Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sin, Ego and Conversation

Friends, I have a few things I'd like to share this morning, one of which is the little quote in the bright blue box, if you will scroll down the page to find "Daily Quotations." 'Nuff said. *

* I have realized that this makes no sense after the day it was posted, March 20. Here is the delicious quote:

I love to sin; God loves to forgive. The world is admirably arranged. — W.H. Auden

Now put that in your Lenten pipe and smoke it!


The other thing I'd like to share, like the excellent Auden quote, stems from about a day of voraciously (compulsively?) reading blogs across the spectrum of religious and political thought. This was all set off because I was looking, for reasons of my own, for the name of a certain pastor whose church is famous for picketing funerals of gays and lesbians, as well as of US military personnel, with their extraordinarily hate-filled slogans and presence. These folks were first made famous, I believe, when they showed up at Matthew Shephard's funeral. I found his name, but I don't want Google to ever lead someone interested in him here, so I will not post it. I found his website, and read for a few minutes-- just enough to leave me physically disturbed, a little shaky and nauseous. Pure hatred is potent stuff.

Anyway, I then proceeded to troll around the web, reading lots and lots on the Anglican communion and its struggles, from both sides of the aisle, and then some about my own beloved denomination, again, from both poles of the blogosphere. All this left me pretty depleted and depressed and wondering where all this is going and what it all means for someone like me, who is hoping to do some good work in the context of this call of mine.

One of the things I do is to serve on a design team for an annual conference for new clergy in my denomination, in my geographic region. We are having the first year clery read a book by Susan Howatch, Glittering Images. Here is a sentence from a Publisher's Weekly review:

The "glittering images" of the title are those we present with pride to the world; in this case, the cherished images of charismatic, successful churchmen, elegant in their clerical robes, whose congregations are moved by their sermons.

By asking the newly ordained participants to read this book we are hoping to spark a conversation on what it means to be a minister in the church, how the images we hold of those who have influenced us shape our image of ministry, and, mostly, how we can remain aware and vigilant about the images we put forward of ourselves, the tension betwen the pastoral "role" and the authentic expression of ourselves as human beings.

It seems to me that much of what passes for debate on the great issues of our day (and in the church that has chiefly to do with the interpretation of scripture and what constitutes "real" Christianity) is actually very heavily intertwined with our images of ourselves, both as Christians and as ministers. I wonder how many of us (and please understand, I ask the question of myself) are locked into our positions, not by sincere intellectual and spiritual inquiry, but by the images we hold and cherish and will die defending.

At least one reader of Susan Howatch's novels has described the wisdom found therein as follows.

In his reflections on Susan Howatch's "Starbridge" novels, Lawrence Farris lists a number of "absolute truths" about clergy that impress him, truths that Howatch reinforces in her newest novel. (About clergy) she shows us:

-that we are often tempted, and do our greatest harm, through our gifts and strengths rather than our weaknesses;

-that much of the good we do is done despite our shortcomings;

-that evil is real and cannot facilely be explained away;

-that the communion of saints includes and sometimes confounds us;

-that the spiritual disciplines offer us safety and comfort, and restrain our egos;

-that we can make an idol of almost anything and deny that we have done so;

-that we need people with whom we can be utterly honest if we are to be honest with ourselves;

-that we can take an interest in our families' spiritual welfare, but we cannot minister to them;

-that separating the psychological and the spiritual imperils the self.

from an article in "Books and Culture"

What do you think?


Gannet Girl said...

Oh, I love all the Howatch Starbridge novels! What a great choice !

Iris said...

I agree- especially about the good we do often being the result of our shortcomings. Would like to say more, but must sleep now.

juniper68 said...

i just read that book, too and really liked it.

i enjoyed your post, but am with iris, too sleepy to comment fully and wisely except to say THANKS!

Grandmère Mimi said...

Mags, we had a group from the pastor you will not name come to picket our little church. They shouted out hate-filled slogans and waved their hate-filled and graphic signs. They had children with them! Imagine having to grow up in that atmosphere.

They are careful to follow the letter of the law, and if the authorities of the city or town violate their free-speech rights, they are quick to sue.

Magdalene6127 said...

Ugh, Grandmère, I am so sorry to hear that. Pure evil, in my humble opinion. Pure evil, to stir up that kind of hatred in people's hearts and to pollute the gospel by its association with that hatred.