August 20, 2016
August 12, 2016
So what are the implications for the present presidential cycle? Vote for the candidate you wish to see elected, as if he or she will be elected. That includes third party candidates — don't vote for them as a symbolic act, but as if they will be president. It also means withhold your vote if you don't want to see any of the candidates elected. (I have supported all elections having a "none of the above" option so as accurately to gauge electoral discontent — mere abstention is a nullity, and one cannot distinguish between dissatisfaction or nihilism. This approach also allows for voting for "the lesser of two evils" in a pragmatic sense — not as a protest vote but a conscious choice of between two or more imperfect options with a view to choosing the least damaging.
But don't vote to "send a message" or to "show support" for a lost cause you would not want to see in power.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
August 10, 2016
The dominant biblical understanding of marriage in the Hebrew Scriptures was based on inequality, in which a man ruled over a woman (or several women), but was himself free to indulge his sexual appetites with other women, so long as they were not married to another man. This inequality is reflected in the language used to describe marriage: throughout the Torah and beyond, the husband is "the lord" (ba'al) of the woman; for a woman to be "married" is to be "governed" (be'ulah) or to "have a lord/master" (be'ulat ba'al).
But it was not always so. This inequality can be regarded as a consequence of the curse delivered to Eve after she and her husband ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge: "He shall rule over you." But it was not so in the beginning, when equality reigned, an equality recognized by Adam in his exclamation of joy upon his first encounter with Eve — the one like himself; taken, as the figurative interpretation has it, from his side — as one to stand beside — rather than from his head or his foot, to rule or to be ruled.
Hosea (2:16) recognized this in his portrayal of the loving God speaking to his unfaithful but redeemed spouse Israel: "On that day, says the LORD, you will call me, 'My husband,' and no longer will you call me, 'My Baal.'" The word Hosea uses for "my husband" is "ishi" — the same title the primeval couple shared in Eden (ish and ishah — man and woman, husband and wife). This expresses their fundamental equality, as God intended.
Karl Barth held that a husband is only a husband in relation to his wife (an assertion complicated in German, as in Hebrew, because Mann and Weib have this ambiguous double meaning.) The double meaning actually reveals more than Barth intended: for a single man is a man, a single woman is a woman; but a married man is still a man, and a married woman still a woman — though now married, joined in a union and relationship of equals. The quality of "being married" has to do not with the sex of the person or the pair, but on the covenant of relationship that exists between them. In German one can say "Mann und Mann" or "Weib und Weib" with all the ambiguity intact. For a married man or woman is married because of the plighting of a troth and mutual pledge of exclusive fidelity — the exclusivity, as Jesus observed, harking back to the necessarily exclusive first married couple; but the fidelity, as he also taught, is the essential meaning of marriage. So it is not the relative sex-difference that constitutes the marriage, but the mutual swearing of faithful love. This is one of the reasons that opening the institution of marriage to same-sex couples is both a recovery of a Creation principle of equality, and an eschatological realization of the ideal relationship between God and the People of God, based on love, not domination. This is one of the things marriage equality can reveal to the church, for so long mistakenly serving the notion of male dominance.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
August 1, 2016
a sermon delivered at the Annual Convocation of the Brotherhood of St Gregory, at Mt Alvernia, Wappingers Falls NY
In one of the Elizabethan period episodes of Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder, the principal character, plagued with a personal problem of Shakespearean proportions, sets off to find help. One of his goals is to find a wise-woman, and in that quest he meets one of those annoying gnomes who litter quest stories and add plot elements by giving cryptic directions or posing ridiculous riddles. This particular gnome gives the advice, “Two things must ye know about the wise woman. First, that she is wise. And second, that she is a woman!” Our hero departs with this useless bit of guidance, cursing under his breath.
Well, today we get to hear about not just one, but count ‘em, four wise women. And two things must ye know of Elizabeth, Amelia, Sojourner and Harriet: They were wise, and they were women! More importantly, they were wise, and persistent in their wisdom, in an age when the powers and principalities rarely expected wisdom in women, and regarded their persistence as obstinacy or worse. Some few recognized their gifts in their own time, and today we honor them as prophets.
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One irony with which this presents us is summed up in the reading from Proverbs. Here we have a hymn of praise to Wisdom with a capital W, portrayed as nothing other than a woman. The irony is that this tribute comes from a culture that generally did not honor women, or give them much of a place in the councils of leadership or authority. That same book of Proverbs also goes on and on about that other sort of woman, no better than she should be, the harlot who uses her wiles to trap unwary, foolish men to their destruction. One woman offers wealth and riches and is herself more precious than gold and jewels; the other — well, with the other as the saying goes, You pays your money and you takes your choice. This is, of course, part of the well known male view of womankind as either on the pedestal or in the gutter, a pure virgin or a dirty whore.
In their day, Stanton, Bloomer, Truth and Tubman were seen by many men, and probably some women, as of this latter sort — hussies and harlots, harridans and harpies, sluts and slatterns and slags, skanks and skags, bitches and witches: and isn’t it interesting that English provides us such an array of colorfully nasty names for women — and I challenge you to think of some nice nouns for good women when you have the time — and to reflect on how our language shapes our perception of reality. I don’t know if it is true that the Inuit (The People Formerly Known as Eskimo) have forty words for snow, but English has a huge lexicon of nasty names for women, and precious few nice ones.
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But back to our four prophets: There were some few, of course, who saw these women for their virtues:their persistence in seeking justice, their commitment to the betterment of the world they lived in, and their wisdom. And some would call them prophets.
But what is a prophet, after all; and what is wisdom? I would start with another Shakespearean word, soothsayer, which is someone who predicts the future. That’s one way to understand a prophet — one who can accurately predict what is going to happen. In fact that is the test of a true prophet, given a word from God, recorded in Deuteronomy 18:22: If what the prophet predicts in God’s name comes true, they are a true prophet. If not, not. Simple.
But is the prediction itself always so easy to understand and verify — that is, what is being predicted? You may recall the soothsayer from Julius Caesar, who warned, “Beware the Ides of March!” Beware of the date — or what might happen on that date? This prediction didn’t help poor Julius much, but the soothsayer was proved right, in that always 20/20 hindsight. Successful soothsayers, like the oracles of old, and those annoying gnomes in quest stories, owe part of their retrospective success to giving such general or ambiguous warnings. Because human beings are pattern-seeking critters, seeing castles in clouds and faces in inkblots, you can be considered a true prophet if you cast your prediction as vaguely as the oracles or soothsayers of old.
Or you could use the cynical technique Nikos Kazantzakis described in his novel The Last Temptation of Christ. In the vision in which Jesus comes down from the cross to live an ordinary life, one of the apostles returns home and tells Jesus, “I’ve learned the secret of prophecy! When things are going well, tell people they are going to get bad, and when they are going badly tell them it is going to get better! It always works!” It still works for politicians of every sort.
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But I am less interested in the flim-flam men of old, or of now, when we have such excellent women before us. What I want to stress is that soothsayer and prophet at base mean, not “One who predicts the future,” but “One who speaks the truth.” And there is a lot of wisdom in that, for an accurate assessment of the present is the best way to think about and plan for what is possible in the future. A firm and discerning grasp of the present rules out impossibilities for the future, and allows one to focus on the range of what may be most probable — as that other famous wise guy, Sherlock Holmes, observed, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” A chess master is a master precisely because of the ability to focus on the state of play at each moment, to see only the range of possibilities for the next sequence of moves, eliminating impossibilities to weigh the optimum possible outcome and urge it into the best actual move.
So the real wisdom lies in understanding that the truth — what is — is not just possible, and is never improbable, as strange as it may seem. It just is. And as I’ve often said, Reality is our friend. And engaging with reality, persisting in discernment, asking the questions, searching for answers, knocking at the doors even to wake the sleeping and embarrassed friend (for Reality is sometimes drowsy and often embarrassing, and unknown until known) — these actions of asking, seeking, and persisting in knocking at the door of Reality are the tasks of the wise.
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This is all the more true for those who worship the God who goes by the name The One Who Is, the Great I AM! Those who engage with Reality at its deepest levels, who plumb the depths of Holy Wisdom, become, as Proverbs says, “friends of God and prophets.” We have such friends before us today: Elizabeth, Amelia, Sojourner and Harriet — one of them even known as Truth! You can see their image and read their story in the handy Office app, so I won’t repeat it here. Suffice it to say that they were wise, and they were women — in times and places where few associated those categories.
But they persisted in the quest — not so much as those sought out, but as seekers themselves. And what they sought was justice, charity, equality, and truth. They knocked on the doors of Reality, and a sleepy and reluctant world roused and still rouses itself to respond with like justice, in all charity, and by and for the truth. May God give us strength to do the same, Soli Deo Gloria — to the glory of God alone. In the Name of The One Who Is, whom we know as our Maker, Defender, Redeemer — and Friend.
— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
July 15, 2016
July 13, 2016
In case you haven't heard the news, the Anglican Church of Canada has adopted a resolution towards the amendment of their canon on marriage, making marriage equality in the church a canonical reality if the change is ratified at the next session of the General Synod in 2019. The motion passed by the large required two-thirds majority in each order (bishops, clergy and lay) though not after some confusion due to a single affirmative clergy vote having been miscounted in the wrong order, and three other affirmative clergy votes not counted at all. In the end the super-majority prevailed by a comfortable margin.
It should also be noted that the ACoC Chancellor had already opined that even the current canon does not actually forbid marriages for same-sex couples; but some minds may rest easier given the adoption of the first reading of the amendment. Several Canadian bishops have indicated they plan to move forward on these bases, so as a practical matter marriage equality has arrived.
Other minds are not so easy, and the comment threads on the related stories at the Anglican Journal, in addition to expressions of joy and hope, are replete with the complaints of those so unhappy with this turn of events that they are abandoning the church, or mobilizing for a militant effort to defeat the canon change in at its second reading in 2019. Further afield, the trumpet from the Global South has not tooted yet, or at least not loudly or clearly enough to be heard here in the North; nor has there been a comment from Canterbury — though the Church of England has also just emerged from its own General Synod, in which the Shared Conversations formed a major part. That and the turmoil with the recent Brexit vote and the change in parliamentary leadership is no doubt occupying archepiscopal focus at the moment.
We continue to live in interesting times.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
July 9, 2016
Some offer as an answer an appeal to common humanity. This is good so far as it goes, but it too is generic. Some go further and say we must see the face of Jesus in each person. Again, a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough.
The goal is not to see Jesus in a person, but to see the person as Jesus sees the person, who “looks on them and loves them” — to see the precious individual who is, in her specific individuality, the image of God, just as much as Jesus is; not because of a common resemblance, a common humanity or a common divinity, but as a specific person, One Who Is.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
July 7, 2016
I offer no solution; only my grief. God forbid I should give up hope, but hope is ever more difficult to maintain.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
The problem isn't a few bad apples in the barrel. The problem is the barrel.
That is, the system supports and enables the bad behavior. We’ve seen this with the way the Roman Catholic Church mishandled pedophilia — moving guilty clergy instead of dismissing them; with the similar handling of police misconduct; with the polite homophobia that declares it is “just holding to the traditional doctrine / biblical view...”; with a wealth and oppression complex that keeps the greatest wealth among the fewest people. The corrupted system resists reform because reform threatens the system itself.
June 25, 2016
There is a root problem that plagues any concept of government: a hopeful idealism or dogged perfectionism. If only we can get X better (or a better X) it will solve all our problems, or work perfectly. A benign and wise absolute philosopher-king at one extreme, or a total democracy at the other, both make the false promise that a systemic solution is possible. But the common factor in all human error is the humans — there is no system so perfectly designed that fallible humans cannot render it FUBAR: this is the normal situation, AFU. Ask anyone who works at the help desk of any software company.
This is one reason I am so fond of the Anglican dictum that councils are fallible since they are a collection of fallible individuals. Democracy is no more a perfect solution than absolute monarchy. The mob and the monarch are equally fallible, and no less dangerous. It is the phantom of perfect government that haunts us, the feeling that if we just try a new system we can get it right. There ain't no philosopher's stone of government, and the admission of a felt need that something needs to be governed — i.e. controlled — reveals there is an unruliness under the surface of any and all government, and those from whom this government is confected (all, many, few, or one) are inescapably the root of the problem. To err is human, and so long as humans are in charge, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will police the police?
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
May 27, 2016
Believe it or not, in our gathering together here this evening we have been surrounded by miracles, and swept up into a mystery. For miracles need not be overtly supernatural so long as they produce faith. That is, the importance of miracles does not lie in whether they appear to defy the laws of science and reason, but in what they work upon the human spirit, leading us into all truth, revealing God’s presence to the eye of faith, parting the curtain of the mystery for a moment to let the mortal behold the immortal, and adore.
You may have heard of the miraculous tortillas that occasionally appear on the griddles of devout women in Mexico. Now the tortillas do not appear as manna from heaven, discovered in the morning with the risen dew, already baked and ready for gathering, with a double portion on the eve of the Sabbath. No, the miracle lies in the fact that cooked into the surface of these otherwise quite ordinary tortillas is the appearance of the likeness of Christ. Perhaps you’ve seen photographs of these miraculous tortillas, dried and preserved in cigar boxes lined with colorful wrapping paper, adorned with plastic flowers, and reverently placed on the shelves of the homes blessed with this miraculous visitation.
And of course one could say that all of this has a scientific explanation: that the human brain, with its need and ability to read pattern into chaos, can see the likeness of Christ in the random scorches on the surface of the baked tortilla, much as one can look at clouds and see them forming ships at sea, castles in Spain, or an entire zoo of fluffy animals.
Yet even though the miraculous tortilla may have a fairly simple explanation, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a miracle — for it brings faith and nourishes faith — and it is faith, not magic, that is truly miraculous. Faith is the reason miracles happen in the first place, whether the heart disposed towards God is open to accept the gift, or the soul turned away from God receives a gentle (or not so gentle) tap on the shoulder to recall the straying and jaded eye to the heart and source of reality.
For the real miracle isn’t that the face of Christ should appear on a tortilla; the real miracle is that anyone could believe in a God who would be interested in having his face appear on a tortilla; the real miracle is to believe that God might be interested in surprising and blessing a poor Mexican housewife while she labors over a hot griddle at the end of a long day; that God would be at all concerned with being in our midst this evening as we undertake a ritual with its branches in the high middle ages, and its roots in the depths of the human psyche where the mysterium tremendum et fascinans lurks to raise the hairs on the backs of our necks; that God would be interested in the wanderings of an insignificant tribe of desert nomads, to feed them for a generation on bread they had no better name for than “what is this?”; that the creator and governor of the universe could be concerned about the political affairs of a shepherd-boy turned king; that the God whose love moves the sun and the other stars would visit a young woman at her prayers and chose her to be the mother of his incarnate Son; and then chose to have her bear him in a barn; that God would, in that Son, live and die as one of us, and be raised from the dead, and then — the miracles continue — not immediately ascend to heaven, but continue those prosaic little field trips, having breakfast by the seaside, taking a walk with two disciples, and finally, breaking bread with them.
This is the heart of the miracle we celebrate this evening. That the bread of Emmaus and the manna of the wilderness are no more a revelation of the presence of God than the tortilla of Guadelajara, or the spotless host of Carroll Gardens, even carried in procession like a pillar of fire here to Cobble Hill.
For it is in the simple actuality of bread, an every-day kitchen table commonplace, that God Almighty has chosen and still chooses to be made known — and that is a miracle if ever there was one!
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And yet… and yet. How slow we are to realize the miracle as it happens! We look for the technicolor, hi-res special effects of the apocalypse, while God reveals himself in the simple white-bread world around us.
How slow of heart, like the children of Israel who looked at the manna with a shrug, and soon complained that it wasn’t adequate food; how like the disciples who walked that road with Jesus, how slow to believe we are when we miss the presence of God with us, feeding us, walking at our side and opening the Scripture to us, and breaking the bread with us, the risen Lord who deigns to be our guest, the God who calls us no longer servants, but friends.
Jesus says, "How dull you are! How slow to believe the prophets!” And with this simple exclamation he echoes God's never-failing amazement with Israel. “When will you get it?” God seems to say. “How many seas must be parted, how many pillars of fire, how much bread from heaven, how many crucifixions, how many risings from the dead until you understand how much I love you?”
God is ever-patient, but often speaks to his people in this way. Just as Jesus walked with the disciples on that rural roadway, so God accompanied the children of Israel in their wandering in the wilderness, and brooded in their midst in the Temple all those years. The prophets, from Moses to Mary Magdalene, had been discounted, ridiculed, and disbelieved by the very people who most needed to hear the news. The church still stands divided, suffering with self-inflicted wounds while a world it was meant to save looks on bemused.
Yet God does not abandon these stubborn children. God loves them — loves us — too much for that. And that is the greatest miracle, the greatest faith: God’s faith in his children, God[‘s faith in his friends. God’s faith in us. It is to that faith, to God’s faith in us, to which God bids us open our eyes! God does not and will not leave us comfortless. There is always time for another message, even a message from God's own Son, risen from the dead. There is always more bread to be handed round, even though we thought there were only five loaves.
God’s faith in us is such that even when we doubt and disbelieve he stoops to make his presence known to us, coming into our midst in a miracle that startles us by its simplicity, that shames us by its audacious condescension — that the gate of heaven opened by this saving victim might be no wider than “this” [the fingers’ breadth width of the host in the monstrance] and that the God who created the universe should be made known in bread.
O come, let us worship, alleluia. ✠
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
May 21, 2016
I don't have the time to flesh it out in full just at the moment, but I want to flag how important close attention to text is to any case made concerning marriage. There are two places in Scripture where inattention to the difference between definite and indefinite nouns has wrought havoc with a consistent and canonical comprehension of the texts.
First, when Genesis 1:27 and 5:2 speaks of "male and female" (zakar u'nqebah) it is using nouns, not adjectives. It would be better to translate as "a male and a female." Reading this text as referring to classes of people instead of two individuals has given rise to much unproductive theological reflection concerning everything from the nature of the image of God to a defective anthropology that squeezes the understanding of humanity into a dualistic, yin-yang strait-jacket.
Evidence for the correct reading (as nouns and not adjectives) comes in part from Jesus' reading of the passage to be about a pair: the "two" who become one. (Mark 10:8; as in Matthew, Jesus picks up the LXX version of Genesis which refers to "the two" -- an emphasis not needed in the Hebrew). Jesus uses this as his starting point for the durability of marriage. (I've noted elsewhere that the Qumran texts follow this reading concerning "the two" in support of the call for radical monogamy.)
Additional canonical support for this reading comes from Genesis itself: whenever the phrase occurs in Genesis it could (and should) be translated with the indefinite article to indicate nouns are being used, rather than cast as adjectives. This is perhaps clearest Genesis 6:19 and 7:3,9, and 19 (the only other uses of this phrase in Genesis), all of which refer to the pairs of animals to be saved in the ark. Each pair consists of one male and one female. (Note that other uses of "male and female" in English translations of Genesis, such as references to "male and female slaves" add further confusion. No words for "male" or "female" occur in these passages; there are separate Hebrew words for "a male slave" and "a female slave.")
The second mistaken reading (unfortunately well enshrined in the tradition) is the reading of Ephesians 5:32 that forces "Paul" to make the very unlikely statement that marriage is a great mystery -- understood as a sacrament. Again, I've written about this at some length elsewhere, but want to flag the problems with this reading here. First, it is obviously inconsistent to suggest that the Pauline School (if not Paul himself -- there being some disagreement as to the authorship of the epistle) would attach a quasi-divine status to an institution elsewhere in "his" writings given scant honor beyond its social utility. Second, this is not the only verse in the epistle to refer to "mystery" -- and as the author makes clear in the following clause, he is talking about that same mystery that is addressed throughout the document -- the mystery of Christ and of the Church, how the two become one, a mystery reflected in -- but not consisting of -- the marriage of a man and a woman. And, of course, that is what the text says, though bad translations have twisted it in such a way as to have the author speak of "a" great mystery -- one such marvel among many. But a literal translation of the verse, far from saying "This is a great mystery," would read, "This mystery is great -- but I speak of Christ and of the Church." Not marriage, not the verse from Genesis; but the mystery of salvation in Christ, in which all of humanity, Jew and Gentile, is taken up and redeemed. And if that isn't a genuinely Pauline message I don't know what is.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
May 2, 2016
There is a good deal of confusion in some quarters concerning the status of the commemorations in Holy Women, Holy Men and the forthcoming Great Cloud of Witnesses. This confusion stems in part from the commendable desire felt by many clergy obediently “to conform to the ... Worship of the... Church,” and uphold the principle of common prayer. The confusion enters in due to the habit of General Convention of authorizing various liturgical resources for trial use over the years, and Great Cloud of Witnesses has not been presented in that way.
That need not be a concern. The reason commemorations listed in Lesser Feasts and Fasts went through “trial use” was their inclusion on the Calendar of the BCP (only alternatives or revisions to the BCP actually require trial use; the Bishops of the Episcopal Church, and even single diocesan bishops, can authorize additional liturgical resources as they will, per both the Constitution and the BCP). HWHM was originally to be an extension of Lesser Feasts, and so was offered for trial use due to the changes in the Calendar it would have presented, but GCoW is offered as a resource for congregations to do what the BCP already allows; it does not need “trial use” because the rubrics of the BCP already "authorize" such commemorations, for which GCoW supplies proper collects and readings. The resolution enabling the publication of GCoW states this clearly: “That the 78th General Convention make available for publication and distribution by individuals and in congregations and other church groups for devotional or catechetical use, or use in public worship subject to the provision for optional commemorations on page 18 of the Book of Common Prayer, the liturgical resource entitled, ‘A Great Cloud of Witnesses...’” (emphasis mine). The language is a bit tortured, but “use in public worship subject to... the BCP” is crystal clear.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG