Friday, May 09, 2008

Bride of Christ Imagery in Religious Profession and Spiritual Maturity

A postulant in the Augustinians of the Immaculate Heart of Mary posed the question of how the members and oblates of the order related the traditional imagery of nuns as brides of Christ to their own spirituality. Here is my reply:

The image of marriage to Christ is used not only of religious profession, but also of the church (as the "bride of Christ", imagery used by Paul in the New Testament). One of the most important aspects of this for me is the idea of a solemn, permanent covenant. Adolescents date a lot before settling down with their spouse (if they do), and there is a certain intimacy that can only come from a permanent commitment. Now, making a permanent commitment in marriage to one person, saying "I do", at the same time means saying "I don't" to everyone else (in the traditional language of the marriage service this is expressed as "forsaking all others"). And that can be scary -- as humans and more especially as American consumers, we like options and choices.
Similarly, in our spiritual journeys, while it is fine to date, or play the field, in trying out various religious options, ultimately, spiritual maturity requires that we choose a particular path in serving God, and saying "yes" to a particular call means saying "no" to other calls. But there is a depth and a maturity in one's relationship to God and the church that can only come from making that commitment.
In my own life, I "played the field" with various denominational options, and with ministry options, but it has only been in the last several years as I have really committed to the Independent Catholic path that I have been able to come to an adult relationship with God and the church. Whenever I am tempted to wonder "what if" I had ended up staying in the Episcopal or Roman churches, I must remind myself that I didn't do that, and the parameters of our Independent Catholic community -- good, bad, and indifferent -- are the parameters in which I must serve God.
Now, having said all this, while we are all called to commit ourselves to particular calls in our Christian life, just as one shouldn't rush into marriage, so one shouldn't rush into a permanent commitment in one's ecclesial life. And that is what postulancy and novitiate are for. They are like times of "dating", when one can try on a particular religious expression. And it may be that one discovers that there is not a good fit -- and that is okay. God has a call for us, and all of us should spend time discerning what it is -- but once we've found it, we're called to commit our lives to it.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Response to Alexis' Post on Why One Blogs

Why blog?

I had hoped to use this blog as a means of thinking through various issues facing the IC/OC/ISM/EIEIO part of the Christian Church. But one of the things that has happened since I started this blog is that the jurisdiction of which I am a part has grown, and with that growth, so have demands on my time also grown, and I have found it well nigh impossible to devote the time and energy to blogging in a thoughtful way (and see below for my rules about how to go about this). Hence the many cat blogging posts.

What are the rules?

First, do no harm. I am a very opinionated person, and I am used to expressing my opinions quite freely. But one of the things that I have discovered as a bishop is that having pastoral responsibility means that I must keep many of my opinions to myself. Jesus said that he did not come to extinguish a smoldering wick or to crush a bruised reed, and I feel obligated to attempt to follow in His footsteps. So even when I disagree with some of those for whom I have a pastoral obligation, I must refrain from criticism or confrontation if it does not constitute a central matter of faith or interfere with the functioning of the church. And even in those situations where a loving confrontation is necessary, airing my views in a way on this blog that might cause offense or pain (or defensiveness) on their part would be wrong.

Second, observe appropriate privacy – my own and others. On both secular and religious blogs, I have encountered bloggers revealing the most intimate details of their relationship with their spouse, or their children, or with other family members. One can only wonder how the other family members feel about this (or will feel, in the case of children once they are adults). While some self-disclosure is appropriate, there are certain things that should not be entered into the permanent record that is the Internet. When television first became popular, some observers of popular culture observed that “the medium is the message”, and I believe this is true of the Internet as well. The Internet has given us an amazing ability to connect with one another across previously insurmountable geographical and cultural barriers, and this is a very good thing. But it has also encouraged a narcissistic exhibitionism and voyeurism that is quite unhealthy. I think blogs are great for the discussion of ideas. Some aspects of personal lives – pictures of vacations and new babies, details of the lives of ones’ cats, etc. are perfectly appropriate. But there are things that are best left unsaid – at least in a public forum such as a blog. (And, of course, there is a gray area in between.)

Unfortunately, much of what interests me most about church life is the practical lived reality of the church community. While there is much that is written about this topic that is of great interest, what insights I have gained are mostly the result of practical experience – which means that much of it is not appropriate to share on the blog.

Third, I am not one who thinks best out loud on a blog, so for me, I am not ready to post something until I have given it some reflection. (This will not apply to all bloggers, of course – it has to do with particular personality styles.)

Those are the three that come to mind.

I am going to omit the tagging, but would be interested in what others have to say.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging: The Right Paw of Christian Fellowship

When I was growing up in the Baptist denomination, when members transferred their membership from one congregation to another (by "letter", as opposed to by "baptism upon profession of faith"), the pastor would usually invite everyone to come forward and "extend the right hand of Christian fellowship" to them. Of course, some wags would refer to the fairly frequent practice of a pastor being fired as giving the "left foot of Christian fellowship".

So this picture shows Charles extending the right front paw of Christian fellowship to Allie: