December 29, 2006

Dar Trek II: The Wrath of C.O.N.

Bishop Katharine receives a warm welcome at the Primates' Meeting in Dar es Salaam. ;-)

Happy feast of Thomas Becket, and a blessed New Year!

December 23, 2006

Unity By Division

A leaked letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury more or less confirms the suspicions I outlined below concerning the Primates' Meeting. The Primate of the Episcopal Church is to attend as Primate. But Canterbury is working out how to invite some additional persons from "that Province" to attend a gathering prior to the official Primates' business meeting. (I guess that couldn't include +Minns, since he's not part of "that Province" any more, but part of another Province that will be represented via its Primate. Then again, there is enough logical inconsistency around to bend that principle too.) On the whole, ++Rowan is showing himself once again to be flexible to the point of injuring himself and others. I suppose years from now this era will be known as the Deformation.

The problem grows more serious, of course, in relation to the Lambeth Conference, for which ++Rowan still suggests support for the flawed Windsor Model of Consensus by Subtraction — in which those who disagree are asked not to be part of the discussion. He says, "at the moment, we urgently need to create a climate of greater trust within the Communion, and to reinforce institutions and conventions that will serve that general climate in a global way." Naturally, by not having someone who disagrees at any meeting one can create a greater climate of agreement. Perhaps this should become a new practice for Vestries? After all, comfort levels count for more than discernment, and it is above all important that the troublesome be removed so that the "peace which avoideth understanding" can continue undisturbed.

The problem with this "solution" is that it second guesses the outcome, and works by division rather than comprehension. It represents a kind of "unity by division" that deems, a priori, a part of the body with its own point of view to be expendable in order to preserve a very questionable communion of whatever is left. It is a classically Protestant approach, which is odd coming from a man of supposedly catholic sensibilities. It will produce a Rump Lambeth, and institutionalize a Rump Communion, consisting of those who will not tolerate disagreement.

—Tobias Haller BSG

December 22, 2006


to KMY

Somewhere a child is crying.
Lord, help me find him
that I may do my duty to my King.
Led by what dark star
to the outskirts of the capital,
as a man under orders,
commanded, I go.

All of them, he said,
up to the age of two.
I passed one by a while back,
perhaps small for his age;
the soldier behind me thought otherwise.

Soldier. Is this soldiers’ work?
Up to the age of two, he said.
The King is a hard man.
It’s no disloyalty to acknowledge it.
You don’t build a kingdom being soft.
He cuts a broad swath, our King.
All of them, he said,
up to the age of two.

It’s quieter now the screaming’s over.
The cobblestones are slippery
and it’s too dark now
to see with what.
But somewhere up ahead
a child is crying.
Lord, help me find him
that I may do my duty to my King.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
A mirrorwise reflection between Matthew 2.16 and John 16.2

this poem was first published in The Witness online, December 2003

December 20, 2006

The Wounded Soldier's Song

This Monday I attended an ordination liturgy at which Bishop George Packard was the preacher. He mentioned, among other things, the fact that the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict has produced a high incidence of head injuries resulting from concussion as a result of those roadside bombs we keep hearing about with all too much regularity. This reminded me of a project I’ve had on hold for about a decade, ever since studying Hebrew poetry with Dr Richard Corney at GTS. As we were reading the twenty-third Psalm, it struck me that the vocabulary had at least as many military overtones as pastoral ones. Admittedly, this Psalm has a lot going on: there are also Messianic allusions to the rod and staff, the anointing, and the kingly meal in the presence of defeated enemies.

But the line that has always stuck in my mind is the one with the image of a leader laying hands on the head of a wounded soldier — dare I say, “A little touch of Harry in the night.” In any case, here is my first effort at trying to do justice to this “note” in this very rich Psalm, followed by a few critical comments on why I made some of the choices I did.

This is an offering for all the wounded, for all the casualties. May wars soon cease in all the world, and may our only pursuers be goodness and mercy, all the days of our life.

The Wounded Soldier’s Song
a Psalm of David

1. The LORD is my commander,
therefore I lack nothing.

2. In a green field he causes me
to pitch my camp, resting by calm waters.

3. He restores my life;
he leads me on the right track on account of his Name.

4. Even deployed in shadowlands, I fear no evil,
for you are with me; your baton and your staff give me courage.

5. You set up the mess-tent before me in the midst of hostilities;
you salve my head with ointment, and my cup can hold no more.

6. From now on my only pursuers will be Goodness and Mercy;
and I will furlough for ever in the house of the LORD.


1. commander: (shepherd — noun and verb — is used as a metaphor for a leader; David himself at 2 Samuel 5:2, Isaiah 44:28 = Cyrus!)

2: pitch my camp / resting (menuha is a resting place for the wandering Israelites at Numbers 10:33, and as “quartermaster” at Jeremiah 51:59) - this is a very “dense” verse

3: life: nephesh is the whole self, including the physical body
track: the ruts of wagon wheels

4. deployed: to “go” as one led.
shadowlands: the dark valley; many scholars reject the connection with “death” but this is my compromise
baton: (as in Judges 5:14, the marshal’s staff)

5. the mess-tent: shulhan is “table” but recognizing the (false) Arabic cognate for “a leather unrolled to form a place to gather for meals in the rough,” the sense of a mess-tent is resonant, and I can’t resist it
hostilities: “those hostile to me”

6. an ironic usage — from now on (for all my life) / pursuers — the sense is that the only “hostile pursuit” will be by Goodness and Mercy — no more enemies!
furlough: w’shavti b’beit adonai = I will return in the house of the Lord; one is tempted to say “demobilized” or “discharged” — but the sense of an “endless leave” strikes the note I’m seeking.

— Tobias Haller BSG

December 18, 2006

Plowman's Farewell

Who was that man? I’m busy with my plow;
I’ve rived these furrows twenty years, and now
he tells me, “Follow me” — but can’t say how
or where I’ll earn my bread, or where I’ll stay
to pass the frigid night.
                                          What did he say?
“Foxes have holes but I’ve no place to lay
my head.” Some invitation! On your way,
idealist; perhaps some other day.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
December 18, 2006

December 16, 2006

Ugandan Spin Cycle

Archbishop Orombi of Uganda issued a stern statement the other day, and his Provincial Secretary has issued a "clarification" which says, among other things,

The actual words of the Primates' 2005 Communiqué from their meeting in Dromantine notwithstanding, our understanding of the decision of the Primates was captured in Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi's press release following that meeting: "In our Ireland meeting the Primates suspended the Episcopal Church of America and the Canadian Church until they repent." Therefore, to sit with the new Primate of ECUSA when they clearly have not repented is to surrender commitment and follow-through on a previous decision.
Ah, the delicate sound of postmodern hermeneutics at work. The "actual words" which would appear to say one thing, actually mean quite something else. The "actual words" were
we request that the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference.
but they mean, "These two provinces have been supsended until they repent." I am forcibly reminded of Humpty Dumpty's comments to Alice: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less." At least we know the spin-cycle is still fully functional in Uganda, as the gyre keeps widening.

December 15, 2006

Please Sir, I Want Some More

As a follow up to an earlier post, I am happy to report that in spite of the Anglican Church of Tanzania House of Bishops' statement that they consider themselves in a severely impaired communion with The Episcopal Church, and wish to recieve no further financial or material aid from anyone who does not share their views on sexuality, the program with which my parish, and others in the Diocese of New York, is involved will continue to receive funds.

As I noted in a comment in the earlier post, it is no good saying, "Give your money to someone else" or "Let someone else provide the money who is acceptable." Charity isn't random or general -- it is always to real live individual people. The act of the majority of the Tanzanian House of Bishops will impede real support to certain real people. Children will go hungry, people will die of preventable causes. I am glad to say that one bishop in Tanzania at least has the will to stand up to the prevailing sentiment against receiving help from those with whom one disagrees.

By the way, here are some of the orphans who would be affected by this embargo, were it to succeed. Look upon them, Bishops, and explain your rationale for their hunger.

For more on this and the Bishops' statements on it, see this story at the Episcopal Diocese of New York website.

And pardon me if I appear the slightest bit angry about all of this.

Comment concerning the preceding

Someone has asked me in another forum if this statement by Canterbury is an effort to do an "end run" around requests that Minns be seated as the APO representative at the upcoming Primates' Meeting. Here is what I have to say:

I've long ago given up trying to penetrate the translucent mind of ++Rowan Williams! Even his words are, as you see, orphic.

My guess is that this may be an effort to block an end run by Minns. ++Akinola has basically given up on the Network for their pusilanimous refusal to "leave the burning house," and it is ++Akinola who is in the position to make demands of Canterbury. Not that I think he will be successful -- which is in part the message being sent here. In addition, it may be a reminder or warning to ++Rowan's own Church of England dissidents that this will not fly as a way forward.

I also seriously doubt Cantuar would consider +Duncan as a Primate, since the Network has no standing except as loyal members of the Episcopal Church. Besides, he only gets one plus sign. ;-) (I know the Network has spun ++Rowan's comments into whole cloth, but I think they leave out the threads they don't like!) Whatever else Duncan may be, he is not a Primate of the Anglican Communion, and it would take 2/3rds of the Primates voting to make him so. The Panel of Reference report on New Westminster makes it clear that no internal divisions in Canada have been recognized, and that people are members of the Anglican Communion by virtue of membership in their own Province; by extension, no such division is recognized in the US. There is a Primate of the Episcopal Church, and as even San Joaquin points out, they haven't yet withdrawn fully from the Episcopal Church.

All in all, I look to the Primates' Meeting being short some of the more irascible Primates, but hope and pray ++Rowan simply leaves the door open for all Primates of the legitimately constituted Anglican Communion to come, but any to leave. We will then see who it is wants to walk apart.

Tobias Haller BSG

On CANA from Cantuar

ACNS 4229 | ACO | 15 DECEMBER 2006

>From the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion

'In response to a number of queries, and following consultation with The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion has issued the following statement:

"The Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) is, to my knowledge, a "mission" of the Church of Nigeria. It is not a branch of the Anglican Communion as such but an organsation which relates to a single province of the Anglican Communion. CANA has not petitioned the Anglican Consultative Council for any official status within the Communion's structures, nor has the Archbishop of Canterbury indicated any support for its establishment." '

The Revd Canon Kenneth Kearon

December 13, 2006

The Problem with Covenants

The English Evangelical Group Reform and some collegaues have proposed a Covenant for consideration. I commend it to a careful reading, but I am far from optimistic of its adoption beyond a fairly narrow Evangelical circle.

For at base there is a problem with covenants that focus on doctrines rather than upon unity in Christ, pure and simple: the Spirit gives life and the letter kills. Christ unites, but doctrines divide. The genius of Anglicanism was to have "as few doctrines as possible while yet insisting on those doctrines." (W. R. Huntington).

The effort here to enshrine as doctrine a traditional teaching on sexual morality, now no longer the consensus, is left a bit late in the game; the arguments against this teaching have proven too persuasive to too many to pretend that there is universal consensus. So the only options are division over this issue, or patient continued dialogue in mutual admission that one side or the other is mistaken until a new consensus emerges.

At the same time, to suggest, as ++Roawn has in his own inscrutable way, that no action can properly be taken in the absence of a new consensus is to ask for the ahistorical. The Jerusalem Council didn't settle the issue of Gentile inclusion -- there were those who opposed it and they bedeviled Paul's ministry for years. Later, some die-in-the-ditch issues of the continental reformation (access to the Cup, and vernacular liturgy) were eventually adopted by Rome, after a considerable delay. This is how change works in the church, here and there rather than all at once.

Change in the church (and it has without doubt changed) comes about at various paces in various places. The Internet has short-circuited the process, literally (as ++Rowan has also noted), and the insulation that physical space once afforded (along with a clear sense of geographical autonomy) is disappearing.

The question is then, How do we handle disagreement, since it is clear we disagree? If the issues at hand are do-or-die, then some will choose not to reason why, and tear the fabric further. Others of us, South Africa, for example, are content to disagree on the sexual morality issue, but say it is not one over which we need divide the church. Whoever has the better right to the name "Anglican" is, ultimately, of little import. What is important to me is the rending of the mission that division of the institution will produce, and in this Reform suggests a course I cannot commend. It isn't ultimately, as I've said before, the institution that matters, but the work assigned to it by its Lord.

— Tobias Haller BSG

December 12, 2006

Trouble in Tanzania

Word has come from the Church of Tanzania that communion is “severely impaired” with the Episcopal Church, and there will be no further dealings with anyone who is “homosexual” or who has approved of just about anything having to do with “homosexuality.” In addition to the condemnation and the declaration of impaired communion, the Church of Tanzania joins the Church of Uganda in stating that it will no longer accept financial or material support from The Episcopal Church or its tainted coffers.

Frankly, I don’t know what theological justification there can be for refusing financial help from those deemed unclean. Certainly Israel was instructed to take as much as they could from the Egyptians when they set off on their Exodus (3:22). And I don’t recall the pericope about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:35) ending,

And when the man recovered from his wounds, and hearing that the one who had helped him was a Samaritan, he cursed the day of his birth, saying, “Woe is me that I should be helped by an unclean sinner.” And entreating the host to cast the coins he had received onto the dungheap, for they were unclean as coming from unclean hands, he wrote letters to his friends in a far country, earnestly desiring that they should send him money that he might pay the host all that he owed.
Nor did Jesus refuse the help of the Samaritan woman, though he had better water for her than she for him (John 4:7). So the idea that money from TEC should by no means be allowed to taint Tanzanian hands seems to be a novel idea based on notions of ritual purity; which would explain a great deal.

Now, if this refusal of funds merely meant one less perk for the bishops who passed this legislation, that is, if it really concerned them directly, I would say, fine. But the money these bishops are refusing isn’t meant for them — it is for ministries to the hungry, the poor, the widows and orphans — of which there are hundreds of thousands in Tanzania. The bishops are holding a metaphorical gun to the heads of these suffering hostages, and threatening to pull the trigger unless The Episcopal Church repents and recants. Do you think that image overwrought? We are talking here literally of life and death for many of these innocents. And while going on a hunger strike oneself to force others to an act of conscience is one thing, to make others undertake a starvation strike seems altogether immoral. I don’t know what ethical system these bishops were instructed in, but in my book (you know, the one with an Old and a New part) the primary duty of those who would serve God is to serve the suffering, not to demand adherence to a purity code.

Of course, this is only the latest chapter in the continuing saga of those who think of themselves as holy versus those who do the things Jesus actually commanded his disciples to do. Let me explore one of the earlier chapters with you, and how Jesus dealt with one who thought he knew where holiness was to be found — and not found.

+ + +

In the present debates the story of “The Woman Taken In Adultery” has come up more than once. This episode from our Lord’s ministry, appearing only in some versions of the Gospel of John, and occasionally in Luke, is cited by “liberals” for its notes of tolerance and suspension of judgment and by “conservatives” for its call for reformation of life. As with much of Scripture its one-size message apparently fits all.

There is another gospel episode, however, that I find much more apposite to our present case, called “The Anointing in Bethany.” John (12:1-8) places the scene in the hospitable and somewhat irregular household of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, while Matthew (26:6-13) and Mark (14:3-9) place it in the home of Simon the leper. All three evangelists highlight the extravagant offering of perfume, the diversion of resources that might have served the poor, and Jesus’ response that serving him in this instance takes precedence. (In these cases the Tanzanian and Ugandan fund-refusers might — by a squint-eyed misunderstanding of Jesus — have some remote justification for letting the poor be “always with them” while they serve Jesus directly. Point is, Jesus has now told us, in his absence, to serve him in the poor. Sorry, bishops.)

Luke (7:36-50), however, with his characteristic urge to highlight issues of salvation and redemption, places the scene in the enemy camp, in the home of Simon the Pharisee, whose concern is not with perfume or the poor, but with the woman, or rather, with the sort of woman he knows her to be, not an individual person so much as a member of a despised class of people.

The Pharisee no doubt thinks that he has escaped the snares of sin by his careful observance of the rules. There is no hint that it ever occurs to his purified conscience, “If this man were a prophet he would not accept my invitation to dinner, for he would know what sort of man I am.” No, the Pharisee is prudent; he is temperate. Like his confrère who compared himself favorably to the tax collector, the great gulf between his upright life and this fallen woman’s lifestyle is obvious to him. “Yes,” he might say, “we are all sinners; but some are clearly more sinful than others.”

And Jesus appears at first to ratify this assessment: he offers the analogy of debt forgiveness, forgiveness to one who owed much and to one who owed little. But Jesus doesn’t stop there, with what the Pharisee could well take as a flattering assessment, a pat on the head for his correct answer to the moral drama unfolding at his dinner table.

Instead Jesus presses home the significance of the answer: the Pharisee has judged himself, correctly this time, and Jesus goes on to compare and contrast Simon’s parsimonious welcome with the woman’s lavish and costly service.

The Pharisee welcomes Jesus to the table, but keeps him at arms’ length and sits in judgment — and in error. For Jesus not only knows what sort of woman it is who is ministering to him, but knows it better than the Pharisee possibly can, better than the Pharisee knows himself. The Pharisee cannot fathom why Jesus would allow a sinner to be a minister to him, or at least such a sinner. Of his own trifling sins he cares but little, for he is sure of his own righteousness. But this woman! That is another matter altogether. And so he sits in double judgement, of the woman and her Lord.

She, on the other hand, isn’t worried about her sins, which indeed are many. Nor is there a mention of repentance concerning her tears — unusual for Luke! Rather these are responsive tears of love flowing from faith and hope, from the knowledge of forgiveness, the theology of virtue encompassed and expressed in a woman thought by the Pharisee incapable of goodness, a woman who incarnates and enacts the liturgical sacrament of baptism with her confession of faith, the washing of her tears, and anointing her Lord with fragrant ointment, sealed with the kiss of peace.

So we are presented with two models for our own encounter with Christ, with Christian ministry, with service to the body of Christ which is the church. All who serve the Lord are sinners, all who serve the Lord are forgiven. Some will prefer to spend their time worrying about other people’s sins and how the church can tolerate them. They will seek to obstruct their service, thinking all the while that they protect God’s body from the touch of unclean hands. Others will get on with the works of faith, of hope, and of love. Is there any question at all which Christ would rather have us do?

— Tobias Haller BSG

December 11, 2006

When Theology Cloaks Bigotry

Rowan Williams is in the midst of a political correctness debate concerning student unions and the right of folks to express traditional views without fear of being called bigots. I will note in passing Williams' apparent disregard for the Pauline justification for marriage ("better to marry than to burn") when he suggests that all homosexual persons could without harm to themselves remain celibate -- certainly Paul didn't expect that of all heterosexuals! The Anglican Scotist has explored this with his customary depth of insight.

More importantly to the issue at hand, he seems not to be fully aware of the core ethical dilemma: Does the fact that a negative opinion towards another rests on some theological opinion or belief wipe away any guilt? One needs to examine, I think, first, if the opinion is indeed a matter of the faith, or a mere cultural artifact. In the present situation "homosexuality" has been elevated to a place in our discourse that a cold-blooded examination of Scripture hardly warrants. (One might also do well to see if the "belief" is true or not; that is, does it truly reflect what the tradition and reason and the Scripture point to?) But secondly, must we not also consider the harm done by holding the negative opinion, even if it is justifiable on the foregoing bases; to ask, What is the fruit of this opinion? Does it build up, or does it in fact cause suffering? For generations, it was held as a core theological belief, justified by Scripture, that women are inferior to men; I need not retail the suffering such a theological opinion has wrought, and wreaks. Racism too finds ample justification in Scripture and the tradition -- and it is no use suggesting that such matters are trivial or medieval when the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa only finally repented of their doctrinal support for apartheid in this last decade.

Finally, it would seem that the highest standard, one our Lord himself advised, was not to judge others, that is, not to have opinions about other people's moral standing. Even if such opinions are justified, it is best, we are told, not to indulge them.

&mdash Tobias Haller BSG

All Dressed Up

a sermon preached at Saint James Fordham on Advent 2c — Tobias Haller BSG
Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. Put on the robe of righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting.
I’m going to start my sermon today with a question. I won’t ask for a show of hands, but I do want you to be honest with yourselves when I ask it. Ready? How many of us here have ever made use of the snooze button on our alarm clock or radio? How many of us here — if any — can honestly say that when the alarm clock goes off in the morning we pop right out of bed like a firefighter ready to jump into the boots at the foot of the bunk, strap on the uniform and slide down the brass pole?

Or put the shoe on the other foot: how many of us here haven’t stood at the foot of the stairs or down the hall, calling for the third or fourth time to a son or daughter or niece or nephew or grandchild, “It’s time to get up!” And how many of us have been on the other side of that call — enjoying the extra few moments in bed even more than the whole night that went before?

Well, I don’t think I am alone in this! It is, after all, a law of physics — Newton’s First Law, no less: a body at rest tends to remain at rest unless some outside force acts upon it. And in this case whether the force is an alarm clock or an insistent elder who has made breakfast and is beginning to threaten applying a most definite force to your most recumbent body — there comes a time when you know you actually do have to rise and, if not shine, at least feebly glimmer.

The next thing is that you have to wash and get dressed. And if it is Sunday, you know that you will be expected to put on, not just lounging-about-the-house clothes, not just everyday work or school clothes, but your Sunday Best. You will be expected not just to get up and get dressed, but to get all dressed up.

Nations and peoples act the same way as individuals, of course. Nations and peoples are, after all, just collections of individual people — prone to the same errors and bad habits; the same laziness and reprobation and backsliding — and sometimes the number of people can multiply the problem rather than correct it.

When someone comes along and says to the people, “It is time to get up and get dressed,” it is a rare thing indeed for the people to respond the first time around. It takes repeated calls and repeated warnings before most nations will rouse themselves to do what is right, to do what is just — to do what God calls them to do.

We see this clearly laid out in our Scripture readings today. Baruch calls on Jerusalem to put off her widow’s weeds, to arise and get herself ready and put on her party clothes — assuring Jerusalem that the path is going to be cleared, the hills made low and the valleys filled in, to bring about restoration and rebirth, a new life to the sorrowful land.

But, of course, Baruch wasn’t the first prophet to use such language. Years before, Isaiah spoke in exactly the same way, calling on Jerusalem to awake and arise and put on her beautiful garments. He also described God’s massive earth-moving plan — leveling mountains and filling valleys to prepare the way for a grand procession.

Nor, as we see from our Gospel today, was Baruch the last prophet to use such language. For here is John the Baptist, once again a prophet arising in that old tradition, dressed in the garments of Elijah, announcing once more the promise of God’s highway construction plan — and calling on the people to open their eyes to see the coming salvation of God — and if not to get dressed, at least to prepare for it by the washing of baptism, a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Israel needed to hear this wake-up call over and over. For it seems to be a part of the prophet’s fate not to be listened to — hence the need for repetition. People don’t want to listen to the prophets’ warning: remember what happened to John the Baptist! Try too hard to shout-out God’s wake-up call and you’ll get your head handed to someone else on a platter!

Yet Israel desperately needed to hear that repeated wake-up call. And we do too. That is in large part why we continue to hear these passages of Scripture year by year, every Advent hearing anew the call and the promise: the call to rise and shine, and the promise that the new bright garment of grace is there ready for us to don when we have washed away our sins, repenting our past ways and preparing for the great time that lies ahead. We are told that the way is clear — mountains leveled and valleys filled in — not just for God to come to us, but for us to go with God.

The question is — are we ready? Have we risen and washed, and are we dressed? Or are we still lying in the warm cocoon of slumber, with a pillow over our head to shut out the light? Well, we’re here in church — it’s true! But we all know how just as a body at rest tends to remain at rest, a body in motion will tend to stay in motion once it gets moving. So what I want to challenge you and me to ask ourselves this morning is: are we really awake and ready, or are we only sleep-walking? We are dressed up — but have we someplace to go? Are we truly motivated, or only going through the motions? Do we take advantage of this Advent time to examine our hearts and minds, to dig down deep and clean out the rubbish of old habits; to rub the sleep from the corner of our eyes, sweep up the old sins we’ve gotten accustomed to, or the old ways of the world we’ve come to accept as given?

For the world and its peoples love inertia — love to stay at rest, or move along predictable pathways, running downhill instead of mounting the heights. I was listening to a BBC reporter grill UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan earlier this week; and much as I admire Annan, I must say the BBC reporter was playing prophet to his Jerusalem — again and again asking, What use is the UN if it can’t actually do anything to stop the genocide in the Sudan? The powder-blue helmets look very nice, but what use are peace-keepers who don’t keep the peace?

And I would amplify that question, as the genocide continues there in the Sudan, and Northern Uganda is torn with violence, and civil strife is brewing in Nigeria. Do we ever learn? What use is it to say, “Never again” when the powers of this world just press the snooze alarm and say, “Just once more, please”; when the prophets call upon the powers of this world to lay down their swords, and the nations say, “How’s that again?” How many genocides does it take for the world to realize that if it keeps going that way there will be no one left?

The Secretary-General was not without his answer, however, and it was a good one, a realistic one, if not an optimistic one. He said that the UN can only do what people are willing to do. It is not an all-powerful force that can bend the world to its will. As I noted earlier, just as the world is made up of people — and since people are fallible the world makes mistakes — so too the UN is just what it claims to be: it is made up of all those nations, and if those nations individually don’t have the will to act — they will not act collectively. Bodies at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force is applied; bodies in motion, in motion — headed down the same old valleys of disaster.

And this is why, in the final analysis, we will not be able to solve our problems on our own. We will not because we cannot. An outside force is needed, just as Newton said. So this is why, in these last days, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born for us to be with us, born among us — but not merely one of us, but also the power of God incarnate, his way prepared by generations of prophets repeating the same message. Only God in Christ can finally and perfectly rouse us from the slumber in which we lie, even as we seem to be awake. Only he can truly waken us with his bright light, and wash us with the cleansing power not only of water but of his blood, and of the Holy Spirit’s fire. Only he can strip us of the robes of sorrow round us, and clothe us anew with the wedding garment we were meant to wear from before the foundation of the world.

And then, how can we not follow through? How can we not join our voices and raise them, calling out for Righteous Peace and Godly Glory. How can we not call for justice and work for justice, demand that peace be made, and that the innocent no longer suffer — we who have wakened, and who are called upon to rouse our sisters and brothers who still slumber in a world of violence and mischief, a world of hatred and fear, of ignorance and rebellion?

Sisters and brothers, a voice cries out for us to prepare the way of the Lord. A voice calls us to arise and shine and put on our festival garments, to climb to the heights to proclaim what we see. That voice has been calling for a long time, through Isaiah and Baruch and John the Baptist, and countless other prophets since. They point the way to the one who was, who is, and who is to come — the great External Force that can move all our bodies from rest — even from the rest of death — and put them into motion for his purpose, who has called us not merely servants but friends, and clothed us for the wedding banquet.

Let us then this season heed the prophets’ warnings, forsake our sins, be clothed with the garments of righteousness, and greet with joy the coming of our Redeemer and the Redeemer of the world, even Jesus Christ our Lord.+

December 6, 2006

Bishop-Elect Mark Lawrence has issued a wholesale response to the many questions raised concerning his confirmation as Bishop of South Carolina. His answers have not apparently satisfied most of those who had concerns in the first place, based on his comments during his candidacy and after his election. Those, such as myself, who were troubled, are now decided. (In my case I don't have a vote, not being a member of a standing committee, and the election having taken place after rather than immediately before the General Convention meeting, in which case I would have had a vote.)

Let me see if I can "get it for you retail." What has bothered me most in what I have seen from Mark Lawrence, not only in the immediate context of his candidacy and election, is inconsistency. He took a strong stand against the confirmation both of Bishop Robinson and Bishop Beisner, not just voting against them but leading the opposition and framing the minority reports. Both of these men were put under intense scrutiny during the General Convention sessions in which their confirmations were acted upon. They were forthcoming. (Perhaps it was easier to "forthcome" when one could stand before a microphone in an overheated committee room while a panel of seated judges peppered one with accusations and calls for further explanation.) Their answers were fulsome and complete, and touched on deeply personal matters.

Mark Lawrence's wholesale responses, on the other hand, appear evasive, vague, fudgy and, to say the worst, duplicitous. (There is only one proper response to the "hypothetical" question, "If your diocesan convention votes to leave the Episcopal Church what would you do?" and that is (for starters) "I will do all in my power to prevent the diocese from making such an unconstitutional attempt, including charging clerical members of the Convention with violation of their Ordination Vows.")

So, on this matter, Mark appears to demand a level of accountability he is unwilling to give.

The second inconsistency is his alleged allegiance to "the Anglican Communion" as if it were a "church" rather than a communion of churches. As the recent Panel of Reference recommendation concerning New Westminster made clear, one is a member of the Anglican Communion through membership in a church that is a member of the Anglican Communion, and in this case that means The Episcopal Church. This is where Lawrence's misuse of the TEC Preamble comes in: the Episcopal Church is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion: a founding member, an element without which the Anglican Communion will cease to be what it claims to be; and if on the remote chance two-thirds of the Primates were to vote to expel The Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion, they would in fact and in principle be approving the dissolution of the Communion by removing one of its constituent parts. That's what "constituent" means.

Then there is his strange use of the marriage analogy. To use marriage analogically (in the right way), nothing in the marriage vow suggests one party has the power over the faithfulness of the other, only over one's own faithfulness to that partner. This is part of the meaning of "for better, for worse." Lawrence seems here to want to make a conditional promise: I will remain faithful until either my own judgment, or some other judgment extrinsic to the Episcopal Church (the Primates, or some of them?) allows me to sever the relationship. That is not a Vow, it is a Pre-Nuptial Agreement.

And this brings me to my gravest concern, which is not for the church (which has worn out many an anvil) but for Mark. As a spiritual director, I can only note with horror the idea of someone making a vow with such a conditional attitude: that he will conform to the discipline of the church so long as it remains consistent with what he thinks it ought to be (and he suggests it even now isn't!). It is the actual Episcopal Church of the here and now to whose discipline Mark is being asked to conform — not some hypothetical church of the future more to his liking. Not being willing to commit unconditionally is an impediment, pure and simple. It isn't about Lawrence's positions on gay clergy, the authority of Scripture, or the ordination of women. It is in his inability to make a simple statement that he will conform to the discipline of the Episcopal Church even if he disagrees with it, come what may regarding the Anglican Communion.

Some have raised the issue of "What will happen?" if consents are not received. That, I would say, is a hypothetical question.

—Tobias Haller BSG

December 2, 2006

Yes, Virginia, There is a Bishop Here

Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia has issued a clarifying letter to congregations that had been engaged in a period of 40 days of "Discernment" concerning their future. In it, he lays out, in no uncertain terms, the time-worn polity of the Episcopal Church, the trustee relationship that Vestries play in relation to parish assets and real property, the significance of the Oath of Conformity for clergy and a similar undertaking required in Virginia of all members of Vestries, and the consequences (legal and canonical) of abrogating these oaths and undertakings. It concludes

As I have made clear on a number of occasions, each of you has my prayers if you feel that you must leave the Episcopal Church. You have freedom of conscience but that freedom does not include alienating the property of the church you have sworn to serve.

You and I have undertaken solemn commitments and made binding promises to be good stewards and caretakers of the real and personal property of the Diocese of Virginia and of the Episcopal Church. Those are commitments we are obliged to keep no matter what our future church affiliation may be. I pray that as the persons responsible for maintaining [your] Church, you will keep all of this in mind as you consider your actions as leaders of that parish and fiduciaries of the properties it holds in trust for the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia.

I pray that together we can reach a resolution to the issues where we differ that takes into account the promises we have made, our obligations of respect and care for one another and most of all expresses our obedience to Christ.

Faithfully yours,

Peter James Lee

Thank you, Bishop. You may don your gloves once more for the time being.

November 30, 2006

World AIDS Day Dec 1 2006

Apostate Disease

The apostate gland is a small organ lying somewhere near the heart. Although both men and women possess the organ, it appears to create more difficulties for men than for women. These difficulties seem to arise due to irritation from external sources, which causes enlargement and pressure on the heart. The primary symptom is a restlessness and discomfort with people with whom the patient disagrees, and hypersensitivity to having this pointed out, leading the patient to charge them with “apostasy” — hence the name of this otherwise obscure and apparently non-functional gland.

Lifestyle choices may play a role in the etiology of the illness, and Anglican Bishops appear to be especially at risk. Additional symptoms include

  • frequent urge to fulmination
  • having to get out of bed more than once in the night to check on some passage in Aquinas or Cranmer
  • unsteady, weak, interrupted or wandering stream of argument
  • hearing loss
  • being a frequent pain in the lower back or neck
  • difficulty in maintaining a seat in mixed assemblies

The ASA (Apostate Specific Antigen) test is indicative, but inconclusive of the exact nature of the underlying pathology. Benign Apostatic Enlargment may be treated with medication, but more serious forms of the disease require surgery.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 29, 2006

Eating one's words

From real life as satire department

Mad Priest has pointed out a bit of documentary revisionism at the Vatican. Seems that back on Septebmer 27 the Holy Father made comments in a general audience including the statement that the Apostle Thomas "first evangelized Syria and Persia ... and then went on to Western India..., from where Christianity also reached Southern India." (Osservatore Romano, English Edition, 4 Oct 2006, page 10)

This was widely reported in India and caused no small concern to South Indian Christians, who have always held that Thomas evangelized them; this was taken as a slight to their apostolic heritage.

The Vatican version of the file was quietly edited recently, as this listing from the Vatican search engine reveals (note the file date of 24 Nov 2006):

General Audience, 27 September 2006 (English)
... Wednesday, 27 September 2006 Thomas the twin Dear Brothers and ... went on to Western India (cf. Acts of Thomas 1...
Date: 24/11/06 Size: 12k

The new revised standard version states that Thomas "first evangelized Syria and Persia ... then went on to Western India..., from where also he finally reached Southern India."

I'm glad that is all sorted out. Fortunately, the infallibility of His Holiness doesn't require the indelibility of his words. Otherwise he might have to eat them, and discover their inedibility.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 27, 2006

The Diocese and the Church

I come from seeing a few folks floating the idea that the Episcopal Church is "decentralized." I would say that on the contrary it is unitary, as no diocese can be created without national approval; nor can bishops be elected without national church approval, just for starters. All dioceses are required to give unqualified accession to the national Constitution and Canons. Between meetings of the General Convention, the church is managed by a national Executive Council. Where is this alleged "decentralization"? (Please note, I use "national" here for convenience: there are a number of "international" dioceses part of the Episcopal Church -- and they have say too, equally with those in the US.)

This structural reality also has bearing on the property question concerning dioceses that attempt to leave The Episcopal Church. "Who gets the property" is amply answered by the wording of the relevant canon: (I.7.4)

All real and personal property held by of for the benefit of any Parish, Mission or Congregegation is held in trust for this Church and the Diocese thereof in which such Parish, Mission or Congregation is located.
If a "diocese" were to assert it is no longer "of this Church" it would forfeit the property under this canon, since the property is held for this Church and the Diocese thereof. So when a diocese "leaves" (if it could) or simply is dissolved (as is more likely) the property reverts to "this Church" -- that is, The Episcopal Church, governed since 1789 by the Constitution and Canons of General Convention.

November 23, 2006


Lazarus chose the best of all,
not merely the better part:
utter love of the belovèd Lord,
utter death to self;
when Jesus wept,
recall from death.

Through utter love in life,
through utter inactivity in death,
in utter response from beyond death into life,
he silences both Martha’s pots and pans,
and Mary’s piety.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Thanksgiving Day, 2006

November 13, 2006

Screwtape to Wormwood, 2006

My dear Wormwood,

I want to pass along a brief note in recognition of the wonderful work you are doing with the Anglicans these days. Anglicans in general have been rather bland fare for quite some time, but your introduction of some new condiments has a spiced things up quite delightfully. I don’t think I’ve experienced such delectable invective since the late 19th century. Of course, it can’t hold a candle to the Reformation, but it does show signs of promise for a sumptuous feast.

But first of all, credit where credit is due: and much of it must be given to Glumsnaggle, our new IT manager, for the way in which he has managed to transform the Internet from a useful tool for communication into a positive cesspool of trivialization, mischaracterization, libel and slander — and my old favorite, assertion masked as argument. Oh, I never tire of that one. Fortunately, neither do they! Of course, he merely had to guide the process, but it has assured him a place in the Lowerarchy, and I hear he may even be on the Dishonors List.

Along the line of credit where due, I must say you appear to have taken a leaf out of the Enemy’s book, and are becoming positively creative. You have got your patients to the point where they are simultaneously claiming and rejecting authority (of any and all sorts, no less!) without seeing the contradiction. You’ve got them taking each other’s arguments at the very worst, and picking nits like there’s no tomorrow — true enough for some of them, as they will soon discover when they arrive in the Infernal Kitchen.

Just a bit of avuncular advice as you continue your work: by all means keep them focused on themselves, and on institutional questions — Who Gets to Be In Power. I mean, you can be creative as you like with the details, but the “tried and false” methods are always best to Fall back on. I think I do not need to remind you of the First Principle of The Tempters’ Manual, “Remember the Apple.”

Which brings me to my central concern: this unfortunate attention on the part of some of your patients to these so-called Millennium Development Goals. It would really be most unhelpful to our cause to have them actually do the things the Enemy wants them to do, to set aside self-obsession and do something about disease, poverty, ignorance, and so on. Anything you can do to persuade them that these MDGs are just “secular” will be to your advantage. I had a lovely curried Goat last night — one of the Old Souls that I’d kept in reserve; and you know, he still didn’t get it! As I savored him bite by bite, he kept whimpering, “But when did we see you hungry or thirsty or in prison...” Delicious.

So, Nephew, in closing, I advise you to apply yourself to this two-pronged approach: play up the institution and downplay what it is actually meant to accomplish, as it could turn out to be a disaster for us if this movement catches on.

Your Uncle,

— Tobias Haller BSG, with thanks to C.S. Lewis

November 12, 2006

In the Cause of John Jay

I am very happy to report that the 230th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of New York has adopted the resolution asking the Bishop to authorize the commemoration of John Jay on May 17, using a proper to be developed by the Diocesan Liturgical Commission. My suggestion? Zechariah 8:1-8, Psalm 119:9-16, and Luke 10:25-37.

Now, to begin working on the icon...

—Tobias Haller BSG

November 5, 2006

Diocesan Divorce Court?

The Diocese of Pittsburgh has, by a recent action of its Diocesan Convention, withdrawn its consent to being part of Province III of the Episcopal Church. Citing Article VII of the Constitution, which states that no Diocese shall be included in a Province without its consent, it would seem the case is clear, and that Canon I.9.1 assigning Pittsburgh its provincial status is nullified.

I believe this view rests on faulty reasoning. The Chancellor of Pittsburgh raises the issue of the Constitution’s ambiguity, but I believe in doing so he defeats his own claims. For Article VII is only ambiguous to the extent it is capable of being misunderstood, by removing it from its legal and historical context, as has the Chancellor. He claims that the consent of the Diocese to inclusion in a Province is not simply an initial consent at the time of inclusion, but a continued consent for as long as inclusion continues. Had the Constitution been intended to refer only to the initial consent given at the creation of the Provinces, or the initial inclusion of Dioceses within them, he claims that the framers could have stipulated consent “at the time of admission” as part of the Article.

However, what the Chancellor ignores is that such clarifying language was not necessary to convey such a meaning, since at the time of the adoption of Article VII in 1901 initial inclusion was the only meaning possible, since the Provinces did not yet exist.

This Article was the enabling resolution that gave the General Convention the authority to create a provincial structure, and it took a dozen years to realize, when the General Convention finally (in 1913) adopted the Canon actually uniting all of the Dioceses of the Church into Provinces, stating that “the Dioceses of this Church shall be and are hereby united into Provinces” subject to the very proviso of the Constitution upon which the Chancellor makes his incorrect claim — that the diocese will remain in some state of perpetual consent — but which rather ensures that the dioceses will have consented to this action. It was not a question, as the historical record shows, of Dioceses wishing to remain unattached to any Province, but rather having the right to determine which Province they would consent to join. General Convention constituted the Provinces via a Canon — not via the Constitution, which had ceded that power to the General Convention.

Finally, any possible ambiguity about whether to be included means to become or remain a part of a Province is resolved by the legal use of the word consent. For “in law,” consent signifies not a kind of general or ongoing willingness, but “deliberate concurrence in the terms of a contract or agreement, of such nature as to bind the party consenting.”* And, as I addressed earlier with the word impediment, in the context of a legal document (such as the Constitution) words must be taken in their legal sense.

An analogy may be helpful: as with marriage, consent precedes union, and depends upon it. No one would suggest that the legal principle “no one shall be married without their consent” means anything other than that consent is required for and prior to the initiation of the marriage, and once consent is given, and the marriage rite performed, it takes more than a mere change of mind or heart — or unwillingness to abide by the consent once given — formally to end the marriage.

In the present case, it would appear the only body capable of severing the connection of the Diocese with the Province is the General Convention, who has the power to amend the Canon in question — as they have had cause to do over the years with the creation of new Dioceses and Provinces. If Pittsburgh wants a divorce — and if such a thing is possible (other than transferring Pittsburgh to some other Province to which it consents to be joined) it can only be granted by the very General Convention from which the Diocese seems so eager to distance itself.

— Tobias Haller BSG

* Webster’s New 20th Century Dictionary, Unabridged, Second Edition.

November 3, 2006

For the Sake of Truth

for the Feast of Richard Hooker: a sermon by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

GRANT that we may maintain that middle way, not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth. — The Collect for the feast of Richard Hooker

There once was a vicar in an English country church of whom his congregation said, “Our Vicar is like God — he is invisible on weekdays and incomprehensible on Sundays.” I hope that I will not in my reflections today prove to be the latter.

Incomprehensible is a synonym for “impossible to understand.” Such understanding can be pictured almost in a physical sense: for to understand is to stand under, as a table stands under what is placed upon it, and so must be larger and more stable than what it holds in order to sustain or support it. To comprehend in this sense is to hold the object of knowledge on the table of ones mind.

Which is why God is incomprehensible. We cannot comprehend God because however hard we try, we cannot wrap our finite minds around the infinite God; God will not fit on the table of the human mind, however rasa our tabula, however much room we make on it, however many leaves we add, because, as the old hymn says, God is broader than its measure.

And the same goes for Truth, if we are speaking of Truth With A Capital T — not just some true things, but the whole ball of wax, the Truth as a full and complete description of All That Is — for the description must be at least as complex as what it describes. Try, for example, to describe a zipper to someone who has never seen one. And when we get to natural zippers like the string of DNA that holds us all together and builds us up at the most fundamental level, the description will take volumes — the printed listing of the human genome, a single transcribed copy of just one DNA zipper, of which we each carry trillions of the real thing in our bodies, would take 200 volumes the size of the Manhattan phone book.

To make matters worse, the truth about what is — even as it is spoken — adds to the sum of what is. If we were to write down even a mere tally of all that is, without further comment or explanation, truly the universe itself would not be large enough to contain all the books that might be written. For the books themselves would add to the substance of the world, and with every word we wrote we would be adding to the subject of our enterprise, and the bibliographers and catalogers would soon have to take up their work. As the wise man said, “Of the making of books there is no end.”

Indeed, the only way to comprehend the Truth, in this fullest sense of the word, and as appears to be the aim laid out in the Collect for this feast of Richard Hooker, is to be outside of all that is. And since only God is outside of all that is, as God is the cause of all being and becoming, so only the mind of God can truly comprehend all Truth.

We get glimpses of this outside-in structure of reality in the visions of the saints and poets — in Byzantine icons and in Dante, and in William Blake too. Perhaps it is most vividly captured in that wonderful vision God imparted to Blessed Julian of Norwich: a God’s-eye-view of the universe, as she saw in the palm of her hand a tiny thing no bigger than a hazelnut, so frail it looked as if it would cease to be in a moment. And God told her, It is all that is, and it endures because God loves it. As Blake would later write,

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
That is the God?s-eye-view that only the odd mystic glimpses.

Now, in spite of the visions of the saints and poets — who are careful not to mistake these momentary experiences of God’s view of the world for their own accomplishment — most of us are wise enough to know our limits. As Hooker himself put it, “The true properties and operations of [God] are to know that which is not possible for created natures to comprehend; to be simply the highest cause of all things.” (5.53.1)

Yet in spite of this, some in the church from time to time do appear to think they have come into possession of the Truth, which usually turns out to be something far more prosaic and far less visionary — a set of right doctrines, or more commonly, right behaviors. And most of us have the good sense to realize that even this limited claim is a bit presumptuous. We have learned from the hard experience of the church’s history that what you don’t know can hurt you; and that often the church is at its most errant precisely when it claims to be most certain. It is rash for any in the church to claim the ability to see in a glass brightly: especially when the church’s rear-view mirror consistently warns us that objects are nearer than they appear — and we travel at our peril if we imagine that our view through the looking glass is either infallible or complete. Indeed, as we take that backward glance on the ecclesiastical autobahn, we see that behind us HeilsgeschichteStrasse — Sacred Story Street — is littered with the wrecks of time over which God towers in divine incomprehensibility.

Just ask Galileo, Richard Hooker’s contemporary, who set about the task of trying to record a few true things about the world, things evident to the senses, or at least to the senses aided and abetted by the telescope. He suffered the fate of being told that what was wasn’t, or at least wasn’t what he saw it was. Threatened with torture, he recanted and submitted to those who refused to know the truth of what is, so insistent were they on what they thought ought to be.


Those on our side of the Tiber, the Anglicans, by Hooker’s day had learned their lesson the hard way. There had been enough burnings and tortures and beheadings on the scepter’d isle over mutually exclusive doctrines to satisfy the lust for certainty at least for a season. So a “settlement” to continuing vexatious matters emerged from the serendipitous arrival of a monarch like Elizabeth and a scholar like Hooker.

Now, Elizabeth, as a monarch, was probably more interested in compromise for the sake of peace than in comprehension for the sake of truth. She did not wish, as she said, to make windows into men’s souls. She knew that if she refrained from peeping into her advisors’ heads, she could benefit from the wisdom they would share around the privy council table, rather than having to commit those selfsame heads to the block and pike. As long as private opinion on divisive matters was kept in the privy closet, as long as one didn’t ask or didn’t tell, a form of peace could be maintained. Thus what Napoleon would later call the nation of shopkeepers kept the peace by means of compromise, the peaceful coexistence that falls a good deal short of true communion and community, but at least keeps heads on shoulders.

But as our collect reminds us, Hooker aimed higher. His Middle Way was not primarily a matter of compromise, but of comprehension. And the genius of comprehension lies in the breadth of its embrace, and in its confession of and willingness to live with an inevitable degree of error and ignorance. Hooker confesses that since we cannot know all things, and sometimes err in the things we think we know, we must allow room for all things, to make the table not infinitely broad (which is beyond our capacity) but broad enough to hold both the unforeseen and unexpected guest, as well as the uninvited and errant guest who shows up at the wrong party. Who knows, until the master comes, who really belongs there after all?

Hooker directs us to avoid the need for final answers on all but the minimally sufficient, and sufficiently salvific claims of the Gospel, secure truths at the heart of what it means to be Christian: centered on the existence of God, and the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ —the eternal Gospel without which there really wouldn’t be any point in continuing the discussion, but beyond which all else is more or less provisional. As he said concerning baptismal faith: “Belief consisteth not so much in knowledge as in acknowledgment of all things that heavenly wisdom revealeth; the affection of faith is above her reach, her love to Godward above the comprehension which she hath of God.”(5.63.1)

So the final answers and the definitive positions on everything and anything, so beloved both by Calvinists and Papists, would give way in Hooker’s view to a more rational willingness to withhold and reserve final judgment on all but a very few core doctrines, to realize that mutually exclusive opinions on other matters cannot both be true — and in the long run neither might be true, and the real truth might lie somewhere else altogether. To cast the net broadly, to make the table wider; to expand the breadth of charity to include all possibilities on matters for which clear and final evidence is yet to be shown: this is Hooker’s rational and charitable mission, a willingness to treat our knowledge as sufficient, rather than complete, and certain, in certain matters, only of its own uncertainty; and above all to trust that all such knowledge and love are securely centered in the depths of God, where the Spirit moves and searches, and where alone wisdom is to be found.

For when one is truly in the communion of the Church, truly united with the other members of the body — which can only truly be a body when all the members are lovingly comprehended in it in spite of differing opinions on secondary matters — Deus ibi est: God is there. Next to this transcendent unity-in-communion all other modified and restricted uses of that word, even the one called “Anglican,” must surely pale in comparison. In the truly comprehensive communion of the whole Body of the Church, the blessed company of all faithful people, we are in God, and God is in us.


And it is in this that we come to the grand reversal, the inside-out of God. Now, generally speaking, reversible garments are notable principally for being unattractive whichever way you wear them. But the inside-outness of God is quite another matter. Here we enter the amazing world — the real world, I might add — in which the inside is bigger than the outside — as observation shows us is true of most church buildings. God’s universe, it turns out, is more like those Byzantine icons or M.C. Escher lithographs than most people are willing to allow. This truth is summed up nowhere so well as in that Johannine avalanche of prepositions and pronouns from today’s gospel.

Jesus starts first from the expected greatness of God: “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us” — so we are nested in God, resting in the palm of God’s hand like Thumbelina, safe in our hazelnut cradle.

But then comes the surprising reversal: Jesus prays, “I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one,” and suddenly we — made one in the mystical and holy communion of the Body of the Church, the Body of Christ, the temple to which God comes and deigns to be our guest — suddenly we hold Christ within us as he holds the Father within him, nested like a set of Russian dolls with God the Father in the innermost secret room of the human heart, the holy of holies, the privy chamber and closet of good council, and the human image and likeness become the frame to hold the true divine reality behind all that is, among us and within us always.


And in this and this alone is the comprehension of the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth. I said earlier that God will not fit upon our mental tables; but there is one table on which God will fit, indeed, upon which God will fit in a few minutes. It’s right there in the sanctuary. In a few moments, the universe will turn inside out, the heavens will open and God will descend and condescend to be among us and with us, the Spirit will descend upon us and upon these gifts, and we will hold God in the palms our hands, and place God to our lips and, like Mary, become God’s earthly sanctuary. We in him and he in us, will become what we behold, and hold what we become.

Sanctified in this Truth, comprehended in this Body, fed with this food, may we be now and ever one, in the knowledge and the love of God, and the peace of God which passes understanding.

November 2, 2006

A Man of Justice, Freedom and Peace

At the upcoming Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, I am sponsoring a resolution to ask the Bishop to authorize the commemoration of John Jay on May 17, using a proper to be developed by the diocesan liturgical commission.

Those who only know of Jay from high school American history classes may well wonder why Jay could possibly figure on the calendar of the church. I was in much the same position until an attorney friend and colleague from a neighboring diocese brought Jay to my more devoted attention!

He also pointed out to me that the American Book of Common Prayer’s calendar commemorates no American layman — with the exception of Jonathan Daniels, who was a seminarian. This is not for a lack of people on whom to draw, and among them is John Jay (1745-1829), who as most of us know was a major figure in the early days of American politics, serving in the Continental Congress, on numerous diplomatic missions, and as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

But Jay was not only pivotal in the creation of this nation, and the peaceful settlement of the Revolution, but in the early constitution of the Episcopal Church, locally and nationally. He supported Bishop Provoost of New York, and was a close friend of the first Presiding Bishop William White, who was chaplain to the Continental Congress that Jay headed as President. As a deputy to the first General Conventions he influenced the development of the church’s political structure in a way that won the approval of the Church of England, and paved the way for Canterbury’s consecration of the post-Seabury generation of bishops. (Seabury’s freewheeling approach had nearly scotched further recognition of the Episcopal Church on England’s part!)

Jay’s influence didn’t stop with the Constitution, however, as he was also blessed to live long enough to become one of the charter members of the Episcopal Church’s first corporate effort: the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, founded in 1821.

Jay was also a man of high moral principles — not without his complexities — and as the church is called to examine the history of slavery, it is important to note Jay’s early role in ending it, from as early as 1777. He was a founder (in 1785) of the New York State Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves, and the African Free School for their education. He was a major voice in the debates that eventually led to the phased abolition of slavery in New York State beginning in 1799, with the passage of an Act he was able to sign as Governor. Years later, in 1854, journalist Horace Greely noted that no one could take more credit for ending slavery in New York state than Chief Justice Jay.

It is certainly true that Jay had his faults and was no stranger to controversy. He tangled with Bishop Hobart over the relative merits of denominational versus free Bible societies — and to prove his point was a founding member of the American Bible Society. And unlike the more idealistic abolitionists of the next generation (including his son William), although Jay eventually freed all slaves in his possession, he defended the gradual approach on the pragmatic grounds that liberation without education and skills was of no service to the one set free.

Jay has additional local significance for New Yorkers. He was a graduate of Kings College (now Columbia University), a warden of Trinity Church in Manhattan, and a founding member and senior warden of St Matthew’s, Bedford. It is altogether fitting that the Diocese of New York commemorate the life of this servant of Christ, an exemplar of a layman’s ministry in his tireless work for justice, freedom and peace, as a step towards proposing his eventual inclusion in the calendar of the Book of Common Prayer.

— Tobias Haller BSG

October 13, 2006

Panel of Reference: Still In Communion

The Archbishop of Canterbury's Panel of Reference (charged with dealing with matters of alternative oversight for dissenting parishes) has issued a report on the state of things in the Diocese of New Westminster. This report will prove to be of cold comfort to the dissenters, as it dismisses one of their central claims, i.e., that in order to remain Anglican they need to separate from the Diocese of New Westminster. Of particular note are paragraphs 21 and 25:

21. The argument that in order to remain "in full communion with the Church of England throughout the world" it is necessary for dissenting clergy and parishes to separate themselves from the diocese of New Westminster, adopting a title for their organisation which implies that they represent the Anglican Communion in New Westminster, in addition to or instead of the diocese and Bishop Ingham, can not be sustained. The Church of England itself remains in full communion with the Diocese of New Westminster and Bishop Ingham, pending resolution of the presenting issue, and therefore with all of its clergy, members and parishes, including those who dissent from its diocesan synod decision but remain in full fellowship with the Bishop and the diocese, together with the dissenting parishes unless they formally withdraw themselves from the Anglican Church in Canada. Even if this were not the case there is no evidence that communion with dissenting parishes would in fact be broken since such provinces which have declared impaired communion have made it clear that they remain in communion with those whom they regard as faithful.

25. The AS critique of SEM elaborates further on the claim, which we believe to be unsustainable in the current situation, that in order for the dissenting clergy and parishes to be in full communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the "Church of England throughout the world" it is necessary for special arrangements to be made for them outside not only the Diocese of New Westminster, but outside the Anglican Church in Canada. It is factually incorrect to state (AS that "the province has been suspended from the Anglican Communion until 2008". In fact the Anglican Church of Canada was asked voluntarily to withdraw its representatives from the Anglican Consultative Council until the Lambeth Conference in 2008.

The report ends by once again tossing the ball back into the Provincial Court, where by all traditional and legal understandings it belongs.

How this will relate to the Episcopal Church remains to be seen. However, as similar claims concerning the Episcopal Church have been made by the Anglican Communion Network, and more recently and vociferously by such tangential bodies as AMiA and LEAC, one can only surmise that the Panel of Reference will similarly reject the similar claims, as they too are without foundation.

— Tobias Haller BSG

October 12, 2006

Kigali Count Out or Handwriting on the Wall

So the Kigali conference of the Global South has managed to muster at most 20 primates (probably less) apparently willing to tell the Episcopal Church where to get off. Now, as I've noted before, the number actually needed to expel the Episcopal Church (or the Church of Canada) from the Anglican Communion is 26: a two-thirds majority of the 38 primates being required to amend the membership schedule of the Anglican Consultative Council. Even of those less than twenty a few might develop cold feet when it actually comes to a vote.

So, not having the votes, they are resorting to bluster and threats. They will absent themselves from the next Primates' Meeting unless by some feat of ecclesiastical legerdemain a rump-or-shadow Primate for disaffected Americans is sent along with the real Primate of the Episcopal Church (by then) ++Katharine Jefferts Schori. Given his past reluctance to do such irregular things, I cannot imagine +++Rowan will provide for this. So the way is paved for a grand salon de refusées consisting mostly of those who would refuse to sit in the same room with the real Primate of TEC. The door is set to open for a grand departure.

Meanwhile, shifting alliance and allegiance in the AMiA and ACN, as well as questions of "who really speaks for the Global South in the US" have begun to trickle onto the blogosphere, and members of the Windsor Report drafting team check in with their assessment of how well (or not) TEC did in "compliance" with the suggestions, recommendations, and urgings of the Windsor Report. (I'm sorry, but "Windsor Compliance" always makes me think of Mrs. Wallace Simpson and the abdication of a British monarch...)

So we continue to live in interesting times. What will the Global South's failure to muster sufficient support for its agenda lead to? What will the splintering of the American dissenter movement produce, or fail to produce? Has enough rope been provided?

&mdash Tobias Haller

October 1, 2006

If wishes was horses...

There is an old saying, "If wishes was horses beggars would ride." I take it that needs no further elaboration.

Lately, however, I'm beginning to think more along lines of, "If wishes was Communion Anglicans would have one." I say this because I'm feeling a disengagement from reality taking hold on the whole discussion. I would dignify much of this imaginary chatter with the term "paper tiger" were it not for the fact that so much of it isn't even on paper these days, but circulating in the ether of the blogosphere. Speculation is rife, as the cliché so neatly puts it. Just establishing "facts on the ground" is difficult as rumors are reported by the "journalists" du jour. Canons are ignored while various folks attribute "authority" to the latest opinions of a majority at a non-legislative conference (that's Lambeth to those who don't get the allusion, or illusion). Judgments of heresy and apostasy are tossed about like confetti at a street festival, by people poorly equipped and clearly unqualified to make such judgments. A "Global South" conference convenes and issues a statement apparently approved by those attending, and then at least two of those attending say "No way." Then it becomes questionable as to who even attended, let alone assented, as charges go back and forth, and Southern Africa is given something to Chew on. And who from Jerusalem actually attended — as press accounts differ? What, after all, has Jerusalem to do with Kigali, let alone Athens?

The point is, friends, I begin to wonder what is real any more. We seem more and more to be making it up as we go along. I've said before that we already have a real Anglican Communion Covenant in the Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council — but no one ever seems to acknowledge this even exists as a way forward out of our issues. Instead, fictive authorities are confected out of strong desires; various groups coalesce and then evaporate, leaving behind the vapor of speculation in the air while trumpeting big steps forward — as if wishing could make it so.

I am reminded of Monty Python's block of flats built by hypnosis: as long as all of the residents continue to believe in the existence of their building, it will stand; once they begin to doubt, down it comes. I would have thought the Anglican Communion, as affectionate and fellowshippy as it is, was still built of sterner stuff than sheer wishfulness. But certainly the "New Communion" promised by the Global South is as much a product of the hypnotic repetition of half-truths as any of the Big Lies with which the last century was marred.

&mdash Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 30, 2006

The Truth About Cats and Dogs

The Mad Priest reflects upon the origin of the Cat as the means to render human folk humble. Noted, and seconded.

As my Thought for the Day, I offer the following:

Dogs are like people as people wish people were.
Cats are like people as they really are.

—Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
The cat pictured is the late Oxford Deodatus

September 26, 2006

Yes, Minister Redux

A few folks have expressed dismay at ++Cantuar's appointment of ++West Indies (he who absented himself from Communion with Cantuar at Dromantine, and who has been trumpeting from the Global South for a while now) to the committee set up to work on the Anglican Communion Covenant. However, it is a well established principle of power politics that one can sometimes most effectively deal with problematical persons by appointing them to committees charged with addressing the problems to which they contribute by their irascibility.

It works in the parish all the time, and even though ++Rowan comes from an academic background, I think such things are well known in the realm of academia. And certainly in the Yes, Minister world to which I have alluded before! Remember how Sir Humphrey always made a point of getting Hacker deeply involved (and feeling so awfully flattered to be so) in the very matters in which he was in danger of upsetting the apple cart?

The old saying about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer might come into play were it not for the reluctance I have for portraying any Christian as an enemy (even if they don't accord me the same courtesy!).

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 24, 2006

Fresh Air from Southern Africa

Archbishop of Southern Africa Njongonkulu Ndungane has issued an elegant rebuff to the Global South Communiqué in which he first of all establishes that he in no way approved of this document, even though it was presented in such a way as to suggest his approval — an approval widely reported in the press.

He goes on to say,

...There is no doubt that the tensions within the Anglican Communion, arising from actions within North America, raise serious and problematic concerns for our future. Yet I am deeply disturbed by the tenor of our approach, as reflected in this communiqué. To me, at least, it appears in places that there is a hidden agenda, to which some of us are not privy. For example, I am unable to understand why there seems to be a deliberate intention to undermine the due processes of the Anglican Communion and the integrity of the Instruments of Unity, while at the same time we commit ourselves to upholding Anglican identity, of which these, as they have continued to evolve over the years in response to changing needs, are an intrinsic part. Thus, for example, recent meetings of the Primates, in which the Global South played a very full part, requested various actions from the Archbishop of Canterbury, which he has been assiduous in pursuing; such as setting up the Lambeth Commission, the Panel of Reference, and now the Covenant Design Group. Yet there seems to be an urgency to obtain particular outcomes in advance, pre-empting the proper outworking of the bodies for which we called.

Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. As Peter writes in his second letter, 'Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.' We do not want the best of Anglicanism to be cast aside, and so to perish! And to allow the due processes of these bodies, and the Instruments of Unity, to be followed through will take such a short time in relation to the life of God's Church over two millennia.

I must also say that I am disturbed by the apparent zeal for action to be taken against those deemed not in compliance with Lambeth Resolution 1:10, with a readiness to disregard ancient norms of observing diocesan autonomy. Though this was upheld within the Windsor Report's recommendations, it is of course a practice that was adopted in earliest times by the universal church. It was thus ironic that that the feast of Theodore of Tarsus fell during our meeting: as Archbishop of Canterbury, in 673 he summoned one of the most important Synods of our early tradition. In addressing both the rights and duties of clergy and religious, its decisions included the requirement, already acknowledged elsewhere, of bishops to work within their own dioceses and not to intrude on the ministry of others. We are in danger of giving the impression of being loyal Anglicans, and loyal members of God's One, Holy and Apostolic Church, only where, and insofar, it suits us!

We must also be careful to avoid creating, in effect, episcopi vagantes. This is a difficult and complex area, which Resolution 35 of the Lambeth Conference of 1920 addressed when it said, 'The territorial Episcopate has been the normal development in the Catholic Church, but we recognise that differences of race and language sometimes require that provision should be made in a Province for freedom of development of races side by side; the solution in each case must be left with the Province, but we are clear that the ideal of the one Church should never be obscured.' In our time too, we must do all that we can not to obscure that ideal of the one Church.

I am also more than a little wary of calling into question the election processes of another Province in the way the Communiqué suggests, in relation to the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. This introduces a completely new dimension into our relationships within the Communion, the reciprocal implications of which we have not considered. I would feel more confident if we addressed this question as a part of the more comprehensive reassessment of the nature of the Communion for our times, which is underway not least through the work of the Covenant Design Group.

An added concern for me is the apparent marginalisation of laity, clergy and bishops in the debate within the Global South. I was particularly glad that circumstances allowed me fully to consult both my fellow bishops, and our Provincial Synod, immediately in advance of the Kigali meeting. For a fundamental and indispensable element of our Anglican identity is that we are both episcopally led and synodically governed. I long for a consultative process that fully engages the whole Body of Christ, recognising that 'to each one, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good' (1 Cor 12:7). Primates do not have sole monopoly on wisdom and knowledge at this crucial time, nor indeed at any other!

There is much, much more, and I could go on quoting. But please read the whole statement. It is a breath of fresh air, a bold proclamation of the Spirit.

Hear, hear!

—T S Haller BSG

September 19, 2006

Consenting Adults

What’s really wrong with B033

Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention surely has its faults. I have before addressed the fact that it can at most be taken as a strongly worded recommendation, since to do otherwise would be unconstitutional, and violate the principle of collegiality upheld in the Windsor Report, “What touches all must be approved by all.” Consent by bishops and standing committees is within their right, and no legislation short of a Canon to that effect can coerce them to act otherwise than they are free to do.

However, there are two moral problems and one canonical fault with B033, even as it stands, on which it falls short. First of all, it clearly had to be written in such a way as to avoid the suggestion that there was anything wrong with the election and consecration of Bishop Robinson. This church has made its position abundantly clear that though we may regret the consequences of that action, the action itself was proper. And so this resolution takes up a consequentialist ethic — a position of moral weaknesses. For to refrain from an act one believes to be good out of fear of negative consequences — especially consequences as relatively mild as presenting “a challenge” to the wider church — brings us into the ethically muddy world of utilitarianism — the principle of Caiaphas that weighs morality in pounds of flesh.

The second moral flaw is similar to the first: it is an extrinsic ethic — it is not about the goodness or evil of the act of consent, but what others might think about it. This surely falls well below the standards of Christian morality.

However, the more serious problem with B033 lies elsewhere, in its canonical form.

Our canons expect dioceses to elect persons of godly character, sufficient learning, and sound faith as bishops. Participants in the electing diocese’s convention sign a testimonial to that effect, which in addition assures the church at large that the election took place in due and lawful form.

However, the standing committees of consenting dioceses are expected to have neither direct knowledge of the election procedures, nor of the bishop-elect’s manner of life and learning. Rather, all that the canons expect them, as laid out in the testimonial they sign, is an attestation that they “know of no impediment” to the ordination. This is, essentially, an agnostic statement; it does not designate approval as such, merely lack of knowledge of an impediment.

Now, impediment is a quite precise canonical word; and it means something which renders an act impossible — so impossible that if one were to proceed with the act it would be null and void. This is why marriages contracted in spite of impediments (such as insufficient age, existant spouses, or defective intent) can be and are annulled — no marriage took place because the conditions necessary for it were not present.

A very few people have claimed that a noncelibate gay or lesbian bishop can’t really be a bishop because they cannot be “received by the whole church.” These few believe that the sexual practice of a person is an impediment in the strict sense. This is, however, Donatism in almost crystalline form — not a heresy exactly, but an error that leads to schism. For if a failure in the moral character of a minister rendered the ministry null, who could amongst us sinners, after all, be a minister? Donatism was rejected by the church because it was destructive of an orderly exercise of ministry among and by people all of whom are sinners. No, a moral failing is not an impediment.

Nor were consenting dioceses asked to make such a moral judgment — until B033. And that is where the problem lies: it places this discernment of the character of the ordinand not in the hands of the electors (as the canons expect) but in the hands of the consenters, forcing them to discern qualities that might challenge the wider church, rather than remaining focused on their own personal lack of knowledge of any impediments to the ordination.

Which brings me to the recent election in South Carolina.

Intentional neglect?

An impediment, say, in marriage, could be any of a number of things: lack of canonical age, existence of another spouse, and so on, as I noted above. I also mentioned another impediment, “defective intent.” If a person preparing for marriage were to say to the priest doing the pre-marriage counseling, “I of course remain free to terminate this marriage if my spouse gives me cause; and intend to do so,” or “I reserve the right to have relationships with others if I am really strongly attracted to them,” the priest would quite rightly say, “Then you do not have the proper intent for marriage.”

A priest who is about to become bishop takes an Oath, in the same manner as at priestly ordination but in a different context, stating, “I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, disciple, and worship of The Episcopal Church.”

South Carolina, in preparation for its election, developed a survey instrument on an assortment of topics for the candidates to submit as part of their review. Here is how bishop-elect Lawrence answered some of the questions.

19. The church should not divide over this [homosexual conduct] issue. Strongly disagree.
20. If the Diocese of South Carolina does not become separate in some formal way from ECUSA, I intend to resign my orders as an Episcopal priest. Unsure.
21. If the Diocese of South Carolina separates in some formal way from ECUSA, I intend to transfer from this diocese to an ECUSA diocese. Strongly disagree.
Bishop-elect Lawrence’s responses are troubling. He appears to say (I will stand corrected if the double negative of question 19 confused him) that the church should divide over the issue of the rightness or wrongness of homosexual conduct. This in itself would appear to be countenancing schism, the technical name for division in the church. The bishop-elect is “unsure” as to whether he would remain in orders if his diocese does not separate from the Episcopal Church — and such insecurity is incompatible with an Oath. Finally, he intends not to remain with the Episcopal Church if South Carolina separates from it. That is, at least, how his answers appear. He surely deserves an opportunity to correct any misapprehensions, or wrong conclusions one might draw from a survey such as the one to which he responded.

Whether these survey responses by bishop-elect Lawrence constitute an impediment — and if he stands by them — thus remains to be seen — and needs to be seen — and will have to be judged by those preparing to give — or withhold — consent. Surely his statements are troubling on the surface. But I served on a committee with him at this last General Convention, and he seemed to me to be a man of high principle and conscience. I would pray that he would carefully examine his conscience and his principles in this present instant, and if there is any defect in his intent, mend it, or otherwise not place himself in the perilous position of taking an Oath he may not be prepared to maintain.

— Tobias S Haller BSG

September 18, 2006

The Widow and Her Church - A Parable

There was a certain rich widow who was a member of a congregation for the whole of her life. She dearly loved her parish, and over the years she had endowed it with many gifts, most especially a window of fine stained glass, much admired by the people round about.

But there came a time when a new pastor came to the parish, who knew not the ways of those who had gone before, and who changed many things that had been customary in the service. And the widow was greatly displeased. And so she went to some of her friends of the congregation and beseeched them to confront the pastor, and demand that he no longer do such things as he had done, but rather restore the customs which had long been in place among them. But the pastor refused to do so, for he noted that the greater part of the congregation approved of the changes.

And so the widow and her friends demanded that the pastor recognize their claim, and cede to them their portion of the building, that they might worship separately in accordance with the customs they had known, with a pastor of their own choosing. And the widow further demanded that if this could not be done that she should take from the church the pew in which she had been accustomed to sit, together with the stained-glass window, several ranks of pipes from the organ, two or three of the cushions, and one of the chalices, and she and her friends would go their way in peace.

What, I say to you, shall be done for this widow and her friends?

—Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG