Monday, April 26, 2010

Celebrating Natality

I am reading Diarmund O'Murchu's "Catching up with Jesus: A Gospel Story for Our Time." So far I am quite enjoying it as it is giving me things to think about. This following put into words some of what I celebrate.

According to O'Murchu, Grace Jantzen proposes that "Redemption comes not through mortality with the emphasis on death and suffering but through natality celebrating the birthing, flourishing, and growth of everything in creation."

I thought about this. Death is something that is certain and relatively predictable. No we can't predict the exact moments nor in the long run can we fully control death but death is something that comes to all things. Birth is uncertain and unpredictable. Human beings tend to prefer the certain and predictable even when that means death. Witness how so many of our churches are shrinking into closure because death is preferable to the unknown of what might happen if we actually try something new.

But this idea of redemption being in natality really speaks to me. I have always had a problem with the emphasis on the cross and suffering. I much prefer to find things to celebrate - to look for the many blessings big and small in our lives and the world around that speak to God's ongoing presence and working. I do not believe that creation is finished but is ongoing. When the Kin-dom is complete so will creation be complete. And I don't see the coming in of the Kin-dom as an apocalyptic event but rather a growing of the cosmos into the purposes for which God created it and a coming of the world of Shalom here on earth.

In seminary we had to study Rowan Williams' book "The Wound of Knowledge." Now I will readily admit that with my problems trying to understand the written word I struggled to make sense of the book. It took me a couple of reads in order to "see" what Williams was trying to say (I may have mentioned before that I see in concepts, images, visions and find understanding the written word difficult unless the author is deliberately drawing word pictures). I do remember discussing one of the chapters in class. It had been about Augustine and how he believed that God was found in our weak times - in our cross moments. I argued that for Augustine, a male of some stature, those moments would not have been the norm and so it was legitimate for him to believe that God was most often found in them. But as a woman, times of powerlessness, of vulnerablity etc. were not so rare. I usually find God in the powerful moments spent in creation - both in the outdoors with bright warm sunshine and a lovely breeze or whipping wind and in the creating process of craft work.

It is interesting that if we look at this redemption in natality idea, women are more ideally situated traditionally to experience it. We are the ones to go through the pain and uncertainty of giving physical birth. We are the ones who are sterotypically considered the nurturers of relationship. These things, as part of our norm, can lead into a shared experience with the Creating Divine.

The emphasis on the cross and suffering carries with it the major views of atonement which centre around sin and judgement. It models and power over, an authority based relationship and a separation of the sacred and the secular. It is about control, and distance and it tends to keep things in the head rather than embodied.

What happens if our emphasis is on natality? We begin to focus on embodiedment, on incarnation and relationship. We tend to celebrate life and open ourselves to wondrous possibilities. We experience the awe and mystery of the various relationships with the Divine. Instead of trying to understand in a scientific manner we tend to feel the awe and mystery with a sense of euphoric oneness. The more intellectual model tends to focus on separation with a sense of our littleness in connection with an all powerful male God.

The embodied understanding that can come out of a celebration of natality helps lead us in a "seeing"/experiencing of the sacred in all things. This is my style of spirituality. I don't keep regular prayer habits or practices. Instead, I celebrate and try to open myself to the presence of the Divine all day. I have certain practices that I do when I want to do this in a deliberate manner. These practices usually involve embodiment. They usually involve more than one or two of the senses. And very rarely do they involve structured prayer or reading. They might involve music and meditation, which I have learned help me to open myself to the awe and mystery. In the warmer weather I try to do these practices outside sitting on the ground with the warmth of the sunshine and a breeze flowing past me. I find that this is the time that I am closest to the Divine.

Whether this is an outcome of the what I was taught about the relationship between the Divine and the individual and also with all other parts of creation or whether I needed to have these experiences to more fully understand the beliefs I was taught as a child, I am not sure. But I believe that my growing faith and my practices are definitely intermeshed. This celebration of natality as O'Murchu calls is has helped me form my ministry style. I can see the Divine at work in all things.

It does mean that I rarely talk about sin. It is not that I don't believe that we sin, that we cause separation between God and us and between us and others on a regular basis. I just don't believe that constantly pointing out where we fail accomplishes a huge amount in the long run. I have experienced the harm it does in a way less than full relationship with God as a young adult. I could not pray or participate in various ways in a service because I was no where near worthy enough. I prefer to celebrate the ways in which God is active in our lives and the lives of others around us. When I develop relationships with people I focus on the good within them. It is not that I am unaware of the edges, I just don't let that colour my interactions. I prefer to respond to the good and foster the development of that.

Natality lends itself more easily to a power with scenario. It lends itself to the uncertainty of being with people as they journey through life and walking with them in their struggles listening to them and stepping back far enough for them to make the decisions they need to make. It means facing those outcomes with them rather than taking charge when we feel they are wrong and criticizing when the outcomes are less than perfect.

It lends itself to a more inclusive acceptance of people. Part of this is because instead of holding the masculine up as the ultimate goal as our Christian faith has traditionally done (based not so much on the Scriptures as on the erroneous theories of pagan philosophers, something I find so totally ironic when people call me a heretic) it celebrates all aspects of the human sexuality. There is no fear of the feminine that leads to a need to treat woman differently in so many unjust ways and that also leads to a fear of homosexuality and its challenge to traditional understandings of male/female roles. There is an understanding that creation needs both male and female equally, that each person has gifts that contribute to the creating process in important ways - that the reality is we need all in order to create.

I think it also leads to a better way of growing into the mission to which God calls us. We are better able to step out trusting in the uncertainty of future as we try new things. We are better able to let go and trust in God. We don't end up locked inside our church buildings afraid to face the unpredictable world outside them.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Attitude Problem

Although many may not agree - I am usually pretty laid back about things. There are a few issues about which my passion and enthusiasm show. Evangelism is one of them but that is fairly recent. Justice has always been something I have been passionate about. It is a passion that is a gift from my parents who believe/believed strongly in a world of Shalom.

I also care deeply about the Anglican Church. I remember leading a seminar at college that was about Anglicanism in other parts of the world. I researched with dismay growing each time I read about the growing influence of the Global South provinces and where their theology lay. I could see even then the impact they would have on the Anglican Communion and nearly wept for the way I knew we would change. It is not that I don't believe they shouldn't have a voice. It is that I believe they are where we were about 40 years ago. I firmly believe that in time all will come to realize that God is fully inclusive and that human sexuality is diverse and part of how we are created. I honestly feel that this will not be a huge issue in 20 years. We will have moved on to something else just a challenging to us as a Communion. Because we live in very different contexts there will never be a "common mind." To expect that we could ever have such a thing is ridiculous. We are far too diverse.

As much as I love the Anglican Church and its historical ties I cannot support the sacrificing of justice for the idol of unity. The ABC recently did a video for the Global South Conference.

Archbishop's Address

It is interesting the connection I feel with Canterbury. I have long believed that more than just physical traits are passed through our DNA. I believe that some of our spiritual ones are as well. I am a direct descendant of Queen Bertha of Kent whose husband gifted with St. Martins for Augustine. This makes Canterbury a special place for me. But, as much as it is special, I cannot continue to feel the necessity to continue to hold to it as a centre of unity at the sacrifice of justice.

As a child and teen-ager I was often in trouble with authority figures. I didn't realize until I had a daughter of my own that shared my attitude problem just what it was that caused the trouble. As an adult, dealing with that daughter's teachers, I realized that what I saw as issues of justice (and therefore I would not back down and was often taken to task for speaking back) were considered discipline issues to the teachers because I was challenging their authority. I never could back down from what I believed to be right. I still can't. I firmly believe that full inclusion of GLBTTs is what is right - that it is a matter of justice and that God is about justice. As a result if the ACC and TEC have to face consequences for their stance on this issue - so be it. I would rather see that than to see us uphold a very false unity.

And that is what it would be - a false unity based on the sacrifice of people and justice. How can it be a true unity with one group calling the shots and another having to sacrifice what it truly believes is the will of God? How can it be a true unity when it cannot embrace the diverseness that exists within it - when groups of it are not able to have integrity with their firmly held beliefs?

And as to consequences for ACC and TEC on a Communion level - what about Wales and Scotland and New Zealand? What about the voices in the C of E calling out for justice and full inclusion. If it is a matter of ACC and Tec facing consequences, what about those who share that passion and attitude for the same things? The reality is that we are just the tip of the iceberg. Maybe others are being relatively quiet right now but start to infringe on their sense of justice and their sense of integrity and we may see that the current sacrificing of justice for the idol of false unity will have more far-reaching consequences than Lambeth ever envisioned. We may see that they to have an attitude problem.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie +

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Love One Another As I Have Loved You.

Fulton MS: The World’s Cruelest Town

I was checking out the various blogs I follow today and came across the above link at Grandmere Mimi’s. I followed it and my heart and soul wept. Especially when I persevered and finally reached the original posts on the Facebook page, Constance Quit Your Crying, mentioned. But I was sick in my soul even before that.

A couple of days ago, a young woman came to me about a text she had received from a male friend. What that young man had written was completely unacceptable in any context. As this woman is someone very near and dear to me I struggled with my feelings around this young man who I had never met. I had to watch what I was wishing for, filtering it through the lens of my being a priest and doing or even wishing something that was inappropriate on any level. I finally settled on praying that this young man would see the harm in his actions and choose not to hurt another young woman in the way he had hurt this one.

It is so hard to separate ourselves from our very human tendency to lash out when something hurts our hearts or our souls. And many of us are hurt by what we see as injustice. Originally, I was only perturbed by the news of the above false prom, not only on Constance’s behalf but also on behalf of the other students who were set apart. But then, as I read more and more of the comments by supporters of Constance I became perturbed by the lack of love and tact within those writing.

There were some decent comments, rightly pointing out the wrongness of having a fake prom. But a vast number of comments were inflammatory. I noticed a fair number tarring all people from Mississippi with the same brush. That is unfair. The comments tended to see things in terms of black and white. Because this incident happened in Mississippi, then all things there must not be good. Even within the people who thought up this bizarre and hateful action there is good. Even in the midst of their fear, they do love and they do good. This action was totally wrong. They did harm – not only to Constance and the other students but also, in the long run, to themselves. The negative stereotypic comments were not helpful.

Part of the reason why they are not helpful is that those who respond with fear and hate, as I believe happened in Fulton, do so because they already feel insecure about their world. They dig in and become more rigid. The more negativity they have to face the more defensive they become. Inflammatory comments fuel a persecution complex. The current fad is to respond to negativity by making oneself out to be the victim and to claim that one is being persecuted. One can see this if one perseveres and reads through to the original comments on the Facebook page. The students did not see wrong in what they did but only saw that they were victims because their prom was canceled. The more extreme comments criticizing their actions will not help in bringing an understanding in how they were wrong to participate in the weekends events and will heighten a sense of being misunderstood,isolation and persecution by the outside world "that just does not understand what really happened."

Another thing that disturbed me about the comments where the way some of the people were so personally scathing of the students who went to the “real” prom. There was name calling galore and nasty comments about dress and behaviour. The dress and behaviour were not that different from many another school prom and, yes, it is not appropriate but to demonize these young people for something many others do is not appropriate either.

Way back when I took a couple of night classes for my second year of university we had someone come to talk to us about cults. He told us that if someone from a cult approached us we should not respond out fear or hate or be rude and cut them off. The best thing we could do would be to invite them in for a drink and snack. The young people from the cult at our door were taught that the world is an evil place and when we respond negatively we reinforce that perception. When we respond with love and care we may possibly be sowing a seed that will help if/when the person starts to question their cult.

This does not mean that it is wrong to point out to the young people of Fulton that what they did was wrong on so many levels and that it not only harmed Constance and the other students at the fake prom, it also harmed them. But that should be done in a loving manner, in a way that may cause them to stop and think about their actions in a different light rather than dig in and defend their actions thus reinforcing the fear and hatred. I worry that the line between those who participated in the what happened in Fulton and those who criticize their actions is not that great. It just so happens that they are each at opposites ends of the issue but the language and the response is very similar.

I hold all who have been touched by this incident in my heart and my prayers. I pray that we may all become aware of how potentially harmful our actions and responses may be and work to remember that God loves all the children God created. If we place God between us and those with whom we disagree maybe we can respond with the love which that our Lord and Saviour commanded of us just last Thursday as he ate with his disciples and washed their feet.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Good News

A few years back a friend of mine resigned his position because he could no longer, in good conscience, say no to blessing same sex marriages. This meant that he was not able to act officially in any capacity as a priest.

The good news is that Shawn is once again going to be able to preside and preach. It does not mean that he is licensed once again (as he is remaining true to his convictions and that means that he cannot follow all the present canons of the ACC), rather that he has been given a letter of permission to preside and preach under the authority of the current bishop. As he is now a parishioner of mine the bishop has allowed for him to preside and preach under my direction. I am absolutely thrilled to say that he has agreed to take the 9 am Easter Sunday service in our Memorial Chapel. It will also be the first service in our chapel in a while as it was used for storage when I arrived. We are reclaiming the space as sacred at our Holy Saturday service (which Shawn and I are doing jointly) and the first Service of Holy Communion will be on Sunday.

So, this Sunday not only will I be celebrating the Resurrection joyously but also the marvelous ways that God has blessed my life recently.

Love and prayers,
Ann Marie