Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Something's Happening Here, What It Is Ain't Exactly Clear

The ordained members of the Episcopal Church, deacons, priests and bishops, are charged with many responsibilities, some mundane, some transcendent. The leitmotif that connects these responsibilities is that we are to find ways to keep the Christian presentation, in all of its history, social responsibility, and potential, as fresh and accessible as is humanly possible. All of this via the appeal to divine guidance and discernment, of course.

So, imagine my surprise at discovering what is becoming an interesting trend in the contemporary church: Episcopal clergy finding spiritual succor in religions other than Christianity. Please understand that I'm not speaking of things like the Roman Catholic monk and hermit, Thomas Merton, finding common contemplative ground with Zen monastics, or the writer and one-time Episcopal priest Alan Watts laying the foundation for continuing American interest in Asian philosophy, religion, and literature. Merton never "joined" another faith and Watts did not pursue such with anything other than academic interest until after his holy orders had been renounced.

What I'm talking about is news such as:

1.] Rectors also serving as Druid priests and publishing "pagan rituals" that were not only allegedly disseminated in their parishes, but, hilariously, also on the official Episcopal Church website. [Supporting my personal opinion that the Church doesn't read its own website.]

2.] An Episcopal priest who has declared that she is also a Muslim.

3.] The only candidate for bishop in a diocesan election who appears to have a cafeterian appreciation of the world's spirituality. In the words of the candidate's former bishop, he " was 'walking the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism together.'"

I cannot tell you how many ways there are to re-charge and renew one's way of life as a Christian, beyond simply receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion in its true intention for the amendment of life. From long-established contemplative programs to guided and prayerful journeys to places of spiritual importance to new efforts in education and purposeful ministry, clergy of the church have many, many resources from which to draw and, importantly, from which to share with their congregations and/or students.

But when a member of the clergy honestly reaches a point where Christianity no longer sustains their spiritual practice, and where their need is best served by pursuing initiation into another religion, then it may be time to acknowledge that their ability to lead other Episcopalians has concluded and it's time to move on. Clearly, their faith journey the common bonds that the rest of us find, well, liberating. I would think doing otherwise would simply convince cynics that the bifurcated clergy are just staying in it for the pension fund benefits. Certainly, it would add to the view of some that many Protestant clergy are embarrassed by their own religion.

The rest of us, who still find new surprises and wonders in Christianity and, yes, even Anglicanism, on an almost daily basis will continue, with congregations strongly desirous of the same, to build upon what God continues to grant to those who quest for it. If the clergy aren't finding spiritual fulfillment in the religion into which they have been ordained, it is doubtful that they will ever offer compelling, powerful witness or proclamation.

[By the way, I think I announced to my parents when I was about 9 that I wanted to practice Zen Yogi. I recall it was the spiritual discipline of Gomez Adams on "The Adams Family" TV show and always seemed to make him so happy. It's only feature seemed to be standing on one's head, something I quite enjoyed when I was nine-years-old.]