Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Archbishop Welby, Dietrich Bonhoeffer & 21st Century Spirituality

A sermon preached at the 7:30 am Eucharist on Wednesday, April 9 at Christ Church Cathedral by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman

This Lent, you've been looking at a different kind of spirituality each week. You've talked about Ignatian spirituality, Franciscan spirituality, last week Michael Angell was here and preached on the spirituality of the Anglican poet John Donne. 

And so when I asked John what he wanted me to cover, he said, "Why don't you do something about 21st century spirituality?" OK, I thought. That's not as easy. There's not a book you can go to to read about it. The first question we really need to ask is -- what is it?

And so I've been thinking about it. What is 21st century spirituality? Is it digital spirituality? Is it logging into Mission St. Clare every day on my smartphone or praying with Facebook? Is it Starbucks spirituality? Deep conversation over a mocha latte?

And then I thought about those other spiritualities. Ignatian, Fransciscan, Benedictine. Each of those developed as a response to the world around them. It was individuals and communities asking the question: How do we take the world around us and live in it in a way that centers us in the divine?

So how do we do that today?

What is a spirituality for an age where we are are more connected than ever before?

...for a time where people reject institutional answers and branding ... not doing or believing something just because the church says?

...for a time when we are more aware of complexity than ever? When we are connected to one another globally and recognize the interrelatedness of our actions from a molecular level to a cosmic level and everywhere in between.

And while I was thinking about this, The Archbishop of Canterbury went on the radio and blew up the internet in a perfect example of what I'm talking about.

Archbishop Welby was doing a radio call-in interview, and he was asked a question about same-sex marriage. And he answered that question in the context of our global relationships. Now, agree or disagree with his answer ... this is a new thing we have to consider.

When William Temple was Archbishop of Canterbury in the first part of the 20th century, first off, he probably wasn't doing many live radio interviews, Secondly, his comments weren't being uploaded direct to YouTube for the entire planet to watch within the day. But thirdly, and probably more to the point, his own thoughts and beliefs were not being deeply effected by his experience of multiple other cultures and societies and his sense of the ripple effects of his words on them.

We are aware of one another globally in ways we have never been before. And that makes our lives so much richer -- but also so much more complex. And it makes the impulse and temptation to try to make them simple even stronger.

Today is the Feast of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the 20th century's great theologians and a martyr for the faith. And here is the Gospel reading we just heard for his feast day:

The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I always thought this was a great reading for Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a deep and careful follower of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. But in the end he was martyred for being part of a plot to kill someone … Adolph Hitler. And he joined that plot in large part because he did this work of sorting, of recognizing that often there aren’t black & white, simple easy answers but that there is a ton of gray and we need to sit and sort through and work out our salvation with fear and trembling and in the end try to follow Jesus as well and as fearlessly as we can.

In the end, that can lead us to some bold actions. Actions -- like plotting to kill someone in the name of Christ's love -- that are not bereft of deep contradiction.

Maybe 21st century spirituality is a spirituality of discernment - of this kind of sorting. We drink from the information firehose of the internet. We are increasingly reactive. We think and act at the speed of the internet because we can, and because more and more we are expected to. True sorting and reflection is becoming a rarity.

And what has happened this week with Archbishop Welby is a perfect example. What got reported out was a soundbyte -- "You can't allow marriage equality because people in Africa will be murdered."

And with that soundbyte, the world was off to the races. People on the right are lauding him, saying that finally here is someone who is holding onto true orthodoxy and rejecting the false gospel of the left. People on the left are calling him an idiot and a Neville Chamberlain and a coward.

It occurred to me it might be helpful to do something unusual. To go beyond the soundbyte and listen to and reflect on what he actually said (you can watch the video of the entire show by clicking below):

The segment that has caused the nuclear reaction is this: as part of a conversation about same-sex blessings, the announcer responded to an answer that the Archbishop gave about same-sex blessings and said

Announcer: A Gay Christian listening to you there, may have heard the message that he or she can't marry their partner in their church because of the conniptions it would give to some African, dare we say, less enlightened people in Africa. 

Archbishop Welby: Well, I don't think we dare say less enlightened, actually. I think that's a neo-colonial approach and it's one I really object to. I think it's not about them having conniptions and getting irate, that's nothing to do with it.

It’s about the fact that I’ve stood by a graveside in Africa of a group of Christians who’d been attacked because of something that had happened far far away in America, and they were attacked by other people – because of that a lot of them had been killed. I was in the South Sudan a few weeks ago and the church leaders there were saying please don’t change what you’re doing, because then we couldn’t accept your help and we need your help desperately. We have to listen carefully to that, we also have to listen incredibly carefully to gay people here who want to get married and also to recognise that any homophobic behaviour here causes enormous suffering, particularly to gay teenagers, something I’m particularly conscious of at the moment. And we have to listen to that very carefully and work out what we do.

Announcer: Can you imagine a day when two people of the same-sex will be married in an Anglican church here?

Archbishop Welby: I don’t know. Personally, I have a real, I look at the Scriptures, I look at the teaching of the church, I listen to Christians around the world and I have real hesitations about that. I’m incredibly uncomfortable saying that because I really don’t want to say no to people who love each other, but you have to have a sense of following what the teaching of the church is, you can’t just make sudden changes.

I'm wondering if Archbishop Welby isn't giving us a model of 21st century spirituality.

First of all, he is being true to the vows that he has taken. We ask our bishops to stand in front of God and the church and, among other things, to:

Boldly proclaim and interpret the Gospel of Christ, enlightening the minds and stirring up the conscience of your people.

Guard the faith, unity and discipline of the Church.

All of us -- the baptized, deacons, and priests -- are called to boldly proclaim the Gospel, but only bishops have to balance that with a vow to guard the faith, unity and discipline of the church. The first thing Archbishop Welby is doing here is remembering the vows he took.

Second, he is letting himself be deeply moved by a broad variety of human experience. He is standing at a mass grave in Africa and listening deeply to the voices both of people in Sudan saying "please don't change anything" and of LGBT Christians saying "please change this now" and recognizing both are deeply pained voices.

Third, he is holding this experience in tension with the Gospel and the historic teachings of the church. He is following the Anglican way of starting with scripture, taking it seriously (though not necessarily literally) and then interpreting it through the lenses of tradition, reason and experience.

Finally, he's trying by example to lead a Church in that work of sitting down and sorting. Realizing that there is good and evil ... but that like the struggles that led Dietrich Bonhoeffer to plot to kill Hitler ... there are complexities that must be dealt with and even if a bold choice is made there are those who would have legitimate and even convincing arguments on the other side (as Christian pacifists have had with Bonhoeffer).

I don't think 21st century spirituality is unplugging. And I don't think it is some reactive ADD spirituality either. I believe it is actually wonderfully Anglican spirituality.

*Taking seriously the vows that bind us to God and each other in Christ.

*Taking the depth of connectivity that our life offers and diving into it ... not with anxiety, but with deep listening, deep prayerfulness and deep care. Allowing ourselves to be deeply moved by a broad variety of human experience.

*Taking all this and holding it in tension with the Gospel and the historic teachings of the church.

*Finally, through prayer and conversation and this work of holy sorting and being fearless in the face of contradiction and nuance, determining what action God calls us to that takes all these things into consideration.

It is the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Justin Welby and all of us. It is the work of the Kingdom of God ... drawing in a big net and sitting down and doing the hard, holy work of sorting; working out our salvation with fear and trembling. Not being afraid of deep relationship and nuance. Of considering our call and considering one another.

It is the work of ultimately trying to follow Jesus as well and as fearlessly and as lovingly as we can.

It is a work that, far from leading us in paths of self-righteousness, leaves us all humble before the cross of Christ.

1 comment:

  1. Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu have shown us the way to the Promised Land, and it is justice for all. It is not withholding justice for some to appease murderers on another continent. The massacres and strife in Africa are indeed horrible. But using justice for LGBT people in America as an excuse for murder! Buying into that false premise is dangerous, as it encourages the homophobia and violence there. We need to show the Radical Love of Christ. We need to show it to Africa's LGBT people who are being arrested, beaten, jailed, and murdered by the state, supported by "Christians."

    It is really something to see people buy into a false premise. Homophobic Muslims are killing homophobic Christians because they want power, territory, and oil. If we suddenly reversed all justice and inclusion for LGBT people in the church, the murderers would find another excuse. Does anyone think that reversing course on justice would bring about peace in Africa?