Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | February 9, 2010

On Giving a Buck-U-Uppo to the Leaning Tower of Canterbury

Now that all is said and gone, perhaps its easier to think more clearly about that visit from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Let me say as a former Anglican, that as he was selected by the Queen in the usual rotation between academics and evangelists, there were great expectations, but the fellow hasn’t lived up to the billing. Or perhaps he has lived up to his academic billing, but the need was for something or someone not dictated by this sort of oddly determined scheduling. Truth be told, I’m not sure any of us live up to our billings, or fulfill the needs of our times more than just showing up on schedule, but that’s another matter. And it  doesn’t necessarily change how we look at things, or how others look at us. But there just may be enough randomness in the universe that the grace that touches us from time to time becomes something we let proceed and even surpass our  limits. But that’s another matter.

For the moment, I’m thinking more in terms of  changing how we look at each other and these things for just a minute, pausing and going in a slightly different direction than the course this sort of discussion seems to ordinarily follow and offer a slightly different view. And like so many other places where this occurs, it’s not new or unique or whatever… only it is what resonates in my oscillating noggin. So yes, even this plug ugly tough old codger has thought again. And I’ll say in case I’ve not here, there or anywhere, that just for the record, I’m not a particular fan of his Wafflingness, but my opinion isn’t really the point so much as “What if my opinion really doesn’t count? What then?”

Indeed, mostly, I’d say we start with the perspective that it’s not all said and done.  Oh, the ceremony and speechifying are done all right, but I’m not sure that was or is the point at all. And most of what I’ve seen has been only from one side. There’s been far too little of what it means… and I’m not going to be able to fill that bill, but I can throw my  two cents out into the spare change drawer to offer that perhaps our guys weren’t so nutso on this as so many seem to insist.

I look at the whole of this simply as offering hospitality. No, we’re not running a hotel or gaming resort or even a reality TV show, but we can nonetheless do well to offer hospitality even at the risk of being misunderstood. Christ was misunderstood and was willing to risk much on this account. People can and do build odd theologies on this alone, I’m told, but you can do worse. Hospitality doesn’t mean coming unglued and going gaga. They are not one and the same.  In truth, it happens often enough that I can understand the hesitancy and all, but the presumption that one ounce of hospitality leads to going overboard  and getting crazy, loosening your moorings and all the like just doesn’t hold.

Of course I’m sure some will differentiate between giving an award and hospitality. I’m not sure there’s an answer to this, just as there aren’t answers to everything. Yes… we can invent answers, but that has more to do with our needs for being right than our will to do right. I mean the truth is that as I write this, I’ve been oddly  awarded another breath. I make no claim to deserving it, or not… I’m happy to keep on breathing and worrying about what it means later. Yeah, it’s a bit tough sometimes, and no one’s letting me off as easy as I’d like.

But one thing occurs to me is this: Will it ever be said of us that the Orthodox Church is known for its unquestioning response of offering radical hospitality… or will it be known as a place where there are strings, there are conditions, and there are all sorts of things folks have to subscribe to before we will even so much as have coffee together? Metropolitan Jonah seems to suggest the take on us is that we like argue. and yes this isn’t precisely the same thing… but the fact that we’re not arguing how to offer hospitality… but in some respects whether seems to suggest we’re not out of the woods.

So maybe it’d be good for us to give out “little nothings” in this life, too, “just for showing up”, and to give them even and especially to the undeserving. Again, I’m not sure we have to jump to the conclusion that this means that we agree with everyone on everything or even anything… but that maybe we want them to have something they need, and we happen to see. I’m not sure where folks got that notion that a gift or an award means more than a gift or an award or is more than a “nothing”. Maybe we don’t even know what it means or who it is for… maybe we simply need to be more apophatic about these things.

I know it will sound trite to say that Christ reached out to folks, and while today no one would suggest that he agreed with their sins… they certainly did misjudge him at the time for his associations as if he had applauded their sins. I think by his actions and by his words he was able to bring them to a point that through his love, they were able to see themselves in a new light… the way he saw them. He didn’t let them go on without change… but changed they were, because his desire for them to change met with something in them that welcomed it, met it, and went along.

So maybe if we think about it, we could consider that we are simply encouraging someone to think, to re-orient, to re-energize and reconsider the virtues of tradition, to thank them even for writing about our church even as outsiders knowing perhaps less than they think they do… because we know so much less about it ourselves, too. Maybe if we don’t think we can do that, then this says something terrible about ourselves. I’m not suggesting I know what it’s saying… only that maybe the judgment is instead upon ourselves rather than elsewhere, just as Metropolitan Anthony suggested that at the Last Judgment we will convict ourselves out of our own words, deeds, and thoughts. So perhaps then if we don’t offer hospitality in the process of the course of our days… maybe we’ve missed out on something of importance ourselves. And then whatever his Wafflingness’s other faults, the weights upon him will not be added to by us, but decreased. Then maybe we will have done something, maybe his interest will transition from academic to real, and all might be well.

And maybe… just maybe… the ones influenced intentionally in this aren’t the folks receiving the so-called award… but the folks simply looking on.  They might even be us.


  1. Was Zaccheus given an “award” for climbing a tree to see Jesus? Or Nicodemus for sneaking off in the middle of the night to ask some questions about truth? Or Photini for hitting on Jesus at the well? Maybe its just me…

    • Thank you for your comment. Not going to argue here or anywhere. Your point is not only completely valid but probably right. And no, I didn’t expect writing along these lines would be a way to win friends and influence people either. Frankly, it is not an easy thing to do to come out and support someone like the Arch Leaning Tower of Canterbury His-Ownself with whom I agree extremely little if at all. And also someone whom I probably unfairly hold responsible for the decline and fall of his church, but the truth is that this happened long before his elevation, and he was only there to cheer it on or more Anglicanly, wring his hands as if with concern and do nothing as if supportive. But then there is a perspective that we offer hospitality without judgment and without conveying either a sense of approval. Not easy to manage, and I’m not sure they managed it in all truth.

      Yet perhaps I’ve grown so immune to awards that I don’t attach quite the importance others may to them these days. Can’t stand Hollywood’s constant self-annointing award ceremonies… so not sure I’m supposed why I’d be expected to find these ecclesiastical awards any better? I can’t imagine any Holy Fool standing still for it.

      But the world as we see it did not end, and if I’d been asked, I’d have given him an award probably far different than what he was given: something like one of the old baseball cards with a stick of gum in the package…. only this would be an icon of Christ with an open Gospel…. and I can think of a LOT of texts I’d like to see there….ranging from “Y’know… yo’ Mama’s watchin'” (something from Mr. T) to something like a reminder… very Orthodox like “Hold fast…”. But perhaps more to the point, seems to me that we can offer awards to the non-Orthodox, and I would hope they differ from those that we offer Orthodox… but that’s a detail I didn’t feel like going into at the time. And in all truth, it’s not like they gave out a list of prior recipients for comparison.

      Now… do I wish this hadn’t happened, or happened in the way it did? Sure. But given that it did, what can I make of it? That seems the more germane issue to me.

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