Saturday, July 12, 2008

Lambeth, A.D. 381

Ah, yes... Lambeth. We've heard lots about the wonderful new structure of this decade's meeting of Anglican leaders. Rowan Williams announced in May:
At the heart of this will be the indaba groups. Indaba is a Zulu word describing a meeting for purposeful discussion among equals. Its aim is not to negotiate a formula that will keep everyone happy but to go to the heart of an issue and find what the true challenges are before seeking God’s way forward.

Dr. Schori, Presiding Individual of the Episcopal ecclesial organization, was delighted to hear this, saying "I don't expect legislation at Lambeth. That's not why we're going... It's a global conversation... It's not going to make a final decision about anything." No, rather than resolving issues or addressing the crisis in the Anglican Communion, the indaba groups allow for friendly chit-chat over tea and cookies. As Schori says, they "are really about 'hanging out' with people you don't know, getting to know others as incarnate images of God -- an opportunity to meet the other in a way that's flesh rather than the discarnate communication we engage in on the internet." If you get to use that many liberal buzz-words describing it, it has
got to be a good thing, eh?

So this got me to wondering... what would Christianity have looked like if it had been burdened from the get-go with failed leaders like Williams and Schori ... bishops (and pretend bishops) who wouldn't stand up for Scripture, revelation or God's will, but instead played nicey-nice all the time, substituting procedure for substance and "conversation" for action... and refused to make any statement except the hedging bare-minimum to which everyone could agree?

What if, in short, the early Church had had indaba groups rather than Ecumenical Councils?

And so I bring you -- recently discovered in a papyrus cache of ecclesial documents from an alternate universe -- the press release from Lambeth 381, where indaba groups were formed to discuss the Arian crisis which had rocked the Church for the past few generations. Apparently the church in this alternate universe had vanished by the year 410, so this was a fortuitous discovery.

Lambeth Palace, Constantinople, year of our Lord 381

We, the assembled bishops of the Empire, greet you from our lovely capital of Constantinople. We would like to thank Emperor Theodosius for his gracious hospitality in making this venue available to us, as well as all those whose hard work has enabled this conference to proceed so smoothly, especially the Pneumatomachi Brethren Catering Service, whose daily luncheons we have all greatly enjoyed.

This Council has provided us with a wonderful opportunity to meet with each other face-to-face, hearing perspectives from the various cultures throughout the Empire and having incarnate conversations rather than conferring through epistles circulated by the Imperial post. Truly, it is only in such personal encounters that we can come to understand and appreciate the breadth of cultural and theological diversity with which our Lord has blessed the Church.

We have listened with concern to our brethren from Dacia and Thracia about the raids from the Goths, and to accounts from our brethren in Persarminea concerning continued military incursions from the Persian Empire along its borders. We have commended the creation of an Indigenous Peoples Study Group to examine how we, as bishops, might help our congregations react with more dialog and cultural sensitivity to these incidents of rapine, pillaging, and murder. We confess our culpability as Greco-Romans for being ultimately responsible for all intolerance and insensitivity because of our historic guilt through cultural descent from the militant, patriarchal Mycenaean invaders of a once-peaceful agrarian civilization.

Much of our Conference's time, however, was spent examining the recent disagreements caused by the hetero-ousiasts which have torn the fabric of our communion and strained our bonds of affection. Many have, no doubt, heard the public addresses given outside the hippodrome by Apollinarus of Laodicia and others during our Conference, which touched on these issues.

Striving to celebrate our similarities rather than to aggravate our differences, we daily received the Eucharist together and then met in indaba groups so that, in an atmosphere of prayer and "radical conversation", we could go to the heart of the issue and truly discern the common unity transcending our disagreements. We recognize that, coming from different cultures and provinces, each with our own perspectives and social concerns, we each bring something valuable and unique to our conversations, and that it is only through such synergistic engagement that we can perceive the new thing the Spirit is doing.

Thanks to the facilitators, official listeners, and imperial guards, our indaba groups were able to articulate the common mind of the assembled bishops. Rather than attempting to legislate an exclusive formula or symbol that might divide us, we have, through conversation and encounter, drawn up a creedal statement which all may affirm, for it articulates our common ground and so excludes no one.

We commend this statement, to replace the draft proposed at Nicaea, as a triumphal inclusive profession of a shared faith in all our communities, and we view it as a monument to the power of the indaba method which allows us to maintain unity and celebrate our commonalities even while courteously recognizing and respecting our various differences.

I believe in one God, the Father almighty

Maker of heaven and possibly of earth,

And of all things visible and invisible,

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,

An at-least-titular son of God, born of (or expressed or created by) the Father at some point, (since we all agree there was a when when he apparently was,)

Illumination of light, truly godly of true God,

Begotten, made, produced, presented, or otherwise generated in some way at some point.

Possibly consubstantial with, or of like substance, or kinda similar to, or looking sorta like the Father... well, okay, not exactly looking, but a bit reminiscent of at any rate... at least from some points of view. Maybe.

By whom all things were made. Well, most things. Some of them anyway. We think. Probably.

Who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven. A heaven at any rate. Well, at least part of him did. Seemed to anyway.

And was incarnate (possibly) by the power of the Holy Ghost (whatever that is) and of the Virgin Mary and was made man. Apparently. Sure fooled a lot of people anyway.

And seemed (at least) to be crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,

Perhaps suffered (looked that way anyhow... at least, if that really was him, or at least the man-part of him, on the cross. Which it might not have been. You never know) and was buried.

And on the third day rose again in accordance with the Scriptures (if they are Scriptures... a bunch of old scrolls anyway) and ascended (or was absorbed back) into heaven. (Part of him did anyhow. We think.)

And sitteth, at least metaphorically, on the right hand of the Father (whom he may or may not be like).

And may come again... at which point some stuff will happen. Probably.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, about which a variety of opinions are permissible.

And in at least one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

I confess a baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

Of course, I could be wrong about all this. But that's okay, because I promise to always engage in conversation and be sensitive to other perspectives, and to hold indaba sessions on a regular basis with those of other cultures or perspectives (like Goths or Persians) with whom I happen to disagree... so help me some god or other.