A Typical Fudge?

One of the crazy contradictions in the English language is the word fudge. As a noun it refers to rich, delicious chocolate that many of us consider an irresistible taste of heaven. As a verb or in figurative speech, however, it carries such a pejorative meaning that none of us would appreciate our words or actions to be judged as “fudged:”

> to fail to deal with (something) in an open and direct way
> to speak or act in a way that is meant to avoid dealing with a problem directly
> to change (something) in order to trick people

Odd, don’t you think? Try to explain that to someone who’s learning English!

The term fudge was used a while back to describe the outcome of a  certain meeting. But before I explore that, a word about us earthlings.

For all our good qualities, we human beings are masters at deceit. We are so perfect at deceit that it’s second nature; most of the time we don’t even know we’re being deceitful, even to ourselves. We can therefore safely and honestly plead ignorance (psst … here’s one to chew on: is it deceit when we’re not aware?). We process experiences and information constantly through layers of unconscious assumptions and judgments, motivations and interpretations, prejudices and stereotypes, all acquired and formed over a lifetime of conditioning, for both good and ill. All these internal filters create what is called a “mental map” which serves as our operating system. We need mental maps; they help us organize, interpret and make sense of the avalanche of impressions, data and sensations that roll into and over us on a daily basis.

Mutual understanding, generative learning and constructive dialogue are often hindered by dissimilar “mental maps” which can create significant conflict and misunderstanding, even leading to mutual condemnation. Some even claim that the unacknowledged, and therefore unconsciously operating, mental maps in people lie at the root of the world’s problems (David Bohm in the Discipline of Team Learning, Peter Senge)

So it seems not only desirable but urgent and necessary that we let our mental maps rise to the surface of our consciousness instead of letting them control our reactions at an unconscious level. This involves becoming aware of our hidden assumptions and motives, attitudes and judgments, and to free ourselves from their destructive effects both in ourselves and in our relationships – which is in effect the task of every spiritual quest. Such awareness can then provide insight into when our mental map needs to change or expand or be corrected, in the hope of growing greater internal and external harmony and understanding, moving us all to a deeper and richer level of relationships.

Since I have been trying to increase awareness of this dynamic in myself, I also strive to increase my ability to see it operate outside myself. And here’s where I come back to using the term fudge. I’ve written in a previous blog about the meeting of the Anglican Primates in Canterbury last January. Applying the notion of mental maps as unconscious operating systems proves to be almost amusing when reading the various reactions to the outcome of this high-ranking Anglican meeting.

At the end it was a classic Anglican fudge, says an article in The Tablet, Jan. 21/16. I did some research on the term Anglican fudge and sure enough, it tends to get applied by those who disagree with whatever the outcome is of what is being commented on, putting the Anglican tradition down. Now before I go on, please remember that I’m just playing with ideas and concepts here, so don’t hold my feet to the fire just yet. Also keep in mind that I`m still a new Anglican, and musings such as these are my feeble attempts to figure out my place in this new faith family. Part of this task is to explore the Anglican gifts of Gospel-centered discipleship as well as its sinful patterns of … well, truly fudging things.

It is rather interesting to observe how perspectives shift when the vantage point of vision changes and you look at the same thing using a different mental map. Fr. Ron Smith, an Anglican priest from New Zealand, tries to do just that when he unpacks the use of the term Anglican fudge in a Roman Catholic publication as follows:

The author of this article speaks of a typical ‘Anglican fudge’ being arrived at – on the decision not to split on the issues of gender and sexuality that had occasioned the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitation to the Primates. However, there were significant activities that took place in the meetings that allowed the Primates – whatever their particular viewpoint on this issue – to step back from further schismatic action taking place.

If the word ‘fudge’ means that the different Provinces of the Communion can actually agree to co-exist – without formal interference in the affairs of individual provinces – then perhaps this sort of fudging response might be thought to be better than outright schism. What may not be clearly understood by the Roman Catholic commentator, is that there is no ‘Magisterium’ in the Anglican Communion that can enforce the sort of disciplines available, for instance, in the Church of Rome  – whose Pope and Vatican authorities can use the power of excommunication against dissident Church members.  (Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand)

The Anglican Communion is held together by mutual bonds of affection, and by a horizontal model of governance and authority that strives for a balance between moral autonomy and moral assent (instead of juridical obedience to law). That model, as every model, comes with its own strengths and weaknesses, and often risks being misinterpreted by those who do not taste the inside dynamics of its operations. I wonder if this is what happened when many on the outside  (and those on the inside holding exceptionally strong opposite opinions) perceived the Primates`decision to continue `walking together` as wishy-washy or even an outright betrayal of the Gospel.

It behooves both Anglicans and Catholics to know that the two traditions enjoy the longest-standing ecumenical dialogue since Vatican II. Much theological ground has been covered in rich agreements that have yet to be fully appropriated by the people in the pews in both traditions. In a recent article Anglican Bishop Linda Nicholls points out that the Anglican Communion’s internal struggles have resulted in unexpected yet immensely valuable lessons learnt: “One of the things we’ve certainly learned in my own church is, we’ve learned how to have better conversations when we’re in conflict on deeply painful issues,” she said. “We’ve learned how to sit down together and listen in ways we didn’t seem to know how to do before. And that’s not a bad thing.” (April 29, 2016, Catholic Register)

The Primates` conclusions from their January 2016 meeting were borne of costly discipleship ìn response to Christ`s demanding call to love, reconciliation and communion, all of which they experienced viscerally in their week together (see Canada`s Primate Fred Hiltz`account). At the same time those with different, even contrary, `mental maps`quickly criticized those same conclusions as wishy-washy (or harsh, depending on your point of view), and could only perceive … fudge. That begs the question: which type of fudge was it – the deceitful twisting of truth or the heavenly food version?

There is way more to say on all this, but I’ll leave that for another time. It’s more important to stop and distill the larger questions from this example:

1. How often do we perceive another`s choices and decisions in ways that fail to consider and honour the true intent of the individual or the group?

2. How can we help ourselves to grow a greater awareness of our own mental maps and the role these play in how we perceive/experience the world?

3. In what ways are we called to costly discipleship with those who challenge our mental maps?

4. Does right relation trump right belief? Why and how? If not, why not?

5. When is “walking together” a wishy-washy, anything-goes, ignoring-differences type of response, and when is it a call to deeper love, reconciliation and communion that challenges both parties? How can we tell the difference?

Prairie Encounters

Thank you for reading this reflection. For private comments use the contact form below. For public ones, scroll down further to write your thoughts.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.