Monday, July 29, 2013

The Essential Gift of the Episcopal Church-- Part 2

I owe a great deal of my teenage years’ achievements to  the power of the Episcopal/Anglican understanding of Christian life and witness and those leaders who inspired me. I felt propelled with courage. I became the president of the student body of Southeast High School in Oklahoma City, a special scholar in science and overcame my fear of standing up and speaking in public. Instead of nearly joining the NROTC with a scholarship, I went to Denver, CO to an international meeting of Episcopal youth in August of 1964 to learn about Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence and by the end of my freshman year of college was accepted by Bishop Chilton Powell as a Postulant for Holy Orders. 

Oh, do you not know what Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence is?  If not and probably not if you are under 50 years old, then I had better go back and catch you up.  (After testing out my thesis in various preaching and speaking engagements, that our seminary education and the excellent University of South’s Education for Ministry may help a student know biblical and ancient church history,  I can confirm that the Church fails to help adults grasp any of our Anglican history in the 20th Century.)  Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence (MRI) was one of the greatest historic and last “effective structures of hope” produced by Anglicanism.

Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ
                                             11 am, Saturday, August 17. 1963

As cited: Three central truths at the heart of our faith command us in this:
The Church's mission is response to the living God Who in His love creates, reveals, judges, redeems, fulfills. It is He Who moves through our history to teach and to save, Who calls us to receive His love, to learn, to obey and to follow.
Our unity in Christ, expressed in our full communion, is the most profound bond among us, in all our political and racial and cultural diversity.
The time has fully come when this unity and interdependence must find a completely new level of expression and corporate obedience.
Our need is not therefore simply to be expressed in greater generosity by those who have money and men to spare. Our need is rather to understand how God has led us, through the sometimes painful history of our time, to see the gifts of freedom and communion in their great terms, and to live up to them. If we are not responsible stewards of what Christ has given us, we will lose even what we have. . . . at the end--

We are aware that such a program as we propose, if it is seen in its true size and accepted, will mean the death of much that is familiar about our churches now. It will mean radical change in our priorities--even leading us to share with others at least as much as we spend on ourselves. It means the death of old isolations and inherited attitudes. It means a willingness to forego many desirable things, in every church.
In substance, what we are really asking is the rebirth of the Anglican Communion, which means the death of many old things but-- infinitely more--the birth of entirely new relationships. We regard this as the essential task before the churches of the Anglican Communion now.

The document was a call to an Anglican revolution. We were called to transform our view and understanding of all our resources: their development, sharing and implementation for massive efforts such as birthing fully non-colonial national Anglican bodies, as self defined jurisdictions. Our Province 9, as it is known today, is one of the major expressions of MRI.

There is vastly more to know, state and understand about MRI; however, for my purpose, it was my personal and for many others their call to serve in the life of the Church as stewards of the Gospel. I use stewards because MRI defined stewardship in what is now both a secular and Church usage as “more than money” and fund raising. A later document adopted by General Convention, Stewardship: the Main Work of the Church, has, as its antecedent, MRI. Empowered and inspired with the hope of a powerful vision, development of many new tools for mission and radical redefinition of jurisdictional bodies, many of us in our twenties came to serve the Episcopal Church.

More later, but for “homework,” here is your personal meditation question: What does Via Media have to do with MRI and what does the loss Via Media mean for radical stewardship?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Via Media Lost

At the Canterbury Club at my university we learned the song "I am an Anglican." sung to the tune of "God bless America."  It went this way.  I am an Anglican, I am PE.  Not high church, nor low church, but protestant and catholic and free.  Not a Presby, or a Methodist, or a Baptist white with foam.  I am an Anglican, just one step from Rome.  I am an Anglican, Via Media, boom boom.

Perhaps theologically wanting, the song nevertheless forged my spiritual identity with the idea that Anglicanism was the middle way between Rome and Protestantism.  Episcopalians were the perfect bled of the two, and we embraced all sorts and conditions of theologies and rituals into one Liturgy blended into one magnificent church.

The Via Media of Anglicanism began with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  The Act of Uniformity of 1558 allowed both the subjective and objective belief in the Real Presence at Holy Communion, thus blending the Reformation and Roman Catholic theologies of the Eucharistic Presence.  The original words are still found in our Prayer Book, Rite I, though they are rarely used.  In the bread words at Holy Communion, the Catholic position is present this way.  The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.  The Reformed tradition lay in the subsequent phrase.  Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.  In the early days of my ministry this had morphed into a creative tension between high and low church rituals in parish churches.  We all believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament.

The key idea here is that in spite of our differences in theology and liturgy, we were held together by this Via Media glue.  The Prayer Book was the guiding force that directed our theology, and the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church guided the discipline and order of the church.  Diverse elements within the church were pulled together under the wide umbrella of the Via Media, and even though we disagreed, we were loyal.

In the late nineteen sixties it all began to come apart.  As my friend and fellow blogger Bill McVey says, "we drew a line in the sand" between the conservatives and the liberals, mainly over new liturgical materials and civil rights issues.  This does not mean that it was wrong to be either liberal or conservative, it is that in most instances the two decided they could not live together in the same church.  The first "line in the sand" was drawn over the civil rights movement, closely followed by liturgy and woman's ordination.  Now the split centers around sexual orientation.  Many have left the church.  The Via Media drifted away.

I suppose that it could be said that throughout my active ministry I would have been classified as a "liberal," whatever that truly means.  While I am a fiscal conservative and was mostly a good steward of the financial resources of the parish, I admittedly was a theological and social progressive.  However, I now lament the reality that the church put itself in the position where both liberals and conservatives drew such a hard line in the sand where neither side could give.  Hence the split and therefore the functional demise of the Via Media.  I grieve that loss and am sad about the fact that loyalty to the church faded away into the fundamentalist sunset.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Bishop Speaks of A Punctuation Mark

Sometimes it is difficult to be an Episcopalian. It is especially difficult when we find ourselves in disagreement with one another, because we actually prefer unity to disunity. Nonetheless, even in the midst of turmoil we frequently come across a kind of “punctuation mark” in life that helps us remember who and whose we are called to be in our common life.

Mom, you are not going to believe what happened in school today.”

This was a radio spot I heard in the car. A little girl was talking to her mother. She was very excited as she recounted the event.
A Hopi Indian visited our class today. He showed us how he dances to pray and how he burned leaves to purify his soul. He showed us lots of other rituals. I wish I was a Hopi Indian.”

Her mother responded very gently, “Honey, we're Jewish – and we have rituals. When I was a little girl, my mother used to light candles every Friday night and we would sing special songs. Then on Saturday night, we would have a special meal to say goodbye to the Sabbath.”

Mom, why don't we do those things?”

Well, you know, we are pretty busy and you have lots of lessons and things. We just have a pretty hectic schedule to keep up.”

Mom, can we go to Grandma's house on Friday so she can show me the rituals you used to do when you were a little girl?”

This message was brought to you by the Jewish Federation. Come back, learn the rituals and participate in our programs.”

I am not sure I was able to capture all of it because I was in the car, but this is the essence of the message on the radio which surprised me recently. It made me think. It made me a little sad. It made me think again.

How difficult is it to be an Episcopalian? What are our rituals? How do they identify us?

This is your punctuation mark for today.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Futurist Liturgy, Google Glasses and the TMI Culture

Futurist Liturgy, Google Glasses   and the TMI Culture

            A few weeks ago, I was listening to an extremely respected, high tech market guru discussing the emerging digital wear market. More specifically, he was reporting on Google Eye Glasses focus group studies and the amazing positive feedback.

            It is difficult for an old timer like me to imagine that people will get excited about wearing Internet glasses throughout the day, but they are. In focus groups, users have found the glasses really cool. When a new technology is really cool, it is a win. The guru said that when he tested them, it was an exciting experience of being totally immersed in a live, dynamic digital cylinder.

Immediately, I recalled the Marshal McLuhan lesson of the Media is the Massage.  Not even McLuhan imagined that we would go beyond the Media is the Massage, but we have. With the coming of wear digital technology, especially the Google eye glasses, we are moving into the age of the total media Immersion. Total Media Immersion (TMI) means that we are in a constant digital cylinder of visual, text, and sound where all the senses are constantly touched. It is the ecstasy of the digital information cylinder.

Moving into a culture of TMI has serious and pressing implications for our Episcopal style of heavily print-dominated, historical symbols and ancient vestments liturgy. It just does not fit well into the immersion culture. Expecting young people under 25 to participate in a print-dominated liturgy is like asking them to watch a black and white Roy Rogers western movie with Chinese sub-titles.

As we move into the TMI culture, we need a new way of Episcopal worship. Perhaps we might begin by experimenting seriously with page 400 in the Book of Common Prayer, An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist.  I suggest we should change the instructions for this rite to It is recommended as the principal emerging style of worship for Sunday and weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the TMI culture.

In this style of worship, we would worship in a suitable room with a simple altar prepared for the celebrating the Eucharist. It is a plain room with comfortable chairs but on the white wall behind the altar, the celebration begins with an energetic spiritual projection of video art and music. Keyboard, wind, string and percussion musicians, praise singers and a soloist could be a part of the service.

The entire liturgy is built around concrete, spiritual, thematic preaching that is reinforced in the prayers. It is also supported by contemporary, easy to sing music like Sweet, Sweet Spirit, Blessed Assurance and inspiring solos similar to Love Lifted Me. Spiritually energetic video art is not just on the back wall, but it appears throughout the service, filling even the side walls with images and metaphors of glory, celebration, loving compassion, etc. There are no vestments. People distribute the bread and wine to their fellow parishioners. There is no need for special appointed and approved ministers. Some of the prayers are from the celebrant, but most are from the congregation and are casual, spontaneous and heartfelt.

These are only suggestions, but I believe that we must begin to think in this manner. I am curious if any of our readers have similar feelings about the new direction for liturgy in the age of the Google glasses.