Monday, June 20, 2016

Michael Ramsey: Fret not, only believe

In a recent post I listed some of my Anglican mentors. I have subsequently had reason to revisit some of the writing of one of them. I came across something I think is worth sharing:

The Christian gospel is largely concerned with the issue of fretting and not fretting. We live in a fretting world, and the gospel can be paraphrased "fret not, only believe".
. . .

There is certainly much to fret about. In the world there are ugly and frightening spectres; the contrasts of affluence and poverty; racial conflict mounting higher; the drift of the Western democracies into spiritual aimlessness. Who would not fret with these spectres at the door? Not only the world but the Church as an institution makes you fret. Many, I know, find it difficult to serve it with happy contentment. Sometimes it frets by its old-fashionedness, its inability to reform itself, its shirking of challenging issues. And sometimes it frets in the opposite way: by a seeming loss of historic values, by a playing down of the supernatural, by a concern to be "with it". If we are ourselves conceited, we fret about what others in the Church are doing or not doing in a "we and they" superiority; if we are humble, we include ourselves within the criticism. In either case, we may fret; and a kind of nervous fretting can bedevil the Church's life. So the world may fret you, the Church may fret you, and there will be the frettings of a more personal kind always round the corner. Tiredness, monotony, staleness, the small results which seem to come from immense expenditure of labour. So, all in all, there will be times when you find yourself saying, "Who will show us any good?"

So a mist comes to hide from your awareness some of the realities in which you believe: sin and judgement, mercy and joy. The answer is drawn from the scriptures, from our divine Lord, from the lives of the saints, and from your own experience as a Christian. The answer is a deep, sparkling well of truth, which is Christ himself, and from it our fears are washed away and our thirsty spirits are refreshed.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Response to the Orlando Shooting

Again this past weekend we have been confronted with the evil and violence of human brokenness and sin as 49 people were killed and 53 injured by a gunman at an Orlando nightclub. According to those who knew him, the shooter appears to have been a troubled, angry man prone to violence. He was also given to angry anti-gay rhetoric. And he expressed a somewhat confused affinity for groups espousing violent versions of Islam.

There is no doubt this was a calculated terrorist attack. The groups with whom the attacker verbally aligned himself are evil perversions of Islam specializing in terror. While these groups represent a strain of "extremist" Islam, we need to be clear that they do not represent all of Islam or the majority Muslims.  And we need to be wary of responding to their violent rejection of all who differ with them with a similar rejection of those with whom we differ. We must counter their ideology and theology of death with an ideology and theology of life and peace (Romans 8:6).

There is also no doubt that it was not a random attack. It was a targeted attack against gay and lesbian people – people who are all too often the targets of physical violence and violent, disdainful rhetoric. We can give thanks that another attack apparently targeting a Gay Pride parade in Los Angeles was thwarted by police. But, we also need to recognize that the Orlando shooter did not need inspiration from foreign terrorists to conclude that the presence of gays and lesbians is somehow an egregious moral threat. Rhetoric like that is common enough in America – and in American churches. We need to find better ways to talk about and to one another, regardless of our convictions about human sexuality.

I suggest that the best way to respond to the Orlando shooting is with the basic Christian disciplines of hope, love, and peace.

Hope. If we have died with Christ in baptism with the promise of sharing in his resurrection, we have a hope stronger than life or death or anything in between. With St. Paul, we can live convinced that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). With that assurance, we can dare to live without fear, including without fear of those who are different from us or with whom we disagree.

Love. Free from fear, we are free to learn to love. The love Christians are called to practice is not a sentimental feeling, but a determination to die to self in order to make space for the other. It is the way of the cross that calls us to love even our enemies and those who wish us harm. And it is a love that challenges us to consider where we have hurt or offended others. Love seeks more to understand than to be understood. Love demands that we take care how we carry others in our hearts and on our tongues. How we think and talk to or about one another matters (Matthew 12:36; cf. Matthew 5:22, James 3:2-9, 1 John 4:20)

Peace. As with love, there is no sentimentality in following the way of the Prince of Peace – it is the clear-eyed determination to bless rather than curse, to seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34:13-14 & 1 Peter 3:8-22), and to not be conformed to this world, but transformed into a people who return good for evil (Romans 12). There have been mass killings in the United States inspired by violent strains of Islam. But, there have been more that had nothing to do with Islam or any foreign terrorist group. We need to come to terms with the violence of our society. We need to reconsider our own ready embrace of violence as a solution and the idea that if we all just armed ourselves more we would be safe. That is not the way of Jesus.

Hope, love, and peace are basic disciplines of the way of Jesus. Living lives of deep hope, love, and peace is our best and most faithful response to the violence and hate that represent conformity to this world – from without and from within. And they will prompt us to take action accordingly.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Why Anglican/Episcopalian? Mentors

My understanding of God, the world, and humanity has been formed and my imagination – which is another way of saying my capacity for faith, love, and wonder – has been shaped and expanded by several representatives of the Anglican way:

C. S.  Lewis
Charles Williams (friend of C. S. Lewis)
Dorothy Sayers (greatly influenced by C. Williams and a friend of Lewis)
Charles Gore ( an influence on Charles Williams)
Austin Farrer (theologian who preached at Lewis' funeral)

Other contemporary Anglican theologians I have read appreciatively are John Milbank, Sarah Coakley, Kathryn Tanner, and Mark McIntosh. And two contemporary converts to the Episcopal Church, Stanley Hauerwas and Miroslav Volf.

To that list of 20th century authors I would add these classic Anglican worthies:

From even further back (before the break with the Roman Catholic Church) I have been influenced by Julian of Norwich.

I am inspired and informed by representatives from other traditions  Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Reformed, Lutheran, etc.  but I have found myself most at home with these.

I have also been influenced by more personal mentors  Fr. Mark Dyer of Christ Church, Hamilton, MA (later Bishop Dyer of the Diocese of Bethlehem and later professor at Virginia Seminary while i as a student there) and Fr. Steve Ellis of St. Anne, Stockton, CA who helped restore my faith and instructed me toward confirmation in the Episcopal Church

They are in many ways a disparate group of folk who would not agree with each other on everything if could magically gather them together in one room. Buy, they share some common traits.

Each of them exhibits a commitment to what I've identified elsewhere as basic Anglican Values.

One way or another reading each of these authors evokes Christmas for me which is one of my basic tests for whether or not someone is onto something. They bear witness to the hope that now that Christmas has arrived in the coming of Jesus Christ there is the promise that we might be overcome by Christmas any time, any place, even in the midst of whatever winters we endure as we await the final Advent of the King. 

There is more to this sense of Christmas. There is in the writing of each an emphasis on the centrality of the Incarnation. The Incarnation, of course, includes the way of the cross and the crucifixion. But the Incarnation has rich purpose, meaning, and wonder in itself.

To varying degrees most of these mentors also bear witness to the goodness of being human in the midst of the splendor of God's good creation. As Richard Hooker wrote, "All things are of God (and only sin is not) have God in them and he them in himself likewise." There is goodness and beauty in humans and the all creation because God who created it all is Good and Beautiful.

I [Wisdom – traditionally identified with the Word who became flesh in Jesus] was daily [God’s] delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.
(Proverbs 8:30-31)

Consequently, they tend to hold to a sacramental appreciation of all created reality as having the potential of mediating the divine Presence.

At the same time, none of them is bashful about naming the reality of human sin and the very real sinfulness and brokenness in the world that corrupts the goodness of creation. They write of the need for atonement, redemption, and the hope of restoration.

Thus, in each is a serious engagement with spiritual disciplines that make for sanctification in the context of God's grace revealed in Jesus Christ.

Each is more or less an exponent of what Evelyn Underhill called 'practical mysticism':

“Therefore it is to a practical mysticism that the practical man is here invited: to a training of his latent faculties, a bracing and brightening of his languid consciousness, an emancipation from the fetters of appearance, a turning of his attention to new levels of the world. Thus he may become aware of the universe that the spiritual artist is always trying to disclose to the race. This amount of mystical perception–this 'ordinary contemplation', as the specialist call it–is possible to all men: without it, they are not wholly alive. It is a natural human activity.”

Nearly all of them represent a high church, catholic Anglican way of seeing things that draws abundantly from the deep well of Christian thought, practice, and worship.

For the most part they each express an expansive orthodoxy – solidly orthodox with an appreciative engagement with non-Christian ways of thinking and being (which is not the same thing as unChristian ways of thinking and being, which they are not shy about challenging both within and without the Church).

Each also holds to a typically Anglican reticence which is wary of claiming to know overmuch about God or God's ways. They accept that God has been revealed in Jesus Christ and the scriptures that bear witness to him, but each retains a posture of humility and awe in the presence of the untamed, wild God at the heart of it all who is, as Lewis says of Aslan, "Good, but not safe."

No doubt we could name other common themes, but these are the ones that occur to me at the moment. In any event, their themes and presentation of Christian faith resonate deeply and inspire me. I am an Anglican and Episcopalian partly because of these  and other 'GloriousCompanions'.