Skip to comments.Little Stone Bridges & Why We Fight for Them
Posted on 06/23/2006 6:06:54 PM PDT by sionnsar
Inevitably in the times surrounding a fierce, heated battle a soldier must think occasionally "What on earth am I doing out here in the middle of nowhere, fighting for this silly little piece of land that my unit leader has told me to go out and take? It's not worth the bloodshed, I see no tactical or strategic merit to it, and besides, I could get killed for pretty much no reason other than taking that knoll, or traversing the river, or battling all day across this field. I have much better and even more useful things to do back in my tent."
In our own Episcopal church case, I have frequently imagined that we are out in the middle of some forest, with a little stream or river running through it, and a quaint, slightly crumbling and vine-clinging, little stone bridge crossing the body of water. The bridge is made of grey stone, of course, and it has a beautiful arch in its span. It is old, and its architect had an artist's heart, but it has clearly seen better days. Save for those fighting over it, there aren't a whole lot of people around, either to take note of the melee and carry news back to others, or to take part in the battle. It is unlikely that we will receive reinforcements. But for some very strange reason, a number of us -- a small unit -- are being told to fight for or over this bridge. It is a pitched battle, full of hurled insults and cyber bloodshed, tactical actions, retreats by some [or perhaps calls back to their camp to await further orders], logistics and communications challenges, going awol, unexpected heroism, despair, and much more. We keep waiting for further orders, but so far the same command keeps reaching us -- to hold the bridge. It appears rather unlikely -- we're at hand-to-hand combat at this point.
Inevitably during the battle there arises in the soldier's mind -- perhaps during a lull when the sound of sharpening swords fills the air -- a bemusement over what on earth he or she is doing in this mess?
In my own case, I have always envisioned, somehow, a different life from the one I have led over the past three years. This particular battle over a little stone bridge was not where I had thought I could best use my gifts. ; > ) Somehow I had always imagined that musing deep thoughts, doing a little fiction writing, reading great books, climbing the corporate ladder, hiking various interesting trails, getting my kayak roll and perhaps a little more pop on my serve, and generally examining the beauties of nature, were more where . . . well . . . where my gifts lay.
Pretty much everyone I've talked with on our team feels the same way -- surely there are a whole lot better things to do with one's time! Surely God sees how very much I can offer Him elsewhere? Surely God has been calling me to more pleasant tasks, more suited to my personality! One cannot help but think of David, who announces that he is quite interested in being the chief architect and builder of God's temple; he received a rather rude response to his offer, and I personally believe that I have received a rather rude response to mine! ; > )
There's a reason why I love the excerpt from Teddy Roosevelt's Speech at the Sorbonne which I posted so many days ago. I struggle with practical action and love more the world of ideas and creativity. And as a person who has tended to avoid conflict at all costs, I am certainly similar to that young lord in my favorite line of that speech's excerpt, who "but for the vile guns would have been a valiant soldier."
So here we all are out in the middle of an otherwise quiet forest, sharpening our swords, cooking over a campfire, discussing the little stone bridge, arguing over strategy, and engaging in light or sometimes fierce skirmishes. [To make matters somewhat worse, occasionally soldiers and *particularly* civilians and sometimes even people we had thought allies gallop by our campsite on horses, slinging pejoratives about the worthiness of the battle and the stupidity and hopelessness of whatever it is we are doing or planning -- but we have all learned to think about the bridge rather than the occasional galloping passerby.]
So we ask the question. Why on earth are we out here fighting over this little stone bridge?
I will leave the theologizing and the philosophizing and the issues of Truth and the gospel to other minds, for now, although I have some arguments along those lines. Instead I'll address the question with some very practical responses.
First, we must take note that our Worthy Opponents are in the thick of the battle too. They seem to want this little stone bridge with a great deal of fervor, and all of us must ponder that fact and speculate as to why. I won't speculate, other than to say that we are fighting over this little stone bridge because it is greatly desired by others. That in itself is noteworthy.
I suspect that this particular little bridge is of interest for a number of reasons -- it is little, for one, and thus easily captured. It is crumbling, so that is attractively weak, yet still carries the troops from one bank of the river to the other and so is a useful vehicle. And for a number of decades its bridgekeepers and watchers were somewhat . . . slumberous, shall we say.
Second, once ground is taken, and territory conquered, battle-hardened units don't generally set up fine, plush camps, smoke pipes, and cook gourmet food. They don't establish themselves there . . . they rest a little, tend their wounds, and move on.
In other words, they advance their flag, and seek other territory to conquer. The little stone bridge over which they had fought so vigorously the day before, they now use as a launching pad, as a base of operations, from which to field more forces. The leader may establish a base camp, a field operation camp, but he only does so in order to send more troops into battle farther out into the woods, and the fields beyond.
So we are fighting over this little stone bridge because we do not wish for them to be able to use it as a launch pad. The truth is, as long as we are fighting over it, their will be no real "launching efforts" on their part. And here, I step out of the analogy a bit and note that, no matter the fact that the leadership of our national structure is firmly in the hands of our Worthy Opponents [and they are worthy -- more on that another time], they are still unable to speak "as a majestic and unified voice" as long as there is a pitched battle going on and opposing voices within their structure.
There is a reason, for instance, why the national secular media presents two sides to the Episcopal church issue, rather than *one side* and that is because full rulership of the Episcopal church has not at all been fully established. The church is not able to "speak its prophetic voice" to the culture, without another voice piping up from within saying "that's not true and here's why" -- or, to say it another way, "we're not dead yet". If you think this is not a source of endless frustration to the powers-that-be -- that they are unable to make pronouncements without having that very annoying voice *from within* clogging up their news articles -- then I urge you to ponder just how vexed *you* would be if in your organization, your corporation, the same thing were happening. Most such "annoying voices" are your outside competitors, not your internal employees! ; > )
Third, once a piece of territory is captured, and some of the troops venture off to new unconquered fields, other of the troops are deployed as reinforcements to other battles. And here, we must take the back of an eagle and soar up above our own tiny patch of forest and bridge and survey the broader landscape.
As we survey the landscape, we must marvel -- it takes our breath away -- over the sight of smoke rising from the earth and the sounds of metal clashing on metal *all over the land*.
For you see, there are, come to find out, little stone bridges in the middle of forests everywhere and they are being fought over tooth and nail.
And there are fields. And small encampments. And granaries. And great plains with great armies on them. And oceans with ships on them. And small wounded clumps of troops, hunted amongst the rocks after a defeat. All of them are embattled.
There are countless little stone bridges where people, unfit for battle mostly, and certainly not having planned to spend their lives in this way, are fighting pitched battles. The little stone bridges are various. They are the media -- Christians who are working their hardest to offer truthful facts and perspectives of integrity to their readers and viewers. Christians trying to offer alternative vehicles, or Christians working at the New York Times. And those of us at our own quaint little stone bridge know little of them.
The medical field is another little stone bridge. The pitched battles that are being fought over medical ethics, the American Medical Association, the best way to help the poor, and so much more are copious and bloody and long-lasting and far-reaching. There are countless Christian physicians who work in small practices or large, in university hospitals and inner city hospitals, whose political and governmental battles were certainly never sought or imagined when they first set out to practice the healing arts.
The legal field is another. The challenges to the rule of law -- some notion of truth and justice being enforced in integrity and honor -- are too numerous to mention. And the lawyer jokes abound, while Christian attorneys duke it out in their own associations, in the courts, in the offices, and yes, even the government.
Which of course, brings up to the little stone bridge of secular politics, where the fight is intense, and often cast as "unworthy of us Christians". From school boards, and city councils, to state legislatures, and the halls of Federal power, there are Christians who are privately wondering "what on earth am I doing out here in the middle of nowhere, with few allies, fighting over this little stone bridge, which I don't think is all that beautiful, come to think of it".
As we take a closer look at the forests and plains covered in battle, we find numerous stone bridges in other denominations, and even in churches of no denomination. The more obvious are, of course, the mainline denominations, where our brothers and sisters are in various stages of attack, withdrawal, flanking maneuvers, rebuilding, and more.
And then there are the halls of academia. The secular universities, the liberal arts colleges, the private academies, all with Christians who are staking out territory, with their own little stone bridges to fight over.
I cannot leave out the corporate world, of course. In every vast corporation, and in numerous small businesses there are the battles over ethics, the confrontations with the organizations that represent their industry, the internal struggles, the unhelpful and draconian governmental interference, and the corrupt enforcement processes that make life much worse for the customer. Little stone bridges that amount to a huge effect on our cultural life.
And finally, of course, there is the much despised "Hollywood" little stone bridge. Christians there are more surrounded than we can imagine, filmmakers, writers, actors, producers, all struggling to produce a good and worthy product while resisting the corrupting trends of their own associations and organizations. And believe me, they have a whole lot of "friends and erstwhile advisors" galloping by and, rather than lending a helpful hand or encouraging word, instead hurling pejoratives and maligning the usefulness of the fight.
And folks . . . the above brief list doesn't cover the half of it. Furthermore, as the "culture wars" -- the attempts by other forces to thoroughly secularize the culture in which we are immersed -- heat up and expand, the battles will become much, much worse, much more intense, and much more devastating. I frankly don't believe that it will get better. The more that Christians become involved in the fights over little stone bridges, the more loud the outrage from those on the other side who until then had enjoyed an easy and convenient advance.
So our survey of the land offers up this third practical reason why we fight over this particular little stone bridge and that is because we don't want the other side, once victory is assured, deploying reinforcements to the other fields of battle where our comrades are engaged in desperate battles of their own.
That completes my short list of practical reasons. But I offer a few more reflections for you to chew on.
What about those who have left this particular little stone bridge or are thinking about leaving?
First, I say go with God, brother or sister in Christ, if you receive other orders. You are a worthy ally, and no doubt we shall meet again on some other field or plain. And second, I hope that you learned whatever it was you were supposed to learn while fighting this battle -- that is, as long as you were fighting it. Because if you were sitting under a shady oak tree and sipping dry martinis when you suddenly heard the sound of warfare a few yards downstream, and having just recently noted the battle, have now suddenly discovered new orders to other more comfortable climes . . . I somehow suspect that those orders have been forged and that you have not at all learned what you were meant to learn.
I am reminded of an early blog comment some time back in 2004, I believe, when a man posted on some site the happy news that he was "outta here" and on to a much better place. He could finally cease all of this silly, and useless fighting over an unworthy trivial corrupt Episcopal church, because he had crossed the Tiber and joined the Roman Catholic church.
He had not learned a crucial lesson, one that I suspect that God wants us all to learn.
I considered a response -- it would have been somewhat cruel, I am sorry to say -- but before I could do so, someone else had piped up with a comment along these lines:
"Welcome, brother. We hope you find rest and refreshment here on the shores of the Tiber. It is a beautiful place. Cast yourself down on its grassy banks and rest a while. . . . . But after you've rested -- and please don't do so for very long -- get up, strap back on your armor, and get back into the battle. We have a whole lot of fighting to do in this church and it is under assault as well."
Sweet! ; > )
But that leads me to what I think is a lesson I've been learning and that is . . . you're not going to leave the battle for long. Wherever you go -- there you are. And there'll be something fierce, something hideous, something demoralizing, something that seems doomed all over again, to fight your heart out for.
So should you leave the Episcopal church, make certain that you leave for something that you love. And make certain you have a passion for whatever battle you choose. For choose a battle you will, if you have learned one of the crucial lessons of this painful drama in the Episcopal church; you won't be able to leave the battle, even if you leave the Episcopal church.
And since we must fight, it is better to fight over something that we love than something that we don't.
Many of you are struggling with the question of what on earth you are to do now. I believe that there has been a great deal of clarity brought to the world over the state of the leadership of our national church. It has not been a very pretty airing.
Furthermore, as I posted yesterday, the most intensive clustering of progressive Episcopalians always occurs at political events, the larger the better, and particularly our national General Convention. Some excellent Episcopalians will leave after this most interesting 11 days, and some have left long before this particular event, years and decades earlier.
And yet, the 2006 General Convention has never been my own personal deadline, as it seems to have been for some Episcopalians. There was never an event that was going to "prove that the Episcopal church was really, really, really doing heretical things" beyond the 2003 GC. I have believed that the 2006 General Convention was clearly a deadline for our church's national leaders, and that deadline for them, and much to their dismay, was set by the Windsor Report and Dromantine Communique. They have responded, for good or ill, to the deadline.
That deadline is now past, and there will be much that unfolds in the coming months. In regards to my own decision-making, I have no time deadline, but I shall be watching with interest certain events and directions of our church history. I will be, for instance, taking a keen interest in the titular leader of the Anglican Communion, particularly if he moves to establish much-needed discipline, order, and structure to this fledgling and fragile global communion of Anglicans. Make no mistake -- should he do so, it will *certainly not be the close or the end of the skirmishes*. We will not be able to cheer for very long, and those who care for the Anglican Communion -- and I care for it more than I do the Episcopal church -- will not then be able to float away on flowery beds of ease.
I shall also be watching with interest, and taking note of the actions of the Global South, should Canterbury fail to strengthen the identity and discipline of the Anglican Communion. I personally believe that if he fails, it will be a great tragedy for a historic, worldwide church body, and that that body will also fail and fracture terribly. Those two places -- Canterbury and the South -- will be attentively observed by me and others.
But in the meantime, should you find those observation points as interesting as I do, what can you do while you are watching international events unfold? What can I do? For in an earlier post I stated that my philosophy is that there can be no passive waiting in the Episcopal church by traditional Christians. They are either working and working hard, or they are leaving. I see no "in-between" R&R possibilities for us.
I hope that you will take time to think, pray, read scripture, and take counsel with your local allies and friends. I hope that you will watch leaders like Kendall Harmon and Bob Duncan. Their choices may not be right for you, but their attitude and perspectives will probably be helpful.
Some of you are "stuck" -- you are in a small town with few choices. Or for various family or some intensely personal reasons you do not feel able to leave the Episcopal church. Some of you are in strong parishes in unhealthy or revisionist dioceses. Or in weak parishes in healthy dioceses. Others are certain of their calling to fight over this little stone bridge, but are not sure how.
A number of commenters have asked "if I'm here in the Episcopal church, what can I do?" Over the coming months, I will be offering a series of practical essays on what we average laypeople within the Episcopal church can do in our parishes and dioceses. No matter what sort of diocese you live in, or what sort of parish, there is much to be done and many efforts, allies, and victories to be won. I can assure you that, with Gods grace and if you have His calling, you will become a better person for it as well. The details of this battle will move to local and regional and diocesan fields and away from the national structures -- territory will be gained and territory lost in regions. I can certainly share stories of past defeats and past victories, with some guideposts along the way.
I also believe that Stand Firm as a whole has much to offer in the coming months. Greg, Matt, and I have found the time to discuss and ponder what our next steps will be concerning this site. And I hope that you will be pleased with the things we have in mind.
Take a while to mull things over, and consider what you want -- and what God might want. And please . . . if you are in a parish or a diocese no matter how weak or strong, healthy and thriving or sick and wounded, and you have a mind to take a little action -- drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to engage in some email conversation and strategy with you.
Who knows? Someday we both might look up and find that we are fighting side by side on a little stone bridge.
I remember the FReeper who, a year or two back, invited me to swim the Tiber... but to bring my rifle because I'd need it. (A quick scan through the Traditional Anglican ping list tells me he is no longer on it.) Though the Roman Catholics are in a much better place today with Benedict XVI at the helm.
And while I will note that we don't have battles going on in my province, it doesn't mean my guard is down. I've seen enough -- this little stone bridge will not be yielded.
He had not learned a crucial lesson, one that I suspect that God wants us all to learn.
And would that be Matthew 10:14, Mark 6:11, or maybe Luke 9:5?
The author is just sore that the orthodox are out-numbered, out-generaled, gave up the field, and are still not willing to organize and fight.
Good piece. Thanks, Sionnsar.
See comment #1. I received this back-channel -- and I'll ping him.
When he does retire, what are the chances that you'll get a conservative rector?
Is your bishop a revisionist? Because if s/he is, your chances of getting an orthodox priest are greatly reduced. S/he plays a big role in rector hiring. Your deployment officer reserves the right to yank resumes of candidates that s/he deems unfit for the diocese. And you'll never know whose resumes were pulled. Furthermore, the bishop can say no on a candidate and you don't have a say.
Serving on a rector search post-Vickie Gene hastened my departure from then-ECUSA, now-TEC. What an eye opener!
No, we can't give up the stone bridge, but isn't it counter productive to continue paying tribute to the generals who would take the bridge from us (or do we just look the other way when the collection basket is passed down our pew)? How many of us have stayed on and enriched our enemy, who used his riches to further his conquest?
There is also a dishonesty to going underground, a treachery that is ultimately corrupting, for we are adopting the enemy's tactics to fight the enemy, and in doing so, we end up serving the enemy.
So do we must not permanently surrender the stone bridge, but rather we can embark on a strategic retreat, to regain our strength and to rally reinforcements to fully rout the enemy. Or, to use an other metaphor, isn't it better to be on one of the boats at Dunkirk, and to return at a later time, openly on the offense?
(Incidently, Dunkirk is derived from the Flemish, "church of the dunes")
And that's precisely what happened to us. Our former ECUSA parish used to be conservative (relatively speaking for suburban Atlanta - but it was liveable for orthodox believers and the rector was tolerant of divergent views.)
Then our rector retired and we got a new guy. The Atlanta diocese is ultra-liberal (the new bishop is one of Griswold's pets and was sent to Lincoln) and you couldn't find an orthodox priest in this diocese now with "a pair o' patent double million magnifyin' gas microscopes of hextra power."
So I don't think the author of this piece is being realistic when he chastises some of us for leaving. There is no strategic bridge left in this diocese.
Interesting. Thank you for posting that.
The argument that, "Well, my parish is still conservative" is not going to hold for very long. Episcopal seminaries churn out revisionists, save perhaps Nashotah. When I was on a search committee, all Nashotah candidates were tossed out (too conservative). There was nothing I could do because it was majority vote and I was in the minority. NO Trinity Candidates even made it past the deployment officer.
There is a gathering of deployment officers twice a year where they give the scoop on each others' priests, what they're like, what their track record is. Kinda like trading professional athletes.
There is no way an orthodox priest can be hired if a bishop is revisionist.
So again, I ask those who plan on staying, how old is your rector and how long till he retires? Because that's how long you have until the revisionist wolves come knocking at your door.
And with Schori at the helm, she's not shy about penalties against "those who want church their way and have been behaving badly."
Thank God, Title IV wasn't acted on or even LAY people could have presentment charges against them for disloyalty to the "church".
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