Inhabiting our Story

On Friday of this last week, Canon Jeff Bullock, Canon Theologian for the Diocese of Arizona and our last Sunday’s preacher at Trinity Cathedral convened a small group of clergy for a book study. (Canon is Anglican-Episcopal speak for a priest or leading lay person appointed by the Bishop for the good order of the Church) The book chosen is Brad Kallenberg’s  Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age.

Kallenberg’s maps three phases in Western thought which he describes as precritical, modern, and postcritical. The Bible belongs to that period he identifies as precritical thinking. Precritical is a way of looking at the world akin to Charles Taylor’s term enchantment. Modern describes the way of thinking and looking at the world originating with the Enlightenment at the end of the 17th Century and reaching a peak in the mid to late 20th Century. A modern worldview is informed by the analytical method of scientific observation. In the precritical accounts of the Bible, the emphasis is on story and the picture of a world created by the details of the story. That many details in Biblical stories seem to us improbable does not worry the precritical reader. The details of a story take on a meaning by their context within the overarching theme of a story. Kallenberg uses the example of Jesus walking on the water. To the precritical mind this is not improbable. It is the kind of thing one would expect within the overarching context of Jesus as Son of God. Contrast this with the way a modern reader approaches the same Biblical story. Details are separated from overall contextual meaning and analyzed through asking questions like, could this really have happened or is there any historical proof for this claim? This is the world view Taylor calls disenchantment. 

We are now passing through a period when the modern worldview is breaking down in favor of what appears to be a return to a holistic, in contrast to an atomistic, approach to experiencing the world. The modern approach of constructing reality only from what can be externally observed and verified has left us in a universe that seems flat and drab and in which we feel deeply lonely. We are left with the question: is this all there is to life? Increasingly, our experience is that the modern worldview is inadequate and leaves us wanting more. Our current dissatisfaction with the limited world of factual certainties expresses itself in film and book through an increasing longing and appetite for mystery, and magical-realism. Consequently, the modern is giving way to an emerging world of thought Kallenberg sometimes calls postmodern, a somewhat confusing term because of its association with the deconstructionists, or postcritical, to my mind a better descriptive. In the modern world view stories are to be analyzed and verified. In the postcritical world view stories are to be inhabited and lived out.

The 27th January is the day when Trinity Cathedral holds its Annual General Meeting. In preparation for the meeting it has been customary for the Dean to offer a review of the past year. I suspect that previous Deans have tended to approach this task in a modern frame of mind. Cathedral Deans, like the rest of us, strongly influenced by our modern approach to thinking will have tended to break the past year down into events, facts and figures – the past year broken down into its atomistic parts and viewed from a perspective of achievement or failure, pride or disappointment.

A modern view of 2012

In this vein I can confirm that in 2012 Trinity Cathedral began the year with three full time priests, one nonstipendary priest missioner and three deacons. We ended the year with one full time priest, one nonstipendary priest missioner, and two deacons. Nevertheless, we have continued to flourish. We said goodbye to Canon Deborah Noonan at the end of July as she prepared to go off to become the Vicar of Dibley. With sad and somewhat anxious hearts we bade farewell to Dean Nicholas Knisely and his wife Karen at the end of August, wishing them well as Nicholas became the next Bishop of Rhode Island. This resulted in the Canon Pastor, at the Bishop’s invitation, stepping into the role of Dean in-between. At the end of December Bishop Kirk accepted Deacon John Mather’s request for a sabbatical year.

I can confirm that we experienced other personnel changes, in particular Sarah Gennett’s resignation as Youth Minister, Joan Howell’s stepping down as Children’s Education Director and Colin Gennett’s appointment as Children’s Education Co-ordinator. At the change-over of the year, Carol Lamont Walker, after many years of ministry in the Cathedral Shoppe has made a decision to step down as Shoppe Manager. For Carol and for the Trinity Community this is a decision that really does signify the passing of an era. For as the Cathedral grows in size it also is moving from a culture which rests heavily on the work of volunteers to a culture which needs a more centralized organization led by paid staff. To the paid staff, I express my deepest gratitude for the way they have accomplished more by using less.

I can confirm that our numbers have continued to swell as we have welcomed new spiritual seekers, along with Episcopalians from elsewhere together with others with established spiritual lives in other Christian Traditions. Our La Trinidad Community has continued to flourish in response to the welcome of the Episcopal Church, embodied by Canon Carmen Guerreo, priest missioner and Canon for Hispanic Ministry. The Trinity Community’s embrace of diversity welcomes members of the Latino Community excluded or discriminated against within an increasingly conservative Roman Catholic Church and wider Arizona Society. The growth of La Trinidad is reminiscent of Luke’s description of the first days of the Church in the Acts of the Apostles – as each day more and more were added to their number.

I can confirm that we had a most successful Annual Renewal Program. So many of you have responded with gratitude to God and generosity in support of the ministry of Trinity Cathedral. As a community, as well as individually, we continue to deepen our response to Jesus’ call to accompany him on the road of discipleship. We began 2012 with 170 pledging units and a $50,000 deficit and we ended the year with a balanced budget, thanks in large part to the spending discipline of the staff. As all the statistics are harmonized we start 2013 with and net increase of 44 new pledging units. Our current total stands at 195 pledging units and as the phone calls go out to those yet to respond, we anticipate this number continuing to rise.

Passing from a modern to a postcritical view of 2012

All of these events, facts and figures are true. Yet, this modern worldview, in breaking down the past year into atomistic parts leaves out something crucial. A precritical reading of the last year would have emphasized the story of how the Holy Spirit is active within Trinity Cathedral’s Community. A modern reading analyses the past year, dividing it up into a series of events, achievements and failures seen primarily, as the results of human agency. Yet, I want to address 2012 through a postcritical lens which emphasizes our experience as participants within a story. The past year is a story about who we are as a community. Through inhabiting our story in 2012 we encounter our identity. Who are we? We are the Body of Christ in the world.

Ours is a story of being Church through our participation in the life of the cross-bearing and saving community at the intersection of Roosevelt and Central. Ours is a story of a Spirit filled community inwardly strengthening its identity as a community of love. Ours is a story of a missional community reaching out beyond itself through prayer and active service, bearing witness to the presence of God in the world. As we inhabit the story of being the Church we discover our identity, not as a society of individual Christians but as the mystical Body of Christ bearing witness to God’s generous and abundant love for the world.

The Gospel for this morning from Luke 4:14-21 articulates what it means to be the Church bearing witness to the abundant love of God for the world. In worship our postcritical community story encounters our precritical Biblical story, transmitted to us across 2000 years as part of the collective memory of the Church. As we inhabit the postcritical story of being Trinity Cathedral facing-up to the challenges posed by life in 21st century America, we we encounter with the precritical Biblical story of salvation history. As we seek to inhabit both stories we become more and more those whom God is dreaming us into becoming.

Within this process of becoming, we emerge to find that the Spirit of the Lord is upon us. God has anointed us to bring good news to the poor. God has sent us to proclaim release to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

The postcritical invitation to inhabit our story

2012 has been but another year when through worship, prayer and action we have endeavored to rediscover over and over again our identity through inhabiting this story. As we enter into another year of change and challenge we don’t necessarily, need to know, let alone be able to agree among ourselves about what bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, challenging oppression and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor will, or even should, look like in 2013.

There are different possible interpretations ranging from a powerful focus on the fight for a just society to deepening our psychospiritual understanding in order to challenge our own spiritual and relational poverty.  While challenging the blindness to inequality in our society we also look more deeply into our own spiritual lives, challenging our own blindness, our sense of captivity and societal and self oppression. Some will be called more to engage in the external struggle, while others will be drawn more deeply into the internal exploration. Our identity as the Church means that we will be engaging across both outer world, and inner-world, fronts.

Luke 4:14-21 echoing the words of the Prophet Isaiah, goes to the heart of the story that is Jesus’s ministry. This precritical story takes us to the heart of our own postcritical story as the Christian Community in this place. We inhabit that story thereby encountering the source of our identity as those who can say the Spirit of the Lord is upon us. My invitation for all of us is to continue to live out the implications of this as we move into 2013.

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