March 30, 2007

Meditationes Viam Crucis

Last year I offered some poetic meditations on the way of the cross and this year I'd like to link you to a musical suite of meditations on the same subject. This is a composition from 1982 that does for a few of the great Lutheran passion chorales what Salvador Dalí did for various religious images in his "atomic" period. It was originally designed to include a reader interspersing bits of the text from the Way, but it seems to work without that level in its own way. I don't want to say, "Enjoy" exactly, given the theme. Rather, close your eyes and picture the scene of the thronging crowds in those narrow streets, and the lonely hilltop with its stark crosses.
—Tobias Haller BSG

March 27, 2007

They Will Never Learn

Those Bishops who voted for Lambeth Resolution 1998.1.10 presumably committed themselves (in section c) "to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and ... to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ." Nearly a decade later, during which the "listening process" was supposed to have been going on, reports from the various provinces of the Anglican Communion are now available on-line at the portion of the Anglican Communion website devoted to this purpose. Few will be surprised by the statements from the various provinces. However, I cannot allow to pass unnoticed the particularly brazen approach taken by the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). Their response to the listening process reads more like a manifesto or position paper than an account of any listening. Of particular note are the following two paragraphs, which fairly well indicate the degree to which the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) is willing to listen to the experience of gay and lesbian persons.

The Primate of all Nigeria has said “Our argument is that, if homosexuals see themselves as deviants who have gone astray, the Christian spirit would plead for patience and prayers to make room for their repentance. When scripture says something is wrong and some people say that it is right, such people make God a liar. We argue that it is a blatant lie against Almighty God that homosexuality is their God-given urge and inclination. For us, it is better seen as an acquired aberration.”

. . . . . . .

In Nigeria the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2006 is passing through the legislature. The House of Bishops has supported it because we understand that it is designed to strengthen traditional marriage and family life and to prevent wholesale importation of currently damaging Western values. It bans same sex unions, all homosexual acts and the formation of any gay groups. The Standing Committee of the Church of Nigeria has twice commended the act in their Message to the Nation.

The Church of Nigeria has nothing to learn, it seems, from gay and lesbian persons. They appear to have nothing to learn from human rights commissions, either, and stand by their doubled efforts to criminalize even advocacy for rights of speech and assembly, let alone gay marriage. They have "the Truth" in hand, in a sure and certain knowledge, it seems.

It also seems that Paul was right when he spoke of the tendency of knowledge to puff up. One cannot receive anything new if one's mind is full to the brim of what one believes unassailably to be true. Why listen when you know? Without some hesitant admission that they might be mistaken, without a sliver of humility to allow them to hear another voice, they will never learn.

—Tobias Haller BSG

March 23, 2007

Les Legumes-Philosophes (The Vegetable Philosophers)

Time for Friday Satire:

In a small bistro on the old Left Bank,
known as “Le Vieux Haricot,”
vegetable thinkers sat and drank,
many long years ago.

That they think and feel is quickly proved:
For the cabbage has a head,
And hearts of lettuce are easily moved,
And the blood of beets is red.

The vegetable thinkers still think and talk,
as they did so long ago.
They sit and muse, or pensively walk
by the bar of Le Vieux Haricot.

Still the celery stalks sequentially,
while the carrot tops his drink;
and the legumes muse existentially,
“We are, ergo we think.”

Tobias Haller

Thought for 3/23/07

Heterosexists can’t recognize the tune because they’re obsessed with the instrumentation.

— Tobias Haller

March 21, 2007

Just for MadPriest...

... in deference to his legitimate concerns.

Blessed be God

On seeing the bold response of our House of Bishops this morning, all I can say is I feel like singing. I will offer some further commentary down the road, but for now, offer this metrical version of the Song of Zechariah, written a year ago as part of my "Mountain Matins" yet incomplete. Sing it to a catchy tune and you'll see how I feel.
[Update: Richard of Caught by the Light suggests Forest Green which I confess works mightily well! For full effect sing broadly with a "folk-song" feel...]

Bless’d be the God of Israel
who sets his people free.
He has raised up a Savior from
the branch of Jesse’s tree.

His prophets promised us of old
that we would find release
from bondage and captivity,
and come to know his peace.

Our forebears heard his promises,
as by himself he swore
that one day we would worship him
in righteousness once more.

And you, my child, shall be the one
to clear your Master’s way,
who’ll guide us out of this dark place
and lead us into day.

So God will let us know of grace,
in saving us from sin,
a light that shines in darkest night
from death our souls will win.

All praise to God the Father, with
the Son and Spirit One,
as was, is now, and will be, while
eternal ages run. Amen.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 17, 2007

See how these Christians...

Seriously, few things have troubled me more in recent days than the reactions to the failure of the consent process in the Diocese of South Carolina, and the small-minded, carping, mean comments that are coming from some on both sides of the aisle. In the meantime, I had a graced opportunity for a conversation with Mark Lawrence in an open place -- a situation to which I am still slow to be accustomed, as it is odd to speak so personally in a public forum; perhaps the fact that it is via a keyboard rather than face to face makes it seem less difficult than having such a conversation on a bus! (I am still disconcerted by people pouring out the intimate details of their lives in cell phone conversations in public places!)

In any case, Mark and I have had an irenic exchange which I hope can also model how I wish all of us could communicate in moments of high emotion. It is over at Kendall Harmon's Titusonenine, beginning about the 28th comment. (Continue reading down to comment 37 for Mark's gracious closing.) It also lays out a bit about the work we did together at the last General Convention, at which I formed a very positive impression of Mark Lawrence, in spite of our disagreements on some of the matters at hand. —Tobias Haller BSG

The web of possible relationships

Over at the daily episcopalian Jim Naughton has posted a short reflection on the impact of same-sex blessings in the Church of Sweden (now officially authorized and put in practice) on the fact that the Churches of England and Sweden are in full communion, though the Church of Sweden is not thereby a member of the Anglican Communion. Communion is not, to use the mathematical term, transitive. [Note, never having been very good at maths I used "commutative" here in the original post. A number of charitable folks have pointed out the error of my ways. I was always good at geometry, but numbers are not my friends...]

It strikes me once again that this might be a possible way forward for the Anglican Communion. It seems that one way or another, come the end of this year the Anglican Communion will in all likelihood be different from what it has been in the past. Either it will have begun to transform itself into a more tightly structured quasi-global church (or global quasi-church, take your pick) and hence be less "Anglican," or loosen its ties (the "bonds" of affection having grown tenuous) into a web of bilateral relationships, and hence be less of a "communion." In the interest of a possible later coming-back-together, I would counsel the latter course. It is no secret I have long opposed the almost Babel-like drive towards building a stronger, higher, bigger structure in order to ensure unity.

In this model, TEC might remain in communion with, say, the Church of Southern Africa, and CSA in communion with the Church of Nigeria, but TEC not in communion with CoN. Just like we have now with ELCA, TEC, the C of E, and the Church of Sweden. Would this not be a better, and simpler, way forward than the rush towards a covenant from which it appears some wish to see others excluded -- for if the covenant is "weak" enough to allow all the present parties to remain, what is the point?

As to Lambeth, to which in the past all of the bishops have been invited, there are two options that recommend themselves. Invite them all, including the Lutherans from our part of the world and the Scandinavian and Baltic regions, for a true time of fellowship; or perhaps give it a rest for a decade, as a number of people have suggested. Lambeth didn't meet in wartime -- perhaps our current troubles might also warrant a time apart? One thinks how many families might get along better were it not for enforced holiday parties...

—Tobias Haller BSG

March 13, 2007

The Ducking Stool

The deadline has passed and as of this moment the count stands one lone vote short of consent to the election of the Rev. Mark Lawrence as Bishop of South Carolina. The post may bring in another vote, but it seems bad form for a consenting standing committee not to have given notice by some other means.

It is no secret that I had reservations about Fr. Lawrence, based solely on his ambiguous responses to questions posed by the diocesan search committee, concerning his willingness to remain in the Episcopal Church, and the possibilities of an alternative primate. Perhaps if these leading questions had not been asked, Fr. Lawrence would not have been put in the predicament of having to give an honest answer and express his mixed feelings about the future, and his attitudes towards these possibilities. In its own peculiar way this mirrors the dilemma many gay and lesbian persons have faced in parts of our church, where honesty functions as a bar to acceptance for ordination. Litmus paper, given the right solution, can turn blue as easily as pink.

The sad thing for me in all this is that while I disagree with Mark’s views on a number of matters, I believe him to be an honorable man, an honest man; and he is paying — if it is “paying” not to be confirmed as a bishop — for that honesty. I think he meant what he said at every step of the journey. When he most recently (and perhaps too late) wrote, “So to put it as clearly as I can, my intention is to remain in The Episcopal Church,” I think he was putting it as clearly as he could; that is, he could not in good conscience say simply, “I will not leave the Episcopal Church.” Rather than a prediction, he offered an intention; perhaps not the most fervent assertion of fidelity, but enough of one to persuade at least some of the standing committees to accept this as sufficient.

So I admire his honesty, as I admired his integrity, even as it appears it may cost him the episcopate — at least the legitimately conferred episcopate of this Church. If he is a man of honor, as I think he is, he will forgo any irregular attempt to seize the episcopal throne — resisting what some have suggested he or the diocese should do.

In this sense, the consent process seems to be a kind of trial by ordeal. If the consents indeed are not given, and nothing untoward happens as a result — he returns to parish ministry in San Joaquin, no irregular trans-provincial consecration takes place, no incursions from abroad, nothing in South Carolina other than an orderly return to the process of finding a bishop for a diocese — then it will be evident that Mark Lawrence was a man of his word, and the diocese willing to abide by the laws of this Church. On the other hand, if an irregular consecration happens, it will rather prove the contrary.

This all reminded me this morning of the ducking stool: to convict a witch, try to drown her; if she survives, she’s a witch; if she dies — well, she was innocent. Sorry about that.

What a strange world we live in that the possibility of diocesan secession and alternative primates even need to be discussed, must less treated as real possibilities. It is these possibilities that may have scuttled what might have been a superb episcopal ministry — for there is no doubt in my mind that Mark Lawrence would make a very effective bishop. Perhaps South Carolina will be willing to covenant itself to the rest of The Episcopal Church, to reaffirm its membership in that body, governed by a General Convention few agree with on everything, but willing to abide by a common set of canons; not to ask leading questions about the future, but affirm a commitment in the present; to welcome and acknowledge our Presiding Bishop, as such, even if the diocese doesn’t agree with everything she says or stands for — much as one acknowledges the President even when one belongs to the opposing party. Were this to happen, I think there would be a greater willingness to consent to whomever the diocese elected — including Mark Lawrence should he be elected once again.

— Tobias Haller BSG

Being Holy on Holy Ground

I commend to your attention a moving testimony in the form of a sermon, "Come No Closer!" preached by a wise and patient man, a man I have the honor to call a friend, Dr. Louie Crew. We need wisdom and patience such as his in these days. Wisdom not to judge, but to listen; patience not with a tapping foot and a furrowed brow, but with a loving gaze that drinks in all that is offered. Drink, my friends, from this Gospel spring. It will quench your thirst better than many waters.

—Tobias Haller

March 12, 2007

Another Poke at Saint Gregory

I'm entitled. He's my patron. Besides, I missed my Satire this past weekend. Blame Mad Priest for his inspired way with images.

Blaming Saint Gregory

Satire is a tad late this week — or early as the case may be. But it is the feast of Saint Gregory the Great, the man it could be said is responsible for the Anglican Communion, due to his having sent Saint Augustine of Canterbury on his quest, after seeing the delightful English slaves in the Roman market, and being distressed that such nice people should be un-evangelized. So now you know who to blame. In any case, this little bit of doggerel is suitable for singing to any of the well known office tunes of the Gregorian tradition.

Apostle of the English blest,
what you once started, we have messed.
Begun by care for Anglo slaves,
look how Augustine’s church behaves!

You sent him overseas to Kent,
with no thought of Establishment;
his progeny have borne strange fruit,
about as peaceful as Beirut.

You were a monk before made pope,
a fact that often made you mope.
Perhaps if you had stayed in cloister
we’d not be in this present roister.

When you regard our state of things,
as one who now in glory sings,
do we deserve a passing glance?
“Just keep your church; I’ll take my chants.”

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
March 12, 2007

March 9, 2007

Daily Bread

Meditations delivered at Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, New York, with candidates for ordination to the transitional diaconate in the Diocese of New York, March 7, 2006.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Pray for Andrew, Emily, Joel, John, Nora, and Sharon, that they may faithfully serve God’s church as deacons, and later this year, God and the Bishop willing, and the people assenting, be ordained to the priesthood and serve in that capacity all their days.

The day thou givest

All of you have been to a greater or lesser extent involved in seminary life for the last couple of years, I take it — and that life has provided a matrix and a structure not entirely of your own devising. Upon graduation, you will find yourself liberated and free, but also, as one of my favorite playwrights once said, so free you might come loose! It is a bit like being born, graduating from seminary and taking on the life of an ordained minister of the gospel — and when the cord is cut you will find the need to breathe on your own. Ordination to the diaconate may come as a bit of the laying-on-of-hands slap needed to start you breathing independently — and it is nice to know that your first official diaconal utterance will be a charge to the congregation to “go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.”

It is of that world and of that Spirit that I want to speak to you this morning. I will reflect some of the structures that can help to ground you in your ministry — something to take the place of the seminary’s — since few parishes can provide the kind of hot and cold running liturgies that seminaries can provide. I want to offer you something of a portable chapel you can take with you wherever in the world you go — perhaps more like the tent of the Exodus than the Temple of Jerusalem, but where, nonetheless, you may be able to say, Truly God is in this place.

I want to begin with the opening verses of a Psalm, which I’d like us to read responsively. (Read Psalm 19:1-6)

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That 19th Psalm begins with a wonderful, cosmic image of the heavens declaring God’s glory as they slowly revolve, one day telling its tale to another, one night imparting knowledge to another, a kind of cosmic Algonquin Round Table of the stars, sun and moon, who tell and retell God’s glory even though they do not have words or language, and their voices are not heard — yet their message has gone out, as if in response to a divinely diaconal dismissal, to the ends of the world.

Modern science, of course, thanks to Copernicus and Galileo, reverses the image. It isn’t the heavens that spin about a stable earth, but a spinning earth whose rotation is but one of many complex movements in vast a celestial engine. As charming (or alarming) as the image may be, the sun is not actually let out of his bridegroom’s chamber to run from one end of the world to the other. No, the sun is relatively immobile; it is the earth that slowly and majestically turns to sun itself evenly on all sides, turning and turning as it rotates day by day.

From a vantage point far enough away in space, perpendicular to a line drawn from the sun to the earth, one could watch the shadow of night pass into the break of day from east to west, as a long band of dawn transects the earth from north to south. Scientists call it the terminator — but one might just as well call it the instigator. For as night ends, day begins, and vice versa — and though the sun goes down (or appears to go down) as the Preacher and Hemingway after him both observed, the sun also rises.

Speaking of scientists, the late physicist Richard Feynman, known for his quirky and off-beat genius, observed that wherever the terminator/instigator band of dawn passes over an area populated by human beings, there exists, simultaneously with it, a band of people stretching from north to south and moving as a wave from east to west — all brushing their teeth. And this great wave of tooth-brushing sweeps across and around the globe as surely and substantially as the band of dawn itself, leaving behind the faint odor of mint.

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But there is yet another diurnal and nocturnal cycle at work in the world. There is something else that happens as the dawn moves across the world, and as noonday, and evening, and night do the same. There is something else that sweeps around the globe besides sunlight and spearmint. Some of the residents of this house may well remember the days when not just four but eight successive bands of human activity moved around the world like this. Matins, lauds, prime, tierce, sext, nones, vespers, and compline skimmed across the surface of the earth by day and by night, coating it with prayer. So the bands move in their ordered rounds, and you can hear them singing, telling and retelling God’s glory in many languages, day and night imparting knowledge to each other, as their voice goes out unto all lands.

So the church’s life of prayer has a deep and intimate involvement with the cosmos. Even though we know that all times are in God’s hand, and that one day or one hour isn’t really more important than another in God’s eyes, still we echo the cosmic rotations and revolutions of the sun and moon and earth in our prayers and liturgy. It is no accident that the invention of timepieces in the Christian West owes its impetus to the need for the monks to keep their hours. And so they have kept them for over a millennium, mirroring the cosmos in miniature, like the precious illuminations in a book of hours, telling the hours, the days, the seasons, and the years of our Lord.

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And you too, as transitional deacons and then as priests will have a part to play in this cosmic dance, the church’s liturgical dance that mirrors the world God made. For apart from the grand cycles such as the scary and nervous-making millennium, or the festive Jubilee year, and other such generational anniversaries — at which few of us have the opportunity to officiate — our stateliest liturgical pace takes its rhythm from the yearly cycle of the seasons, from Advent through Christmas and on beyond that pivotal commemorationto Epiphany, the season that stretches out towards or shrinks away from Lent depending on the date of Easter. Of course, that Queen of Feast’s mobility is still determined by the moon, the inconstant moon, as its fullness lands on the far side of the spring’s equal balance of day and night — so linked are we still to the heavens’ movements. Then on we course again to bright red Pentecost and on through the greenery to Holy Cross (a hat tip to this house), and we find the year fully marked and quartered with its stational ember days — and will you miss writing ember letters? — and finally back to Advent once again, our year decked and draped with liturgically colored prayer all along the way. This is something you will engage in with altar guilds: — sorting through the parish store of frontals and stoles, burses and veils, and the more exotic accessories such as pulpit falls and bible bookmarks.

But you will also, as deacons first proclaim the gospels that recite the round of the year from expectation through birth and baptism, on to death and resurrection and the course of teaching and reflection. Then as priests, you will find yourself saying words even more closely bound up with those seasons — the collects of the Sundays and the feasts and fasts, and the prefaces that lead to the great hymn of praise the church raises Sunday by Sunday as it joins with the angels who look down upon our spinning globe: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.

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At a smaller scale there is the monthly cycle of the Psalter, perhaps Thomas Cranmer’s simplest and most thoughtful gift to those who follow that measured rule. As you know, Daily Office Lectionary of the BCP provides a seven-week cycle for the psalter, but Cranmer’s old thirty-day rotation is still widely used. My own community and the Order of Saint Julian, among others, use this monthly ordered reading of the psalms, rather than the 7-week cycle. We also retain all the bits of psalmody that version omits as distasteful, thereby able to fulfill John Cassian’s advice fully to internalize all of the emotions of the Psalter. He said, “When we sing the Psalms, we remember all that our carelessness has brought on us, or our effort has secured, or divine providence has granted to us, or slippery and subtle forgetfulness lost to us, or human weakness brought about in us.”[Dialogues IX 18]

I believe we gain something in this ordered and full reading of the Psalms — in addition to facing those hard nuggets of frail human reality that make the Psalms a challenge. And we equally enjoy the sometimes dissonant intersections of feasts with penitential psalms — much as one can enjoy the passing dissonances in a Bach chorale, or the sharp bite of a peppercorn on a mild serving of salmon. The hard bits and the dissonances we encounter in this orderly reading of the Psalter month by month, serve as reminders that at the heavenly scale we mirror in minature, the orderly laws of gravitation and of physics, as they work upon the substance of the cosmos, will sometimes have the effect of wiping out the dinosaurs.

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Then there is our weekly cycle, centered on Sunday, but inherited from a deeper and far older tradition that deliberately mirrored step-by-step the act of creation itself, and stubbornly stuck to it for all these years in spite of the fact that seven won’t go very easily into either thirty or twelve or 365. As deacons and as priests, as you settle into your ministries you will find this weekly cycle of the church’s life to be as regular as that of the world — one thing at least upon which sacred and secular are of a common mind — so powerful is that memory of God’s creative act that only the French were bold enough, during their Revolution, to attempt to metricize seven into ten.

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And finally, the smallest, fastest spinning wheel in this great cosmic mechanism: the day God gives us day by day, and which we bless and sanctify with prayer, with daily breaking of the daily bread, and most especially with the Daily Office, which has, since at least the time of Benedict himself, been called by that astounding and awe-inspiring name: the Work of God.

Now, in spite of its antiquity and universality, the Daily Office is one of those things that many people, some even in the church, just don’t get. I recall something that a priest (and I will use that somewhat paradoxical phrase “a secular priest” because that’s exactly what he was) said to me some years ago. His comment came at dinner after the life profession liturgy of one of my brothers. As required by our rule and customary, this profession ofvows took place in the context of a celebration of the Holy Eucharist, which was set on a Saturday afternoon to allow for friends and family to attend. After the liturgy (a lengthy one in comparison with most parish services), the assembly repaired to the refectory for dinner. When it was time for Vespers, the brothers began to excuse themselves to return to the chapel. I was sitting across from this secular priest, who asked where we were going. I told him that it was time for Evening Prayer. He looked at me with astonished disbelief and said, with a somewhat scornful tone, “You’re going to pray again!?” I looked at him, probably equally disbelieving, and simply said, “Why, yes; it’s what we do.”

I’m afraid he didn’t get it, as many, sadly even in the church, don’t. The irony is that the “secular” are not truly worldly in the sense of being as deeply in touch with the movements of the cosmos as the “religious” whose life supposedly separates them from “the world” but which, through the round of ordered prayer, actually reflects the intricate gears of that cosmos in miniature. The “secular” have followed the course that Puritan Richard Baxter described, so caught up with scholarship, didacticism, or activism that they have lost the simple gifts of contemplation. Prayer, especially formal prayer, has been minimized or postponed or deferred almost out of existence, evaporated in a cloud of unfulfilled “intentions” as these busy workers imagine themselves to be getting about the realwork of the church, the real work of God, as they see it.

I pray for you, brothers and sisters that you will not so seriously get hold of the wrong end of the stick. As Kenneth Leech wrote some years ago, far too many clergy spend too much time in the wrong kind of office! And believe me, it is tempting to do so, to defer the work of prayer because of the other work. But I can testify to you that about thirty years of saying the Daily Office has not seriously impaired my ability to get my other work done - perhaps because I see the Daily Office as part of my work, a part of my share in the whole work of God. The ordered prayer of the church is a large part of what the church is; it is the work of the church as much as it is the work of God, and I am enmeshed and geared into it as one cog in the great work of the church.

And I mean the whole church. For I do not embrace the idea that monks and friars, sisters and brothers, and clergy are simply the professionals who pray for those who don’t have the time — in spite of the fact that they sometimes end up doing so. And thank God someone does! We have it on good authority that ten righteous ones could once have saved a whole city from annihilation; and the rabbis still speak of God’s preservation of the whole world on account of the fifty whose prayers forfend its utter collapse into nothingness. So yes, the monks and nuns and friars and sisters and clergy do pray for others, but not so that they can be let off the hook of praying for themselves.

And let me note that clergy especially aren’t off the hook. The Church of England, at least, still expects its clergy to say the Daily Office. (How well this is observed is another matter, and I have no wish to make windows into clerical souls.) But I urge you to this, sisters and brothers. It is a part of our particular vocation as “parsons” — which is to say, “persons” of prayer who model the church — it is a part and parcel of our parsonal, our personal “work” of God, for God, and from God. Our work of prayer may indeed help to hold the prayer-free and carefree world together, as we lay down those daily fresh coats of prayer upon a spinning world.

However this vicarious benefit to the prayer-free may be one of the effects of our life of ordered prayer, I want to be quite clear that it is not its primary raison d’être. If I can use the analogy of the theology of marriage, this is a good of our daily prayer, but it is not its end. Its end is, in large part, your task as ordained persons: as priests to call together the community of the faithful, to make the church as its scattered members are recalled to unity in Christ — and as deacons to send them out into the world in the power of the Spirit: and you can feel the Spirit breathing as the church’s lungs inhale the congregation and then send it forth.

Some of our prayer is for others, passing sandbags down the line to stay the flood, but this is not the ideal for the church. But this is the minimum: for if the clergy do not pray, how can we expect it of our people? I can join with Moses and say, I wish that all of God’s peoplewere, committed to some form of daily prayer, even if it only takes the form of one office a day, a quickly uttered Lord’s Prayer on arising, or even a wordless pause to summon God to mind. But as for you about to be new-born clergy, I am afraid I espouse that rather old-fashioned idea that Kenneth Leech was defending: to follow the daily discipline of ordered prayer that goes by the name “the Work of God.” Thus joined with the laity the whole church can exercise responsibility and take up its share of the work of God, the whole church’s work of God.

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The ordered life of daily prayer is the heart and soul of the work of God, of our work, our liturgy that is both work for the people of God and the work of God, for without God inspiring the will and the deed, without God’s Holy Spirit filling and lifting our sails, our poor small boats would not be able to navigate the waters of creation.

God’s Spirit hovered over those waters at the beginning, setting up the ripples that would become time and space and all that is of matter and energy. Our ordered life of prayer reflects the movements of the cosmos, one voice taking up the song as another dies out, as those bands of dawn and dusk and midday and midnight sweep around the earth.

But the daily work of prayer does not only reflect the cycles of the cosmos. There is a greater mystery still: that the work of prayer reinforces those ripples of the Spirit to such an extent that prayer will one day fill the created universe. The vision of the Psalmist was of mountains skipping likerams, and hills like young sheep, of the sun and moon and stars telling of the glory of God, and of every creature with breath in its mouth raising its voice to praise the Lord. And we are, pace Galileo and Copernicus, at the middle of it all, we on this blue marble on which God chose to be incarnate, scandalously particular in our smallness, lowly handmaids graced by that visitation and exalted from our humble place on the outer arm of the Milky Way, and given an awesome task. This is the work of God, God’s work in us and our work for God with God’s people.

As poet John Ellerton wrote:

We thank thee that thy Church, unsleeping
while earth rolls onward into light,
through all the world her watch is keeping
and rests not now by day or night.

As o’er each continent and island
the dawn leads on another day,
the voice of prayer is never silent,
nor dies the strain of praise away. (Hymn 24)
This prayer, this daily prayer, ordered and repeating and mirroring the rhythms of God’s good world, of God’s great universe, is the work of God and our work, too. It’s what we do.

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Nearer than They Appear

I spoke this morning a bit about the Daily Office, and this afternoon I want to focus on the Eucharist. But first, I’d like to put my comments into the context of Scripture, and so we have two readings I’d like us to hear and reflect upon. (Read Ephesians 2:13-22, Mark 6:32-43).

I have to begin with a confession that I made to Canon Coles when she first asked me to join you for this time apart: that I have come to middle age — and a good bit past it — never having learned how to drive. Circumstances just never quite seemed to require it, and it has given me both a great love for long walks and a ready familiarity with the public transportation systems of many a great metropolis. A more down to earth consequence is that when I am in a car, I get to sit in the passenger seat fairly often, and so am quite familiar with the passenger side rear-view mirror. This mirror shows a wide-angle distorted view of what’s coming up behind. And printed right on the mirror is the warning: “Objects are nearer than they appear.”

Whether you hear this as good news or not will depend on what the objects are. If it’s a car pulling out of a parking place after you’ve circled the block for the twelfth time, you’re likely to rejoice. But what if what you see in the mirror is red and flashing? “Objects are nearer than they appear” — and what’s near is not always dear.

The words of Paul to the Ephesians look towards a joyful kind of nearness: the joy of the outcasts and foreigners, those far off, being brought in and let in — to discover the rules have changed, and the door that was shut for so long is now open and welcoming. What a joy and honor to be gathered thus into the covenant, to be built into a holy temple — can you imagine how it must have felt to the Gentiles to whom Paul wrote,
to hear those words, words of welcome and incorporation? The Gentiles were not allowed near the Temple in Jerusalem, only as far as the outer court, the court that in those days was still trammeled and crowded with the traders and money-changers Jesus was only for a few days able to cast out. Crowded in that space, those who wanted to draw nearer to the presence of God were stopped in their tracks by the big signs that said, “No Gentiles Need Apply” in Greek and Latin letters.

But Paul assures them that the rules have changed since Christ has come, and not only are they allowed in, but — wonder of wonders — they are to become the temple, God’s spiritual dwelling place.

It’s very easy to hear such a passage and imagine ourselves to be the ones restored or welcomed, the have-nots who finally make it, the ones who never got picked for the team being made captain, the ugly ducklings turning out to be swans. No doubt as you come to the end of the ordination “process” you are feeling no small amount of such relief yourself — as you come to embrace that to which you have felt so long called: diaconate is in sight, and then — God, the bishop and the people willing — the priesthood before the year is over. You will have come to where you hoped for so long to be. So yes, it’s easy to read these texts as happy-ending fairy tales about us.

But do we have the right to read them in this way? Or is this reading as distorted as the view in a rear-view mirror? Are we the exiles and the outcasts? Sometimes, you know, exile and exclusion are not so obvious as a sign in big letters saying, “You’re Kind Not Wanted Here.” Sometimes the ways for keeping the far away far away, or allowing them no nearer than a barge-pole, are so ingrained that they aren’t even noticed. They are just the way things are.

And I want to share these thoughts with you today because the parish can be — if we are not on our toes — a place not of welcome, but of paradoxical exclusion, a place for an in-crowd, if we as leaders cast ourselves too much as the benevolent host rather than as one of the guests. Remember how Jesus responded to the disciples who wanted places of special honor: “the kings of the Gentiles rule over them as benefactors — but with you it shall not be so. Rather, you shall be servants of one another.” You are about to become deacons — if only “only” deacons for a season. So I want to share with you something of what it means to be a “servant at the table” — for the servant’s lot is our lot throughout our ministry, and not just for the next six months!

+ + +

I do this in the context of the WLIW Friday night Britcoms. A few years back they ran a comedy series called “You Rang, M’Lord,” set in a well-to-do English household in the 1920s, with the household servants as the principle characters. It’s a kind of dystopian mirror-image of “Upstairs Downstairs” — and rather than the characters being charming and good-hearted, here they are all “pieces of work.”

The class system dominates and defines everyone in the house from the Lord of the manor to the boot-boy, in a hierarchy as rigid as a Byzantine court’s. The pivotal character is the butler — a hypocritical thief who bows and scrapes to the master — but when safely below stairs spouts the venom of his anger freely, the catchphrases of fine vintage Red activism seeming a bit incongruous as he promises: “We’ll see what it’s like come the Revolution, when the tables are turned and we’re on top and they’re down here!”

But class-consciousness works both ways: even in the supposed land of proletarian equality and comradeship below stairs. It is revealed in how the live-in servants treat the “day woman.” She’s the “low woman on the totem pole” — the one who does all the dirtiest and meanest jobs. When she heads out after a 16 hour day, on her weary way home, the live-in servants are gulping down their sumptuous dinner, (with bottles of wine from the master’s cellar that the butler has “opened by mistake — and we can’t let it go to waste, can we!”). The poor day-woman looks at the groaning board and the overfed staff stuffing themselves, licks her lips, and says with a pitiful sigh, “I can’t tell you ‘ow long it’s been since I had a nice bit of roast beef...”

The cook, who appears to be more than ordinarily well fed, says, offhandedly, “Oh, I’ve left you some week-old cheese in the pantry. It’ll be perfectly fine if you scrape off the green crust.” And the little woman mutters, “Oh, thanks” and scuttles off to retrieve the morsel of green cheese.

When the youngest maid-servant finally gets the pluck to say, “Oh, surely we could spare a bit of this beef,” the other servants look at her as if she has just pronounced the gravest heresy, and the cook solemnly pronounces the classic judgment— how many times in how many places and ways has this been said — “She needs to know her place.”

Yes, she needs to know her place. And her place is there, not here. We need to stake out our space, our turf, and not give in to the temptation to change the rules. Objects are nearer than they appear; you can’t be too careful. We want to keep them just as far away as we can — thank you very much.

+ + +

Them. There’s a lot of power in that word. Them. It’s the opposite of “us.” We are us; they are, well, them.

You know them. That sort. Those foreigners. They eat that strange food. I mean, it just smells up the whole building. And why can’t they learn our language if they want to come to our country? And those clothes. I don’t see how they can expect to find a job if they dress like that. Maybe that’s why so many of them are out of work.

And why should we be held responsible for them? It’s not our fault they’re here. We didn’t ask them to come here. In fact, we were trying to get away from them. They must have followed us. We’re not responsible. Look, here we are out in the middle of nowhere, out in the wilderness where we thought we could have some quality time with you and now you expect us to find them something to eat!?

+ + +

Oh my. Jesus has that look again. We’ve seen it before — that little tilt of the head with a furrow in the brow and a puckered smile — and that piercing look. And then he orders us to get all of them to sit down. And he takes what little we have — it isn’t much, is it? Hardly enough even for us, let alone for them. But he takes it, and he looks up to heaven and says a blessing of thanksgiving — I mean, thanks for what? A few loaves and fishes? — and then he hands it back to us, and all of a sudden it looks like there’s more of it than we thought there was.

He hands it over and tells us to serve them, to wait on them. Good deacons all of us, servants commissioned and commanded to wait on them. On them, you understand. Them.

The day-woman and the scullery-maid, — the migrant worker, — the latina with her noisy children, — the old man in the threadbare T-shirt with the frost of white on his elbows, — the widow who’s been living on cat-food in her cold drab room, — the hooker in spiked heels and a top so low that nothing is left to the imagination, — the toothless farmhand in overalls with a three-day scraggle of beard, — the soldier who lost his legs in someone else’s war, — the angry man who mutters as if haunted by himself, — the fifteen-year-old hustler with eyes three times his age, and the crowds and crowds of others, all the others, all of them who have been on the outside, out far away, suddenly and so uncomfortably near, neatly arranged in squares of fifty and a hundred, gathered on a hillside, having a picnic while we wait on them, doling out bread and fish we never knew there was so much of — so much embarrassing abundance where we thought there was so little, so much for so many when we thought there wasn’t even enough for us.

As we pass among them handing out the bread and fish, we find it hard to look into their eyes, and focus on their hands instead. Those hands are heavy with calluses, with dirt under the nails, or with impossibly long nails bright with polish and glitter, others are gnawed and broken.

And as we pass, their voices say, “Thank you… thank you…” voices soft and humble, even the man who mutters at his ghosts somehow calmed and comforted in this bread. It’s like running a gauntlet — passing out that bread — running a gauntlet of thanksgiving. We are washed again and again with waves and waves of gratitude tous for something we didn’t know we could do, something we never even thought of doing, were it not for his blessing and command. This wasn’t our idea, and we have no right to be thanked. And yet the thanks keep coming, as we pass among the lifted hands and bowed heads.

And when the meal is ended, when the crowds have eaten their fill, and been dismissed, Jesus finally lets us collect the leftovers strewn about the hillside for our own dinner — and there’s plenty left: a basketful for each of us. And we sit in silence and we eat in silence, eyes lowered to the baskets on our laps, not one of us looking up, — not at each other, certainly not at him.

+ + +

And slowly, it begins to dawn on us what has happened. We had always thought that we were the ones at the center, that we were the ones who were near, while they, them, all the others, were far off. But we had it backwards. All this while we’ve been living in a rear-view mirror world that made things appear further away and further apart than they really are. We lived in a rear-view mirror world until Jesus came and turned the tables on us, until Jesus turned us around and showed us just how close all our brothers and sisters are to us, and we to them — and what a family we find ourselves to be part of!

And he did it by feeding us the leftovers. We who were the ones who always ate first, who sat at table and were waited on, and who thought thereby that we were blessed — we have just eaten last, after serving and waiting on them. And all of us and all of them have eaten of the same food, the same bread. And because of that service and because of that bread, there isn’t any us or them anymore. We have become them, by serving them; they have become us by being served by us; and all who were far off have been brought near through the blood of the one who shed it for all, and all are made one in the flesh of the one who gave himself for the love of all, in the bread once scattered on the hillside now made one. We’ve passed through the looking glass, finally, into the real world, God’s world, the world God loved, the world God purchased. We were exiles and strangers all along, and didn’t even know it. But we finally have been brought home, and attained full citizenship in the country where there are no dividing walls, no signs that say who’s in, who’s out, who’s near, who’s far. And we slowly look up from the baskets on our laps, and we look at each other. And when we finally get up the courage, somewhat sheepishly to look at Jesus, where he sits to one side on the fresh green grass in patient silence, we see that he is smiling. And he is just as near as he appears to be.

+ + + + + + + + +

March 6, 2007

Ever Blessing, Ever Blessed

In my “Immodest Proposal” I sketched out the following concerning the blessing of same-sex couples:

4.0. The church teaches that the nuptial ministers are the couple themselves, whose vows are blessed, not constituted, by the church. One of the earliest western marriage liturgies, in the sixth century Gallic tradition, consisted of a blessing of the couple in their home. I therefore suggest that:
4.1. Until a wider consensus is achieved on the rightness of blessing same-sex relationships in an ecclesiastical setting, The Episcopal Church not proceed with the development of a liturgical rite, or its authorization.
4.2. Recognizing that priests are ordained to pronounce God’s blessing, and that no further authorization is needed for a priest to bless than there is to preach; and that the liturgy “The Celebration of a Home” in The Book of Occasional Services is authorized for use in this church, without further permission from the Bishop being necessary; and that this liturgy provides for the blessing of the residents of the household; that it be recognized that the use of such liturgy is within the ambit of pastoral care.
4.3. The the church include in its studies and discussion the issue of the role of the church in those civil jurisdictions in which same-sex relationships are licensed, and the larger issue of the interaction between civil and ecclesiastical law in this area.
I would like now to expand on this sketch somewhat. In another post, I noted the apparent confusion over exactly what is being asked of the Episcopal Church. The latest Communiqué from the Primates, in its recommendations, appears to ask for an end to any episcopal authorization (either individually or through General Convention) of any rites for blessing same-sex relationships. However, both our Primate and the Archbishop of Canterbury appear to think that this refers to “authorization of public rites”; and there is some continued discussion concerning the weight of and meaning of authorization. Archbishop Venables thinks otherwise, and no doubt other Primates may weigh in on the hermeneutics of primatial documents, with all of the usual pitfalls of “original intent” weighed against the “literal reading.”

My approach, rather than reacting to the ambiguous (or clear) requests of the Primates, is to adopt a stronger proactive position in response: to say, we in TEC have made certain decisions, and we choose to stand by them. We will neither back down from them, nor will we, in the interest of continued dialogue, and as an indication of our willingness to remain in that dialogue, advance further than we have at this time.

I think it important to acknowledge where that is. No rites for same-sex blessing have been authorized by the General Convention, which has merely acknowledged the existence of such rites — some of them apparently given explicit authorization by individual bishops for use in their own dioceses in keeping with their Constitutional authority, others perhaps “allowed” without explicit authorization; some perhaps taking place without the knowledge of the bishop, and in some places perhaps even contrary to the express wishes of the bishop. Only in the latter case would I dare to suggest a violation of our polity.

How does my recommendation to use the liturgy “A Celebration for a Home” fit into this picture? As the outline form indicated, the answer involves the nature of a “home,” the meaning of public and private in our tradition, the power to authorize and to celebrate liturgies, and the nature of pastoral care.

A house is not a home

Whatever else one may say about marriage, there is more to it than mere cohabitation. Indeed, cohabitation without benefit of marriage is regarded by some as as serious a violation of traditional sexual morality as same-sex couples living together with some form of blessing.

This is in itself paradoxical, and points to a source of tension in the traditional view, according towhich a mixed-sex couple can transform a sinful relationship (cohabitation) into a virtuous one by exchanging vows always to remain in that relationship. A same-sex couple cannot do so under the traditional understanding; rather, to swear to remain faithful in the relationship might be seen as making it all the worse — a willing persistence in sin. Same-sex relationships, according to the tradition, are inherently unblessable, and incapable of “redemption” by any other means than termination.

Even among those who embrace the tradition, however, some (such as the Rev. Fleming Rutledge) have been willing to acknowledge that the matter need not be quite so cut and dried: that there is some moral value, however imperfect and short of the ideal, in encouraging stable relationships for same-sex couples, as a “remedy to fornication” and an alternative to promiscuity for those not gifted with the charism of celibacy.

However that may be, in the long run, it is not mere cohabitation — sharing a domicile — that forms the moral basis of marriage. Just as there is more to marriage than sex, there is more to a home than a house. People remain bound by their marriage vows even when separated for an extended period — and it is the vows that have formed the core of the church’s understanding of marriage (variously balanced by notions of contract and consummation) since the Middle Ages.

Yet at the same time, the concept of the home forms an central part of the marriage tradition in most human cultures, including those that gave us the present Christian understanding of marriage. As I noted in my outline, one of the oldest surviving marriage liturgies consists of the blessing of the couple in their home, rather than in the church. And aside from the practical matter of couples moving in together, we still see survivals of symbolic acts such as bearing the bride over the threshold forming a part of the cultural reality of what it means to create a new home. Moreover, our English word husband lays a certain responsibility on the groom as well — for he is a man who has a household. And it is helpful perhaps to note that the Latin American word for “married” is casado. It is in unauthorized, but very human, form of language, ritual and intention that we see the transformation of a mere house into a home. It could be argued that the home is a more fitting place for this celebration and transformation than the church. After all, Jesus assures us that in the life of the resurrection there is no marriage; so perhaps allowing its symbolic value to flourish in the home might make it possible to emphasize the eucharist as the proper “churchly” symbol of the kingdom of heaven, which is after all a marriage feast rather than a marriage itself.

I acknowledge that neither the Episcopal Church nor the Anglican Communion — nor the vast bulk of the world’s civil society — is at the point of accepting a liturgy — or a civil ceremony — for “same-sex marriage.” So I suggest that even though modern communication has speeded the rate at which such things might develop, we could well follow the cautious course of the early church in its slow (six to ten century-long!) accommodation of mixed-sex marriage as its own, and follow the early stages of that course in acknowledging that same-sex couples have the right to live not only in a house, but in a home — and more than that, to recognize that they do so, and that the signs of grace and charity this manner of life reveal show it not only to be capable of receiving, but of being a blessing.

Public and private

Some of the debate concerning such blessings has revolved around the words public and private. It is important to acknowledge several things. First, private does notmean“clandestine.” Second, public does not necessarily mean “celebrated at the 11 am liturgy on Sunday morning.” To a certain extent, all marriages not held as part of a regular church worship service — and I imagine that includes the overwhelming majority except in places that serve as wedding chapels — are by definition “private” — that is how they are listed in the Register of Parish Services. Lest I rely solely on such a tome as a source for argument, let me turn to one recently given prominence in the Draft Covenant for the Anglican Communion: the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

In that book, two forms for Baptism are provided, with an acknowledged preference for “Publick Baptism of Infants” to be performed before the congregation, but with the recognition that for pastoral reasons, including emergencies, “Private Baptism of Children in Houses” is available. The point is that “private” does not indicate “clandestine” — indeed, the liturgy provides an extended addendum for the public proclamation of the private act.

Which raises an interesting point concerning publicity in general, and the church’s role in it. One of the primary reasons for moving marriage from home to church through the Middle Ages was publicity, a desire to stamp out “hidden” marriages, and ensure that folk knew who was married and who wasn’t. This had little or nothing to do with any theology of marriage other than the avoidance of bigamy. Rather, the church came, through that era, to play an increasing role as the public recorder of events. In a time without mass communication, and even limited literacy, it was important that all such matters be “published” in some open and recognizable form. Hence the evolution of such appurtenances as the reading of banns — all designed not to make the marriage, but to make the marriage known.

There is, however, another important function to the public celebration of essentially private (or personal) acts — that is, liturgies which involve a ministration not to the whole congregation, but only to certain members of it. This function is true of baptism as well as of marriage: and it is the exemplary role played by the newly baptized or the newly married — whose vows serve to enkindle a recollection of the vows the other members of the congregation have made; that all the baptized take renewed strength from witnessing baptism, and all married couples renew their awareness of the vows they have themselves made when they witness a marriage.

There are congregations ready, willing and able to embrace the public celebration of same-sex relationships. Many others would be willing to celebrate with a couple “after the fact.” Some few may find themselves unwilling to acknowledge the blessing of couples in their midst, or in their presence. Rather than forcing the matter further than it has gone at present, I counsel a willing engagement with the status quo, rather than a step back to the status quo ante that the Primates seem to envision. Let the process of reception have an opportunity to work, as it must, through the patient engagement of local communities with what is, after all, the most personal, private, and local of all liturgical rites, involving at a minimum only the two who give themselves to each other.

By what authority do you do such things

It is within the competence of Bishops of this church to authorize special forms of liturgical worship not found in the Book of Common Prayer. They cannot demand the use of such liturgies, as I read this Constitutional permission. However, the liturgy for “The Celebration of a Home” has already been approved for use in this church by the General Convention. I do not think a Bishop can forbid the use of the liturgies contained in the Book of Occasional Services; there is certainly no need further to approve them. While the rite in question contains only a minimal blessing of the couple, it is at a climactic point in the liturgy. There is nothing to prevent a couple exchanging vows at some point in the ceremonial blessing of the home — as the vows are made to each other and to God — and it is the vows that make the marriage. No earthly authority is needed to swear to another person that you will love them, support them, rejoice with them and suffer with them for as long as you live. Love, as Saint Paul said, fufills the law; and I can think of no other liturgy that so fulfills the commandment, “Do unto others as you would be done by” than such an exchange of vows — perfectly balanced, and perfectly complementary regardless of the gender of the couple.

But dare a priest bless such an engagement to remain lovingly faithful and faithfully loving? Priests are ordained to bless, to pronounce God’s blessing; it is part of the charism; it is part of what we do, like preaching and teaching. There is no requirement that we report to our bishops every blessing of a home that we perform, any more than we send our bishops copies of our sermons for approval. Certainly priests have the right to withhold a blessing — the canons explicitly give priests the right to decline to marry any couple; so no one is forced to injure their conscience in this matter; rather those who wish to bless may bless, and those who choose not to can refrain.

Now, as I alluded to above, I am not so foolish as to think that we have reached the point at which same-sex relationships are on a parity with marriage in this church or this nation. I believe the wind has shifted over the last decades, and the day will dawn when both church and state will come to this recognition — that it is the human qualities of fidelity and love, rather than the merely animal reality of sex, that constitutes the proper locus of the marriage vow. In the meantime, the Episcopal Church has come thus far, and I see no reason to step back or to stand down. What we have done is really rather modest and should not seem so threatening. Some in this church, or some in the rest of the communion may not be able to abide the pastoral provision we have made for some of our members. It is they who will have to decide if they can abide in the same church, or the same communion, with those who can and do.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 3, 2007

Acts and Actions

Some while ago, my brother-in-Christ Thomas Bushnell posted an excellent meditation on Acts 11. I commend the whole reflection to you, but want to post here the nine points he discerns from the tale recounted there, as a way in which the church might best engage with change, discernment, and possible reception.

1. Individuals, both within and without the church, based on their own private experiences of God, are led to violate existing norms. They may be doing so without any consultation or approval from established authorities.

2. The gift of the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the new effort. The sign of the Holy Spirit is not some sort of conformity to existing practice, but is instead some sort of publicly visible grace. We might think of communities of joy and growth, of feeding the poor, of fruitful prayer.

3. The rest of the church, nervous and upset by the innovation, asks for an explanation. They do not insist that approval had to be granted in advance. If the innovation is right, then it does not matter that they were not consulted; if the innovation is wrong, it would not matter if they had been.

4. The private experiences of God which led to the innovation are explained.

5. The experiences of violating existing practice are related, signs are described of God’s activity preceding the innovation, activity which occured outside the church.

6. The gifts poured out by the Holy Spirit are described.

7. Now, for the very first time a public theological rationale for the innovation is given. Crucial reliance is placed not on scripture, tradition, or reason. No explanation is given about how to interpret the scriptures which prohibited the innovation. Reliance is instead placed upon the visible gift of the Spirit.

8. The church responds in joy and thankgsiving, genuinely pleased that the innovation has overthrown what had been previously understood to be the bounds of God’s grace.

9. The church’s missionary apparatus swings into action, not to block the innovation or argue against it, but to spread it as soon as possible, as widely as possible.
As Thomas suggests, applying this approach in our present crisis seems a helpful way forward.

March 2, 2007

In the Cardinal's Closet

It is time for Friday Satire, and what I offer is satirical but of a rather mordant sort. This poem came to me in the wee hours of this morning, and I pass it along as something delivered from an unknown sender. For those of you who enjoy my poems, and those who despise them, you will not be disappointed.
In the Cardinal’s Closet

In the cardinal’s closet
the ghosts of former altar boys
play tiddly-winks with
consecrated hosts.
Drunk on sacramental wine, they
suffer the manual acts of
paunchy gray-haired clerics,
grasping vainly for the
tatters of their own lost youth,
ultimately unable to confect
a transubstantiation of their lives.

O wounded, wounding world,
when will you cease
this cycle of abuse?
Your temples, shaken to the depths,
stand empty, gaping, void of spirit;
you have exorcised your angels,
and expelled your Lord.

How I have longed, Jerusalem,
to shield you with my wings.
But this is not Jerusalem,
this Babylon. Come out, come out
from her my people. Fallen, fallen
is Babylon the great.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
March 2, 2006

Kendall Harmon is Right

or, of the danger of diplomatic language

There has been some interesting back and forth between Jim Naughton and Kendall Harmon, and a cloud of various witnesses in the comment sections at their respective blogs, concerning an alleged “loophole” concerning blessings of same-sex relationships.

Let me begin by backing up to Lambeth 1998.1.10. This resolution is capable of little spin, as I see it. It clearly states that same-sexuality is unacceptable and unbiblical. Because of this, the legitimization or blessing of same-sex relationships cannot be advised; nor can the ordination of any person involved in a same-gender union. I have some question as to whether by “legitimising” the Bishops were referring to civil or ecclesiastical law; but apart from this it is clear they intend there to be no blessings of any kind, nor ordinations — and I point out that the order of ministry is not specified.

The Windsor Report, however, backed away somewhat on both counts. In spite of the confusions about the extent to which the General Convention “authorized” or “allowed” for same-sex blessings, the one significant addition to the formula throughout this Report is the phrase “public rites.” It is also clear that the Windsor Report spends no small amount of energy in shifting its attention to ordination to the episcopate, from ordination tout court. There is some possible ambiguity at paragraph 23; but the thrust of the section beginning with paragraph 63, and the final recommendations, focus solely on the office of bishop — a focus no doubt drawn by New Hampshire.

The Primates at Dromantine continued this language, focusing on “public rites” and the episcopate. However, and this is where I agree with Dr Harmon, the statement adopted at Dar es Salaam returns to the language of Lambeth, and removes any reference to “public rites” (except in the footnote that references the Windsor Report); and in the final recommendations substitutes the request that Bishops “not authorise any Rite of Blessing.” The position on ordination seems to hold at the Windsor/Dromantine level, restricting ordination only regarding the episcopate.

I think it is important that we be very clear what we are being asked to do concerning same-sex blessings, and not try to weasel around the matter. If we do not choose to comply with the exact request, let us frame our rationale for not doing so, rather than pretending that we have complied.

Tobias Haller