Last night I went to hear Bishop Fred Borsch speak at a diocesan Lenten program. I had met +Fred before many years ago. His vita is impressive just as his reputation as a fine bishop and scholar. It was a delight to hear the vitality of spirit in the man. And as I get older, I find that kind of vitality so appealing, not just because it gets harder to acquire it but because no matter one’s age, that vitality is not something that one can manufacture for one’s self—it is a gift from God.
One of his statements caught my attention, though. Faith during the Enlightenment or during the Reformation became an either/or affair. Because the Reformation became so polarized, a believer was marked by standing on one side or another: Catholic OR Protestant, Calvinist OR Lutheran, conservative OR liberal. And Faith was characterized by the intellectual assent to one set of tenets or the other. But faith characterized in Scripture and as the translation of the Greek word pistou is a matter of faith-in rather than intellectual assent or belief.
For the past 500 years the practice of faith in some traditions has been marked by adhering to certain elements of Belief rather than by a practice of trusting in the One who gives pistou. And if there is anything that is changing in our new age, it is a sense that faith in is a matter of Both/And rather than Either/Or.
As one who has often found solace in the historical developments of the Church, I found that statement welcome and satisfying. From the time I taught in Roman Catholic schools, I have made the distinction between Belief and Faith. Often then we referred to The Faith, meaning the teachings of Roman Catholicism, but I knew then that the faith that Paul spoke of was not a body of knowledge. It was a relationship with Christ. And +Fred’s almost throw away comment that “Truth is always a matter of both/and” brought a “yes” within my soul that helped me deal with this whole conflicted era that we have been experiencing in the Church over the past decade.
For the past year and a half working with the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, I have been in the midst of the battle of saving Anglican Communion from itself. It is time- consuming, reading often over 100 emails daily, arguing over how certain words in English convey different things in the wide and varied Anglican culture that is the Anglican Communion. We have talked about “our side” so often that I am not sure which side that is anymore.
I am by nature one who loves a good fight. I love to debate and try to convince others of the rightness of my position on issues. I too have often characterized my faith in either/or’s. I live now in a diocese that is still so scarred by the division that is present in the Church and we wait on civil courts to mediate who is ‘right or wrong’. So that one statement that “truth is a matter of both/and” called me to a new place in myself—one of balance and righteousness as characterized by the word tzedek in Hebrew.
Years ago I learned that God was Truth, Beauty and Love. I believe that this is a Benedictine expression and it may characterize Anglicanism from before the Reformation; I don’t know. But it has been playing in my mind that all Truth, all Beauty and all Love is a matter of both/and. Good art of any kind brings balance. This does not mean that the work of art IS balanced, but it creates a way of experiencing the both/and’s of life. Really great pieces of music touch on both the greatest grief and the greatest joy at the same time. The same is with great literature or music. In creation God brings us to that sense of both/and in those places that are awesome in beauty or as ‘thin places’ where great Other of the Divine comes to touch the great Within and holiness is experienced.
Great spiritual writers such as Dame Julian of Norwich or George Herbert talked of Love as this both/and this way. But so did Martin Buber and Rumi. And I am sure that within all of the religious traditions of the world, I could find followers who have found Faith to be a both/and experience rather than an either/or proposition. It is of the nature of the Holy to blur the lines and to hold them in tension so that they may be balanced and we can know peace.
If there is anything that may mark this Lent for me is that I need to know that balance that is called the Love of God. I have always needed it. The diocese needs it; the Church and the Anglican Communion needs it. All of Creation needs it. And it isn’t just something that I can passively wait for God to give. I must be willing to participate in it for it to become a reality. It will mark my Lent this year. Hopefully it will mark my life forever.