Theology Day at O’Hare

I went out to O’Hare Airport to pick up the most wonderful theologian in the world (my fantastic wife Margaret), but her plane was delayed. I took the opportunity to pace back and forth the length of Terminal 1, listening to tunes (i.e., podwalking). As I neared Baggage Carousel One, I ran into Jim Poling, pastoral theology professor at Garrett and all-around nice guy. We usually greet one another at Cafe Express (soon to be renamed The Brothers K), so crossing paths at the airport was both nothing special and a little surprising. But that wasn’t all.

As I gazed at the Xerox Color advertisement by the rest rooms, somebody prodded me — and it turned out to be celebrated nominee for Bishop of California, Bonnie Perry. I respect Bonnie intensely; she’s wise, committed, an extremely effective congregational leader, and would (controversies aside) be just the sort of bishop of whom I wish there were more. She’s the kind of church leader I feel comfortable disagreeing with about the topics on which we do disagree — I absolutely trust her not to go all passive-aggressive on me, or to construe thoughtful, principled dissent as “questioning her authority” or any of that nonsense.

So while I think that (controversies aside) she’d do a great job, one can’t simply wish away the controversies that surround episcopal elections these days, and I was glad to have a chance to say “Hi” to her and promise her that I was praying that God bring about whatever is best for her and church through what will surely be a trying, tempestuous process. She’s a champ, even if she doesn’t turn out to be a bishop.

[I just downloaded the new version of MarsEdit, which incorporates tagging as part of its interface, so from now on I too will tag more regularly. Why I tag? Because it makes the internet ecology a more information-rich environment, where new modes of knowledge thrive.]

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6 thoughts on “Theology Day at O’Hare

  1. I’m sure we’re praying for her at Holy Innocents – I posted something to that effect on the church blog. Bonnie’s work at All Saints is often brought up in conversations about what we might be doing out our way. I haven’t talked to anybody about it yet, I’m currently on vacation, but keeping an eye on things via the Internets.

    I think Bonnie would make a great bishop and leader, too.

    Glad you had your theological encounters – and also your iTunes along. Good tip about the tagging – I’ve been trying to do that more but haven’t been consistent.

    By the way, TypeKey does not work at all for me… ::scratching noggin::

  2. If I had some time, I would (a) upgrade to MT 3.2, and (b) eliminate all references to TypeKay, since I’ve never been able to ake it work. For now, I’m leaving it alone, which leaves visitors like you frustrated, and I apologize for that.

  3. Fr Adam

    (controversies aside)

    Wouldn’t it be lovely to be able to deal with “controversies” that easily?

    My question about the Revd. Ms. Perry is simple: is she orthodox?

    If she’s not, then why would [she] be just the sort of bishop of whom [you] wish there were more? Which is better, having a bishop that you can feel comfortable disagreeing with, or a bishop with whom there is (at least on fundamental dogmatic matters) no need to disagree?

    If one is, or ought to be, free to disagree with the bishop, then remind me again exactly what the role of the bishop is, and why it is that we ought to have one.

    It’s been a long, long time since I was an Episcopalian, and I understand it less and less.

  4. Chris, I’m not aware of any ecclesiological structure that doesn’t allow for certain kinds of disagreement. My inclination toward a (small-“c”) catholic perspective on structure involves the assumption that the church’s unity embraces parties who disagree vigorously about theologically-important topics.

    That does not mean “anything goes” or “right you are if you think you are.” It does mean that we can’t quite tell what’s settled and what’s subject to reappraisal when we’re in the middle of a question, and conscientious disciples of Jesus will almost always be found on opposing sides. We can choose to ignore that fact, and to treat our “enemies” as diabolical subverters or hapless fools. Or we can acknowledge that fact, and keep careful always to offer our strongest, soundest arguments for the truth as the Spirit has overcome our stubbornness and willfulness to make itself known in our heart and mind, and remember to treat our neighbors, unfortunately out of a harmoniously common spirit with us, as brothers and sisters whom Christ died to set free, and who just might, might have something to teach us.

    All that being said, I expect that Bonnie’s theology (particular controversies aside) falls closer to the boundary of orthodoxy than I would wish. At the same time, I have to admit that Protestant liberalism constitutes a reputable theological tradition, and I’m willing to continue my contention against that tradition within the bounds of communion (especially when my ecclesiastical authority respects informed disagreement). I have not known Bonnie casually to dismiss the theological tradition in the manner of our least distinguished professional controversialists.

  5. Fr Adam,

    While your reply was substantive and interesting, I note that you did not answer any of my questions (which were not rhetorical) directly.

    Let’s see if I understood your reply:

    is she orthodox?

    Your answer: … Bonnie’s theology falls closer to the boundary of orthodoxy than I would wish. I take this to mean that, while you are unwilling simply to say “No”, you aren’t really able to say “Yes” either.

    Which is better, having a bishop that you can feel comfortable disagreeing with, or a bishop with whom there is (at least on fundamental dogmatic matters) no need to disagree?

    Your answer: … the church’s unity embraces parties who disagree vigorously about theologically-important topics. I take this to mean that having a bishop that you can feel comfortable disagreeing with is better.

    what [is] the role of the bishop … and why [is it] that we ought to have one

    Your answer: Actually, I didn’t find your answer to this one, which was the one I was most interested in.

    In your middle paragraph (That does not mean “anything goes” …), you are concerned with maintaining a charitable attitude towards those with whom one disagrees theologically, and always acknowledging the authenticity of their faith (that is, the fact that they are conscientious disciples of Jesus). But not all questions are unsettled just because some would like to make them subject to reappraisal. There has to be a stake in the ground at some point – a point at which one says “this is the Catholic faith, which we believe, teach, and confess”.

    Furthermore, the Catholic faith is not something which the Episcopal Church has devised, it is something that she has received. So I repeat my non-rhetorical question: if it is not the role of the bishop both to teach and to defend that received Catholic faith, then what is the role of the bishop?

  6. Chris, I acknowledge that my answers may not have satisfied you, but I have a hard time thinking that I did not answer you at all.

    With regard to Bonnie’s orthodoxy, I don’t know of any particular heterodox teaching on her part; I don’t hear her preach or teach on a regular basis, and I don’t conduct orthodoxy quizzes of my friends. I readily allow that her theology may not meet your criterion of orthodox thought (I mean, really, we know in advance that her theological ethics don’t), but I have never heard her contradict one of the creedal or dogmatic assertions.

    Would I rather have a bishop who allows dissent within the bounds of traditioned unity, or a bishop with whom I heartily agreed? Well, the latter, surely, though I would not want a bishop who enforces doctrinal adherence over against the consciences of believers who had done theological homework and who were mounting reasoned arguments. I think it’s best that a bishop teach sound doctrine and preserve the church’s unity with awareness that simply being bishop does not guarantee the wisdom of [her or] his discernments.

    “But not all questions are unsettled just because some would like to make them subject to reappraisal.” Well, yes and no, and teh difficulty is that God does not give us the capacity to know in retrospect what seems obvious to the saints who no longer suffer from our generation’s short-sightedness. It’s easy to find thoughtful theologians who cry out in dismay that this change or that reappraisal would entail the final dissolution of the catholic faith, and we may agree with some and not others, but at the time in which we have to make these discernments, we don’t have access to the retrospective wisdom that will enable our heirs to say “that wasn’t such a big deal after all,” or “that would have been a catstrophic turn, from which God preserved us.” So we rely heavily on the saints who have weighed these matters before us, on Scripture of course, and do our best to uphold the truth, and pray that we be forgiven our errors — especially those mistakes we make after extensive deliberation, such that we feeel most confident that we couldn’t possibly be wrong about them.

    Did I say anything about “devising” the catholic faith? If not, I won’t bother exculpating myself from an error I didn’t make. But the matter of “reception” is not so simple as “repeating words that somebody else used a thousand years ago”; langauge and ideas don’t work that way. I agree with the contours of episcopacy as you describe it, but not in the precise terms you use.

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