Robin Williams on why to be an Anglican (or Episcopalian)

I am afraid I am not a great movie goer, whether at the cinema or at home. So I admit to not knowing much about his films though have seen several during the years. Rather than show my ignorance and limited ability to use Wikipedia to show pretended knowledge I shall leave Robin Williams the actor and consider him as an Anglican or Episcopalian as they are called in the States.

I also will omit the tragic cause of his death and how we should respond. Too often we do not understand or empathise with depression. I feel if I wrote anything here it is liable to be unhelpful and empty words.

He beautifully, and mischievously, summed up why he was an Anglican with Ten Top Reasons.

Here is what he said;

10. This would clearly exclude my fellow Anglican David who often shares his sofa with a few snakes, but that is not what Williams meant. He was referring to the Appalachian cults, who don’t realise that Mark never wrote Mark 16 vs18 They will pick up snakes with their hands and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all, as it was added by a nutty scribe a century later. Anyway they may cuddle rattlers but never drink cyanide which is rather inconsistent. Sadly Snake-handling pastors have a life-expectancy like a 1st World War airman.

Well, Anglicans don’t have to believe nutty things or do silly things.

9. Yup. I believe in dinosaurs, have some of their pooh on my desk and eat a dinosaur most weeks. True Anglicans never had a problem with dinos and one vicar, William Conybeare, in the 1820s, travelled all the way from Yorkshire to Lyme Regis and back  just to see a dino Mary Anning had unearthed. He didn’t prepare his sermon properly that week. (I often used dinosaur pooh to explain creation to confirmation classes – and the kids expected it to smell. Maybe I should have just shown them some birdshit.) Until, recently Anglicans were too sensible to follow Creationism, but now too many are believing that the earth is 10,000 years old, dinos sailed in the ark and other silly things.  At least one bishop is a creationist.

I prefer to follow Conybeare and his mates like Buckland and Sedgwick who thought that the earth was quadrillions of years old. This had to be revised downwards a century later with the advent of radiometric age-dating, and so the earth is only 4.6 billion years old.

8. Male and Female. We don’t bother with insisting women wear headscarves to pray and only nutty Anglicans go for Complimentarianism, which is a way of keeping women in their place.  Yup, we ordain women and they prefer fancier vestments 🙂

7. I sometimes wonder about this one, as when I was a curate the vicar expected me to leave my brains at the door. He even got upset when I said that creationism was rubbish. The best of Anglicanism is a thinking faith, but today we have the problem of extreme evangelicalism and a general dumbing-down by many in the church. The harvest of this will be reaped in the future. It can often be seen in the dire way Anglican preachers use the Bible.

6. Being a lazy chap, I don’t like too much in the way of aerobics. Classical Anglicanism has just enough, but waving my arms around when I don’t want to go the loo is too much. Anyway I couldn’t get that type of hyper-aerobics right. I had enough problem with Pilates and gave up before I was crucified! I could never remember what the excellent instructor said.  Still she sorts me out when a need a physio to put my legs and neck right.

5. Colour-coding is essential as without that you would do the wrong thing. When it’s purple you know you must be sombre, white means happy events like Christmas and Easter, green means steady growth with little excitement, and red means either the firing-up by the Holy Spirit  or focussing on those, like those in Iraq, who were killed for their faith.

4. Free wine, but in minimal quantities! I was asked to celebrate communion in the USA once and had to use grape juice!

3. The “none of the guilt” is easy to see but not the pageantry. Too many evangelicals fill their followers with guilt and sing awful hymns to reinforce that. Few have grasped Luther’s dictum “sin boldly” where we acknowledge our sin but can be bold about it because of the example of Christ showing us up and finally winning due to the forgiveness we have in him. Luther also said Christians are “simul peccator et iustus” recognising that all of us have feet of clay. It is the lack of awareness of this that causes so many evangelicals to become croppers or simply perfectionist bigots, who find faults in all but themselves.

As for the pageantry, an Anglican can have as much or as little as they like – provided they have some. Sadly a few prefer a shambles instead of restrained pageantry in their services. There is something about the beauty of holiness which beats Sunday morning at the Palladium.

2. As earth-lovers Anglicans do not waste water for baptism and use just enough for the purpose. (Fortunately no one today does what the vicar in Under the Greenwood Tree did. He used his spittle – a practice stopped by his successor Henry Moule, who invented the compost loo instead.) In fact, Anglicans make more of baptism than some Baptists. I went to a Southern Baptist baptism and missed the actual baptism as I blinked. It was just quick dunking rather than three lots of sprinkling followed by the aqueous sign of the cross, and a thoughtful liturgy.

1. This is the best and the worst thing about Anglicanism. It is wonderful as it allows people to grow spiritually at heir own rate rather than have to go through a mechanical process of a predetermined route for conversion. Few Anglicans will demand of you the date and time (to the second) of your conversion and rather focus on a life following Christ NOW, or, even, stumbling towards Christ now. The few are a pest, and as a curate I worked under a vicar like that, who complained I did not go on about my conversion. My final sermon in that church had as the text 2 Corinthians 10 vs 7. Apparently he cringed in the sermon, according to some parishioners whom he classified as non-Christian. Leaving that church was to be freed into Christ as a living faith and not a restraining ideology.

Not so good are those who seem to reject almost every aspect of the Christian faith. Like the poor, they are always among us. Two recent ones are Bishop Spong and Don Cupitt both of whom seem to have taken leave of God.  Perhaps they can be sure of a following as there are always those Christians who have been hurt by the extremists and still wish to retain their faith. In the black and white minstrel show of pop evangelicalism, it is easy to react and dive to the opposite extreme.

Looking back over nearly 500 years of Anglicanism, its great strength has been to avoid the extremes and more or less follow Hooker’s ideal of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, to which followers of Wesley added experience. Hooker who died in 1600, tried to show a via media between Puritans and Rome. He was more successful in retrospect.

Anglicanism is at its best when it focuses on the heart of Christianity, faith in Christ crucified and risen, God as Trinity and a life lived attempting to mould oneself to the example of Jesus, rather than throwing out the baby (Jesus) with the bathwater or insisting on 6 impossible things to believe before breakfast like biblical inerrancy, creationism, and a few other things.

Forty years ago, my doctrine professor Hughie (H.E.W.) Turner gave a sermon in our college chapel. He concluded with Herbert Butterfield’s adage;

Hold on to Christ and for the rest be uncommitted.

Now that IS Anglicanism and all Christianity worthy of the name.

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