Cracks in the Foundation

Even without an earthquake, sometimes the foundations crack. Sometimes this is because the foundations are just old and maybe worn out. Sometimes it comes from settling (which may or may not be attached to aging). Sometimes it is because of internal rumblings and sometimes from external ones (and I've heard my share of jokes about checking the foundations after the first woman celebrates in a church or that a conservative cleric preaches in a liberal cathedral; I've been that woman more than once). But at any rate, the bulwarks begin to show wear and tear, begin to crack and crumble. It happens a lot, but it is upsetting nonetheless.

What if the structure just falls down completely? How much will it cost to patch up? Will the patching show - uneven floors, obvious cracks, mismatched colors and textures, blobby seams? Should it even be patched up, or should we tear it down and start over? Will it be stronger or weaker from the patching?

This happens to our physical bricks and mortar buildings - houses, offices, churches, bridges, walls and fences - and to our social structures, too - family, church, neighbors, The Anglican Communion.

There are always people who would patch and patch and patch until the original is almost completely lost underneath all the patching. (A seminary professor used to tell about the axe that had been in the family for a hundred years - each part having been replaced many times so that there was nothing of the original axe left and yet the axe was lovingly described as 100 years old.) And there are always people who would just tear the thing down and be done with it, either to say good-bye for ever or to make room for something new.

Of course, these things ought to be dealt with on a case by case basis. It is never always right or always wrong to patch or to level. The problem often comes when the parties from either side of the argument are unable to recognize and understand the real benefits the other side sees from its point of view. Patchers tend to have a great love for tradition, for the connections that have come down through the years, for history and memories and such. Tearer-downers tend to focus on health, a skepticism about putting trust in buildings/institutions, and on making room for resurrection. Neither of these are wrong, and neither are right. Both are right and both can be wrong - or even right but not appropriate now or yet. In which case there can be great tension about when it will be appropriate to take action and whether or not one can force resurrection.

We are all aflutter about all kinds of things in the church. About declining numbers, about the place of women and LBGT folks, about buildings, about liturgy and music, about what other provinces are doing. Some of the shrill nature of the conversation truly stems from great love for the church - love of the tradition, the history; love of God's habit of doing a new thing and making room for the Holy Spirit. Some of it comes from pettiness and wrongheadedness.

I love history and tradition - I value it a great deal and became an Episcopalian because I love the tradition - the music, the liturgy, the buildings, the arcane and the sublime. But I also believe in resurrection and that God always makes new life come out of death; I believe that we are to be transformed and that transformation is painful. I follow the debates, and I have opinions about them.

But more than anything, I believe that the church belongs to God and that in the end God will bring forth salvation to all by whatever means God wishes to use. Just as Abraham, Moses, David, were flawed; just as I and all my fellow clergy are flawed; just as all humans and all human institutions are flawed - I remain grateful and in awe that God loves and uses such broken vessels as these for windows through which God's unbridled grace and unfailing mercy and soaring truths and exquisite beauty can at least occasionally be glimpsed.