I wonder how many people arose at dawn to watch the royal wedding? I know all kinds of folks who recognized that something had changed in the world to make this wedding possible; and this couple, regardless or because of their wealth and talent, could make this a seed for more changes to come.
We all need hope. Although the couple moved through certain traditional and privileged routes, they re-arranged the scenery along that route and they themselves represented grace and simplicity in their persons. I was delighted to see it because I have otherwise felt discouraged this week. The church that I love and to which I have given my life, seems to have returned to old debates that those of us with greying heads had hoped were behind us. I think we are witnessing the last desperate gasps of christendom. I just hope it doesn’t grab and drag us all down too.
There are three areas in which I hope we will watch and react. The first is inclusive language. To insist on language that does not exclusively idolize male, powerful, monarchical imagery, is to embrace the vulnerability of Jesus who confronted that very same dominance with his the sacrifice of his life. Language has power to lift up and to destroy. We give permission for violence whenever we allow one kind of exclusive imagery to dominate over others. When we speak of humanity, we acknowledge our common source which does not recognize any difference, even in terms of worthiness. And we blaspheme every time we say that our naming of the Divine is complete and closed. We cannot speak of the Divine except in the metaphors of experience because the truth is too large for our cerebral context. Thus, Jesus becomes the Law for us; his life the model, his love for others our method.
The second is the challenge of experience over traditional doctrine. I say traditional because doctrine means a teaching, but true learning comes from the fluidity of the teaching, a reciprocal relationship amongst the thing to be studied, the learner and the teacher. We know that light can be measured in different ways. We know that our world is not as simple as we once thought, from the nanosphere to the “vast expanse of interstellar space.” (BAS, p. 201) We commit a presumptuous sin every time we say that we believe something in the sense that we think we have all the information we need so the book is closed. History has taught us that even our lived past has perspectives and different layers of fact. Contemporary biblical and historical scholars challenge us to open ourselves to deeper and more demanding insights.
One example may be how we deal with the incarnation. When I first started as a priest, I was astonished at how many lay people had given up on the idea of an immaculate conception but thought they shouldn’t upset their priests. I was delighted when Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan (“The First Christmas”) opened their analysis with an explanation of the underlying motivation, which was to challenge Rome’s presumption to divine authority. I offered this in the form of a little play called “A Tale of Two Mothers.” (It can be found on this blog site.) To see in this story not divine power but the holiness that lies within the creation waiting to be uncovered, waiting for us to become aware, waiting for us to open ourselves in joy and wonder. The incarnation is not about a simple girl impregnated by God but about a simple young woman who dedicated her pregnancy, her child to be, to the vision of God’s justice and favour; a devout person who gave her heart, in faith and trust.
An example of how modern thinking can widen our appreciation for biblical insight is the story of the Ascension. Buckminster Fuller remarked once that there is no up or down in a round world. A theological conclusion now for the story is not that Jesus has “Gone Up” to a heavenly power, but that the good news of Jesus is released everywhere in the round world. Jesus’ love belongs to neither tribe nor culture but encircles the world with the blessing of compassion. It is yet another sign of how the good news is inclusive, available, without price or condition, or even awareness perhaps.
The third area I have alluded to is how we make decisions as a church. What informs our values? Is it obedience to the past, or deep attention to the stirring of the Spirit as the theological furnishings in the present house is rearranged? In Matthew 13:52, we hear the parable of the householder who becomes a disciple and brings out of the storehouse treasures old and new. I love discovering underneath something worn the possibility of something new. And I love seeing in something new the thing that will become tradition. We don’t have to force this. It is a natural process. We should neither have to rush this process nor delay it. More praying, less arguing; more creativity and “tinkering” and less fearful withholding and the erection of barriers. As we move from dualism to a sense of the whole world of God’s creation and love, we are invited to be less divisive and more a force of reconciliation. We need to stop thinking of darkness and light as opposites, but see them as balances for each other. No more us and them, no more orthodox and heretical. We will be in a state of holy chaos becoming order becoming chaos as long as we are part of this material universe that we know. Perhaps there is another doorway that leads to a less/more vibrant, less/more burgeoning path, but this is the world in which we live within the embracing love of God.
Finally, I think we need to learn how to trust that the Holy Spirit is at work within our institutions and within our lives. When I remember that, my serenity is restored. It is not up to me to save anything; the Holy is at work always and all ways. We can slow the process down by digging in our heels, “kicking against the pricks,” in the words of the old translation of Acts 9:4. We know how well that worked for Paul, who became completely bound to the inclusive, welcoming, demanding vision of Jesus. Even if we fight the innovation and passion of the spirit, we will only blind ourselves to possibility of life lived inside the miracle of Jesus, who brings the holy Trinity of Love, Life and Passion to those who would become his hands in the world.