Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Healing Pain of Our Divisions III

A lot is changing, of course: new paradigms and new methods in theology are finally coming into their own. But what is alarming to a grass-roots ecumenist is that so much of the official dialogue appears to insist on using paradigms, language, and method that are completely out of date, that this dialogue continues to base itself on assumptions that few respectable scholars would accept.

For example, there seems to be, in official dialogue, a primacy of polity based on the assumption that Jesus founded an institution. What we can know from the documents we have is that Jesus preached an interior wisdom that enabled people to discard social strictures, to realize the fullness of their humanity in the co-creative love of God, primarily by embracing the poor and the outcast with humility and compassion. Some time after Jesus is thought to have lived, there appeared thriving communities of diverse expression throughout the Roman Empire, not only those spreading to its western borders, which are named in the New Testament, but also those at its eastern frontiers and beyond, which are not, all claiming to follow his teaching. Further, it is evident in the earliest writings of Christian scripture that there are already conflicts which influence the way in which both Jesus and the communities are portrayed.

If we are honest, the conclusion that arises from these facts exposes the same truth that Jesus taught with his life: all human religious institutions are fallible. All churches, while claiming to take their inspiration from the revelation in Christ and to act in his name can do so only if filled with the divine life through the Holy Spirit; and this mystery of Incarnation can be received only by hearts that are open, softened by tears from stone to flesh.

What is equally alarming to the grassroots ecumenist is that there is no open acknowledgement that current discussions of structural unity, whatever form that might take, are based largely on divisions of power. The primary interest of the institutions, with their hidden agenda of uniformity, is to perpetuate themselves. Underlying these political struggles is a tyrannical paradigm of the divine, which has little use for paradox and ambiguity, for the scandal of the Gospel or creation as it is.

What seems to go unheeded is that our divisions, with their organpoint of pain, are themselves a source of blessing and salvation. They remind us that we are creatures, keep us from euphoria and hubris, hold before us the mystery of the divine indwelling people of different Christian traditions and different religions, the Divine who chooses to indwell and transfigure us as we are, and not as we might think we ought to be.

As we in the grassroots communicate and make Eucharist across the lines, the pain of our sad divisions nurtures in us the "mind of Christ"--that code phrase for the humble God, the kenotic God "who did not think divinity a thing to be grasped but emptied [him]self"--an attitude that was very much in evidence at the flowering of the ecumenical movement at the official level, but seems largely to have disappeared with the passage of time, just as it did in the early churches. Plus ├ža change...

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