vendredi, décembre 22, 2006

Whom will you serve?

Back in college, when I was grappling with the implications of being newly baptized, I moved fluidly (more or less) in and out of different Christian communities, picking up valuable insights as I traveled. The Pentacostals taught me not to be wary of emotion in worship, while the St. Margaret Sisters helped me learn about the discipline of the divine office and the importance of waiting upon God. The village church of St. James and its unpretentious priest, Bill Wickham, welcomed me without fuss or fanfare and created a space where I could explore my calling. The liberal Protestant chaplain and professor, Joel Tibbetts and his first wife, Ginger, opened their home to me in good times and not so good ones. But the one tradition I didn't learn much about was Anabaptism-the pietistic sects of the radical reformation that were so often persecuted in their home countries and fled to American to find freedom to worship. Anabaptists, of course, believe in adult baptism-and also have a very wary view of secular authority. As I've observed this Administration's evident willingness to pitch American foreign policy as coming straight from the desk of the Almighty, I've wondered if perhaps I didn't have more in common with the pietists-who have often taken to civil disobedience to protest actions they believe to be immoral and unbiblical. Yesterday, at Colin's winter concert, I was ready to race to the first Mennonite congregation I could find and ask the pastor where I could sign up. Since Colin attends a public school, it was considered completely inappropriate to mention God, of course. But about three quarters of the way through the third grader's charming renditions of "Jingle Bells" and "Let there be peace on earth" a little guy came to the mike and piped up: "We are going to do this next set of songs to honor our Armed Forces defending our freedom in Iraq." There followed a selection of traditional flag-worshipping songs-another sign that in
America we can't tell the difference between the Lord of Heaven and Earth and a national symbol with 50 stars. The children did a wonderful job. They were applauded with great enthusiam by parents and grandparents who had brought their videocams to preserve the event for posterity. But as I stood, quietly boiling in the back of the gym, I wondered about the ongoing, pervasive, and troubling lesson of such an event-that for fear of offending someone's values, we must strip Christmas, and Chanukah and Ramadan of their spiritual roots. To do so, we seek the lowest common denominator, the hubristic idol worship of nationalism. So perhaps I'm not as Anabaptist as I thought. I believe there must be a safe place for dialogue about faith in the public schools-with the understanding that to talk about our traditions and diversity starts, but does not end, the conversation.

mardi, décembre 19, 2006

Lines in the sand

After the children are on their school buses and I have my early morning cup of strong British tea in hand, I get online and read the New York Times. You never know, when you open up the paper, what news will greet you. Often it is tragic, sometimes it is bizarre, occasionally touching. Now and then it is regrettable but entrancing-I must admit I've been avidly following the fall-out from the Knicks Madison Square Garden brawl with the Nuggets. Often the stories are distressing-but rarely are they personal. Over the past few days, though, I've been going around with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. When my denomination makes the front page of the newspaper, and the articles hit the top of the 'most blogged' list, it's not a good day for the Episcopal Church. Though it seems like a long time since the national church got good press, this week has been a particularly bad one. On Sunday, the congregations of two historic, large Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Virginia voted (along with some smaller Virginia churches) to leave the denomination and ally themselves with the Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola. The reason? Members of these suburban D.C. parishes, Truro and The Falls Church, thought that the Episcopal church had abandoned fidelity to Scripture and to church tradition by assenting to the consecration of an openly gay bishop and by winking and nodding at gay unions in various dioceses. Naturally, given the pragmatic and worldly politics practiced by all sides, the churches will fight tooth and claw to keep their extremely valuable real estate. It is particularly distressing that the Bishop of the diocese, the Rt. Rev. Peter Lee, is a moderate who had made many attempts to accomodate the conservative churches. Observing what occurred, liberals could wonder whether it is worth attempting to accomodate conservative congregations if the result is that they end up leaving, anyway. Evangelical and conservative congregations in other dioceses will probably be impelled to take another hard look at the cost of staying and to weigh them against the risks of leaving. One thing is for sure-the schism will proceed. And, in the end, this small denomination, whose governance modeled on the bicameral American legislature, may become a parable for what happens when men and women of good faith are deaf to the call of the Gospel for reconciliation, self-sacrifice and mutual forbearance. Katherine Jefferts Schori, the New Presiding Bishop, has her work cut out for her. Frankly, I would not want Archbishop Akinola for an enemy-the firebrand prelate is well acquainted with how to use power-and has no hesitation about deploying it. Time alone will tell if he is on the side of the angels-or just another power player who has convinced himself that he is God's chosen, the scourge of the West and preserver of the faith. Crusade, anyone?