GC97: How sharp is our guiding light?

Philadelphia: Saturday, 26 July 1997

The General Convention is held to set rules and directions in our church. We use the metaphor of a guiding light, and many talk of how bright or dim is the light. I worry not about how bright it is, but about how sharp and focused it is, and whether we want it to be blurry or sharp. To use a light as a beacon it need not be in focus, it need only be bright and visible.

The light is a metaphor for our goal, our meaning. Our fragmenting culture gets blamed for the destruction of meaning, for gutting actions of significance, for leveling all things of beauty to a grey paste of meaningless recognition. This seems to me to be the product of addled minds, too long unmoored from the eternal verities to have any merit. And, naturally, the fragmentation and cross-cultural eddies of the smaller and much more secular world are frightening things.

Ambiguity exists. Perhaps ambiguity always was, since time began, but now, on this issue in this Church, we cannot hide from it. You just can't miss it anymore. There is no longer any hiding place, any place of certainty unassailable other than by rigid assertion and a blindering. We have seen the earth from a distance; even the moon has footprints. Mars has tire marks. We are being dragged kicking and screaming into deeper interrelationships with all other humans, like it or not.

But denying the swirling maelstrom of ambiguity at our doors and seeping into our homes on microwaves and TVs signals will not make ambiguity disappear. Our worlds upon this earth are no longer so discrete. We bump into each other, inescapably. What is of God, and what is not? What is of love, and what of despair? And how do we tell the difference? Which way is the beacon?

As Anglicans, we often appeal to what is known as the Gamaliel model: that what is not of God will ultimately wither, and that God will sustain what is worthy and holy. But we move so fast, compared to God's time. What we do not like or cannot personally accept looks like it's withering to us if that is what we want to see. How can we judge? Where can we stand. To see the lay of the land you need to stand on a high place, but where is a high enough place from which to see this clearly?

We must bring a stringency, a rigor, to the principle of authenticity. By authenticity I do not mean a facile genuineness, niceness or realitude (if I may use such a lumpen neo-logism). We must return to the roots of meaning: the actual CONTENT of our faith, the Meaning. Not the style, not the shape, not just the habits of our faith. We must return to Reality Itself. We must dare to take God at God's Word, and seriously learn to trust each other, or we shall vanish as if we never were.

A lot of silliness comes from joy. Can't be helped! Joy sometimes slops over the sides, messy, inappropriate, and ill-behaved. I cringe when facile expressions or fashionable formulations replace true discourse

An example: many years ago, I sang a concert of Early Music at Sarah Lawrence College, under the direction of some former members of Noah Greenberg's Pro Musica Ensemble. Early Music, or the historical performance practice movement in music in this country was still quite young. I think the concert was Guillaume de Machaut. It was an exalting experience for me, one of the first professional early music performances for me, and determinant for my life for many years thereafter. But I felt crushed that day, and angered to the core of my being.

You see, we got to the end of the Mass, sang the melismatic AMENs, and two entire rows of audience members, all fairly radical-looking feminist women, got up and sang "AH WOMEN!" loudly back at us. Idiocy. It took all my strength, even then when I was somewhat more shy, to bite my lip and remain calm. I wanted to barge into the audience, shake some of those shoulders and scream, "Darlings, for heaven's sakes, I'm a feminist person myself, but don't you think it might be nice to figure out what 'AMEN' means? Huh? Just who do you assume you're 'helping' here, eh?" God save us all from well-meaning idiocy.

We are indeed at a time where not many seem to even care what words mean. We want it all simple, tied-up and neat. We want the beacon light to be sharp. We want some machine to beep when we stray away from the direction of the sharp beacon. We want little sound-bite packets of meaning that we can carry without having to look at them again much at all.

We crave certainty. Who doesn't? We retreat culturally, licking our wounds, and build walls that will support us in the whirlwind. There is a tyranny of the literal, what is usually dismissed as political correctness is often just plain silly, but it is usually an excess of love, not of hate. It is an impulse of inclusion gone fuzzy, but not hate, and not the absence of love or care.

Complexity frightens us. Or rather, our apprehension and discovery of the hidden complexities right under our noses frightens us. We attempt to shore up the sands of time. One cannot merely carry truth and polish it, handing it back and forth like some pretty sea-shell. One must use truth--go out into the world with it, and carry the glory of God where it must go. And what is good will usually make the world better--and cause growth, not withering.

Sincerely, Deborah

This message sent by the Society of Archbishop Justus. See http://justus.anglican.org/news/ Should you wish to unsubscribe from this distribution list, please send a message to "majordomo@justus.anglican.org" saying either "unsubscribe news" or "unsubscribe news-digest" depending on which you are receiving here.

Copyright © 1997 Deborah Griffin Bly.
[Contents page] [SoAJ home page] [Comments to web page maintainers]