Thursday, February 23, 2012

Takin' it to the Streets

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday.  As usual, we had three liturgies, with the noontime and evening one shared with our neighbors from Luther Memorial Church.  Not as usual, the cathedral clergy took turns for one-hour blocks  from 8 to 5 in the Cathedral to be available for walk-ins looking for ashes and/or prayer.  Many came throughout the day.  Even more not as usual, we joined the growing movement called Ashes to Go.

We distributed Ashes on the streets outside the Cathedral.  On 6th Street, we face the Erie County Courthouse, and on 7th Street, we are the middle of the Gannon University Campus.  Both places provide good opportunities to offer ashes.  I took the early time on 6th Street.  Bishop Sean Rowe took that site during the noon hour.  Evan Clendenin, our Curate, took the 7th Street side at both times and he was joined by Shawn Clerkin who is on the Gannon faculty for the early time.  It was a great experience all around.

I was struck by the deep gratitude of many who received ashes as they were going to work at the Courthouse or who had business there.  It didn't at all come off as easy convenience, but rather as something  truly important for people who probably wouldn't get to a full liturgy.

Among them I particularly think of one woman who came up to me saying, "What a great idea!"  Then she asked, "Are you Catholic?"  I spared her the 45 minute explanation she really wasn't asking for and just answered, "I'm Episcopalian."  Then the Spirit stirred within and I added, "But we're all human, and that's what the ashes are about."  She said, "I agree with you," and gratefully received the sign of our literal common ground.  As I poke around the ruins, looking for signs of resurrection, I wonder if sharing ashes in the church and on the street might not be one.

We got lots of good and friendly media coverage, as happened around the country.  Perhaps this kind of attention won't last too many years as it will cease to be a novelty.  But for now, we can be grateful.

Here is a link to coverage by the Erie Times and another one.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

And Where Are You, God? -- A Theology for Poking Around

Where is God among the ruins of Christendom?  I understand Christendom to mean a total, universal system by which Christianity is held to be absolute truth, absolute in a way that leads to a sense of privilege for the Church in all areas of life and culture, from theology to politics.  At best, it produced stunning art and music, social and educational developments, and reconciling purpose in people's lives.  At worst, it produced things like the Inquisition and the Crusades, wars between conflicting Christian groups, and the marginalization of people of other faiths (or none).  It reached its peak in Europe many centuries ago, although pieces of it washed up on North American shores.  It has been over for a long time, but awareness of its demise and grief over it have not yet been fully realized.

At a recent question and answer session, someone asked Brian McLaren what we can say to people for whom even the word "God" is so damaged as to be inaccessible.  This is very much a question from the ruins of Christendom.  Brian mentioned a writer named Richard Kearney, and especially Kearney's book Anatheism, as resources for exploring this question.  Kearney is a philosophical theologian and Anatheism, while not technically difficult, will probably appeal most to those with an appetite for this kind of writing.  Let me summarize my reading of it for those who will likely not read it or for those who might be intrigued.

Anatheism literally means "God again."  It is God "again" after both theism and atheism have run their course.  For many of us theism and atheism both have their place and we can't resolve them with one "winning" nor  can we get back before the atheist critique and just simply believe again.  Reviewing theologians like Bonhoeffer and Ricouer, and writers like Joyce, Woolf, and Proust, Kearney identifies how the possibility of meeting the sacred comes anew, challenging us over and over to "wager" that life is lived in relation to the Holy (or not).

For those who wager "yes," this is a call to return to and practice our traditions deeply, deep enough that we seek the mysticism that is at the wellspring of religion, but which is greater than religious definitions.  We then can live our "wager" with both commitment and humility, and we can meet those who are different from us with hospitality rather than hostility.  It is in such meetings that God is to be found now.

Whew!  I am almost out of breath trying to condense this.  But I do think it provides an insightful theology for poking around the ruins.  At least it is a theological bicycle I can ride for a while.  God is in the ruins and seeking and finding God there will point to what comes next.