Saturday, March 24, 2007

"The radiancy of joyful sacrifice"

A lot of ink has been spilled in recent days, since the Episcopal House of Bishops (here in the U.S.) issued a "mind of the house" statement in response to the recent recommendations/request of the primates in the worldwide Anglican Communion. This isn't the place to get into church politics, but suffice it to say that the statement from the U.S. bishops was...I sigh to say...stereotypically "American" in attitude. Essentially they said: "sure, we'd like to be part of your global church...but only on our own terms." Since those terms consist of continuing departure from historic and classical Christian orthodoxy, we've got a big problem.

The statement also seems to say (and here's an interesting oxymoron) "we'd like to be part of your communion, but only if we can be completely independent and autonomous." They even harkened back to revolutionary days and talked about the life of the Episcopal Church being free and independent from the Church of England! And they essentially called the worldwide primates "a distant and unaccountable group of prelates." !! This, about our worldwide, global church leaders who are doing exactly what they should be doing in trying to call our leaders to accountability in the light of the gospel!

I really don't understand how one can claim independence and autonomy as the chief tenets of the life of a church. Of course we're "independent" in the sense that we're a unique province in the worldwide communion, and each province has its own location, governance structures, cultural influences, etc. One of the wonderful things about the Christian gospel, in fact, is its translatability into all kinds of languages and contexts and cultures. That doesn't mean the gospel changes, but it does mean it can and should be communicated in different contexts. That's the diversity within unity, but the unity part (when you're part of a global family of churches) matters. And the unity can only come when people hold, at the heart, the same center, the same foundation.

But how can we claim to be both a part of a global family, and "autonomous"? Look up autonomous in the dictionary sometime, and you'll find definitions like "freedom from all external constraints." How can that be? Look at the context of your own family...the daily, everyday family you're part of...and think how long you could function -- and LOVE EACH OTHER! -- if every member in the family insisted on autonomy! Even if you insisted on it, it's impossible! Because for one person to have complete freedom to do what he or she wanted to do or thought was best, will of necessity conflict with what another member needs at any given time. If I was perfectly autonomous, I would often choose to do things a lot differently than I do. I don't do a lot of things I'd like to do, and I stop doing some things I'd rather do...out of love, out of deference for the needs and wants of another, out of respect, out of the deeper desire to build a strong family. I am compelled, and yes, "externally constrained" by the facts of my relationship with others. Those are limits I chose to live within when I made the decision to help create and be a part of a family.

How do you keep loving members of your family who are determined to do their own thing, regardless of the consequences for others? It's hard. We need to find ways to prayerfully do this in the days and weeks and months ahead, as the Anglican Communion finds ways to "realign" (and it's going to get messy).

One of the best things I've read about all this in recent days came from a reflection written by Ephraim Radner, a priest in Colorado. He was counseling that faithful Anglicans in the U.S. stay out of litigation as much as possible (in the matter of property disputes, some of which have already started). And he wrote this:
"But there is no point struggling for the truth if the struggle leaves one bitter and hostile, aimed against adversaries instead of praying for them in love. If one is not called to the radiancy of joyful sacrifice, it is better to leave. And hope is radiant and ready."

The "radiancy of joyful sacrifice." That's what a family, any family, especially a church family, should be marked by. If all of us in the communion asked the Lord's help to live such graceful, humble and radiant sacrificial lives before the watching world, perhaps we'd really be the church God calls us to be.


Erin said...

Absolute autonomy might work for the most extreme of recluses, but those who must interact with others definitely need to learn to put their own desires and ideas aside from time to time. It's something I struggle with sometimes, truth be told, but it's definitely true, and especially should be so within the church.

Beth said...

Well-said, Erin! I think one of the most huge lessons I had to learn in the earliest days of being a mom was how much I had not realized most of my days were "all about me." I spent time doing the things I wanted to do, or not do, and never thought twice about it. Suddenly that wasn't always possible, and I had to learn to do some dying to self.

I think community only works if people in that community are willing to give up their "rights" (or perceived rights) out of love and the desire to serve others in the community. You're right, it isn't always easy!!