Archive for the ‘Why I Am An Episcopalian’ Category

My religion is an intense, personal relationship, a romantic and even erotic relationship, with a God who has never not been present in my life.

My religion is a psychological process of exposing more and more of my self to the Light.

My religion is a system of myths and symbols, stories, songs, poems, pictures, canon and apocrypha and fanfic, that provides meaning and enables me to create new meaning in my life.

My religion is a part of my cultural heritage, my self-identification as a white North American of primarily English descent. The great poets of my religious tradition, Herbert and Donne and Eliot, are also great poets of my language and culture.

My religion is a refuge for my solitude. And my religion is a social activity tied to my place in a particular neighborhood.

My religion is a map of the universe, a description of the way things work, a story that illuminates the facts. And my religion is a practice, a discipline, a daily agenda, just as surely as Zen Buddhism is.

My religion is all of these things simultaneously. It’s not one or the other. It has nothing to do with belief; it has everything to do with trust. Doctrine is a usable map; theology is a discussion of the map. The map is, of course, not the territory, but it’s a useful guide to the territory. The territory is reality itself.

My religion is a way and a path, a house and a home, a story and a dare. That the way is well-travelled, the house well lived in, does not make the story and the dare less exciting.

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I am an Episcopalian because for me, the Incarnation is the point.

The Incarnation took center stage in Anglican theology pretty early and has never really left it. It is the Anglican specialty, the doctrine we emphasize above all others, the key that unlocks the code, the tonic of the great symphony that is the Christian worldview. God became a human being; he didn’t just *pretend* to be one, he didn’t disguise himself as a mortal the way, for example, the Greek gods sometimes did, he really became one, a particular person, a boy his parents called Jesus. He got hungry and thirsty, sweaty and tired. He needed to sleep and eat and move his bowels. And he enjoyed real pleasures, too, which we know because a lot of people disapproved of how he went to wild parties and ate and drank with prostitutes and Vichy tax collectors and even, possibly, Gentiles.

God became a human being. The Word became flesh, as John’s Gospel puts it. The Logos, the divine principle of order and meaning, the Logic of the universe, became flesh, a historical, contingent, finite person, a mind wedded to matter.  Theologians hammered out that the Divine Person did not merely inhabit a human physical shell, but had a human mind, a human soul, a human selfhood. The Word whose speaking created all things limited itself to one human language, with perhaps a smattering of a couple others; to what a peasant in a Roman-occupied country in the early days of the Roman Empire could know about mathematics, geography, science, history, and all the provinces of human knowledge. The Word that tells us our stories became a character in *our* story, became a story that we tell. Divinity, meaning, truth, love are embodied eternally in human experience and in the world of matter.

If this sounds like the most important idea in the world to you, then you just might be an Anglican. (Sorry, Mr. Foxworthy. Everybody knows I’m stealing your shtick, here.) For me, the Incarnation makes sense of everything else in Christian theology. If Jesus is not both really, genuinely, completely human, no fooling, and really, truly, genuinely GOD, then his teachings don’t much matter, and even his death and resurrection don’t much matter.

I’m aware that most of Christian theology has counted the Resurrection as the single most important act of God in Jesus, and that most theologians have worked on the assumption that the Incarnation was necessitated by human sinfulness. The Son of God had to atone for our sinfulness, he had to die to do so, therefore he had to become human, therefore Christmas (and a brief period of rejoicing before we start talking about SIN and THE CROSS).

But at least since I was a teenager, I have read that the other way around. God wanted to make humans partners in divinity, therefore he had to become human, therefore he had to be born, therefore he would also have to die, but human beings screwed things up, so he had to die the hard way. The Incarnation was always Plan A because the taking of humankind into the Godhead was always Plan A. For all of us. For the entire human race. Therefore we have repentance and change our lives because we made God’s work and our eventual divinization  A HELL OF A LOT HARDER than it needed to be, but even during Lent and Holy Week we rejoice because God’s passionate unconditional love considers us worth the trouble.

And that’s why I’m an Episcopalian.

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From the website of my parish, Emmanuel Episcopal Church in downtown Baltimore, Maryland:

We understand that the life of faith, and life in general, is filled with both hope and skepticism.  For that reason we want our communal life at Emmanuel to be honest and provocative. Services and sermons are rooted both in tradition and in the real world, the spirit is joyful and fun, and the congregation is warm and welcoming.  We believe our spiritual life is marked by the following characteristics.

Liturgical/Biblical. Anglican spirituality is rooted in communal daily prayer (Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayers, Evening Prayer, Compline) as laid out in The Book of Common Prayer. The Anglican way of praying tends to have structure and to be shaped by the Scriptures and a prayerful meditation on the psalms.

Communal.  Communal prayer comes before and shapes personal prayer. Prayer is seen as an activity that connects us to God, to each other, and to the world around us. Communal prayer is part of daily, weekly and yearly rhythms and both surrounds and informs community gatherings and meetings in which decisions are made.

Sacramental. We see the world, itself, as sacramental and therefore capable of mediating the grace of God. We are centered on the two primary sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist along with other sacraments: confirmation, holy matrimony, reconciliation, unction, and ordination.

Incarnational. We emphasize the incarnation, God’s entry into human life and history. Accordingly,  we have an earthy spirituality that affirms the goodness of life and the created world and believes that the extraordinary is to be found in the ordinary.

Mystical. We experience union with God as happening over time, bit by bit through a journey aided by spiritual discipline and prayer. Such a belief is consistent with the description of spiritual progress found in the mystics.

Comprehensive. We believe that truth is to be found in the tension between opposites. We therefore affirm both the sacred and the secular, the material and the non-material, the mind and the heart, the transcendent and the intimate closeness of God.

Ambiguous. We are not “black and white” thinkers, but instead affirm the ambiguity of experience and the value of learning to tolerate and embrace complexity and ambiguity in many aspects of human life and in the spiritual journey.

Open-minded. We are people of a questioning faith. We search for wisdom in many places and encourage people to listen to each other and to bring their honest questions to their spiritual life.

Intuitive. We are at home in the world of image, symbol, myth, ritual, and the arts. Very few Anglicans write systematic theologies. Instead we are writers, poets, pastors, and musicians.

Aesthetic. We believe that beauty is a doorway to truth and goodness and therefore a doorway to God.

Moderate. We avoid extremes, believing that a godly life is one that is disciplined, balanced and temperate.

Naturalistic. We have a reverence for nature and its rhythms. Anglicans believe in working to protect the natural world and its creatures.

Political. We believe that Christian life has political implications and that civic life is both a legitimate and important place to struggle with and engage our faith and values.

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I did not learn from the Church that the Bible was the only important book. I learned from the Bible that books were important.

I did not learn from the Church that the story of Jesus was the only important story, or the only true story. I learned from the stories of Jesus, David, Abraham that stories were important, stories were true.

I did not learn from the Psalms that only “religious” poetry was worth reading. I learned from the Psalms that truly religious poetry left no part of the human condition outside. I learned from the Psalms that poems were true and important.

I did not learn from the Hymnal that only one kind of music, one kind of singing, was pleasing to God. I learned from the Hymnal that people singing together is a holy thing, that my singing was something I could offer to God, and that all eras of music have something to offer.

I did not learn from the Prayerbook that only one kind of language is acceptable before God. I learned from the Prayerbook that truth is expressed in beauty, that form is as important as content, that my language is a magnificent language.

The Gospel stories made the stories of Narnia, Earthsea, Middle Earth, Prydain, Albion important. The Psalms taught me to pay attention to the poetry of Dante and Eliot and Donne. The hymns taught me to read music and to understand that music was more than just the latest tunes coming out of the nearest radio. The Prayerbook taught me how to subordinate clauses, punctuate long sentences, and conjugate the second person singular correctly. The Episcopal Church taught me how to read, write, listen, speak, and sing.

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