Being Patient

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The new technology at its worst offers Too Much Information in too many ways. On Facebook we learn what people ate for breakfast; a first-rate blog recently had a short jag in which older male participants shared about their hernias. From such things abstract theology is a relief! Into the same category falls undergoing a (routine) medical test, and I mention it only because of what it underscores: passivity. Go to the doctor, have your vitals taken, get wheeled down the hall, where they make you woozy with a quick injection: in the kindest of ways, we are in the medical world one on which things are done. By our agreement to be sure, agency is theirs, not ours. And we chafe at this, not least because we live in an individualist and activist American society. Passivity is good for us, but then, so is a root canal – it raises, in small cases and large, questions about human personhood.

When I was in seminary I was given an excellent little book written by Anglican priest, W.H.Vanstone, titled The Stature of Waiting. He reflects on mundane examples of passivity, of being-subject-to, and relates it to words such as ‘passion/passive/patient’ and ‘suffer’ (both in the sense of feeling pain and undergoing something). Most of all he argues that our dignity, our ‘stature,’ is most revealed in what we undergo, and toward what or whom we endure life.  

I believe that this sense of our humanity found in ‘patience’ in its full sense has a theological dimension as well. Our Lord is never more active and powerful, we believe, than when he submits to our condition and undergoes His death, that proves saving. Likewise, we receive that news, and that salvation, and in no way enact it. This is hard to assimilate, and those whose lives are more disabled and undergone are important witnesses to the whole Body about the nature of that salvation. As theologians, likewise, we receive the tradition of faith, and do not create it, as the modern fallacy would have it. This too is hard for us to take in. An obvious example is preaching, where we are enjoined to seek an illuminating example or winsome appeal, but are not meant, first of all, to be original - as we receive, so we pass on. (A good account of this way of thinking of theology may be found in Reinhard Huetter’s Suffering Divine Things.)       

All this is a touch ironic, since a bishop easily, and in many ways rightly, encourages energy, new efforts and engagement. For just this reason, in the season when we wait, and when we will soon hear of a family displaced, fleeing, surprised by a birth seemingly imposed, watching the suffering of the innocent, we do well to recall our spiritual stance of receiving, closer as it is to our true nature.



Pre-game Analysis for the Primates' Bowl

Dear Brothers and Sisters, greetings in Christ.
This is an important week in the life of the Anglican Communion, the meeting of the primates of all the member churches to address our frayed relations. I am sure there will be more to say once we know the outcome, which at present is very murky.  There has been a great deal of speculation: will It be the beginning of a demotion of the status of TEC? Or conversely the renegotiating of the communion into more of a federation? What role will Canterbury choose to play in it all?
At this moment I want to assume more the role of one of those commentators before the big game - they suggest something to keep your eye on, the pass rush of one team or the running game of the other.
Here is an important question we might ask ourselves: what exactly do we mean by 'communion'? We might speak of 'impaired communion' or 'sharing communion.'  About what exactly are we speaking and about whom are we speaking? Somewhere along the way these will be important questions, and they have a bearing on ecclesiology itself, on what we imagine the Church to be.
While 'communion' might refer to various things, here at least are three.  First there is the relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. This was key in the historical development of the sister national and regional churches we now find. It was the ABC after all who first gathered all the bishops of the Anglican world to Lambeth in the face of controversy in 1867.  (It is worth noting that this relation has constitutional weight in our church).  Secondly there are the means of taking council together as a communion which have grown up over the years. These 'instruments of unity' comprise different means by which they can consider discipline and participation.  Who can go to the Conference or to the Anglican Consultative Council are questions which have been debated over the past decade.  Thirdly, there is the question, more literally of who may have communion among whom.  Now we as a church take an easier approach to who may take communion than who may preside at communion- we give Methodists communion but don't let their ministers celebrate. So this sense of 'communion' involves more local, case-by-case judgments. For example the church in the South Sudan recently stated that it considered itself out of communion with TEC, but still in communion with a diocese like Dallas.
My point is simply this: since 'communion' means several things, it might be that there could be multiple effects of the present deliberations. One could, for example, be at once 'in communion' with Canterbury, separated from the councils of the church, and yet locally still 'in communion' with a variegated group of churches of various stripes. What boxing calls a 'split decision' is quite possible. We shall have to wait and see.
All of this is a working out of what the late bishop Stephen Sykes called 'dispersed authority.' Whom we answer to and how is varied. This is at once our strength and our weakness. Authority is also, by no accident, the Achilles heel of postmodern Western culture.
In the midst of it all it is good to remember that in normative, 'mere' Christianity, authority is ultimately lodged with Jesus Christ himself, witnessed to by the canonical Scriptures and read in keeping with the creeds. Ecclesial struggles matter. But on this rock even frayed communion can be rewoven.

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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.