Friday, December 21, 2007

Faith on the Ground

Given the current climate of Anglican crisis (with the latest ramp-up being this accursed Common Cause thing, bidding fair to leave me with no place to go to church) my friend Serge comes through with a timely observation:
Religion on the ground level is often a question of choosing the conscience problems you can live with over the ones you can't.

This came up in the context of a post linking to this discussion of reasons why some people don't become Orthodox. I've gotten that question from some Orthodox, as I continue to engage them in discussion. I mostly haven't gotten that question from Catholics, as they tend to operate from the viewpoint that any reasonable and faithful person would convert on the basis of the arguments they present. They tend to not be really interested in my faith, except to knock it down enough to get me to convert. To be fair there are a lot of Orthodox who take the same tack; they just are not so ubiquitous.

Those who have stuck with me and followed what I've written here over time may have noticed that I'm a bit suspicious of theology. It's not that I think it is worthless, but I think it's exceedingly easy to rationalize. Theology in the large hasn't proven to be a science in which light can be shone with assurance into every corner of every question; if it were, there would be a lot less division. And around Anglicanism, at the moment, there is a lot of division. If there is a single right response to the ECUSA crisis (for a layman), we are presented instead with the unedifying spectacle of people bolting in all directions, or staying put for not especially consistent reasons. A visit to the comments of almost any post on TitusOneNine will show all sorts of "why aren't you gone yet?" slams against the church; but the departing cannot agree on a destination.

And when it comes down to it, all of these destinations have faults, especially when the limitations of geography are admitted. The continuing churches can be roundly chastised for their fissipariousness and the tenuous legitimacy of their episcopacies. ECUSA-- well, yeah; though at least in my diocese (Maryland) for the moment more or less orthodox parishes are being allowed to remain more or less orthodox. A trip to one of the local RC parishes (eliminating the non-English-speaking ones) is impeded by some of my theological objections, but more thoroughly by the ghastly state of the liturgy. Orthodoxy presents the same issues in different forms.

The real problem for me is not I've been increasingly faced with problems in my faith, but rather, that increasingly I'm having trouble finding a place to practice it. In the end, though, I have to have a place to go to church. Surely some will come along and trivialize this problem, saying, "Well, you're putting yourself above Mother Church. You must put aside your distaste/qualms and go any way to [brand name here]." Never mind that I must exercise judgement to decide among the competing claims. Never mind that the speaker may well be a priest who can mold his parish to his tastes. Never mind that I'm being sold a fantasy church. The basic problem, here in this house, in a church that I can actually drive to and worship in, is that I don't see a place where I can be an Anglican refugee-- for that is what I would be, were I to go elsewhere. After thirty years, I am Anglican through and through, from my rising to my going to bed-- and my going to church. I can only attend these other churches as aliens, and at the moment, being a theological alien in ECUSA beats being a theological AND liturgical alien elsewhere.

Also, I am not buying the argument that the crappiness of the church experience is irrelevant. The "magic communion theory" of "you must be in communion with Patriarch X" (where X is in {Rome, Constantinople, Buena Vista}) fails on me anyway, because after thirty years of not having such a connection I'm not amenable to the thesis that absolutely nothing has been happening. But beyond that, it seems to escape most internet arguers that most people aren't theological. Indeed, fundamentally I'm not really theological either. If most people's experience of Christianity as religion is church, then it bloody well does matter how well it is done; indeed, it is important above almost everything else how well it is done. And by that I don't mean that it has high production values, though in my experience where those are belittled, church is done badly. I remember a dozen Friday eucharists at the UMCP West Chapel, an afterthought on the back of the main chapel meanly fitted out for the paltry remnants of protestant chaplaincies (and the Jews twice a year, which accounted for the rather ugly curtained thing behind the communion table). Wofford Smith and I would assemble and wait for the third person to show up so that he could serve a simple said Rite II service, with him standing on one side of the table and the two of us standing on the other. Production values were next to nonexistent, and yet I would place those among the most gracious services I have been privileged to be a part of. No, the problem in most places I've been that have been bad is that they are bad on purpose. It is a sin I can't live with, so I won't go there.

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