Friday, April 29, 2011
The royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton has attracted much media attention. The American media has even gone all out to cover every twist and turn in the run-up to the wedding. The ceremony will be broadcast live on news networks and YouTube, with an estimated 2 billion viewers around the world.
So what is the appeal and the attraction of the royal wedding today? Is it in the details? Will Kate’s bridal gown have a long train? What kind of glasses will Sir Elton John wear? When will the Prince kiss his bride on the balcony of Buckingham Palace?
For some, the royal wedding is to showcase Britain for the tourism business. For others, it is a good distraction from rising gas prices and the possibility of a double-dip recession.
But for me, the royal wedding is a great way to foster and preserve the mystique of the British monarchy. Thus we see Westminster Abbey, the sea of Union Jacks, the 1902 State Landau royal carriage, and the guards with hats made of bearskins.
Last June, the royal wedding of Swedish Crown Princess Victoria to commoner Daniel Westling had none of the fanfare of Prince William’s wedding. Perhaps this is because Sweden never ruled over an empire on the scale of the British Empire. About 1.5 billion people around the globe speak English as a second language, partly because of the global influence of the British Empire in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Many people who are members of the British Commonwealth, as well as those who are former British colonial subjects, will watch the royal wedding in earnest. After all, the Brits still know how to throw a grand party, even though the glory of the Empire has much diminished.
As someone born in the former British colony of Hong Kong, I look at the royal wedding with ambivalence. I have been a British colonial subject for a large part of my life. I remember the grandeur of parades and parties thrown when members of the royal family visited Hong Kong. But I also remember that Chinese parents sent their children to English-speaking schools so that those children could get ahead in life, something that couldn't happen if they only spoke Chinese.
My family visited England in the summer of 1996, a year before Hong Kong would return to China. That trip came to symbolize for me a bidding of farewell to the Empire.
Throughout my time in England, I was fascinated to see many things I used to see on the streets in Hong Kong during my childhood like the red telephone booths, the British red pillar post boxes, and the cart used by the street cleaners. When I saw a little yellow Mini parked on a London street, I had to have my picture taken with it because it resembled the car that Mr. Bean (the lead character of my favorite British comedy) drove.
The majority of Asian Protestant feminist theologians are Methodist or Presbyterian, because these denominations are very strong in Asia. I am an exception among them because I belong to the Church of England. Since I have been working on postcolonial theology, many friends have asked me how I became Anglican, since my parents were not Christian. My answer is that my family's landlord when I was young took my elder sister and me to church, and he happened to be an Anglican.
During my college years in the 1970s, students took to the street to demand Chinese as one of the official languages of Hong Kong and to protest against government corruption. I was exposed to liberation theology and various kinds of Asian contextual theologies. C. S. Song, a well-known Taiwanese theologian, came to my college and lectured about developing theology with Asian resources.
But it was through postcolonial studies that I gained critical insights into the arduous process of decolonization of the mind and its implications for theology. Christian theology has been developed in the backdrop of the Roman Empire and many subsequent empires. In our Anglican tradition, the imperial context invariably left its marks in our structure and liturgy.
The Church of England is the officially established Christian Church in England. The Anglican liturgy includes praying for the British monarch. The authorized version of the Bible was commissioned by King James I, who wanted to ensure that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England. This year is the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.
Colonial nostalgia runs deep in the Anglican Communion today. Although many colonies in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and the Pacific have become independent politically, we have yet to work out the cultural logic and church structure for a truly postcolonial church. Many of the debates surrounding sexuality in the Communion, for example, can be traced to earlier debates on sexuality in colonial times.
As I watched the royal wedding officiated by Archbishop Rowan Williams, I thought of the myriad connections between the Anglican Church, the British monarchy, and colonialism. I want to recommit myself to building a Church that goes beyond our colonial legacy and that truly reflects the beauty and diversity of all God’s peoples.
* Kwok Pui-lan is William F. Cole Professor of Christian Theology and Spirituality at the Episcopal Divinity School. She is the editor of Hope Abundant: Third World and Indigenous Women’s Theology (Orbis Books, 2010).
Monday, April 18, 2011
You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.”
Your face, Lord, will I seek
You have been my helper;
Cast me not away; do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation.
Though my father and mother forsake me,
The Lord will sustain me.
I open myself to wherever I am taken in this hour that I do not clock, and do not care if it becomes 80 minutes or more. I’m out of chronos time for a little while.
The entrance hymn begins. I turn and watch the approach of the acolytes carrying the cross, the candles, and waving banners. I hear the strong voices of choir members passing by and see and hear our pastoral leaders singing their way into the sanctuary. My whole self is caught up in the symbolic drama enacted down that aisle every Sunday. I often cannot sing the entire hymn because of tears.
During my first year at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, I took the Collect for Purity home and memorized it. I felt there was something in it that I needed.
“Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.”
When my husband Cecil and I had moved to Pasadena in 2008 we were familiar with All Saints Church and I was drawn to join this church by the uniquely inclusive congregation and by the worship, which moved me in ways I did not understand. I only knew it met a deep inner need. On Sunday mornings at All Saints I experienced resting in God, who saw my open heart and the secret desires held there; who knew them in a way I did not yet know them. My heart told me I needed this place where I could relinquish control and let myself be carried into sacred space.
On a recent Sunday, speaking with Cecil about my experience over three years now at the church, I heard myself saying that during worship I was able to feel vulnerable. Vulnerable.
It was as though God had let me know the secret God had seen in my heart all along: my deep longing to be able to trust others, and to trust that God was there, and would be there in the multitude of ways God becomes present.
Family dysfunctions during childhood can rob us of the gift of vulnerability, the gift that we can trust others to care for us as children, and that we can trust that the grown-ups will take care of themselves. Growing up trusting grown-ups is a way we learn to trust God. I missed that.
By the age of ten, it was fixed in my mind that I should trust only in myself. Others might help, but I couldn’t depend on them. These childhood ways of coping get set and years later, when all the people those coping strategies were about are gone, the strategies may continue.
God heard as I prayed the Collect each Sunday and God knew I desired to let go of the anxiety of trying to cover all the bases and plan ahead for every exigency.
I love kneeling at the rail, holding out my hands to receive the bread. It is a bodily act of vulnerability. Every week I get to practice trust before God and others. Kneeling, I hold out my hands and the portion I need is given to me. And during this act, hundreds of voices carry my spirit, just as my voice helps carry the spirit of others as they go to the rail.
God meets us as we are, complicated human beings with complex brains. I may need to kneel with hands out and receive the bread a thousand times before all those old brain connections turn off and new ones are made. I may need a thousand times of passing the peace before my whole self knows that when all those pew-mates turn to take my hand or give me an embrace I’m truly offered God’s peace in their presence. My practice is to receive it. Every future exigency is not in my hands alone.
Sometimes tears fill my eyes as we pray the post-communion prayer: “…you have fed us with spiritual food…Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage…through Christ our Lord.” I feel fed and cared for and, with Christ’s help, prepared to take the shelter of the sanctuary with me in my heart for another week of seeking God’s presence in the world, and bringing it.
* Pat Hoffman has written books and articles on the church's need to be with the marginalized in movements toward justice. For permission to reprint, contact her at pathoffman.com.