One of my very bright and faithful clergy colleagues wrote, on Twitter, of General Convention’s deliberations, “this is not how Christianity works this is not how ANY part of Christianity has ever worked.” There is a unified feeling of disbelief among those who are longing to preserve the theological compromise that is the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and those longing to see injustices righted in its language, theology, and composition. This disbelief centers on one basic question, “Who are these people?”
Who are these people who cannot see that the Prayer Book’s language is misogynistic? Who are these people who can’t understand that God has revealed himself to be the Father so that’s enough? Who are these people who are afraid of Prayer Book revision? Who are these people who can never get enough of what they want?
Who are these people is the definitive question of our age. Because we’ve been nursed on and fed a diet of zero-sum political gamesmanship. Look at our politics. We now have mutually exclusive media ecosystems that reward, with little bursts of endorphins, being so, so right that major figures agree with you. We have a political system that thrives on the hit of biochemical affirmation that comes with a “like” on social media. We’re fed by a stream of little doses of bias confirmation. We assume others are fed by the same.
They are fed by the same triggers but they are not fed with the same food. So while we expect them to be addicted to the same addictions that we have they are, in reality, only addicted to the same reward – not the same stimulus. While our stimulus might be progressive orthodoxy theirs might be political revanchism. Yet our addiction is the very same – to being right. To being affirmed in our rightness. To being one with the rightest people.
Yet the call of Christ is to be one with the wrong people. Christ is always challenging us not to be right but to be in relationship – with him and one another. This is the choice we get to make. I tell every couple I’m marrying that you can be right or you can be in relationship – you don’t get to choose both at the same time. We’re now addicted to being right because we have been trained to be right, fed on being right, nursed to hate the wrong.
Being right is a spiritual sepsis for the Church. Church is so often the work of competing good – not just right and wrong.
There is something good and Holy about seeking to be in concert and continuity with the teaching and tradition we’ve inherited. There’s something right and good about acknowledging the holiness of relationships that scarce be named in the past. There’s something good in seeking to hold fast to the traditional prayer and formation that called us to Christ. There’s something good in seeing what is possible, what has been missed, so that we might see future generations called.
The Church is a complex web of competing goods – but we’ve been so trained to be right that we can only see the wrong. We’re beyond addicted. We’re at the point of sin. We’re at the point of sinful gluttony and anger. Gluttony for we all have a never satiated need to be right. Anger because we can’t bear compromise for the fear that it negates our rightness – our us.
We’re traveling together though. More than that we’re traveling as one Body. We can’t decide that we’re so right that another’s love, faith, or sense of duty is irrelevant. We’re traveling together and we can’t ever so long to be right that we no longer want to be in relationship.
We can’t let ourselves get to the point where we say, “who is this person?” Because, for the Christian, that person is Christ. That’s where the rightness of our relationship must always land. Choosing to be right so often feels desperately needed. If we’re wrong – if we give in – then our whole identity is on the line. Yet Jesus gives us the way. His deep sense of who he is, as the Father’s own, makes him able to accept all that comes not for the sake of being right but for the sake of being one with us – of being in relationship with us and with the Father.
The ultimate and most intimate answer to the question, “Who are these people?” is that they are us. Their fears are ours and their hopes are ours – their longing to be right is ours. If we can spend the time in prayer and corporal mercy together then we’ll see it – we’ll see the relationship whose rightness is not ours but God’s.
Relationships are the product of a hundred thousand small acts of sharing, giving, and receiving. May we so long to be in relationship that we demand love – that we demand to offer our selves, souls, and bodies for one another. In marriage we don’t often debate theological niceties – we do the dishes and we accept the joys of unexpected grace. May we be ready to offer ourselves to one another and to hear word of unexpected grace in the midst of our competing goods – which so often are really our common flourishing and the crucible of our salvation.