April 30, 2008

Highest Degree of Communion Possible...

... before it melts

The Archbishop of Canterbury's office has sent an e-mail to Bishop Robinson telling him he won't be allowed to preach or exercise priestly ministry in England. This is not the first time such admonitions have been issued. Though the part about preaching seems a tad dodgy canonically, as far as priestly ministry goes, this is all in keeping with the English rules on such things. As an openly gay and partnered person, Gene could not be ordained to the priesthood in the Church of England under its current laws. (Of course, it is the openness and honesty that is the problem here; Lord knows there are many gay partnered clergy, and even a few bishops, gracing C of E pulpits and sanctuaries; and when I say, "Lord knows," I really mean He does, and I don't know who these folk think they are fooling.) In any case, that's why he would not be allowed to function as a priest at present. He is in much the same position women priests from abroad were in before the C of E permitted the ordination of women to the priesthood.

Some have found Rowan's action to be harsh and unnecessary. Others have asked about how doing this in an e-mail tallies with the English equivalent of Miss Manners. It does seem that Rowan is handling the situation ham-handedly -- and, I might add, in a way that will actually serve the progressive cause and create a myriad of press opportunities and reports.

Hmmm... Perhaps not so ham-handed after all?... What if Rowan is just letting things play out as they will, and allow the wrong to condemn itself, the absentees to absent themselves, those who are willing to assemble to assemble, and find a way forward? Perhaps Rowan is wise after all to know that those who will not sit at table, and eventually walk away from it, weren't interested in it in the first place. Could Rowan be exercising the wisdom of the willow?

In the long run, perhaps the one showing how to maintain the highest degree of communion possible — putting up with exclusion and denigration, yet offering to do as much as he can in patience and civility and fellowship — is Gene Robinson. He is modeling how the Communion ought to work, in willingness to engage with those who would seek to expel him from it. He is showing the way to true Communion modeled on Jesus' teaching not to judge others. Hopefully, before it melts.

Tobias Haller BSG

April 29, 2008


(hat tip to Jane R)

You are Cayenne! You're known for your dry wit, saucy remarks, and ability to stimulate (take that however you want). People in hot climates like you for your ability to make them sweat, but you're also quite good for people all over the world. Just don't mention your cousin, deadly nightshade.

The Which Spice Are You Test

April 27, 2008

This Meeting is Now In Secession

In a recent statement to the clergy and parishioners of "the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin" its bishop made the following observation:
I want to remind you that in spite of the claims by The Episcopal Church, nothing in their current Constitution and Canons prohibits a diocese from leaving one province and moving to another.

This is correct as far as it goes. Nothing in the Constitution and Canons of TEC explicitly forbids a diocese removing from the church and transferring to another, just as nothing in the US Constitution expressly forbids a state leaving the Union to align with another country. That matter was dealt with by the Supreme Court (Texas v White, 1869). The court found that the underlying importance of the concept of the "union" of the states literally "goes without saying." The same is true of the union of the dioceses in The Episcopal Church.

The Constitution and Canons of TEC make ample provision for the division, creation, and merger of dioceses, and for the cession of territory from one diocese to another. (The original dioceses were contiguous with the states, and in fact were called "states" in the earliest versions of our Constitution.) But it goes without saying -- and isn't said -- that no diocese is free simply to detach itself from the "national church" without the permission of that church through the General Convention in "union" with which it becomes part of the Church in the first place.

The only provision in our Canons for diocesan autonomy from TEC applies to missionary dioceses outside the territorial boundaries of the United States, and then only with the approval of General Convention.

Tobias Haller BSG

April 26, 2008

AKMA on Seabury

Has anyone else noticed how much James Lloyd Breck, instrumental in the founding of what eventually became part of Seabury-Western, resembles John Cleese. — Tobias

Added, for reference purposes, an early photograph of Breck attempting to return an item at the Nashotah General Store.

The Church’s Treasury

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Diocese of New York Warden’s Conference / April 26 2008
Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine
Proper 24: For Vocation in Daily Work
Eccl 3:1,9-13; 1 Pet 2:11-17; Matt 6:19-24
Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

I could briefly summarize today’s readings as: Don’t Worry be Happy, Be a Good Citizen, and Try Not to Make too Much Money. The first is better known in its Latin version, Carpe diem; the second — Be a Good Citizen — is sound advice as long as one lives in a good city.

It is the third, Try Not to Make Too Much Money, that appears directed at those who serve the church. Church wardens are volunteers, so you never expected to “live by the church;” but even the clergy who do — because the rectory is often next-door, are only very rarely embarrassed with riches. The matchbook-cover promise, Go to School to Increase Your Earning Power, doesn’t apply to seminary. Rather, the church compensates its clergy based on the biblical command to leave the threshing ox unmuzzled — as well as on a short leash and moving in circles.

So devoting your life church work, on a stipend or as a volunteer, is a good way to follow our Lord’s advice not to lay up treasure on earth.

+ + +

If, that is, we are talking about the kind with images of politicians, in various denominations. But there is another kind of treasure more beguiling than folding green. And it exists in various denominations, too: Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Lutheran.... It is a treasure the church and its workers are tempted to store up, perhaps compensating for getting less of the kind with a politician’s image and likeness: whether Tiberius Caesar or Andrew Jackson. It is the treasure of stable security, of becoming an institution.

Saint Peter shows this at work; he counseled good citizenship so the church could survive in the Empire. But the Empire soon got so bad that good citizenship became impossible for Christians, forced to choose between Christ and Caesar.

Those who had counseled obedience found themselves re-evaluating — Peter ended up crucified head-down; and Paul must have reconsidered the wisdom of appealing to Caesar’s justice when he faced Caeser’s sword. The apostles learned they could not serve two masters — Christ and Caesar — though too late to leave epistles to that effect.

Imperial persecution clarified the church’s vision as only the hangman can — to see that survival on Caesar’s terms was not worth it, and the time had passed for playing goody two-sandals. So, strange as it may sound, thank God for Caesar, who gave the church something to stand up to, something to stand up for. Persecution reminded the church of its mission: not to survive by ceasing to be itself — but to spend itself for the life of the world, as its Lord had done.

Caesar reminded the church that those who seek to save their life will lose it. Caesar reminded the church that it was the body of Christ — Christ crucified under Pontius Pilate, who suffered death and was buried, and only then was raised from the dead. Christ set the pattern for the church: Only by losing life can life be saved; only what dies can be raised again.

+ + +

Since those fiery days, the world’s animosity towards the church has cooled to chilly toleration. And how has the church responded? How does the church expend its energy these days, now that Caesar no longer persecutes? Isn’t most of the church’s warfare these days internal? Where is the church’s treasure being spent — on outgoing mission, or ongoing questions of self-definition? Is the church laying up treasure in heaven, safe from moth and rust and thieves — or squandering its resources on ecclesiastical mothballs, Rustoleum, and burglar alarms?

It happens in parishes, national churches — it even happens in cathedrals... so I’m told! The focus shifts from mission to talk about mission, from vision to the vision statement. When this happens, the church’s vision is obstructed by the bulk of its own precious self, and the church abdicates its title as a wonderful and sacred mystery and verges on becoming an institution like any other. Preoccupied with survival rather than with mission, it resigns its role as bride of Christ and becomes more like Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, the wedding banquet transformed into a shuttered room whose lonely inhabitant tries to preserve a past that never was.

+ + +

Am I exaggerating? Think of the resources spent on the present Anglican Communion disagreements. The Episcopal Church treasures the Communion, and rightly so — but here is an opportunity to reform and revive the very thing we treasure if we are willing to set aside preoccupation with its structure for a time to focus on its purpose: to develop a Covenant not based on who’s in and who’s out — but upon the mission we share to a suffering world, with the Communion as a vessel well-suited to bear the good news to the ends of the earth — because it’s already there!

We are called and commissioned to risk what we treasure, to spend ourselves for the sake of the gospel, in a gospel fashion. It is not that we don’t need structures and vessels, but that they are means to an end, not ends in themselves. We are meant to use them, and sometimes lose them. Indeed, we are called to lose our very lives and thus to save them; for only what dies can be raised; only what is spent can be redeemed. True wealth, after all, is revealed in what you spend, not in what you possess. The church is most truly itself when it spends itself with an abandon that matches the liberality of the spendthrift Christ — Christ who gave himself up on the cross, who spent himself completely, and all for the love of his bride, the church.

What a perfectly mad young couple, who store up no treasure, spend all they have on each other — but having each other need nothing else. You know the story: she cut off her hair to buy him a watch-fob; he pawned his watch to buy her a comb — gifts, in their purchase, rendered useless — yet infinitely precious.

What, then, is the church’s true wealth? Only Christ, and him crucified. And what is his treasure? He has told us how much he values each of us poor fragile creatures as chosen and precious. As Solomon’s old love song tells it, sung in a Christian key: Christ is our treasure, and we are his.

+ + +

Long ago, a good deacon faced Caesar, who demanded the church’s treasures. Expecting gold and silver, how angered he was when the deacon assembled the poor and said, This is the church’s treasure.

We members of Christ’s body are the church’s treasure still, because treasured by Christ, because we are where his heart is. And no moth, no rust, no thief can touch us. We are Christ’s treasure, and this holy place — and all of the parishes from which we come to gather here — are God’s treasuries. Don’t you ever let anyone tell you they are just institutions. And don’t you ever let anyone make them so. You who teach and you who learn, you who worship and you who proclaim, you who administer and steward and care for the fabric of these vessels, keep your vision clear, always turned to the needs of the world that the church is called to serve. Carpe diem: Seize the day — the time is now. Christ is risen and has given us the greatest treasure — given himself into our hands, fragile treasures of bread and wine that feed and strengthen us to spend ourselves in Christ’s service.

May we now and ever spend ourselves freely, all of us, who bought by Christ, are free to serve — Christ’s treasure on earth as he is ours in heaven.+

April 25, 2008

A Disharmony of the Synoptic Gospels

A project I undertook while in seminary. Perhaps others may find it useful. Open to correction, addition, and other observations!

Unique Pericopes, Incidents
either Present In or Missing From the Synoptic Gospels

Regular font = Present only in that Synoptic Gospel
Italic = Missing only from that Synoptic Gospel

Matthew Mark Luke
No genealogy Prologue to Theophilus
John the Baptist background; Annunciation; Visitation; Birth of John the Baptist
Birth Narrative: Joseph’s Dream; the Magi; Flight to Egypt; return to Nazareth No Birth Narrative Birth Narrative: Census, trip to Bethlehem; no room in the inn; shepherds and angels; circumcision and presentation; Child Jesus in the Temple
John the Baptist’s preaching to tax collectors and soldiers
Jesus’ baptized to fulfill all righteousness Holy Spirit descends on Jesus; fills him in the wilderness
No description of temptations No angels ministering to him in temptations (cf. Gethsemane)
Ministry in “Zebulun and Naphtali”
Synagogue teaching from Isaiah; “Physician, heal thyself”; examples of widow and Naaman
No demoniac in the synagogue; or account of departure from Capernaum
The miraculous catch of fish
Sermon on the Mount Fulfillment and expansion of Law: murder, adultery, oaths; almsgiving; prayer, fasting; pearls before swine No extended teaching; no Beatitudes; no turn the other cheek; no Lord’s Prayer; no “judge not” nor Golden Rule, nor Narrow Gate; nor concern for anxiety; nor serving two masters; nor treasures in heaven; nor good tree with good fruit; nor “calling me “Lord, Lord”; nor “house built on sand” Sermon on the Plains
No centurion’s servant
The paralytic isn’t lowered through the roof; Jairus isn’t named
Healing of two blind men, and a man with a mute demon
The Twelve are told not to go the Gentiles or the Samaritans; Fate of disciples warning here rather than in eschatological discourse No mention of “more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah”; nor exhortation to fearless confession Instruction to eat what is set before one
No teaching on division in households, or conditions of discipleship (hating ones’ family)
“Who receives you receives me...”
No questions from John, nor encomium on John by Jesus
No woes to the Galilean towns; or thanksgiving to the Father for “concealing from the wise”
Comfort to the heavy-laden
Priestly profanation of the Temple on the Sabbath
No reference to an ox or sheep falling in a pit on the Sabbath
Citation of Isaiah’s servant song
Woes to the rich and the full and those who laugh, and those well-spoken of
No “hearers and doers”
Widow’s son at Nain
The woman with the ointment at the Pharisee’s house
The women who ministered to Jesus
No “sign of Jonah” or “red skies or clouds”
No evil spirit returning to the empty house
Citation of Isaiah on hardness of understanding (re parables) No blessing of disciples for seeing and hearing
“The Weeds and the Wheat” and its interpretation “The Secretly Growing Seed”
“The Hidden Treasure” and “The Costly Pearl” “The Net” and “The Wise Scribe’s Treasures” No “Woman with Leaven” No “he said nothing without a parable”
No final instructions to the Gerasene demoniac
No “Who touched me” concerning the woman with a hemorrhage
No extended description of John the Baptist’s death
Peter’s attempt at walking on water No walking on water, or healings at Gennesaret
No “what defiles is from within”
No Gentile woman (Canaanite or Syrophoenecian)
Healing of a multitude Healing of a man deaf and mute
No feeding of the 4,000
No berating the disciples for not understanding about the bread
The blind man of Bethsaida (“trees walking”)
“You are Peter, and on this rock...” No effort by Peter to stop Jesus, nor rebuke of Peter for doing so
Disciples drowsy during the Transfiguration
Long description of the boy with seizures, the “deaf and dumb spirit”
The Temple Tax from the fish
No exorcist “not one of us”
No “if your hand offends” or “if your eye offends”
No “The Lost Sheep
What you bind on earth... 70 times 7 times “The Unmerciful Servant” No “reproving one’s brother” or process for reconciliation 7 times
No “foxes have holes” or conditions of discipleship Samaritan opposition
Appointment of the 70 and their return
“The Good Samaritan” Mary and Martha “The Importunate Friend”
No “ask, seek, knock” Blessedness of the womb and breasts who bore Jesus
No discourse against Pharisees
“The Rich Fool”
No reference to the servant found watching on the master’s return The servant’s reward
Fire on the earth
No settling out of court
Teaching on the Galileans and the victims of the Siloam accident: “The Fig Tree”
Healing of the bent woman
No parable or comment on exclusion from the kingdom, though there will be “first and last”
Departure from Galilee at the Pharisees’ warning about Herod
No lament over Jerusalem
Healing a man on the Sabbath
Teaching on humility at a banquet
No parable of the great supper No “Lost Sheep” “The Lost Coin” “The Prodigal Son” “The Crafty Steward”
No “the law shall not pass away”
“The Rich Man and Lazarus” A servant is not served Healing of Ten Lepers The Kingdom not coming with signs to be observed “The Persistent Widow” “The Pharisee and the Publican”
“The Laborers in the Vineyard”
Mrs. Zebedee seeks preferment for her sons
No “The Ten Talents”
Prediction of Jerusalem’s destruction
No cursing of the fig tree or teaching on faith and prayer
“The Two Sons” “The Wicked Tenants” interpreted No “Marriage Feast”
The scribe confesses the superiority of the Summary of the Law
Criticism of offering regulations No extended woes against the Pharisees
No widow’s mite
Prediction that false prophets will arise; “The Bridesmaids” The Last Judgment No “day of the Son of Man”; nor “Watchful Householder” or faithful servant in attendance “Your redemption is drawing near”; Watch at all times
No, “one of you will betray me” or “Is it I”
Earnest desire for the Passover
No promise of reigning in the world to come
The two swords; Peter’s charge after being sifted
Double withdrawal in Gethsemane; imperative to God: “Remove” since all is possible; “Abba” In the garden, no specific reference to Peter, James and John with Jesus in prayer, simply “them”; so “sorrowful soul” Single incident of finding them asleep
“Ten legions of angels” No command to put away the sword, or healing of the priest’s servant’s ear
The young man flees naked No reference to the disciples fleeing in fulfillment of scripture
No account of failure to find testimony against Jesus, or false witnesses
The repentance and death of Judas
Pilate does not question Jesus’ silence, and “finds no fault in him” and sends Jesus to Herod, who returns him to Pilate
Pilate’s wife warns him to have nothing to do with Jesus The people propose Barabbas
Pilate washes his hands, and the people accept responsibility Pilate states he has found no crime worthy of death
No mocking by soldiers
The Women of Jerusalem The “Good Thief” No “My God, my God” or sponge with sour wine “Into your hands...”
The resurrection of the saints This man was innocent
The guard is set over the tomb Pilate is surprised he is already dead The women rest on the Sabbath
The earthquake and the angel “Who will roll away the stone”; the young man Two men ask why they seek the living among the dead
Jesus meets the women on the way, and tells them to have the disciples meet him in Galilee The women do not tell the disciples what they saw from fear The women tell the apostles, but they don’t believe [Some texts have Peter run to the tomb and see the shroud]
The bribing of the soldiers, and the false story of the body’s theft The end of the best text of the Gospel omits any resurrection appearances The road to Emmaus; and appearance in Jerusalem
In Galilee, Jesus commissions the Apostles to baptize all nations Jesus ascends into heaven.

Tobias Haller BSG

April 21, 2008

Participation in the First and Fourth Estates

Just got word that I'm a co-recipient of a Polly Bond (Episcopal Communicators) Award. Here's the scoop:

Category: Editorial Writing: Series on Single Topic, Dioceses above 12,000 (The Episcopal Diocese of New York)
Award of Excellence
“An Overview: The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion” (Episcopal New Yorker 83:4, July/August 2007)
Christine Donovan, bishop’s deputy for public affairs
Lynette Wilson, Mary Beth Diss, editors, writers
The Rev. Titus Presler, The Rev. Br. Tobias Haller, The Rev. Canon James Rosenthal, The Rev. Andrew Dietsche, writers

My contribution was “Why and How an Anglican Covenant?” The issue appears not to be available on-line, but it is promised eventually.

The Big Room

I'm happy to announce that I will be the preacher at the upcoming Holy Eucharist at the Wardens' Conference of the Episcopal Diocese of New York this coming Saturday, April 26. This will be my first time preaching in "the Big Room" of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. Bishop Sisk will be the celebrant, one day after his patronal feast (and the tenth anniversary of his consecration as bishop). I am deeply honored to be given this opportunity to address the Wardens of the diocese, and I hope to give them something positive to think about.

I've preached in the Cathedral before, but always in one of the chapels rather than in the main body. Even though the nave is half-boarded-up because of the continuing work on restoration after the fire, what remains is still more impressive than any other church I've been in!

Some Thoughts on Anselm’s Day

Some thoughts came to mind this morning before I realized it was the feast of Saint Anselm. I suppose perhaps unconsciously I must have known this was the feast day of this admirable thinker. In any case, here are the thoughts that came to mind; some of them have been rattling about for a while; submitted for your consideration.

  • God is Spirit, prior to all other actuality, the home of all possibility.
  • The proper activity of Spirit is knowledge and love.
  • God's love of the possible engenders God’s knowledge of the actual.
  • By knowledge, then, God brings about the collapse of possibility into actuality, and by love sustains it. Love of the emergent actual leads to knowledge of the newly emergent possible. And so on.
  • In a quantum sense, God is the ultimate observer.
  • Human beings share in the divine likeness through the capacity for knowledge and love.
  • God exists in our minds because we exist in God’s mind. In one sense, this is the obverse of Anselm, and it offers another way to understand the atonement as intimately linked to the Incarnation, by which God exists perfectly in humanity, and humanity in God, yet without confusion.
Tobias Haller BSG

April 16, 2008

Let Those With Ears to Hear, Ignore

From Hypersync via Topmost Apple:

There seems to me a compulsion with the "Baby-Boomer" generation (and of course this is a generalization) for continual change. In my dealing with the younger generations, they are frankly sick of it. Of course change is constant in their own lives, but what they seem to be seeking in a world-of- nothing-but-change is a constant — something they can hold on to and be sure of. That's why, I think, traditional forms of church architecture, language, liturgy, hymnology, and the like are so attractive to younger people — often to the chagrin of their elders...

If "radical welcome" is true and not just the desired imposition of yet another ideology, what am I to think when I keep hearing from young people that this generation of leadership is completely unresponsive, will not listen, will not consider what they as "the future of the Church" are truly seeking? An NYU student makes a comment that, "We really do like Rite I!" The rector shakes his head, dumbfounded that this could actually be possible, and says, "I keep hearing this, but I don't understand it and just can’t believe it."

My comment: I am among them, so I do confess the fault, but being aware of it, I work against it: but it seems my generation of Baby Boomers have a tendency not only to seek for novelty, but to ask for input and then ignore it, in any number of circumstances and situations. It isn't just the church — and it goes far to explain the failing businesses and policies of a generation that asks for input and then ignores it. Dear Rector-deaf-to-your-NYU student, you do not need to understand to believe: have faith, or at least honor it in others.

So I say to this, a hearty "Hear, hear."

And to my cohort of booming babies, I say this:

Stop giving mere lip-service to the younger People of God, and give them some ear-service instead.

— Tobias Haller BSG

More strange clouds

Another image from that trip of last week. It was like driving into a Japanese landscape.

On Natural Law, Briefly

I have in other posts pointed out some of my difficulties with the Natural Law tradition. I find these to be well summarized in the Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics article on the subject. I will detail my concerns here, briefly, based in part on an earlier comment to another post.

The problem begins as a matter of definition. There are at least three elements to “natural law” which are often rather carelessly confused or confounded in argument. For example, people sometimes use “natural” or “law of nature” to describe “what is” — reality. But it should surprise no one to find that I agree with those who say that “reality” as described by scientific knowledge can tell us what is, but not what should be. Science does not teach us morals. It is not, except in the most skeptical or cynical of moral systems, an instructor in morals at all. In fact, I believe science teaches us that nature is built on a principle that is in some respects the inverse of the guiding moral principle by which I abide: “Love your neighbor as yourself” — for the “natural world” is based on survival through the exploitation and use of other entities to one’s own benefit. As Whitehead observed, “Life is perpetual theft.”

So I do not look to nature for my ethics. Science can not tell us right from wrong: but it can tell us when we have advanced a premise that is discordant or incoherent with reality. For example, “Same-sexuality is wrong because it is ‘unnatural’” is false, if by “unnatural” one means, “contrary to the natural world” — for in the natural world it is quite common. That doesn’t, I hasten to add, make same-sexuality good. I’ve never made that claim; rather I hold it to be morally neutral, just like mixed-sexuality. But it does falsify the premise that it is “unnatural” in terms of not being part of the natural world.

Now, of course, my interlocutor will then advance to the second form of natural law and say, “By ‘unnatural’ I mean ‘not in concert with the ends for which sex is intended.’” This natural law position falls prey to the fallacy of begging the question, in that it rests on two prior premises, neither of which is self-evidently true: “Moral value is to be found in the use of things in advancement of the end for which they are intended” and further, “Sex is intended for procreation.” I have already demonstrated the falsehood of the latter premise, in that while sex may often result in procreation, there is ample evidence that it serves other purposes or ends having nothing to do with procreation. This is, in fact, the position of The Episcopal Church, as enunciated in the preface to the matrimonial rite, where procreation ranks third among the ends of marriage, “when it is God’s will.” It is also the reason marriage, and sexual activity within marriage, are not forbidden to infertile couples, and birth control is permitted.

The first premise, which gives moral value to the employment of organs towards specific ends, rests upon the presumed capability clearly to decide the “end” towards which any given human organ or activity is ordered, a task rendered difficult in face of the biological multitasking most organs serve; and the even greater leap which assigns moral value to such employment of the body. Is it, for example, immoral to eat low-calorie food? If so, how serious is this moral failing?

Finally, my opponent might deploy another form of natural law — “But all people inherently know it to be wrong.” This is, of course, the fallacy of argumentum ad populum, which supposes that ideas commonly held must be true. This is obviously a weak argument since it wouldn’t need to be made if it were true. This obvious weakness has not prevented this premise serving as a basis in a number of different forms of natural law arguments.

The fallback response, of course, is that those who don’t inherently know something to be wrong are morally defective — also a logical fallacy since it again assumes the premise and moreover besmirches those who disagree with it. While there are many social constructs and prejudices common in many people and many cultures, even perhaps in some cases universally (though same-sexuality fails to be indicted in this particular court) this does not make them self-evidently true.

Let me take an example. I think murder is morally wrong. I do not do so on the basis that the Bible says it is wrong, or the Church says it is wrong, or that it is “unnatural” (obviously it occurs in nature), or that all peoples and cultures know it to be wrong (many cultures exclude the willful killing of persons from the category of murder by definitional means). Rather, I think murder is wrong because it violates the premises upon which I base my ethics: Love your neighbor as yourself, and Do to others as you would be done by. In short, I do not need to appeal to any of the apparatus of natural law to tell me I should not murder anyone, as it violates the law of loving reciprocity, a law which I accept not merely on the authority of the One who gave it, but because it appears to be rationally coherent. I know of no serious arguments against it as a governing principle for an ethical system. (If there are any, I’d be happy to engage them; but again, I would want to see the premises upon which they are based laid out first.)

Compare this example of murder with the arguments adduced in the debates over sexuality, and I hope one can see the difference. The natural law approach assumes certain premises to be true, but the premises are the very things that are in question. It may not be naked circular argument, but it is certainly very scantily clad. We are spinning our wheels, and getting nowhere if the same un-agreed-upon assumptions are merely reasserted as conclusions. Perhaps we will not get anywhere except by the slow process of the death of such ideas, whose hegemony is coming slowly to an end. It took over a century for the church finally to abandon the distinction between Jew and Greek; and another millennium and a half to free itself from its unhappy acceptance of society’s division into slave and free; we now find ourselves beginning to grasp, two millennia on, that the difference between male and female is also irrelevant in Christ.

Tobias Haller BSG

April 15, 2008

Otherwise Occupied

I am indeed back from my double-header of conferences, and have even managed to plow my way through some of the post-conference work I promised to take up. However, in addition to plumbing problems at the rectory, work at the parish calls. I do promise to take up some blogging ere long, but in the meantime hope you are happy to see this recent photograph of Augusta. In addition to the whiskey glass the observant Mimi noted in her last photograph, I have suspicions about the drinks trolley having been tampered with in my absence, and assume that A is sleeping it off. Of course, with a cat it is difficult to tell.

April 10, 2008

Strange Clouds

On my way to the conference yesterday, I saw this very beautiful cloud formation filling the sky. It reminds me of a Japanese sumi-e, and I can honestly say I've never seen such clouds, darker gray on the top and with white undersides. As we drove along the display lasted for a while, and then I imagine winds dispersed the pattern. There may be a prosaic meterological explanation, but I prefer to picture someone just setting down her bamboo brush and smiling at this aerial landscape of a truly floating world.

Tobias Haller BSG

April 9, 2008

Premature Cat Blogging

While I am at the conference of the National Association of Episcopal Christian Communities (NÆCC), I am sure that Augusta will be up to something.

April 7, 2008


from the Orchid Show ending yesterday at the NY Botanical Garden in the beautiful Bronx.

April 2, 2008

Emmaus: Image, Music, Word

Symphonic Poem #2 — Two of them were walking

Known in Bread

Saint James Fordham • Easter 3A • Tobias Haller BSG
...He had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.+
Last week I spoke about signs, the tools God uses to communicate the message of salvation to us mortals. We heard the story of Noah and the flood, and how God placed the sign of the rainbow in the sky, a sign of the covenant promise never to destroy the world by a flood, and as a kind of certification that Noah and his family had indeed been saved. And I spoke as well of the imperishable sign of the cross, the testimony of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ’s saving and atoning death, and we heard the Gospel of the empty tomb, and the wounded hands of Jesus, signs of the truth of his resurrection from the dead, signs sure enough to convince even Doubting Thomas that victory had been won.
The reason that God gives us signs is in part because we are so likely to miss the message of salvation in the midst of our noisy and distracting world, with its many temptations and diversions. We are often, as our Lord said to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “foolish and slow of heart to believe.” And so God, like a patient teacher, continues to instruct us and give us signs.
Now, some of these signs are miraculous in the old-fashioned sense, miracles that astonish and amaze us. We’ve all heard stories of miraculous healing, of people given up for dead who somehow recover, to the amazement of the doctors and everyone else. And these signs from God renew our faith. But let us never forget that it is the renewal of our faith, and that alone, which makes a miracle a miracle: not that it is a magic trick whereby the impossible appears to be done. The true miracle lies in the fact that it produces faith, it assures our trust, it renews our hope in and knowledge of a loving God who is with us and for us. The importance of miracles does not lie in their defying the laws of science and reason, but in their working upon the human spirit, leading us into all truth, revealing God’s presence to the eye of faith.
One example of this are the miraculous tortillas that occasionally appear on the griddles of devout women in Mexico and Central America. Now this is not manna from heaven; it isn’t that the tortillas suddenly appear from nowhere! It is that cooked into the surface of the tortilla, scorched by the griddle, is the appearance of the likeness of Christ. I’ve seen photographs of these miraculous tortillas, dried and preserved in cigar boxes lined with colorful wrapping paper, adorned with plastic flowers, and reverently placed on the shelves of the homes blessed with this miraculous visitation.
And of course one could say that all of this has a scientific explanation: that the human brain, with its need and ability to read patterns into chaos, can see the likeness of Christ in the random scorches on the surface of the flatbread, much as one can lie on one’s back and look up at clouds and see them forming ships at sea, castles in Spain, or an entire zoo of fluffy animals. Yet even though the miraculous tortilla has a fairly simple explanation, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a miracle — for it brings faith, and it is faith, not magic, that is truly miraculous — it is the true reason miracles happen in the first place.
For the real miracle isn’t that the face of Christ appears on a tortilla; the real miracle is that anyone could believe in a God who would be interested in having his face appear on a tortilla; the real miracle is to believe that God would be interested in surprising and blessing a poor Mexican housewife while she labors over a hot griddle at the end of a long day; that God would be interested in the wanderings of an insignificant tribe of desert nomads, or the political affairs of a shepherd-boy turned king; that God who created the universe would be bothered to take the time to visit a young woman at her prayers and chose her to be the mother of his incarnate Son; and then chose to have her bear him in a barn; that God would, in that Son, live and die as one of us, and be raised from the dead, and then — the miracles continue — not immediately ascend to heaven, but continue those prosaic little field trips, having breakfast by the seaside, taking a walk with two disciples, and finally, breaking bread with them in a little country inn on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
For the bread of Emmaus is no less a revelation of the presence of Christ than the tortilla of Guadalajara. It is in that simple act of breaking bread, a common every-day kitchen-table act, that God Almighty chooses to be made known — and that is a miracle if ever there was one.
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And yet… and yet. How slow we are to realize the miracle as it happens! We look for the technicolor, hi-res special effects of the apocalypse, while God is revealed in the simple white-bread world around us. How slow of heart, like the disciples who walked that road with Jesus, how slow to believe we are when we miss the presence of God with us, walking at our side and opening the Scripture to us, breaking the bread with us, the risen Lord who deigns to be our guest.
Jesus said, “How foolish you are! How slow to believe the prophets!” And with this simple exclamation he echoes God’s never-failing amazement with his children Israel. “When will you get it?” God seems to say. “How many seas must be parted, how many pillars of fire, how much water from how many stones, how much bread from heaven, how many crucifixions, how many risings from the dead until you understand how much I love you?” (God is patient, but often needs to speak to his people this way.) Just as Jesus walked with the disciples on that rural roadway, so God had accompanied the children of Israel in their wandering in the wilderness, and brooded in their midst in the Temple all those years. The prophets, from Moses to Mary Magdalene, had been discounted, ridiculed, and disbelieved by the very people who most needed to hear the news. Yet God did not abandon these stubborn children. God loved them too much for that; God loves us too much for that.
And that is the greatest miracle, the greatest faith: God’s faith in his children, God’s faith in us. It is to that faith, to God’s faith in us, that God doesn’t give up on us, to which God bids us open our eyes! There is always time for another message, even a message from God's own Son, risen from the dead.
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The walkers reach the little village, and Jesus makes as if to continue on his way. He is stopped by their appeal, “Stay with us.” (This is the appeal that God always hopes for and can never and will never resist. In God’s wonderful and miraculous world the Creator waits and wants to be invited by the creature. The architect and builder of the house waits to be welcomed as a guest. The Lord and Master serves the servants.)
So at dinner, bread is broken; eyes are opened, memories and hearts are stirred. The miracle of broken bread, a simple sign, proclaims God’s presence in a flash, as quickly as he disappears. For as quickly as he came, he vanishes from their sight— perhaps like the Cheshire Cat, leaving a smile lingering in the air for a moment. As he had said to them before his Passion, “A little while you will not see me, and then a little while you will...” God has always loved to play peek-a-boo with his children.
And so still God does. So still we children of our loving God gather week by week to hear the apostles’ teaching and to share in their fellowship, breaking the bread as they did long ago, in a set of actions extended now through these two millennia of time, and through space to the ends of the world; we gather as they did to pray and break the bread, looking for the miraculous presence of God not in the surface of a scorched tortilla, but in the inward corners of our hearts, warmed by the word of God; in the joyful expression of each others’ faces as we pass the peace and share the broken bread, the wine-filled cup. And this is our miracle, our eye-opening, heart-warming miracle, leading to a sure and certain and unshakeable faith, for in this sharing of the word and breaking of the bread the risen Lord of Glory has deigned to be our guest, deigned to be held in the palms of our hands, and enshrined within our hearts. Alleluia, the Lord is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia! +