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Hallo again to all.

Where do you draw the line? Well, you might reasonably reply: 'What sort of line?'

Scribbled black linesAll over our beloved creaky Anglican Communion, we find lines, borders, boundaries: 'The Bible plainly says so'. 'That's not part of the faith once delivered to the saints.' 'You must assent to these things to be part of the Anglican Communion.' Where, many of us have often lamented, is classical Anglican ambiguity? Shades of grey? The fabled 'large tent', in which paradoxical tensions can presumably sup together, at the Lord's table? We've seen lines drawn even there. Who on earth wants to do any more line drawing?

And yet into our lives, our beliefs, our parishes, and our preoccupations, come circumstances and situations that require us to make a decision about something or someone. Rarely — thank God — do they have to do with the violation of vows, the breaking of solemn promises, or the denial of faith. Often the matters aren't grandly important or even particularly clear cut, morally or ethically. But when those situations present themselves as places and times of decision, then the matter of lines becomes a compelling necessity. And with those lines, what danger: The easy assumption that our choice puts us 'on God's side'. Or that our decision means we're 'doing the Lord's work' — and others aren't.

It's only a small step from that to more dangerous line-drawing. As Anne Lamott famously said: 'You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do'. So whenever a line-drawing time arises, beware. Think carefully, pray much, debate with yourself, talk with wise friends. Be sure that the situation is, in fact, one which requires you to choose.

Often such situations involve clashes between the 'secular' world and the 'sacred' one. Whilst believing that all in this world, sub specie aeternitatis, is penetrated and shot through with God — surely we rope off the 'sacred' at our peril — there are activities, actions, choices, and causes that have nothing to do with our God or that are inimical to the holy. We are called to be spiritual beings* and surely that means being able to live between two worlds: The quality of being rooted in this one, while being aware of the other being ready to burst into this one. Early monks were characterised as those who kept an eye on the world to come and, through it, viewed this one:

My soul waiteth for the Lord
more than they that watch for the morning:
I say, more than they that watch for the morning.

Christ-like linesIn Advent, we're given liturgical and theological permission to make time to meditate on living what we pray — 'Thy Kingdom come on earth, as it is heaven' — and on living outside the cynicism of the marketplace. Living between two worlds is to sit lightly to the values of the world we see, knowing the values of the Kingdom of God are eternal, enduring, and waiting to break into this one, if we have the courage to turn our lives loose to them. Advent makes it clear that to live between two worlds is sometimes to stand against our own community, to bring not peace but a sword. A sword taken up reluctantly perhaps, but in resolute belief. If we ignore the between-two-worlds, Christ-like, sword-like, divisive aspects that come with our faith, then we have missed the point of those who watch for the dawn, who even live to hasten its coming.

Living between two worlds is precisely what Our Lord calls His followers to do. If 'thy Kingdom come' means a man is set against his father, a woman against her mother, and members of a household against each other, then this is to be expected. Spirituality that raises otherworldly questions about the way we live will not be bloody comfortable and will indeed divide, by the very sword which Christ says He will bring.

Oh, it so much more easier not to draw lines: To agree with the small stuff, to accede to the everybody's-doing-it argument, to slip comfortably into the prevailing culture, finding that the temperature's 'just fine'. But as spiritual beings having this human experience, times will come when we're called to choose. Long ago, a priest friend shared with us how he could tolerate, with gentleness and acceptance, everything in the church, from really bad liturgy to really bad behaviour: 'I think I can bear anything (almost anything!) if behind it, however clumsily and inadequately and impurely marshalled, is the love of our Lord'.

What better way to draw?

See you next week.

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Last updated: 7 December 2008


*We've always been fond of Teilhard de Chardin's statement: 'We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

A thin blue line
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