Skip to comments.Stand Firm Presents: The Very Rev. Dr. Paul Zahl (Part 2 of 3)
Posted on 03/24/2005 1:56:39 PM PST by sionnsar
"A revisionist friend told me Zahl was a 'radical,'" says Wilson Carroll, of St. Andrew's in Jackson. "I don't see how anyone could actually listen to this self-effacing, gentle man and possibly think that. It shows how far to the left the center has shifted in our church when someone like Zahl is tagged as a radical."
In Session 2 of The Very Rev. Dr. Paul Zahl's presentation at the Cathedral Church of St. Andrew in Jackson Mississippi, Dr. Zahl said plainly, "Dont trust the bishops!" He gave his description of reconciliation: A magnanimous gesture by the winners - revisionists in the Episcopal Church - to the losers - the church's remaining orthodox members. What the losers must give is "the gift of martyrdom" - the ability to give up all things that are non-essential to our faith. He then takes a series of intriguing questions from several audience members.
Session 2, specifically the "Gift of Martyrdom" segment, had some people squirming in their seats. In the days since the event, as I edit and prepare these audio files for streaming off the web (and soon, for release on audio CD), I was reminded of a story my dad likes to tell about one of his oldest friends.
My man Ricky Hopton, a fellow parishioner at St. Philip's in Jackson, has known me for 7 or 8 years now. Recently, he smugly revealed that he had "heard a lot" about me from a lady somewhere here in the state. All he told me was that she was Episcopalian, and where she lived. From that, I knew exactly who he had been talking to. She has known me since I was born, knew my parents when they were still in high school.
Her husband, Don, and my dad were friends since at least the early seventies. Their shared passion was sailing. Don was a colorful character, to say the least, and of the many, many... many, many stories he left as part of his legacy when he died a couple of years ago, this is far and away my favorite:
Dad, Don, Joe, and Billy had all sailed from Biloxi to Mobile to pick up Billy's new sailboat. Once in Mobile, they would split up, Don and Dad sailing Don's boat back, Billy and Joe sailing Billy's. When they arrived, they went ashore and stocked up on groceries for the return trip. The list was short and to the point: Cold cuts, mayonnaise, and bread; charcoal, steak, and beer. They split up the groceries, boarded the boats, and began to head out of Mobile Bay.
The weather was heavy. The waves were whitecapping and the wind was blowing fiercely directly into the bay, making the exit extremely difficult. Don's older, larger boat made it past the breakwater and into the Gulf only after much laboring to windward. Billy's newer, smaller boat didn't stand a chance. After several attempts to get past the breakwater and into the bay, it was clear that only a break in the weather - which was hours, perhaps a day or more, away - would allow them to continue.
Don and Dad pulled the bigger boat back alongside the breakwater, close enough to shout over the wind and waves to the other boat. A brief exchange confirmed their predicament, and soon they all confronted the difficult choice: Both boats could stay the night in Mobile and try it again the next day, or the big old boat could continue on the trip home while the new boat stayed behind and waited for a calmer weather window.
Dad shouted over the waves: Did they have any groceries? "Yes," they shouted back. Don said, Ask them what they have. "Cold cuts, mayonnaise, and bread," came the reply.
Don looked at my dad. "What do we have?"
Dad stuck his head in the cabin. "Charcoal, steak, and beer."
Don looked back at the small new boat, bobbing in the chaotic water of Mobile Bay, buffeted by the rising gusts. He grinned at Dad, pointed to the west, and said, "Press on."
As I reflect on Dr. Zahl's talks, I am reminded that small-craft sailing in heavy weather is not for the faint of heart. As a child I hated it. I didn't fully embrace it until I was an adult, and while I still respect immensely what wind and water can do to a 30- or 40-foot sailboat, today I am more or less as calm in steel-gray skies and 35-mph winds, the rail buried in the water, as I am driving along a country road on a sunny afternoon.
Nonetheless, that return trip from Mobile to Biloxi 25 or 30 years ago was not a given, especially in that kind of weather. The bottom of the Gulf of Mexico is littered with small crafts that never completed similarly "simple" trips. To be sure, the biggest reason the plan included four men on two boats, instead of two men on one boat, was purely social. But no small part of the plan was due to the fact that when sailing over any distance, the odds of two boats sailing together encountering a catastrophic end is exponentially smaller than for one boat sailing alone. The surviving boat almost always has an opportunity to rescue the crew of the other. But confronted with the difficulty of returning to the harbor, and the delay of waiting for just the right weather to suit the other boat, the men in the older, bigger boat pressed on. Their resolve was no doubt buoyed in part by their good fortune in the grocery department, but they also knew there was a trip to make, and there wasn't all the time in the world in which to make it.
Over the next year and half or so, it is almost certain that the choice for Episcopalians will become much more clear and much more stark: They may be members of either the Episcopal Church USA, or members of the Anglican Communion. They will not be members of both. The recommendations of the Windsor Report are clear, and the statement from the primates in Ireland was even clearer: The teaching of human sexuality embraced by orthodox Episcopalians - and the doctrine of Scriptural primacy from which it flows - is the teaching embraced by the greater Anglican Communion. The Communion has requested that ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada cease developing or performing liturgies for same-sex unions; and consecrating non-celibate homosexuals to the office of bishop. They have been asked not to attend the June meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council as voting members, but rather to present their case on these matters to the rest of the church. It has also been made clear that failing to do any of these things signals to the communion a desire to walk apart.
If you read this statement from Integrity, the Episcopal Church's most influential special-interest group, or this statement from Oasis (California's reductio ad absurdum of Integrity), or this letter to Every Voice/Via Media, or several of these statements
from bishops and groups around the country, it is increasingly difficult - perhaps, finally, impossible - to imagine a scenario in which the powers that be in ECUSA decelerate (to say nothing of actually imposing a moratorium on) the agenda that has brought us to this crisis. For them, blessing same-sex marriages and elevating non-celibate, unmarried people to the episcopacy is, ultimately, a matter of social justice vs. Holy Scripture, and they have hitched their wagon firmly to the former's star. The House of Bishops' petulant, silly declaration in Texas - that if no gay bishops can be consecrated, no bishops will be consecrated, period - is a finger jabbed in the communion's eye, and not even remotely the kind of behavior that's acceptable from people who intend to proceed honorably in this debate. Each month seems to bring a more outrageous act of defiance from ECUSA's bishops and controlling special interests, and while it's difficult to imagine a clearer signal that they wish to walk apart, it's even harder to imagine that ECUSA revisionists won't find a way to top it next month, and the month after, and the month after that.
A few years ago in New York on business, my wife and I were fortunate enough to catch the Endurance exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History. By now the story is known to almost everyone; if it's unfamiliar to you, do yourself a favor, take a few minutes, and read this summary.
Before seeing the exhibition, I had read four different accounts of the voyage, two biographies of crew members, seen two documentaries, and spent hours on the Internet learning more. At the end of the exhibit is the James Caird, the 22-foot life boat that carried six men over 800 miles across the most violent seas in the world, in what is generally regarded as the single most remarkable feat of navigation in history.
To the stern disapproval of my wife, who spent years in the trenches as a museum curator, I pressed my hand against the prow of the James Caird, reaching over the metal bars placed to discourage people from doing exactly that. I was strangely unconcerned whether security would catch me and haul me out to the street... I had to touch that boat. Fans of the expedition will understand when I say that finally being in the presence of this little boat - the actual vessel, not a replica - stirred emotions in me I couldn't explain, awe I couldn't contain. Shackleton and his men prayed fiercely during that journey, and it was as if there was still on the boat a residue of the spirit that descended and protected them.
An adventurer on a much more modest scale, my dad's friend Don was, like all of us, a sinner, and for much of his life he battled more than his share of demons. But at his core he was a thoroughly kind and decent man, who never asked that we call his sins by another name, and who in one memorable story, to the delight of those who tell and hear it, decided to press on. Today in our church the seas are high and chaotic. We have before us a journey to make, and only so much time in which to make it. Across the breakwater, our brothers and sisters in their brand new boat are beating a futile tack to windward. Sadly, they may never leave the bay. But we who hold to the authority of Scripture and the traditions of Anglicanism are sailing in the big, old, sturdy boat. Safely aboard are the "good groceries": the faith once delivered, the path to salvation, the cross. This is a storm we must not fear. The time will come when we must press on: "He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him."
This is a magnificent piece. I grew up on the water and know about running lee rails under, pressing on as he says. And Sir Ernest Shackleton was my hero as a child and is to this day. In such a homey way, this brings the situation of the Anglican Communion right home to this old "Orthodoxer" in a fashion all the other theological and polemical and hand wringing stuff I've seen the past year never could have. Thanks!
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