Monday, November 19, 2007

Our Jewish Heritage

I have been reading Jewish Spirituality for the Christian by Harold Kushner. I picked it up on the book table at Convention. I have always appreciated his books. He writes of a spirituality that is simple and integrated as most Jewish theology does. He seems to take argument in faith as a given. It is almost as if instead of “where there are two or more of you…there is always a fifth” which Episcopalians often say, it is “where there are two or more of you, there is always an argument” for Jews. It is not something that scandalizes; argument is of the nature of Judaism. I guess that is why there are so many “Jewish lawyer” jokes. It is because arguing is part of the development of their faith.

Such debate is healthy. As Episcopalians we have always debated in my experience. I always was interested in the debates of conventions. They made me think. Sometimes they were a little uncomfortable, but when ideas are challenged, it does take us out of our comfort zones.

But of late arguments have not been debates. The present difficulties in our Church have been ruined by those who do not debate but who harangue. Mudslinging seems to be the order of the day by many in the Blogosphere. I keep marveling at why we are concerned with Stand Firm in Faith when their writers have already made it known that they have left the Church. I have been saying for almost 6 years now that those who refuse to live by the Constitution and Canons of the Church should find a church where they can be at home. Being ordained under the Canons of the Episcopal Church when one cannot support them is disingenuous at best and a base lie at worst. But what this world-wide fight over who has power has done to faith is by far sadder. We have become unable to debate, unable to discuss the merits of legislation. It has become a matter of win/lose, not a matter of discussion and our witness to Christ is diminished because of it.

What I saw at Diocesan Convention this weekend is a church that cannot tolerate argument. It has come to understand debate as a bad thing. Rather than discuss the significant issues that face the Church we would rather be hyped up by games and forms of “prayer?” that are neither part of our tradition or satisfying to those who have spent time and money to be inspired by the commonality that is called Church. It is as if we have become afraid to allow anything that does not exalt episcopal leadership to be discussed. And even sadder it was a display of a younger group of clergy who do not understand the basic premises of our Episcopal Constitution and Canons.

The diocese is not a safe place for clergy these days. If one does not toe the party line, one can be called into the bishop’s office and warned that you are under suspicion of all kinds of things. They don’t even have to be true. I have had such a warning and have refused to buckle under it. It is also the reason why I am not working in the Episcopal Church these days. I miss my denomination dearly. And while I work in other churches, I will not abandon my faith simply because a young bishop or young clergy who have not fought the fight for women’s ordination or for African-Americans to vote, or for gay folk to live boldly in the Church do not understand the nature of a debated faith. I am trying very hard to not let priests run members out of a parish, or a bishop run me out of the diocese that called me to ordained ministry.

I noticed few retired clergy attended this Convention. I wonder if I too will fall to that temptation. I commented that there were few retired or senior clergy attend Clergy Conference earlier on this blog. I did notice that there were many retired clergy who came to the August Clergy Day which was supposed to be about the issues facing the church. That meeting ended in a major argument simply because the Bishop cannot or will not engage the issues addressed to him by the senior clergy.

Should I retire to obscurity until some future generation understands how to respect their elders and wants to report on what it was like ‘back when’? I don’t think so. I will continue to bring the issues that are facing our church to the forefront. It is a lonely existence but I have faith in a God that taught his people to argue. The time will come when we will once again be able to challenge one another in the Church to address the truth—a truth that goes beyond one opinion or another and embraces all in all.


Anne said...

I have found the Jewish tradition of arguing to be both refreshing and demanding. Refreshing because I can articulate my faith without censure, and demanding because this freedom requires that I take a stand. I am no longer restricted by the Nicene Creed, but that also means I can no longer hide behind it with my fingers crossed.

As for faith vs belief, my faith is in God. For me, the doctrine of the resurrection, trinity and original sin fall under the heading of belief. I have read the faith vs belief discussion in myriad places over the years, but somehow the doctrine of the trinity always ends up (erroneously, in my view) in the faith column.

Sophia said...

This is the first time I have encountered your blog, and I will definitely return because I have really enjoyed reading your writing.

I am so sorry to hear about your diocese. I must admit however, that including the age (young) in the information about who is causing much of the trouble made me a bit uncomfortable. From my vantage point as a 30-something seminarian, there are many in the generation ahead of me (baby boomers) who are causing much of the conflict. I think the reality may be that it is those who are uncomfortable with how much we don't know, and the lack of easy or concrete answers to any question in life or the church. I don't think this is about age but more about a personality type that does not live well in the questions or the gray area.

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