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Guest Editor's Notes

Cynthia Shattuck

During the two decades we worked together, first on his own books and then on The New Church's Teaching Series, there came a time when I understood Jim Griffiss's passion as a teacher of theology in a new way. Beneath his urbane exterior I began to sense the conviction that theology, far from being a language game or intellectual exercise, was a rescue operation, a lifeboat, a rope thrown out to the drowning. He once sent me the first chapter of a book, never finished, describing what a failure our theology is when it cannot make sense of the lives of the socially isolated, falling between the cracks. What hope would God--let alone a theologian--hold out for such a person? When he later came to write The Anglican Vision, this passionate concern was focused in the response of a young girl who, on being told that Christ died for her sins, retorted, "Who asked him to?" Jim went on to say that this question continued to haunt him as he preached and taught--that those who most needed the theology he cared so much about were the ones to whom theology might never speak.

This special issue of the ATR honors the long and fruitful ministry of Jim Griffiss as theologian, pastor, and friend. It is no accident that all of us who have written for it, including the poets, are women. In addition to enjoying our company, Jim was a strong supporter of our ministries--lay and ordained, professors, editors, and readers--as many of us can attest. These essays are not "about women," however; their job is to reveal women engaged in their distinctive theological projects. If these essays have a common denominator, it is that all of them ring the changes on the question of Anglican identity, a question that is certain to take on a new urgency in the months and years ahead.

Our issue begins and ends with the theme of hope, starting with Fredrica Harris Thompsett's essay on the theological hopefulness of baptism for Anglicans and concluding with Jacqueline Winter's art review of an exhibit called "Time to Hope," which displayed the art treasures of Castile and Leon at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, works ranging from the tenth century to the Baroque period. In very different ways, these essays each explore the power and courage we are given through the Incarnation. Incarnational worship is also the topic of Ruth Meyers's essay. She writes of the personal experiences of congregations going through liturgical change in her firsthand study of parish communities that are trying to move beyond the rites of the Book of Common Prayer while staying recognizably Anglican.

Three essays by Ellen Charry, Kathryn Tanner, and Sarah Coakley are an impressive witness to the breadth of women's theological projects, ranging as these do from happiness to sacrifice to subversion. Ellen Charry's essay, simply titled "On Happiness," points to and tries to undo the confusion we have wrought by misinterpreting surfeit as happiness, all the while assuring us that the task of theology is human happiness. Kathryn Tanner's feminist reappraisal of atonement theology uses the Incarnation to move us to a new understanding of sacrifice not as the shedding of blood but as service to the neighbor, while Sarah Coakley sets out to explore (and turn on its head) the classic gender associations of the nuptial metaphor for the eucharist and the implications for "the woman at the altar."

With Ellen Wondra's essay we move into the area of human relationality as she explores the classical Christian theology of participation and contrasts it to our contemporary ideal of autonomous persons, cut off from a sense of responsibility to communities of shared conviction and purpose. Sandra Levy's discussion of essential readings on what it means to be human in a "community of practice" complements this essay beautifully, pointing out the necessity of "face-to-face" community--including the parish church--for the strengthening and transformation of our faith. Levy then turns to accounts of particular lives (Julian of Norwich, Doris Grumbach, Philip Simmons, Etty Hillesum, and others) to show the different forms of "practice" that spiritual autobiography so richly reveals.

Spiritual autobiography means telling stories about ourselves, and a trio of personal essays illustrates well the art of living theologically in the ordinary circumstances of our lives. Vicki Black writes of the hard but grace-filled task of rediscovering and extending her vocation to the diaconate beyond the altar and beyond her work in religious publishing to embrace the care of her small children at home. In her tribute to Jim Griffiss, Barbara Braver writes of the many moments, from discovering Anthony Trollope to eating Maryland crab cakes, that marked their friendship and have given her a sense of deeper communion after his death--the friendship of the saints. Phoebe Griswold reminds us of the power of Scripture to bind people together, speaking of her travels throughout the Anglican Communion and the experience of sharing favorite Scripture passages with women around the world as a springboard to deeper intimacy.

Finally, Kate Wallace's "Gleanings" rounds out this special issue with a true feast for the book lover, greatly (and joyfully) expanding our sense of what counts as "theological reading." Insisting that religion is more dependent on art than on philosophy, she gives us books that range from astrophysics to Flannery O'Connor to the meaning of time itself, taking in the work of poets, scientists, novelists, and short story writers along the way. It is what I like to think of as a truly Anglican enjoyment of all culture has to offer, writ large, and one that would delight Jim Griffiss.

This issue is our way of thanking Jim for all he has done for us and, at the same time, of expressing our sense of loving communion with him and all the saints in light. It was planned at the time of his retirement as Editor in Chief as a way of honoring his ten years of diligent labor for the journal. Now it is a memorial to him as well, created not only by the writers and poets featured here, but by the many donations from Jim's friends, students, and colleagues who have come forward to support this tribute from around the Anglican world.

 
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