Given by Steve Garber at the Church of the Epiphany, Herndon, Virginia, July 31, 2009
[What follows is the introduction and conclusion of an hour-long presentation to the annual gathering of the 400 leaders of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA).]
Perhaps your images of Switzerland are forever formed by “The Sound of Music.” Or maybe you’ve walked through its meadows and across its mountains yourself, astounded by its beauty. A few years ago my wife and I spent a week there, hiking and biking, and had a wonderful time together, drawing in as deeply as we could the vastness of its Alpine glory. What drew us in particular was the importance of visiting our daughter in a little village in the Alps, which for more than 50 years has been the home to a community called L’Abri; she had spent several years there during her 20s, moving from being a student to being a staff member, what they call a worker.
One day I asked about a wifi connection, and she told me that the little Protestant church in the village was a good place, saying that a nearby chalet might provide me a way into the wider world. So I walked that direction, stopping at the church building to read a small sign on the door. While not a French speaker, I could make out these words, “The cult is meeting down the mountain this week.” I remember wincing, wondering what had happened to the Christian church there– until I remembered a few seconds later that in Romance languages like French the word “cult” means something very different than it does to us, who only hear it as pejorative.
What did the sign say? The church is meeting down the mountain this week. Cult? Yes, but nothing heretical or heterodox; simply that those committed to common convictions born of a love for God and his world were gathering to worship down the mountain.
A few minutes later I had logged onto the dictionaries of the world, searching etymologies, wondering where the word “cult” came from. In large part that was prompted because I am the director of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture, which is a work that grows out of the years of my life. I wanted to know the relationship between the words “cult” and “culture.”
Centuries old, they are words that themselves grow from the word “cultivate,” to till or to develop. When I saw that I immediately thought of the first commandment that God gave, what we call the cultural mandate. To Father Adam and Mother Eve God said, “Till the earth, develop its possibilities, discover its potential. Be creative as I am creative. Imagine as I have imagined. Rule over the earth in my name, be its responsible stewards.”
Fires and flutes, hammers and harps, wheels and carts, cars and trucks, kites and airplanes, telescopes and MRI technology, football and baseball, ballet and jazz, movies and music, spaghetti and enchiladas, tea and coffee, kisses and hugs, chocolate and ice cream– even bagels and baguettes! Develop the possibilities in the world that is yours to discover; use them well and enjoy them.
That was our purpose from the beginning of time. The DNA of the human race was to cultivate creation, to develop the cosmos, to understand and to love the created order, to take responsibility for history.
The fall radically distorted that purpose, skewing our identity and mission as image-bearers of God; and over time we have formed “cults” of all sorts, worshiping and serving the creation rather than the Creator. From Baal to Mao, and a million places in between, we are at our core homo adoramus,man the worshiper. We will worship, yes we will form ourselves into cults of all shapes and sizes, forgetting our true reason for being, and substituting lesser reasons for being human, ones that in their own destructive ways blind us to who we are and why we are here.
Cults always produce visions of vocation, ways of “cultivating” or of tilling and developing the world around us. That is as true of Hindus and Marxists as it is of evolutionary materialists and Muslims-as it is of Jews and Christians. The ways that we answer the deepest questions of life affect the ways that we live, for everyone everywhere. And from that dynamic intersection of cult and cultivate, cultures grow.
Do you hear that? Do you see that? Cult… cultivate… culture. God made the world that way, and he made us that way, and by his great grace we are redeemed from our self-absorbedness and the skewedness that results, to be able to take up our created purpose once again.
We are culture-makers, from the beginning of time. Now redeemed, made new to take up again our original vocation, we fight the world, the flesh, and the devil as we try to be faithful, living through a glass darkly as we do. At our best we create signposts now, pointing those with eyes to see to the way the world someday will be.
And one day we will take our place in the new heavens and new earth, a renewed world full of wonder and glory, a place where worship and work are seamless, where liturgy and life are fully and finally coherent. We long for that day, we live for that day.
Cult… cultivate… culture? If we can hear that “cult” is a word that can be redeemed for us, if we can see its integral relationship to cultivate and culture, there are implications for those of us gathered here for the Convocation of Anglicans in North America: who are we? what do we believe? what does it mean for us to be a “cult” in that older, truer sense of the word? what does the “cult” of the gospel of the kingdom call us to? In what ways will our understanding of our mission, our work of cultivating and culture, grow out of our understanding of ourselves, of the “cult” that God has called into being that we have named CANA?
Much could be said. I would put it like this:
We are to be a church of great grace and of great truth.
And in this calling there is no final tension between grace and truth. Graceless truth is as cheap as truthless grace. We are to be a church that is near unto God, a church that knows God, and that is known by God. And this God is the one who is grace and truth incarnate. His calling to us is to be like him, to be his body on earth, to show forth his truth and grace, offering a truthful grace and a graceful truth. Amen?
There are three questions for us this morning:
1. Why does it matter? We will look at the challenge of engaging the next generation.
2. What are we doing? We will look at what is involved in drawing the next generation into our hopes and dreams as part of the emerging Anglican communion in the 21st-century.
3. How are we going to do it? And here we will look at what will be required of us as we deepen our commitment to being a people who understand that what we believe must have consequence for the world around us, that our faith does shape our vocation which does shape our culture-whether we want it to or not. That it happens is just the way it is, for blessing and for curse.
[And then for most of an hour, the address continued, finishing in this way.]
Remember these words?
My generation has seen everything deconstructed. Even history. We don’t think anyone can be believed.
We are afraid that nothing is really true.
What does this mean for us? What are the implications for CANA, for the emerging Anglican communion throughout the world? Do we have an honest answer?
My colleague Ray Blunt sees into this with remarkable wisdom, arguing this thesis: healthy organizations that are dependent upon healthy leadership, and at the heart of healthy leader is the commitment to developing the next generation of leadership. Without a willingness to draw the next generation “in,” apprenticing the next generation into the vision and virtues required of a leader, the organization will not be healthy over time. It cannot be.
I wonder if we are able to learn from this within the world that is CANA? Can we say, “Come and see”– look over our shoulders and through our hearts? See who we are, see what we care about, see what matters most to us– come and see, and learn to be a person of great grace and great truth, learn to be a church of great grace and great truth.
For many years now I have been a teacher in The Falls Church’s Fellows Program. And I begin with the semester’s course of study with sexuality. 22 year-olds think most of all about their bodies, full of the complex hopes and dreams that are theirs as young men and young women. It is the way life is supposed to be. What I argue is this: if we cannot believe that the Christianity is true when it speaks about sexuality, then it is going to be a hard sell when it comes to politics, economics, and globalization. If the Bible is not true when it speaks about what we know so well, feel so deeply, understand so personally, then how can it possibly be true when it speaks about the rest of life?
A few years ago one of the Fellows put it this way at the end of her year of study: “I have come to see that truth is woven into the fabric of the universe.” We long for that to be true a thousand times, for us and all over the country and world. In its own unique way the Fellows programs at The Falls Church and in other congregations are incarnations of the vision we have argued today, viz. that it is in the dynamic intersection of a worldview, a mentor, and a community, that lifelong faithfulness is found. We don’t learn the deepest lessons any other way. And so we gather today as the Convocation for Anglicans in North America for the sake of seamless lives, coherent lives, where truth and grace, belief and behavior are woven together in a beautiful tapestry that glorifies God and serves his church and world.
As I close, this is my heart: I yearn for the liturgical life of our congregations to reflect the challenge of living in a pluralizing, globalizing world. I long for our preaching and praying to reflect an understanding of the push-and-shove of life as it is lived by the church as it lives and labors and learns in the world. All of us need that, but our younger ones desperately need that. They need to see that it matters.
What will be the character and the culture of CANA? The DNA of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America? Who are we? Who do we need to be? What is the call of God and of history upon us?
Much has been said, much more will be said. I would put it this way:
We need to be a church of great grace and of great truth.
May God bless us, may God keep us, may God’s face shine upon us, as we live into that calling as a church. The next generation needs for us to be that-with humility, with integrity, with passion.