From the Daily Office Lectionary (Yr 1), Monday in the week of Proper 9B (Pentecost 6, 2015)
1 Samuel 15
22 Samuel said [to Saul], “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.”
I’ve just returned from two weeks in Salt Lake City, Utah, attending the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church as an alternate deputy for the Diocese of Ohio and working as a legislative aide to the committee on Prayer Book, liturgy, and church music. The Episcopal General Convention is a huge and fairly unwieldy legislative body, bicameral legislature made up of a House of Deputies (four clergy and four lay representatives from each diocese) and a House of Bishops (every bishop whether active or retired). About 1,000 people meet every three years to state the church’s positions on various issues, to adopt or amend canons (church laws), to make changes the church’s constitution or Prayer Book, and to adopt a budget. Parachurch organizations, seminaries, vendors of church wares, religious communities, missionary societies, and hundreds of volunteers come along for the ride. One participant the past fortnight described the convention as “summer camp for adult church geeks;” that pretty much describes it accurately. It’s also very much a big family reunion with a lot of activity, including a good deal of bickering.
The bickering, I think, is the result of a lot of people all trying to heed and obey the voice of the Lord, which each hears in a somewhat different way. Coming away from the convention I had several hours of opportunity to scan the Twitterverse and Facebookistan (terms I learned from a friend) and one huge word kept recurring in the serious posts (there were a lot of fun ones as people’s senses of humor took over): that word was “orthodoxy.” In one conversation thread, I typed in something like, “Oh … groan … I am so tired of seeing that word used as a barrier to communication, as a ‘fighting word”.” I was, in turn, accused of being “dismissive.” But I am tired of this misuse of the word “orthodoxy” and similar terms! I really am! “Orthodoxy” and its synonyms and antonyms have become an epithets which close off discussion.
Originally a word which meant “proper praise of God,” it morphed to mean something like “proper belief about God,” and now has become personalized in most usages into “what I believe to be correct about anything churchy.” So we heard (and will continue to hear) some people claim to hold “orthodox” views about marriage or the Prayer Book or the Hymnal or church investments or whatever, while disparaging others as not “orthodox.” What this really means is that the speaker has closed his or her mind and ears, and is sacrificing open communication on the altar of their personal opinion.
All that “orthodoxy” really means anymore is that each of us, individually or in our small affinity groups, hears God speaking in different ways; each of us seeks to obey the voice of God as we perceive it. Thus, my “orthodoxy” may not be your “orthodoxy.” When someone uses this word, though, they are not claiming to speak only for themselves; rather, they are claiming that their opinion is the agreed-upon opinion of the ancient, historic church. They are covering themselves in a mantle of traditional authority, and that cloak has the unfortunate effect of muffling their hearing so that, if God is speaking through another with a new voice, they cannot hear it. If one cannot hear, one cannot heed and obey.
Here’s an idea. Let’s declare a moratorium on the word “orthodoxy” and all its permutations. If tempted to use the word, say instead, “This is what I believe and what I believe the church to have been teaching throughout the past, what do you believe?” or “This is the metaphor for God that makes most sense to me, what metaphors work for you?” or “This is what resonates in my spirit, what reverberates in your soul?” Let’s hear and heed rather than sacrifice communication on the altar of our personal, allegedly “orthodox” opinion.