One of my favourite critics will dismiss the headline saying, “Well it is only ‘Salon’.”
But, whatever the source, it is hard not feel startled by Salon’s headline yesterday attached to Anis Shivani’s predictions for the rapidly approaching US Presidential election. After all, as much as the editors at Salon may be in the business of attempting to generate traffic for their site, they are not in the business of looking stupid. So, they must feel there is some credibility to the headline they posted yesterday morning:
Donald Trump is going to win: This is why Hillary Clinton can’t defeat what Trump represents
I am not qualified to judge the merits of Shivani’s political thought, but his argument for why “Trump is going to win” is fascinating and could have important implications for the church.
Trump apparently is addressing a real global problem, which Shivani calls, “disembeddedness.” He describes “disembeddedness” saying,
The neoliberal economy has become pure abstraction; as has the market, as has the state, there is no reality to any of these things the way we have classically understood them. Americans, like people everywhere rising up against neoliberal globalization (in Britain, for example, this takes the form of Brexit, or exit from the European Union), want a return of social relations, or embeddedness, to the economy….Capitalism today is placeless, locationless, nameless, faceless.
Shivani argues that Hilary Clinton is hampered in the election campaign by her own “disembeddedness”. According to Shivani, Clinton’s
whole sphere of movement is pure abstraction.
And he argues:
In this election, abstraction will clearly lose, and corporeality, even if—or particularly if—gross and vulgar and rising from the repressed, will undoubtedly win.
The Anglican Church suffers from its own version of “disembeddedness”.
In my own Diocese of BC (a curiously “disembeded” name, as our diocese corresponds in no way to the geographical Province of BC) we hear frequent reference to a “lack of trust” between diocese and parish. But perhaps “trust” is not the problem.
The perception of a lack of trust between parish and diocese may exist today because the concept of “diocese” is an “abstraction”. For most people, even among Anglicans, the concept of church beyond the local parish is “placeless, locationless, nameless, faceless”. This was not always true.
In 1963 “The Toronto Star” reported,
White-robed 1,000-voice choir sang at Maple Leaf Gardens last night at the opening ceremony of the Anglican Congress. The first sermon was given by the Primate of Canada, Most Rev. Howard H. Clark of Winnipeg. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Rev. Arthur Michael Ramsey, delivered the second sermon; said Christian unity is more necessary than ever.
The story was accompanied by a photograph of the choir robes and all:
It is not possible to imagine such media attention in the mainline press for any religious event today, let alone massing a 1,000-voice Anglican choir to sing in Maple Leaf Gardens.
Fifty years ago the Anglican Church in Canada was visible beyond its obvious manifestation as local parish. The national church and dioceses were embodied realities. The world paid attention to manifestations of Anglicanism beyond the local parish. Bishops appeared in the press; the voice of the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada was heard in public discourse. The general population had some concept of what a cathedral meant in their local community.
The days of Anglicanism being a recognizable presence are, for the most part, gone. Today, the Anglican Church in Canada is invisible. People walking by a neighbourhood church may still understand that something happens there every Sunday morning and may still have some curious warm feeling about its presence in the community, but in the dominant culture of our day dioceses have ceased to exist.
We are told in the church that the diocese is not “them”; the diocese is “us.” And of course it is true. A diocese is a grouping of parish communities drawn together by geographical proximity and a shared commitment to a common expression of corporate Christianity that transcends the confines of a single local parish. But, in a culture where church has become invisible, the concept of diocese struggles to generate commitment. This struggle may be articulated as a lack of trust; but the reality is that for most people under fifty, “diocese” has no location, no place, no “embeddedness”. It has no body.
Parishes, unlike dioceses, partake in “corporeality”; they can be seen. A parish is, for the people who attend church, a tangible reality. We share common space. We know the faces of parishioners. We can hear their voices. We know something of their stories.
“Disembeddedness” is a fundamental problem in the context of Christian faith. Christianity majors in “embeddedness”. We are incarnational. The Christian Church exists because of a man we believe embodied the divine presence in time and space. In order to exist, a diocese needs to find ways to do what Jesus did. It needs to find ways to become corporeal, to embody its existence in recognizable ways.
Recently the Bishop of the Diocese of BC made a 480 kilometre sacred journey walking from Alert Bay on Cormorant Island near the northern tip of Vancouver Island to Victoria at the southern end of the Island (http://www.reentersacredjourney.ca/). The Bishop’s sacred journey captured the imagination of many Anglicans within the Diocese. His journey was an embodied gesture of humility, reconciliation, and healing.
If there is going to be a recognizable church beyond the narrow confines of the local parish, it is going to need to find meaningful ways to take up space in the cluttered imagination of contemporary Anglicans. We can no longer depend upon the national media or the prevailing culture to help or even support us in this endeavour.
We need to develop our own expressions of corporate identity that are able to transcend local parish boundaries. Dioceses need to follow the “sacred journey” model and find ways to take on flesh and bones.
Until the community of churches beyond parish boundaries can again become a tangible reality, we will continue to be plagued by specious accusations of a breakdown of trust between parishes and diocese.