Nonetheless, I do try to be optimistic. I really do. I keep telling myself that maybe I haven't read enough of her published works, or listened to enough of her interviews. Maybe there's a key somewhere that would help me "translate" her public pronouncements on the gospel of Christ, the theology of the Church, and the shared life of the Christian community into something that would strike a chord with my own understanding of those subjects. We're both Episcopalians, after all, both Anglicans. We're both members of "this Church." There must be some small measure of common ground we can stand on. Why does it feel like she's speaking a foreign language? Surely I must not be trying hard enough!
So when I saw that her 2008 Easter Message had been published, I was briefly hopeful. Maybe this would be it, I thought to myself. Maybe she will proclaim the Paschal Mystery in some way that will make me want to exclaim, "Amen!"
My hope was short-lived. Here is what she said:
Your Easter celebration undoubtedly has included lots of physical signs of new life -- eggs, flowers, new green growth. As the Easter season continues, consider how your daily living can be an act of greater life for other creatures. How can you enact the new life we know in Jesus the Christ? In other words, how can you be the sacrament, the outward and visible sign, of the grace that you know in the resurrected Christ? How can your living let others live more abundantly?
The Judaeo-Christian tradition has been famously blamed for much of the current environmental crisis, particularly for our misreading of Genesis 1:28 as a charge to "fill the earth and subdue it." Our forebears were so eager to distinguish their faith from the surrounding Canaanite religion and its concern for fertility that some of them worked overtime to separate us from an awareness of "the hand of God in the world about us," especially in a reverence for creation. How can we love God if we do not love what God has made?
We base much of our approach to loving God and our neighbors in this world on our baptismal covenant. Yet our latest prayer book was written just a bit too early to include caring for creation among those explicit baptismal promises. I would invite you to explore those promises a bit more deeply -- where and how do they imply caring for the rest of creation?
We are beginning to be aware of the ways in which our lack of concern for the rest of creation results in death and destruction for our neighbors. We cannot love our neighbors unless we care for the creation that supports all our earthly lives. We are not respecting the dignity of our fellow creatures if our sewage or garbage fouls their living space. When atmospheric warming, due in part to the methane output of the millions of cows we raise each year to produce hamburger, begins to slowly drown the island homes of our neighbors in the South Pacific, are we truly sharing good news?
The food we eat, the energy we use, the goods and foods we buy, the ways in which we travel, are all opportunities -- choices and decisions -- to be for others, both human and other. Our Christian commitment is for this -- that we might live that more abundant life, and that we might do it in a way that is for the whole world.
Abundant blessings this Easter, and may those blessings abound through the coming days and years.
What makes it so frustrating to read and digest and try to comment on this and others of her statements is that there's nothing particularly untrue about what she says. Who can argue that environmental pollution and human-induced (or human-enhanced, at any rate) global warming are good things? Who has any desire to drive Pacific Islanders out of their homes?! What's not to like about trying to become a better sacramental sign of new life in Christ?
So it isn't so much what she says that I find troublesome. It's what she fails to say. It's the apparent reduction of the good news of Easter to "let's eat less hamburger so we don't make our 'neighbors' who live on islands homeless"--or, for that matter, the reduction of the good news of Easter to any moral exhortation, no matter how good and worthy it may be.
The truth of the Paschal Mystery is infinitely more bracing, infinitely more penetrating, infinitely more challenging, and infinitely more satisfying to the universal hunger of the human heart than any hortatory moralizing. The truth of the Paschal Mystery is about blood and guts and sweat and tears and passion; it's about the death of the innocent bringing life to the guilty (and if you so much as ate a baby carrot with your lunchtime salad today, you participated in that reality). It's about ancient curses and ancient promises and waiting in a dark tomb for the New Fire to be lit. It's about getting naked and being reborn in the amniotic fluid of the font, the womb of the Church, and it's about eating flesh and drinking blood and taking possession of the life of the one whose flesh you eat and whose blood you drink.
This is strong medicine for the radical alienation and suffering that afflict the human race. What we have been offered by our Primate and Chief Pastor, on the other hand, is very thin gruel indeed for a world that is starving for meaning, purpose, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, community, and hope--hope in this world and hope in the world to come.
Many voices have shouted that Katharine Jefferts Schori is a heretic. I do not for a moment believe that. The pronouncements of heretics have substance. They have appeal. They have enough truth to be tantalizing--indeed, they very often embody almost the complete fullness of truth, save for one important detail (the proverbial iota). Nope, Katharine Jefferts Schori is no heretic.