Christ is killed every day by the injuries that we cannot bear. He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows and our first emotion, our first reaction is relief. Christ who lifts responsibility from us, Christ who suffers for us, Christ who takes away our burden and our misery, who stands between us and the world’s dreadfulness, between us and the squalor of our lives, as he was once thought to stand between us and the wrath of his Father. Christ the substitute, Christ the surrogate, Christ who saves us the trouble of being crucified. God will forgive: that is his job; Christ will suffer: that is his.
… And so Christ is killed every day by the injuries we refuse, by what we will not let ourselves feel and know, by the risks we refuse, the involvement we refuse.
Rowan Williams, Holy Living: The Christian tradition for today (2017)
The fact that we live in a culture tone-deaf to any sense of natural law is here starkly illustrated by the persistent tendency of modern human agents to act as though the naked fact of personal desire for unlimited acquisition were the only “given” in the universe, so that ordinary calculations of prudence must be ignored. Measureless acquisition, consumption, or economic growth in a finite environment is a literally nonsensical idea; yet the imperative of growth remains unassailable, as though we did not really inhabit a material world.
The material world tells us that to be human is to be in dialogue with what is other: what is physically other, what is humanly other in the solid three-dimensionality of other persons, ultimately what is divinely other. And in a world created by the God Christians believe in, this otherness is always communicating: meaning arises in this encounter, it is not devised by our ingenuity. Hence the pope’s significant and powerful appeal to be aware of the incalculable impact of the loss of biodiversity: it is not only a loss of resource but a diminution of meaning. “Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us” (33).
If we can lift our heads from the trenches of contemporary media-driven controversy, what we are being offered in this encyclical is, in the very fullest sense, a theology of liberation, drawing our minds and hearts toward a converted culture that is neither what T. S. Eliot called “ringing the bell backwards,” pining for a lost social order and a lost form or style of authority, nor a religiously inflected liberalism, but a genuinely ecclesial vision. The pope’s cultural revolution is about restored relationship with the creation we belong with and the creator who made us to share his bliss in communion; it is about the unbreakable links between contemplation, eucharist, justice, and social transformation. It constitutes a major contribution to the ongoing unfolding of a body of coherent social teaching, and a worthy expansion and application of the deeply impressive doctrinal syntheses of Pope Benedict’s major encyclicals.
I’ve compiled links to some sites and Advent calendars I think help us in this season. Check back from time to time as I’ll update the list.
Some online Advent Calendars:
- From the Anglican Communion: http://www.aco.org/adventword.cfm
- From the Society of St. John the Evangelist: http://ssje.org/adventword
- From Busted Halo: www.bustedhalo.com/advent
- on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OccupyAdvent
- twitter: @OccupyAdvent or https://twitter.com/OccupyAdvent
Rediscovering Advent from Full Homely Divinity: http://fullhomelydivinity.org/articles/advent%20fullpage.htm
From Creighton University, Praying Advent: http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/Advent/
A brief youtube video from Rowan Williams:
Looking for something to read during Advent?
or Wiman’s recent collection of poems:
Some kinds of instruction in prayer used to say at the beginning, “Put yourself in the presence of God.” But I often wonder whether it would be more helpful to say, “Put yourself in the place of Jesus.” It sounds appallingly ambitious, even presumptuous, but that is actually what the New Testament suggests we do. Jesus speaks to God for us, but we speak to God in him. You may say what you want—but he is speaking to the Father, gazing into the depths of the Father’s love. And as you understand Jesus better, as you grow up a little in your faith, then what you want to say gradually shifts a bit more into alignment with what he is always saying to the Father, in his eternal love for the eternal love out of which his own life streams forth.
That, in a nutshell, is prayer—letting Jesus pray in you and beginning that lengthy and often very tough process by which our selfish thoughts and ideals and hopes are gradually aligned with his eternal action, just as, in his own earthly life, his human fears and hopes and desires and emotions are put into the context of his love for the Father, woven into his eternal relation with the Father—even in that moment of supreme pain and mental agony that he endures the night before his death.
Rowan Williams writing on Origen and prayer in the Christian Century
Things get difficult if you hold that the Bible is only a human product; but they also get difficult when the Bible is treated only as a set of timeless instructions from God, irrespective of the actual process by which the texts arose. The Bible needs to be read, prayerfully and discerningly, in the company of as many other believers as possible, so that we can learn some wisdom from each other as to what exactly God does want to tell us. Hearing the truth in Scripture means expecting the Holy Spirit to be at work both in the text and in the community that reads it.
From an interview with Jonathan Merritt. More here
A lovely collection of essays in the New Statesman on ritual after God. It includes Rowan Williams’ description of how he begins his day in silent prayer and meditation.
Lucy Winkett has this to say:
If rituals help us navigate the thresholds of life when emotion is high and the tectonic plates of desire, fear, hope and despair collide, then the truth is that I travel a long way not just when I’m celebrating the Eucharist but while I’m walking the dog. Ordinary life is full of grief and miracles. Rituals are performed at the boundaries, on the border. What we do almost every day, sometimes without noticing, is step over the line.
In an interview that included comments about some Christians’ persecution complex and his response to the question whether gays and lesbians might feel “let down” by him, Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury had some interesting things to say about “spirituality:”
Sharing a platform at the Edinburgh international book festival with Julia Neuberger, president of the Liberal Judaism movement, Williams launched a withering critique of popular ideas about spirituality. “The last thing it is about is the placid hum of a well-conducted meditation,” he said.
He said the word “spiritual” in today’s society was frequently misused in two ways: either to mean “unworldly and useless, which is probably the sense in which it has been used about me”, or “meaning ‘I’m serious about my inner life, I want to cultivate my sensibility'”.
He added: “Speaking from the Christian tradition, the idea that being spiritual is just about having nice experiences is rather laughable. Most people who have written seriously about the life of the spirit in Christianity and Judaism spend a lot of their time telling you how absolutely bloody awful it is.” Neuberger said she found some uses of the word self-indulgent and offensive. Williams argued that true spirituality was not simply about fostering the inner life but was about the individual’s interaction with others.
“I’d like to think, at the very least, that spiritual care meant tending to every possible dimension of sense of the self and each other, that it was about filling out as fully as possible human experience,” he said.
Asked by Neuberger whether he felt organised religion encouraged the life of the spirit, he replied: “The answer is of course a good Anglican yes and no”. While it can pass on the shared values of tradition, it can also operate as simply “the most satisfying leisure activity possible. It can also be something that you use to bolster your individual corporate ego.”
The entire report is here.
Rowan Williams who is soon to leave office spoke out on a BBC radio program, “Thought for the Day. Here’s an excerpt:
And there is one thing often said by defenders of the American gun laws that ought to make us think about wider questions. ‘It’s not guns that kill, it’s people.’ Well, yes, in a sense. But it makes a difference to people what weapons are at hand for them to use – and, even more, what happens to people in a climate where fear is rampant and the default response to frightening or unsettling situations or personal tensions is violence and the threat of violence. If all you have is a hammer, it’s sometimes said, everything looks like a nail. If all you have is a gun, everything looks like a target.
People use guns. But in a sense guns use people, too. When we have the technology for violence easily to hand, our choices are skewed and we are more vulnerable to being manipulated into violent action.
Perhaps that’s why, in a passage often heard in church around this time of year, the Bible imagines a world where swords are beaten into ploughshares. In the new world which the newborn child of Christmas brings into being, weapons are not left to hang on the wall, suggesting all the time that the right thing to do might after all be to use them. They are decommissioned, knocked out of shape, put to work for something totally different.
I wonder how conservative American Episcopalians and Anglicans will respond, perhaps by telling him to butt out of our affairs?
He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.
He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.
He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.
h/t Wesley Hill
Yesterday, there was the shocking news that the measure to allow women bishops in the Church of England went down to defeat. Last week came the next step in the dissolution of the Episcopal Church as we’ve known it with the secession of the Diocese of South Carolina.
Outside of Anglicanism, also last week the American Roman Catholic bishops met. They were licking their wounds after a resounding defeat at the ballot box. Having put financial resources and considerable pressure, their efforts to prevent the passage of same-sex marriage failed in four states. The presidential candidate favored by most was defeated, apparently by a majority of their flock. They met with a convicted felon in their midst but no mention was made of his presence or the systemic problem underlying his conviction.
The Protestant religious right, too, is now trying to figure out what went wrong, what God is telling them, and how to move forward. Fortunately, Franklin Graham provides insight for all of us, as he speculates that God intends a total economic collapse in the US in order for us to repent and amend our ways.
Many of us who are passionate about our faith, passionate about the Good News of Jesus Christ, and about building up the Body of Christ, are also deeply committed to and passionate about the institutional church. It has nurtured and shaped us. It is one of the means through which we experience God and the love of Jesus Christ. But the institutional church, like every human institution, is deeply flawed, oppressive as well as life-giving. It can diminish us as human beings as well as enable our flourishing.
It’s pretty clear by now that many (all?) of our institutions are in crisis. Our political system is broken; our economy falters; higher education, the military, you name it. The structures of the Church, the institution of the Church is not only meant to be the means through which we come to know and love God through Jesus Christ but it is also the Body of Christ. It makes Christ present to the world and unites us to Christ’s body throughout history and across the world.
There have been times throughout history when it is very difficult to see how the institutional church incarnates the body of Christ. This may be one of those times, a period when because of human fallibility and social upheaval the institutions of the churches no longer bear witness to the fullness of Christ but have fallen prey to narrow human interest. At such times, prophets and reformers have risen up to breathe new life into old institutions or to create new ways through which God can break in upon us. It may also be that in local settings, in new media and new ways that people come together, we are already seeing hints of the new creation that God is calling into being.
In the meantime, we have to wait patiently, mourn the ways in which the churches and we ourselves fall short of God’s call, and continue to seek God’s will in the present and future. The danger is that our local efforts are ignored while institutional credibility and relevance collapse on the national and global level.
Back to women bishops. The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken publicly on the measure’s defeat. Thinking Anglicans provides full coverage of that as well as a press round up and reactions from various interest groups.
Reactions are beginning to come in. From Andrew Brown on Guardian: “I think I have just watched the Church of England commit suicide. It was a very long and very boring process.”
A view from Scotland (Kelvin Holdsworth):
Looking on at the passion of the Church of England from outside, one finds oneself trying hard to substitute compassion for pity.
There are many fine women priests and the cause for treating them equally in Canon Law is an easy one to make but one which has not been made often enough. Those female clergy deserved better than this measure. The whole church deserved better than this and now has the chance to try to find its way towards it.
The Church of England gets its chance to prove that it worships at something other than the altar of compromise.