Risking resurrection (risking obstinate sin?)
The promise of Easter has a price. A message from Moderator
By Jordan Cantwell [source/link]
The best and worst thing that ever happened to me was coming out. I desperately wanted it not to be true. I was in my early 20s, on my way to becoming a (faux-)priest in the Anglican Church (Faux, as in Anglican orders are null and void—cf Apostolicæ Curæ). So many of my expectations and assumptions about what my life would be — what it should be — were undermined by the dawning awareness that I am lesbian. By far the hardest part — even harder than telling my family and facing their reactions — was my decision to leave the church. How could I stay and answer the call to ministry, when to do so would mean lying about who I am?
(Feelings reign supreme in the relativistic world of the regressive liberal. Feelings dominate the following section of the Rev. Cantwell's monologue... feelings which, because feelings are prone to change, are a weak compass by which to gauge reality.) It felt like dying to be cut off from the spiritual connection I had always found in the church. And, it also felt like I could finally breathe. For the first time, my internal life made sense to me. I had names for my feelings, and I stopped being afraid of them. It was a confusing, tumultuous, emotionally exhausting time. I was both scared and elated, devastated and liberated. And for a while I lost myself. (We all quest for relevance. Many make themselves the measure of the universe. We humans can "feel" our way into believing and accepting every manner of fiction. The fact we possess the ability to entertain powerful feelings does not mean the feelings connected to an experience validate the experience. One can feel that one is right on an issue, but those feelings cannot be the basis by which one measures the objective status or merit of a position or argument. Feelings say more about our emotional or psychological baggage than reality.)
Realizing I’m gay was like discovering the solid ground I thought I was standing on was no longer there. Like the cartoon character who suddenly realizes she is running in mid-air, the discovery caused me to fall — hard. I credit that fall with saving my life. It taught me compassion and humility. It taught me dependence on God. (Her idea of God, or a god that does not violate her comfort zone, perhaps?) Everything I have today that is worth having has come to me as a result of that fall. (Does Satan feel the same way about his fall?)
When people ask me if I believe in resurrection, I tell them it’s not really a matter of believing or not believing. It’s a matter of experiencing (The Holy Spirit gives the gift of belief in Jesus Christ. The experience of believing conforms to the data or does not. The data to which one conforms or configures one's belief—i.e., achieves right belief—is the content of the Apostolic Tradition preserved in and by the Catholic Church—in her Sacred Liturgy, her Magisterial teachings and in the Sacred Scriptures that she alone authoritatively interprets. The Holy Spirit enlightens those who accept what the Church teaches and always has taught. The believer can then believe what the Church teaches because she, endowed with the authority to teach in Christ's name, teaches what is true, and what is true is the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead cf Apostles' Creed.). Resurrection is something we go through, something that happens to us. (The Resurrection is, indeed, something those will experience who are found worthy by God.)
And it changes us, but only if we are willing to risk it. We always have the choice to say “no” to resurrection — a more tempting option than it may seem (Importantly, do we say 'no' to conversion? It seems that the Rev. Cantwell's thesis requires conversion of heart, but to what degree or in what direction? Is she, or anyone for that matter, willing to embrace the full implications of Christ's call to grace-aided conversion? That is, that Jesus' call to conversion may require the abandonment of certain behaviours to which one may be stubbornly clinging? What then? By whose terms is conversion defined? Recall the rich young man whom Jesus counselled to "... go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."—Matthew 19:16-30
Being raised to new life only follows the death of what we have known, what we have been, our sense of self, our dreams, our assumptions about how life works. It is painful, difficult, unwanted. It can be devastating. (Here and henceforth we read a message influenced by the classical heterodox understanding of (the) resurrection that, to the minds of the liberal religionist, attempts to sustain the idea that the apostles didn't really witness Jesus risen from the dead but rather merely experienced a resurrection from ignorance. Resurrection, then, is merely a metaphor for personal transformation in the love-guru vocabulary.)
Yet only those who have experienced so profound a death can know something of the power of resurrection. It’s not that we are brought back from death to return to our former life — that life is over. Rather than undo death, resurrection overcomes it. Its power transforms us from death to new life, one that we have not ever known before. In resurrection, we are made new by the grace of God. That is awesome! (We are, indeed, made new by grace that is a gift from God to those who ask to be rescued from their sins. Being made new is the result of our cooperation with grace, which necessarily means we repent of sin, convert to Christ and His Gospel and embrace his Lordship over our lives. Grace is not a reward for convincing oneself about how right one is or how clever one has become by embracing one's feelings.)
Those who choose to risk resurrection are saying “yes” to being deeply, radically and fundamentally changed. It is a new beginning in unfamiliar territory. (The Rev. Cantwell has substituted a fluffy definition of resurrection for conversion and avoided the obvious. The unconverted will not be resurrected in the Apostolic sense of the word—i.e., literally raised from the dead—precisely because they are unrepentant, i.e., obstinate sinners.)
Perhaps strangest of all, resurrection seems to be contagious. Note the transformation that begins to take place in the lives of the disciples when they come in contact with the resurrected Christ. (A fleeting mention of Christ! However, one must ask—is the Rev. Cantwell's reference to a cosmic Christ of the metaphorical kind, consistent with the teaching of the United Church of Canada and liberal "orthodoxy", or is she acknowledging Jesus in His resurrected flesh?) Those whose hope had vanished, whose vision had collapsed, who were bound by fear and despair emerge from this death-like state with new courage, new hope and a profound new vision of their role in bringing God’s realm of justice on earth.
Will we, as disciples of Jesus in our day, dare to risk resurrection too? The revelation of the history of Indian Residential Schools in Canada and our church’s role in them struck a death-blow to our identity as a church and as a nation. We are not what we thought we were. Nor can we go back to a place of innocence or ignorance. We could choose to remain trapped in our feelings of shame, grief and hopelessness. Or we could say “Yes!” to (political, institutional) resurrection. (It may be that the UCC must die/collapse completely, and that those who actually believe in Christ and live by His example and teachings may be reborn, so-to-speak, in a community that has not abandoned the Holy Eucharist and the Apostolic teaching—i.e., the Catholic Church, the community of believers founded by Christ Himself.)
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has opened a window in history and invited us to step through into a new relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada, based on equality, mutuality, respect and trust. Climbing through that window means shaking off the paralysis of denial and guilt, and undertaking the hard work of reconciliation and relationship-building. It won’t be easy; but it will be worth it. (Apparently, there is still plenty of denial saturating the Rev. Cantwell's experience.)
The experience of resurrection, whether personal or collective, is both terrifying and profoundly life-giving. The process I went through, though agonizing, has made my life more authentic and fulfilling than I ever could have imagined possible. Together, may we dare to be made new — as individuals, as a church and as a nation — for we are, after all, an Easter people. (Has the Rev. Cantwell, most likely unwittingly, made herself more than a mere moderator? Is she elevating herself to the level of a Moses or that of a messiah? 'Come to me all who are heavily laden and I will give you rest in the new UCC with me as the example to which you all must aspire.' If so, then no thank you, dear.)
Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell is the 42nd Moderator of The United Church of Canada.