Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mind the Frost

Robert Frost is the first poet I ever studied. My parents were very fond of Frost, and he was quoted from time to time around the house. Like many Americans who studied English literature in high school and college, I had to commit a number of poems to memory, but sadly, to this day, The Road Not Taken, and the first verses of The Canterbury Tales are all I remember.

Perhaps Bob Duncan also knows only two poems, for in his recent open letter to the entire Anglican Communion, he has called Frost's Road into the service of his stark vision of the on-going tales of Canterbury.

The first and founding Archbishop of the newly formed Anglican Church of North America, with its 69,000 members in the United States and Canada, has proof-texted Robert Frost in the service of his claim that The Episcopal Church/Anglican Church of Canada are on the bad road, which must be avoided, and that the Anglican Church of North America is on the good road, which must be taken if righteousness is to be followed.

What is bizarre, of course, is that Frost's poem is not at all a reflection on dualism between good and evil. No, of course, Frost's poem asserts that there are two roads, each with its own merits, with much in common, and that while the road chosen was the one less frequently travelled by, it was not necessarily or inherently 'better' than the other. A bright twelfth grader, who actually did his homework, could see that this poem has absolutely no bearing at all on whether or not one road is 'Blessing' or another 'Curse.' Yet, Bob Duncan makes this very mistake.

But he doesn't just get Robert Frost all wrong.

Duncan begins his epistle of division by recalling Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities. What is particularly galling about this is that Dickens was by any contemporary standard that Bob Duncan would employ a liberal Anglican broad-churchman. Dickens, who for so long was a Unitarian, fond of the Boston Transcendentalists, and an advocate of broad toleration of all Christian denominations in the establishment minded England of his time, dedicated Tale of Two Cities to Lord Russell, who was also very much a tolerance-minded liberal Christian.

Duncan then goes on to enlist the great St. Augustine of Hippo, by again taking the dualism of the City of God, and applying it to what he sees as the duality between The Episcopal Church/Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of North America. Again, this is patently absurd and erroneous. Augustine was an ardent opponent of the Donatists, that African-based schismatical sect which sought to purify the church, and argued that within the church there would always be a mixed body -- both wheat and tares. It seems patently obvious that Bob Duncan is asserting that the cause of purification has led him and his allies to create a new, pure, orthodox, and true church, departing from the ways of the old, impure, heterodox, and false church. Even the Pardoner, in his Canterbury tale of greed, and in his own fallen state, conveys the Augustinian response to the Donatists asserting that even sinful clergy can be means of God's grace in sacramental ministration.

Rowan Williams once said that when Jack Spong posted his "Twelve Theses" calling for a radical new reformation of Christianity they looked like the questions a bright senior in high school might pose. In the same way, Bob Duncan's bold call for radical reformation of Anglicanism along a 'Two Ways" dichotomy between blessing and curse, purity and mixity, and his use of literature to make his point, reminds me of the sort of argument I might expect from a bright 12th grader, who has neither read, or understood, the works he cites.

1 comment:

  1. This English teacher agrees! I've enjoyed checking out your blog this evening and now plan to visit St. Michael's this Sunday. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.