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.