Monday, February 20, 2012

Living/Dancing/Dreaming- A Hopeful Lent

There’s a informal ongoing/sometimes conversation- largely by e-mail between the four of us- which has been going on for some time now.

For me, the whole thing began when I posted a comment in defense of a blogger who’d suggested that the concept of heresy was an outdated administrative tool of a medieval patriarchy: that in this complex day and age no one should be tossing such heavy terms around; that situations, which in the past might have raised even a suggestion of the old ‘h’ word should now be occasions for dialogue.

Unfortunately that wasn’t quite the consensus of his readers. So many of the comments posted in response accused the author himself of heresy I began to question their seriousness- or sanity.

When I wrote in his support the vitriol only got more agitated- and deflected towards me. One sentence in particular, suggesting that in complex times such as these one sometimes had to remind oneself that the ‘corporate Church’ and the Living Body of Christ are not necessarily always the same reality.

In the blink of an eye the original issue was brushed aside in the rush to take me on. For the better part of twenty-four hours the comments fell over themselves expressing themselves on my suggestion. And then, just as quickly, the whole thing fizzled when someone reminded the cohort that I’m Anglican. A ‘post-Anglican-anglican’ I tried explaining to the by-then deserted venue, but I’m not sure anyone appreciated the distinction.

Unfortunately since then the original author, a thoughtful academic, who has taken some risks for the integrity of his personal discernment has since given up blogging.

Once the dust had settled however, there was this loose fellowship of caring and sharing- principally by e-mails between four of us.

For more than a year, our exchanges were largely an exploration of the transformative potential within the current distress and deterioration the institutional church is undergoing in so many quarters. One contributor brought a really interesting re-working of much of recent history in the Church of Rome and Anglican-land, citing Macculloch, and Butler Bass’ ‘A People’s History of Christianity. Then last year, during what turned out to be a rather challenging and interesting Lent for me personally, I overheard an interview on Canada’s public broadcaster with J.S. Spong, who once again spoke of the need for ‘Christian spiritual maturity,’ a term which has become the defining context of our ongoing exchanges.

Please, don’t misunderstand our fellowship: our exchanges are anything but doom and gloom- far from it. On the contrary. Diminishing average Sunday attendance and membership rolls might be the occasion for panic, the objectification and on-going condemnation of secular society in some quarters; the four of us however essentially see these as indications that even within the Church, much of humanity is slowly working/feeling/dreaming itself out of the straight-jacket of patriarchy, homophobia and misogyny among other things.

One or the other of the two Anglicans in our group may occasionally sigh (mea culpa) over the latest antics of Canterbury or York, and one or the other of our number will invariably challenge us, ‘hey what about transformative process?’

And then this week there were the press over Ms. Diana Butler Bass’ latest: ‘Religion After Christianity,’ and a post by ‘our Elizabeth’ that I have already suggested would serve as a keynote reflection for a lot of us as we approach yet another Lent.

So why am I posting about either of these hopeful events?

A theme which has been central to each of the issues and exchanges between the four of us has been the church that the Holy Spirit is calling us to become in, through and in spite of all of the regrettable media the ‘official Church’ too often continues to garner.

‘I can’t help but wonder where this is all leading,’ one of our number dared only ask once. ‘Will there even be a Church of the future?’

But here’s where it gets really hopeful- because ever since my initial comment to that blog post on heresey, the four of us insist on working within a paradigm which strives to distinguish the hopeful differences between the living Body of Christ at work and the public persona of the corporate Church, but to also celebrate the occasions when they actualize as a common reality.

By common agreement the Church of the future, not 'the future of the Church' is our working reality.

And it is in this context I welcome and celebrate both of these new arrivals.

No, I have not read Ms. Butler Bass’ latest. With my ever-diminishing fiscal resources and the very real threat of losing our tiny house my book-buying days are a distant memory. I do, however know Ms. Butler Bass’ previous work, the thoroughness of her research and the thoughtfulness of her conclusions.

And as to ‘our Elizabeth’s’ work: it’s integrity, passionate humanity and her love of our tradition- there are few who can match her for the integrity and quality of the work she does on her blog during these confusing/frustrating/awesomely-transformative times in our tradition.

That both of these contributors to the on-going life of the Body of Christ are women gladdens my queer/feminist heart more than you can imagine.

As one of our number in the discerning fellowship I mentioned earlier suggested recently, what the four of us are essentially doing is praying/living/dreaming ourselves into the Church of the future. And that’s exciting!

As another online friend K.- the former Zen priest and cherished sangha buddy keeps reminding me, 'Anglican-land is where it’s really happening', and the Holy Spirit’s the ‘best dance in town.’ So do yourself a favor, check out our Elizabeth’s post before you even consider your personal version of the pancakes and ashes thing this Lent, and get Ms. Butler Bass’s latest as you keep living/dancing/ dreaming your way into the future of the Body of Christ.

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