Truth be told, though, Crusty really has no beef with the whole Lent Madness thing. COD is friends and colleagues with the people behind this, Scott and Tim -- and more than that, is honored to be friends and colleagues with them. They are smart and savvy and have a deep spiritual and faithful center, and have done much more for the world in their ministries than a wise-ass blogger who spent a decade fruitlessly getting the world to care about ecumenism before becoming dean of the smallest seminary in the Episcopal Church. They have done what no one else has been able to do in the past decade: have the Episcopal Church be known for something other than lawsuits and fights over homosexuality. That is no mean feat.
However, Crusty has been uncomfortable with some of the deeper issues Lent Madness has brought to the surface. To be sure, Lent Madness has not created any of these issues; rather, they are part of the pond in which it is swimming. COD is troubled by a new tribalism, expressed in advocacy born out of the absence of any coherent theology of practice of sainthood in the Episcopal Church.
|Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research.|
Crusty thought at the time, as he still does, "They're all right; all those groups have been and still are oppressed." What was startling was
a) efforts to privilege one kind of oppression over another and
b) arguing the finer points of comparison of gradations of oppression.
Rather than make any statement about oppression, the scene in the line only reinforced a kind of tribalism: advocating for one's perspective at the expense of the bigger picture. Sadly this is something the internet has only reinforced in the past 25 years (yes, Crusty is old -- there were no cellphones or internet in that line), as groups are now able more than ever to communicate only with people that share their own viewpoint. Rather than a debate in line, if this happened now, people would probably take pictures of the sign and storm off to post angry rants on Twitter and Facebook, where their like-minded friends would chime in, and then there would be a Tumblr made of all the stupid things drunk college students said so that the people who make those Tumblrs and think the same things but don't tweet them can be smug and superior. Meanwhile, the real issue is never discussed: all those people were, and are, oppressed.
|Will Nikki and Paolo be in next year's Lent Madness?|
There are at least two issues in Crusty's mind with the way this is unfolding.
One is that it perpetuates the kind of zero-sum-game thinking that pervades our world. Good God, we don't need to choose between civil rights and the f****g New Deal. Aspects of the conversation itself actually trivializes both. Notice I say at best, because, of course, this whole Lent Madness bit occurs more or less inside our own bubble. For instance, at an academic conference recently Crusty shared some of the Lent Madness stuff with some colleagues, marveling that Perkins had taken down MLK. An African American colleague working at a historically African American seminary said, "On my campus we would consider it insulting to put Dr King up against anybody for a golden halo."
The second is that this reveals the utter paucity and void of any kind of theology of commemoration or sainthood in the Episcopal Church -- and all the knee-jerk Holy Women, Holy Men haters need to realize that it goes back longer than HWHM. It probably goes back, in some form, to everything after the 1559 Book of Common Prayer. Cranmer eliminated the overwhelming number of saints' days, restricting them by and large only to those with a biblical warrant or basis -- though even he included four commemorations (St George, Lammas, St Clement, and St Lawrence) not found in the Bible. After that, commemorations were added without any real systemic thought or justification -- 57 added in 1561, and another round with the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The Episcopal Church continued to have very few commemorations until the 1964 General Convention made up for lost time by adding over 100 commemorations and setting up a process for additional observances.
Since Anglicans (apparently) do not believe in the main function of saints in the Catholic (and in some ways Orthodox) tradition -- that is, an intercessory function of saints (we pray to them to intercede with God on our behalf), or pray for protection and healing directly from the saint -- the calendar of commemorations has served almost as an anamnesis. The actual guidelines are laid out on pages 741-746 of Holy Women, Holy Men: we commemorate persons to call to mind their lives for instruction, guidance, inspiration, and emulation; who should have actually existed; who should be dead for 50 years (or two generations); and already be commemorated in a local observance in some way. Well and good, but there's two problems with this. For one, we have added persons that simply stretch the boundaries of this thinking, for all sorts of reasons: persons from traditions that do not commemorate persons on a liturgical calendar, persons nominally Christian, persons not even Christian, persons not dead 50 years, persons not commemorated locally by anyone, and persons who may not pass the historicity test (unless, of course, we become biblical literalists solely for the purpose of adding people to the calendar and treat Scripture as ahistorical in almost every other aspect). And secondly, we haven't kicked people off the calendar who don't represent those elements. By the standards we seem to have currently, I'd like to remove some people I don't think are worthy of emulation or inspiration and I don't turn to for guidance and whom I'm not sure existed historically. So we'll give a pass to all the people on the calendar while adding people according to a different standard? Here again, I don't blame the people who put together HWHM -- we use it at the seminary and I have a copy on my desk 24/7. They were just working from processes they themselves inherited.
|Listen to Boogalo Shrimp! Stop the Madness!|
In this way, then, perhaps Lent Madness is a perfect metaphor for a theology of commemoration and sainthood in the Anglican world: the church's commemoration of saints, in all ages, has always told us more about ourselves than those we commemorate. It seems our current format makes them little more than people we'd like to be Facebook friends with.