Sunday, February 10, 2008

Whose conflict is this?

For at least several months now, I've been an avid reader of Dan Martins' blog "Confessions of a Carioca." Formerly a priest in the Diocese of San Joaquin, having left before the culmination of the current unpleasantness, and leaning towards the conservative side, he nonetheless has some interesting things to say about the current conflict (or "slow train wreck", as he calls it) raging in the Anglican Communion. In a recent post he writes, among other things:
I am angry with my own Baby Boomer generation, now pretty much running the Episcopal Church. That we are also running the country is also true, but too scary to contemplate--we are a generation of Peter Pans. We walk and talk like adults but we have never laid aside the self-indulgence of youth, and the mantra that we learned just as we were starting school in the 1950s, that we are special because there are so damn many of us. In the Church, our dominance is seen in the hyper-individualism by which we apprehend the Faith, and the complete sentimentalization of its content.
As a Generation Xer, who grew up seeing the families of his friends disintegrate around them, I've often thought about how similar the current strife is to a divorce and wondering whether this has as much to do with the generation "running" the church as it has to do with the issues in play. It short, I'm wondering whether, thirty years from now, we (those of us who are left) will look back and wonder why there was such a huge fight, much like we do when we look back on the fight over the "new" prayer book (now nearly thirty years old).

I'm also avidly watching the political scene, with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain, and it is looking like a serious generational choice is facing the country. As far as I can tell, Obama is a GenXer, Clinton a Boomer, and McCain a Silent/Builder. It will be interesting to see who ends up in the White House, after two successive Boomers (Bill Clinton and George W. Bush). So, perhaps both church and state divides can be attributed, to generational views, at least somewhat.

Something to think about...

Friday, February 08, 2008

Heaven and Earth

I must confess that when I read the headline "Christians Wrong About Heaven, Says Bishop" my first thought was "Oh, no! Another Episcopal bishop providing fodder for the conservatives to claim that the Episcopal Church has degenerated into some sort of pagan cult." To my surprise, and no doubt to the surprise of many others, it is none other than Bishop N.T. (Tom) Wright, Bishop of Durham, and hardly a card-carrying liberal! His point is that the current popular view of heaven, as a place in the clouds with harps and angels where God takes us if we're good enough, has little basis in the Bible. Instead, Wright notes that:
Our culture is very interested in life after death, but the New Testament is much more interested in what I've called the life after life after death — in the ultimate resurrection into the new heavens and the new Earth. Jesus' resurrection marks the beginning of a restoration that he will complete upon his return. Part of this will be the resurrection of all the dead, who will "awake," be embodied and participate in the renewal.
Wright point out that the sense that our bodies don't matter has more to do with Plato and the Greek view of creation as "shabby and misshapen and full of lies" than it does with the Jewish, and thus more authentically Christian, view in the Bible that "the world of space and time and matter is messed up, but remains basically good, and God will eventually sort it out and put it right again." In other words, the Biblical view of heaven is an antidote to the well-worn criticism that some Christians are so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good.

Bishop Wright talks about a sort of holding area or holding pattern in which we will be placed until the final resurrection. While that may be Biblical, it also fails to emphasize that at that point we will be outside of normal space and time. In other words, we could be "there" (wherever "there" is) for a thousand years and it might seem like a single day. The Bible does say that God's view of time is not ours.

For me, this article emphasizes a core truth during this Lenten season--that 99% of our lives as Christians have to do with what we do here, now, as people who serve as Christ's hands and feet in the world. If we're simply waiting on God to "do something" we're as useless to both God and the world as if we were sitting on a mountain top waiting for the end of the world. There is a bumper sticker that says "Jesus is coming. Look busy." Perhaps this Lent that could be modified to read "Jesus is coming. Get busy."

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Covenant and Discipline

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day on which, among other things, the church invites us to "the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word." Perhaps providentially, today is also the day on which the second draft of the Proposed Anglican Covenant was released. Finally, it is the day after "Super Tuesday" and the media is abuzz with reflections and prognostications about what it all means for our future. It also happens to be just over a month since I last put fingers to keyboard and posted anything on this blog.

As I prepare to say and hear the words "remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" today it strikes me how such words put into perspective all of the issues and conflicts that seem to loom so large in the church and in the world. A century from now, no one now living, except for perhaps a few of the smallest children, will be anything but dust. All of the parties wrangling over church property, all of the political candidates vying for their party's nomination, and all of the bloggers (including me!) with their voluminous writings on this or that--all will be dust. Unless Jesus has returned, there will no doubt be new controversies to replace the old (just as the current controversies are replacing the old ones), new political candidates addressing new problems, and new bloggers (or whatever follows blogs) opining about the issues of the day.

For me, this Lent offers me an opportunity and a challenge not to give up paying attention to such issues, candidates, and opinions, but to place them in the context of a more disciplined life of prayer, study, and action. It is a time when we are all invited to examine our own lives even more minutely than we examine the lives of others, to engage in the time-honored activities of prayer, bodily discipline (fasting), and what might be called "life discipline" (self-denial), and to study the scriptures not as an academic exercise, but with an eye towards deepening our relationship with Christ and seeking out God's will for us as people living and working in the world.
Let the Lent begin!