Friday, July 04, 2008

Independence Day, Interdependence, and Lordship

In the wake of the recent conclusion of GAFCON, the responses arising from it, and the anticipation (or lack thereof) of the upcoming Lambeth Conference, it is a tad ironic that today the United States celebrates Independence Day. Given that what we celebrate is our country's independence from Great Britain, the Episcopal Church (as a daughter church of the Church of England) was at the center of the birth of our nation. Fast forward 232 years and the world is a very different place. It is a post-colonial, post-Christian, and post-modern world in which nearly everything we thought was stable and solid has either cracked and fallen away or is being radically reshaped. The era where "the sun never sets on the British Empire" is long gone and one of the core foundations of the Anglican Communion--our common ancestry in the Church of England--no longer seems sufficient to unite an increasingly culturally, economically, and theologically diverse union of national churches. In many ways, we are the most "independent" we have ever been--set free from state, church, and the bonds of tradition and history.

As politicians, pundits, and poets wax eloquent about the glories of freedom and independence, our economy is in shambles, fuel prices are at record levels, and across the world many of those former British colonies are in the mids of strife and starvation. Doesn't look like freedom and independence is all it is cracked up to be, does it? And yet there are the beginnings a realization that as much as Americans revere the self-made man or the rugged individualist, events across the globe can rapidly impact our lives in both subtle and profound ways. The emergence of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is an example of our increasing awareness of the global issues that transcend both nationality and church membership. Morally and economically, we can no longer afford to either ignore or assume we can control the world. The current travails in the Anglican Communion, it seems to me, are as much about this renegotiation of power and influence as they are about anything else.

Ever since my Sabbatical a year ago, and my accompanying journey through the program of the Church Development Institute (CDI), I have been re-introduced to the liturgical and theological riches that support and strengthen both Anglican theology and Anglican ecclesiology. One of those areas of strength is the Benedictine rule of life which values stability, obedience, and conversion of life. My good friend and colleague Fr. Nathan Humphrey has written an excellent essay on Independence and Interdependence in which he links Independence Day (July 4) and the Feast of St. Benedict (July 11). It is well worth a read.

Just to add to my mental ruminations, the Gospel lesson appointed for this coming Sunday, July 6 include Jesus' famous words:
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:29-30)
Perhaps the best way to honor those who have come before us, who have blazed the way to independence from temporal authority, who have often paid for our freedoms in the price of their blood, is to freely surrender that independence not to a temporal power nor a set of rigid precepts, but to God in Jesus Christ with whom we have an ongoing and dynamic relationship. There is great reticence to using the word "Lord" in many versions of our liturgy, but what is Christianity but a voluntary submission to the Lordship of Christ and the communion brought about by Christ's work as our Savior?

Rather than chafing against all restrictions, what would it look like if we truly yoked ourselves to Jesus, went where Jesus leads us, depended on Jesus to help us, and realized that the yoke we bear is easy precisely because God is yoked right there alongside us, both leading us and helping us? That is a question with far more implications and ramifications than can be dealt with in a single blog entry, but is worth thinking on as we watch our contemporary "rockets' red glare."

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