be what we were created to be. But as with all apologetic and evangelistic matters, the latter is not totally unrelated to how Sabbath would be good for us. But its purpose in putting God first must remain first in our minds.

All this is a special challenge to those of us who work on the Christian Sabbath. It affects how we rethink Sunday as ‘work.’ It must drive us to find some analogue elsewhere in our week. For those of us quiet-challenged the modest first step is good - a discipline of deliberate quiet, even ten minutes in our day. Therein we recollect ourselves, and in so doing have a space to recollect God who is with and among us, the God who calls us to be ‘silent and recall that He is God.’



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Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.