My sermon last Sunday--from Philippians 3--was an invitation to my congregation to allow themselves to be distracted by the "upward call of God in Christ Jesus," such that the suffering we inevitably encounter is understood as an opportunity to share the sufferings of Christ, being made like him in a death like his, so that we may--you guessed it--also share his glory.
At the time, I was afflicted with a problematic right ear--an off and on concern for more than a year--but since then it has turned into the Mother of All Ear Infections. If you look at me from one angle, I look normal, but from the other side, I look like Dumbo with a bad sunburn. I'm on industrial strength antibiotics, and all should be well, my doctor informs me, by midday on Saturday.
We'll see. In the meantime, it looks like I have a chance, as they say, to practice what I preach. Suffering with Christ sounds so...well...spiritual. Even mystical. Coping with an angry ear? The best I can say about it is that it's mundane, and I could certainly think of less genteel characterizations. Yet, it is precisely here, at the nexus of the spiritual and the physical, that God shows up and does what he does.
Obviously, there are those--millions upon millions--who suffer way more than what's been given me to put up with. Yet, I have to believe that even my nasty but hopefully transitory ear problem, when offered in union with the cross of Christ, is one of the fibers in the strand by which God redemptively reweaves the fabric of this fallen universe.
Such is the backdrop, then, of my day, which began with a 9 AM meeting--in Fresno, 130 miles from my home--with the Bishop and the other Rural Deans of the Diocese of San Joaquin. (If you don't already know what a Rural Dean is--trust me, you probably don't need to.) The rule is that what's said in those meetings stays in those meetings, but if you were to surmise that we talked about the state of All Things Anglican and Episcopal, and the future of the diocese within that matrix, you would be exercising common sense.
At 11, we joined with the other priests and deacons of the diocese for the annual Mass of Chrism, wherein we all renewed our ordination vows, and the Bishop consecrated oils for use in anointing the sick (yes, I had him use some on my ear immediately after the service), and at baptisms and confirmations. There was a good turnout of clergy, and it was a splendid liturgy. Viewed from one angle, this group of clergy gathered around their bishop looked eminently normal, the church doing what it's supposed to do in announcing to the world the inbreaking kingdom of God. But, just as with me and my infected ear, viewed from the other side, it was anything but normal. It was an event that took place in a miasma comprised of an amalgam of fear, uncertainty, anger, suspicion, mistrust, and grief--both actual and anticipatory--as we know ourselves to be the very seam at which the fabric of the ecclesial infrastructure that, in truly normal times, we simply take for granted, is in the process of being rent asunder.
God has joined us together, and we are being rent asunder nonetheless, and nobody wants to take the blame and everybody's finger is pointed away from themselves. Now, I really do get annoyed when any members of a conflicted organism purport to portray themselves as "moderate," because to do so is to claim the moral high ground, because anyone who holds another position is, by unspoken but logically implied necessity, an extremist. It's a polemical tool, a political ploy. So, don't take what I'm about to say as a claim that I am a "moderate" or "in the middle of the road." I'm not. By Anglican standards, I'm a conservative.
However, I do have some complaints about those who, while perhaps not extremists, are in, shall we say, more entrenched positions closer to the poles. I'll start with my own team. I find that my stomach acid starts flowing much more freely when my confreres use language like "The Episcopal Church/815/the national church said/did/believes 'x'." Whatever 'x' is, that is a way too sweeping generalization. The truth is never that simple. Demonizing our opponents makes it easy to pander to ourselves, to justify our own behavior. Yes, there are some Episcopalians, even some in high leadership positions, who really do hold views that are heretical, who are clueless about what the gospel of Jesus Christ actually is. But there are a whole lot more who, while holding tragically mistaken views on hot-button issues, sincerely intend and desire to be loyal disciples of the risen Lord Jesus, in whom they believe with all their hearts as they say the creed without crossing their fingers. Those who know ourselves to be orthodox do ourselves no favors by turning a blind eye to this fact. Yes, acknowledging it would complicate the decisions that face us. But anything else would be to abet a delusion.
Eyes left now. There's an equal need for a strong dose of humility and charity among those who style themselves progressives. Those holding power in an institution will invariably use its organizational infrastructure--in our case, the constitution and canons--to bolster their own position and defeat their opponents. I've been excoriated (mostly on HoB/D) for using the expression "canonical fundamentalism," but I am convinced it exists and is alive and well among diocesan bishops, Executive Council, and the officers of General Convention. Canons are applied rigorously--even imaginatively in some cases--when doing so helps consolidate the power of those already holding it, yet leniency is applied when strictness would put them at a disadvantage. One does not need to look very far to find parishes that openly invite the unbaptized to Holy Communion, and freely emend Prayer Book texts to suit their ideololical proclivities. There is a clear and rampant double standard that robs claims that "we must follow the canons" of any integrity.
That's enough for tonight. My ear hurts and I need to give it a hydrogen peroxide bath and grease it up with antibiotic ointment, plus other things better left undescribed.
Stay tuned for some comments on the recently-retired Bishop of Albany's decision to swim the Tiber.