Symbols and Idols
Reading the book, Honest to God by John A. T. Robinson, I was particularly struck by his thoughts on symbols and images. He writes that these have a “powerful” and “proper place” within our awareness of God. These only become idols when the same become “indispensable for the apprehending of the reality.” When these images/idols become so necessary to the idea itself that without the image the idea is tarnished or even destroyed, then the images/idols become dangerous to the point of being a barrier to an understanding.
As a child growing up in rural central Texas, I recall quite clearly the objections to John Kennedy as President. He was a Roman Catholic. Roman Catholics worshipped idols, wore crosses and prayed to Mary and other saints – just like the Baptists did to Jesus. To pray to anyone other than Jesus or God was sinful. Amen. That was the end to that discussion.
I had a friend that was Roman Catholic. Her home was full of crosses and statues. I worried for Janie’s family but I loved looking at the statue of Mother Mary holding the baby Jesus. The crucifixes scared me some but fascinated me all the same. I suppose that to my beloved grandmother, she feared these symbols for the very idea that someone might need them to be more aware of God.
Yesterday Canon Charles (Chuck) Hough was at Trinity in Fort Worth explaining why he and others of their “kind” had deemed it necessary to leave the Episcopal Church…although we were reminded several times that their “kind” was not leaving TEC at all, merely helping to form a “realignment”.
As I read this book, many of the things that Canon Hough said came flooding into my mind. He talked about the “intolerance of the leadership of TEC” using the “canons as weapons” against his “kind”. He further lamented the “forcing of innovations”. He spoke to the differences between himself as a "anglican catholic" and others who were "protestant." Neither of us wee wrong, he said...we were just different. The only solution to his and others of his “kind” was realignment within the Communion.
He spoke to the issue of women’s ordination as one of these “innovations”. He said that it was the “lack of surety” – since so many within the Anglican Communion do not ordain women, then it cannot yet be considered a definite. I asked the question – At what point will you know that women as priests is a certain thing? Just how many within the Anglican Communion will have to agree?
His answer: “When the “Church catholic” makes it a definite” as they did with the idea of the Incarnation, then it can be considered fully accepted. Well, hmm…Why not just say…Never?
The most notable statement that Canon Hough made was this: “My theology hasn’t changed since I was a boy.”
Fear of seeing God as something other than a male…fear of inclusive language…fear of women as priests, bishops and presiding bishops…or as Magi…holding onto the theology that one possessed as a mere child…I think that these things are very telling. It is a wonder that they allow the idea to persist that Jesus was born of a mere woman.
These things – these ideas and images – these have become idols to Canon Hough and his “kind”. They cannot let go of the theology that they learned as a child at the knee of some long gone priest or bishop. Rather than viewing it as a starting point, they view it as the absolute. He learned it all then, kept it close to him and will allow nothing to change it.
Symbols, images and ideas are not bad. It is ok to have crosses and statues and to call God “Father” … or Mother. What is wrong is when the symbol becomes so fixed, so rigid that we can no longer see around it. When that happens, the symbol/image/idea truly becomes an idol, a false god. What is so sad is to become so fixed as to be able to state that our theology has not changed since we “spoke as a child”… Even sadder is the idea that our theology is so right that there is no room at the table for those who disagree with us.
I believe that we have proof positive that the current Diocese of Fort Worth is a place wherein spiritually starved persons reside. False gods abound. I do believe that the need for a male priest/bishop/primate has for too many become “indispensable for the apprehending of the reality.”
These Episcopal Dioceses of Fort Worth and San Joaquin will be all right. In fact, both may be better than they have ever been before. What we need to do is pray sincerely for Canon Hough and his "kind".