June 30, 2007

A Sea of Bishops

Anglican Mainstream now reports a near-dozen bishops or bishops-in-waiting ready to serve the self-styled orthodox among the apostate Episcopalians.

I realize we are a small-e episcopal church, and bishops have an important role to play. But what kind of episcopal oversight is actually needed or wanted by these various parishes and parts of parishes scattered across the United States and consisting of nationally identified congregations (owing some form of allegiance to their homeland) and reasserter Americans? Most parishes I've known (and I've known a good number over the years) are quite happy to see their bishop once a year for confirmations, or at cathedral events in the rare case of an ordination, so the clamoring for prelates seems a bit disproportional.

I'm similarly confused by the calls for alternative primatial oversight. As most of our conservative dioceses have been able to manage having as little as possible to do with our past two primates, their sudden need for an alternative stand-in also rings a bit hollow... or convenient.

In the daily office cycle just now we are reading about the clamor of the Israelites for a king to rule over them, which God takes as a personal slight. He gives them what they ask for, but, as with the meat of the desert wanderings, they would soon grow sick of that leadership.

Tobias Haller BSG

June 28, 2007

Property 1570 1610 1789 1806 2007

I received an e-mail in response to my article on the property dispute challenging it on two points. The writer suggested that in the colonial era, when churches were all under the authority of the Bishop of London — much to the satisfaction of those who like to “bless and keep the bishop... far away from us!” — it was hardly likely that there was any idea that church property was anything other than freely disposable. He also suggested that if the Bishop of London had an interest in the property, its transfer into American hands must have been irregular.

Actually, the rules on implied trust and alienation of church property go back to an English statute of 1570. We are dealing with an established church, and the state had an interest in the proper use of church property for the state church. I imagine that colonial churchmen observed all such statutes on alienation of church property scrupulously.

After the Revolution, the Episcopal Church became “necessarily” independent of English jurisdiction, “civil” and “ecclesiastical.” (Preface to the Book of Common Prayer, 1789, and enacting clause of the first Constitution of the Episcopal Church). However, as the Episcopal Church was considered to be a self-governing extension of the Church of England, the authority to limit alienation passed to the appropriate bodies, in accord with custom, until the formal enactment of a canon to that effect, apparently in 1806. (I’m unable to verify this detail as I don’t have a copy of the Constitution and Canons from that period handy. White and Dykman refer to “the old Canon 59” on parish vestries.)

Interestingly enough, such limitations remain (to this day) a matter of civil law in many places where the English statute of 1570 had been adapted (New York is an example). From the foundation on, no church could alienate property without permission of the legislature (or later the chancellor, and now the Supreme Court of the State of New York). In New York, even a 6-year lease requires such approval, to say nothing of permanent alienation through sale. The state’s interest is not proprietary, but directed towards the good order of a society that, like itself, is intended to survive a particular generation’s whims.

All of this prevented what we now see happening: a disaffected membership of a congregation gaining ascendancy and seeking to remove real property from the use of the “general” church.

Tobias Haller BSG

June 27, 2007

The Way

on the feast of S Irenaeus of Lyons
preached at the Finger Lakes Conference • June 28 1999
Tobias Haller BSG

Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies... — 2 Timothy 2:23

The Apostle Paul warned his young protege Timothy, “Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” Like most advice, this bit of avuncular Pauline wisdom has largely been ignored. An agnostic viewer of the church’s history — or an honest Christian — might be tempted to say that the church’s history consists of little else besides stupid and senseless controversies.

Christ went to the cross to save the world, but the proximate cause of his predicament was violent controversy about the sabbath, the Temple, and various fine points of Jewish dietary law, and the precarious balance of power between Rome and the tetrarchs. Peter and Paul faced the problems of what we’d now call a pluralistic society, and the question of whether, and how far, Gentiles should be let in on the Christian thing — and whether, in the case of men at least, such an entry required parting with a nonvital portion of their anatomy. Later Irenaeus wrote a big, fat book about heresies, most of them now long forgotten. The Holy Fathers who hammered out the Nicene creed argued on and on about the difference between “same as” and “similar to” — and their successors in the Reformation argued about double predestination and allowing the chalice to the laity. The list goes on and on…

And please don’t mistake me: I do not say these matters were of no importance. Although the burning issues of one age are the cold ashes of the next, while they burn, they do give some light, and as the Gospel appointed for the feast of Saint Irenaeus has it, giving light is a large part of what we are to be about. (Luke 11:33-36) It is out of these conflicts — some of them now seeming so trivial and pointless — that the church took shape, defining itself in these tensions. As Saint Paul himself once observed, with a flash of Hegelian insight, it is through controversies and factions that the genuine truth is eventually discerned. (1 Cor. 11:19)

The downside of all of this is the hurt and harm that happens in the process. As parties form around various positions, mutual anathemas are issued, and where the power of the sword falls into its hand, orthodoxy can be a terrible thing indeed, mowing down those it considers heretics — which is just a fancy Greek word applied to members of the opposite party.

But if we look closely at our church, the church that survived the controversies, that was formed out of these tensions, the strange thing is that our surviving church quite often represents the forces of change and development, not the orthodox defenders of what they think of as the faith once given. Yesterday’s heresies become today’s orthodoxies, and presto chango: who is the heretic? If nothing else, none of us Gentiles would be here if the Circumcision Party had had their way. Even though they had scripture and tradition on their side, the church moved on.

As it has a way of doing. Because the church is not so much about taking up a position as in being a way. The Spirit moves where it wills, leading a pilgrim people. And to follow the Spirit, and to follow Christ, means pulling that cross from the ground and carrying it every day of your life, not knowing where it will be planted next. If the church is to be true to its own best self, it must always be on the move, and follow the One who is the Way.

+ + +

The other thing about heretics — the orthodox kind, the kind who get left behind when the church moves on, the kind who think they have God in their pocket next to their zipper-flap bibles — the thing about heretics is that they are always so sure of the truth. Their truth, that is. Now, as Professor Indiana Jones told his class in archeology, “I’m here to teach you about facts. If you want to talk about truth you’d better check the philosophy department.” But the orthodox heretics have forgotten that: they treat the truth like facts. They think it’s all clear and self-evident, printed in black and white, with words of Christ in red. In doing so, they neglect the living Truth who is not a fact but a Person; who is a Word that is always being spoken in our hearts, not set in stone or printed on india paper in red ink. Christ, the living Word is also the living Truth, the Truth that reveals itself not in static (and therefore dead) absolutes but in the relatedness that binds all things in one. The real Truth is about relationships, for it is out of relationships that reality itself is constituted, from the Holy Trinity on down.

+ + +

We are, like it or not, in the midst of another Reformation. The parties are formed up, taking their positions, marshaling their data. Out of this turmoil new life will arise, but many will suffer in the process. Is there a better way? Is there a nobler truth? You know there is. And you know who he is. Only Christ, whose mother hen wings stretch out and over the universe of human fallibility can gently rustle us together so none of us gets lost. Only Christ whose naked Truth was a scandal to Jews and a folly to Greeks can embarrass us into setting down our dog-eared Bibles with a blush of shame, as we realize who it is we have been arguing with, demeaning and demonizing. He is the Way, he is the Truth, and he is Life. And before him all our controversies, no matter how deeply convinced we are of their importance, become senseless and stupid. He is the Way, and the Truth, and Life. May we always walk in that Way, rejoice in that Truth, live in that Life.+

The Mercy of Property

... is strained.

On Monday afternoon I posted the following to the House of Bishops/Deputies list:

Parishioners have the right to use church property for the work of the church. They have a custodial relationship over church property, but they do not own it. They have a form of usufruct, but have no power of alienation, as the canons made clear long before the Dennis Canon was a gleam in Walter Dennis’ eye.

Attempts to claim control of church property, conveying it to uses other than for the benefit of this Church, represent a form of alienation. It is not use but abuse, in the technical sense.

I received a couple of humorous notes about the use of the word usufruct — the right to make use of a property but not to dispose of it by sale or other conveyance. The technical meaning of the word abuse, by the way, is alienation, the opposite of use.

Then, late yesterday the California Court of Appeals issued a decision concerning a number of parishes that had sought to come under the governance of an overseas bishop and remain in control of their property. The decision rightly overturned the anomalous ruling that had held sway in California for about 30 years — a ruling out of step not only with most of the other states of the union but with the Supreme Court decision that led to the adoption of the Dennis Canon in the first place.

So I would like to make the further observation, in response to a press release from one of the dissident parishes arguing that the Court of Appeals decision is a departure from 30 years of precedents. Even a casual reading of the court’s decision shows that the earlier decision was a major departure — and an erroneous one — from many times more decades of precedents; moreover, precedents recognized throughout the US, based on a decision of the Supreme Court concerning implied and explicit trusts. The earlier California decision was an anomalous departure from the principal of stare decisis, as the Court of Appeals makes clear, and it led to an uneven and confusing application of law.

Moreover, much as folks like to demean the Dennis Canon, it is the law of the church; moreover, it was created in response to the request of the Supreme Court to render implied trusts (on the basis of which such cases had been decided up until then as sufficient) explicit. In short, there was no change in practice with the introduction of the Dennis Canon, merely a spelling out of what was already implied by both uniform practice and the already long-existing canons on alienation, to which I referred above. (Parishes cannot alienate, that is abuse, church property without the permission of the bishop and standing committee — clear evidence of the hierarchical nature of such decision-making processes concerning property.)

More than that, a moral issue is involved. Some have suggested that it is not fair that members of a dissenting parish should have to leave their property. This begs the question that it is “their” property. It isn’t, on several grounds. (I will not apply the various epithets of theft, poaching, &c., as I think the dissidents are honestly though mistakenly convinced of their proper ownership.)

Giving: When people give to the church, they give up control over what they have given. (A designated gift can, of course, allow for limited degree of control as to purpose.) However, most gifts are for the general operation of the church and its mission. Many people claim a tax deduction for such gifts; and if they were to attempt to recover them would incur a tax liability. It is an affront to the concept of stewardship to try to regain control over something you have given for the work of a larger entity. It would be very odd indeed if people could remove, say, a stained glass window, because they didn't like the new rector's preaching. We should not only not let our right hand know what our left hand is doing when we give open-handedly, but if we do know, forget it as soon as possible.

Custodianship: custodians have the care of property but they do not own it. They maintain it for the benefit of others. (Remember what Archbishop Temple said about the nature of the church: the only institution dedicated to serve those not yet its members.) The present members of a parish do not own the parish; it isn’t about “them.” They are not free to do with it as they please. Even in the days of pew rent, people only “rented” their pews.

Franchise: Parishes function as a part of and under the name of The Episcopal Church. While some may now see this to be a liability, for most of the life of these congregations it was an asset in that newcomers to the community could identify the parish as part of a larger entity, with its own identity. It is only through that larger entity that these parishes participate in the real-life Anglican Communion, as the Panel of Reference recently affirmed.

Tenancy: a church is the people, not the building; but not always the same people — as members pass into the ranks of the church expectant new members are added to the church militant. All of us, in the long run, are only temporary members of any congregation; tenants, not owners.

Usufruct: in a sense all congregations are like the Louisiana widow who has the right to continue to live in her intestate husband’s home, but doesn’t have the authority to sell it out from under the children, who inherit by right. (As I understand it, under Louisiana law a spouse is not an inheritor by right. That might seem odd, but it is similar to the situation in not-for-profit corporations which, when they dissolve, don’t divvy up the assets among the surviving members of the board, but turn the property over to another not-for-profit entity.) Moreover, the Louisiana widow loses usufruct over the property when she remarries, and the children come into their own inheritance. This seems a good analogy for the congregations who have hooked up with Uganda. There are still loyal Episcopalians who have the right to that property, and there will be more to come. The church is not only about the past but the future.

Stare decisis, returning to where we came in: In a hierarchical church such as The Episcopal Church, all real parish property is, and always has been, held in trust for the work of that church. Some have suggested that this case may be overturned if it comes to the Supreme Court of the United States. I would suggest that should it reach that Court, it will most likely rule in favor of TEC, since the Dennis Canon was enacted at it’s recommendation, to render explicit what was already implicit (and universal practice until that point, and was also covered in the canons on alienation, which go back to the 19th century).

Tobias Haller BSG

June 25, 2007

At day's end: Praise God

Lauda Sion: Eucharistic Meditation #3 for recorder and positif organ, by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

MP3 File

Understanding Canada - Part 2

So, what hath Canada wrought? In summary, on the Vexed Question the General Synod

1) affirmed that the blessing of same-sex unions is not in conflict with the core doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada, in the sense that it isn’t a creedal matter;

2) declined to affirm the authority of individual diocesan synods to authorize such blessings; but didn’t at the same time deny that authority, and informally (through the new Primate) allowed for a status quo in the Diocese of New Westminster;

3) adopted a statement that calls for pastoral response to the situation, which an accompanying document describes as possibly including liturgical functions short of a nuptial blessing; and

4) [appears to have*] committed to its Council the task of looking into amending the canons and offering a theological rationale for allowing marriage for anyone legally qualified to be married.

Point 1 will not please many who think that the sexuality issues are at the heart of the faith, and worth breaking communion over. Point 2 is a bit mysterious and seems to be a compromise designed to rock the boat as little as possible. Point 3 may be seen as even more of a mystery, since the church has never taught that the nuptial blessing is required for a marriage (in the BCP rubrics it is noted that wherever a deacon is allowed to perform a marriage, the nuptial blessing is omitted!). Point 4 is only a referral, but it does present one of those church/state tension-points so dear to Anglican hearts. Any canonical change concerning doctrine, discipline or worship (which this concerns) will require a two-thirds majority in each order in two consecutive session of the Synod. Note that this is about marriage not simply blessings. The Synod may well authorize blessings at its next session, which as it need not alter the marriage canon, can be adopted by a simple majority.

All in all, I am heartened by these actions. It is a source of no small frustration for many that by two votes in the order of bishops (as opposed to clear majorities in the other orders) a status quo is maintained rather than an advance. But having high respect for matters of polity, and seeing which way the wind is heading, I can rejoice that this is not a step backward, even if it means a delay.

* I say appears to have because this hasn't yet appeared on the official tally sheet as adopted; Anglican Essentials (a reasserter Canadian website) reports it was adopted early in the Monday morning session.

Tobias Haller BSG

Understanding Canada - Part 1

June 23, 2007


Thought for today (June 23, 2007):

Anglican Communion is fast becoming a contradiction in terms.

... and yes, I know that oxymoron is only loosely used for a "contradiction in terms."

Tobias Haller BSG

June 22, 2007

As I was saying...

Well, just a few days ago I wrote about the increasing number of Import Bishops being provided by some of the various provinces of the "Global" "South", and now there is to be one more, this time under the sponsorship of Uganda. I am not at all surprised.

Will this be the last? Uganda, Rwanda, Southeast Asia, Nigeria and Kenya are already on the map, or will be by early September -- all in advance of the Dar es Salaam "deadline." Who else has shown a willingness to reach over boundaries into other territories? Can you say, "Southern Cone?" I'm suddenly reminded of one of the "adult" jokes that were peppered through the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon. Bullwinkle approaches a large pit in the ground neatly labled, "Snake Pit" and leans over, hand to mouth, calling out "Olivia? Olivia?" In this case I'm inclined to say, "Bolivia? Bolivia?"

The Patchwork Province of the Americas is taking shape: a thing of shreds and patches. Will Archbishop Rowan now realize that his hopes for unity run contrary to the Global South's hopes for uniformity?

Tobias Haller BSG

June 20, 2007

O Gracious Light

from Mountain Vespers, words and music by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Of Doubts and Discipline

Many of you will no doubt have heard of the Episcopal priest who is attempting a personal reconciliation between Islam and Christianity, balancing the evidentially contradictory creedal claims (that Jesus is -- or isn't -- the Son of God) in a precarious syncretism.

When I saw this story I gave a sigh of sympathetic frustration. I can understand how people have doubts, and go through periods of further exploration in their religious development. None of us is, I dare say, full-formed in faith until we reach the point at which we know as we are known. But the church rightly expects conformity to its doctrine on the part of those ordained to ministry; one signs a statement to that effect at ordination -- but this oath need not mean a perfect acceptance or understanding of all of which that doctrine consists, but at least a willingness not to teach anything to the contrary. I take that to be the meaning that lies behind conformity.

Still, crises of faith are bound to arise. Our church might do well to have a process similar to that of religious orders for folks who are going through such crises of faith and/or vocation -- a kind of temporary withdrawal without the punitive note of "suspension" but with the same effect -- at the end of which they could either re-commit to or renounce (or be deposed from) their orders. I'm not sure what this kind of intentionally temporary renunciation would be called. What do the canonists out there think? Or do we need this kind of pastoral measure?

Tobias Haller BSG

June 18, 2007

Good Housekeeping

from a sermon for Proper 6c • Tobias Haller BSG
Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion.
. . . . . . .

We see an even more eloquent example of this in the Gospel reading. The stage is set for a drama of contrasts: Simon the Pharisee, no doubt intrigued by what he has heard of Jesus, invites him into his home to dine with him. And a woman from the city, a sinner — and I don’t think I have to tell you what kind of a sinner she is — comes in and makes an incredible display of herself at Jesus’s feet. You may remember I’ve explained before that the reason she can stand behind him at his feet and wash his feet with her hair is due to Jesus lying on a couch at the meal, in the Roman style of that time. Had they been sitting at a dining table she would have to have been a contortionist!

Now, contortion or not, it takes no imagination to picture the look of indignation on Simon the Pharisee’s face. Pharisees, remember, are the people who are very fussy about observing the law — about not touching anything unclean, about washing your hands before eating, and making sure all the vessels are ritually pure. They are the Hyacinth Buckets — it’s Bouquet — of first-century Judaism. These are people who are trying to do the very thing Saint Paul told Saint Peter no one could do: follow the law in all its details down to the last jot and tittle, including how to fold your napkin after you’ve wiped your hands.

But Jesus, the ever-compassionate Jesus, doesn’t turn on the Pharisee and read him the riot act — which, as we know from other confrontations with Pharisees, he was perfectly capable of doing! Rather in this case he takes Nathan’s approach, and by telling a story that seems to be completely unrelated to the present situation, he gets Simon the Pharisee to convict himself. As a good teacher, he doesn’t spell out the answer to this moral dilemma; but provides the learner with the tools needed to understand it himself. He constructs a play within a play (or a story within the story) to catch the conscience of the Pharisee.

+ + +

We continue to pray that God will keep our household the church in his steadfast faith and love, so that we can proclaim God’s truth with boldness, and minister God’s justice with compassion. We pray this, but we often seem to lose the will to follow through on the harder work of helping people to help themselves in the moral dilemmas in which they find themselves — like Nathan and Jesus in our readings today. Too often in the church we hear voices raised that sound more like Paul or Simon than like Nathan or Jesus: quick to judge and condemn what they see as faithlessness, zealous and bold for the truth, and eager to see God’s justice carried out — but lacking in the love and compassion that would make their mission not only more effective, but more Christlike.

In doing this, as Saint Paul had the wisdom to realize about himself, they become noisy gongs or clanging cymbals: perhaps effective warning alarms to alert people to the very real moral danger in which they may find themselves; but ultimately less effective in actually saving people from themselves. Without love, without compassion, faith and justice lose half of their effectiveness.

Without love and compassion, the justice of the Pharisee would send that woman back out into the streets, to a life of sin and despair. Christ, in his love and compassion, allows this fallen woman not only to be with him where he is, but to minister to him, saved by her faith in response to his love and compassion.

Shall the church play the role of Paul at his most intolerant, or Simon the Pharisee at his most judgmental? Or shall we take the course of Nathan and of Christ and proclaim the truth in ways that those wounded by sin and despair can hear and be healed? Shall the church require its ministers to imagine themselves pure and free from sin by their own virtuous manner of life, by following the works of the law? Or shall it celebrate the ministry of those who do not sit in judgment but who, knowing their own weakness, lovingly and generously serve the body of Christ?

The woman of the city was no longer worried about her sins, which indeed were many, for she had turned to Christ. Nor does the gospel mention repentance — unusual for Luke who mentions it so often! Rather her tears reveal faith, hope, and love, flowing from the knowledge of forgiveness. We see in this incident the essence of the virtues incarnate in a woman thought by the Pharisee to be incapable of goodness, a woman who plays out the sacrament of baptism: with her voiceless confession of faith, the washing of her tears, anointing her Lord with fragrant ointment, sealed with the kiss of peace — and is then sent out in that peace to love and serve her Lord in the world.

Our Gospel today presents us two models for our encounter with Christ, and for Christian ministry. Here are two models for service to the body of Christ which is the church — the household of God. All who serve the Lord are sinners, yet all who serve the Lord are forgiven. Some will prefer to spend their time worrying about other people’s sins and whether the church can tolerate them. They will seek to obstruct their service, thinking all the while that they protect God’s body from the touch of unclean hands, and are simply being good housekeepers — like Hyacinth Bucket making people take off their shoes before entering her spotless house — if she lets them enter at all. Others will get on with the hopeful works of faith and love, of justice and compassion — the kind of good housekeeping that accepts the fact that there will be some cleaning up to do from time to time, because so many people have been made welcome in the house. Is there any question at all which of these Christ would rather have us do? +

Read it all.

June 17, 2007

On Universal Salvation

I see the concept of universal salvation as engaging the theological virtue of hope rather than the virtue of faith. It also draws upon the greatest virtue, love. So while I may not believe that all will be saved as a matter of certain faith, or as a teaching of the church; I can still hope that all will be saved; and recall that through God's love, judgment is tempered by mercy, rather than the other way around.

Of course, there are all those texts of judgment and damnation, of wailing and gnashing of teeth, and closed, locked doors. But what if these were to be seen as threats rather than promises?

Isn't the purpose of prophecy to convert and save? Isn't that what Jonah learned when he pronounced that Nineveh would be thrown down? But the people repented, and it wasn't. And Jonah was peeved, until God rendered him speechless at his own narrowmindedness.

So I will still hope in the love that seeks all who are lost, that warns and threatens dire consequences when our Father gets home --- but does not rest until all -- all -- are safely tucked in bed.

Happy Fathers Day.

Tobias Haller BSG

Revelation and Experience

Experience is always present. Does that seem self-evident? Perhaps so, yet when it comes to assigning a role to experience in the life of the church people seem to think it can be set to one side, as if being itself could be set to one side. Obviously, one has to be aware of one’s prejudices and one’s culture when seeking to understand the Scriptures. But the Scriptures themselves were formed and recorded by people through their own experiences of God at work in them — in a very few cases speaking directly to them. But, and this is important, speaking to them. Revelation is thus always revelation to — God does not speak into the void, but into human ears and hearts, by means of which God’s will is accomplished. (Isa 55.11) But because of the necessary human half of this transaction, the message is capable of being culturally, personally, and ethnically diluted, conformed, and enculturated; in short, experience, the necessary reciprocal to revelation, cannot be escaped. There is no absolute revelation unconditioned by human ears. All “culture,” including religious culture, is confected in the interaction between revelation and experience.

This has been recognized from time to time; for example, the church eventually came to recognize that the Scriptural mandate to slavery — an institution not only purported to be approved by God but in some cases commanded, and in many places in the Scriptures simply taken for granted as an essential element of human society — was to be undone not merely by human experience of the evils of slavery, nor by an appeal to the scant Scriptural passages that appear to cast slavery in even a slightly negative light (such as Philemon), but by the combination of the experience of the evils of slavery shedding light upon the neglected Scriptural commandment, the one that was there all along but not applied to this particular case: to love one’s neighbor as oneself. For who would want to be treated as a slave.

I suggest that the same goes for the Scriptural texts against same-sexuality. It isn’t just that experience has given us examples of gay and lesbian people who are good and that therefore we should declare that homosexuality is good — that would indeed be a trivial misuse of experience. Rather it is that these good examples and experiences have given us cause to question the negative examples and experiences recorded in Scripture, and set them against the higher and eternal call to love — which while it too reflects human culture, embodies one that is universal and not restricted to one culture over against another.

This is why the Scripture cannot function as simply an ultimate authority outside of and apart from human experience — as Hooker said of reason, experience is a necessary implement in our understanding of Scripture, as much as it was a necessary element in its reception. The exercise of Scriptural authority must take place through the interpretation by and engagement of the church — reception continues to happen, not the revelation of new texts, but of new understandings of the texts that have been there for so long. The Scriptures themselves attest to this process as the prophets engage with the law; as Jesus sets one aspect of the law against another, asserting primacy of eternal principles over against temporary restrictions and allowances; and as the apostolic community further engages with the new possibilities of a broader reach to salvation than they had imagined possible; always referring back to interpret other Scriptures that no one would have thought of interpreting in that way until that moment — that moment illuminated by experience.

The Holy Spirit allows the church to see what was always there — for those with eyes to see. The church is always on that walk to Emmaus.

— Tobias Haller BSG

June 15, 2007

Ten Little Anglicans

In Agatha Christie’s classic mystery, Ten Little Indians, the characters are picked off one by one by the mysterious murderer whose identity is only revealed at the end. In the present mysterious doings within the Anglican Communion, however, various forces are at work that appear to be holding to that biological truth and mathematical paradox: they multiply by division.

This past week, it was announced that a new Kenyan mission in the United States will receive a new suffragan bishop in the person of erstwhile Episcopalian Bill Atwood. Whether this new venture will be seen as competition or cooperation with the various other recent foundations (CANA, AMiA), the multitude of groups and churches created in the wake of the ordination of women (what I call the DisContinuum) and the even older foundations such as the Reformed Episcopal Church, remains to be seen. Will the strength of their “common cause” outweigh the various differences among them?

I have before suggested that there is a possible Girardian interpretation to all of this: the social unity of an organization achieved by sacrificing one of its members. However, the scale in this case appears to be reversed: a relatively small percentage of a larger society (The Episcopal Church) have separated themselves and now appear to be trying to undertake a common effort, if not an actual merger into a new entity. It is less like the hand saying to the foot, “I have no need if you”; and more like a toenail, eyebrow, and earlobe saying that to the rest of the body.

I realize some will think that is exactly what The Episcopal Church has done to the Anglican Communion at that larger scale. The difference of course, is that the Anglican Communion itself has not yet coalesced into a unitary body — much as some might wish that were true — and it remains to be seen if it ever will.

In the meantime, it would be good for all of us at whatever scale to remember that when Christie’s novel appeared in the United States, it did so under the title, And Then There Were None. One can multiply by division; one can save one’s life by taking a lifeboat. But if the multiple new divisions are incapable of sustaining themselves — and more importantly if the liner isn’t sinking, to abandon it for a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean (to await possible rescue from another distant shore) seems less than prudent.

Tobias Haller BSG

June 13, 2007

Parable and Psalm: Blame and Guilt

There was once a little boy who was caught by his brother with his hand in the cookie jar. He blamed his brother for finding him; he blamed his mother for putting the cookies in the jar; he was on the point of blaming the cookies themselves when he realized that he himself was to blame.

While I spoke not, except to curse my brother,
and looked around for others to be blaming,
my heart dried up, as by the bright sun flaming;
I was the one who should have been a-shaming,
I and no other.
(v. Ps. 32:3-5)

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
The Servant VII.2 February 1983

June 9, 2007

Pange Lingua

Eucharistic meditation #2 for recorder and organ
Tobias Haller BSG

After the Ash Wednesday fire that destroyed most of the interior of St. Luke in the Fields, Manhattan, the congregation worshiped in the school gymnasium for five years, as rebuilding progressed. The musical accompaniment was provided through a small (four-rank) portatif organ; and on occasion I would supplement Bill Entriken's wonderful performances with a recorder solo. At one point, I composed a series of Eucharistic Meditations for this "combo" -- and this is one of them, here realized electronically.

MP3 File

June 8, 2007

All about the polity

Recently a number of folks have tsk-tsk’d the appeals to polity made by the House of Bishops, in confessing their inability completely to comply with the requests of the Dar es Salaam Primates’ Communiqué. Surely, they seem to say, preservation of the communion is more important than polity.

First of all, what is the communion apart from polity? Not a few on the conservative side of the spectrum already refuse to recognize our communio in sacris, the unity we share in Christ and celebrate in the Eucharist. And others are proposing a new political structure in the form of a Covenant — which is nothing less than a form of polity for the Anglican Communion.

Secondly, polity is important; it is the law of the church. The matters before us touch upon some significant features directly addressed by that law. Bishops are not only pledged to preserve the unity of the church, but to abide by its discipline, and that discipline is embodied in these laws.

What bishops can and cannot do

The House of Bishops, acting alone, can pass a “mind of the house” resolution by which the House agrees “it” will not consent to the election of any bishop who might be offensive to the wider communion; or not authorize any novel liturgies in their dioceses.

What the House of Bishops, acting alone, cannot do, is make such actions binding upon all the individual bishops with jurisdiction, since the right and responsibility to grant or withhold consent, or to authorize liturgies, is a canonical right or responsibility belonging to each of them individually. (Article II.2, Canon III.11; Article X)

This is all tied up with the legal principle “What touches all shall be consented to by all” — and “all” means “all” — that is, a decision abrogating the legal rights and responsibilities of a member of an assembly can only be made either by a change in the law that grants or requires those rights or responsibilities (which the House of Bishops acting alone is not competent to do, since a change in the law of the Church requires concurrent action by the House of Deputies) or by unanimous consent (of which they are competent, but which is unlikely). And even unanimous consent does not have legal force in terms of compliance. This is part of the ABC of the laws governing assemblies.

At the same time...

As I have observed in the past, if enough of the bishops with jurisdiction voluntarily withhold consent to an election, then consent will fail. The same applies to diocesan authorization of liturgies: bishops can agree among themselves not to authorize novel rites.

Practically speaking, if such “mind of the house” resolutions were to be passed at the next session of the House of Bishops (with the understanding that under our canon law individual bishops will, and must, remain free to exercise their consciences on how they deal with the matters in their own dioceses) it would very likely be enough to satisfy the more irenic among the Primates, including the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In doing this the bishops will in fact be doing as much as they can do, under the law of the church, which they are sworn to uphold.

But should they take such a course, which will be seen by many as inadequate, others as cynical, and some as hypocritical? It is abundantly clear that nothing short of a complete and iron-clad reversal will please the more irate among the Primates. The CAPA-commissioned “Road to Lambeth” (September 2006) went far beyond the requests of the Windsor Report and called for “the resignation or removal from office of Gene Robinson and the passage of legislation which would bar any similar ordinations of priests and consecrations of bishops.

There was an opportunity for at least the latter to happen at General Convention 2006. It didn’t. And it is not going to happen; not in September (where it cannot) nor at the next General Convention (where it will not). A number of Rubicons (perhaps one should say Potomacs) have already been crossed, and any number of dies cast. And although Bishop Robinson has not been invited to Lambeth as a participant, it has been mooted that he might be allowed to attend as a guest — surely a compromise that leans well towards the liberal cause rather than against it; especially considering the demands from the “Global South” that no Bishop who either consented to or participated in the consecration of Bishop Robinson be allowed to attend. Archbishops Akinola and Orombi are on record as standing by “The Road to Lambeth.”

At the other extreme, some liberals have suggested that the bishops stand in solidarity with Bishop Robinson, and refuse to attend. Although I understand the impulse and resonate with it, it seems to me that doing so would be to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory — although taking this position does have its advantage in the delicate game of brinksmanship.

But it seems to me that now is not the time to issue ultimatums as resounding echoes to the trumpets from the “Global South.” It seems to me that wisdom and shrewd thinking are called for here, and a bit of common sense; and above all to trust that the Episcopal Church is, after all, right in its actions. The wind from the South has largely spent itself — though a bit of tacking will still be necessary as we chart our course for the coming years.

I will, in suggesting this, no doubt be accused of being too political. But then, it’s all about the polity.

Tobias Haller BSG

June 6, 2007

Thinking Bloggers

My friend Sister Catherine Grace CHS has honored (and tagged) me with a Thinking Blogger award. And as part of the tag, I am charged to extend this award to five other bloggers who make me think. Here they are, in no particular order. (They will be notified of their responsibility to pass the tag along, and sent to visit these instructions which detail the genesis of this award.)

The Anglican Scotist
Betwixt and Between
Entangles States
On not being a sausage

Check them out and you will see what I mean: everything from physics to philosophy!

Tobias Haller BSG

Stuff and Nonsense

In a recent interview Dr. Leslie Fairfield of Pittsburgh offers some suggestions as to the historic roots of our present divide. I found his reflections troubling on many counts, not least that a teacher of church history could produce such a one-sided schematic, so bare in its details as to utterly distort the real richness of the historical reality that lay behind the unfolding of theological thought in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Surely the great lights of Anglican theology were influenced in positive ways by the winds of modernism, and few were driven onto the shoals of heresy! In addition to John Macquarrie, who died rich in years this past week, and who found a way to make use of existentialism in a helpful and theologically persuasive way, one thinks of earlier English theologians such as Lionel Thornton -- who did so much to integrate a patristic understanding of the Incarnation within a modern philosophical framework -- or Archbishop William Temple himself.

No, this sketch by Fairfield serves no other purpose than to create a false picture, one in which the figures are unrecognizable to those who actually know them, and so fails even as caricature.

June 2, 2007

On Matthew 25:31ff

Earlier this year, Cardinal Biffi, discoursing on how the Antichrist will fill us with interest in "values" displacing the person of Christ, said, "Christianity cannot be reduced to a set of values. At the center of being a Christian is, in fact, the personal encounter with Jesus Christ."

However, the message of the latter portion of Matthew 25 is that there is no Christ without the values, and no values without the Christ. "As you have done ... you have done to me."

In this parable those who are ushered into paradise do not know that they have encountered Christ in the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned -- any more than those who failed to do so.

Moreover, Christ is here referring to "the nations" and how they treated Christ's "brothers" -- those in whom Christ is present. Thus shall the righteous who do not "know" Christ be saved -- through him -- on the basis of how they treated him. There is no salvation by gnosis; only by praxis -- for it is only in praxis that we know Christ. Love lives in loving actions, or it does not live at all.

Tobias Haller BSG

June 1, 2007

Sufficient for the day

A thought on the feast of Justin Martyr...

Just as we accept the "sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for salvation" so too we regard the Nicene Creed, as the Lambeth Quadrilateral puts it, to be "the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith." What the Nicene Creed leaves out, then, is not essential to the faith. The Creed doesn't tell us everything about God, or much about the church, and hardly anything about discipline or morals; but it tells us enough about the faith in order for us to be faithful.

Isn't it interesting that God appears only to give us enough to keep us hungry for the eventual enjoyment of the banquet — just our daily bread until we reach the heavenly celebration? Can the church not rejoice in its doctrinal rations, and not impose beyond their bare sufficiency? It is in those extra-creedal matters that we begin to divide, and dividing, fail.

Let us fast from the excess that leads to division, and feed one another on the adequate fare God provides.

Tobias Haller BSG