Tuesday, January 26, 2010

talkin' to hear our heads rattle...

We had a great conversation today at the weekly Clericus meeting. All the Episcopal clergy in the deanery are invited and who usually comes are pretty much the same every week. Three active priests (2 from St. John's and a third from Oakville), St. John's intern and 3 retired priests. Today our Episcopal/Buddhist clergy guy showed up too. And we talked about 'the Atonement' for over an hour. It was fascinating to us and showed a wide variety of interpretations of that central doctrine of the church and prompted not a little back and forth disagreement. Wonderful. It really was wonderful....

And I was all ready to detail some of the fine points of the conversation and outline the distinctions we made and the disagreements we had to prove that the Episcopal Church is the place, of all Christian churches, where you will find the most diversity and freedom to disagree.

Then I reconsidered.

My pondering is this: does anyone in the pews or, more importantly, outside the tight little clan we call the Episcopal Church really care. Do people pause over dinner or wake up in the dark of the night considering the doctrine of the Atonement? Driving to pick up your kids from school, running late because work took longer than you hoped or looking for a new job or shopping for groceries and comparing the contents of two kinds of chicken noodle soup or in the midst of a fight between two lovers--or a time of making up between two lovers...are people wondering which interpretation of the Atonement speaks to their lives and spirituality most vividly?

A former seminarian contacted me today to tell me she finally understood why I always said that a priest is "a nearly irrelevant functionary in a totally irrelevant institution".

Why did she come to that understanding? She read Henri Nowen and he said so to. Since a well known spiritual writer agreed with me, it might just be true. So much for both my authority and my irrelevance!

At any rate we enjoyed that hour of unabashed irrelevancy about a doctrine which matters not a fig to most people on the planet--or even most Episcopalians....

Being a priest, I tell people, is being the last 'generalist'. But even when we delve into stuff we know about and care about and worry about, we still probably show up irrelevant to the needs and moments and longings of our culture.

I don't think God is irrelevant. It's just the church and the church's theology....Alas and alack....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.