Thursday, July 12, 2012

T.S. Eliot on Church Conventions and the Honest Gift of Dirty Laundry

Culling through books with my dad last night in the office, I came across a short chapter in The Anglican Moral Choice, from the Anglican Study Series, published in 1983. The particular chapter that stopped me was written by T.S. Eliot. He called it, "Thoughts After Lambeth," and he wrote it in 1932, or two years after the Lambeth Conference of 1930. As I thumbed through the pages, I found much to enjoy in terms of perspective and on the heels of our own General Convention, 2012.

To be honest, my first thought when I saw Eliot's name by the title and decided to make the long journey from the table of contents to the essay itself was, "I bet it has a great intro." Eliot didn't disappoint:

"The Church of England washes its dirty linen in public. It is convenient and brief to begin with this metaphorical statement. In contrast to some other institutions both civil and ecclesiastical, the linen does get washed. To have linen to wash is something; and to assert that one's linen never needed washing would be a suspicious boast."

It IS something to have linen to wash. I hope this fact does not get lost in the midst of the good, ongoing, and hugely popular work of the restructuring conversations within and without the Episcopal Church. And it is certainly not to be taken for granted that the linen does, in time, get washed. Despite the sometimes clunkiness of the Church's ordered life together, as is so often the case in life, we in the Church now find ourselves with challenges others might envy; that this is so does not diminish or trivialize the real quality of the challenges (having laundry does not excuse one from the responsibility of caring for it), but faithful and reforming Christians of all persuasions must not walk the line of internal critique so fiercely that we slip into ingratitude for God's enduring work in, through, and sometimes in spite of, God's Church.

Faithfulness in the present moment need not feed on resentments of the past or fears of an unknown future.

We have linen to wash.

Praise God!

More reflections from Eliot post-GC to come.


1 comment:

  1. Jonathan - thanks for the thoughtful post. The Anglican Moral Choice sits on a shelf in my office and hasn't been opened in more years than my memory permits me to number. You remind me of my once familar use of T.S. Eliot's work in sermon preparation. Again, many years have elasped since that was a frequent practice. Yes, there is linen to be washed. We can choose to approach this good work with cheerfulnes that indeed we have linen worth caring for and not get diverted from the task by a desire to name a culprit for how the fabric became soiled.

    peace, scott penrod

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