Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Good Shepherd

I have been thinking a lot this past week about the Good Shepherd who is, paradoxically, the Lamb who was slain. In this past Sunday's sermon and in my sermon at Monday's Eucharist at the nursing home, I spoke about my own need for the Good Shepherd's leading. I am "prone to wander" and need each day to be drawn back to the One who in love claimed me when I was baptized 60 years ago and who has claimed me over and over again during the decades since then.

I have also been thinking about the ongoing conflicts within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion and wondering about the connection between those conflicts and our relationship with the Good Shepherd. I have been coming to the sad conclusion that the Anglican Communion will break apart even further in the next few years. Churches in which I have friends will no longer be in communion with the Episcopal Church and I suspect that I would not be welcomed there as I was in the past. On all sides of the conflicts there are people who are convinced that they are following the leading of the Good Shepherd. I am clearly one of those people, but I have to admit that I could be wrong. Even though I don't think it is likely that the Communion can avoid schism, I still am hopeful about the future of Anglicanism.

"I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd." (John 10:16) We have usually heard these words in the light of the uniting Jews and Gentiles in the Body of Christ or as a sign of hope for the overcoming of the divisions between Christian denominations. However, it can also be a reminder that those who belong to different Anglican folds will be brought in by the Good Shepherd and united in one flock. If we remain hopeful that Methodist and Baptist and Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christians will be united in one flock, how much more can we hope for the uniting of now-divided Anglicans in one flock.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Refusal of Finality

Of the informing principles of theologia crucis that Douglas John Hall listed in the essay cited in my previous post, A New Name, the refusal of finality, is one that is often ignored these days. We are tempted, often sorely tempted, to treat our understanding of the faith as final. When we yield to that temptation we become idolatrous, elevating our understanding of God to the place which rightly belongs to God alone. We also marginalize within the faith community those who don't accept our understanding of the faith. As hard as it may be for people with strong convictions to refuse finality, we must do so, recognizing that as strong as our convictions are, we may be wrong.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A New Name

As I prepare to retire this summer and move "back home" to Massachusetts, I have thought about possible new names for this blog. The Gospel in ToyTown will make no sense when I no longer am the rector of the Episcopal parish in ToyTown, East Aurora, New York. The new name - The Thin Tradition - is a reference to Douglas John Hall's characterization of the theology of the cross in his book Lighten Our Darkness. I have found Hall's work increasingly important during the past decade and have quoted him frequently in sermons and on this blog.

In The Theology of the Cross: A Usable Past, an essay which can be found on the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America website, Hall describes this thin tradition:
What is the theology of the cross? I have tried on many occasions, in both sustained argument and more metaphoric ways to describe this “thin tradition”—as I called it in my first book on the subject, Lighten Our Darkness. I know that I will never do justice to it because, to begin with, the theology of the cross is not an “it”—not a specific and objectifiable set of teachings or dogmas; not “a theology”—it is, rather, a spirit and a method that one brings to all one’s reflections on all the various areas and facets of Christian faith and life. I have never been able to improve on Moltmann’s metaphor when he says that the theology of the cross is “not a single chapter in theology, but the key signature for all Christian theology.” This is a theological approach that is not easy to pin down, as one can (with care) pin down terms like “orthodoxy,” or “neo-orthodoxy,” or “liberalism,” or “fundamentalism.” But theologia crucis as a spirit and method of theological thought cannot be stated in a formula. It may, however, be recognized when it is heard or experienced, whether in sermon, serious theological writing, or artistic expression.
Hall goes on to identify the Informing Principles of this Theology:
  1. The Compassion and Solidarity of God
  2. The Cross as World-Commitment
  3. Honesty About Experience (Christian Realism)
  4. The Contextual Character of This Theology
  5. The Refusal of Finality

I continue to recommend Hall to colleagues and friends, while continuing to read Hall myself. (I am currently reading Professing the Faith, the second volume of a trilogy in which Hall addresses the future shape of Christian theology and life in North America.) For those not willing to tackle the trilogy, I recommend Lighten Our Darkness and The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Doubting Thomas and the Community of the Spirit

I was privileged in 2002 to watch part of the satellite downlink of that year's Trinity Institute, held at Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City, just a few blocks from the World Trade Center. One of the two addresses that I heard was by Parker Palmer. In the question and answer period following his address, Palmer spoke of the need for community and identified two kinds of false communities that are present in our society. They are death-dealing counterfeits of the life-giving community that God wants us to experience.

The first false community is the kind in which everyone has to think alike, to adopt the party-line or they're out. We saw this in the Soviet Union with its Gulags for dissidents and we can see it in some Christian communities where members are required to adopt a particular interpretation of the Christian faith.

The second false community is the kind where you can believe anything you want because no one is really paying attention to you or taking you seriously. If you want to struggle with your doubts and fears, don't bother to do it in this kind of community, because no one really cares.

When Thomas came back to the community of the disciples after their Easter Say experince of seeing the Risen Chirst, he didn't find a false community which demanded that he accept Simon Peter's or anyone else's understanding of what had happened on Good Friday and Easter. Nor did he find a false community that didn't care if he had doubts. He found instead a community of unconditional love that accepted him as he was - doubts and all - and provided him a place where he could struggle with those doubts and come to faith.

Jesus had formed a community of unconditional love around himself in the months before his death by reaching out to all sorts of folks, even those who were unacceptable in the eyes of the religious establishment. When he breathed on his disciples on Easter, inviting them to receive the Holy Spirit, he gave them the power to create the same kind of community of unconditional love. And that's what they did, and it was that community that Thomas found when he met with the disciples.

We are called to be a community of unconditional love, to welcome all sorts of people with all of their doubts and uncertainties and to provide a space where together we can come to deeper faith.

Are we willing to be that kind of community?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Joy

Χριστός ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!