Monday, February 24, 2014

In Defense of my Priesthood

I’ve thought a lot about offering a defense of my priesthood.  The truth is that I can’t.  Better yet, I won’t.  My priesthood isn’t something I can defend, simply because it isn’t mine to defend.  It really isn't even mine.

I’ve spent some time these past few days thinking about the priesthood, about how I came to be a priest and why I even am a priest…why I remain a priest.  But everyday I am reminded of the vows I made and the journey that led me to make them.  As my priesthood is something that I can’t and won’t defend, it’s also something that I can’t and won’t renounce.

But I also can’t and won’t make sense of my priesthood.

I won’t pretend to know why Christ called me to be a priest in his Church.  I’m certainly not worthy of the calling. Truly, no one is worthy of the calling. But that truth doesn’t prevent me from cataloging my own failures and shortcomings and declaring of myself, “Not worthy.”

But here I stand, a priest. A shepherd and a prophet, a guide and a companion…a priest.

Not just a priest, but an Episcopal priest. 

I won’t pretend to know why Christ called me to be a priest in the Episcopal Church.  Though there are a great many things I love, admire, and hold dear about the Episcopal Church, there are also a great many things that infuriate me, confound me, and sadden me about the Episcopal Church.  There are other Christian traditions that I believe the Episcopal Church can learn from, that the wider Anglican Communion can learn from.  If you know me at all, you know of my admiration and love for Eastern Orthodox theology, which is some of the most beautiful and poetic theology I have ever encountered. 

But I’m not an Orthodox priest.  I’ll never be an Orthodox priest.  Setting aside the beauty of their theological language, I too strongly believe in the gifts for building the kingdom that women bring to a church still dominated by men, and that our LGBTQ friends have as much claim on the grace and mercy of Christ and a place at the Table as I do, a straight man.

That doesn’t prevent me from ever imaging myself in other theological traditions, particularly the Orthodox tradition.  I believe I’ll always have an eye towards the Christian East.  But just an eye towards the East, never a life within it.

But as an Anglican, I can have an eye towards the East.  I can have an eye towards any and all theological traditions, because our Anglican tradition is one that celebrates the diversity of religious experiences and doesn’t pretend to have a monopoly on the Divine.

In a sense, there is something fundamentally ‘Anglican’ about recognizing that Anglicanism isn’t the end-all, be-all expression of Christianity. 

I love the ‘oh-so-human’ approach to Christianity that Anglicanism offers.  A theology that takes seriously human experience, elevating the 'image of God'; still present in humanity to a place of prominence.  Paul Tillich is quoted as saying the incarnation is the ‘Anglican Heresy’.  We take seriously God’s permeation of divinity within the very fleshly stuff of the earth. I ‘fit’ in Anglicanism in a way that I haven’t in other traditions. Coming to the Episcopal Church wasn’t so much a conversion as it was a coming home to a home that I simply hadn’t had the chance to live in before.

Setting that narrative aside, I suppose all that’s left for me to say is this:

I’m an Episcopal priest because God called me to be one, several different committees and three different bishops affirmed that call, I answered that call, and Christ made me to be a priest in his church through the laying on of episcopal hands.

I didn’t earn it.  I can’t make sense of it.  Some days, I still can’t even believe it.

But the truth is that I simply am a priest.  Both now and forever.


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