Monday, March 09, 2009

Ancient Wisdom, Anglican Futures + a mild rant


Tomorrow I hop on a plane for Ambridge, Pennsylvania. Trinity School for Ministry, a seminary in the Anglican tradition (read: theologically orthodox), has hired me to consult for their conference in June: "Ancient Wisdom, Anglican Futures". They asked if I would help organize the artistic part of the conference. I said sure, I'd love to. I'm Anglican, I dig ancient wisdom and, God-willing, I'll be around for the future.

They're posing the following questions:

"How do Anglican "insiders" welcome young evangelicals, post-evangelicals, and emergents who are attracted to the "Great Tradition"? How do inquiring "outsiders" perceive or participate in the distinctive anamnesia (memory) of Anglican worship and mission? How can the exchange between insiders and outsiders bear fruit in Anglicanism today? How will this emerging conversation stir the mind and heart of an Anglicanism in renewal?"

These are good questions. But by no means are they easy ones (particularly in light of this apocalyptic screed about the impending demise of evangelicalism in North America, to which I will say only one thing: Nothing, and I mean nothing, is simple about the demise or advancement of any major religion.

These kinds of sensational pronouncements get the attention of the media, as per The Christian Science Monitor who published the piece. But they fail fundamentally to describe accurately the behavior of religious societies.

Parts of what Michael Spencer says may come true. But there is no way that Michael can scrutinize all the forces that work together--churches, schools, global communities, parachurch organizations, lay-led movements, artists, publishing outfits, et al, of all different kinds of evangelical expression, plus all the random and unforseen happenings that shape history--to produce a certain outcome for a largescale religious movement. I'll be surprised if he doesn't get pounded by people like Mark Noll who has a much more disciplined grasp of evangelical history. I say kudos to Michael for the cohones to make such a bold statement. He'll get plenty of shout-outs--from both sides of the theological aisle. The NYT may pick it up.

But the rest of us need to go about our business of humble self-examination, quietly working with our hands, loving our neighbors, reading great books, feeding the poor, making new artistic culture, preaching the gospel, washing dishes, exposing ourselves to the ways in which Christians in other parts of the earth live out their faith, playing sports, saying our prayers, eating healthy food, merrymaking, worshiping the Triune God, and encouraging our children to aspire, in addition to all the familiar ones, to the occupations of lawyers, university professors, media executives, artists, politicians, business entrepreneurs, journalists and other like occupations that evangelicals tend to avoid but that make a substantial difference in the outworking of the Kingdom of God in our society.

And here ends my digressive paragraph.)

Anyhoo, the good folks up at TSM have a great line-up of speakers: Edith Humphrey, D.H. Williams (who wrote a great book on evangelicals and tradition), Simon Chan, Samuel Wells (he of Duke Chapel), Andrew Walker out of King's College (London), Tony Clark who teaches at the Quaker school, Friends University, and other fine folk speaking and facilitating discussion.

The organizers told me that Tyrus Clutter's art would be displayed during the event. I find that quite wonderful. Tyrus is a worthy man.

For 36 hours I'll wander around the campus speaking with the organizers, faculty, and artists as we seek together to envision the space, appraise our resources, draft a schedule, and make the most of the next three months of work. I proposed to them as a conceptual framework the Book of Common Prayer. They liked it, so that's what we'll be using to give form and freedom to the artistic activities of the conference.

I'm excited to have the opportunity to serve them. I'm only sorry that I won't be able to attend. That same week I'll be down at Duke Divinity School giving two seminars on the arts (along with Jeremy Begbie and Malcolm Guite) for their summer institute. This commitment is separate from whether I'll go to school there in the fall. All the same, it'll be great fun.

I just looked at weather.com and they say it's going to be 24 degrees farenheit in Ambridge, PA, on Wednesday morning. It's bloomin' spring down here in Austin, with flowers tearing out of their (not so) long winter bondage.

(Cover art: Once again the LOLSaints people got me laughing pretty hard with their latest ancient-future art renderings.)

2 comments:

Kelly W. Foster said...

I read the Spencer essay and had a similar reaction. Trying to predict broad sweeping outcomes based on present conditions is a pointless endeavor. I will say that I agree with much of his criticism of culture-wars-obsessed Evangelical culture and consumerist megachurches. If those see the kind of demise he predicts, then good riddance.

But, like you discuss in your rant, his bird's eye perspective on things misses the complex web of everyday disciples that in many ways have been challenging all the problems he outlines for a long time. This just happens in small, quiet, earthy ways that you can't see from the from the sky.

w. david o. taylor said...

Kelly: you yourself are doing a lot of really good "small, quiet, earthy" work in this city. The children's musical theater productions are only one example. I'm grateful for your hard work. I'm also glad you're blogging!

You're a hoss.