Thursday 2 July 2009

Glacial Anglicanism

In his latest use of visual imagery, and his first since becoming bishop, Graham Kings draws on the gravity of the glacier to affirm the slow, grinding, rightness and inevitability of the Anglican Covenant. So instead of taking up the vision of the enthronement sermon by David Ford to look outwards...

Energise our lives with desire for God and the life God desires to give in abundance. And make sure we are drawn more into responding to the cries of the world than into the internal problems of the church.

...we start with a strong inward looking affirmation of the Anglican Communion from an Evangelical perspective, rejecting the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans route, but also the outward change referred to within the sermon where the Holy Spirit might bring change and surprises:

That was a surprise. We do not know what surprises, perhaps just as great, are in store this century. We believe the Holy Spirit has more and more and more for all of us, in all traditions.

The problem for this 'keeping all the evangelical content without the breaking away' is whether Graham Kings, in the words of that sermon has:

...with theological and political wisdom, made the case for an Anglican Communion that is a good home both for Evangelical Christians and also for many others...

Well let's examine the imagery of the glacier.

A glacier is made up of the variety of falling shapes of snow crystals in hexagonal plates, needles, and stars that are themselves unstable as shapes, but via freezing and thawing evaporate off their patterns and condense to pack together the ice, losing their individuality. Nevertheless the bonding formed is weak and slippery and remains unstable. This is quite an interesting metaphor for Evangelicalism.

The meltwater of Open Evangelicalism might allow the glacier to move more quickly, but it makes the feature more unstable. Fractures in glaciers are likely, especially nearer the top, when in particular the glacier moves over the irregular terrain below that is the feature of Anglicanism. For people on to its surface, any glacier forms a dangerous place, where large cracks called crevasses can take someone unaware, especially when the cracks are 'papered over' over by snow bridges. Falling in leads not only to death, but absence of transformation, as the body could be preserved in a tomb for millennia. Indeed the cracks and crevasses up to the top on a snow surface, such as among bishops, are evidence of a glacier.

A glacier simply forms when more snow falls than is melted. There are two types, and Graham Kings does not consider the possibility that the Anglican Covenant is more like an ice sheet, that covers areas regardless of local geographic features, or whether it is that cold, descending, crushing feature that takes a valley cut for purpose by a stream and river and turns it by force of plucking and abrasion into a huge U shaped monster that will only see a small lifegiving stream and river in it in a different, warmer climactic period.

The lower end of a glacier ends at a point where more does melt than is stored, and so many a glacier goes no further. Indeed this ablation zone might be likened religiously to the oblation zone, the point of offering bread and wine, but the effect of the glacier is that here is deposited much muck as glacial till and outwash. Moraines can form as blockages just beyond the glacier, and left as a feature in warmer times.

The abrasion of the glacier produces reduced rock material so fine it makes what would have been fresh water appear grey and needs to be filtered to drink. Thus is the wider impact of the glacier, as it is of the Covenant, making ecclesiastical life around it greyer and less fresh.

Evidence of glaciers in later times comes in chatter marks at right angles to the glacier movement, and there is plenty of this going on now in Anglicanism. It might do if people said less. Those of us who have lived at the east coast know that building upon glacial deposits is a nightmare when the crumbly cliffs fall into the sea at such a rapid rate. Efforts at defence often prove fruitless. The long term benefits of glaciers are problematic at best.

The ice of a glacier forms a vast reserve of yet inaccessible water storage, unreleased for life giving growth, the effect of which (in terms of land ice sheets) is to expose more land elsewhere, where it is needed less.

The speed of a glacier varies, but one reason for moving more quickly is the failure of bedrock underneath. Thus the better the bedrock, the slower a glacier. In Church terms, sorting out the bedrock might be a better approach than seeing a glacier form and move as a Covenant. Glaciers move variously and inefficiently towards the sea, where they extend and will break off into icebergs with great splashes (as seen with the Anglican Church of North America) and where that future is a melting away into the sea.

However, many glaciers have retreated since the 1940s, as if moving up the valleys, and yet Evangelicals argue that Anglicanism needs an icy Covenant. Is there more ice accumulating than being melted or are Evangelicals modern day snowmen with strawmen arguments? Anglicanism is a collection of relatively small Churches, and it is the case that smaller glaciers move more slowly. So, some of us would like things to melt a little more, and open up the landscape, and live in warmer, fertile (even ex-glacial U shaped) valleys and plains, with warmer more flexible relationships. So let the sun arise and melt the glacier.


john said...

On the essential point, I think you're right. Ford (about whom I know nothing) is generous and open, Kings is cold and closed.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Andrew Goddard also writing against FCA I think is narrow too.

Daniel Lee said...

How odd that Ford preaches such a sermon at Kings' enthronement. Surely a closed Kings must shove aside or even kill off or cowe into silence, such open evangelicals? Getting free from such sadly vexed competition dilemmas is what attracted me to a big tent Anglicanism in the first place. People who sincerely hear God telling them to lord it all over others, must I suppose, pass through the eye of that vexed needle. A big tent leaves the rest of us free to get on with it, and not by always taking up highly weaponized doctrinal tool kits.

PS. your summary of Jensen's address to FCA was hilarious, thanks.