Monday, June 22, 2009

Holy Contagion*

I just finished a good book, "Sinners: Jesus and His Earliest Followers," by Greg Carey.

All in all I found it to be rather engaging. I personally found the first six chapters more thought provoking and interesting than the last two; but that's another story.

In the book, Mr. Carey puts forth the idea that, according to Jewish sociological customs of the day, and by his participation in the institution of the Roman Empire, Jesus could be (was?) classified as a sinner. Not a sinner as we think of it (drunkard, glutton, blasphemer, murderer, thief or sex fiend), but a sinner because he deviated from social norms and, as Mr. Carey points out, probably walked on Roman roads built with slave labor. There's a lot to ruminate on.

One of the best things, I thought, he said was this:

Some people in the world regard purity (or holiness) as something to be protected. In this view, purity is easily contaminated by impurity. But others -- and this is how Jesus appears in the Gospels -- treat purity (or holiness) as more powerful than impurity. They bring holiness to bear on uncleanness.

With these recent posts of Mark Harris over at Preludium in my mind:

his post on Amos 3 - "The difference: "We can't walk together because we don't agree." "We can walk together because we agree to do so." The first ends up being about purity. The second is about engaging."

his post about Archbishop Eames and reconciliation - "What did the ancient Rwandan proverb say?: ‘To go fast, walk alone. To go far, walk together.’"

and his post about the newly constituted ACNA -
The suggestion was to take out item 4 of the Constitution, namely, "We are grieved by the current state of brokenness within the Anglican Communion prompted by those who have embraced erroneous teaching and who have rejected a repeated call to repentance."

that quote from "Sinners" resonated with me.

The Episcopal Church is rife with people who want to keep the church pure and holy. They want to keep it uncontaminated from uppity wimmen and people who happen to be homosexual. They claim they want to be in the world, but not of the world.

One problem with that attitude is that it keeps people away from the church. It not only keeps them away, it actively pushes them out. If we spend all our time setting up barriers, if we spend all of our time pushing people away, if we spend all of our time requiring people to live up to our expectations of propriety, then who will be at the doors to welcome people at the door? Who will be willing to say, "Everybody welcome, come in, kneel down and pray?"

If we see purity and holiness as something to be protected, we will find ourselves protecting fewer and fewer people. But if we can, as Mr. Carey suggests, see purity as more powerful than impurity and holiness as stronger than unholiness, then we shouldn't be afraid to reach out to those different from us; we shouldn't be afraid to come into contact with the other. In short, we should remember that we are afflicted with a holy contagion that will trump anything we deem impure.

And isn't it through personal contact that the gospel is spread?
*Holy Contagion is a term my very good friend Jane coined while we were discussing this book. Apologies to anyone who has used it previously, but I heard it from her first.


Young fogey emeritus | 7:30 AM, June 25, 2009  

We welcome people into the Church, we say: ‘You can come in, and that decision will change you.’ We don't say: 'Come in and we ask no questions.’ I do believe conversion means conversion of habits, behaviours, ideas, emotions. The boundaries are determined by what it means to be loyal to Jesus Christ. That means to display in all things the mind of Christ.

- ++Rowan Cantuar

As I like to say, with exactly his understanding here, all are welcome to come and pray in a Catholic church from the Bad Catholic who pops in at Christmas and on family occasions to lighting a candle to one's lucky saint (as the uncatechised might think of such things) to the weekly communicant with a master's in theology.

Our holy mother the church is not and never has been a micro-managing 'purity cult' (although the good old days by which here I don't mean The Bells of St Mary's but public confession of sins and years-long excommunications were demanding... not a religion for wimps!) and is a hospital for sinners (we offer the cleansing sacrament of confession and solace when you die) but go and sin no more.

plsdeacon | 3:54 PM, June 25, 2009  

Rev. Ref,
The problem is not just one of holiness, but of what can the Church bless? What behaviors have been shown to lead us towards God and what have led us away from God.

I welcome everyone to Church. I've welcomed child molesters and gang members, murderers and rapists, drug dealers and thieves into the Church - all part of my 13 years of prison ministry. But I don't intend to leave them as they are. I intend to let God work on them and to kill their "natural state" so that they can be reborn as people animated by the Holy Spirit.

I don't want a "pure" church. But I want a Church that follows its own teaching. Is that too much to ask?

Phil Snyder

Anonymous | 9:59 AM, August 14, 2009  
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