Sunday, July 02, 2006

Our Blessed Mother: Jesus. (The Gospel acc. to Katharine Jefferts Schori)

Thank you, Fr Marco, for this great link to the ECUSA Presiding Bishop Elect’s first sermon after her election. The theological gymnastics required to make the following statement are worthy of an Olympic Gold Medal.

“Our mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation -- and you and I are His children.”

One only wonders what apparatus she is employing…

5 Comments:

At Wednesday, July 05, 2006 12:33:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Her “apparatus” is clear when you read the quote in its context within her sermon. She views the Sacrifice of the Cross to the rebirth of all creation and, in that context, Christ is the “mother” of creation.

This is not a novel analogy; it goes back at least to Julian of Norwich.

But what is Schori thinking of? Is she insane? The use of this language in the mystical tradition is one thing; putting it into her first sermon as the newly-elected primate of the Episcopal Church of the USA, at the present time and during the present stresses and troubles, is quite another. How did she think it would be received?

There’s not a hint of a gesture of acknowledgement, anywhere in her sermon, that this language – quoted out of context, as it was certainly going to be – might cause problems for her fellow-Anglicans; that it might be misunderstood; that it might be upsetting; that it might need to be handled sensitively; that it might need explanation, qualification, a rooting in scripture and tradition; that it might even be better avoided. Nothing. Nada.

The woman is a bishop, for heaven’s sake. She’s supposed to be the focus of communion between the Anglican Church in Nevada – and, now, the Anglican Church throughout the US – and the wider church. But she must know what a hostage to fortune – to put it no higher – she gives when she uses language like this as carelessly as she does. When you see this, its very hard to believe that she values communion with the wider Anglican movement, or is particularly concerned about preserving it. If anything, this suggests to me that she wants to accelerate the dissolution of the Anglican communion, or at least is prepared to do that in order to serve some other purpose.

 
At Friday, July 07, 2006 8:15:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Thanks for the Julian of Norwich reminder, Peregrinus. The mystical tradition is certainly a treasure in the Church, but we usually reserve it for private contemplation rather than public proclamation.

My thinking is that perhaps she wasn't even aware of how this would sound to the wider community. Maybe the American Church really is as insular as it seems?

 
At Friday, July 07, 2006 1:12:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

I think she must have been aware, David. The General Convention which elected her seems to have devoted a good deal of its time to trying very hard to square the circle between being faithful to their own liberal convictions, and maintaining communion with the wider Anglican family. This can hardly have escaped her attention.

If I’m wrong, and she really wasn’t aware, then the fact that she wasn’t aware surely calls into question whether she has the qualities that the office of Primate calls for? She certainly ought to have been aware.

I think there’s two ways to read this:

- In an understandable pleasure, elation, excitement at her (I gather, unexpected) election, she made an error of judgment, striking in her sermon a liberal note which she felt the church had endorsed by electing her, and forgetting that, as Primate, she has an audience, and responsibilities, which go beyond the ECUSA.

- She regards separation from the wider Anglican communion as inevitable, and sees no reason to moderate her actions or teaching in order to prolong the inevitable. On this view, she was aware of the effect this aspect of her sermon would have, but was indifferent to it.

You be the judge!

I do note that she has only been a priest for twelve years, and a bishop for five. And all of her episcopal experience has been as Bishop of Nevada, a diocese with about 5,000 Episcopalians – that makes it about the same size as some Anglican parishes in big cities. So she comes into the job with relatively little releavant experience, and I suppose we have to cut her a little slack in relation to errors of judgment at first.

As for including an image of Christ as mother in any sermon, I don’t have a fundamental problem with it. But a preacher needs to be aware of the disturbing, upsetting effect it could have. Preachers shouldn’t be afraid to disturb or upset, but it needs to be to some purpose, and I don’t see that simply throwing in the image, without any context or explanation, is going to serve any good purpose. If a preacher wants to challenge us to think of Christ as a mother, he needs to tell us why we should do that. He needs to devote time and attention to it and, if he is going to address it at all, then I think it has to be one of the main themes of the sermon. Certainly not a throwaway reference like Schori’s.

 
At Friday, July 07, 2006 5:20:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

I think for once, Peregrinus, you and I are almost in perfect agreement! I listened to last Wednesday's Religion Report this morning, and Peter Jenson judged the issue pretty much as you have--as a gauntlet thrown down. Another Anglican bishop told me that he believes her election itself to have been a deliberate signal, given that there were at least six other men with vastly more experience (and some with what he thought was more capability) on the nominations list.

The idea that our new birth finds its source in the cross is no difficulty for me--it is entirely orthodox. But the question is whether that makes Jesus our "mother"? I think that is a confusing image when we already have two other "mother" images in Christian theology: The Church and Our Lady. Further, Jesus himself called God "My Father and your Father" (John 20:17), and that would seem to make Jesus our "brother" rather than our "mother". It gets very convoluted if we call the first person of the Holy Trinity our Father, and the Father's Son our "mother", don't you think?

 
At Friday, July 07, 2006 7:09:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

It certainly does get convoluted. There is also the point that the Second Person of the Trinity is the only Person that we can unequivocally associate with a human gender, and it ain’t female. So imaging the Son as a mother is even more mind-boggling than imaging the Father or the Spirit as a mother

On the other hand, God is mind-boggling. It does us no harm in itself to be shocked, startled and boggled by statements about God, and from some perspectives it is a good thing. Calling Jesus a “mother”in order to shock us into an appreciation of the reality and the immensity and the signficance that is the rebirth of creation is certainly defensible.

But I think if you’re going to do that, you have to lay the ground, and follow through. As I said before, it would have to be a major theme of your sermon.

That’s not how I think it would have worked in Schori’s sermon – especially given the audience that sermon was going to get beyond the immediate congregation who heard it, and the treatment it would get. Even if Schori had given the most careful, nuanced, thoughtful, respectful treatment of this subject – and I don’t think she did – given who she is, and where the Anglican communion now stands, the use that would be made of a “sound-bite” referring to our mother Jesus should have been obvious to her.

 

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