Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rowan's Prose

Rowan Williams Could Use a Dose of Elmer Davis
by the Rev. George C. Bedell


Back during WW II, my father Chester Bedell, a plain-spoken, straight-forward lawyer, used to love to listen to Elmer Davis, because Davis, more than any of the other newscasters of the day, was plain-spoken. According to Ed Murrow, Davis was admired by the public, because his distinctive Indiana accent made so many Americans feel as though they were listening to their next door neighbor. I'd add that Americans could also readily grasp what Davis was saying. He came on CBS stations at 8:55 p.m., EST, and in five minutes was able to cover just about everything anybody wanted to know in plain and simple English.

One problem with Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, is his overly complex way of expressing himself. The most recent example of his prolixity is his "Advent letter." I haven't read such a dense, complex, and elusive piece of prose in a long time. I'm sure he wanted the letter to be persuasive to the people throughout the Anglican Communion, including those of us in the Episcopal Church. But only the most devoted would have taken the trouble to read it in its entirety.

I can imagine my late father exclaiming, had he seen the letter, "Oh, my goodness [his most emphatic phrase]! What is this man trying to say?!?" Being the good churchman he was, though, he would have waded through the essay, chirping all along the way about the Williams style. While he might have agreed with some of what Dr. Williams said, he would tell anyone within listening distance that the man has a problem expressing himself. I can imagine his sighing, "The man ought to have listened to Elmer Davis." [See Note 1.]

Fortunately, though, Bill Coats and Matthew Dutton-Gillett took the time and had the patience to elucidate and simplify for the rest of us what Dr. Williams said. I am particularly impressed with Matthew's conclusion that the only way out of the Church's current dilemma is to learn to live with paradox:
Paradox is the stock and trade of the kingdom of God. Perhaps when Jesus invites us to take up our crosses, he is inviting us to take up the burden of paradox: an instrument of death that is for us a symbol of life. Obedience to that call is called in the Scriptures "perfect freedom" – yet another paradox.
I find that suggestion remarkably helpful. I hope that everyone will take the time to "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" what Matthew has to say in his fine essay.

While I'm always engaged by Bill Coats's take on things, I'm not at all convinced about the viability of attempting to construct a Covenant. One of the marks of our way of doing things historically has been that we did not adopt a Confession, as did some of our ecclesiastical neighbors. We chose instead the venerable and workable via media. I give Dr. Williams credit for trying, though. He's appointed a Covenant Design Group that's already at work.

But who in the world believes that the Group can accomplish what Williams hopes it will? Even if the Group is composed of all the "right" people, it seems to me they are on a mission to accomplish the impossible, given the current attitude of those who are the most grievously affronted by the Episcopal Church's way of doing things.

That's why I find Matthew's way of the paradox so attractive: not to find some way to do Biblical criticism that everyone can agree on or to create a Covenant that everyone can agree to, both of which seem futile. But as Matthew suggests: each of us in our own way doing our best to become faithful followers of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Which reminds me: Could anyone truthfully say that Our Lord would have refused Gene Robinson a seat at His table?

Or, maybe I shouldn't even have asked that question.

In any case, best regards to all, and let's keep the conversation going ….


[Note 1. I might have added that it's too bad that Dr. Williams never encountered Abbo Martin, long-time English professor at Sewanee. He would certainly have cured Williams of his prolix style.]



About the Author: George Bedell, a priest in the Diocese of Florida, taught Religion at Florida State University, served as Vice Chancellor of the State University System of Florida, and was Director of the University Press of Florida before retiring in 1996. George is also a member of the Board of Directors of The Episcopal Majority.

7 Comments:

Blogger Ann said...

And Abbo Martin would have had him planting daffodil bulbs!!

12/18/2007 11:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Which reminds me: Could anyone truthfully say that Our Lord would have refused Gene Robinson a seat at His table?" Of course Jesus would welcome him to the table. And when VGR rose to go, the Lord, we might be reasonable to think, might say 'Go and sin no more' as he said famously in the land of Palestine 2000 years ago and says to us all.

12/19/2007 6:58 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

I'm not sure (though I suspect) what point you're trying to make, Anonymous. But just listen to Bishop Robinson, and you'll hear how the Bible has saved his life and how he cleaves to God's Word.

I can add my personal testimony -- that Jesus' call and his claim upon my heart and my sorry soul called me out of a profligate gay life into a whole and holy gay life.

Anonymous, you don't get to speak for Jesus. But you and I can share stories about what our risen Lord has said to each of us.

12/19/2007 8:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Anonymous, you don't get to speak for Jesus." Didn't presume to, Lisa. As should be clear (n.b. might be reasonable and might say). Was just responding to the question posed.

12/19/2007 9:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lisa says "I can share stories about what our risen Lord has said." Yes, tho' paying attention to what the earthly Lord said (see Mt 19) would help, too. That way we can all be sure, or at least more sure, that we're not letting our own voice, dreams, and aspirations, speak for Jesus. The human heart is a deep mystery, you know. All sorts of self-deceptions can go on. Gotta' be careful.

12/20/2007 8:27 AM  
Anonymous Josh Indiana said...

"Indiana accent"? Whatzat? Ain't no such thing as a Indiana accent.

A Hoosier Twang, now, that's a horse of a different color. Yessireebob, I've heard me some Hoosier Twangs before.

12/24/2007 1:01 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

LOL, Josh! Not having heard Elmer Davis, I'm not sure whether George an "accent" or a "twang," but he obviously appreciated what he heard. No offense intended to you Hoosiers.

12/24/2007 7:36 PM  

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