Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Between Charisma and Order: The Holy Spirit

I have been thinking about the question of "what does the moderate stand for" in the Episcopal Church, as it recently popped up in a variety of places. The reflection of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the word to the church from the Presiding Bishop, the reflection yesterday from the Archbishop of Cape Town. The idea of the diverse center finding a voice has been echoed in several reflections by bishops to their dioceses as well.

So what is this center and what does the modeate stand for?

I think the question has to be answered in two steps. The first is where does the moderate stand? The second is what does one stand for? In my travels this week (I am writing from Boston where I am on a pre-college road trip with my daughter) I have been thinking that understanding where one stands--especially as one who sees oneself, as I have said before, as a moderate who leans left--is important because of the charge that we represent a squishy middle, that we "fudge"--try to have things both ways, and and so on. So here goes:

When I read Church history, I find it useful to understand that the history of the church is a movement between Order and Charisma. In big-brush strokes, there were periods of charismatic change, often revolutionary or at least evolutionary in character: the missionary expansion of the church in the first centuries of the church comes to mind; followed by periods of ordering--like the Constantinian establishment. Reformation and counter-reformation is another example. One could fine tune the lens to see smaller examples, but the idea is that the pattern of Charisma and Order mark the movement of the Church in big and small ways over and over again.

When I was a kid, my dad, an aerospace enginneer, used to let me play with oscilliscopes a lot. Maybe this incluenced my thinking. (Disclaimer: warning to ham radio operators and other enginneering types--I am a layman who knows enough to be dangerous, so bear with me.) Anyway, the significant part of any oscilliating movement is not the peaks and valleys but the slopes inbetween. That is where the energy is expended. There is where resistence or momentum is seen and meausured. The frequency of the peaks and the valleys and the amplitude of the wave is everything. That's where the energy is .

In the oscillation between charisma and order there is neccessary tension. I believe that in the tension where charisma and order meet is where the Holy Spirit lives.

Many view the Church's history as a movement towards or away from perfection. Those who see their task as attempting to recover a perfect past, or to achieve a perfect future see the church in terms of end-points to be achieved. A doctrinally pure, consistent church where there is harmony through a kind of uniformity is one idea of perfection. A perfectly just and unfailingly prophetic church is another image of the perfect church.

Language about two churches, conjoined twins, and so on, seem to me to be thinking of the church solely in terms of the peaks and valleys of the wave.

An image popped up recently on the HoB/D list which I like. It has shown up in other circles, too. And that is the idea of surfing, of riding the wave. I'd like to take the image to one of sailing and not of surfing, but the point is the same. (Surfing is cool, but sooner or later the wave crashes) One response to rough seas is to let the current and wind push one about. I think this is the criticism many level at moderates and those who live in the center. I see the challenge as understand both wind and current so that one can move fast enough to not be pushed about, but to use the dynamics of wind and current to help one get to one's destination.

I am drawn to the work of many in the emerging church who take a big tent view of the church, and want to draw from the best of the several strands and traditions of the Church. There is a growing understanding that catholicity of the church is not static but is a comprehensive whole, that all of us together reflect the biggness and the oneness of God much better than any one of us. This "generous orthodoxy" describes to me an attempt by younger Christians who take for granted technology we find novel, and the way of making relationships these technologies imply that many find disconcerting, to understand the center as a comprehensive whole.

Just as we move more and more towards a networked, de-centralized, and open-platform world in terms of our communication and technology, I see this also happening in terms of our relationships, our communities and our church. We are in an intense period of change. We crave coherence. We seek stability while we live in dynamic change. We are living charisma, we seek order. In the tension between the two is where we find the Holy Spirit.

Stay tuned: what do moderates stand for?

No comments: