Saturday, June 25, 2016

Donning the Habit: Reflections on Galatians 5 (RCL Proper 13C, 26 June 2016)

Donning the Habit
Reflections on Galatians 5

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
26 June 2016

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

         In the years before there were dedicated law schools and theological colleges anyone who was interested in becoming a member of the bar or a member of the clergy followed one of two paths.  Those who were academically inclined and had the financial resources to do so obtained some undergraduate education, perhaps even a degree, at a university.  Then the would-be lawyer or cleric searched for someone in the profession who would take them on as an apprentice.  The second path avoided university altogether and simply found someone with whom to apprentice.

         During the apprenticeship the master, whether an attorney or a cleric, was obliged to guide his apprentice or apprentices in the study of the knowledge required to exercise this vocation, the skills to exercise the profession well and, most importantly, the development of the appropriate habitus that anyone could expect of an attorney or a cleric.

         Habitus is not a word we often hear these days.  We know the English word, ‘habit’, but our word is somewhat removed from the original meaning.  Habitus originally meant a way of being, the character of someone, a set of behaviours that were intentionally cultivated.  It’s this understanding of habitus that probably gave rise to using the word ‘habit’ to describe a distinctive form of dress, such as lawyers’ robes or clerical vestments, that instantly identifies someone as belonging to the profession.

         When Anna was called to the bar this past Tuesday, I was struck by the theme that united all three addresses made to the new members of the bar:  All lawyers require knowledge, skill and integrity, but the greatest of these is integrity.  In other words, lawyers must cultivate a habitus of integrity or the whole legal system will fall into disrepute and civil society will be endangered.  Then came the oath itself which is all about the habitus of integrity.

I accept the honour and privilege, duty and responsibility of practising law as a barrister and solicitor in the Province of Ontario.  I shall protect and defend the rights and interests of such persons as may employ me.  I shall conduct all cases faithfully and to the best of my ability.  I shall neglect no one’s interest and shall faithfully serve and diligently represent the best interests of my client.  I shall not refuse causes of complaint reasonably founded, nor shall I promote suits upon frivolous pretences.  I shall not pervert the law to favour or prejudice any one, but in all things I shall conduct myself honestly and with integrity and civility.  I shall seek to ensure access to justice and access to legal services.  I shall seek to improve the administration of justice.  I shall champion the rule of law and safeguard the rights and freedoms of all persons.  I shall strictly observe and uphold the ethical standards that govern my profession.  All this I do swear or affirm to observe and perform to the best of my knowledge and ability.

These are serious promises and we hope that those who are called to the profession of the bar have been nurtured into the habitus that these promises represent.  I am fairly certain that Anna will sometimes fall short of the aspirations expressed here.  But I hope that each time Anna dons her legal ‘habit’, she renews these promises.  I hope that they become so ingrained in her character that she ‘wears’ them in all the dimensions of her life and recognizes when her ‘habit’ is not on straight.

         But what of the habitus that describes a Christian?  When I first became involved in the debates associated with the full inclusion of gay and lesbian disciples of Christ, I found Paul’s words to the Christians in Galatia to be among the scriptural resources that guided me.  I remember, in the midst of a heated debate at our diocesan synod, quoting Paul when he writes,

            5.22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.  There is no law against such things.  24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.  26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

I then asked what I should do when I met someone, gay or straight, Christian or non-Christian, believer or non-believer, whose life was coloured by ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’.  If anyone manifests these qualities in her or his life, I argued, then I am in the presence of someone in whom the Spirit of the living God is present and active.

         Now I am not na├»ve.  I know that we all struggle to be loving, joyous, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle and self-controlled.  I know that none of us are perfect in the way we put on this ‘habit’ that Paul describes as a sign of the Spirit working in us and through us.  But what we know what a Spirit-filled life looks like and we can ‘dress’ ourselves accordingly.

         These past few months have been stressful ones for Paula and me.  As we face the end of her time at Saint Andrew’s and the uncertainty of the future, we are both still involved in the life of the Christian communities we serve, whether our congregations or our diocese.  I have a particular responsibility as the convenor of the Task Force that is looking at how we fund our shared ministries as a diocese, an issue that is directly linked to Paula’s resignation.  I am more than tempted to prepare a set of labels with Paul’s description of the Spirit-filled life printed on them.  Each time I attend a meeting of the Task Force or some other duty related to my diocesan responsibilities, I think I’ll peel off one of the labels and put it at the top of my notes.  It will remind me of the ‘habit’ I am to wear in this moment.

         I’ve have often thought that it’s a shame we Christians have no distinctive dress that identifies our religious community.  True, some of us wear crosses, but then so do rock stars and celebrities whose behaviour is far from being Spirit-filled.  But then I realize that this lack of distinctive clothing challenges us to be rather than to seem to be Christians.  What will give away our identity is not our clothing but our behaviour, our habitus, as we go about our lives.  We will be known by our loving, joyous, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle and self-controlled way of being, whether among friends or families, co-workers or strangers, in good times and in stressful times.

         And perhaps, perhaps if we are lucky, someone will ask us how it is that we act the way we act.  In that moment we can say, ‘I have put on the habit of Christ.  Would you like to wear it with me?’

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