Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Mud Swamp of the Episcopal Church



I spent a fair amount of time fishing, hunting snakes, and collecting animal skulls and bones in the swamps of my youth, but I always preferred the air conditioned comforts of home. I was fortunate to have never gotten lost in the swamp, but if I had, perhaps I would have had a chance to pray to God for deliverance, and maybe I would be able to look back at those swamps in the light of a religious experience. All I think about now is the smell, the muck, the snakes, gators, and the bugs, and I always carried more of the swamp back home with me than my mother cared for. As far as she was concerned, nothing good came out of the swamp, and to that end she never went there.

Why would anyone deliberately walk into a swamp anyway? I read a book recently that told the tale of Portuguese missionaries to Japan and the tests to their faith that they found there.

In this 1969 book Silence, Shusaku Endo's character, an apostate 1600's priest named Ferreira talks about the "mud swamp" of Japan as a place where the sapling called Christianity seemed to grow, but it died because the roots were planted in wet ground. This reminded me of the parable of the sower of the seeds in Luke 8:5-8,

"A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown."


Ferreira's swamp is the opposite of the moistureless rock in Jesus' parable. When I read Silence, I also thought of the Episcopal church as something of a mud swamp where Christianity is suffering due to root rot. Soft, mushy theology such as we see in TEC does support certain types of life: Heretical intellectuals such as Marcus Borg grow into lofty Canon Theologians shading the light from any nascent Christian growth in the undergrowth. Creepy gay divorced men crawl out of the primordial alphabet soup to spread their gospel of sanctified perversions, fouling the surrounding waters. Purple breasted deniers of the resurrection sing their siren songs to lure unsuspecting pewsitters into the muck. Vacuous oceanographers jump into this ooze and are quickly mutated into unblinking, ruling predators eager to devour small orthodox parishes and dioceses. What hope does Christianity have in such a morass?

Near the book's conclusion, Endo's character Ferreira presents a picture of the church after its roots have died in the following analogy:

"But in the churches we built throughout this country the Japanese were not praying to the Christian God. They twisted God to their own way of thinking in a way we can never imagine...

... It is like a butterfly caught in a spider's web. At first it is certainly a butterfly, but the next day only the externals, the wings and the trunk, are those of a butterfly; it has lost its true reality and has become a skeleton."

Shusaku Endo, Silence, 1969 p. 149


The mud swamp we call the Episcopal church is already a skeleton, or a parade of skeletons covered in the colorful clothing of Presiding bishop, bishops, and priests, all pretending to be a living church in the apostolic tradition. Watch the parade, the Danse Macabre, on May 15 as the skeletons gather in Long Beach to consecrate the newest denizen of the swamp.

Holbein d. J.; Danse Macabre. XXIV. The Nun

The spider has done her work well. Plant Christianity in a swamp, who could have thought of that?

Well done Screwtape, well done.

5 comments:

  1. Forgive me being somewhat off topic, but I was struck by the historical marker in your first photo. My family was embroiled in the Primitive vs. Missionary Baptist feud back in the mid 1800's. In this case, the Primitives, who were strict, double-predestinarian hyper-Calvinists, resisted all efforts to evangelize the lost. Only if God had called and elected any of them would they show up at the Primitive Baptist door. My people left that strain -- radical heresy for the N.C. mountains at that time -- and joined up with the Missionary Baptists who believed in preaching the gospel to the lost.

    As for the Episcopal Church, isn't it ironic that some of the most faithful parishes in our part of the country seem to be located near the swamps (Charleston, Savannah)?

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  2. Thanks Chuck for going off topic. I appreciate your added personal/historical context for the message on the marker.

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  3. Like Chuck, my relatives shifted to the missionary Baptist wing ca. 1840ish and away from the Calvinist/Reformed Baptists. I think the Missionary Baptists are part of what ultimately became the Southern Baptist Convention.

    BTW, nice extended metaphor with Swamp Thing comparison.

    Cheers.

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  4. Interesting analogy. I also like the analogy in this quote you included:

    "It is like a butterfly caught in a spider's web. At first it is certainly a butterfly, but the next day only the externals, the wings and the trunk, are those of a butterfly; it has lost its true reality and has become a skeleton."

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  5. "But in the churches we built throughout this country the Japanese were not praying to the Christian God. They twisted God to their own way of thinking in a way we can never imagine..."

    Let's change one word in Endo's excerpt:

    "But in the churches we built throughout this country the Episcopalians were not praying to the Christian God. They twisted God to their own way of thinking in a way we can never imagine..."

    There. That's better.

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