May 30, 2007

The Visitation

My Soul Proclaims God's Greatness

Setting of the Magnificat from "Mountain Vespers" by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG, sung by the members of the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory.

People often ask me about the Brotherhood, and this little video shows us at prayer, and singing.

New Paisley Pattern

Satire mode on.

Formerly available only in black and white (or black and tan) but now available in shades of gray.

Who would have thought it?
Satire mode off.

May 25, 2007

A Friday Musical Offering

String Quartet #1 -- Bible Pictures (2007)
In five movements:
1) Miriam at the Red Sea
2) Wandering in the Wilderness
3) Balaam (Waltz)
4) Dinah (Love is Strong as Death)
5) Jordan and the Promised Land

by Tobias Haller

May 23, 2007

Invitations Sent and Withheld

Much is being made of the guest-list to Lambeth. To my mind, it seems above all that +Cantuar is giving +Abuja the opportunity to walk apart.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been quietly clear about CANA (once it changed from a legitimate chaplaincy for Nigerians into an incursion and occupying colony for disaffected Episcopalians). ++Rowan described the consecration of Martyn Minns as "unhelpful" and urged against his installation in a private (though publicized) letter. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that Martyn Minns is not regarded as a "legitimate" bishop but rather as "irregular" -- joining the ranks of Rodgers and Murphy in that select group of modern Anglicoid episcopi vagantes. +New Hampshire, on the other hand, is commended as legal but as he is seen as a source for anxiety, he is simultaneously not sent an invitation but told he might attend as a guest; and I leave it to more subtle minds than mine to tell the difference, since +Cantuar is also clear this Lambeth Conference is not to be a legislative or doctrinal assembly or synod, but rather more along the lines of what +Peter Abuja has called a "jamboree."

So it appears to me that this current action on the part of the wily Welshman is a diplomatic move that gives +Abuja every reason to refuse to remain in Communion with Canterbury. As the Church of Nigeria constitution has already been amended to pave the way, it is now a simple matter to stroll apart in a globally southern manner.

Tobias Haller BSG

May 22, 2007

New York GC Deputation on the Draft Covenant

from the Deputies to the General Convention from the Episcopal Diocese of New York

the following was unanimously adopted by the deputation

General Response to the Report

1. Do you think an Anglican Covenant is necessary and/or will help to strengthen the interdependent life of the Anglican Communion? Why or why not?

It would be helpful at this point in time for the Anglican Communion to make up its mind whether the needs of the world and the mission of the church in response to those needs will be better served by a more strictly and centrally regulated structure, or by a more open model deployed for ministry. We favor the latter as more in keeping with Christ’s commission to the church, which is focused not on itself and its structures but on the proclamation of the saving message to a wounded world. It appears that the more we attempt to secure our inner agreements the more we focus on the things that divide us. The Anglican Communion has been known until recently as a body governed not by statute but by bonds of affection, and a Covenant, if needed, should, unlike the present proposal, focus on the affection rather than the bondage. Such a Covenant would be tolerant of diversity and encourage bilateral cooperation in meeting local and global needs through partnerships rather than promoting more complex and rigid structures, as the present proposal seems to advise.

The Introduction to the Draft

2. How closely does this view of communion accord with our understanding of the development and vocation of the Anglican Communion?

The introduction to the Draft Covenant accurately reflects the nature of our concerns as a communion, and flags some important truths; most particularly that communion is based in the person of Christ, and the work of the church in the mission of Christ.

However, the introduction (and the Draft itself) avoid or ignore these truths, and focus on the institutional or political aspect of the Communion as a global body, as if the mere existence of a unified ecclesiastical body were sufficient to recognize the reality of communion and to effect its goals. The Draft gives unity in Christ through Baptism lip-service, while emphasizing institutional unity. It pays little attention to the fact that institutional structures that bind the work of the church too closely can limit its effectiveness in meeting local needs; and it is good to remember that all ministry is, ultimately, local; this reflects the reality of the Incarnation which has global effect precisely because of the scandal of particularity by which God chose to act in a specific time and place. The global witness of a global church is only salvific when its work and witness advance God’s kingdom in particular places, meeting particular needs. There are many global movements in the world, and not all of them advance God’s kingdom; and there are many evangelical efforts that are very effective with no global involvement at all. There is, in short, no particular virtue in being part of a global community unless that global community is ordered towards making Christ known in every particular time and place, and actually effective in doing so.

It may well be the special gift of the Anglican Communion to remain as it has been in carrying out God’s mission: a fellowship of autonomous churches, rather than a “global church.” There are other “global churches” (such as the Roman Catholic Church) which function as an institutionally unified body, and the unspoken questions suggested in the approach taken by the Draft must be, “Why abandon one of the distinctive marks of Anglicanism in order to be more like other global churches?” Are we, in doing this, seeking to mimic a structure that has its own manifest flaws and faults, rather than accepting and working with and through the difficulties inherent in our own?

The Preamble

3. Is this a sufficient rationale for entering into a Covenant? Why or why not?

The Preamble would present a sufficient rationale for a Covenant if there were any evidence that the proposal actually could achieve the goal of helping the particular and national churches “to proclaim more effectively in our different contexts the Grace of God revealed in the Gospel.” This is by no means evident, and the recent disagreements and tensions experienced in the Communion appear to indicate the contrary. Teachings on some issues supported by a majority of the Communion may, at any given time, work contrary to the advance of the Gospel in particular parts of the world. An examination of the history of Lambeth statements on such matters as polygamy and birth control are exemplary of this unfortunate tendency for global decisions to impede rather than further local evangelism.

The church must be able to proclaim the eternal and unchanging Gospel in different social and cultural contexts, and in doing so recognize that the Gospel itself emerges from and was originally presented to particular cultures and societies. The testimony of the early church shows that while the core beliefs concerning Christ and his saving acts were not subject to cultural accommodation, there were other beliefs and customs on which a range of accepted positions was tolerable, and that it is dangerous to confuse the two.

The present tensions concern matters that are not core teachings of the Gospel and Creeds; and such differences of opinion on moral discipline have long been acknowledged in the larger Christian community. A monolithic position on a social or moral issue, without the capacity to adapt it or depart from it in order to meet local needs, will not serve the mission of the church. It may well lead to a church with a heart of stone, sure of its own rightness and perhaps deaf to the Spirit speaking through the people of God.

The church must also be prepared to recognize its own errors and missteps (Articles XIX and XXI), and be aware that a rigid or authoritarian structure may impede openness to the critique offered not only by the members of the body, but from those not yet part of it. The need for the church to repent from its past sins against indigenous peoples, from the easy equivalence the church made between native cultures and native religions, leading to the cultural equivalent of genocide, lies before us. To confuse the culture of first-century Palestine with the Gospel is as bad as confusing the culture of 16th- or 19th-century Europe with the Gospel. The church must be aware that while there is a danger of deformation by culture, there are times when the church is blind to its own accommodations to past or regional cultures, and more importantly that there are times when the culture can be a corrective to the church.

An example of this is how the church gradually realized its error in supporting slavery, which had been a cultural reality accepted as the norm in the first century world — indeed, to a large extent the single most important institution in first-century global society — and which to our shame remained acceptable into the modern era. The movement to end slavery came as much from the secular Enlightenment as from the leadership of the church; and the Christian influences against slavery were often more vocal in the nonconformist groups than in those with more “global” institutional or established structure.

The Life we Share

4. Do these six affirmations adequately describe The Episcopal Church’s understanding of “common catholicity, apostolicity, and confession of faith? Why or why not?

The affirmations are to a large extent unobjectionable, as they are for the most part slight expansions of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. However, as with any such general statements, it is in the particular application that problems will arise, as they have in recent times.

5. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (of the Church of England) are not currently authoritative documents for The Episcopal Church. Do you think they should be? Why or why not?

The greatest difficulty with the Draft Covenant’s citation of the Articles of Religion lies in the extent to which the Draft Covenant itself is in conflict with them. One of the characteristic marks of Anglicanism is the autonomy of national or particular churches, with a clear and absolute rejection of any and all episcopal authority from outside. (Article XXXVII, and ordination Oath of the 1662 BCP.) This is a formative element in the creation of the Church of England, and The Episcopal Church, whose ecclesiastical independence from its Mother Church was seen as “necessary” at the time of the American Revolution, as stated in the Preface to the First American Book of Common Prayer.

That first American prayerbook is markedly different from the 1662 version in many and important aspects. The Eucharistic liturgy derives not from the 1662 version, but from the older Edwardian forms preserved and expanded in the Scottish tradition. Many liturgical scholars would say that the Eucharistic rite of 1662 is seriously deficient on many grounds. To offer another example relevant to our present discussion, the marriage rite of the American book is almost completely rewritten from the English version, and significantly amends the theological rationale for marriage embodied in the English rite.

In short, this section of the Draft Covenant would be relatively unobjectionable if the reference to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer were excised, and the remainder of the Covenant brought into line with the Articles. However, there then might well be little of the Draft remaining, as so much of it, with its focus on authority, tends away from national autonomy and Scriptural sufficiency.

Our Commitment to Confession of Faith

6. Is each of these commitments clear and understandable with respect to what is being asked of the member churches and are they consistent with statements and actions made by The Episcopal Church in the General Convention? Why or why not?

A number of the commitments appear to be vague platitudes capable of a very wide degree of interpretation. For example, what are “biblically derived moral values”? As noted above, one can easily derive a biblical moral value for slavery, so long as slave-holders treat their slaves well. And what is the “vision of humanity received by and developed in the communion of member churches”? Human anthropology and its theological significance are highly variable from culture to culture, the variety perhaps nowhere so clearly evident as in the role of women in various parts of the world, and consequently the Communion. It is not abundantly clear that a common vision of humanity exists among the various members.

Point three also contains the seeds of cultural pride referred to above, that the Scripture, as interpreted and applied by the church (especially in its teaching office, which according to the Ordinal resides in the presbyterate, not the episcopate) be a source of illumination, challenge, and transformation to human cultures and systems. While this may be true, the church has often shown itself to be blind to the good inherent in human cultures, and the capacity of culture and its structures to illuminate our understanding of Scripture.

The Life we Share with Others

7. Is the mission vision offered here helpful in advancing a common life of the Anglican Communion and does this need to be a part of the Draft Covenant? Why or why not?

The mission vision laid out in the Draft is the most valuable part of the Covenant. It recognizes the call to transform unjust structures of society, and not all structures simply. This section, by focusing on what the church is for rather than on how it is structured might well constitute the whole of a Covenant. This section should be the touchstone by which the Communion functions; that is, if a given action or structure is not demonstrably enhancing the mission as described here, it had best not be undertaken or established. On that ground, it is not self-evident that the Draft Covenant as a whole will be of any benefit whatever in fulfilling the intent of this section; and will almost certainly lead to paralysis and loss of capacity to witness, as voices for creative dissent are stifled by the need to conform.

Our Unity and Common Life

8. Does this section adequately describe your understanding of the history and respective roles of the “Four Instruments of Communion”? Why or why not?

This section contains many inconsistencies and omissions. The undue focus on the episcopate is evident from the beginning, and not only overlooks the crucial role of the laity, but also of the other orders of ministry. While the ordinal confers the task of preserving unity on the bishop, the teaching office resides with the presbyter; in addition, the task of mission is primarily diaconal, and the whole people of God give their consent and their support. The Covenant ignores this balance.

Equally problematical is the affirmation that the four Instruments of Communion serve “to discern our common mind.” If there truly is a common mind, rather than merely a majority opinion, surely it need not be discerned, since it will be obvious. And while this passage verbally eschews the creation of a juridical central legislative or executive authority, the Covenant itself later goes on to recommend that the Primates Meeting essentially exercise that function. The Holy Spirit is not limited to or discerned by the Instruments of Communion, but is free to move where it wills.

Most importantly, the reduction of the Anglican Consultative Council — the only one of the four Instruments to have a clear constitutional basis and a representation from all orders of ministry — to a merely co-ordinating role (albeit in the most important aspect of our common life: mission) reveals the backwards-telescope reductionism that underlies the whole Covenant.

Finally, in discerning effectiveness, one is challenged to look to the fruits of the Spirit. These fruits are not at all evident in the past or recent work of Lambeth or the Primates, and the Archbishop of Canterbury has been tasked almost beyond his capacity in what appears to be a monastery full of novices with a reluctant abbot. One might observe that without Lambeth 1998 we might not be in the position in which we find ourselves, and reflect that had Lambeth never met at all the world would scarcely have been changed for the worse. Only the Anglican Consultative Council appears to be able to show a record of actual accomplishment for the good of the church and the world in the exercise of mission. It might be that the best course to take at present would be to rely on the already existing constitution of the ACC as the basis for any Covenant (if one is desired) rather than creating one as flawed as this present novel offering.

Unity of the Communion

9. Do you think there needs to be an executive or judicial body for resolving disagreements or disputes in the Anglican Communion? If so, do you think it should be the Primates Meeting as recommended by the Draft Covenant? Explain.

Disagreements can be settled by any number of means. The simplest remedy is to give those who are disagreeable no forum in which to air or enforce their disagreement, and merely to continue to disagree with each other until another generation arises, for whom the former dispute may be irrelevant. Seeking an authoritative solution, however, forces the issue to judgment, and judgment implies winners and losers. The Anglican Communion, from the foundation of Lambeth on, does not have a spectacular track record at settling disputes; yet most of them are forgotten over time.

Settling the authority for resolving disputes with the Primates is the worst possible solution to the dilemma faced by the Communion. Our unity is not based upon our agreement, but upon our Baptism into Christ. He is the head of the body, and the substitution of an oligarchy, whether constituted of Primates or bishops alone, or even of a more representative entity, is a form of submission to an authority which Christ forbade to his apostles, when he said, “The kings of the gentiles exercise authority over them... But with you it shall not be so; rather let the greatest among you become like the youngest.” (Luke 22:25-26) The image that comes to mind with the Draft’s proposal to commit judicial or executive authority (with the capacity to exercise discipline) to the Primates, is that of the servant who was rewarded with a position he then abused, by mistreating and lording his power over the other servants. (Luke 12:45-46) The punishment exacted upon this servant is precisely and literally division. Judgment (even — perhaps especially — when cloaked as “discernment”) will always divide; it will always create a unity of some over against others, at its worst giving in to the utilitarian notion that the peace of the many is to be achieved at the expense of the few.

Rather, if there is to be a Covenant, it should reflect the openness and freedom granted to the children of the God through the Gospel, which is not a spirit of bondage, but of charity and generosity towards those with whom one disagrees, recognizing them as members of the one Body not by virtue of their proclamation but through the blood of the Cross and the waters of Baptism. If Christ is the head, let not the members contend one with another. Christ will speak through his whole body in time, as matters of dissension cease to be divisive, in a natural and organic process. In the meantime, a comprehension of diversity within a willingly unified structure that will not allow itself to be divided, should be the goal of any covenant worthy of the name.

Moreover, this political solution with its focus on the Primates embodies a polity foreign to that of The Episcopal Church. In our church, at each level from parish to the highest synodical body, the laity are involved in leadership and custodianship of the work of the church, in concert with ordained leaders. We realize that this polity seems difficult to those who come from churches in which the episcopate is the font of all leadership. However, we note that the Anglican Consultative Council does replicate this structure at an international level, and commend this body as the primary working group for the communion.

10. What does the phrase “a common mind about matter of essential concern...” mean to you?

The use of essential brings up another conflict with the Articles of Religion, at least if essential is held to be synonymous with necessary. Article XX states that nothing can be deemed necessary for salvation if it cannot clearly be proved from Scripture. This does not mean that the church may not institute or even practice things not proved from Scripture, though it cannot require them, and it dare not require something that is not commendable to Scripture: examples from the Articles themselves are infant baptism (XXVII) and vernacular liturgy (XXIV). Anglicanism has generally held that all that is essential concerning the faith is addressed in the Creeds, and that the church is at liberty in matters of rites and ceremonies. The church’s authority in moral questions is balanced by its own tendencies to err or to fail to distinguish between that which is in Scripture from that which is truly of Scripture.

In our present divisions we are dealing with questions of pastoral theology. Decisions have been made in parts of the Communion that those parts believe to be in accord with Scripture. Those provinces that have made such decisions have done so locally, and with no suggestion that they must be required of all.

The church as a whole has taken advantage of a great deal of leeway concerning pastoral teaching. One of the most troubling phrases in this Covenant, noted above, is “biblically derived moral values” in section 3.1. The church has “derived” many and various moral values from Scripture throughout its long course, some of which few would defend as “moral” — perhaps the most egregious examples are slavery and its later cousin apartheid, which were defended by leaders of the church on biblical grounds. The “common mind” of the church can be in grave error concerning faith and morals, as the Articles attest. Ultimately, we are not saved by our morals or our works; however important they may be, they are not essential; we are saved by faith — and even this is not our fallible and imperfect faith in Christ, but the eternal and unshakeable faith of Christ: his blood, his sacrifice, his work — not ours — in which we participate vicariously, and imperfectly, as “unworthy servants.”

Our Declaration

11. Can you affirm the “fundamental shape” of the Draft Covenant? Why or why not?

The fundamental shape of the Draft does not represent the ideal of comprehension for the sake of truth, and not even compromise for the sake of peace, but rather a less than forthright institution of a substantially judicial procedure explicitly directed, not towards the discernment of agreement or the toleration of diversity, but to the exclusion of dissent based on the considerations of a conciliar entity. This “covenant” is in the form of a weak contract; not a marriage of commitment, but a pre-nuptial agreement containing the seeds of its own dissolution.

12. What do you think are the consequences of signing such a Covenant as proposed in this Draft?

The Covenant could be a benign tool for good or a means to the collapse of the Communion depending on how it is applied. On the whole, it seems to be framed to meet a need some appear to have for a degree of intolerance and rigidity. It represents such a departure from our traditions in polity, and is at such odds even in itself, that it would seem little good could come of it.

Concluding Questions

13. Having read the Draft Covenant as a whole do you agree with the CDG’s assertion that “nothing which is commended in the draft text of the Covenant can be said to be ‘new’”? Why or why not?

Contrary to the CDG’s assertion, this Covenant represents a significant departure in polity and governance for the Anglican Communion. Although language from the Anglican tradition is scattered throughout, the significance given to this language, and the emphasis on its employment has shifted from autonomous provincial government with joint cooperation and consultation, to a global body with central authority for leadership (and with an implied power of exclusion), placed in the hands of a body that had no formal existence as such prior to 1978, and has thus existed for a single generation. The elevation of “biblical morality” (as discerned by that authority) to the level of “essential,” is also a novel development.

The Draft Covenant thus seems to be a new patch put on the shabby and worn but still serviceable old cloak of the Anglican Communion; and the implied threat of schism (or exile) will create a worse tear than might happen if we were to exercise patience and charity instead of judgment.

14. In general, what is your response to the Draft Covenant taken as a whole? What is helpful in the draft? What is not-helpful? What is missing? Additional comments?

Our general response to the Draft Covenant is that it is unnecessary. The Anglican Consultative Council already has a workable Constitution for the governance of the international affairs of the Communion, and individual provinces have the right to restrict their interaction with other member provinces when and as they see fit, without undoing the whole structure. It is better to allow such temporary bilateral divisions on an ad hoc basis than to legislate division at a larger scale.

The section on Mission is a clear articulation of the purpose and direction of the church. That this is a product of the Anglican Consultative Council argues for the wisdom of emphasizing the scope of this body rather than the Primates or Lambeth.

The general tone of the Draft is unhelpful in that it appears to be less than honest in naming the real problems we face, and by seeking a solution based on bondage rather than freedom. It also fails to take adequate consideration of the importance of our baptismal unity, in spite of giving it lip-service. By focusing on implicit disunity at its conclusion, the Draft contains a poison pill.

The Draft fails to give adequate recognition to the ministries of laity, deacons and priests as distinctive participants in the governance of the church. The Draft appears willing to sacrifice those who dissent from a majority view on the altar of unity, thereby taking a view more akin to that of Caiaphas than Gamaliel; a view more punitive than paschal, willing to sacrifice others instead of exercising patience in the humble realization that the church’s process of reception demonstrably takes many generations. This document has grown out of impatience, haste, and a rush to judgment; from those ready to speak, but slow to listen.

The closing paragraph of section 7 refers to “the substance of the covenant” but places the interpretation of what that substance is in the hands of the Instruments of Communion. From our perspective, the substance appears to consist of an agreement never to disagree, but to excise the disagreeable. It is evident that this represents an essentially protestant approach, in which the church seeks to purify itself of minority views, and hence divides again and again. This is not how the church catholic has functioned at its best, when change has taken place locally, and these changes have been received (or not) throughout the larger church. Surely we have noticed that at least two major issues of division from the time of the Reformation have now been adopted by the very church that refused to allow them: the vernacular liturgy and the common cup. Change may take time, and patience is a virtue.

We referred to novices above, and the nature of the novitiate is that it requires practice and action in order properly to discern if a proposed way is right or not. It is no use simply studying patterns and taking measurements. Ultimately one must put on the clothing and see if it fits. These matters cannot be settled academically, but only by trial, and trial on a local level is the most effective (and safest) way to determine utility, rather than imposing change on the whole all at once. In this, experience is not a mere addition to the so-called Anglican way; it is an unavoidable teacher in that way. To a very real extent this Covenant stifles the possibilities for novelty through its own novel proposal for a central authority. It will quench the Spirit in order to serve the institution.

Members of the Deputation

The Rev. Gerald Keucher
Diane B. Pollard, Deputation Chair
The Rev Theodora Brooks
Michael J. McPherson
The Rev.Tobias Haller BSG
Nell B. Gibson
The Rev. James Burns
James A. Forde

May 19, 2007

Lucifer Shivers

...the devils also believe, and tremble. — James 3:19

I saw the vast immensities of light,
the three-ringed circles of the Three-Self’d-One;
I, standing under, understood aright,
discerning God the Father, Spirit, Son.
But then, when God made Man, I had begun
To lose the thread of what God was about
In making creatures who, without a doubt,
Resembled and reflected God so well.

For this, and this alone, I went to Hell,
because I can not fathom, see the way
or why of God’s self-image-making; fell
to dark, cold exile from eternal day.
For this I lost my lofty seat above:
I can not grasp this mystery called “Love.”

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 17, 2007

Communionism and Adhocracy

a thought on the Draft Covenant

The Draft Covenant stresses accountability in its last section, but makes no clear statement as to the basis or the substance of that accountability, and only limns out a vague process for (apparently unconditioned) accountability to the Primates. As with the Windsor Report, it seems to be an "agreement not to disagree" with a poorly defined (and I would say at the least mischievous and the worst malicious) open-ended authority to ensure conformity with whatever happens to be the current "mind" of the larger body as determined by an oligarchy. That is not communion. It has nothing to do with communion. It is "communionism."

I suggest a comparison with the very clear and useful "Called to Common Mission" document by which TEC and ELCA entered into full communion. Common ground is laid out; specific expectations are described; and there is, at least as far as I can see, no suggestion of a need for discipline -- each of the churches remains completely autonomous on matters that do not directly touch the relationship between them, and agree to work together in joint mission. That is communion.

Turning to Scripture

Now, the question is, Do we need a "political" solution to the tensions in the communion? Will a structure, or a code of law, solve the problems? Or simply provide a way to discipline those who do something the larger body doesn't like?

Now, this may sound shocking, but Scripture does not provide an answer for the dilemma of church polity, at least if one is looking for an international system or code of government. Scripture doesn't even provide a polity for a national church, let alone a communion! (This was, in fact, Hooker's primary argument contra the Calvinists). Scripture can give guidance on how Christians should behave towards each other, but it cannot and will not provide a blueprint for the governance even of a national church, far less an international body however constituted (as federation, communion, or curial monarchy).

It is quite true, as Ephraim Radner points out, that "autonomy" is not a biblical term -- but the "communion" spoken of in Scripture takes only two forms:

1) the fellowship enjoyed by all Christians in being part of the universal church, the Body of Christ, through baptism, a fellowship which is fundamentally the same everywhere, at the local and at the universal level; and

2) the mission and ministry that binds the various "local churches" together through charitable work and cooperative mission. This is the koinonía of Rom 15:26, 2 Cor 8 and 9; a "communion" or "fellowship" that is precisely about *service ministry* (overseas financial aid, in fact; the First Millennium Development Goals!). It has nothing whatsoever to do with governance, and barely touches doctrine except for the doctrine of the Great Commandment and mutual service, which unites us in an effective and loving communion. "Service unites; doctrine divides..."

Where the use of Scripture fails

The Draft Covenant is decorated with Scriptural citations, but most of them have little applicability to the real problems facing us. The arguments about how to deal with sinners (as in Matt 18 or 1 Cor 5) do not "map" to the level of churches dealing with other churches. There is no easy correspondence between the relationships of individuals Christians (as described in Scripture) and the structure of church polity (which has evolved in many different forms since apostolic times).

Our task is to find a church polity (which Scripture cannot provide) that continues to respect the individual Christian as a member of the body (which the Scripture does address), and potentiates mission and ministry. And I think Anglicanism as structured up to now has worked well in that regard. Which brings me to my final point for today.

Getting Real

The whole affair at present cannot be treated as an abstract exercise about developing a form of inter-provincial governance for Anglicans, either as if we didn't already have one (minimal as it is), or that this was just an exercise arising out of having nothing else to do.

On the contrary, this is a massive exercise in adhocracy, and until the veil on that is lifted and the real issue confronted, all the rest will be of no use. The Windsor Report took a dishonest view of the ordination of women (which can be seen as a far, far greater innovation and "threat" to communion than the events in New Hampshire or New Westminster, since it necessarily and actually creates an obstacle to mutual recognition of ministers, which as "Called to Common Mission" shows, is a cornerstone of communion). There has also been a pretense that "it isn't really about Gene Robinson" (hence he was not asked to speak in the consultations leading up to the WR). How often have we heard "it's not really about sexuality" only to find that the only concrete matters for a moratorium from TEC are about sexuality?

This doublespeak is not at all helpful in reaching clarity. I have yet to see a clear articulation of why or how the presenting issue is not capable of resolution in exactly the same way as the ordination of women -- that is, by a time of bilateral impairment through a process of reception (or rejection).

The notion that there is a "communion teaching" is specious and self-referential. The fact that Lambeth 1998 was coopted, as Archbishop Ndungane notes, is simply an example of how poorly things work when a "conference" imagines itself to be a legislature and departs from its "founding charism" -- it is this departure from our "Anglican founding charism" that marks the beginning of our woes -- not GC 2003.

As I have said in the reflection below: a return to our charism is the way forward, not a hastily constructed quasi-legal edifice. This charism includes keeping Lambeth as a conference to share common concerns (a "jamboree" as Archbishop Akinola puts it; rather than a legislature, which is what he wants). And above all a return to the baptismal unity that recognizes other Christians as children of God, and other local churches as our partners in mission. If we do not start there, I have no interest at all in where we end up.

Tobias Haller BSG

May 16, 2007

Verses for the Prophets of Doom

on the Eve of the Ascension
“they shall mount up with wings as eagles” — Isaiah 40:31

They told us we were surely doomed,
that we were going to die.
“You’re heading for a cliff!” they boomed —
— not knowing we can fly!

They told us just how wrong we were
and sundry other things.
In this we simply can’t concur
because we trust God’s wings.

So loving hearts will always soar
where judgment counsels fear.
We’ll fly with him whom we adore:
Love marks the Way that’s clear;
His Truth our light,
His Life our flight.
Come risen Lord, draw near.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG — May 16, 2007

May 14, 2007

To Forgive, Divine

Over at another blog I rarely visit, in response to a comment I made that we should be more ready to forgive than to judge, another priest articulated the contrary view in no uncertain terms, saying that without repentance forgiveness is impossible.

I find this a difficult doctrine, one not in keeping with the single greatest act of forgiveness the world has ever known. On the cross, Jesus asked his Father to forgive those who crucified him. Not only had they not repented of this act, they didn't even think they needed to: They knew not what they did.

It is blessed to forgive our brothers and sisters when they repent for the wrong they do -- though the apostles found that difficult enough, especially when told they had to do it again and again, seventy times seven. Hard enough, indeed; how much harder to forgive, as God in Christ did, when no repentance is shown.

If we will only be forgiven to the extent we forgive, then I think we must emulate this divine example: for surely we are all guilty of many things we don't imagine are sins and offenses, and may even imagine we are just and right to do them, even as those who crucified Christ, and persecuted the church. So let us forgive others even when they do not repent; lest God hold us to a standard by which we cannot help but fall.

Tobias Haller BSG

May 12, 2007

Doctrine Divides

Some things I believe about the nature of the church

The "body" of the church consists of its various members. Each member remains individual, and each local church remains as a "member" with its own identity even as it shares in the unity of the whole, as "the church in that place" wherever two or three are gathered together. In an analogy I've made before: just as each loaf of eucharistic bread remains identifiable as an individual loaf and yet each such loaf represents and makes present the whole body of Christ, whether that loaf is in Geneva or Dubuque. Moreover, the bread of communion is most emphatically divided: it is in the breaking of the bread that Christ is made known. And yet, it remains the One bread. This is modeled in the church (in a positive sense) by the existence of the church in Philadelphia, the church in Pergamum, the church in Denver, and so on. They are divided from each other in the sense of their local particular identity, and yet remain one in the spiritual reality that binds them together: which is the One Lord, through the One Faith and the One Baptism; but to each is given some special gift. It is out of the "oneness" that the "eachness" grows; one Spirit empowering a multitude of ministrations. The unity of the church is a spiritual reality that gives rise to the many physical ministries embodied in each instance.

Now, in latter days, (though within the lives of the apostles!) these local divisions were also exacerbated by inner divisions over doctrines: circumcision, gentile inclusion, meat offered to idols. Those on all sides of these debates no doubt still considered themselves to the the "true" Christians; but as history is written by the "winners" (or the survivors, at least), we tend to see the main Pauline strand we inherit as "the" church. Of course, that apostolic and post-apostolic church continued to fragment -- and it is these divisions which are, I admit, problematical, and they are divisions which I believe it is in our utmost interest to seek to mend. In seeking to mend them we do well to focus on the cause of the divisions: sometimes purely political or social, often doctrinal. And often the differences over doctrine in one age come to appear trivial in a later one: but at the time were celebrated causes of division.

But I believe that the ecumenical venture is meaningful because I believe in the underlying unity of the church that cannot be destroyed. Think of it, getting away from sacrament language for a moment, as the situation in a family. The siblings are siblings by a physical descent; yet they can disagree, fight, and not see each other over this or that disagreement. But that doesn't alter the fact that they are still siblings: the underlying real genetic relationship cannot be dissolved (what I call first-order unity), and the superficial divisions (which are second-order) are capable of healing precisely because of the underlying unity. But unity is not identity. All members of the family are equally part of the family while remaining individually themselves.

Which gets us back to Paul's language of the body: I repeat the image I've advanced before, and which Paul enunciates, that unlike the eucharistic bread (which is always and everywhere "bread" though even then each loaf is "itself") the various members of the church have organic identities even though they all participate in the same body. But the body thrives precisely because each organ plays its part and contributes to the whole --- eye, foot, hand. As Paul will say, the body wouldn't function if it were all eye, or all hand. This model of local churches working cooperatively with other local churches in mutual recognition is the model of the early church. And the head of that body is Christ, not an earthly representative (sorry, your holiness; and you too Henry -- you' re both wrong).

The problems arise with the anathemas and schisms, the declarations "we're the church and you aren't" (and these have been going on for a long time) -- usually based on a doctrinal difference of opinion. This is why I see "doctrine" as the problem and the obstacle to unity. And ultimately I think anything other than agreement on a subset of all doctrines is unlikely if not impossible. And I'm not entirely convinced that uniformity on all doctrinal matters is desirable even if it is obtainable. A monolithic doctrine on all matters — without distinction between the essential and the indifferent — would be incapable of correction, and would presume infallibility.

So much as I would like to hope it, I do not see a future in which all Christians share an identical doctrine on all matters. I seriously doubt this has ever been true, otherwise Paul wouldn't be trying to correct or expound "his" gospel over against "some other gospel" and Priscilla and Aquila wouldn't have needed to "instruct" Apollos.

So fixing on a completely unified doctrine on all things will likely never work. So I turn to Huntington's model of agreement on a core of doctrines, and the model proposed in the collect for Richard Hooker: comprehension rather than compromise. Comprehension holds diverse positions (and sometimes contradictory positions, as in the Elizabethan settlement on eucharistic doctrine) together, in an agreement to coexist without trying to convert the other. The focus isn't on the doctrine, but upon the brother or sister in Christ — who they are, not what they believe or do.

This, as I see it, is the question before the Anglican Communion today. Do we seek a uniformity on an issue about which there is actual division of opinion (either by surrender on the part of some, or their excision or departure from the body -- in which one "side" essentially triumphs over the other but all are diminished) or do we allow each other to coexist in a larger mutual_ submission in which neither "side" forces its way upon the other? If this is "liberalism" then I would suggest it is the only means by which a unified church can be maintained -- through the comprehension of divers views, promontories on the continent, organs of a body, members of a family. The only other option, it seems to me, is the image of islands existing in the splendid isolation of doctrinal purity, perhaps with the odd bridge here or there, and the occasional ferry. The Spirit of love gives life, but the Letter kills: the spirit unites; and doctrine divides, if we let it.

Tobias Haller BSG

May 10, 2007

Rearranging the Chairs

In an otherwise well-thought out essay, the always well-worth-reading Ephraim Radner makes, in my opinion, an unhelpful dichotomy. He refers to two models for the church as “localist” and “confessionalist.” At issue are the political structures of and between the various churches; this is all about politics, about who relates to whom, and how they do so, and how decisions are made and enforced. In short, our present turmoil is about ecclesiastical polity, the form of church (or inter-church) government.

The main problem with this current essay is that Dr. Radner’s categories aren’t based on the real division, and I find he creates a distinction without a difference. Read his confessionalist definition and I would say it applies equally to the localist — that is, the church is entire wherever the forms and structures are intact, the sacraments administered, and the gospel preached. That’s the traditional Anglican definition, and it works for me as it has worked for Anglicanism up until very recently — it is the holographic model by which the church subsists entire in each particular provincial instance, much as Christ is truly present in every fragment of the loaf. The fact that Dr. Radner avoids the classical language in his first definition (and uses it in his second, thereby tipping his hand a bit) only makes it seem that the definitions are different.

But, of course, this isn’t the issue. Both of Dr. Radner’s “sides” would agree on that. The problem is “How do these various parts remain united under (or within) a form of governance?” The difference of opinion plaguing us at present is not about the nature of the church (local or universal), but about the day-to-day realities of recognition of orders, cooperation in mission, common worship, and so on. It is not about what the church is but what it does and how it does it.

The real difference is between federalists and unionists: those who want a dispersed authority based on autonomy of and cooperation by the interdependent members of the communion (what we’ve had in Anglicanism since the mid-19th century), and those who want a centralized authority based on a consensus of leadership with the authority to excise from membership those who buck the consensus (the impetus towards a superior synodicality). Dr. Radner has been on the latter side for some time now, and he has good company.

But as I note, the federalist model is the one we’ve had up until now, so Dr. Radner’s case for change needs to be more persuasive. He is pressing for a more centralized form of government as a way of easing the tensions. This comes, in part, because some are unwilling to live with the ambiguity inherent in the looser model: the tensions themselves are the problem. It is not evident to me that the movement towards greater importance to the Instruments of Communion has in fact enhanced or been instrumental to our communion; that is, towards soothing the tensions. On the contrary, they seem to have led to more and more disagreement. So those who wish to push in that direction, seem to me to have a difficult case to make. If they do this to the green wood, how will the dry fare?

Let me hasten to add that I am not utterly opposed to a clear statement being made about how the communion can or should continue to function. But I remain convinced that agreement on a minimal set of principles (such as the Lambeth Quadrilateral) coupled with a laissez-faire willingness to tolerate dissent or disagreement on any matter that “cannot be proved from Scripture” — and I mean proved as in “objectively proved even to those who disagree” — would be preferable to the present Draft Covenant, which holds the authority to exclude from communion as it were like the hatchet in the glass case in the hallway, with a neat label, “In case of X break communion.” If your only tool is a hatchet, remember, everything will look like something to hew.

The real problem

What I would suggest is that we do not in fact have a systemic problem, but a particular disagreement about a fairly narrow range of issues, most of them impinging on sexuality. The heated denials that it’s really about Scriptural authority can no longer be taken seriously: after folks saying the Windsor Process wasn’t really about sex and the Primates meetings weren’t about sex, ultimately the only concrete matters that get laid on the table at the end are about sex — oh, and boundary crossings (but as the boundary crossers will assure us, it’s really about sex.)

Seeking a systemic solution for a particular problem is like the old, “The whole class will sit here until the one who stole the pencil comes forward.” I suppose it works, but it’s not very productive; especially when it turns out no one took the pencil — it just rolled under teacher’s desk.

At the same time it is no use pretending we aren’t in a difficult situation in the Anglican Communion. The seams are bursting, and there seems to be a kind of hastiness and ire in the air. So I’d like to offer for reflection something I wrote some decades ago about the renewal of religious communities. I mean, communities are communities — and renewal is renewal. What I’d like to suggest is that by an appeal to systemic change (rather than renewal) the Anglican Communion is in breakdown mode. Here’s what I wrote back in the 80s — I think it has some relevance to the present situation.

The cycles of doubt

There are four breakdown stages in a community, each characterized by a form of doubt: Mechanical, Conceptual, Moral, and Total.

Mechanical doubt: Are we doing things the right way?

Mechanical doubt is often the first response: members see the order not as a vision-inspired community, but as a mechanism that needs adjustment. Changes are superficial: a new habit design, new liturgies. Of course, there is nothing wrong with either of these things, if they grow out of a living spirit—and if they are responses to the real problems. But if they are efforts to pump life into a comatose body, it is too late for such therapies to be effective. In an organization which does not constantly seek renewal, superficial changes will do little good. Indeed, the adoption of a “therapeutic” model can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: we must be sick because we are seeking a cure!

Conceptual doubt: Are we doing the right things?

At this stage it isn’t the manner of working that comes under doubt, but the work itself. Should we stop teaching? Do we really need to say the Divine Office? These are more fundamental questions that touch at the ethos of the community. If approached with a lack of insight, actions at this stage can lead to disaster. A rebound effect can occur at this point, and some members — or the community as a whole — may develop a siege mentality. Any change becomes a fundamental threat not just to the ethos of the community, but to some even larger principle: the Faith, the Nation, the Cause. Such polarization can render productive renewal nearly impossible.

Moral doubt: Am I doing the right thing?

At this level of doubt individual members begin to internalize the misgivings and apprehensions that have troubled the organization. Those who no longer accept the driving myth of the organization, or who have reached a point of cynicism, begin to make accommodations. They begin to wonder whether they personally need to observe the rule with rigor or vigor, and laxism prevails. More conservative members come to see change and renewal as threats to their personal well-being and identity, with a concomitant decline in self-worth.

Total doubt: Why am I / are we doing this at all?

At this stage personal and communal cynicism, despondency and despair emerge full force, and the doubt shifts almost to an existential level. Organizations which have descended this far into doubt are unlikely to survive; though even here it is possible to rediscover the core ideal which drove the community.

So that’s what I said back then. Does it make sense for us now? The way out, as I counseled the religious communities, is not necessarily systemic change, but renewal in accordance with the founding charism of the community. (I didn’t make that up, by the way; Pope Paul VI did.) I have reflected before on the things I think are distinctive and worthy in Anglicanism. This is our way forward — by a return to our roots, which provide a way to deal with the pressing issues before and behind us.

I agree with Dr. Radner that the Anglican Communion could — if it gets its act together — be a “school for communion” for the wider church. But let us not get too grand: The Anglican Communion is provisional just as every other church is provisional until the Master returns. We are challenged to tread the difficult path between a totally centralized authority and a totally dispersed congregationalism. I think that is the best way to structure the church. Some might call that triumphalist; but as I don’t insist on it for those who don’t agree — which would be a contradiction to the model itself — I don’t think I’m triumphalist in the ordinary sense of the word.

As for the present situation, however, to update an old analogy, I think it is a matter of rearranging the deck chairs on the QE II. The problem isn’t with the ship, but with those who don’t like the arrangement of the chairs — or perhaps, they don’t like some of the passengers themselves, or how they behave themselves. That is where the “theological difficulty” lies. The rest is all politics.

— Tobias Haller BSG

May 8, 2007

Enough of hate

Recently some of my friends have started posting a bumper-sticker that says, “Love the bigot, hate the bigotry.” This is a response to the oft-repeated, “Jesus taught us to hate the sin but love the sinner”? But I’d like to offer a better response. I’d like to say, “Enough with the hate, already.” After all, Jesus didn’t say anything about hating sin or sinners, did he? Not in my Bible! Luke alone preserves the saying about hating one’s family (a strange twist on ‘family values’) and one’s life (14:26) and John the instruction to hate one’s own life in order to gain eternal life (12:25).

So this floating quotation seems not to be an authentic logion. But suppose one wants to argue that it is in keeping with what Jesus would have said; well, let’s take a look at that possibility.

First of all we have to ask, What is sin? (If that’s what we’re supposed to hate.) Wrong actions? Would Jesus have said that? No, because defining behavior alone as being sinful is not only non-Christian, but non-Jewish. The Tenth Commandment (“Thou shalt not covet”) and the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:20-48) have confounded jurists and agnostics for centuries. In Judaism and Christianity, ethics, which forbids certain acts, is augmented by a higher moral law in which it is not enough just “not to kill, not to commit adultery...” but in which one must not hate, must not lust, must not desire (possessions or actions) wrongly. For the Christian and the Jew, there may be victimless crimes, but there are no victimless sins.

Jesus recognized, in his critique of the Pharisees, how by categorizing certain actions as sins it becomes very simple to justify oneself. When behavior alone is the criterion, it becomes painfully easy to stand in judgment: “I thank God I’m not one of them!” is a cry of self-justification through the judgment of others who do “what I don’t do.”

So it would seem on the first count, the very nature of sin, that Jesus would not have said, “Hate the sin, not the sinner.”

But there is a further difficulty. How does one separate the two, if sin involves more than behavior, as both the Law and Jesus maintain? Jesus does not deal with sin apart from sinners. Without a word about hatred, Christ on the contrary tells us that we should love the sinner and forgive the sin. Be hated — yes, you will be — but do not return that hatred with hatred.

It is impossible to “hate the sin” apart from the sinner, as if sin had some reality apart from the desires and actions of fallen human beings, as if you could somehow extract the sin from a person and vent your purifying fury upon it. Such a notion is very far from the Gospel. What is worse, those who begin by “hating the sin” in this abstract way soon will come to hating the sinner in a concrete way, as indeed they must, since the one cannot exist apart from the other. And when those who legislate what is sinful have sufficient power, we have seen what results: the auto da fé was intended to save the souls of those repentant heretics being burned alive.

There have been enough burnings. There have been enough crosses on the hillside. No more hate, brothers and sisters. Please; no more hate.

— Tobias Haller BSG

May 6, 2007

Tough Love

A sermon from St James Fordham • Easter 5c 2007 • Tobias Haller BSG
Jesus said, By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Jesus tells us that people will recognize us as his disciples by our love for one another. This love will be our passport, our I.D. card. There will be some quality in our relationships that glows in the dark, and makes people sit up and take notice.

But what is this quality? What is this love? What kind of love indicates, “These are Christians,” to all who pass by?

+ + +

If one were to attend meetings of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, or many a parish vestry meeting, to say nothing of the Lambeth Conference, or the Primates’ Meeting, or were one to peruse the many angry weblogs on the Internet that spend as much time belittling others as proclaiming the faith, one might well wonder if these people were recognizable as Christian disciples — if, that is, by love we simply mean kind affection.

But there is far more to love than kind affection. One can have affection for a dog or cat; one can shed a sympathetic tear for a character in a TV show. Surely the love of which Jesus speaks to the disciples is far deeper than mere affection, far broader than civility, even higher than empathy. For the love by which Jesus says his disciples will be known is the same love he had for them. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples.” This love which meant laying down his life for them — this love we are to share and imitate is nothing less than the love of God.

+ + +

There is within this reality a deep irony, and it involves all love, all real love — not just within the church, but between loving spouses and partners. The reality is that love is sometimes tough. Love is not always cozy. Sometimes it is downright unsettling! The world regards the squabbles within and between the churches — whether a thousand years old between Rome and Constantinople, or freshly minted among Anglicans — the world sees these wounds as proofs of religious folly, the bruises which naturally result when stumbling about under the influence of what Karl Marx called “the opium of the people” — but perhaps ought to have called “the amphetamine of the people”! The world says, “Of course these are Christians; you shall know them by how much they disagree with each other.”

Those who level this charge do not understand the true nature of love, at its deepest level, where it is not simply a matter of getting along, but of true peace, which emerges — not out of simple compromise, but from the will to suffer all things and bear all things for the sake of the truth that can only be comprehended in a wide embrace. Our disagreements, however trivial or serious they may seem to the worldly, however painful they may be for us as we engage in them — these struggles and strifes are signs of our true love for one another when we engage in them as persons deeply committed to the search for truth, deeply committed to each other as a community of faith which is determined to be the body of Christ as surely and as permanently as the two who swear to be one together for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to have and to hold until death. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Only people who love one another very much can argue like that! The living out — the fleshing out, one might say — of any truly deep relationship will mean some struggle. We struggle because we care too much just to shrug and walk away.

+ + +

This is why the old saying is true: schism (the division of the church) is worse than heresy (which is division in the church). Heresy does not mean doctrinal error but party-spirit, and in Galatians 5 Paul lists it among the “works of the flesh.” But even so he recognized that party divisions have their use: and certainly engaged in partisanship himself, as leader of the Uncircumcision Party, and minced no words in his urgent argumentation, in writing and in person.

Look at him in today’s reading from Acts, turning his back on his own people. Now, at first that seems like walking away; but as he would explain in his letter to the church in Rome, it was not his — or God’s — purpose to abandon his people but to make them jealous of the Gentiles. Paul turned away, with the artful knowledge that giving your beloved the silent treatment may be the best way to bring them round! He deliberately turned away from his former friends and associates — his own people by birth — in the hope that out of the conflict the truth might be better revealed, and in the hope that he could provoke them from the bad kind of jealousy to the good kind — the kind that makes you want to do better..

+ + +

Paul told the church of Corinth that factions, while not good in themselves, “must exist in order that the genuine may be revealed.” The important thing is not to fall so in love with arguing that we forget the purpose is to reach a conclusion, and to discover the truth in the process.

Sometimes, though, it does seem that we’ve forgotten the purpose of debate, and have come to love our disagreements more than we love each other. I saw a cartoon in the paper last week. It showed two children yelling at each other: “You’re not following the rules!” “No, you’re not following the rules!” “Am too!” “Nuh uh!” Finally Mom says, “Oh, just forget about the rules and play the game.” And the kids look at her wide-eyed and say, “What game?”

Does that sound like the church sometimes? — so caught up in arguing about rules it has forgotten the point of the game? For the purpose of argument is to lead to a resolution: to arrive at what Paul called “genuine.” And in order for arguments and factions to be constructive rather than destructive, several things are needed. Both sides need to realize that they don’t possess the truth in its fullness, but only from a certain perspective. Both sides need to admit they could be mistaken — affirming with Saint Paul that “Our knowledge is partial.” Both sides need to place the good of the other above itself, to struggle towards the common good. Only then can the good that is best for both have a chance to emerge.

As Saint Paul admitted, we struggle towards truth, and the division of opinion exists so that what is genuine may be determined. But it is not finally we who determine it. It is the Spirit who leads us into all truth.

+ + +

What is vital is that the Spirit of love — God’s Spirit — should be with us even when there is strong disagreement. And if we find we cannot truly love at all times — for we are imperfect creatures and those we love can be so unlovable sometimes, and surely we ourselves are not always sweetness and light! — if we cannot truly love at our best at all times then it is important that we at least act as if we loved at all times.

I’m reminded of a story told by counselor George Crane, who once gave strange advice to a woman who not only wanted a divorce, but to make her husband suffer. So he said that if she wanted to hurt her husband, she should give him the old sucker punch. What’s that? Start by treating him as if you really love him — be especially thoughtful, praise him for even the slightest good point, be as generous as possible — and then just when he thinks he has it made give him the hard left jab and tell him it was all a sham and you’re getting a divorce. “Great,” she said, “that’ll teach him a lesson he won’t forget.”

Two months went by and Crane hadn’t heard a word, so he called and asked if she was ready to file for divorce. “Why, no,” she said. “The funny thing is, the more I acted like I loved him, the more lovable he became, and we’ve never been happier together!”

Now, of course, in this case the love was simulated, at least to start. The wonder is that if even a simulated love can become genuine, how much more can a real will to love, an enduring, patient love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things? This is the hard love, a love that weighs something, and it is often not easy to bear. But it is important, so vitally important that we bear it — that we bear with each other.

+ + +

For we have been invited to a place where love is most purely expressed; we have been invited to a wedding, a very special wedding(the one John saw in Revelation) and we dare not arrive empty-handed. And the wedding invitation we will have to show at the door to heaven is each other, our love for each other. The price of admission is the weight of each other, as we bear each other’s burdens — as indeed we all have been borne up by Christ. This is how we love each other as Christ loved us: by bearing with each other and bearing each other up: forgiving and forgiven. In our journey to the heavenly wedding we are always either carrying or being carried. All the church — in all its divisions and disharmonies, still bearing with each other even when the stress and strain of the 2000 year rough honeymoon make it seem that it’s going to fall apart — all that whole church of Christ, throughout time and space is a huge inverted pyramid of people carrying and being carried by one another. And that pyramid focuses its point on a man nailed to a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem, a man who knew division and conflict, but who triumphed over it all by bearing with it to the end. This was the weighty love of God, the weight of forgiveness, and though that weight pushed him down to the very depths, yet the power of God working in him raised it all up again, and the power of God can push that whole great pyramid of charity right on up and out of time and space and into eternity, to the everlasting wedding banquet. And the first shall be last: the firstfruits of the resurrection, Jesus the Bridegroom, is behind us all and bearing us forward, ushering us into the heavenly banqueting hall.

God is full of surprises. We thought we were coming to the wedding banquet as servants, then found we were no longer servants, but friends. We were then even more surprised to find that the bridegroom would act as usher! But a far greater surprise awaits us. We had just settled into the notion that we were to be guests as friends of the bridegroom. But no, it seems we are to be much more than friends.

We are the bride! We, in company with all those who have gone before, the argumentative apostles, prickly prophets, single-minded martyrs and insistent saints, all the holy people of God, the blessed bickering company of all faithful people, who in spite of all the arguments would not give up on each other, but would forgive each other and be forgiven, we are the Bride! We are the new Jerusalem, a new city built not with hands, not made of stone, but constructed out of unnumbered human souls, clothed with the dowry of the righteous deeds of the saints, and adorned with the sparkling diadem of grace and forgiveness that is the bridegroom’s gift.

This is what it means to love and to be loved, truly, broadly, deeply. This is the weighty love we celebrate at this Eastertide feast, and every time we gather to foreshadow that banquet at which we will one day dine in earnest. This is the love, the enduring and not-easy love that comes from God. This is the love that doesn’t give up, the love by which the world will know that we are his disciples. This love, and no other. +

The story of Crane’s marriage counseling is loosely based on an account from J Allan Peterson in The Myth of the Greener Grass.

May 4, 2007

Loaves and Fishes: A Poem for Grace

Fished from the ocean of compassion,
baked in the oven of his heart,
broken, given; in like fashion
may I do my part:
catching the fish you have provided,
baking the bread from grain you give,
sharing with all the gifts, divided
that we all might live.

—Tobias Haller BSG

May 2, 2007

Belief and Faith

Belief is more than knowledge of a fact, as in, "I believe you've grown." It is also more than trust, as when we say, "I believe in you." When we say that "We believe in God" we are making more than a statement of fact or trust. In a very real sense we believe in God in the same way we sleep in bed. Being "in" God through incorporation in the church makes this special kind of belief possible, for the church is the medium and context for this special kind of belief. We call it faith, and we experience it in the blessed company of all faithful people. —Tobias Haller BSG