BP wanted to go hear him talk this weekend, where his topic was "The importance of being Episcopalian". He had been in San Diego talking at the Diocesan convention, and gave an additional talk at the St Paul's Cathedral Forum which is held at 9am each Sunday before Mass. So that's where we went.
Although not an Episcopalian himself, McLaren has a lot of respect for and interest in the Episcopal church, and noted that for a variety of reasons, TEC is at an important moment. His broad message was carpe diem: seize the day and merge past and present with the future. As he put it, everyone has been so good at maintaining the church of their grandparents, that they have created a church that is unwelcoming to their children. So, this was his prescription for the future.
You can see his whole talk at this website (it's about an hour long, look for the entry for Feb 14), but here are some interesting notes some of you may like to discuss in the comments. So have at it!
McLaren noted 4 significant advantages of the Episcopal church, which he described as the "birthright" of Episcopalians.
- Via Media mindset: the middle way between Protestant and Catholic. Accommodating to old traditions and new ideas; unlike many protestants during the reformation era, did not throw out the baby with the bathwater, but managed to keep some of the old ways intact.
- Celtic mindset: With a history of Christianity that was built on the fringes of empire, faith became integrated into the Celtic society, rather than replaced by Roman culture. Being on the edge, many aspects of the Anglican tradition escaped the Roman Empire and its authoritarian politics and power. For example, he noted that Celtic spirituality is more comfortable with the body and sexuality, rather than fearing the physical in the way that the more structured Roman tradition. (I have only recently been introduced to the idea of a distinctly Celtic component in Anglican Christianity; I needs to read me some J. Phillip Newell).
- Diverse mindset: big tent, in a land torn by religious wars. The genius of the Anglican tradition is that unity is based on practice rather than opinion. (Or was....!)
- A liturgical mindset, in which he described liturgy as organized mysticism and defined its purpose to create space for soul to experience contact with living God. Slow down, and experience honesty.
- Upper Class mindset: association with top of social ladder and class, and a need to work hard for diversity.
- Institutional mindset. Institutions carry values across generations and preserve the gains of past social movements, and resist new movements that proposes change to current institutions. Paradoxically, movements do not succeed unless they are integrated with an institution. It's should be a dynamic tension, but lack of receptivity to new ideas leads to a certain stasis that is not healthy.
- Christendom mindset: by which he describes what happens when Christianity is combined with a kingdom or political system. Faith is lazy, and allied with power. He defines this as when people assume that everyone is Christian, and goes to church, a dominant paradigm that does not describe the realtity of most places in the US.
- Bipolar mindset: the liberal/conservative divide, which "polarizes and paralyzes."
- Bring them in spirit: natural evangelizing by everyone. NOT preachy, or "traditional" evangelizing, but involving people where they are, in long conversations, and don't hide your faith. The Institution can be in the way. He said, others will try to recruit people into a brittle, angry, judgmental, violent form of the faith. Time to speak up lest you and all Christians get labelled with the brand of hate and intolerance. (I would argue that this has to some extent already happened).
- Welcome an entrepreneurial spirit adding new services, modes, and ideas. Don't let yourselves just consume religious goods and services: set your mission as a welcome. Living liturgy has to have room to grow, not be a frozen remnant.
- Begin again spirit. Again, he invoked the Via media above the line between liberal, conservative or moderate. He sees this as resolved not by moving both sides to the middle, but by trying to transcend the linear vector and move beyond it or above it. (He was distinctly uninformative on how this ideal is to be accomplished.)
But in a broader sense, it remains unclear to me how the polarization problem can be accommodated further. I've been following the Episcopal follies for some years now (rooting around Fr Jake's archives, I can see I posted there at least as far back as 2005, and I know I was on the defunct Every Voice Network and The Right Christians well before that). I used to read some of the sites on the Other Side but they were full of such bile that I gave it up. What I've seen happen in my time amongst you is no change in the conservatives and their line in the sand. The liberals worked very hard in those days to try to find space for everyone. But the conservatives escalated, and to me, when they refused to share Communion with those with whom they disagreed, they left that via media, that diverse mindset. And the liberals, worn out, finally said "just go then!"
How are you supposed to live together when one side insists that a gay bishop a thousand miles away is communion-shattering? I'd really love to hear one of these commentators explain how a "both/and" would work on a problem that seems intractably binary "either/or".