Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Archiving the Work of the Spirit

(note: edited 4/28/2009, 10:30 pm, LEK)
I met with the Canon to the Ordinary of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago this morning to begin again/continue conversation around what a relationship between Reconciler and the diocese might look like. It was an invigorating time. As a pastor in a denomination that is not even in conversation with the Episcopal Church, I am thankful for the opportunity, after our Episcopal Priest resigned, to continue the conversation with the diocese. I also must say that I genuinely like Rev. Canon Scott Hayashi, and our conversation was not only informative and genuine but also enjoyable.

Now you may be awaiting a "but", and there is a "but". I begin here because there is also frustration and I want to be clear about the source of the frustration and that I think this is a theological problem and issue, and not personal. Also, I want all to understand that I really do have a deep appreciation of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. On many occasions I have considered becoming an Episcopalian, but each time have have been stuck with that I'd simply be trading one non-essential Christian identity for another that would have the analogous places of misfit and fit as my being Evangelical Covenant. So far in my spiritual journey this is true about all denominations I have considered, and it is my experience of both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy that they mimic Protestant denominational-ism which keeps me from finding a way to truly evaluate their claims of being the One Church. So, the frustrations I had with the conversation with the Rev. Canon Scott Hayashi, is not surprising given this long term struggle with denominational identity, and given the theological conclusions I have been coming to over the years.

It was also frustrating because I entered into the conversation with an expectation that was quickly shown to be unrealistic. I had hoped that both given that the Canon has known of us from nearly our beginning and was Canon to the Ordinary under the previous Bishop and given that Bishop Jeff Lee had spoken very positively and shown great interest in Reconciler at his visit that the Diocese might be able to offer Reconciler some options of relationship. Bishop Lee has appeared to be a creative thinker ecclesiologicaly speaking and I had hoped today's conversation would show this. From the outset the question of what to do about Reconciler was put in my lap, as something I needed to articulate to the diocese. This was certainly appropriate since no one who has been with Reconciler since its inception and who helped form its original vision had spoken this directly to the diocese before today. The blame for this can be laid both at our feet and the feet of the previous bishop. Tripp and I felt that this sort of conversation needed to be initiated by an Episcopal priest, but our first priest was not resident in the Diocese of Chicago, and when Laura came on and first began the conversation she was still learning the ropes and the shifting reality of Reconciler. It is also possible that this conversation could really only happen at this time and under these circumstances.

We were able to have a candid conversation, and I think I might have even given the Canon, what my wife calls, my "flashy eyes". We asked each other difficult questions and pushed each other on our positions. So genuine dialog around the nature of Christian identity and the importance of denominational identity for having a robust Christian identity. At this point in time and what we have more or less asked of the three denominations from the beginning was that they each accept as a congregation something that could not be said to be either Covenant, or Episcopal or Baptist. Denominational identity is a problem, and becoming less and less of an asset certain studies and statistics suggest, so we started Reconciler as a way to be Christian without these particular identities but with the hope that our three denominations could find away to hold their own identity more loosely. It is the Rev Canon Scott's sense that the Episcopal church will never hold its identity lightly enough to enter into situtation that would allow a congregation to affiliate with denominations with whom it is not in communion with (and the Covenant and it are hardly in conversation). In short the canons (church law, not those with the title of canon) of the Episcopal church, simply wont allow it. Preservation of Apostolic succession is part of this, or rather if we were an episcopal church and a Covenant and a Baptist it would mean being in communion with those without Apostolic succession, yet Apostolic succession is needed for communion. This makes sense at times the lack or tenuousness of the Apostolic succession for the ECC is a concern and makes Rome and Orthodoxy very attractive.

So, I asked for other barriers besides Apostolic succession, and of all things to my surprise and consternation was baptism! And not that baptism were invalid if done by me or an Episcopal priest at Reconciler but that they could not be recorded as being Episcopal baptisms! That is the diocese of Chicago could not record or archive for Reconciler even of a baptism performed by one of its priests because it could not say that at that time said person was also being received into the Episcopal Church. I very nearly went into a tirade about that baptism must only be into the one Church or that it is not baptism, but this did not seem the appropriate time to become "flashy eyed" about that bit of theology. In part because it was tied up with the issue of identity and whether or not Christian identity could be specific enough or strong enough to be a sustained and sustaining identity. On this point I did become "flashy eyed" (I suspect, this is not something I am generally aware of, but Kate has been pointing it out to me over the years and I do find that on certain topics or at certain points in a discussion or argument I will become very pointed and I can feel the energy in my self all focus around my eyes.) I simply pointed out that it seems to me that to be part of the Body of Christ and to have the Mind and Spirit of Christ should be a fairly specific identity, that one does not need to narrow down or improve upon. I think I also bore down fairly hard on denominational-ism as something at least the Faith and order Commission of the WCC was seeking to bring us all beyond. I refrained from quoting Paul in 1 Corinthians, even though I do believe it is a clear and obvious condemnation of the idea that a more specific identity than that of Christ is necessary for Christian faith. It seemed undiplomatic to carry this argument too far when I was also seeking to be identified with that which I am also critiquing. Ah yes the beauty and the challenge of this vision of Reconciler's.

The problem of Reconciler then can be summarized (with a nod of appreciation and debt to Derrida and deconstruction) as a problem of the archive. The problem of our desire to be affiliated at once with three denominations or for the denominations to recognize at all what we are doing is asking them to be the archive of the work of the Spirit in our midst but which does not technically reside where they are. Or more to the point how does one archive what has no current domicile, and which does not want to be its own archive. The denominations, and perhaps especially the the Episcopal Church and quickly following the Covenant Church, can only archive what they posses as a denomination, that is the work of the Spirit that they can identify as being something more than simply the Spirit of Christ. The denominations can only archive a baptism (which all claim, based on agreed upon multilateral statements based in approved and accepted in ecumenical dialog and statements of the WCC, is an act of God and thus the Spirit, and is the entrance into not any particular group or expression of Christianity but the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church) if in addition to being the entrance the the One Church it is also the entrance into a particular denomination. I was shocked, infuriated, practically speechless as the Rev. Canon Scott genuinely and without irony presented this as this great barrier, and backed it up by insisting on the necessity of particular denominational identity. It simply appears to me to be a basic contradiction that one cannot get around if there is only one Baptism and one faith then if one is a part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church one records that fact and archives the work of the Spirit and the one church whether or not said person wishes to be a member of your particular order of Christian. I also know and understand the purely human institutional and worldly need to count your members and to then be able to extract money from them for the perpetuation of your group, but that as Paul says is to speak in merely human terms which is at odds with the Spirit of Christ. I understand human pragmatic concerns, but we are talking about the greater things of the Spirit of Christ and the reality of the One Church, or at least my reading of the work of the WCC has lead me to think this was what we were all talking about. At times I wonder though.

Thanks to our conversation I do know what Reconciler has been asking of any who will listen and specifically the Episcopal Church the Evangelical Covenant Church and the American Baptist Churches, Metro Chicago. Reconciler is asking that the denominations seek to be the archive of a hoped for and future reality of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolci Church. That they be willing to archive a work of the Spirit that is gathering the lost sheep back into the fold but who for what ever reason are kept outside the church,where ever the Church may be (and I realize my Roman Catholic and Orthodox friends believe they know where it is, but I repeat these are two competing claims difficult to assess at the moment, for me and many others). Whether this return and this gathering is for the entrance into a re-united, or simply re-entering of the One True Church, this is a future and not present reality, and we are asking that those who see in our midst the work of the Spirit be willing to archive a work that they cannot posses and thus to be the archive of another reality and to house the record of what God has begun in our midst, though it may be small and not worthy of mention in the worldly pragmatic account of statistically significant numbers, I also realize that this request goes against the logic of the Archive,for the archive means control and power, it means to have a domicile of a particular narrow identity. In that sense Archive and Spirit may be in tension or at odds, and yet, the Church is to be such an Archive one that is in the end only an eschatological archive, the Church archives not for its own power and control but to be the conduit of the Spirit and a sign and sacrament of the present and coming dominion of God! So in a sense a Christian archive is something the Church does not control but holds without domicile for that day when we enter the New Jerusalem. The archive of the Spirit resists all identity and power that is not Christs. If Reconciler is a work of the Spirit than any one can archive it without needing to posses it. And it would be our hope that someday that archive would be taken up and recognized by the One Church, as an archive of the Spirit bringing home those who could not find their way through the morass of claims and counter claims and multiple identities, but whom the Spirit of Christ sought out and found and is bringing home.

This just might have something there for this Sunday, Sunday of the Good Sheppard.