Monday, June 11, 2007

The Continuing Crisis

There is a rather poignant passage early on in Aristotle's treatise on moral theory, the Nicomachean Ethics. It was Aristotle's custom, in his philosophical treatises, to survey the opinions of other philosophers before launching into an exposition of his own views. This element of his philosophical style is often called the "endoxic method", after the Greek word endoxon, meaning an established or reputable opinion. Naturally he often includes an accounting of the views of Plato in these surveys, since that greatest of all predecessors had been his own teacher. Writing about Plato's account of the Form of the Good, Aristotle begins by saying the following (1096a11-16):
We had perhaps better consider the universal good and discuss thoroughly what is meant by it, although such an inquiry is made an uphill one by the fact that the Forms have been introduced by friends of our own. Yet it would perhaps be thought to be better, indeed to be our duty, for the sake of maintaining the truth even to destroy what touches us closely, especially as we are philosophers: for, while both are dear, piety requires us to honor truth above our friends.
Now, in my previous post I mentioned The Other Episcopal Parish in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the Not-the-Chapel-of-the-Cross parish (known by some as the Church of the Holy Family). It seems that there is yet another Episcopal parish there (you can never have too many Episcopal parishes in a town, you know, to contain the ever increasing influx of new members), this one called the Episcopal Church of the Advocate.

Now, believe me, dear reader, following upon the heels of my father in philosophy Aristotle and after browsing through the web site for this new parish, I resolved that I would like nothing better on this sultry spring afternoon than to poke fun at the many many distressing signs of crappitudinosity I found there, from the doctrinally suspect to the liturgically banal, but just as I was about to start my collection of cuttings and pastings, I noticed that the vicar at the parish is a good friend of mine from the days when I was myself a member of the ranks.

How right Aristotle was, my friends, that an inquiry into the religiously ridiculous can be made an uphill one when the silliness has been introduced by friends of our own, and yet how true it remains that it is better to honor truth above our friends (especially friends we haven't seen in a while and who maybe don't remember us all that well anyway and whom we in all likelihood will not run into in the hall and have to suffer through an embarrassing silence with or questions about "so what made you write all that crap about me anyway"). So without further ado, let me begin by commencing.

Among my first questions about this new "parish" was: cui bono? (Well, OK, I didn't literally think "cui bono" in my mind, you know, those very two Latin words; it was probably something more along the lines of "What the hell is this shit?" but you can't put that into a family-rated blog like this one.) Well, I didn't have to wonder about that one for long:
Chairs generally face each other or go in a horseshoe around the altar, giving a sense of the people gathered around. At the beginning of the liturgy each Sunday afternoon, a member of our congregation greets the people assembled with these words:
Our liturgy today will be what it will be because each of us is here today. So when you sing, sing boldly; when you pray, pray loudly; and when you are quiet, be present and aware of God and others around you.
In short, the liturgy isn't something we come to watch; it is something we gather to do together as the People of God.
There's no way they'd allow that kind of crap at the Chapel of the Cross, so I suppose for people who like that sort of thing you just do what Protestants have always done: go off and start your own damn church and do it your own damn way. A quick look at the "core values" section of the web site quickly confirms the suspicion that this is just another social-justice program masquerading as ministry and spirituality:
The Episcopal Church of the Advocate is a Christian community, seeking to hear and answer God's call to us to practice Compassion, to do Justice, and to experience the Transformative Power of God in Christ as continually revealed in Word, Sacrament, and life.

Compassion … because the Greatest Commandments are to love God and love our neighbor. We strive to demonstrate this love through our compassion towards one another and the world in which we live by:

* Engaging with those in need in our local community as well as the members of our own worshipping community.
* Practicing radical hospitality and inclusiveness, and building a worshipping community of comfort and challenge for people for people of every kind of household andall ages and stages of life and faith and doubt.


Justice … because all that is required of us is to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. We work for justice and peace in the community and the world through:

* Advocacy, service and prayer for the poor, the oppressed, and those in any need or trouble.
* Understanding the causes of violence, and working to bring about a society in which conflict is resolved through peaceful, nonviolent means.


Transformation … because we as Christians are called to continual renewal of our hearts and minds to better discern God's will and help restore God's kingdom. We seek to experience and share the transformative power of God by creating:

* Worship that brings us into a direct and intimate relationship with God and each other through innovative, sacramental, participatory and celebratory liturgy.
* Ministries that explore the ways in which we as Christians may better discern and live God's will for our lives and our world, that we may be transformed, and through our actions we may serve as instruments of change and transformation in our community.


With our name, Church of the Advocate, we honor and serve God, through Christ who is our mediator and advocate before God, and through the Holy Spirit who is the advocate and comforter at work within and among us to bring about the love and will of God incarnate in the world.
While I'm quite sure that what is meant here by "radical inclusiveness" is something quite far from anything that I myself would endorse as compatible with Christianity (I'm sure it's no accident that the name "Church of the Advocate" was chosen for this parish: I think the real explanation is rather different than what is indicated here), I can't really say, beyond that, that these are not good values to have. Whether they ought to be the core values of a parish, however, is another question. I don't see any reference to God here, other than the passing reference to him as a source of power for the rest of us non-Gods who are gathering together as community.

What I found most informative about the place, however, was not something available right on the site itself, but linked to by the site: a blog called "Alternative" that appears to be written by a member of the Church of the Advocate. In an entry called "Prayer" Redefined" we read:
In our group discussion the question arose whether it is necessary first to "know what you believe" about transcendence in order to engage in liturgical practice. We all seemed to agree that there is a certain value in being open to the benefits of ritual and practice while remaining uncertain as to how or whether they correspond to definitive cosmic realities. We recalled with humor the concluding line from Jim Holt's review of Richard Dawkins' recent book:
[Those] ranging from agnostics to "spiritual" types for whom religion is not so much a metaphysical proposition as it is a way of life, illustrated by stories and enhanced by rituals —might take consolation in the wise words of the Rev. Andrew Mackerel, the hero of Peter De Vries’s 1958 comic novel “The Mackerel Plaza”: “It is the final proof of God’s omnipotence that he need not exist in order to save us.”
Ah yes, the old "is it really necessary to make all of those silly old ontological commitments first before I get my ticket to see that beautiful liturgy?" line.

I'm sorry, my bad: I described this parish at the outset as a new Episcopalian one. I didn't realize until just now that it is actually a new Unitarian one. My apologies for the confusion.

Well, for that part of the confusion that is due to me, anyway, which from the looks of things isn't anywhere near as much as is due to these folks.

1 comment:

Darwin said...

Among my first questions about this new "parish" was: cui bono? (Well, OK, I didn't literally think "cui bono" in my mind, you know, those very two Latin words; it was probably something more along the lines of "What the hell is this shit?" but you can't put that into a family-rated blog like this one.)

It's these moments of reading a couple lines and thinking, "Why couldn't I have said that first!" that bring me over here most days...