Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Saw Three Ships

One of the things I remember when we were starting off and thinking about where we might be going, not only as a parish but as a community of parishes in the Diocese of Virginia, we recognized three biblical ships we could board:

The First Ship called Remnant: We could stay in the structures of the Episcopal Church and work for renewal from within.

The Second Ship called Sanctuary: We could separate immediately for to remain would cost the parish or mission so dearly that it would cease to exist.

The Third Ship called Exile: We would separate together, remaining in as close as communion as possible with our brothers and sisters in both the remnant and in sanctuary. But we would separate from our homeland, in our case, the Diocese of Virginia.

We recognized that all three were based on biblical principles and all three needed to be respected, especially if we chose a ship different from those we loved.

When I read Kendall's piece I see evidence that he is aboard Remnant. Perhaps he has not yet experienced what Sarah Hey calls "shrieking pain." Perhaps he is called to stay aboard Remnant. I don't know. He is in a friendly diocese, one that is filled with like-minded clergy and laity who share the same mission for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is no small thing and it makes sense that if he is in such a diocese, that he should stay there and work from within. He has respect amongst not only the orthodox, but the institutionalists and the progressives that make up the leadership of The Episcopal Church. He also greatly respected by those who have embarked out on the journey and those who are in sanctuary, whether they are still in the Episcopal Church now but plan to depart or have all ready separated.

We made a conscious decision not to cast aspersions on those who may choose a different path than the one we chose. And we also understood that if we were to go to sanctuary, the sanctuary would be short-lived. In time we all who did not stay with the remnant would find ourselves on a journey.

One way we described this journey was that we were on ships or boats. We've left shore, but we haven't quite arrived home. We thought of Dunkirk and all the little boats leaving the shores of war-torn Europe for England.

I have felt a kinship with Kendall and with the guys from ACI. As I've written about earlier, I was a fierce defender of working inside the Episcopal Church as witness and for renewal. I guess I spent twenty-two years, in one capacity or the other, working at it. In recent years I had moved into the elected structures, serving two terms as President of a Diocese of Virginia Region and serving as member of the Diocese's Annual Council. Even now, out in the boat as I am, I still am an Episcopalian. I am an Episcopalian in a CANA boat, that has now joined a fleet of boats called the Federation.

When is that moment when we feel the "screeching pain?" What caused me to board the ship Exile? We can look at the Hebrews who went into exile out of Egypt with the hope of finding the Promised Land. But there are others who go into exile with the hope of going back some day.

I believe I am more of the latter, aboard this ship Exile, praying that one day she will return home even if it takes twenty years. What is home? Restored Communion centered on the person of Jesus Christ, who died, who was risen, and who will come again. She lives in the hope that indeed, all things will be reconciled to Christ, as we pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." It is evangelism, to go into all the earth in the name of Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. But that home does not yet exist and so we push off from land and head to another shore.

I remember when Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn went home to Russia. I was so surprised, he went back very early, when things were still uncertain in Russia, when the memory of the Soviet Union was just a few blinks and tears away. He was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974 and returned to his homeland twenty years later.

Sometimes there are things we cannot see until we go into exile. And sometimes there are things that those back home cannot see until the ones they loved and have gone into exile. Solzhenitsyn, who found refuge in the United States, had no illusions about what he had left behind. He spoke and published forcefully. His literary works are works of art.

But he also had eyes to see the truth of where he was and he didn't flinch from sounding warnings that, like the leaders he had left behind in Russia, the leaders of the West did not want to hear.

"Until I came to the West myself and spent two years looking around," he wrote, "I could never have imagined to what an extreme degree the West had actually become a world without a will, a world gradually petrifying in the face of the danger confronting it . . . All of us are standing on the brink of a great historical cataclysm, a flood that swallows up civilization and changes whole epochs."

Reading or listening to Kendall's talk reminds us that the real battle, the real war is not with The Episcopal Church, but with what we warned of by Solzhenitsyn. "It has made man the measure of all things on earth—imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects," he wrote. "We are now paying for the mistakes which were not properly appraised at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility."

Our focus must remain on who we truly are - not just as Anglicans and Episcopalians, though that witness must conform to the name of the one who's name we bear. It must. But our focus, our foundation, our life - whether we are in sanctuary, in exile, or the remnant - must remain fixed on Jesus, our Lord and our Redeemer.

It's not just what we do that matters, but how we do it, how we walk out our testimony in a way that does not only destroy our own souls, but the souls of those we've left behind. Our prayer should always be for reconciliation, but the real reconciliation, the kind based on repentance and conversion.

And perhaps the best place to start with repentance and conversion is right here, right here in our own hearts. It is His kindness that leads us to repentance.


Alice C. Linsley said...

God bless you, Baby Blue! Each is led differently and according to God's time, but there must also be unity for there to be mutual support. I'm rejoicing that the Common Cause Partners are moving forward.

I left ordained ministry in TEC on the Sunday that Gene Robinson was consecrated. I didn't renounce Episcopal orders until March 2005. This journey hasn't been without pain, doubts and trouble, but it is a Spirit-led journey and there is no turning back. Now if only we can set aside personal idols to love and serve one another so that there is true unity in mission.

Anonymous said...

Dec 20, 1606, The "Susan Constant," "Godspeed" and "Discovery" set sail from London. Their landing at Jamestown, VA, was the start of the first permanent English settlement in America.

I'm sure that the passengers on those 3 ships were experiencing pain at leaving everything familiar and loved, plus fear and trepidation of where they were headed, just as Anglicans today are
experiencing as the board the 3 ships BB mentions. At some point the pain of staying outweighs the pain of leaving.
God, Grant that the three ships, Remnant, Sanctuary and Exile have a safe journey and land on the same shore together, in your own time.

Marie at Rez