Image by Bonita Sarita via Flickr
In the last couple of posts, I wrote about the Anglican Covenant debate. I could also mention the recent meeting between Olav Fyske Tveit, General Secretary of the WCC and Pope Benedict XVI. Tveit gave the Pope a pair of gloves, as there is a need for the right equipment to address the problem of the ecumenical winter. 'The Norwegians have a saying, '"In Norway there is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing".'
I am currently re-reading Robert M Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In chapter 24, he writes of what happens when you need to unscrew a plate to access the insides of a motorcycle. The screw sheers off, what do you do? There is nothing about this problem in any manual. The screw is a tiny cheap device which is normally taken for granted. Once it sheers it prevents any progress whatsoever. So, what do you do?
You could throw the motorcycle over a cliff. Momentarily, this might feel good but really - throw away a good motorcycle for a little screw? There has to be a better way. The problem is that where the manuals run out of advice you need to take a wider view. The motorcycle is part of a larger system than the one the manual deals with.
So, for example, it must happen frequently in the life of someone who mends motorcycles for a living. Ask a mechanic and she might reply, something along the lines of ... ' well, I try something and if that doesn't work I try something else until I get the screw out'. This might not sound satisfactory but what else is there?
Ecumenism (and the Anglican Covenant) are both intractable in their own ways. Part of the problem is the Faith and Order approach. Its problem is its successes. Theologians have developed a significant body of material that has reconciled communions despite their differences.
Sometimes there's an arrogance; all these local churches working together are not enough they argue. We need formal conversations to move ecumenism forwards.
The problem is once you get stuck, more of the same is not enough. The bigger picture needs to be considered and new approaches tried until the system becomes unstuck.