Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Some days... 2012

Some days it can be a real mindful breath-by-breath practice the far side of any good reason not to give up and just walk away.

I’m talking about our Church here- our denomination, our Communion. The institution rather than the living reality of being a member of the Body of Christ.

Over the holidays there was a painful call from C., a life-long Anglican, who only since the death of her husband has she really found her own place within our tradition ‘as a living/loving/reading and critical-thinking Anglican'. Only to find it all seriously threatened by the ‘latest hi-jinks’ of their interim rector.

Last fall he was seriously uncomfortable with a suggestion the Bible Study Group study Ehrman’s ‘Jesus Interrupted.’ But this- this latest...’ Christmas night, through tears she told me over the phone that probably for the first time in her 68 years she’d missed Christmas midnight mass in her home parish. Instead she’d surprised one of her granddaughters and the granddaughter’s partner by joining them at the local MCC service.

Just days before the feast of the Incarnation, there’d been another pain-filled, long-distance conversation with L., a pastor I’ve been in fellowship with for several months now. Last summer L. had felt he could no longer live with the 'hollowness and patent in-authenticity' of his current charge. Strangely enough, he is currently on sabbatical, living in another city and worshiping with a ‘rather unusual’ Episcopalian congregation' and exploring Zen practice. It was through the latter community L. was put in touch with me; by one of my on-line sangha friends who thought L. might benefit from contact with a fellow Christian practitioner.

For L., being away from parish ministry this Christmas ‘broke me. I’ve never before felt so unnecessary in my whole life. But the miracle of the Incarnation has never been more real, more raw or more immediate.’ L. ended up spending Christmas Eve bundled up outdoors, walking under the stars-‘weeping myself into what appears to be something new.’ L. ended up making his Christmas communion at the 8a.m. Eucharist, Christmas Day, and tells me though he has no idea where all this might be leading he’s never felt more alive.

Not untouched by recent events, I admit my own Christmas practice this year, like that of many others was on what might aptly be described as pretty rocky ground. The images and accounts of the Duarte Park arrests, preceded by TWS’ inability or refusal to meet or negotiate with the occupiers- even with the generous offer of the good offices of Bishop Packard resonated only too painfully for me with memories of the shameful treatment of the Occupy London demonstrators; the prophetic sacrifice of Father Gilles Fraser; and St Paul’s embarrassing concerns over their ‘lost revenue.’

One of the wealthiest parishes in the world and a landmark cathedral- extra-ordinarily wealthy itself; the one resorting to property law, the other worrying about its tourist revenue, while the purple shirts of Lambeth continue to threaten us all with the greatest-misnomer-yet in this century - a game plan to impose their own Vatican-like reign of punnishment & enforcement. Hard as I try, it’s beyond me to find even the slightest suggestion of the Body of Christ alive and at work in any of this.

For me personally, all this recent self-inflicted bruising of Anglican credibility resonated with my memories of another recent date of Anglican ignominy- during the 2008 Lambeth Conference. July 27, 2008: when at great expense, the primates, bishops, their wives and conference retainers were all bussed up to London for a... camera opportunity. A millennial march to end poverty. The march, which lasted minutes short of an hour, but which was followed by a leisurely day: first, luncheon in the garden of the Archbishop’s London palace, and then afternoon tea with Her Majesty the Queen on the grounds of Buckingham Palace. As if the obscenely-expensive rental of the ‘big blue tent’ were not indicator enough of the hollow irrelevancy Lambeth 2008 would turn out to be, there was the spectacle of the London ‘camera-opp.’

And then today, as if we needed further proof of the of Canterbury’s ambitions, there’s his not-so-good friend Bennie of St. Peter’s proclaiming myself and many of those I love 'a threat to the future of humanity.’ Of course the Pope also went on to pontificate on poverty, and social and economic injustice- all while seated on a guilded throne, dressed in the obscenely expensive costume of a medieval prince, sporting a gold ring of office which would probably feed several developing-world families for at least a year.

I hadn’t shared any of this with C. when she called; she’d brought enough to the table. ‘Why stay? Why do you event bother trying,’ her anger and pain as obvious as her challenge.

Drawing a deep breath, I told her I wanted to tell her a story:

A couple of years ago, a ‘power player’ in both the local diocese and national church asked me to accompany her to a local function: a whiskey-tasting at one of the downtown churches. Essentially a rather poorly attended fundraiser, I think she was offering the experience as well-intentioned proof of...... something or other.

Shortly after we arrived the Rector came rushing over to our table, to 'talk Church’ with my host. Eventually I was introduced, only to be immediately asked: ‘Oh, are you Anglican?’

Hesitating, out of fear of offending this priest who I respect for her work of the local refugee committee among other things, I eventually admitted to being a post-Anglican-anglican.

I’m not sure the description even registered. She certainly didn’t need to know any more- ‘Oh, one of those,’ and she was off.

‘Just like that protestant minister, who wrote complaining about how she was exhausted and fed-up with people who told her they were spiritual but not religious?’ C. suggested.'Why stay? Why even bother?'

Bottom line for me? The radical, reality-shifting truth of the Incarnation and the fact that no matter how big a mess and embarrassment the purple shirts of our own denomination or the gang of St. Peters may make of it, the Church is not theirs.

Long before the first stone of patriarchal ‘official Christianity’ had been laid, Ruach- the Holy Spirit was calling us- and continues to call- us into the living reality of being members of the Living Body of Christ, here and now.

So no matter how tragically irrelevant; embarrassingly ridiculous; insulting; threatening or disingenuously manipulative the gate-keepers of ‘official Christianity’ might be at times, this is why I still bother. That and because of the endless possibilities within the sacred-tension beneath Hooker’s three-legged stool.

Tonight, however three of the finest priests I know of are very much on my heart. All three of them have, within the last two years paid extremely high prices for the integrity of their priesthood. E., in an unseasonably-early retirement; L., waiting on the Spirit to find out where she is to serve next; and blessed M., happily, after much suffering and loss about to head out to serve in one of the most challenging corners of her nation.

That day at Duarte Park, there were also, among many others two other priests of our church: Michael+ Sniffen and John+ Merz along with +George Packard and his truly remarkable wife.

As a Montrealer I’m allowed to reference Leonard-the-Cohen: the cracks that let the light through however doesn’t quite cover it. Radiant, shining embodiments of the living truth of our collective vocation to live into the reality of being members in the Body of Christ each of these beings. Prophets in a 'not-for-prophet Church' which has yet to learn our Church was never called to be an end-in-itself, but rather the mid-wife to ‘life more abundantly’ Spirit unceasingly calls us all to.

Which I guess brings to another reason for ‘still bothering:’ my deep and hopeful sense that perhaps as never before, our Church- THE CHURCH has a lot to learn. And as frightening as that might be at times, none of us are alone in this, TBTG.