I continue to struggle to understand the Presiding Bishop’s reluctance to mention Jesus in her feast day messages. I have written previously on her Christological murkiness at Eastertide and her 2013 Christmas communique continues a trend in which she fails to mention Our Savior in messages around feasts that center on the saving action of Christ.
Whether it is time to consider the Incarnation or the Resurrection, the Presiding Bishop is consistent in her unwillingness to mention the person in whom our whole faith and hope rests. It takes some effort to avoid using the name of Jesus in an Easter or Christmas message – multiple times.
I offer below the word cloud of her Christmas message for 2013. Her reference to the name of Christ or even God is striking only in its consistent omission from her messages. At this point, with repeated messages that omit reference to Christ, it can only seem intentional that she not actually reference the singular significance of the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ let alone his saving action.
A message that centers on authority and shoulders must be significant to some small portion of our membership yet the message most needed in these times is for the unique and holy condescension of God’s indwelling among his people in the person of his Son.
There are some number who might welcome this vagueness on the part of the Presiding Bishop to fail to acknowledge the personhood and uniqueness of Christ. I am not among them. Our inability to claim the wholeness of God’s saving action in the person of Christ is a missed opportunity.
This kind of theological opacity might be a virtue to a sliver of our membership but it is an unfortunate avoidance of the heart of the Gospel. The vagueness of the message communicates an unwillingness to proclaim the basic tenets of the faith (this is different from whether she believes them which I believe she does). Her opacity evinces a lack of comfort with the essential doctrines of the Christian faith and borders on gnosticism.
I use the term gnosticism as her message is so densely worded as to be accessible only to those with an inside knowledge of contemporary theological language. I long for a leader with clarity who can articulate the abiding power of the Incarnation such that all who hear might be drawn the the Living Christ.
One can only read, contrast, and lament the difference between the Presiding Bishop’s message and the Christological core of the Pope’s recent encyclical, Lumen Fidei, in which he boldly proclaims Christ, faith, and God.
The Pope’s recent selection as Time magazine’s Man of the Year is not based on his lack of clarity but rather on his emphasis on the Gospel of Christ’s love. Yet, one can see above that his message is not in spite of the uniqueness and decisiveness of Christ but because of that very reality that the Presiding Bishop seems reluctant to proclaim in these feast day messages.
I have followed this post up with some reflections on our current cultural realities that fleshes some of this out a bit more…
Timothy Connor said:
I think you’ve nailed it once again, Father. Advent blessings!
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Rev. Lauren said:
Thank you. I was unmoved by the +Katherine’s words and I couldn’t name why. You have named it for me.
So very true; thank you for your clear presentation of the Gospel!
Barbara (bls) said:
I have to agree this has gotten tiresome. I don’t understand why people think their own ideas are more interesting than the Gospel story itself – or, to be honest, why anybody would bother with the church if not for the faith it teaches.
For me, and paraphrasing Evelyn Underhill: God, and Christ, are the interesting things about religion.
It’s been fantastic to listen to Pope Francis over this first year; you can hear in everything he says that he’s got a converted heart. That’s a beautiful thing….
Amen! We need Jesus!
Karen Johanns said:
Thank you for this. I made a similar observation on Facebook yesterday and was genuinely surprised at how many defensive responses I received. Either we have become too overprotective of our our Presiding Bishop or talking about Jesus has become a problem in TEC generally. I’m disappointed if the former is true but would be alarmed if the latter is the problem. The question is: what to do?
Bob Chapman said:
Bishop Jefforts Schori is capable of proclaiming Jesus while being understanding. She did it her.
Why not in a Christmas message?
Did we read the same document? It is curious that she doesn’t name Jesus, although she is writing about him throughout the letter, ‘Word made flesh; Prince of Peace,” and the swaddling clothes of the newborn. You want ” the unique and holy condescension of God’s indwelling among his people in the person of his Son” and then criticize her ‘obfuscate’ language? When she writes “The birth we celebrate offers hope, in Word made flesh, who comes among us to heal and walk this way with us” she is neither being gnostic in method nor substance. The contrast between her letter and the Pope’s first encyclical would be fine if they were intended to accomplish the same goals, reach the same audiences; they are not.
I have now read two blog postings about the PB’s Christmas Message, and I must agree with the poster above, Grant. I don’t think it’s the best thing I’ve ever read about Christmas, but I can’t really see the problem: who would she talking about other than Jesus? “The birth we celebrate offers hope, in Word made flesh, who comes among us to heal and walk this way with us. The mantle of authority on his shoulders begins in the swaddling clothes of a child born in the humblest of circumstances.” Yes, his name is special, but it really seems that this blog post is a reactionary splitting of hairs. I can see getting upset if she just wrote about angels or friendly shepherds or world peace; but the whole thing is about Jesus! I assume it’s her attempt at being poetic (which, incidentally, I don’t think was a complete failure, but others clearly do.)
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I love my new home in the episcopal church, and plan on being confirmed soon, but bishop Katherine’s theology (and many of her practices) I can do without. Especially in this time of conflict, we need clarity and an anchor in Christ, not vague references and politically informed moralism.
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