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?

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Love – an Orientation

This past week the 38 Primates of the Anglican Communion met in Canterbury to engage in some controversial conversations. As a result of these painful deliberations some disciplinary “consequences” were meted out to The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the USA over its practice of sanctioning same-sex marriage without adequate consultation with the worldwide Anglican family.  This decision, along with a warning to other Anglican provinces considering a similar move (which includes the Anglican Church of Canada), is making blood boil on all sides.

When we feel chastised over something that is deeply woven into our personal and collective identities and lived reality, emotional fallout can easily blind us to Christ’s command of discipleship of love, mercy and compassion. In the midst of emotional storms it takes enormous willpower to resist our hurting heart’s desire to slide down the slopes of anger and frustration, to vilify enemies and to succumb to despair. Equally, if the stormy winds blow in our favour, making for our own smooth sailing, it takes enormous willpower to resist wallowing in smug self-righteousness and judgment, inadvertently dismissing the need for respect and dignity amidst conflict, thus blatantly betraying the need for compassion and solidarity with hurting sisters and brothers.

In the western world, we live in a socio-political cultural climate that now considers same-sex relationships as normal. Those who struggle to accept this are often considered homophobic and judgmental, deficient and grossly outdated. Such labeling can easily result in a reverse discrimination of sorts, as if relieved that the shoe’s on the other foot now. Is it still possible to engage in compassionate and respectful conversation on same-sex attraction and relationships without sliding into emotional mud-slinging or risking glib but unhelpful labels and judgments no matter what perspective is voiced?

The Anglican instinct of inclusiveness and embracing diversity is being tested severely at this time. Every denominational strength comes with its accompanying weakness. Yet it is that particular Anglican expression of discipleship that constitutes one of the Anglican gifts to the Christian family. As recently as a couple of months ago, Father Raneiro Cantalemessa, the Vatican’s papal preacher, pointed this out in his homily at the Church of England’s General Synod: The Anglican Church has a special role … . It has often defined itself as a “via media” (a Middle Way) between Roman Catholicism and Reformed Christianity. From being a “via media” in a static sense, it must now become more and more a via media in a dynamic sense, exercising an active function as a bridge between the Churches.

In the case of same-sex attraction and same-sex marriage discussions, the difference, for example, between Roman Catholic and Anglican conversations is that, while these discussions are taking place in both traditions, they occur of necessity below the radar in RC circles while they occur in the open in Anglican circles. However messy and chaotic, painful and challenging, I’d like to think there is something healthy about the open nature of such discussions.

There’s a popular quote that says, when the student is ready the teacher appears. I am in a season of spiritual learning that makes me open and deeply receptive to this Anglican inclusive and “middle” way. And so my new Anglican spirit prays fervently: can we in the Anglican expression of Christian discipleship, do better than parting ways, tolerating underground and unhealthy ecclesial discussions, or debasing ourselves by mutual mudslinging? Can we keep walking and talking together in love or will we succumb to society’s favourite sport of dismissing and labeling those who disagree with us, shutting them out of our lives? Can we foster together a spirit of mutual learning and correcting as part of our common call to holiness?

Just as none of us are innocent of sin, so none of us are outside of God’s mercy: I think we are people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think — and I say it with humility — that this is the Lord’s most powerful message: mercy. ~ Pope Francis, March 17, 2013

Loving as Christ loves us is demanding and painful and sometimes distasteful. Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, used to echo St. Teresa of Avila when she’d tell Jesus: “No wonder you have so few friends!” Yet Jesus loves each of us, sinful creatures who, by God’s crazy design, nevertheless walk around with God’s dream imprinted on our souls. Loving in Jesus’ name involves deep listening — why else do we have two ears and only one mouth? Divine loving requires living humbly and open-mindedly, patiently and graciously with everyone, but especially with those whose lives are most different from our own, never forgetting that “there for the grace of God go I.”

Back in August I wrote with great affection about my dear friend Jordan who became the new Moderator for the United Church of Canada (Holding Tension). I expressed my desire to be a bridge of reconciliation and healing, striving to grow my capacity to love. I am copying here some of those August words as we, in the Anglican Church of Canada, continue a most difficult conversation at General Synod this coming summer.

As a new Anglican, still green, I desire to take part however difficult that might be. I appreciate the weariness by many on both sides of the question and who feel that they have been discussing this “ad naseum.” Yet in a tradition that discerns over and moves in centuries, the conversation has barely begun. And it deserves the very best we can be for and with one another for the sake of the entire Christian family and for the sake of our beautiful yet broken world:

Love is an orientation, the foundational orientation: God is love, and those who live in love, live in God (1 John 4:16). Such is truth — a relationship of love: “Truth is a relationship. As such, each one of us receives the truth and expresses it from within, that is to say, according to one’s own circumstances, culture, and situation in life.” ~ Pope Francis

Whether we are right or wrong on the question of same-sex marriage, can we entrust this to our loving Creator and to the future? Each one of us receives the truth and expresses it from within, that is to say, according to one’s own circumstances, culture, and situation in life. Falling and rising, we can only do our best with what we have been given. And as far as being right or wrong: “Naming anything as prophetic is dangerous and fraught with the potential for hubris. The Spirit of God and time determine whether our acts are prophetic or corporate ego run awry.” (~ Sr. Janet Mock, LCWR 2015 Assembly)

Thanksgiving Collect for Primates 2016
January 17, 2016

Gracious God:
Your people found wisdom in the wilderness
and faced challenge in the promised land.
We give thanks for the many signs of your presence
with the leaders of your church
as they sought to discern your spirit
amid tension and conflict, humility and grace.
Sustain them as they return to their people;
renew them in mission and ministry;
comfort and encourage any who find themselves
hurt, disappointed or dismayed;
and restore the unity of your Spirit
in the bonds of our peace.
Through Christ our Lord.

Update February 8: Numerous commentaries can be found on the Primates’ Meeting by now, each revealing their ideological bent in how they perceived what happened. Among these I’ve selected one for my readers: Perspectives on the Primates Meeting

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