The Taser's Edge

Final score–one massive yay, one sizable sigh, two boos

Last week I found out that I am really going to be ordained as a deacon in the Anglican Mission in America.  The papers are in.  The approvals have been made.  The service is being planned.  It is crazemazing.  It is also a letdown.

It is not a letdown in itself but in the fact that I do not know myself if I am not seeking ordination.  I was 19 when I began the United Methodist ordination process, 24 when I dropped out, 25 when I began the AMiA process, and now at age 26 I am getting ordained as a deacon.  Long story short, I have known myself as a self seeking ordination for my entire adult life.  (By the way, in the Anglican world, you become a deacon before a priest.  They are not separate paths.)

So, that is a yay for ordination and a hmm for exploring what is so depressing about accomplishing things that are incredibly meaningful and important.  There are also two boos to add the scoreboard.  On Monday or Tuesday, Franny the intrepid greyhound developed a weird, scary red eye thing.  Her eyes have gotten redder ever since, and I wish I had not seen the pictures I found when I Googled “greyhound red eyes.”  Appointment tomorrow.

Then today, I parked as usual (when I drive) for work.  On Duke’s campus, parking is at a premium, a strange fact with all the acreage.  I don’t have a parking pass (and it is Div School students, or former Div School students in my case, who excel above all other grad students at living on the cheap and mapping out every corner of non-banned) so I park on Swift Ave. , a well-known street to anyone who knows Duke-on-the-cheap.  (It’s pronounced Swift Av, never Avenue.)  It bisects Campus Dr., is in full view of two bus stops, is close to some nice homes, and obviously there are people around, parking or driving away throughout the day.  Sometime between 8am and 5pm, my window got smashed in and the car stereo was stolen.

For those of you keeping track of how often our car has been violated in Durham, this is break-in number five, stereo number four, and passenger window number two.  I love Durham because it has dirt under its fingernails and some of that weird fungus-stuff growing on its elbows.  But I think I would like Durham just as well if she was slightly less gritty.  Bless her heart.

Beyond “As We Forgive”

I have to admit that although I have long known the general details of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, I have not at all actively sought to learn more.  Last week, All Saints Church (my church, a parish of the Anglican Mission in America, itself a mission of the Anglican province of Rwanda), the Duke Center for Reconciliation, and the Anglican Episcopal House of Studies (here at Duke Divinity) organized two showings of the documentary As We Forgive, which follows specific stories of attempts at repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation in Rwanda in the years since the genocide:

After each showing, there was a panel discussion.  The first night the panel was officially made up of a Duke Divinity master’s student from Burundi, a Duke Ph.D. student whose project has to do with violence in East Africa (specifically in the Democratic Republic of Congo), Dr. Ellen Davis, and Rev. Dr. Steve Breedlove (rector at All Saints).  Two native Rwandans in the audience also quickly became de facto panelists (and were conscripted as official panelists for the second showing).  I was lucky enough to sit down with one of the two for brunch the next day.

He is a student in the States, a Rwandan citizen officially, but he grew up in Uganda.  He’s also a movie fan, specifically of The Godfather, and he likened East African politics to Corleone family politics, telling me that he is among that minority of East Africans whose legal status in the US is not due to some variety of political corruption (although it is still due to political connections).

The documentary seems to be endlessly hopeful, even as it shows the difficulty of forgiveness in particular lives.  I left in disbelief.  I am still in disbelief: how can you forgive the man who killed your entire family?  Is that the power of the Gospel or is it ridiculously naive?  And the idea of government-facilitated reconciliation between murderer and victim makes my mind reel.  If the US prison system had any interest in rehabilitation of individuals, what would might reconciliation with their victims look like?  And should governments be in the reconciliation business at all?  (I am Western with Western assumptions about the separation of church and state after all.)

I didn’t recognize it until this week, but April 6th was the 15th anniversary of the assassination of President Habyarimana, the event generally considered to have ignited the genocide.  Plenty of major news organizations have been talking.

The BBC takes a decidedly pessimistic take (or perhaps it is only a starkly realistic about the ongoing problems in Rwanda, something which the documentary sadly seemed to leave out): “Rwanda’s ghosts refuse to be buried“.

And then there’s the April 13 edition of Newsweek‘s “A Message of Hope from a Pile of Bones.”  You really should read it, but it’s especially interesting to me because it follows Rwandan Anglican Bishop John Rucyuhana.  One thing which As We Forgive adds to the picture provided by the magazine is Rucyuhana speaking about how badly the Rwandan churches failed, and how much guilt they bear for the genocide.

I only pray that someday the American churches will repent of their guilt for not doing enough to get our government to do something in Rwanda (and in many elsewheres, past and present).  What would the American religious landscape (see also Newsweek’s newest cover story, “The Decline and Fall of Christian America,” for a decent-but-not-great picture of said landscape) look like if when we heard the word ‘church’ we thought ‘advocate on behalf of the poor, the suffering, the dying, the hungry, the wartorn, the broken-hearted’ rather than ‘pro-war, anti-freedom, judgmental, power-hungry political wolves in sheep’s clothing’?  (Okay, maybe people don’t think all of that, but that’s mostly because Christians have usually been political bunglers rather than cunningly strategic wolves.)

Death by Footwashing: A Sermon

This morning, as you know if you read posts from earlier this week, it was my turn to preach at Anglican Missional Pastor training, a program for ministry development within the Anglican Mission in America.  The manuscript of the sermon I preached is as follows.  Even if you don’t go around reading random online sermons, my mom does, so there.  And Holly’s mom.  And a few other people.  For those who are disinterested, I dangle this tidbit: in the sermon I talk about my recent encounter with some Jehovah’s Witnesses.

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Creating Christian Community and Naming the American Lie

This post is meant to be read after “Tasty, Tasty, Stanley-flavored Kool-Aid.”

Last night I traveled up to Roanoke, VA to visit Church of the Holy Spirit, an Anglican Mission in America congregation.  Actually, there are now three churches, the original Church of the Holy Spirit and two churches that it has planted in the surrounding area.

It was the first meeting of the new year for Anglican Missional Pastor, the clunkily named (hard to see that on a resume) program I’m doing to train to be a pastor within the AMiA.  It was a wonderful discussion about all kinds of stuff having to do with church planting and church leadership, encouraging rather than a bunch of technical stuff.  Eventually, one of the questions we asked was basically, “Can we name some basic human needs that our churches try to meet, no matter what the variables of a given setting?”  There are many answers to that question: hope, community, belonging, to be known, to be accepted, to be understood, to love and be loved.

Stanley Hauerwas has a catchy slogan depicting his reading of the claims of modernity: “You should have no story but the story you chose when you had no story.”  Although his wording is facetious, it is also true.  Think of the promises of America: you can be whatever you want to be, you can do whatever you want to do (provided it doesn’t harm anyone else), your political beliefs are your own and you alone formed them, your philosophical beliefs are your own and you alone formed them, your religious beliefs are your own and you alone chose them, your mind is your own, your body is your own, your identity is your own.  Your personal story started with you, has been defined by you, and only those influences which you choose (bad influences being able to be ameliorated by counseling) will affect you.

If you think this is an overstatement, look at the promise of Barack Obama: grows up in poverty, the child of a Kenyan, raised by a single mother, becomes the first black president.  It is a lie to say that any child in America has the same potential.  I have only to talk to my wife and her fellow public school teachers about their students’ performance on End-of-Course testing (North Carolina’s way of doing their part for No Child Left Behind) and I know that it is a lie to say that, in America, any child has the potential to be president.  (I want it to be clear, however, that I do believe that every one of those children has the potential to do great things, but for most of them, their greatness will not be one chosen from among a stack of possibilities, but one highly determined by the circumstances of their lives, circumstances which were far beyond their control.)

Once again, I’m far afield.  This post is supposed to be connecting the post on postliberalism to my AMP day today.  Here’s the connection.  As I mentioned in this week’s Tuesday Reading Roundup, I have been reading Bryan Stone’s Evangelism After Christendom, which brings many of the ideas of postliberalism to bear on Christian evangelism.  One very strong part of postliberalism is a focus on narrative-formed communities.  Each community has its own story, and the members of that community are not discrete beings.  Rather their identities are dependent on one another (intersubjective) and upon the story and tradition of their community.  Communities are particular because they and their members are formed by particular stories and traditions.  One of these communities is the Church and its story is the Gospel.  Certainly this idea can be relativistic–many communities, none better than another–but Bryan Stone claims it doesn’t have to go that far necessarily (as does Alasdair MacIntyre, on whose work much of narrative theology is based).

“Can we name some basic human needs that our churches try to meet, no matter what the variables of a given setting?”  People long for community, because although we are told that we can decide who we want to become, our identities are intertwined with each other.  This is not just a collective consciousness as a species (although I don’t necessarily have a problem saying that it may also be that), but it is more importantly about our collective identity as children of God.

Deep inside, we still know that we are connected to one another, that the divisions between us are wrong and somehow artificial (even though they go very deep), and that we are not separate islands unto ourselves.  No matter how loudly and often we are told that we can be whomever we choose to be, we know that our selves are not wholly determined by our choices or ourselves.  The Church has something to offer, because it is a place which (at its best and truest) affirms that voice within us and says to us, “Yes, you are connected to everyone else and also to something greater than you can voice or name, you are not alone, you were created to be loved and not to be abused.  Here is a community in which you are invited to experience and to have your identity be shaped by love, joy, peace, companionship (a word literally meaning ‘sharing bread’), and hope.”

Believe it or not, throughout history, there have always been some quarters of Christianity (a remnant, if you will) which actually work like that, and there are churches where it happens today.