Quasimodo Lecture--Networks for the Future: Catholic Beyond Boundaries

Quasimodo Lecture--Networks for the Future: Catholic Beyond Boundaries

Utrecht, Netherlands
May 14, 2011

Quasimodo lecture
14 May 2011
Old Catholic Cathedral, Utrecht
Networks for the future: catholic beyond boundaries

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

When I have mentioned the title of this lecture to others in The Episcopal Church, I’ve gotten either blank looks or humorous ones. In many places Quasimodo is known only as the Hunchback of Notre Dame in Victor Hugo’s novel. Yet the connection gives a much deeper resonance to what we’re here today to discuss. That abandoned child was named for the introit sung on the day he was found on the steps of the cathedral. Like that child of 1467, we are all still searching for a home, love, and a family. Today perhaps we might bring the family of God’s creation a bit closer to that ancient dream of restored and divine relationship.

Let’s begin with baptism, to which the title of this event refers. That introit, from 1Peter 2:2, speaks of the newly baptized as babes like the one found at Notre Dame. The Vulgate varies a bit from the introit, beginning Sicut modo (rather than quasi modo) geniti infantes rationale sine dolo lac concupiscite, ut in eo crescatis in salutem. The original Greek is a little more enlightening than the Latin, but basically, it translates, like newborn babes, desire milk (of a particular kind, to which we shall return), so that you may grow into health. The introit tells us the milk is rationale, sine dolo, literally rational, without pain or grief – or perhaps deceit. Again, going back to the Greek gives us a better sense, logiko.n a;dolon ga,la, milk that is pure or unadulterated and rational, spiritual, or logical – like the lo,goj.. The yearning of the baptized is to grow toward health through the real stuff, the milk of the logos.

The milk of the logos is obviously a wonderfully rich metaphor for the stuff of his own body with which Jesus feeds us at eucharist. It’s also connected with the rich mystical tradition which speaks of Jesus our Mother . It is for those who are adopted as children of God, into the divine family known as the body of Christ.

I’ve pushed us back into the literal meaning in that section, but also in the last part, ut in eo crescatis in salutem, that you may grow in (or into) health. It’s often translated salvation, but particularly today in the West, that word is so removed from the daily life of society that it obscures the very incarnate realities that baptism is intended for. It’s an easy way for us to spiritualize what is meant to be the healing of the whole world, the healing of individuals in community. One of the great heretical tendencies of the West has been just that – insisting that salvation is only about the individual, rather than her and his place in the larger society. The baptized are gathered into a body, and even though each is healed in his or her own person, that healing is only possible in the larger body, and it is meant for the greater life of the larger body. Victor Hugo’s great drama is about the healing of an entire community through yearning for the real milk.

That healing of a community is why we’re here – not just the healing of the Christian community through ecumenical work, but the healing of all creation. We insist that Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection had consequences for the entirety of what is, that his work set the created order forward on the journey homeward into God. The constant peril of ecumenism is thinking too small.

Ecumenism is basically housekeeping work – cleaning up the household, setting it in order, so that it can be a home, an oikos, for that crescatis in salutem, growing into health or salvation. So we need to keep our focus on God’s mission, the great dream of restored creation that we variously call the kingdom of God, the heavenly banquet, a society of peace and justice, shalom. Ecumenical work begins in the baptismal vision of a restored body of Christ, but it cannot stop at any limited version of what God’s body includes. We are here to help heal the whole, and that’s the future I want to point toward in being catholic beyond borders.

The work of full communion is meant for fuller communion than we can envision. This housekeeping work is supposed to image the Trinity – a network of catholicity, creatively focused on being in right relationship, each part a figure of the whole, meant for the whole, and desiring the good of the whole.

How do we build living networks? Neurons, the cells of our nervous systems, grow through other tissues seeking other cells which they can recognize and connect to. A single cell can grow remarkably long distances, from the tail end of your spinal column all the way down into your last part of your little toe. Bundles of neurons like that one, gathered into nerves in each leg, and urged by your brain, can prompt the muscles of your feet to contract at the same time as a similar bundle of nerves working with muscles in your two hands, to produce a golf swing that will propel a tiny little ball nearly a kilometer into the distance. Some people can even do so very accurately! That activity can build a different kind of network between a group of people, all sending balls into the distance. There are plenty of stories told about how those networks of human beings can dream significant dreams out there on the golf course, and bring them to fruition when they return to their workplaces. We see the same kind of process among labor organizers or bicyclists. Today, we’re seeing it happen in the ether – where the networks between human beings are being built of connections that rely on electronic nerves.

Networks rely on the ability to recognize a potential partner seeking a connection. The points of connection don’t have to be identical – and in fact, they don’t work terribly well if they are. The connectors have to have some complementarity, and some level of difference, if a productive and creative relationship is going to result. Recognizability and variability are both essential. That characterizes nervous systems within most animals, and the kinds of communication systems that link ecosystems and human communities. That tension between recognition and variation is also fundamental to intercommunion and ecumenical relationship. We are beginning to discover how it works in and among larger communities of faith as well.

If we look at the network called Anglicanism, we have a deceptively simple definition of where recognition begins – with the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Four categories of basic agreement are needed for Anglicans to work at fuller communion relationships: the scripture of the Old and New Testament understood as containing everything necessary to salvation; the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds; the two dominical sacraments of baptism and communion; and the historic episcopate, as locally adapted. Deceptively simple, for a lot of sweat and tears has been shed over the varying details and nuances in the last 130 years, though I don’t believe we’ve spilled any blood over it.

Yet it is the rich diversity of our relationships that make us more effective, crescatis in salutem, growing toward health and salvation. The Anglican Communion is the third largest distribution system in the world. We have nerve cells, in the form of Christian communities, beyond the end of the road in many parts of the world. Healing and light can flow out of those communities in the form of feeding the hungry, watering the thirsty, comforting the grieving, and standing in solidarity with those in prison. Like the little toes at the end of a nerve cell more than a metre long, connection is essential – and creatively productive.

Anglicans are admittedly struggling a bit right now, having discovered more about our diversity than we were ready to admit. Some parts of the nervous system are pretty nervous right now, but communication proceeds, and so does some remarkably effective mission. The Episcopal Church is engaged in missional partnerships in every part of the Anglican Communion, even in places where the local regulatory node, in the form of an archbishop, insists that those partnerships cannot or must not exist. The communication is better when the pathways are wide open, but individual nerve cells can grow around scar tissue to restore connections, if there is any route or connection left.

The Episcopal Church has built formal connections with other parts of the body of Christ – with the Union of Utrecht in 1934, with the Philippine Independent Church in 1961, with the Mar Thoma Church of Malabar in 1979, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America ten years ago, and with the northern and southern provinces of the Moravian Church in America in the last year. Each of those has the potential for greatly expanded mission. The great regret is that we are still very much like geniti infantes – we aren’t even crawling yet in most parts of the world. We need to be far better at recognizing the milk in other parts of the body with which we are in full communion, and drinking and eating at other tables.

We are still mutually allergic to the milk from other bodies, unable to eat and drink freely with Roman Catholics or the Orthodox. We can take occasional meals with Methodists and Presbyterians, but not a steady diet. We are engaged in significant conversations – and some crawling – with the historically black Methodist bodies in the United States part of our context. Together with the African Methodist Episcopal, Christian Methodist Episcopal, and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion churches, we are working to improve race relations in the United States, partly through our long history of relationship with Haiti, which is the most populous diocese of The Episcopal Church. We are seeking to partner on issues of climate change and environmental justice. The nerve cells there are growing faster than in other places, perhaps because the denominations are fairly small and we share a sense of urgency about the missional opportunities.

Let’s talk about those missional possibilities. Twenty-five years ago, a group in the Anglican Communion set out to offer a framework for mission. It’s taken most of that time to come to the awareness of vast parts of the Communion, but the Five Marks of Mission are beginning to be recognized in ways that are encouraging much stronger and more effective network connections.

The Five Marks of Mission: proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God; teach, baptize, and nurture new believers; respond to human need with loving service; transform unjust structures of society; and care for the earth. They are a profound reminder of our part in the larger frame of God’s dream for a restored and reconciled world. They are both simple and overwhelming, a humble reminder that response needs the gifts of us all – not just our local part of the body. These marks of mission are primarily directed outward from the Christian community, rather than looking inward. Only the second element, forming Christian leaders, has substantial internal focus. All of the others look primarily toward other parts of the body of God’s creation.

The questions that flow out of this framework have to do with how, and with whom, we will partner for God’s larger mission. The who question begins with our own part of the body – the diverse parts of our own churches, young and old, of different languages and nationalities, of differing theological perspectives, of varying gifts and abilities. Yet the partnerships, the networks, have to extend beyond the toes and fingers to link with those who are eminently recognizable – our full communion partners – and then to keep on expanding. We are not in sufficient communion with Anabaptists to regularly share the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, but we do feed the hungry together, and build homes for those without. We can do those works of corporal mercy together with Mormons and Pentecostals, and we can even advocate with our governments for greater attention to the needs of the poor. We don’t agree on all the significant concerns around theological questions and social policy – reproductive rights and equality for women, among others – but where we can make common cause, we should.

In all these circles, and larger ones, we can and must engage each other hospitably, seeking the image of God in our neighbors as well as greater understanding. The neural connections can be made, even where they will be partial. We share a common view of the goal of existence with the other Abrahamic traditions, and we share a common view of right ways of living with others of the great religious traditions.

Our elder and younger siblings in the family of Abraham look toward the reign of God, for shalom and salaam, and a society of justice and peace. Justice for all is bedrock, even if the details vary. The world around us desperately needs to learn how to build sufficient trust to work together for the healing of the larger community. There is a remarkable example in Nebraska right now, in the heart of the continental U.S. The Episcopal diocese, together with a Jewish congregation and a Muslim one, have bought land together, and are about to build shared facilities. This partnership began several years ago as these communities met together for shared conversation, meals, prayers, and learning. The one ground rule was no proselytizing. Every person I’ve met, of each tradition, speaks of how much his or her own faith has been deepened in the process. Within another year or two, they hope to have dedicated worship space for each community, shared facilities, and an interfaith study center. Their example is giving hope and inspiration to others.

How might we build networks for God’s mission? Perhaps the most vital is the work of listening. Geniti infantes grow not only by taking in good milk, but they learn through attending to the world around them, using every sense God has given them – eyes, ears, fingers, tongues, and noses. Indeed the sensory input of skin is an essential way in which the very young know they are loved, in being comforted and held safe. Our task of growing toward health and healing ideally proceeds in similar ways. We have wonderful examples of spiritually attentive learners in Elijah and the other prophets, in Elizabeth and the several Marys. Each pauses to listen when confronted by the surprising presence of God. The vulnerability of each makes communication audible as the divine says, “the healing of the world needs you.” And each responds in the equivalent of Mary’s, “let it be with me according to your word.” What is that but imbibing the milk of logos?

The most obvious place we might build those networks is in the teaching and nurturing of new believers. Are we forming new Christians who can listen attentively both to the needs in their particular contexts, and to the gifts in their potential partners? The networks we seek will be far more adept if their elements begin in a spirit of connectability across variation.

Our shared ecumenical understanding of baptism transcends far more divisions than we can manage when it comes to eating more adult food. Why are we not bringing up the newly baptized in the light of the whole gospel? The particularities and prejudices of those who are supposedly more mature Christians have tainted our baptismal practice. We signed Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry nearly 30 years ago, yet it has not resulted in substantially changed practice. There are a few cathedrals (Roman Catholic and Episcopal or Anglican) who share covenants about baptism, and once a year baptize a few people of more than one part of the body of Christ together, yet we should really be doing our baptismal preparation and mystagogy together all across the Christian landscape. It is only by feeding on the same milk, and letting it nurture new believers in varied contexts, that we will begin to learn something about sharing other sacred food at the same table. We do become what we eat – let it begin with milk and honey at the font.

Networks for mission grow through discovering what particular healing attitude or work is needed around us – food for the hungry, shelter and cover for the exposed, peace for the war-torn, or bed nets for the malaria-plagued. God’s love becomes concrete in the responses of the body to the hurting. That is the good news of the kingdom of God, the reign of peace and justice. That is the incarnate presence of God-with-us, the one who suffers and dies with us, and yet rises in our midst, with healing in his wings (Malachi 4:2).

Those networks become stronger and more effective in their varied gifts, in their capacity to respond at a distance to local suffering. The network is strengthened, in all its parts, as the objective “responder” discovers the grace given through service, and is reminded that none of us is complete in him or herself. No one can be fully healed unless all are.

Networks are a powerful counterforce to the charity or colonial models which have too often characterized Christian mission. We are beginning to heal from some of that destructiveness as we discover that the dependencies they foster are in the long term only destructive. Those colonial models grew out of an arrogance about supposedly superior gifts, and they are healed or corrected through discovering the gifts of the poor. Perhaps first among those gifts is the radical understanding of dependence on God for all of life – an awareness easy to miss in the midst of wealth, control, and competence in outward things. The end of Christendom in the West is bringing us back to a much earlier, radical understanding of our dependence on God, and our interdependence as fellow human beings with the rest of creation.

We have remarkable examples in our tradition, beginning with Paul. The missionary Roland Allen, working in China and Japan in the latter part of the 19th century, reminded us that Paul came to a new community, shared scripture and the sacraments, and then got out of the way. Paul stayed in touch with an occasional visit or pastoral letter, but trusted that the local group of Christians would grow and flourish in its native soil. God has given gifts to each part of the body, yet it is the responsibility of that part of the body to discover and develop those gifts for the healing of the whole. The challenge of relationship brings the same tension between recognizability and variation.

The way in which the church in China has developed is instructive. Roland Allen held up the necessary characteristics of a Christian body that it be self-propagating, self-governing, and self-sustaining. When geniti infantes are growing into maturity and health, they have the ability to produce other followers of Jesus (that second mark of mission), they can support their own life and mission in their local context, and they can regulate their life, both internally and in relationship to the larger body. The leaders of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement may not recognize the older roots of their name, yet the principles are ancient.

The same questions and tensions frustrate and challenge us in most parts of the body of Christ. How do we respond to local mission opportunities and remain in relationship with the larger body? How do we manage recognizability and variation within the networked parts of the body? We aren’t going to sort out these questions completely any time before the Second Coming, but simply being able to name the tensions will certainly help.

The Chinese situation is significant. The main stream of Christianity exhibits variable expression in its liturgy, yet denominational distinctions have largely been suppressed. Even the quasi-Roman Catholic community varies substantially from the Vatican’s expectations. What might we learn from the realities there? In what ways are central authority and control helpful or unhelpful in creating effective networks for mission? The church in Cuba can be another example we might productively consider. The governmental authorities recognize the benefits of Christian mission, particularly in serving human need, and offer some support to worshiping communities for that reason. How can we be wise as serpents and innocent as doves in building partnerships with the state?

Increasingly, the West is living in a postmodern, post-Christian, and post-denominational world. Younger generations have little patience for the kind of ecumenical nit-picking that keeps the Christian world divided. They have little difficulty in working or eating with anyone, whatever their religious sensibilities may be. At the same time they are passionate about wanting to make a difference in the world around them. We need that passion and urgency – we will not soon get beyond our divisions without it.

While we are less mired in old national or tribal divisions in much of the western world, human beings, particularly Christians, are consumed with fear of Islam in far too many places. The ongoing wars in which several of the western nations are involved, my own included, are too often perceived as a war on Islam. Our Christian brothers and sisters are at increasing hazard by reason of their connection with western Christians. Pakistan is a prime example. My brother Samuel Azariah is the Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, and told me recently of a Christian arrested for blasphemy against Islam. The reality was that his neighbor wanted to buy a property this man owned, and when he refused to sell, accused him of a religious crime. Our network of relationships is of major importance in responding – both through our governmental advocacy, seeking religious freedom in other nations, and in providing solidarity through friendship, prayer, and objective support. We have equal opportunities to build bridges with Muslim neighbors in our own lands, and their network of connections has perhaps even greater possibility for healing at a distance.

The situation in the Middle East cries out for our networked response. The plight of Christians only worsens, with flight out of Israel-Palestine and Iraq in particular. My brother Pierre Whalon has worked diligently and creatively to welcome Iraqi refugees in France. The situation of the Bishop of Jerusalem is dire, as he is still trying to exercise his ministry in the five nations of his diocese without a residence permit. How can our interrelationships help to bring peace and stability to the Palestinians and the Israelis? Our own salvation depends on the presence of just structures in that larger society.

Our own health equally depends on the health of this planet. There is likely no other mission field so globally important, and so influential on the other spheres of mission. Climate change is already making the lives of the poorest harder. Crop yields of wheat, corn, and soybeans are already showing small decreases related to changed weather patterns. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen increased hunger in Africa because of the shift toward growing grain and corn for biofuels, rather than food. Water is fast becoming the new critical resource, and it is most difficult to obtain in the poorest parts of the world. We have made some progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals, but some of that progress is already being eroded by these worsening climatic realities. When there is little water, who must walk hours to fetch it? The girls who should be in school, and their mothers who have few other options. We will not achieve the Millennium goal of full education for girls as well as boys, nor the goal of empowering women, nor the goal of ending hunger, without adequate water.

The consumerist economies of the west are based on the false gods of greed and ever-increasing growth. We are being consumed by those realities, and the resulting and growing chasm between rich and poor has biblical echoes of the cows of Bashan lolling on ivory couches. These are profoundly spiritual challenges, and the leadership of Christian bodies like ours, as well as all the partners we can discover and nurture, is needed in order to transform the future.

We must build networks for that transformed future, toward that image of the reign of God where no one is hungry, and all live at peace in abundantly fruitful orchards. That future is only possible with a catholicity of relationship beyond our current understanding. We must reach beyond the bounds that divide us, for the love of God and our neighbors. We can do no less. We can do nothing more important.

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