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  Tuesday, October 17, 2017


What About the Culture Wars?

September 2003

Splitting Rails

This week I realized a lifelong dream of splitting my own fence rails. It started with the little Lincoln Log cabins, the reading of Foxfire books, and touring historical settlements. In high school I took a course called Pioneer Lifestyles in which I tapped maple trees and made my own maple syrup. The pioneers’ was a homemade world of craftsmanship and artistry that is largely lost in my generation. Even though I grew up on a farm, I still have to ask the clerk at Home Depot how to fix my garage door. So when I moved to my little house in the woods of Woodinville, and had to fell a widowmaker cedar, the vision of my own split rail fence returned from the recesses of my childhood. The logs lay seasoning in the swamp for a year before I mustered the courage to haul them out with cable and come-along to higher ground. Four thick logs, eight to twelve feet long.

As I approach the task with sledge, axe, and wedges in hand, I feel that God is about to teach me a truth about the Kingdom. So I set to work with energy and excitement, not knowing what to expect. How familiar the wedge rings in my ear. Trustingly, I held it for my father while he split firewood. But unlike the stubborn elm rounds against which the wedged jumped and bounced before biting in, with a “thunk” the cedar receives the wedge on the first tap. “Ping, ping, pung, pong, poong” it bites and sinks further with each drive of the sledge. Then a deep “pop” and a fault line appears across the cut face of the huge log. Another wedge, and a crevasse opens in the log, while the fault lines run lengthwise toward the far end. Now it’s simple. I pound another chunk of wood into the split, and inside, the log groans, tears and pops. Finally the log, which weighs at least 200 pounds, literally springs apart with a melodious “boink”, and I stand exultant over the two halves. A few hours later 21 rails stand stacked against an old-growth cedar stump. None could withstand the cleaving power of those little steel wedges.

Following the decisions of General Convention this summer, reactions within the Episcopal Church USA, and the meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion, I find the unity of the church—Holy Cross Church—at some risk. So here’s the lesson of the Kingdom. The unity of the church is precious, and fragile, and as vulnerable to wedges as cedar logs: What can each of us do to guard and cherish our unity in Christ? I may be able to build a fence out of split rails. But to God and to us: what good is a split church?

My Calling

Following every three-year general convention of the Episcopal Church, parishes get to deal with the implications. So I find myself pulled in several directions: late night phone calls, lots of op/ed reading, meetings with clergy, all while I am trying to get done what God has called me to do here. Some of you want to know where I stand on matters of same sex blessings and unions (two different proposals at convention) and the recent ratification of The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion. I have some well informed opinions on these and many matters and you’re welcome to discuss them with me individually, but don’t expect me to “take a stand” or “preach to the issue” from the pulpit. This is because issues always divide whereas mission always unites. The mission of the church is to obey Jesus’s great commission to “Go”, and to obey Jesus’ great commandment to “Love.” (Matthew 28:18-20; John 13:34) I got to see first hand what happens when a church substitutes issues for mission an error I hope to avoid in this life.

The parish in which I was raised began as a mission in 1959, on seven acres in a rural ethnic town. The town grew into an upscale bedroom suburb of the neighboring metropolis over the next thirty years. At the turn of the century (I’ve been waiting to use the term nostalgically) this parish finally expanded to their full potential on their seven acres: a 400 seat worship center, plenty of parking, and the retrofitting of the old buildings for multi use. The parish won architecture awards and accolades from the community for the new construction. It is filling rapidly with the families that have been living around them for twenty years. Sounds like a success, but this is only half of the story. This vision could and should have come to fulfillment twenty years ago. But then, the parish was embroiled in a schismatic malaise over the “issues” facing the wider church. For about seven years the rector wrung his hands, published polemic articles, and teetered on the verge of joining the Orthodox Church before making his leap, taking a number of families with him. Then came the interim period, the call of a new rector, a season of several years of recovery and restoration in the parish, before they were ready to build. Thanks be to God they finally built it, but it might have been a reality in 1982 instead of 2002 had the leader not taken them off mission and into issues.

I have a choice. It has been my experience that a priest can work a congregation into righteous indignation, rallying them against any issue. Issues are seductive, and it may even feel like I’m defending the Faith. But I don’t confuse my issues with being a missionary. So I choose to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and his mission. I will be here for the people of Holy Cross to tend to your faith development, reaching out to the local community and beyond. And I’m looking for missionaries to shoulder the mission of the church with me. My life is half spent. I will make many mistakes in the future. But I will not make the mistake of taking a parish off Christ’s mission for the lure of preaching about issues.

Prayer

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our divisions; take away our prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one Hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one hear and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and my with one mind and one mouth glorify You; that there may be one Flock under one Shepherd, even Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.

—Jim

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