A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
By Christopher Evans
Occasionally, I suffer from debilitating migraine headaches that take days to recover from. Over time, I've noticed a pattern...the onset of a migraine often coincides with distress..when the tensions in my life have become too much to handle: work, family, academics, church, ecclesiastical reports... WHAM! My head explodes and my stomach turns, my vision occludes and my sense of balance falters. The only remedy is a dark quiet room, lots of quiet, hours of rest, and a dose of acetomeniphin/aspirin mix or Vicodin if I'm lucky. And I often cry out to God in utter agony, "Please God, let it stop!"
The Anglican Communion is currently in distress. I suspect that we're in the midst of migraine-onset: Our heads are exploding all around as our egos take the place of Christ. Our stomachs have vomited out all sorts of nasty anathemas. Our vision of the Good News is occluded as we mutter our threats. Our sense of balance all around has been thrown off in favour of easy theologizings and biblical selectivisms, uniform traditionalisms and self-righteous prophetisms.
+Bp. Charleston in his recent piece, "What if the Windsor Report is not a WMD?", analyzing the imperial context of the Windsor Report, suggests that two peoples generally placed at odds in our media and church rhetoric in fact share much in common--African and Queer folk. In response to the artificial African/Queer or Church/Queer dichotomies (though he doesn't address African Queer folk) so popular these days, Charleston suggests that God "wants us to be loving gay Christians and to be loving African Christians." I take his point seriously.
But what does "loving" mean? Certainly loving involves a massive dose of humility on all our parts in the midst of our present discord. As a university professor once told me in response to my self-hatred, "Humility is knowing the truth." Humility is knowing our gifts and our faults, recognizing that we too are simul justus et peccator, simultaneously sinner and saint.
Professor Bill Carroll, recently posted an excellent piece on humility, "The Lowest Place." Carroll writes,
Humility means accepting our God-given place--wherever that is. It means going where God sends us--wherever that may be. If we are humble, we do not claim a better place for ourselves. We sit in the lowest place, until GOD asks us to move. Humility shatters our false self-image. It dispels our illusions of control--as well as our belief that we can bend others to our will. Humility unmasks the lies we tell each other--and the lies we tell ourselves. It leaves us naked before God, whom we thought we could fool... ... ... But humility does NOT mean accepting the place that just anyone gives us. By no means. Only God knows who we are and where we belong. Ultimately, we belong to God. Other people can be the voice of God for us, but--OFTEN--they speak only for themselves. Or for some privileged group to which they belong. False humility is as bad as excessive pride. Humility does not mean "knowing our place" or accepting our approved social role. It means seeking God's will above all else. It means accepting the place that GOD gives us. Nothing more-- but also NOTHING LESS. By this definition, it was an act of extreme humility when Rosa Parks sat down in the front seat of a Montgomery bus. She refused to let others define who she was and insisted that she was a human being^×a child of God. In a similar way, it is an act of humility when an abused woman asserts her own dignity and seeks safety for herself and her children. And it is an act of humility, whenever those who have been excluded and oppressed claim their place at God's table.
Unfortunately, "loving" too often means "nice." And "nice" means accepting the place others have assigned, rather than moving toward open and respectful engagement with our differences and disagreements. The temptation is to foreclose tension by asking those exposing tensions (and there are many) long-hidden to make nice, be quiet, be doormats for Jesus. BUT accepting that place is exactly the opposite of humility^Åfor God has called Queer folk to the table, God has called African folk to the table, God has called Queer African folk to the table. That doesn^Òt mean that the place that God, and only God, gives us is without cost^Åit may cost us our very lives^Å
The lauded via media the Anglican Communion basks in is often defined in terms of absence of tension, and hence, absence of politics, being a blasé, mediocre affair rather than a tense, golden mean between the absolutes and infallibilities and certainties of Roman Catholicism and certain (especially Calvinist) forms of Protestantism. A true golden mean, of course, involves tension.
Tension isn't something we terribly like or that we're terribly good at living with. Much of recent developments in the Anglican Communion involve downright efforts to eliminate tension in a rapid push toward clarity and boundaries and a unity conceived more as uniformity than conscientious differences of opinion and peoples held together in common prayer.
Instead of reading the Windsor Report, however flawed, as an opening toward reconciliation, many are indeed using the report as a WMD. So what to do in the midst of our warfare? Yes, we are called as Christians to be people of reconciliation, "ambassadors of Christ," as St. Paul so elegantly put it. But reconciliation isn't easy or nice. Reconciliation doesn't whitewash hurts and grievances on all sides--both those who disagree with us and Queer folk are hurting (something the Windsor Report fails to acknowledge in its one-sided effort to appease those threatening to leave), nor does reconciliation sweep our differences under the rug with juridical solutions. Reconciliation involves tension. Reconciliation involves struggle. Reconciliation involves headaches. Reconciliation involves the Cross.
I recently wrote elsewhere:
In the midst of all the rancour, I wonder what good we can find in those with whom we vehemently disagree. What do we see of Christ in the other? No matter what the outcome of all of this may be, God is good all the time, and our rancour all around shows a troubled sense of trust in the Most High. Many of us, myself included, have been far too easily tempted into a Manichean good/evil approach to those whom we oppose, and such an approach will never live us into the Shalom of G-d. For this I repent and ask forgiveness...For whom else shall we pray?
O Beauty of Ancient Days, we give thanks for the witness of your son, +Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, who continues to ad dress the scourge of poverty in his home country and abroad, calling your most Holy Church to remember that we cannot live by bread alone, but neither can we live without bread. For the continued witness of +Archbishop Akinola, we pray to the Lord.
Are we willing to bear the tension of being in communion with our differences expressed? God grant us the grace to increase our capacity to suffer with one another a little while longer...
Pass the Vicodin!
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