Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Vision 2019: Dream the Church

The Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada has recently invited Canadian Anglicans to participate in a visioning process. Anglicans across the country are encouraged to visit the Vision 2019 Website and submit their thoughts, reflections, dreams and longings about where we believe God is calling this Church to be over the next decade. Vision 2019 is grounded in the Five Marks of Mission, which include proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God; teaching, baptizing and nurturing new believers; responding to human need by loving service; seeking to transform the unjust structures of society; safeguarding the integrity of creation. I encourage readers of this blog to visit the site (see link, above) and make their contribution either by sending a letter, audio recording, video or email. I will be preaching this upcoming Sunday (Pentecost) on themes related to Vision 2019.

I was pleased to participate on behalf of the work of the General Synod and provide this short video about the Anglican Church of Canada's publishing ministry, ABC Publishing (Anglican Book Centre).

Friday, May 8, 2009

Some Further Reflections on the Gospel of Mark

Last fall, I wrote a series on this blog entitled The Gospel of Mark Challenge in which I challenged parishioners to read a half chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel each day, completing the Gospel in about a month. Along the way I commented on various passages of interest. Having since preached extensively on the Gospel of Mark (as we are currently in Year B in our three-year cycle of Scripture readings, the year in which St. Mark is read) I felt some summative comments might now be in order.

On Easter Day I preached on the Resurrection appearance in Mark 16:1-8, or more correctly, the “non-appearance,” for The Gospel of Mark is the only gospel without an appearance of the Risen Christ. Instead, it is characterized by an empty tomb and the flight of the frightened female disciples.

In my sermon, I argued that Mark intended this abrupt ending in order that we might write ourselves, and our own faithful witness to the Resurrection of Jesus, into the story. The abruptness of the ending, the apparent absence of the Risen Christ, and the fear of the women leaves us, who knew the story, to call into its pages “Christ is Risen, fear not!” We are left to complete the tale, to tell the story and its ending (or rather, its beginning) to others and to the world. In other words, we are called to be the witnesses that the story lacks. We are to write ourselves into the story. What is explicit in the texts of Matthew, Luke, and John, is for Mark, to be made explicit in our lives and witness.

I also argued that this literary ploy of Mark obviously worked because at least three other individuals or communities set to work at penning the “missing ending”. Check the footnotes of your Bible and you will see at least three attempts follow after verse 8 at completing the “unfinished” story (these are known as the “shorter ending”, “the longer ending” and the Freer Logion). These other individuals were moved in faith to tell the story of the Risen Christ, to witness his presence to the world.

It is sometimes argued that the Gospel ends so abruptly because the original ending was lost. I suggest to you, however, that it is only lost when we fail to tell the story of our faith.

As I have reflected further on the Gospel of Mark, I am convinced that this interpretation of Mark’s literary motive is the correct one, for it coheres with several other literary themes in the Gospel. Thus, I suggest that the overall Markan literary strategy is that we the readers/hearers are actually participants in the narrative.

Consider the ignorance (some would say stupidity) of the disciples who constantly do not understand either who Jesus is or what he is doing, how they ask for a high place in his kingdom, how they mistake him for another prophet. As readers/hearers we scratch our heads because we understand right from the outset of the story who Jesus is.

Consider the greater problem of what scholars call the Messianic Secret. Jesus is constantly telling people not to reveal him to the world or the authorities. The disciples still do not understand and his demons and adversaries often recognize him even when the disciples are continuously missing the point. We are gripped by the narrative irony.
Why? Because we know exactly who he is and are drawn into the tension out of our desire to proclaim his identity!

Consider the story of the Transfiguration. The disciples once again misunderstand this revelation and seek to make booths for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. They get it wrong once again, but we are crying out with the right answer. Why? Because he has already been transfigured before our eyes and in our hearts!

Consider the derision and mocking of Jesus on the Cross. Consider Peter’s denial and abandonment of his Lord. At each step of the passion narrative we hang our heads in shame. Why? Because we know precisely who is being crucified whereas the players of the story do not.

Throughout Mark’s story of Jesus we shout across the pages what we believe and what we understand where other fail to believe and where others fail to understand. This all coalesces in the words of the centurion at the foot of the cross, who in his profession of faith “Surely this man was the Son of God” gives voice to our profession of faith. It is a word that echoes the opening sentence of the Gospel “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The words “Son of God” are considered by many to be a later addition because they not widely attested in the early manuscripts. Yet, I suggest that they are likely authentic because they are congruous with the Mark’s narrative strategy, namely, that from the outset the reader/hearer knows who Jesus is, in contrast to the participants in the story. It is the proclamation we long to make at every step.

Thus, I suggest that Gospel was written not for an unbelieving community but rather to strengthen the witness of a believing community, that they might write themselves into the story in every place where the characters in the story fail in their proclamation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Therefore, this is a Gospel for the Church today as much as any other time, for it is a Gospel into which we write ourselves so that at every frustrating turn, at every failure of the disciples, at every ironic misunderstanding, at every failed proclamation, at every denial, at every fleeing in terror, we can shout with joy, certainty and conviction, “he is Risen indeed! Alleluia!”

c. 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

For previous installments of the Gospel of Mark Challenge:

Part I: Follow Me
Part II: Who Are My Mother and My Brothers?
Part III: Lord I Believe, Help My Unbelief
Part IV: You Are Not Far From the Kingdom of God
Part V: Cursing the Fig Tree, Cleansing the Temple
Part VI: The Little Apocalypse

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Being Polite -- the Newest Deadly Sin

I recently got myself into a little hot water with some adherents of the ANiC (Anglican Network in Canada) for suggesting that we should use a little bit more civility as we explore the state of the Church.

Followers of this blog will know that I was invited earlier this year to participate in the Anglican Church of Canada's Vision 2019 project. The project, initiated by our Primate, the Most Rev. Fred Hiltz, seeks to explore where the church in Canada finds itself today and where we believe we are being called in the next ten years. This reflection revolves around the five marks of mission. I was interviewed for a short video highlighting work being done by the National Church (I spoke about the second mark of mission, Teaching, Baptizing and Nurturing New Believers, in light of the work of the Anglican Book Centre publishing programme). In addition, Anglicans across the country were invited to post comments on where they see the Church today and in the future.

As the feedback began to come in I noticed that a great deal of the early feedback was very negative and critical. Of course, it is important for the leaders of the Church to hear all feedback, positive or negative. However, several people began to resort to name-calling and caricature in a most unedifying manner. A study group from St. John the Divine in Victoria, BC posted an interesting report of a Lenten study they were doing with some good thoughts about social justice. A response was posted by Frank Wirrell, a regular commentator on the ANiC blog. Mr. Wirrell made the following response:

"The comments with respect to justice sound good but to thank the Primate is definitely stretching the truth. The lack of any justice toward orthodox parishes and Anglicans can only be described as the work of Satan. The writer should carefully examine his statement that we should get past the same-sex issues. That issue is simply the tip of the iceberg and demonstrates a complete rejection of God’s word. So-called bishops, including the Primate, that are prepared to claim they can bless same-sex unions are not only deceiving themselves but are deceiving and misleading those involved. Each of us has a tendency to sin in one area or another and that includes being involved in homosexual activity or adultery. Rather than endorsing any sin we need to honestly repent and not be led down the garden path by political expediency. If the Primate were honestly interested in justice he would order that all actions against orthodox parishes cease and that apostate bishops resign their positions."

Everyone has the right to their opinion and to post it, nor would be against anyone posting a legitimate theological critique of any theological position. However, name-calling does constitute a legitimate theological critique. Furthermore, I believe this project was offered to Canadian Anglicans with a measure of graciousness and a willingness to listen. I do believe graciousness should be met with graciousness. Thus, I responded:

"I find it disheartening that in an exercise that is intended for thebuilding up of the kingdom of God, we continue to see our bishops characterized in such derisive terms. The primate (and our other bishops) are not “so-called” bishops, they are bishops in the Church of God. Similarly, to toss around a term like apostasy is very unhelpful. The elevation of abusive language in these debates is not at all edifying. In my experience, our Primate has never been
anything but gracious. His invitation into this discussion and his willingness to listen to all voices has been most gracious. I hope that we as Canadian Anglicans would reciprocate with a similar graciousness that would be characterized in the tone of our language."

Mr. Wirrell responded, asking for some clarification.

"I have noted the response of Fr. Dan Graves and would ask what he finds offensive in my remarks. Clearly the time has come to call a spade a spade. Bishops, clergy and laity that deny the authority of Scripture and attempt to make such authority subject to a majority vote are apostates - politely but mistakenly called liberals. The Primate might well be gracious under some circumstances but his lack of action to deal with apostasy cannot be and should not be overlooked. Certainly he has not been gracious to orthodox Anglicans. To be a true Anglican one must first be a Christian and when you have so-called bishops proclaiming that all religions lead to the same place, action is mandatory to have them repent or remove them from office. You cannot build a church on sand but only on the Solid Rock. The Anglican Church of Canada is quickly losing its “right” to be called a church of God and needs to repent and turn back from the sin of political expediency."

It seems for Mr. Wirrell that as long as you are convinced and sure about something you can use whatever language you wish to villify your opponent. I maintained my original point and sought to clarify and restate it:

Although I never used the word “offensive” I do believe that I made very clear what I felt was unhelpful about your remarks. I am not aware that any of our bishops have been either tried for heresy or deposed. As much as I can determine, they are all in communion with the see of Canterbury (and even if they may be in a stated of impaired communion with some other bishops around the world, they are in full communion with brother and sister bishops of their own house). Thus, the bishops of our church are indeed true bishops in the Church of God, not “so-called” bishops or apostates. One is not simply an apostate because any given individual (or even group) declares it. Furthermore, being liberal(which you seem to imply is a sin of major proportion) does not automatically excommunicate one from the church. At a more nuanced level, orthodox and liberal have become caricatures used by those who wish to lampoon opponents with whom they do not agree. Most people have a much more nuanced theological landscape. Again, I believe polarizing language is not helpful. I will state it again: I believe this forum was created for the building up of the church, not for tearing it down. Does this involve critique and self-exmanination of where we are as a church? Certainly it does. However, simply criticizing, name calling(”so-called bishops” “apostates”), and starkly calling a “spade a spade” fails to offer an opportunity for authentic dialogue.

The independent Anglican blogger Anglican Samizdat made an attempt to comment on this debate but claimed to be shut out of the Vision 2019 site. They did allow him to post a link to his site, though, where he re-posted the first part of my exchange with Mr. Wirrell, to which he added his own comment:

"One of the significant things about this exchange is the fact that the ACoC’s defender is basing his defence on the use of language, rather than truth. The redoubtable Frank is intent upon calling “a spade a spade” and this is what seems to upset Rev. Daniel. After all, we are Canadian: what matters is being nice to each other, not the truth. And to set the record straight, the primate, Fred Hiltz is not as gracious as Rev. Daniel would like us to believe: he is supporting dioceses that are suing the pants off people who disagree with them."

I'm not entirely sure what Anglican Samizdat thought I was defending. I was simply suggesting that we frame our debates in a reasoned language and stay away from any slanderous innuendo. Simply because someone does not like the position a bishop has taken it does not give them a right to call their orders into question using slanderous terms like "so-called bishop" and "apostate." There are ways to depose bishops. I am not aware that any of our Canadian House have been deposed. Let us therefore stick to the facts and refrain from name-calling. And for the record, I never once commented on what I take to be "the truth." Thus, it is disingenous to suggest that I have rejected the truth of the gospel. A false dichotomy has been created here.

One further comment was posted on Anglican Samizdat by Jim Muirhead, another regular commentator on the ANiC blog:

"I don’t know Rev Graves, but I have followed Frank’s posts with pleasure at Essentials.This is a classic conversation with between the two parties of Anglicanism in Canada. On the one hand Graves is concerned with manners, and on the other Wirrell stands on the Word. I’ll stand with Frank any time. - Peace,

For the record, at no point did I engage Mr. Wirrell on whether or not I "stand on the Word." My blog posts and sermons are a matter of the public record. Should they choose to judge me they can do so from my published writing, but not from this red herring of a debate. No, Mr. Muirhead, this was not a "classic conversation between two parties of Anglicanism in Canada... one concerned with manners and the other with the Word." There was really no debate here, simply an unwillingness on the part of Mr. Wirrell to use the kind of temperate language that makes debate even possible. I stand by my original point that constructive dialogue is characterized by a graciousness of language. If there are those that count me as condemned or apostate for the use of good manners, then so be it. At least my mother will be proud.

Fr. Dan Graves
Feast of St. John the Evangelist, 2009.