December 27, 2008

5 minutes of fame (?)

In the middle of the day on Christmas Eve I had my 5 minutes of fame as I was interviewed by the BBC about how the economic crisis is affecting people. If you care to listen, select the December 24, 2008 podcast at their site. I think they were looking for more controversy than I managed to provide, but after having been wildly misrepresented (in how I felt concerning the war in Iraq) in the Wall Street Journal some years ago, I've been very careful to speak my mind rather than be led into seeming agreement with something I don't agree with, or fomenting controversy where none exists. So if you want to hear me speaking my mind on the economic crisis, via cell phone (which I hate using due to the disembodied feeling I find it induces), complete with the ums and ahs and other artifacts of brain / mouth / cell phone coordination, click away! I'm right at the top of the hour.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 23, 2008

Some thoughts on Benedict’s Natural Lawsuit

The Pope is closing out Advent and bringing us into Christmastide with yet one more rendition of his favorite theme: natural law and its place in scholastic theology, in particular as it speaks to the divinely ordered status of men and women qua men and women. (I like to use qua in contexts such as this, as it gives the appearance of seriousness to an otherwise trivial concept: that men and women are men and women.) It's what the Scholastic Theologians got from this that is the problem; and the pope is hammering away on his one-note marimba once again. As the officers will say at a roadside accident, "Nothing to see here; move along."

I can't help but take note, however, about the insistent persistence of this outmoded metaphysic, and the natural law to which it gives rise. Of course, as reported in the Australian, the pope told his audience, "It is not 'outmoded metaphysics'" to urge respect for the "nature of the human being as man and woman."

Oh, but it is, when you get beyond the respect due to individual men and women, and try to draw conclusions for the whole, in an essentialist mode. "Scholastic theology" is at the root of the problem. For all of his Scriptural references, when it comes to anthropology Aquinas relies as much on "the Philosopher" (i.e, Aristotle) as on Scripture. This is precisely where the outmoded metaphysics comes in. Not only outmoded (lots of old fashioned things are just fine!) but wrong. Just factually wrong, erroneous, mistaken. I mean, read Aquinas on where babies come from and how sperm is made, and what the fundamental difference between man and woman is. Any theology based on falsehoods cannot claim to be in keeping with the one who is the Perfect Truth.

Of course, back in the days when he went by Ratzinger, the present pontiff had defended the church's actions in re Galileo; continuing to affirm the authority of the magisterium over against the insufficiencies of mere secular science.

Infallible? Sed contra.

And while I'm at it, let me make an observation about the pope's "ecological" concern about human nature and the damage any legitimizing of same-sex relationships or other gender-bending might cause to society as we know it, perhaps leading, as he suggests, to its "destruction." As quoted by John Allen in NCR:

[The Church] must also defend the human person against its own destruction. What's needed is something like a 'human ecology,' understood in the right sense. It's not simply an outdated metaphysics if the church speaks of the nature of the human person as man and woman, and asks that this order of creation be respected... Here it's a question of faith in creation, in listening to the language of creation, disregard of which would mean self-destruction of the human person and hence destruction of the very work of God...

Yes, let's listen to creation, and take heed that if celibacy were given approval, then too many people might become celibate, and the human race would die out.

Oh, wait.

Blessed Feast of the Incarnation -- when perfect Truth dared enter this world in a completely unnatural way, and without making use of what Benedict sees as the God-ordained pairing of male and female. Odd that God chose not to use what Benedict thinks all folk should choose.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
with a tip of the hat to Episcopal Café

December 22, 2008

from a serious scribbler

A.S. Haley of the Anglican Curmudgeon has honored me with the "Superior Scribbler" award. Here are the rules of this particular blogition.

  • Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to This Post, which explains The Award.
  • Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!
  • Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

In keeping with the above, I am happy to award the next round of Superior Scribbler citations to:

  • Christopher of Betwixt and Between, who in addition to wise observations is filling some gaps in the liturgical hymnody.
  • Grandmère Mimi of The Wounded Bird, who is among the most restrained and concise of bloggers; a characteristic devoutly to be wished upon many of us. She manages to make her mind known in simple, straightforward language. And she's been having troll problems lately, so she deserves a prize.
  • Greg Jones of Anglican Centrist, who often helps folks keep centered and lucid. As these are in short supply, we value their continued dispersal abroad.
  • Clumber, of Barkings of an Old Dog, for his humor and knowledge of atomic physics, among other things. One does not always associate science and humor, (any more than either with religion) so I want to encourage this development. And finally,
  • The increasingly anachronistically named Postulant of Ember Days, again for examples of wit and scholarship, but also for those tantalizing visions of being tough on students. Ah, those were the days...

So congratulations, and keep scribbling.

Tobias Haller BSG

December 20, 2008

Augusta muses on Rick Warren

I think she was hoping for Tuna.

Thought for 12.20.08

The voice of the people is not lightly to be ignored; but neither is it to be heeded when it urges the abrogation of fundamental rights. The old saying, “The voice of the people is the voice of God,” may be true; but sometimes it is a false god. Beware of idols.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 15, 2008

Why the Courts?

Over at the House of Bishops / Deputies list there's some discussion going on about why we can't have more mediation or reconciliation instead of litigation, in addressing some of the painful controversies with dissident members or parishes and even large chunks of dioceses. Much of the litigation, of course, focuses on the property issues -- mostly real property issues.

I sympathize with those who wish we didn't have to resort to the courts. One often hears Paul's advice not to go before a civil court cited; but then when he got into a spot with his Jewish countrymen, he appealed to Caesar.

However, I think it is fair to note that in many cases the petitioners who, following Paul in his "appeal to Caesar" modality, are those who wish to remove church property from the control of the larger diocese or church. There have also been a few failed efforts at reconciliation which cast a larger shadow over the successful efforts; this is exacerbated, no doubt, by the press both "sacred" and secular.

There seems to me to be another reality at work: some people just can't be negotiated with; they don't want to negotiate even when negotiation is offered. That -- coupled with the fact that, if I'm not mistaken, about 80 - 90 percent of all such property cases end up favoring the "hierarchical church" -- presents the dissidents with three possibilities:

1) Negotiate and likely and up having to pay a fair price for the property, or

2) Litigate, spending perhaps less than the property would cost, but on the chance you might win and get it for nothing beyond the money spent to press the suit; or

3) Abdicate, walking away and starting anew, but then having to spend a pretty penny to do so.

Given that there is bound to be a cost involved, even the "logical" choice would appear to be (2), unless the legal costs become prohibitive.

This choice is, at least in some cases, also fueled by a high level of a "God is on our side and will deliver us" mentality. A perusal of some of the dissident side's reflection on their court cases, and indeed the whole course of the crisis in the Anglican Communion and environs, reveals that the Deuteronomic Historian's philosophy is alive and well ("If we do what God wants God will reward and protect us..." ) So that emotional pressure adds to the "logical" choice to risk litigation on the 10-20% chance of winning. Beats the lottery, hands down; and inclines the heart away from reconciliation or negotiation.

Tobias Haller BSG

Update 12/20/08

This post has engendered a number of comments, some of which seem to derive from portions of it having been quoted out of context -- and with an added gloss -- at SFiF. Fr Matt commented below as well, and I responded to his very courteous note. I want to summarize what I said and add it here as an update, to help clarify what I intended in this brief reflection. I invite you to read the string of comments for further insight.

This reflection was written in answer to the question, "Why can't we all get along" and was an effort to understand why a parish would choose litigation -- from the get-go -- rather than negotiation or abdication. I think my original statement is true in many (not "most" -- as the gloss to my comments asserted at SFiF) cases. It appears to be true in relation to Don Armstrong's parish, and in the California parishes; the story in Virginia seems to be mixed, but as "the witnesses do not agree" I'm content to set that aside. What I'm left with is evidence from past reading in the Clergy Law and Tax Report, not just from TEC cases, but other churches. Good-faith negotiation seems to be rare, and litigation common. I've also spelled out [in the comments] the pressure to litigation from the "hierarchical church" side -- I don't mean to put all of the "blame" on dissident parishes, by any means.

In part I was trying to lay out the reasons for choosing litigation over negotiation (which takes both sides' agreement, and which often fails early on) or abdication (the third option I describe) from the dissident side; which Phil dismisses as "trivial" or so obvious it doesn't require saying. To my mind, the effort to alienate property rather than walking away and starting fresh, especially in places where the track record on court decisions is against the congregation and in favor of the hierarchy, requires some explanation as to what drives the movement in that direction. And I think it is the small but real hope of winning the case, and a very firm belief in the rightness of the cause. That does not seem to me to be unreasonable.


Getting Political

I am usually very careful not to get into overtly political issues in my preaching — I think the Gospel is usually clear enough on its own not to require me to dot any I's or cross any T's. However, the readings yesterday seemed to call for a more direct response. My sermon was called, "A Man Like John" -- including some reminiscences of JFK, but also the nature of the ministry of John the Baptist. You can read the whole thing, and even listen to an MP3 if you are of a mind, over at my sermon blog. Here is an excerpt:

I don’t need to tell you that I heard a similar voice speak out in the campaign leading up to the election, and I’ve heard that same voice since. It is the voice of the man our nation chose, by a significant margin, to be our next President. He too could have offered the easy promises of wealth to the rich trickling down to us below; of health care provided universally but without cost. But he has taken a page from John’s book — John the Baptist and John Kennedy — to be straight with us, to challenge us, and call us to stand up to the challenge. It isn’t about him. It is not he upon whom we’ve pinned our hopes — except the hope that he will inspire us to do our best, not to ask what he can do for us, but what we can do for each other, working together, helping to turn our hopes into action to make this land, this world, a better place.

He is challenging us to “make straight the paths” of this land so that the poor and weak do not stumble. He is calling us to sacrifice and contribute to the good of all so that a fair and equitable health care system can be instituted, so that, God willing, no more shall there be an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live a lifetime. He is calling us to a world in which one does not plant while another harvests the crops, to a world in which the worker is compensated fairly, without regard to age or gender or race, and in which the laborers receive the fair return of their labor. He is calling us to a world in which those with much will indeed be challenged to share what they have — as John the Baptist did when he said that the one with two coats should share with the one who has none, and the one with plenty of food should do the same: and that’s not socialism; that’s the Gospel!

Barack Obama is no more the Messiah than was John the Baptist — but both of them call us to our better selves, to responsibility and willingness to bear each others’ burdens, so that all might benefit. We live in difficult times no less than did John the Baptist, times of war and want, of poverty and need, and of greed and selfishness. We cannot by our own efforts bring about the kingdom of God — but we can make straight his paths. We can prepare the way. We can all be men and women like John.

Read or listen to it all, if you are so moved.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 13, 2008

Advent Fanfare

a little something for "Stir Up" Sunday. Based on the Advent Responsory:

I look from afar, and behold I see the power of God coming, like a cloud covering the whole earth.

Go ye out to meet him and say, Tell us! Art thou he who is to come to reign over thy people Israel?

High and low, rich and poor, one with another: Go ye out to meet him and say, Hear O thou Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep: Tell us! Art thou he that should come?

Stir up thy strength, O Lord, and come to reign over thy people Israel!

Glory be to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

I look from afar, and behold I see the power of God coming, like a cloud covering the whole earth.

Go ye out to meet him and say, Tell us! Art thou he who is to come to reign over thy people Israel?

—Tobias Haller BSG

MP3 File

December 12, 2008

Avery Dulles SJ RIP

I just saw an announcement that Cardinal Avery Dulles, a hard-minded but generous-hearted Jesuit, has died, at the age of 90, in the infirmary at Fordham University, where he was in residence in recent years, just a few blocks down the hill from my parish church. When he was created Cardinal in 2001, I was tempted to send a note saying how happy it always makes me to hear that one of my parishioners has been honored. I'm sorry I didn't, as I think he would have smiled. Perhaps he is smiling now. God rest him, in eternal light.

Tobias Haller BSG

The Archbishop as Cognitive Therapist

One of the issues that arose in the discussion on the previous post regards the extent to which Archbishop Rowan Williams is responsible for the Network's having worked itself into its present schismatic position.

When I did my clinical pastoral experience, I served as a chaplain in the psychiatric ward, and was given some instruction in the basics of cognitive therapy, which is a gentle way of guiding delusional people back to greater engagement with reality. Part of this therapeutic technique involves being very clear about reality, as opposed to the unfounded beliefs that a delusional person may hold.

Archbishop Williams, bless his heart, has apparently not learned this valuable skill. He does not seem to grasp that if he gives people who are behaving badly a single thread from which to hang they will weave it into whole cloth.

This is evident in the reports of the recent meeting between the GAFCON primates and the Archbishop. Apparently he told them that he would neither support nor oppose the development of a new province of the Anglican Communion in North America. This carefully neutral statement is being taken not for what it actually says, but as a kind of tacit support; along the lines of "if he is not explicitly against us then he is really for us."

I do not, of course, know what actually transpired in the course of the meeting. It may be that the Archbishop said more than has been reported; for example, that the creation of a new province along these lines would be a novelty in the history of the Anglican Communion. He might have gone further and said, "I will not recognize such a new province." Whether he accepts the authority that comes with being Archbishop of Canterbury or not, it is in his power to recognize a new province — or not. And perhaps this is exactly what he meant when he said he would neither support it nor oppose it -- that is, contrary to the optimistic reading read into his statements by the GAFCON primates, his statement constitutes an essential veto — since his approval is required and he has said he "will not support" the venture. Thus, "he who is not for us is against us" may be the factual implication, since his consent is required for recognition as being in communion with the Church of England; as I've noted, a presumed necessity for being part of the Anglican Communion.

I once said to a bishop friend (now serving in the celestial choir) that I thought every bishop, prior to consecration, should do an additional unit of clinical pastoral experience. He shuddered at the thought. I am now inclined to think that not only should bishops undertake such an experience, but that they should do it on the psych ward.

Tobias Haller BSG

December 10, 2008

How they got here

I see from a news report that the Anglican Communion Network (h/t Thinking Anglicans) is prepared to pass a sputtering torch to the new, emerging “Anglican” “Province” in North America. (I may run out of scare quotes before this is all over.) The Network confesses that it has failed in its purpose to recall the Episcopal Church to its standards of orthodoxy, and even goes so far as to suggest that this purpose is beyond achievement. Thus the torch they are passing to ACNA is not only sputtering but extinguished.

This reminder of the Network’s failed purpose helps to bring into focus one of the major problems with the present mess into which the Anglican Communion has descended. Though I acknowledge the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada played their part in providing grist for a particular mill, still, the decision to drive that mill at a pace which has caused the whole mechanism to fall apart seems to lie with the Network and its allies — and their almost complete misunderstanding of what they had been advised to do or not to do by Archbishop Rowan Williams.

At this point they already said that Rowan Williams counts for little — he has not backed them up in what they have wanted to do. But it is worse than that. It may be that he did not understand them, but surely they did not understand him, nor did they follow through on doing what he asked them to do. I have not been alone in noting the nuanced and sometimes impenetrable language Rowan Williams uses, but the more I listen to him and the more carefully I listen the more consistent and thoughtful he appears to be. Perhaps, like Mark Twain, we are all learning that while our father in God seemed, in our youth, to be incredibly dense, we have discovered that the older we grew the wiser he has become.

The main thing people misunderstand about Rowan Williams — on both sides of the aisle — is that he is resolutely committed to working things out through the existing mechanisms of the organization. He is what some might call an institutionalist. Hence his initial displeasure with the Episcopal Church — holding as he does to the notion that Lambeth 1.10 represents the mind of the Communion, even if his own opinions tend another way (and I think they still do, by the way, contrary to what I think are other misreadings of some of his statements — but this just goes to show the depth of his commitment to proper process.) We might note as well his continued pressing for some kind of covenant, some rules in a book instead of facts on the ground. Everything Rowan Williams says has to be understood with this hermeneutical key: people should follow the rules. Perhaps he is a Benedictine at heart?

It is by failing to grasp this fundamental Rowanite principle that the Global South and its North American supporters/ambassadors have come to their present situation, on the verge of walking apart from the Canterbury-centered Anglican Communion.

This has been going on for a long time. When Bishop Duncan and his friends approached the Archbishop with the proposal to form a ‘network of confessing parishes and dioceses,’ the archbishop gave the nod. What, after all, is wrong with that? Anglicans have been forming networks or parties from the very beginning — in England the great mission societies emerged through that very process, as evangelicals and high church Anglo-Catholics worked within their own circles to build up the church in the way they thought it ought to be built.

But almost from the very beginning, the Network functioned, not as an underground body continuing to work within the structures of the larger church, out of step with which it felt itself to be — which is, after all the model for a confessing church in the manner of Bonhoeffer. No, the Network came to see itself not even as leaven in the loaf, but more like the dedicated portion of the challah loaf, though in this case a portion which would come to replace the rest of the body since it could not transform it. The rhetoric of “two churches” instead of a movement within one church began very early on in this particular turn of the Episcopal carousel.

And so it continued. In spite of Archbishop Rowan’s repeated declarations of the “un-helpfulness” of such things as AMiA and CANA, and his refusal to recognize as Anglican bishops those who staff these adventures and incursions; in spite of his explicit comments about those who chose to absent themselves from Lambeth, and his references to the language of “walking apart” from the Windsor Report — in spite of all this, the “Anglican Church in North America” still seems to hold out that sputtering hope that they will become the official Anglican presence in North America.

They shall become something; what they will become is too soon to tell. But I surmise that they will not, like the Episcopal Church, be a member of the Anglican Communion, a fellowship of autonomous churches in communion with the See of Canterbury.

Tobias Haller BSG

December 5, 2008

A new verse

Build up your mount above the hills;
to nations joined with Godly wills
send forth your truth from Zion.

Recast our swords to plow the fields
that they may bear the fruit peace yields
and we depart from warring.

Jesus, Savior,
Lord, we wait your soon arrival;
On you hangs our sole survival.

Tobias Haller BSG, after Isaiah 2:1-4

To the tune Wie schön leuchtet, suggested as an additional verse to the hymn, “How brightly shines the morning star.

December 3, 2008

More on tolerance

Harking back to a conversation I had with Richard Helmer last summer, I am moved by the announcement that the Roman Catholic Church has come out in opposition to a proposed UN declaration that would call for the repeal of criminal statutes and punishments aimed at homosexual persons. (H/T Episcopal Café.) While intended to address the harsh punishments inflicted upon such persons in certain parts of the world, the rationale offered by the Vatican is based on the concern that states that did not provide for same-sex marriage might somehow come under threat of punishment on that account.

This reveals one of the dynamics about which Richard and I spoke last summer. People and organizations who are intolerant tend to imagine that they will also not be tolerated. A dynamic of projection is at work. They know what they would do if they were in charge — indeed, we saw what the Roman Catholic Church did when it was in charge, in those uncouth times when the secular arm could be employed to torture and to kill. One gives thanks for the decline in that capacity.

As a result of this projection one often sees a rhetoric of fear; calls for a “safe place” or for “security” — as if they are going to be made to do something they would not choose to do, and be punished if they did not do it. The idea that churches are going to be forced to perform same-sex marriages, or punished if they do not, is ludicrous: in much of Europe the state does not even recognize church marriages as having any standing whatsoever. As we have already seen in California and now on the global stage, however, the Roman Catholic Church does not simply wish to protect its own rights not to perform same-sex marriages, but to see to it that no one else does it either — as if that were in any case the purport of the proposed declaration!

Closer to home, canonical regulations concerning the ordination of women are a case in point in our own church. As it now stands, bishops are not required to ordain anyone against their will; while at the same time the process leading to ordination must remain open in all dioceses, without regard to sex or sexual orientation. The individual bishop with a conscientious objection to the ordination of women is only required to provide a way for women to explore the possibility of being ordained; and the actual ordination can be performed by another bishop. Nor is any bishop forced to ordain a gay or lesbian person, celibate or not. It is true there may be some social pressure, but there is no legal penalty for not ordaining someone.

Nor is there any persecution — unless it is the “persecution” of being disagreed with; which is where we come back to the basic nature of intolerance: the desire that all should do as one does oneself. And it strikes me the root of intolerance may simply derive from a lack of empathy — the lack of ability to imagine that there might be people who do not in fact insist that all do as they do. This seems to be the chasm fixed between tolerance and intolerance.

Another dynamic that I’ve observed: One finds language of the most appalling sort on some of the conservative blog comments, aimed at Episcopal Church leadership, and accompanied by moans of protest should a sharp-tongued liberal reply in kind (one thinks of my friend the Mad Priest, and of course, I too have been known to make the odd sharp remark). And indeed my first posting on tolerance was a result of someone styling this blog as “vicious” — I think a rather wild exaggeration, especially compared to some of what passes for dialogue in the blogosphere.

This kind of asymmetrical behavior is essentially adolescent. The intolerant believe in the world of “No fair hitting back.” It is a mind-set of testing boundaries, full of insecurities masked with bluster, resentful of limitations but creating rigid systems of rules and hierarchies to stabilize their world. And worst of all, they project all of their fears upon “the parent” — who was portrayed as forcing their response.

Later today, at a conference in the Windy City, it is said that a safe haven for fearful Anglicans and former Anglicans will be unveiled. Only time will tell what becomes of it; but I think its foundations are built on the sand of fearful imaginings.

Tobias Haller BSG

December 1, 2008

as u have done 4 the least of these

Surely he has borne our griefs and known our sorrows.

World AIDS Day 2008, Tobias Haller BSG

Thought for 12.01.08

When one is heading in the wrong direction, more and more difficulties arise, which are harder and harder to explain. When one is heading in the right direction, points which once created difficulty now fall into place and guide ones progress. If one is headed the wrong way on a trail, a tree becomes an obstacle: from the other side one sees that there is a sign hanging on it. When seen in the wrong way, even the goal itself can appear to be an obstruction. When one is headed in the wrong direction, the backside of a signpost appears to be an obstacle.

How did the anthem go? “Turn back, O Man, forswear thy foolish ways...”

An Advent thought from Tobias Haller BSG


From Ann:

Things done are bold, things left undone, or not yet done (and some of them likely never to be done!), are plain.

  • 1. Started my own blog
  • 2. Slept under the stars
  • 3. Played in a band
  • 4. Visited Hawaii
  • 5. Watched a meteor shower
  • 6. Given more than I can afford to charity
  • 7. Been to Disneyland/world
  • 8. Climbed a mountain
  • 9. Held a praying mantis
  • 10. Sung a solo
  • 11. Bungee jumped
  • 12. Visited Paris
  • 13. Watched lightning at sea
  • 14. Taught myself an art from scratch
  • 15. Adopted a child
  • 16. Had food poisoning
  • 17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
  • 18. Grown my own vegetables
  • 19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
  • 20. Slept on an overnight train
  • 21. Had a pillow fight
  • 22. Hitchhiked
  • 23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
  • 24. Built a snow fort
  • 25. Held a lamb
  • 26. Gone skinny dipping
  • 27. Run a Marathon
  • 28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
  • 29. Seen a total eclipse
  • 30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
  • 31. Hit a home run
  • 32. Been on a cruise
  • 33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
  • 34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors
  • 35. Seen an Amish community
  • 36. Taught myself a new language
  • 37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
  • 38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
  • 39. Gone rock climbing
  • 40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
  • 41. Sung karaoke
  • 42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
  • 43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
  • 44. Visited Africa
  • 45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
  • 46. Been transported in an ambulance
  • 47. Had my portrait painted
  • 48. Gone deep sea fishing
  • 49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
  • 50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
  • 51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
  • 52. Kissed in the rain
  • 53. Played in the mud
  • 54. Gone to a drive-in theater
  • 55. Been in a movie
  • 56. Visited the Great Wall of China
  • 57. Started a business
  • 58. Taken a martial arts class
  • 59. Visited Russia
  • 60. Served at a soup kitchen
  • 61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
  • 62. Gone whale watching
  • 63. Got flowers for no reason
  • 64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
  • 65. Gone sky diving
  • 66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
  • 67. Bounced a check
  • 68. Flown in a helicopter
  • 69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
  • 70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
  • 71. Eaten Caviar
  • 72. Pieced a quilt
  • 73. Stood in Times Square
  • 74. Toured the Everglades
  • 75. Been fired from a job
  • 76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
  • 77. Broken a bone
  • 78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
  • 79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
  • 80. Published a book
  • 81. Visited the Vatican
  • 82. Bought a brand new car
  • 83. Walked in Jerusalem
  • 84. Had my picture in the newspaper
  • 85. Read the entire Bible
  • 86. Visited the White House
  • 87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
  • 88. Had chickenpox
  • 89. Saved someone’s life
  • 90. Sat on a jury
  • 91. Met someone famous
  • 92. Joined a book club
  • 93. Lost a loved one
  • 94. Had a baby
  • 95. Seen the Alamo in person
  • 96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
  • 97. Been involved in a law suit
  • 98. Owned a cell phone
  • 99. Been stung by a bee
  • 100. Ridden an elephant
An interesting collection of things, no?

Tobias Haller BSG

November 30, 2008

Advent Calendar from Washington

The Diocese of Washington has created an online Advent Calendar for your edification. It is available in the Spirituality section of the diocesan website. Enjoy.

November 28, 2008

How Provincial (?)

The Church Times reports on the scheduled Wednesday unveiling of the Anglican Church of North America as a new province. The question, of course is, province of what? As noted in the comments at Thinking Anglicans, until someone or other declares it a province, it is just a collection of individual bishops, clergy and laity, formed into whatever subdivisions they imagine helpful to the existence of a church. Contrary to the assertion, the portions of former Episcopal Dioceses in this mix have all left behind the still-functioning, though diminished and in some cases needing restructuring, dioceses of The Episcopal Church. Also included are a number of groups that left TEC in earlier generations, some more than a century ago (The Reformed Episcopal Church), now coalesced in the Common Cause Partners. (One can be forgiven, in the midst of all of these associations, for thinking of the scene in Life of Brian where distinctions have to be made between the various splintering factions attempting to subvert Roman rule.) The new "emergent" province is part of a larger constellation that calls itself the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans — which includes a broad collection of entities and individuals around the world.

I have noted that it is unlikely the "Anglican Church in North America" will be recognized by Canterbury -- and they seem to have partaken of preemptive sour-grape-consumption in saying already, in the GAFCON Jerusalem Declaration, that they don't need Canterbury to be Anglican. But surely, as observed at TA, they need to be recognized by somebody if they are to be a Province, rather than a free-floating exercise in autonomous ecclesiarchitecture. For provinces are always provinces of; to use a Hebrew language analogy, a Province is always in the construct state, the state of being possessed by or related to some other entity.

So, at present it is best to describe it as part of a looser assemblage, a Fellowship. One assumes that word was chosen with care by the Fellowship of Confessing Anglican folks, and in the knowledge that that is how the Anglican Communion (centered on Canterbury) describes itself. So, it seems to me, preparations are already afoot, should a "Province" not be recognized by Canterbury, to form a new Acantuarian Anglican Communion altogether. And I think perhaps some, even of the most separatist-leaning of the present Anglican Communion provinces in the Global South, may wish to maintain a foothold in both Communions. Or am I misreading the tea-leaves.

Whatever the case, they had best be reminded of the danger of attempting to board a vessel while keeping one foot still firmly planted on land.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 26, 2008

Act of Toleration

One of the most common charges leveled at “progressives” or “liberals” when they make any criticism of, or raise any objection against, a “conservative” or “reactionary” is that they are being hypocritically intolerant or exclusive. This happened here in a comment left on one of my earlier posts. This accusation of viciousness gives me the opportunity to make a number of observations on the matter of vice and virtue.

First, tolerance is, properly speaking, not a virtue but a political strategy or policy. Tolerance, in this political sense, is the willingness to allow others to express opinions or hold beliefs with which one (or the majority) disagrees. Thus the Church of England eventually came to tolerate the practice of Roman Catholicism, without in any way affirming it.

Second, there is a difference between toleration of the right to hold an opinion or belief, and any suggestion that this need extend to action. Thus, I am perfectly tolerant of the opinions of Bishop Duncan, Iker, &c., but I do not approve of those of their actions which I believe to be illegal under Canon law.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, tolerance is not a religious virtue, though it may call upon the exercise of some of those virtues, such as patience and fortitude, as well as charity. But I do not expect the Roman Catholic Church or The Episcopal Church to be tolerant of those who wish to remain members while teaching things at variance with their corporate beliefs. Thus, while it may be intolerant of the Pope to discipline a Jesuit for teaching something at odds with the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, he is well within his rights to do so. The same goes for The Episcopal Church, though this authority is very rarely exercised. I would thus say that TEC is relatively more “tolerant” of the expression of contrary opinions than is the RCC; that is, we rarely discipline clergy merely for holding or even teaching a contrary opinion, at least if it stops short of action such as attempting to lead a parish or diocese into secession.

Fourth, the fact that one tolerates an opinion need not mean that one agrees with it, nor, on the contrary, does disagreeing with an opinion — even strongly — mean that one is intolerant. Toleration has to do with people’s rights to have opinions, not to be right.

Thus I can strongly disagree with Duncan and Iker without being intolerant of them; but at the same time I do not have to tolerate actions I believe to be illegal.

Which brings me to the whole idea of inclusivity. Someone once said that anything can be tolerated but intolerance — but I’m not sure that is true. As I note, the English eventually came to tolerate the existence of a relatively intolerant body, the Roman Catholic Church, as long as its intolerance was directed towards the discipline of its own members — a thing they have every right to do; that is, the Roman Catholic Church does not have to put up with (i.e., tolerate) its clergy teaching doctrines at odds with the magisterium.

The same can be said of inclusivity — which I also do not see as a virtue in and of itself, though, like toleration it may call upon the exercise of real virtues. Obviously it is difficult to include within any body a person set upon the overthrow of that body — this is why the political freedoms granted to Americans stop short of any right to foment revolution or insurrection.

It is quite true that many speak of inclusiveness as if it were a virtue in and of itself. I do not accept that theory. The same goes for tolerance. Neither of these things requires or implies agreement with what the one being tolerated or included thinks or says. It is neither intolerant nor exclusive sharply to critique any notion advanced or position argued. And if a state, or a church, is required to exercise discipline when an opinion or a teaching goes beyond the pale into insurrection or disobedience, well, the state or church has the right no longer to tolerate the behavior, and to exclude the member.

So, I do not disagree with the Roman Catholic Church, or the Mormons, or the more conservative segment of TEC, for example, for being “intolerant” or “exclusive” — they have every right to be so! However, I think they are wrong — and I have every right to critique them in the strongest language — though, I think, I am really rather forbearing in my tone. Of course, I could be wrong on this as well.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 25, 2008

A Push or a Caution

Episcopal Café reports that Ruth Gledhill of the Times has scooped a story on the continuing saga of the dis-integrating Anglican Communion. It seems the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council is thinking about some way to discipline the Church of the Southern Cone for its adventures in North America, about which I've commented a number of times.

Whether this action will be taken as the caution it should be, and throw cold water upon the December 3rd unveiling of the New Improved North American Province, or simply push the separatists over the edge remains to be seen. What we have already seen is a tendency to be willing to cross borders, real and virtual.

Tobias Haller BSG

UPDATE: Episcopal News Service questions the accuracy of the "leak" -- at least so far as the meeting has progressed. Ah, Ruth, whither thou goest, I think I will not go. Again.

Tilting at the Windmills of His Mind

As has been amply reported, Bishop Iker of Fort Worth has been inhibited by the Presiding Bishop (following the due canonical process on the recommendation of the review committee and with the consent of the three senior bishops) for having abandoned "the communion of this Church" — "this Church" of course referring, as it always does in our Canons, to The Episcopal Church.

Surely there can be no doubt that Iker is out of communion with TEC — I mean, isn't that the point of removing all references to TEC from the diocesan constitution, and joining the Southern Cone? That the Church of the SC is a member of the Anglican Communion (for now) is irrelevant to the abandonment canon, since it refers not to the Anglican Communion, but to communion with TEC. (There can be churches in Communion with TEC, or the C of E for that matter, that are not part of the Anglican Communion, such as the ELCA in our case. Communion is not transitive, as anyone who has been involved in ecumenical discussion well knows.)

The Bishop and Standing Committee of what still calls itself "The Episcopal Diocese of Forth Worth" has issued a response to the PB's action. They make a good deal of fuss about the inhibition, which, as they rightly note, is of no actual effect to the extent that Jack has already hit the road (virtually, not in actuality, as he is still geographically in Fort Worth, not the Southern Cone.) All the inhibition actually states is that Iker is not to execute any episcopal functions in The Episcopal Church. Iker makes much of his indignation, but one wonders why, if he has no intention of trying to pretend to be still the bishop of a diocese of The Episcopal Church.

The strangest part of the FW response, to my mind, is the closing word of the Standing Committee. They accuse the Presiding Bishop of "border crossing." Clearly the "borders" involved here are the mental borders of allegiance, not the geographical borders of this earth, or the canonical borders of the provinces of the Churches of the Anglican Communion. It has already been noted that the Church of the Southern Cone is in express violation of its own Canons in attempting to take extraterritorial dioceses under its wings. And as is well established, there is no provision in the Constitution and Canons of TEC to allow a domestic diocese to become independent of this Church once it has entered into union with it. Even missionary and overseas dioceses of TEC can only become independent with the consent of the General Convention. And bishops cannot "resign" from the House of Bishops without the consent of that House. To think that a domestic diocese can simply, motu proprio secede from The Episcopal Church is an exercise in cowboy fantasy.

But then again, the whole thing is rather fantastic, isn't it?

Tobias Haller BSG

November 24, 2008

Bibliomancy 101

Over at Facebook — and yes, I have an account, and find it restful to chat with folks and see what's a-doing, but I don't spend my life in an alternate reality (unless you count the Church) — Bob Griffith posted a game involving taking the book nearest you, opening it to page p, and then counting sentences and reporting on the text of the nth sentence. I did so, the nearest book at hand being the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (the old edition). And here is what met my eye:

In 787, Lichfield was made an archbishopric, but the arrangement lasted for only sixteen years.

I am not into bibliomancy or even any other form of artificially assisted prophecy — I have enough trouble dealing with all those sycamore trees — but I can't help but wonder if this could be prophetic of the GAFCON New Anglican Province's fate?

— Tobias

The Dividing Line, A Sermon

Saint James Fordham • Proper 29a • Tobias Haller BSG

When the Son of Man comes in his glory… he will separate people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Someone once said that the world is divided into two sorts of people: the sorts of people who divide the world into two sorts of people, and those who don’t. Well, it would seem from today’s readings that the Son of Man, when he comes in power and great glory, will turn out to be exactly the sort of person who divides the world into two sorts of people: those who are blessed by his Father, and those who are accursed. There is no middle ground, no room for compromise, and no appeal. This is nothing other than the Last Judgment...

Read or listen to it all. (Please forgive the occasional cough on the audio; I was recovering from a chest cold!)

November 22, 2008

Reminder about the Communion

As the Duncanian coalition of former Episcopalians and never-were Episcopalians coalesces or congeals into form in a few weeks, they appear to remain hopeful that whatever they are will be recognized as a new Province of the Anglican Communion.

This is unlikely, for two reasons.

First, one would assume that to be a member of the Anglican Communion one needs to be in communion with the Church of England. That is determined, according to English Canon Law, jointly by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the two English Primates.

Second, to be listed on the schedule of Churches or Provinces that are part of the Anglican Consultative Council requires an affirmative vote of the Council and the assent of two-thirds of the Primates of the already existing member Churches or Provinces.

Both of these seem unlikely. In the first case, the Archbishop of Canterbury has already indicated his not wanting to depart from the long tradition of geographical integrity that has formed a part of Anglicanism since the Reformation. (See Article 37 of the Articles of Religion.) His personal "nightmare" as he mentioned in a speech some years ago, is having St Mary's Anglican Church across the street from St Joseph's Episcopal Church -- members of two different provinces of the Communion in the same location. (Previous rare exceptions on the basis of history, as in Europe, or because of cultural or linguistic differences, as in some Church of South India parishes functioning in the US, are anomalies -- and more important, are engaged in a cordial and mutual relationship; not the antipathy and lack of communion we are seeing develop with Duncan et alia.) Archbishop Rowan has to date steadfastly refused to recognize any of the extant bishops of this constellation, though he is of course quite willing to meet with them to talk. But it seems unlikely he will back a second province for disaffected Anglicans in North America.

Secondly, it is very unlikely two-thirds of the Primates would want to see such a development, as it would open the door for similar adventures in their own Provinces.

Of course, there will be a parcel of Primates who will go ahead and recognize the New Duncanian Thing, whatever the ACC or Canterbury and York say about it. There have long been signals from the Global Southerners that they think they can do without Canterbury, and they may soon have to see what that is like.

What such a blend of partial recognition (by some Primates but not enough to change the Constitution) and nonrecognition (of and by Canterbury) will lead to remains to be seen. My prognostication is a temporary division in the Anglican Communion As We Know It, as some, but not all, of the Globally Southern and Their Friends in Other Places create some boundaries between themselves and the rest of the Anglican Communion. Such a separation may not, in the long run, be a bad thing. One reality I've learned in parish life is that trying to keep unhappy people involved doesn't solve their unhappiness or promote the happiness and effectiveness of others.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 19, 2008

And why we did it

Stuart commented with a question on the post below, concerning the Diocese of NY passing a resolution supporting the state's movement towards marriage equality. He asked

When we were discussing the resolution, some wondered why there wasn't a parallel resolution committing the Diocese to begin the process of creating a public rite for blessing the marriages same-sex couples.

It's a good question, and deserves an answer. I gave an answer in the comments below, but want to expand a bit here. I can best do this by offering what I planned to say in the debate if those of us planning the floor-fight felt it was needed. So here is what I was prepared to say:

I want to note that this resolution concerns civil marriage equality. It is not about Holy Matrimony. As such, it concerns the lives of thousands of New Yorkers, only a few of whom are Episcopalians, and many of whom may have no religious affiliation whatsoever.

So why should we make such a statement? I am reminded of the words of a great Archbishop [Temple]: The church is an institution devoted to the welfare of those not yet its members.

I also draw your attention to the language of the 1976 resolution of the General Convention [A-71], with particular focus on the words equal protection of the laws and provided in actuality. Thirty-two years later, we are being given an opportunity to answer the simple question, "Do you mean it?" And I close with the words of Christ: "Who among you, if your child asks for bread will give him a stone; or if he asks for a fish, give him a snake?"

So a major concern for me in all of this is the recognition that civil marriage equality concerns not just Episcopalians, but all the scattered churchless children of God who are seeking to establish their lives in stable and committed relationships, with all the rights and responsibilities they entail.

But, to get back to Stu's question, Why not matrimony? Here is my rationale:

  • First, this is for me largely a question of sequence, a sequence which echoes the development of marriage in church history. Civil marriage comes first, then the church "adopts" it. As you may know, there was no formal "marriage" in the church until about the fifth-sixth century, and the earliest church involvement was basically a blessing of the couple's civil marriage, with particular prayer for safe childbirth. The earliest liturgies took place in the home, and only gradually moved into the church. So, as with evolution, "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" -- or something like that!

  • The second factor is theological: the church has long taught that the ministers of marriage are the couple themselves -- that is, they minister the rite to each other, and the church functions as witness and blesses the marriage -- the church does not "make" it; the couple do.

  • Third is the principle that the church only legally performs marriages when such marriages are civilly valid. There is even a Prayer Book rubric to that effect, in the first paragraph on page 422. So it makes sense to see the civil aspect established prior to the church acting as if it could perform the civil aspect of a marriage.

  • Fourth, at the same time, and pending such developments, nothing in the meantime prevents a bishop from permitting the "blessing" of anything whatsoever within her own diocese. There was an effort to restrict this right at GC 2006, via a legislative moratorium on the authorization of same-sex blessings, but it was defeated in part because I rose to point out that this would require a Constitutional amendment, since Article X gives bishops this right.

  • Fifth, also at the same time, priests are ordained to bless -- it is one of the "faculties" bestowed at ordination to the priesthood, and there is no "except" clause; the bishop need not ask clergy who or what they are blessing any more than the bishop need review every sermon a priest delivers -- preaching also being a "faculty" licensed by ordination. I realize we are getting into a bit of "don't ask / don't tell" here (for bishops who want to at least appear to toe the line drawn out by Lambeth and those Windsor folks; and yes, this is not an ideal situation -- but it presents a real opportunity for couples and congregations, and is in keeping with the 2003 GC resolution that acknowledged that such things were happening, and that those who took part were operating within the legitimate scope of action at their disposal. At least that is how I took the resolution.

  • Sixth, formal liturgical change at the national level does need to be authorized by the church as a whole, even though individual dioceses and parishes can put into effect what I describe above. In fact, I think a bottom-up or grass-roots model for liturgical development is to be preferred to the top-down model for liturgical development. There was no "Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music" in the early church, and each national and local church developed its liturgies over time, with certain forms and prayers rising to the top by a natural process of recognition and popularity. However, in these latter days, liturgies only gain full status as "of the church" when recognized by the church in GC.

So, taking all of this together, I think we are proceeding in the proper sequence: work for the recognition of civil marriage equality first, at which point the church can then actually "perform" marriages (to the extent they perform them); and in the meantime continue to live in the less than perfect world of informal blessings, at the same time working for a full acceptance of such rites. If we time this correctly, the formal rites should be ready by the time civil marriage equality is a reality in most parts of the country. I realize this is a slow process; but it looks like the Northeast and the West will be there within a few years. (I expect a reversal in California.) It may well take a generation in the South. In the meantime, since marriage is governed by states, it will not be long before it is appropriate for General Convention to pass a resolution to the effect of permitting churches to perform same-sex marriages in states where such marriages are permitted under civil law. Such a resolution came to GC in 2006, and it may be back again in 2009. Even though I support the resolution, it is more to make a point than in hopes of its passage.

My point is that I am working towards what I hope will be true, full marriage equality in church and state. This will not be easy; and I think to an extent we cheat ourselves by "making do" with blessings of civil marriages and of couples who desire only that blessing -- much as I support them, they are not the final goal.

Tobias Haller BSG

Update: A listing of all known relevant diocesan convention resolutions since 2007 is available at an Integrity-monitored site "Be It Resolved." I'm happy to see the pressure is building for marriage equality and an end to B033. An account from Lisa of the resolutions passing in Missouri is particularly heartwarming! — Tobias

November 17, 2008

Cars and Effect

How about this: rather than just giving the Big Three car makers a pile of money for nothing, that the government invest in them, or give them a loan, with several hefty strings attached. How about insisting that these automakers, in addition to building the trucks and SUVs that have legitimate use in rough country and snowbound dirt-road sections of the US of A (though hardly in most suburbs and certainly not in most cities, where they are marks both of vanity and insufficiency, as well as inefficiency), that a truly fuel-efficient, small, and affordable car be placed at the top of the agenda. Perhaps not quite so small as the Tata Nano, or even one of those strange little French cars, or even the original Volkswagen — though that's getting close in terms of size and intent.

Then it will be time to call upon our people to step up to the plate and buy and use this car — let's call it "The American Eagle" and make it a patriotic point to own and use one, not out of vanity but out of pride and shared values. An all-electric model for city use would not be a bad idea, either. How about it?

Tobias Haller BSG

Sur le pont d'Avignon

on y danse, on y danse...

There is due to be announced in short order the creation of what is being billed as a new and improved second Anglican Province in North America, consisting, among other things, of the some of the people, clergy, and former bishops of the dioceses of San Joaquin, Quincy, Pittsburgh and Fort Worth.

As Mark Harris has pointed out this would represent a very small fraction of the total membership of The Episcopal Church, even if the departures from these dioceses were total — which none of them are; the dioceses will continue as part of The Episcopal Church, though reduced in numbers for the time being. This is not to say it is insignificant, only to point out that what it signifies is not a great division in The Episcopal Church.

It may herald, however, a beginning of a larger schism in the Anglican Communion. For the time being the main extraterritorial ally of the former members of these four dioceses is the Church of the Southern Cone, which is, among the churches of the Anglican Communion, one of the smallest and most thinly spread. Again, this is not to play any sort of numbers game, as if numbers alone were significant of anything other than their numeric reality. But that reality will be important for future viability. If other provinces (and I'm thinking of those in the GAFCON continuum) sign on to this new Anglican Communion, it remains to be seen if they will also be able to maintain a presence in and connection with the other and older Anglican Communion — the one with Canterbury as first among equals; or unequals, as the case might be.

Some are beginning to liken this situation to the Great Schism that split the East from the West back in the eleventh century. It seems to me, however, since the focus appears to be more on leaders than on doctrine (all protests to the contrary notwithstanding) that the analogy to the other Schism sometimes called "Great" — the one that split the papacy in the fifteenth century — provides a better analogy.

Schisms by nature are not irrevocable. Time may heal all wounds — even, as someone once said, it wounds all heels. Fifty or a hundred years from now, it will be for those of that time to make a judgment on how sound were the reasons for those who felt a need to make this present split. In the meantime, the rest of the Anglican Communion should take this as an opportunity to refocus its attention on the mission to which it is called, which is not its own preservation as an institution, except to the extent that institution serves the cause of God, and cares for God's people, and God's world.

Otherwise this famous "bridge Church" risks becoming like the one in Avignon, which was little better than a dance-floor.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 15, 2008

We Did

I am very happy to report that the following resolution was adopted today by the Episcopal Diocese of New York:

Resolved, That the 232nd Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, in keeping with Resolution 15 of the 217th Convention of the Diocese, which made "known to the President of the United States, to the United States Senate and House of Representatives our support of full civil rights for all American citizens irrespective of sexual orientation," calls upon the Governor and the Legislature of the State of New York to ensure civil marriage equality in this state by enacting the necessary legislation to permit same-sex couples to marry; and be it further

Resolved, That copies of this Resolution be sent to the Governor, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the Assembly of the State of New York.

Many of us were wearing the "I do" buttons in support of the resolution, and an old friend from my days on the Liturgical Commission noted, "Tobias, you know it should say, 'I will.'" I responded, "No, this is what the Father of the Bride says...!" Touché.

In its explanatory material the proposers noted the 1976 General Convention resolution A-71, that "homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws with all other citizens, and calls upon our society to see that such protection is provided in actuality."

I was prepared to speak in support of the motion, stressing the importance of living up to our own promises, but the vibes in the room were rather positive, and no one spoke against the resolution; it carried by a large majority on a Yes / No hand-sign vote. Next steps: The state Assembly has voted to support marriage equality in the past, but the Senate, until a few weeks ago controlled by a conservative majority, has blocked action. The Governor has already indicated his support for this legislation. Many of us in the Diocese of New York, however, felt it important to let our electeds know that there is more than one opinion on this subject in the sphere of organized religion.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 12, 2008

Civil Union Division

A parable

Once there was a restaurant that served a wide range of foods, some with meat, and some not. A group of vegetarians asked the restaurant if they would mark the menu with indications as to which dishes contained no meat. The owners said they would not do that, but would provide a separate menu listing the vegetarian dishes. Some of the vegetarians also said they didn’t want to eat in a restaurant that served meat at all, and took up a collection to start their own restaurant.

In response to my two previous posts touching on the Roman Catholic support for the adoption of Proposition 8 in California, the conversation has wandered away from the original theme — the role of the church, and the extent of its mendacity and bad faith, in this political action — and turned to the larger question of, “Why marriage rather than civil unions?”

The question was framed by commenter Rick, who opines that CU

is an innovation whose more open and evolving nature may more flexibly address questions of how gays and lesbians see these relationships.

He bases this suggestion on his recognition that same-sex couples

are of course already there, and many have custody of children from prior heterosexual relationships. So there undoubtedly need to be social institutions and structures to address the reality. The great question is whether we should shoehorn these relationships under the rubric of marriage, or, if there is indeed something distinctive about them, whether we should create new structures to address newly-recognized realities.

He also asks about the suggestion that the notion

that couples living together, not only may get married, but should get married, one that should be imported into all relationships? I don't argue; I only ask the question. The idea of marriage is a large one, with far-reaching implications for behavior in the net of interrelated ideas — not only fornication, but incest, adultery, divorce, annulment, separation short of divorce, marriage by estoppel, sexual fidelity, exclusivity, and duration. Legal marriage is much more a set of restrictions and responsibilities than rights, and its legally enumerated contours don't even begin to address unwritten social and religious norms. I only ask the question: Are they really desired?

He then observes

One distinctive characteristic of homosexual couples is that, if one or both has custody of children, there is always a “third,” whether divorced or deceased or in prison, whether an active outside parent or a sperm donor, or anything in between, there is always someone of the opposite sex somewhere in the background. How to deal with that inevitable “third man” or “third woman”? I don't know. But it seems a matter that might possibly be better addressed in the context of civil unions than in importing the norms of divorce and custody from our current marriage law, where such is the exception, not the norm, and only comes up in the context of a breakdown of marriage.

Let me begin by responding to his final point, which I think betrays the root of his difficulties in coming to clarity on this subject. The existence of a “third party” for same-sex couples with children may be inevitable, but it is neither “distinctive” nor “characteristic” of same-sex couples taken as a whole. It is, as with mixed-sex couples, a factor only affecting some same-sex couples. And, just as with mixed-sex couples, it only involves those with adopted children, or children from a previous relationship.

This addresses Rick’s thinking about the purposes of law — and whether it makes sense, in his terms, to “shoehorn” same-sex relationships under our current marriage laws. Noting for the record that marriage laws vary significantly from state to state, still in general it seems that the laws, as written, do not in every particular of their statutory limits have application to all marriages. Obviously only marriages with children will be affected by provisions of marriage concerning children; only marriages that end in divorce will be touched by the divorce regulations. There was a time in many places where adultery was a criminal offense, and obviously that portion of the law only concerned adulterers.

So the current marriage law contains provisions that apply only to some marriages, in certain situations. Given that, why create a new “Civil Union” law — on the pretext of greater uniformity — when no such uniformity exists in the present law? Same-sex couples can be covered perfectly well under the existing marriage laws (as indeed they are in Massachusetts, and were for a time in California), the provisions on adoption, custody, divorce and so on coming into play as needed.

In short, there is no need for “separate but equal” — a separate menu, to employ my parable — even if such a separate status could truly be equal. It simply leads to an unnecessary multiplication of the laws to no apparent end other than the ability to say, “This is not that.” Thus the sole purpose is to make a separation, not to create equality.

Is separation desireable?

Rick also asks if gays and lesbians really want marriage rather than provision for civil union. It is quite true that there are some gays and lesbians who want to have nothing to do with “marriage” — feeling it to be a heterosexual artifact with little or no relevance to them. (I would also add that there are no small number of heterosexuals who feel the same way.) They are represented in my parable by the strict and doctrinaire vegetarians. However numerous such constituencies, it is also clear that there are many same-sex couples who do want to marry — just as there are many vegetarians who for social reasons wish to dine with their non-vegetarian friends. Apparently there are some thousands of same-sex couples who have taken advantage of this opportunity in the short time it was permitted under California law. My point here is that in a free country people should be permitted to make such determinations without the interference of mob rule to the contrary, unless some good reason can be shown to prevent such relationships being granted civil recognition.

Civil action is civil action

Which brings me to the other question Rick raises: What’s wrong with civil unions? Well, it seems to me to be relatively clear that a civil marriage is a civil union. It is not a religious ceremony — and no one is saying that any religious body is either forced to perform a religious ceremony for a couple joined under the civil law, or to recognize such a civil marriage. In fact, many churches are by their own law forbidden to do so — there are many civil marriages that cannot be recognized by a church. For instance, the Roman Catholics would not ordinarily recognize as a valid marriage one in which one of the parties was divorced, not having obtained a statement of nullity. Episcopalians are not permitted to perform a marriage where neither of the parties is baptized. (The fact that an Episcopal cleric can perform a marriage in which one of the parties is not baptized is recognized as a peculiar development, and stands in some conflict with the canon on marriage. But that’s a topic I’ve expanded on elsewhere). In short, there are any number of religious restrictions that do not apply in the civil sphere.

So is all of this a logomachia — a battle over words? It would seem so. Some of my conservative correspondents have noted they really don’t care if civil unions are permitted — or even civil marriage, which they will of course not recognize as marriage. And an air of inevitability hangs over the question as a younger and more tolerant generation arises, fewer and fewer of whom are interested in being part of intolerant religious bodies.

The whole idea that marriage is a religious institution is what is strange to me in all this. Marriage — in its many and various forms throughout history — is a human phenomenon with many manifestations, including variations in number, gender, and duration. Even the so-called Judeo-Christian teaching on the subject is a false summary, as Jewish law allowed polygamy, and mandated divorce and even incest in certain cases, while Christian law forbade all of these.

However, in our culture at least, this has been forgotten, and “marriage” has come to be seen primarily as a religious rather than a civil institution. Some suggest going with that flow and reserving “marriage” to the religious, and “civil union” to the civil sphere. My sense is that this is too much a case of toothpaste and tube, and we are left with a term used in both the civil and sacred realms. But it is at least clear that civil marriage is a civil union — and the law should reflect that.

To reiterate: In terms of how people should be treated under the law, there is no difference between a mixed-sex couple and a same-sex couple apart from the gender of the parties: and under the equal protection provision, to treat such couples differently on the basis of sex is a constitutional violation.

As the courts will eventually rule.

And then we can all go home.

Tobias Haller BSG

November 9, 2008

Gospel Challenge Results

Well, it looks like no one got deeply into the Election Gospel Challenge this time around -- a tribute to the efficiency of the volunteers who gave their time at the polling stations, no doubt. So here is the prize badge, for anyone who wants to claim it is free to do so!

It is based on a sketch I did in the late 70s, of the Archangel Michael. Can't remember why or what the source was. — Tobias Haller BSG

November 8, 2008

taiko to kiku o mimashita

Last night, James, Jonathan and I went to the Bronx Botanical Gardens for a special evening of chrysanthemum-viewing and Japanese-drumming-listening. I'd never been to the Garden after dark, and it was a perfect evening, with the haze of the city lights and the overcast sky producing a dome over the dome of the Haupt Conservatory.

People wandered the courtyards with classes of sake and beer, in awe of the splendid and devoted craft of the kiku artist, who works for weeks to produce an array of perfect blossoms in varying forms. A number of different types of display were on view, from cascading waterfalls of blooms coming from a single carefully pruned plant, to the stately stand of a dozen or so heavy-headed blossoms tall and erect at an absurd height, to the mountains of hundreds of blooms on a pillow-domed framework.

Then there were the exciting rhythms of the small taiko drumming ensemble, with flutist, working to a fiery pitch in the light drizzle. An altogether unforgettable evening.


November 7, 2008

Lying Bishops

On the previous post, a Roman Catholic priest commented with some apparent pleasure that he actively supported Proposition 8 in California, saying he distributed educational materials from the California Conference of Catholic Bishops. I went to the Conference of Bishops website, and found one flier available in several languages. It is indicative of the kind of deceitful misdirection I have grown accustomed to from the Roman Catholic hierarchy. It was a one page flier, available at the Conference website.

It begins, and I quote,

This is the complete text of Proposition 8. There is no fine print:

“Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

Compare that with the actual text of Proposition 8 from the Voters Guide produced by the state:

This initiative measure is submitted to the people in accordance with the provisions of Article II, Section 8, of the California Constitution.

This initiative measure expressly amends the California Constitution by adding a section thereto; therefore, new provisions proposed to be added are printed in italic type to indicate that they are new.

SECTION 1. Title

This measure shall be known and may be cited as the “California Marriage Protection Act.”

SECTION 2. Section 7.5 is added to Article I of the California Constitution, to read:

SEC. 7.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

Now, you may well argue that this is a trivial distinction. However, the lack of anything on the flier to indicate that this is not simply a new law, but a Constitutional Amendment is, to my mind, a very serious omission. Some might have taken the issue more seriously were they reminded this was a Constitutional matter.

At the very least, however, the statement, “This is the complete text,” is patently untrue, and, as I suggest, misleading as well. The Spanish language version of the flier is even worse, truth be told. Instead of saying “There is no fine print” it says, “No hay mas de esto.”


Tobias Haller BSG

November 5, 2008

The Sweet and the Bitter

I am very pleased at the results of the Presidential election, in particular its decisiveness. I was also moved both by McCain's and Obama's speeches last night, and believe that there is a way forward as a nation.

However, I am deeply saddened to hear today of the passage of discriminatory propositions and constitutional amendments that will, for a time, close or keep closed the access all adult, unrelated, consenting couples by rights ought to have to contract marriage.

I commend my California friend Richard's comments at his blog. I do not live in one of the states where minds continue to remain firmly closed against this issue, and hope that in New York, with recent changes in the legislature and the Governor's mansion, we may soon see the East Coast continue to lead in realizing the value of recognizing committed same-sex partnerships as beneficial to society. Some day, perhaps only twenty or thirty years from now, people will look back on yesterday's defeats with a shameful blush. For, as Richard says, they are well worth being ashamed of.

Tobias Haller BSG