Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Generous Orthodoxy- Random Thoughts

I wanted to post a link to what is, in my view, on the best things I've read on General Convention so far. It is an entry on Rev. Fleming Rutledge's blog, Generous Orthodoxy which I think manages to take a balanced view of GC 2006. Whether you agree with her or not, I think she makes some excellent points.

I have to admit that I still am nowhere near ready to comment on GC 2006, mostly because the vitriol and bitterness of the debate has made me distinctly unwilling to get involved in it, even in this small corner of cyberspace. It is going to take weeks to figure out what has happened, so I'm just going to keep my trap shut until the dust settles. And, even then, I really don't know what there will be to say.


Monday, June 26, 2006

Why Patristics?

I wanted to pick up a comment I made in the previous blog entry in which I mention that Mike Aquillina's Way of the Fathers encourages me to make similar experiments in what has been called patristiblogging. Perhaps it may be all the Latin and Classical Civilization exams I've been marking, perhaps this is tapping into a long-term plan, I thought I might start off my experiments with a few comments about why anybody would want to do anything so odd as reading the Fathers in this day and age.

If you sense a little defensiveness in the my tone, I suspect it is because we are living at a time when the Fathers are distinctly out of vogue. That shouldn't be entirely surprising at a time when the Bible itself is facing unprecedented (well, at least, since the early patristic era) challenges to its authority, not only in an increasingly secular society, but even among Christians. Aren't we, the critics say, talking about those old, white males who have oppressed everyone so long? Why, then, bother?

Why, indeed. Perhaps it's just my own interest in the arcane and underappreciated. Perhaps it is my mis-spent youth as a graduate student in Classics which give me an affection to the Fathers and the ability to read them in the original (even if I get few chances to do it). Perhaps it is because, as my wife likes to say to new acquaintances, I'm one of the few people who can say that they converted (at least, partially) because of reading Augustine (that is a slight exaggeration, but I was taking a beginners, intensive Augustine course when I became a Christian). I'm sure all of these personal reasons have a place in figuring out why I'm interested in patristics, but, somehow, I'm not sure they're enough to convince others why it is important to read the writings of these ancient Christians.

So, what then? How do I justify reading patristics? Well, it depends on who I'm talking to, but I usually make three points.

First, the Fathers are, usually, fairly good theologians in their own right. I think we as moderns forget this because we are put off by expressions of Christianity which are very different from their own. The Fathers carry with them rather different cultural baggage and deal with very different issues than we do today, so it is easy to dismiss them as primitive and underdeveloped in comparison to our own more enlightened understanding of faith and theology. Yet, the Fathers had to work out how to view the canon, how to understand the Trinity and other similar foundational issues. I submit that that needed at least as much, if not more, theological acumen than many theologians today have. As a result, despite their almost foreign sounding expressions, the Fathers really do bear listening to, if only because they were not theological slouches.

Second, the Fathers are a link to the apostolic teaching which we all claim to honour as Christians. In fact, they are rather closer to the apostles, who were, after all, the eye-witnesses of our Lord's life and death than we are. One of the passages in Irenaeius of Lyons which I enjoy is when he comments that he had met a very old Polycarp of Smyrna, who had met and been taught directly by the apostles and, especially, John. The idea that we have writers who are only one or two removes from the eye-witnesses to our Lord's life, makes me sit up and take notice. Perhaps they know something we don't know about our faith. All too often we moderns (and, even more so, post-moderns) are engaged in a deliberate project to forget our Christian past. I think that is deeply wrong-headed because we miss so much when we forget that our theology has not emerged sui generis.

Third, since the Fathers are so foundational in the formation of our theology, we really do need to read them in order to figure out why they came to the conclusions they did. It isn't that the Fathers are infallible, but we owe it ourselves to read them first hand to figure that out. All to many people leave it to others to tell them what the Fathers say and there is a lot of misinformation out there (witness, The Da Vinci Code). If we really expect to do decent theology, we need to understand what they said and why.

Would this convince everyone? Probably not. My hope is that someone out there will take pause and wonder if they shouldn't learn more about the Fathers. I think that part of the anemia which has afflicted orthodoxy in its various forms (this is a rather broad concept of orthodoxy, I concede) is because even orthodox Christians aren't familiar enough with their tradition to make it make sense to their fellow Christians in the pew. If I can contribute even a little to making the Fathers make more sense, I will be content.


Sunday, June 18, 2006

Adventures in Blogosphere

This has been a very busy week. For myself, it has been the crazy season of setting exams, marking last minute assignments and marking summative assignments (exams are next week). In the Anglican Communion, the drama of the General Convention 2006 has been unfolding before our eyes in the U.S. As a friend as noted, GC is still in the silly season, (see Essays by Jim), but the Anglican corner of blogosphere has been chattering in a particularly crazy way, mulling over rumours, plots, self-congratulation and, very occasionally, hard news from this contentious and, likely, historic General Convention of ECUSA. Sifting through all that activity would be a full-time occupation, if one would have the time and the inclination.

This week, I've had neither. I'm content to look into the dust cloud from time to time, just to see if the dust looks like it is settling. It isn't, so I'm not really interested in contributing, even modestly, to the confusion.

Instead, I found myself thinking about what else is happening out there in blogosphere, away from Anglican-land. What I found in the approximately twenty seconds that I had to myself this week were three commendable blogs which I wanted to share with my readers and which are giving me ideas about where I want to go with this blog.

First, there is Fathers of the Church . I stumbled on this blog I know not how, but I'm ecstatic that I did. The writer on the blog, Mike Aquilina, is a (published!) Roman Catholic writer on patristics from the US. What is great about him is that he writes with evident love of patristics and with a readable writing style which makes the Fathers accessible even to those who may not have specialized in them. He has a particular talent in making the Fathers relevant which is a challenge in this very history mistrusting age. That attracts me and encourages me towards experiments in this area.

Second, there is Bibliocalia which also originates out of the States (California) and also deals with patristics and biblical literature. Here is a fellow who is trying to maintain his studies in patristics in 'real' life and uses this blog as a conduit to that. I sympathize with that because that is precisely what I'm trying to do. I'm still trying to work out what that is supposed to look like, but this site bears watching for its blend of faith and learning.

Third, what is arguably the mother-lode for theologians of all types (even amateurs like myself), Faith and Theology . Here we see discussion about theology and some extremely smart theologians talking in an accessible style. I enjoy the idea of the Theological World Cup (okay, that is an outside site, but this is where I heard about it) and the For the Love of God series (where contributors offer reflections on their favourite theologians) and have been working my way through this exciting well-established blog.

What these discoveries have helped me to realize is that I'm really not interested in staying in Anglican blogosphere. My real interest doesn't lie in Anglican ecclesial politics (not that I'm swearing off this topic, but really it isn't my focus), but rather in seeing the theological rubber hitting the ground and learning how to make my own theological ruminations hit the ground as well. In that sense, these blogs are excellent guides of how to do this with grace. If I could do as well....


Sunday, June 11, 2006

Being Anglican

The last few shots across the bow have or are being fired in blogosphere as ECUSA approaches its General Convention; the first since the contentious and controversial GC 2003 which has helped to trigger a major crisis in the Anglican Communion. Along with, I'm sure, every other Anglican blogger, I wanted to make my own comments before all sorts of things hit the fan.

I should note that I write not as a member of ECUSA or even as particularly knowledgeable about internal ECUSA politics, short of knowing about the issues and some of the personalities involved. Yet, I am an interested observer because my own province, the Anglican Church of Canada is about a year away from its own General Synod which likely is going to be contentious as well and for much the same reasons. The situation up here in Canada (excepting, of course, New Westminster) has been calmer and less divisive. I think the reason for that is that there is a perception that the no irrevocable decision has been undertaken. The furthest General Synod did, after agreeing to study the problem for a few more years, was to affirm the integrity and sanctity of same-sex unions. That was far enough, thank you very much, but it did stop short of open defiance of Lambeth 98 etc, etc.

Yet, what is fascinating about this last series of articles is how much liberal articles have been drawing a line in the sand and claiming that what is at issue is our very identity as Anglicans. Now, this argument plays out in various ways, but the dominant way has been to argue that the changes to the Communion suggested by Windsor Report and by the recent Covenant proposal will change our Anglican identity. I understand the argument and I concede that these commentators are right. Constitutionally, these documents are asking for substantial change. Yet, I must confess to finding these constitutional arguments a bit tedious because, at the end of the day, I don't think they are central to our identity as Anglicans at all.

So, what, if not constitutions, is the core of our communal identity? I think we can start approaching by recognizing that Anglican is really not a noun, but actually an adjective. When we are using the word Anglican, we are really talking about the Anglican (Communion), the Anglican (Church) and Anglican (Christians). Being Anglican is not the central part of our identity. At least, it shouldn't be. We are a church who worships using a rite derived from the Church of England as it emerged out of the Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries. We are Christians who worship and theologize out of this tradition which we believe is linked to the apostolic traditions in an unbroken line (yes, Roman Catholics beg to differ, but this is our claim, not theirs).

So, what does that mean? It means that the last court of approval is not the constitutions of our individual churches, or even any Covenant which might emerge out of the Windsor Report process. The last court of appeal is how we've learned to be the Church, first from Scripture and from a long history of being the Church (the good, the bad and the ugly) in the world. This is one reason why I like the Windsor Report is that it referred the issue of our division to precisely the right area; the ecclesiological instead of the constitutional. It helps, I suppose, that I happen to think the ecclesiology of the Windsor Report is bang on and consistent with what the Bible tells us about how we are to be the Church.

I'm not saying that constitutions and covenants are unimportant. I am saying that they are only secondary to ecclesiological considerations because they flow from them. Now, I'm sure that some readers may think I'm quibbling here, but I do think the distinction is important because it settles down to how do we work out this argument. As you might expect, I don't think it helpful to merely play dueling constitutions or to argue that each individual province is functionally independent and can proceed on its way regardless of what other provinces think. I'm very unclear how we could say that is a body of anything, much less of Christ.

We are bound by ties of affection and support, as the New Testament makes clear, which means we have responsibilities to each other to maintain the communication lines and to do nothing that will cause the others to stumble. We have forgotten that and the place to remind us are Paul's Letters or Jesus commission of the disciples in the Gospels. Scripture is our foundation, and, then, only secondarily, constitutions, prayer books and the like. So, Scripture is precisely where we all, liberals and conservatives, need to start from. We are, ultimately, Christians before we are Anglicans, so we need to go back to the basic level to work out how this Anglican Communion is supposed to work.

I will continue to pray for ECUSA as it enters General Convention that wisdom and the Spirit will prevail in its deliberations. Amen.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Pentecost Learning

Happy Pentecost!!

I've always liked Pentecost. Part of that liking is that this is when I was baptized as an Anglican which represented a culmination of a busy year of conversion about fourteen years ago. That conversion really was a turning point in my life and having my baptism happen on Pentecost made a lot of sense then and now. The rushing of the Spirit among the disciples always seemed to have been enacted in my life with the changes which my life took in that year of conversion and which continued to this day. I'm grateful for those changes because I recognize that I had been on a very different, much more self-destructive course before that. Each Pentecost is a reminder of God's intervention in my life, just as it should remind us of the Spirit's intervention into human history through the lives of the disciples.

This Pentecost has also been interesting because of where we're living. Last fall, we moved into a very Jewish area in Toronto, so we've been spectators to the rhythms of Jewish life in the city. We've been lucky enough to be very good friends with a modern Orthodox couple and have had the opportunity to explore the links between Judaism and Christianity in a unique. In particular, my wife has been off to shul a few times including this week as the Jewish community has been celebrating Shavuot (Pentecost)which is the fiftieth day from Passover. The holiday is celebrated with all night Torah learning and, as with any other Jewish holiday, food. My wife managed to make it out to a few of these events (in full frum gear: long skirt, long sleeve shirt and hat). She enjoyed the events and learned quite a bit.

One of the events had focused on learning Torah and why it was important to study it for God's sake, not for the purpose of grinding theological axes, but to learn more about God himself. My wife's description of the event made me wonder how it was that we Christian lost that sense of learning about our faith, about Scripture and about God. Why do we use the Bible as a mine for pithy quotations to use against our enemies, but not really study it? Why do we study theology only for creating sharp weapons to use against those who we perceive as our enemies? Why do we figure that, unlike every other area in our lives, we don't have to know anything about our faith, about our Scripture?

Of course, I'm not the only person to have noticed this. Bishop Tom Wright makes similar comments in his Hebrews for Everyone, when he notes, with some perplexity, that people who in other areas pride themselves on their knowledge almost boast of their lack of knowledge about theology, church history and scripture. Somehow, we Anglicans seem to think that this is okay. Doesn't this fly in the face of the oft-repeated slogan of the Anglican church allowing people to worship with 'heart, mind and soul' if we refuse to learn about our faith, not just through experience, but also through learning about what God is like through Scripture and theology or learning about what has worked in the faith over the centuries of church history?

I don't have any answer for that, of course, but I wonder if we shouldn't take lessons from the Jews here in their transparent love of learning Torah. I wonder what would happen if we imitate the example of, say, Lauren Winner in Girl Meets God, who, on Pentecost night, stayed up with friends to study Scripture all night? Or, if that is too ambitious, if we took a little time out each day to read Scripture, read theology or about the great examples of faith in the past?

I'm not saying that this will solve all our problems as people or as a church. Clearly, study will not, by itself, bring us closer to God. We have to experience God in our lives, through others and through prayer, but I put it to you: if you love someone, don't you want to get to know them better? And wouldn't you use whatever methods were at hand to do that?

On this Pentecost eve, I commit myself anew to Christian learning for its own sake. I pray that, through this study, I learn more about the God I love. May that rushing Spirit of Pentecost sweep us up further into God's presence and may we seek to learn more about our divine Lover.