Monday, May 24, 2010

"King of Love or King of the Hill?"

Post-consecration reflections

Yes, we've been having a grand and glorious here in LaLa Land. We are thrilled with our new bishops suffragan and ready to get on with the work we have ahead of us: making the Good News of God in Christ Jesus made known to all who come seeking a community of faith committed to Jesus' core values of love, peace, justice and compassion.

That's the message we sent out -- loud and clear -- when we gathered in the Long Beach Arena to celebrate two new bishops in the church of God AND beginning a new era of mission and ministry in the Diocese of Los Angeles.

Not everyone, of course, was quite thrilled as we were.

One blogger took exception to the pre-service musical program:

Mid way through I was shouting, 'Just Pick Something!' Do you want to be Chinese? Then pick that. Scottish? By all means. Native American? Whatever. But pick something! There's no way that all the nations of the world are filling the pews of the Episcopal Church of So. Cal.

[Really? We have to PICK? What a sad, narrow, boring church THAT would be, I thought. Maybe she should drop by one Sunday and see who actually IS in our pews. Oh well ...]

Moving on, not surprisingly, the Schismopalians (AKA "The American Anglican Council") had quite a bit to say about the Diocese of Los Angeles in general and Bishop Glasspool in specific. This excerpt from David Anderson's latest newsletter, for example:

The relatively new bishop of Maryland, Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton (who attended the Glasspool consecration), recently stated that the communion is in the midst of a fight and it's a fight worth having. He added, "Whenever the church has tried to limit leadership based on a person's biology, in most cases they have had to admit that was a mistake." Bishop Sutton says this as an African American, and thus is in effect equating biology, such as skin color and race, with moral conduct. One cannot change one's skin color to any significant degree, but one certainly can change one's moral or immoral conduct. Yet he equates the two as if they are equally unchangeable. I believe the bishop has actually insulted many people by insinuating that their gender, or race or basic physical attributes are on the same level as homosexual conduct. That argument doesn't work for me.
["That argument doesn't work for me." There's a line forming to the left for anybody surprised by that ... but don't hurry: there's likely to be nobody in it. However, the line we should be forming are folks saying "Wait a minute -- why does the straight, white guy get to dictate to an African American bishop or to LGBT folks how they understand and define themselves?"]

This may actually provide an answer. It's a quote from the same newsletter, taking the opportunity to use the consecrations as yet-another-chance to reiterate the David Anderson/AAC claim to have Sole Possession of the Absolute Truth:
The difficulty is that the two opposing viewpoints are based on non-compatible reference systems: one is based on human reasoning and feelings, the other on the revealed Word of God. One is right, the other is not.
All of this, of course, is code for "we get to decide which is which" -- and none of it is anything other than sadly predictable. Or anything new.

Robert Shahan, when he was the Bishop of Arizona famously said, "Faith is what you are willing to die for. Dogma is what you are willing to kill for." Jesus didn’t come to give us dogma to kill for -- he came with a willingness to die for the sake of the message that the Kingdom of God is at hand: the Reign of God is about to be realized. It is here. It is now. He came with a message of inclusiveness and compassion: compassion in the truest sense of the word. The Latin word for passion means "suffering": the combined form of "compassion" means "with suffering."

Jesus' invitation was to enter INTO the world’s suffering – not to create an institution to exacerbate the world’s suffering by preaching exclusion and proclaiming a narrow sectarianism based on dogmas it has too often been too ready to kill for. And when the church has chosen the latter rather than the former, it has recreated Peter’s denial of Jesus’ core values and message as surely as if it stood in that courtyard in Jerusalem and said, “I do not know him” -- with a cock crowing a third time in the background.

Verna Dozier in her wonderful book "The Dream of God" describes it thus: "The people of the resurrection made the incomprehensible gift of grace into a structure. [Rejecting] the frighteningly free gift of God go be a new thing in the world – a witness that all of life could be different for everybody – this gift was harnessed by an institution that established a hierarchy of those who "know" above the great mass of those who must be told." [pg. 4]

And so -- for generations -- those of us who "must be told" were told all kinds of things about what Jesus' life and death and resurrection meant. And a great many of them bore little or no resemblance to the actual life and witness of the one the church claims to follow – of the Jesus:

• who put table fellowship at the center of his life,
• who ate with outcasts,
• who welcomed sinners,
• who proclaimed the year of the Lord's favor,
• who was so centered in God's abundant love that he was willing to speak truth to power -- from that first sermon that almost got him thrown off the cliff by his irate Nazarene homies to his last cross-examination by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea.

Instead we were given doctrines we were supposed to digest and not delve into, creeds we were supposed to recite and not question, Scriptures we were supposed to memorize and not contextualize.

The stumbling block for so many has nothing to do with the good news of God in Christ Jesus and everything to do with the disconnect between the stories Jesus told of a loving God calling the whole human family into relationship with God and with each other and the story the church was telling – a story that privileged patriarchal power and presumed to hold the keys to the kingdom.

In my senior year in seminary I remember my male, Roman Catholic theology professor bewailing the fact that there seemed to be no “unifying voice” emerging as the top dog theologian to set the course for the current era of theological discourse. “Where is the Thomas Aquinas – the Martin Luther – the Karl Barth” he lamented. And I remember I got in some trouble around our final paper for the class – which was an assignment to pick and then defend our choice of theologian for the 21st century … kind of like “Survivor: The Theologian Version.”

I didn’t write that paper. Instead, I wrote an overview of the theologians we’d studied and then told a story about all of them. In the story they were a bunch of dirty little boys playing in my backyard. (Remember – I was the mother of two dirty little boys at that point in my life!) Anyway, I had them out in the backyard playing “king of the hill” and trying to knock each other off the top of the sand pile … not by pushing and shoving but by dueling doctrines and philosophically congruent justifications of their positions.

In my story -- after letting them bash it out for a bit in the backyard -- Mother calls them all inside. She makes them wash up and then settle down in the playroom where she brings out the buckets of Legos. And she tells them to each build their best and most brilliant design of what they think the kingdom looks like. And then – when they were all done – She helped them see where they connected … how they could snap and click together on a corner here and an edge there.

And when they were done there was a magnificent creation set in the middle of the playroom … with a unity brought about not by an imposed uniformity – not by the beating of “the other” into submission of one dominant voice -- but by looking for where the connections were amid the differences. And then … as I recall – the story ended with Mother inviting ALL the little boys to come gather around the table … for milk and cookies.

And THAT … I said in my paper my senior year in seminary … is what theology should look like in the 21st century: connected rather than competitive, with theologians following the King of Love, not trying to become the King of the Hill.

I don’t remember what grade I got -- but at this point, who cares? It was a long time ago and they ordained me anyway.

I don't remember the grade but I do remember the paper ... and I remember the hope that inspired it -- the hope of a church growing more fully into the Body of Christ is was created to be. And today I'm thinking I couldn't be prouder to be part of a diocese that's ready, willing and able to reach out -- like the mother in my story -- and call everybody in to work together to build this kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

So for those who want us to "just pick something" we've got an answer: we have. We have picked the King of Love over the King of the Hill -- and we're ready to move on with the work and witness we've been given to do.
We're ready to call "game over" on King of the Hill and invite everybody -- absolutely everybody -- to come to the table.

Because we're having a grand and glorious here in LaLa Land. We are thrilled with our new bishops suffragan and ready to get on with the work we have ahead of us: making the Good News of God in Christ Jesus made known to all who come seeking a community of faith committed to Jesus' core values of love, peace, justice and compassion.

Alleluia. Alleluia.


Sara Lee Macdonald said...

I loved this! You are right on the money! It's time to get down to the real business of God and sharing the Good News! Our lectionary for the past few weeks have given us all that we need to be inclusive and have a wide open table.
Love ya!
Sara Macdonald

Caminante said...

I am with you. Why do you have to 'pick one' when there is such incredible diversity in your diocese? Now I can see that such diversity might ring a bit odd in Vermont where we don't have a lot of diversity, but we Vermonters were thrilled and excited by the lions, drummers (that is what I saw). How petty to want to narrow things down to one (Western-Euro?) culture. Bother.

whiteycat said...

Susan, your paper should definitely be a model for today's church. In today's NY Times there is an op-ed piece by the Dalai Lama stressing the common threads in the world's religions, especially that of compassion.

uffda51 said...

"That argument doesn't work for me."

But the theology of Fred Phelps and the scientific expertise of George Rekers do work for Mr. Anderson? said...

What have you got against Hank Hill?

JimB said...

One wonders if the David Andersons of the world ever wonder how neat it is that the sole revealed word of God almighty just happens to support their prejudices and call for their empowerment at the expense of everyone else? No, I guess not.



JCF said...

What have you got against Hank Hill?

Heh, Wood Family, I had a similar thought...

...but specifically, I thought of the marvelous episode where Dale learns his father is gay . . . and is accepting! (Dale? Dale "The aliens, w/ the help of the CIA, are conspiring to take our bodily fluids" Dale?! Yes, Dale! *LOL*)

Rev. David Justin Lynch said...

A couple observations:

1. Your theory of atonement is right-on. Penal substitution, ransom, and satisfaction theories are ideas whose time has come and gone.

2. All scripture is God's revealed word - to particular people at a particular time, place and situation - God did not stop speaking at the close of the scripture canon. God's universality enables God to speak to everyone in their particular context.