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Hallo again to all.

I yam what I yamThe Lambeth Conference 2008 is finally over, and whatever it is that happened, happened. We expect that it will take years to figure it all out. We enjoyed the introductory sentence of a column in the Financial Times that explained to its readers:

'At the Lambeth conference, which meets once a decade, bishops from the 38 provinces of the worldwide Anglican communion gather to think, pray and talk about sex.'

While this statement is demonstrably true, it seems to us that much of what the good bishops who took a month out of their busy lives to attend the Lambeth Conference were really doing was talking about their identity—about what it means to be an Anglican and what people may call themselves Anglicans. Yes, of course they were doing other things (nobody can spend three weeks on such a question) but the more time we spend reading through all of the blogging and press releasing and public speaking and interviewing and leafleting that came out of Lambeth, the more we remain convinced that the central Anglican issue of our time is 'What does it mean to be an Anglican?'

African yam stewIt's a shame that that question requires an answer, but it seems that it does. An African bishop explained to the press last week that his problem, and Africa's problem, was that Anglicans were in competition with Muslims for recruiting and keeping members, and that in his culture, you couldn't compete in the market for souls if your people were connected to a homosexual bishop. In order to succeed, the bishop said, he had to have some way for that not to be true. He could solve his problem by getting the homosexual bishop to resign, or he could solve his problem by having the homosexual bishop's province stripped of the name 'Anglican', but unless he did something, he couldn't go home with his head held high. Some cheered him and some excoriated him, but everyone needs to give him credit for such a concise articulation of the core problem. It's all about Anglican street cred (on certain streets).

We are thankful that we live in a culture in which we are evaluated against important and meaningful criteria such as the style of the car we drive and the cost of the clothes we wear and how straight our teeth are, and not by anything frivolous. We don't lose credibility with our friends and neighbours when they learn that we are Anglicans and therefore may have married or female or homosexual clergy.

While flying across the continent in a carbon-spewing jet airplane recently, brooding on this 'what ever is an Anglican?' question, we passed the time by listening to music on our iPod, using fancy noise-cancelling headphones. We thought about worship music. It's easy to get commercial music for an iPod, and we've had plenty of it, but recently we found and purchased good recordings of Anglican music, and loaded it onto our iPod. We realized that in our part of the Anglican world, music was written for worship and then occasionally became secular performance music. By contrast, much of the Christian music that we'd seen available to load into an iPod was written for commercial sale, and occasionally got used in a worship service. We have no idea if 'Call my name' by Third Day has ever been used in a worship service, but we are quite certain that Bach's 'Mass in B Minor' has been performed commercially.

But wait: music is so utterly cultural. The all-time best-selling Christian song in one culture and country is probably unknown in some other culture and country. We were gearing up to make some statement that, for us, Anglicanism is defined by its liturgy and its music, but of course every province has its own liturgy and every culture has its own music and, well, gosh, it all comes back to culture, not Covenant.

Too bad. We were going to assert that one definition of an Anglican was somebody who wanted to hear Once to Every Man and Nation a second time after listening to it on an iPod, but then realized that the tune is Welsh and the words were written to protest the USA's war with Mexico. Gosh, it's hard to find a universal cultural norm. Too bad we can't resurrect Gilbert and Sullivan and ask them what it means to be an Anglican. 'For he himself has said it, and it's greatly to his credit....For I am an A-a-a-a-anglican.'

See you next week.

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Last updated: 3 August 2008

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