Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Perfectionism and Serving

I've been thinking about the next post for this blog for the last few days. A bad cold and a busy day on Monday prevented me from doing much about it till today which, I think, was a good thing. One of the dangers that I sense myself falling into is far too much ecclesialogical controversy and not enough focusing on what really matters. I almost feel that I've fallen into that danger in my first few posts.

Now, don't get me wrong, it isn't that the current controversies in the Anglican communion are irrelevant or pointless. I really do think that the implications behind the controversies are of first-order importance: how do we read Scripture, what is God's justice, how do we deal with the marginalized and oppressed? But, when we tie ourselves up with our divisions, we all too often forget our God. We live in an age where, all too often, the fruits of the Spirit (love joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) (Galatians, 5, 22) are lacking in our Communion, in our churches and, if I am to be ruthlessly honest, in myself.

It is that last point that I have been thinking about since Sunday. In the rather Anglo-Catholic parish where my wife and I worship, I act, about once a month, as a server. Over that time, I've carried torches, carried the cross, waved incense as the thurifer and, recently, acted as the Master of ceremonies. I admit to being amused at a turn of events that has led me, a evangelical, to take on the role of a server at an Anglo-Catholic parish, but I have learned so much about liturgy and about worship that I can't say that I've ever regretted agreeing to help.

Yet, on this particular Sunday, I was up for Master of Ceremonies, which is a relatively new job to me, so I was feeling nervous. That isn't new in the sense that every time I serve, I have to work hard to pray away my perfectionism which is usually manifested in my case as picking out every single error I've made and scolding myself for it. Thus, I try to remember two things when I serve: that serving is my gift to the parish and God and that my perception of my own mistakes is more acute than anybody elses.

Still, I wasn't having the best day that day. I was still fighting a cold. I had gotten in rather later than I wanted. I felt rushed getting things organized. I couldn't remember how to arrange the table at the side of the alter. I positioned myself in the wrong part of the procession to enter....Well, you get the idea.

I was, of course, keeping track of all these errors and letting them bother me. Yet, I prayed to remember that, errors and all, this was my offering to the God who loves me. I prayed to give up the self-centeredness that my perfectionism hides. And I prayed for the people and clergy of my parish as we took communion. I can't say that all my self-criticism fled from me in the face of these prayers, but I knew I was profoundly in the right place and that my prayers were part of my struggle to keep perspective, to be humble before God, who is, after all, the only perfect person in our own life. And that was also okay.

Back at the vestry after the service, the grace which had escaped my attention in the service stayed around to remind me that not everything is as I make it out to be. A sub-deacon apologized for her harsh words at a certain point in the setting of the table (she wasn't anywhere near as harsh as I was being to myself) and we discussed in a constructive way how to avoid that problem again. I was able to listen to other suggestions from other more experienced servers without taking them as failures on my part. And I realized why I liked being at this parish. The Spirit moves here too.

It is that realization which gives me hope for myself, for my parish and for the Anglican Communion as a whole. Somehow, if we let it, this whole church thing actually works; the Spirit stays among us and we work through difficult things somehow. I grieve that all too often we don't listen to the Spirit's voice. Yet, sometimes that voice breaks out for us and we remember what has brought us all together.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Alcoholism and the Bishop

I should have my head examined. When I started this blog, I really had the intention of steering clear of THE issue as long as possible. And, it seems I haven't even lasted the first week.

So, the spark for this comment is Bishop Gene Robinson's letter to the Diocese of New Hampshire, admitting his alcoholism and his admission into a rehab facility (see http://www.nhepiscopal.org/). For conservatives, this situation seems so emblematic, yet it seems so uncharitable to comment on it. Not that that has stopped people, but it almost stopped me. Almost.

I'm not interested in making mean-spirited comments about Bishop Robinson. A man in recovery from an addiciton doesn't deserve that, especially when he is currently working through withdrawl and the gut-wrenching early days of recovery. That would be kicking a man when he's down. And that is hardly charitable. Not to mention presumptuous.

Addictions happen. And they tend to happen because they are escapes from the painful realities of one's life. I'm sure Bishop Robinson has had his share of these in his life. The problem with addictions is that they take over and they become more important than everything in one's life, including one's connection to God. I won't claim to know Bishop Robinson's spiritual state, but I do note that it is perfectly possible to maintain faith and be helpless against addiction. If this is true in Bishop Robinson's case, he will have the resources to recover, given hard work at rehab and with a spiritual advisor.

Yet, what prompted me to write about this topic is that it struck me earlier today that the state of the Anglican Communion is oddly parallel to the spiritual state of an addict-- not that the whole Communion needs to go into rehab and cut out the communion wine. I really think that the defensiveness that both sides in the Anglican Communion has morphed into idealogies as a means to protect themselves against the (presumed) attacks of their theological and ecclesialogical opponents. It is this committement to ideologies on the extreme edges of the two 'sides' of this debate' which risks blocking our communal connection to God. When we use those ideologies as an excuse to be uncharitble to a fallen enemy (as in the case of Bishop Robinson) or to rage against stronger opponents, we have forgotten charity and, if we have forgotten charity, we have forgotten God. Our desire to defend God becomes the means by which we separate from him.

I have a firm postion on the same-sex issue and I've been arguing it for more than five years on various bulletin boards. I don't think we can find biblical support for it nor can we dismiss the biblical testimony. Nor can we justify hatred either. I fear that, through the very course of this debate, we have fallen into that hatred. And both sides are implicated by that.

My solution? I have no idea. Short of prayer and trying to live a Christian life, even amid controvery and debate, I can't see what else we do.

Meanwhile, I pray for the man, Gene Robinson, as he stays in rehab, facing the demons of alcoholism. May God remain with him and bring him healing. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen


Sunday, February 12, 2006

I respectfully disagree.

Okay, introductions are over. What else is there to talk about?

I thought a thematic quotation might be a good place to start. Okay, the writer isn't Anglican or even Episcopalian. He is a Mennonite, but I like Mennonites. My wife is half Mennonite, so I had better.

So, the quote

"Love of enemy must include love of the intellectual adversary, including intellectual respect for the holders of positions one must in conscience reject" John Howard Yoder.

I first read this quote about four or five years ago and realized that this is the way that I want to approach my discussions with other Christians with whom I disagree. Too often, we are so focused on refuting our opponents in the church that we not only stop listening, but we stop treating them like human beings. This doesn't mean that we have to just smile and nod when someone says something we disagree with. It means that we take seriously what the other person says and deal with it, not deal with what we want to deal with.

Time and again, I see people trying to discuss important issues and arguing past each other, wondering why the other side is being so obtuse and so offensive, without considering that their assumptions are not the assumptions of their opponents. They probably will still disagree, but perhaps they will understand each other more.

One can hope.


Blog? Me?

I admit it. I resisted blogging. Oh, I've been interested, but I couldn't figure out what I'd be doing it for. I'm not sure that I know what I'm trying to do now, but this is an evolving project. For now, I'll speak into a vacuum and declare myself.

Who am I?

I'm happily married.
I'm a high school teacher of Latin and Classical Studies.
I'm interested in patristics, theology and church history. And ancient Greece and Rome, of course.
I'm an Anglican of a moderately conservative variety. Perhaps I'm best described as a catholic evangelical Anglican.
I enjoy the give and take of debate on such bulletin boards as Episcopal Voices, the Orthodox Episcopal Board, and Ship of Fools Purgatory (my board name is Canadian Phil...long story)
I like to cook.
I am, in the last analysis, a geek. A proud geek, but a geek nonetheless.

Why hyperekperisou?

This is a sneaky reference to Ephesians 3, 21 and used commonly as a doxology at the end of Communion: "Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or image..." (Book of Alternative Services=BAS). The bits in italics are the part which express hyperekperisou (hard working word, isn't it?). I wanted it as a title partly because it is an expression of God's abounding grace offered to the world through Jesus Christ, but also because this verse has always had special meaning to my wife and I because we have both seen it in our own lives. In fact, we saw it as so important that we inscribed it on our wedding bands.

What do I intend to do here?

My intention here is to reflect on my life as a Christian and as an Anglican. I have no intention to transform this blog into another angry conservative screed, but I hope it serves as a bridge between Anglicans and Christians of differing opinions. Perhaps understanding won't solve the problems that we as Anglicans and Christians face in living with each other, but perhaps we can start seeing each other as people, not as positions to refute.

Does this strike you as something you'd like to read? Good, read on.