"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

17 June 2011

Talking back..

I am spending this week at Trinity School for Ministry for the Ancient Wisdom, Anglican Futures conference. As I've always been the type to talk back, there's plenty of blog fodder here. How tempting to (as I am doing right now) sit in lectures and use this space to talk back to the lecturers, to think out loud a bit, to percolate.

An unintentional theme of the conference seems to be the need to know. Its that Protestant, Enlightenment, Baptized Humanistic viewpoint that just wants to know. So we seek and ask (great stuff there) and expect that somehow our small finite minds have some hope of understanding. Two temptations then emerge, the desire to explain away what we don't understand and the subconscious humanism that believes we have, as a human family, grown in our understanding from generation to generation. The latter problem is epidemic in the west, where we value our own learning so greatly that we dismiss the African as ignorant and backwards, and quietly assume our ancestors were uneducated and underenlightened.

Across the screen this afternoon have appeared the words "the Age of Reason" in the speaker's notes. And even this common title is a symptom of the disease, for it implies that the ages before were unreasonable, underdeveloped. Enlightenment assumes a dark age, the Academy seeks to add to the body of knowledge, further our common understanding.

But in reality it is not an adding on, progress, but in fact an exchange of goods. For our modern technology we have exchanged our connection with the cycles and seasons of earth. For our knowledge of facts and figures, sciences and such, we have exchanged our comfort with mystery and true magic. And we come to assume that cycles and rhythms, magic and mystery are primative, that these are not things we need.

But the life of the church shows otherwise. A rationalized faith is one that is just as easily rationalized away. When we let our opposition set the rules, we are destined to lose the game; yet we consistently allow the world, the secular culture, humanism and darwinism and rationalism set the rules. And in doing so we lose the magic, we strip away the mystery. And when we have done so, we are reduced to pointless rationalization or empty emotionalism, and the heart is separated from the head.

But the point of mystery is to unite the rational mind and the emotional heart. To experience something with the senses that can be explained only partly to the mind, to be consumed in a sense of "wonder and radical amazement" (to borrow the words of Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel). For we cannot begin to understand the infinite without also beginning to understand that we are finite. We cannot rationalize the mystery, the creation of our God, because it is bigger than we are, always expanding, growing faster than our own minds can catch. How much less can we control the Creator, who was and is and is to come.

We do theology in community, but even the "hive mind" cannot fully grasp the mystery. This is what we signed on for, something bigger than ourselves.


  1. I'm reading your comment on Trinity Sunday and reflecting on how many preachers this morning will preach on Father's Day because the Trinity is a "mystery".

    I attended the first AWAF conference two years ago and was disappointed that several of those speaking about "Ancient Wisdom" seemed to have very little understanding of the Catholic/Orthodox roots of "Ancient Wisdom". (I am referring to an evangelical anglican and an A of G theologian whose discussion of liturgy was devoid of any understanding of "sacramentality".} Thank God, Edith Humphrey was there. This year, I confess that Ashley Null's elevation of Cranmer didn't really attract me. I will concede Cranmer deserves credit for the 1549 Prayer Book. Other than that, I am inclined to believe Hilaire Belloc's assessment that the only act of integrity in Cranmer's life was his thrusting his hand into the fire.

  2. Dan, I fully agree with your assessment of Cranmer. I didn't go to the conference two years ago; the only speaker I really wanted to hear was Simon Chan. Despite his billing, the schedule revealed that he only had one breakout group, so it wasn't worth the money. I purchased his book Liturgical Theology instead.

    The biggest problem with this year's conference was that they put William Harmless first. After that soaring pair of lectures on mystegogy and the early church, nobody could follow on. How wonderful to hear someone say what needs to be said from the ancients; don't strip the images, don't explain away the mystery. (Exactly as you said regarding Trinity Sunday, I note.) God is a god we can enter into, access, but never understand and hold onto. The whole point of an ancient and future faith is to step out of time and space and commune with saints who were closer to the time and space of the Gospel, to transcend limitations, not to strip the ancients of the difficult parts and reduce their thoughts to mere "wisdom" literature.

    Alas, preaching to the choir... no, to the pulpit... once again.

  3. I would be interested to learn what you found in Simon Chan. His lecture at AWAF I was perhaps the most disappointing I heard.

  4. Seriously Dan??? Oh that's a shame. I was really taken with his book Spiritual Theology. His comments on Community in the fourth chapter were just plain beautiful in some ways and defintely very astute.