A Roman Catholic, two Anglicans, and an Anabaptist walk into a conference and—voilà!—you’ve got day two (Friday) of the Telos Collective’s 2019 Intersection Conference.
Especially for an introvert like myself, it’s been a bit like drinking from a fire hose here in Atlanta today. Summarizing and weaving together William Cavanaugh’s, Tish Harrison Warren’s, Winfield Bevins’, and David Fitch’s talks is a bit of a challenge for a tired Managing Editor, but here goes.
Day Two’s Unifying Theme: A Missional Ecclesiology for the Whole Human Life
I think I can do all the lectures justice by uniting them around the theme of a missional ecclesiology for the whole human life.
William Cavanaugh: Eucharistic Bodies in an Excarnated World
This focus, on the whole human life, was first present in William Cavanaugh’s talk this morning on eucharistic bodies in an excarnated world.
Cavanaugh, a Roman Catholic scholar who teaches at DePaul University, divided his lecture into three parts.
- Eucharistic Bodies
We are becoming increasingly detached, mediated, and shielded from our physical bodies, the bodies of others, and the physical world around us. According to Cavanaugh, our problem today isn’t that we’re too materialistic, but that we don’t value the material world enough! We consume disposable products, dispose of them, and then consume some more.
(I heard plenty of echoes of Cavanaugh’s excellent book, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire in the first stage of this talk and throughout. I highly recommend reading it!)
Put briefly, Cavanaugh agrees with the Peace and Freedom Foundation’s statement that “The central event of the 20th century is the overthrow of matter.”
AND YET, Cavanaugh maintains and reminds us, we remain bodies! Excarnation is a FANTASY!
Furthermore, we Christians are eucharistic bodies. That is, the Church is a eucharistic body.
According to Cavanaugh:
“God’s real presence in the Eucharist is our answer to the vacuity of images in an image-saturated world. There truly is a transcendent reality behind, beyond-but-within the material signs of bread and wine.”
Regarding what he called the “Gnosticization of the Eucharist,” Cavanaugh claimed that “[t]he problem is that the Eucharist has been reduced to the message, to a piece of information for the mind to grasp.”
In many circles, the Eucharist has become overly cognitive or overly emotive and, therefore, overly individualistic.
For Cavanaugh (following in the footsteps of Henri de Lubac), “[t]he key is not what the Eucharistic means, but what it makes. And it makes the Church.”
So, Cavanaugh urged us, let’s focus on what happens to the Church during the Eucharist! Not just on the bread and the wine! The Eucharist forms a new social body, the body of Christ! This was the focus of the early church.
Cavanaugh also took us to 1 Corinthians. He noted that, for Paul in 1 Cor. 12:26-27, individualism is death, in some way. Unity is salvation and we are made into one body.
Furthermore, in 1 Cor. 11:29, Paul does not distinguish between the sacramental and the ecclesial (Church) body of Christ.
And yet, the Eucharist is not automatic. After all, for Jews in medieval Europe, the Eucharist meant death!
This really stood out to me when Cavanaugh said it: “We must ask the Holy Spirit to come among us in a way that we’re not eating and drinking our own damnation.”
Finally, regarding the practices of eucharistid bodies in an excarnated world, Cavanaugh used the three “transcendentals”—the true, the good, and the beautiful—to organize his closing thoughts.
Another very memorable quote was:
“Slow church can be better than low church if it returns us to our bodies.”
Cavanaugh urged us to return to ascetical practices. He reminded us that asceticism is not anti-body. It’s a way of resisting excarnation. It removes distractions and returns you to the basic physical life of the body.
And, regarding the “social justice debate” from Day One, Cavanaugh argued that “social justice is absolutely central to the Eucharist, but that doesn’t mean delegating it to somebody else—to a nation-state.”
Tish Harrison Warren: Ordinary Church: How Liturgy and Sacraments Teach Us the Mundane Glory of Mission
First, if you haven’t read Tish’s wonderful book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, go read it. Right now.
Tish argued that mission is not simply telling people about Jesus (although that’s important!). Instead, mission is primarily hospitality.
However, in order to be missionally hospitable, as it were, we need to have something to invite people into! And the Church needs to shape us to be able to do this.
Our gathered worship on Sunday prepares us for and sends us into our “ordinary liturgies” throughout the rest of the week. And our “ordinary liturgies” shape us as we go back to church on Sunday.
That is, we can’t live sacramental lives without the sacraments! But the sacraments should send us out into our everyday lives!
So, Harrison Warren wondered, how do the liturgies and sacraments send us into mission in our ordinary lives? She highlighted the following:
- They transform our imagination about all of life
- They transform us through actual practices that form us as a community and a people.
- They teach us how to suffer.
Regarding imagination, Tish used a famous passage from the poem “Aurora Leigh” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
So, what’s the difference between those who “see” and those who don’t, those who pluck blackberries? The former have had their eyes open through the sacraments/liturgies! They are able to see the world as it actually is… crammed with heaven!
Regarding practices, Harrison Warren noted that, yes, we’re shaped by the words of the liturgy. But we’re also shaped by the practices of the liturgy.
However, right now, the dominant cultural liturgy is technology. Tish used the work of Albert Borgmann to describe the “hyperreality” of our technology-soaked moment. The Church needs to be aware of what it’s up against, as it were, when it comes to the “brilliance,” richness/abundance, and pliability of hyperreal technologies. These are competing liturgies.
Finally, regarding suffering, Harrison Warren urged us to squarely face the challenge of theodicy and the “problem of evil.”
She noted that, in many ways, theodicy is a key struggle of our era. It’s becoming a more and more common concern. And it isn’t a philosophical problem, it’s a primal scream.
Given that, Tish argues that we can’t answer this generation’s primal theodicy scream with mere words.
Instead, and this was a particularly helpful image, the practices of the church are like the stone cairns on the side of Mt. Washington—put there to guide climbers up and down the mountain when visibility is minimal due to storms or fog.
Tish reminded us that, when we can’t see anything else, we can follow the signposts that our previous brothers and sisters in Christ have left us in the liturgical and sacramental practices of the Church.
Winfield Bevins: Marks of a Movement: Wesley as a Model for Anglican Missional Ecclesiology
First, if you haven’t read Bevins’ book Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation, go read it. Right now.
Bevins began by noting that perhaps the greatest mission movement in the Western world was an Anglican revival movement, the Wesleyan Revival!
In his work at Asbury, Winfield is trying to introduce Anglicans to Wesley and Wesleyans to Wesley’s Anglican heritage.
Bevins reminded us that, in many ways, all renewal movement are re-discoveries of things that have been lost. Wesley had the liturgy, but the life-transforming power had been lost. He read the early church fathers and discovered that something was missing!
Here was Winfield’s main claim: The Wesleyan revival was an Anglican renewal movement that was the result of the retrieval of early church tradition.
This involved a few rediscoveries that we should take seriously today:
- A rediscovery of the life-changing power of the gospel.
- A rediscovery of the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
- A rediscovery of personal and corporate discipleship.
- A rediscovery of the Great Commission.
Ultimately, Winfield urged us to give the whole gospel to the whole person.
A particularly poignant part of this lecture was when Bevins noted how Wesley rediscovered the importance of lay ministry.
Winfield challenged us that we’re still very clergy-centric in the Anglican Church in North America. If we don’t rediscover the importance of lay ministry, this can stymie our growth.
10 years in, we in the ACNA need to ask ourselves: What are we going to be in the next 10 years? Are we going to continue to be a missional church planting movement?
Maybe it’s time we reclaim our Wesleyan heritage as Anglicans.
David Fitch: Beliefs vs. Practices: How God Shapes a Church For Mission
David Fitch, who teaches at Northern Seminary and pastors in Chicago, is, to put it lightly, a colorful character. A rhetorical pacifist, he is not! But perhaps that’s exactly the kind of person we Anglicans need to regularly hear from.
Sure, Fitch noted, we can ask about the what and the why of the Church. But, Fitch implored, “I wanna know about the how. Somebody PLEASE tell me how to lead this church!”
According to David, there was a shift at Nicaea from the Church as something we do to the Church as an article of belief. He claimed that there is a big difference between belief in something and the practice of something!
Instead of merely believing in the unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity of the Church, Fitch urged us to practice these things, to live them out.
He said that “Mission requires, when people don’t understand the words that we’re saying, that we display it and practice it!”
Here was Fitch’s main point: Practices make no sense without belief. But it’s the extracting of belief from practice that causes trouble—especially as we live in a post-Christendom age!
When it comes to the Eucharist, David says it is not just for Sunday mornings. Instead, it shapes a way of eating, so that every meal is opening up a space for God to do his work of reconciliation.
Fitch’s advice in three words? “BE WITH PEOPLE. It’s not that hard!”
As we head into the final 1/2 day of this conference, I am profoundly thankful to follow Jesus within a tradition that, I believe, provides us with abundant resources to follow Jesus with our entire lives.
Not just with our heads.
Not just with our hearts.
Not just with our hands.
But with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. With our bodies. In our ordinary, everyday lives.
Anglicanism is a reminder that following Jesus Christ is an embodied way of life. Thanks be to God!