September 26, 2008

Friday Cat Dog Blogging

This is Sancho, whom I met when I was in San Francisco, along with his "companion" Graziela. He only weighs a little over four pounds, and is some three years old. Very intelligent, apt to fetch stuffed toys and leap excitedly. On the whole very doglike.

I confess I am not in general a "dog person" as I find most dogs to be a bit overwhelming -- especially when they weigh more than I do. (This does not include +Clumber, who has all the due Episcopal decorum.) But Sancho and Gracie were delightful, in spite of the latter's not yet completely house-broken ways.

Augusta Victoria, who weighs more than both of these pooches combined, need not hear of this. She has given up blogging for the time being, as she has become fascinated with CNN's coverage of meta-debate about the presidential debate, including coverage of their own staff meetings' discussion of the same. This is as close to a cat-toy as news can get.

Tobias Haller BSG

September 19, 2008

The Uplifting Low-Down

A sermon preached by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG on the Feast of the Holy Cross, at the Church of Saint John the Evangelist, San Francisco

He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend.+

Not too long ago, I heard a voice speaking through a window in time. It wasn’t a supernatural experience like that of St John the Divine. It was on National Public Radio. It was part of a broadcast of historic recordings — not recordings of famous people, but of ordinary folks like you and me. The recording was made over sixty years ago, and the man who made it was 102 years old at the time he recorded it — so his voice spoke through a window into the middle of the century before last — the time of the Civil War.

Joseph Johnson, the man who recorded his memories, was an African-American man, and he had been a slave, already in his early teens when slavery ended. He, and his family before him for three generations, had been slaves — his grandfather, he said with a mixture of pride and resentment, had belonged to Thomas Jefferson.

What most struck me about this recording wasn’t the reminiscing of this elderly former slave, but the attitude of the man who interviewed him: his grandson. In spite of his family connection, in spite of the number of times he must have heard these stories at his grandpa’s knee — in spite of all this, you could tell that while he was hearing the words, he wasn’t listening to the meaning behind them.

His old grandfather kept trying to give him the low-down on what it meant to be a slave, but the young man just couldn’t get it. When the old man said, “We all belonged to Mr. Smith,” the young man asked, “What kind of work did you do for him?” With some irritation, the old man replied, “We didn’t work for him — he owned us! Like he owned his horse or his mule.” The young man couldn’t grasp what it meant to be a slave. He heard the words, but their weight escaped him. He couldn’t feel the soreness of bent and aching backs, weary, bone-tired arms, the crack of the whip, the cutting curses and insults, and the deep, deep pain of shame and humiliation summed up in the single word: slave.

He asked further, “Once you were free, did you ever want to go back to being a slave?” With astonishment audible in every syllable, the old man replied, “Well, some folks might to have wanted to, but not me; to be a slave is to be a dog. You can’t be a man when you’re a slave.” And maybe that young man finally understood what his grandfather was trying to tell him.

+ + +

Most of us are like that young man. Even if our grandparents or more remote ancestors were slaves at some point in the far off or maybe not-too-distant past, we don’t quite get the full implication — the ultimate low-down — of what it means to be a slave. And so, when we hear the Scriptures today, especially Paul’s words to the Philippians, the word slave tends to slide over our ears instead of sinking in, like butter on cold toast. Paul said that Jesus, the Son of God, took upon himself the form of a slave — but we don’t grasp the full significance of these words any better than the people who couldn’t grasp what Jesus meant when he said the Son of Man would be lifted up from the earth.

So let’s refresh our memories, based on Mr. Johnson’s testimony. To be a slave means to have no control over your own life: to be owned by someone else — not just to have to work hard, not just to have to follow orders — lot’s of people have to do that — but to have your very being rest in someone else’s hands, to have no power of self-determination.

To be a slave is to be the lowest of the low — to be at the very bottom of human society. It is to be even beneath human society: to be one step over the edge at which human likeness disappears even in one’s own eyes: as Mr. Johnson said, “when you’re a slave, you are a dog.”

To apply these expressions to Jesus Christ sounds scandalous. And it is. This is the scandal and the mystery of the Incarnation — that the Son of God took that step down to the very bottom. It is not simply that the word was made flesh, that God became a human being, but that the Son of God became— among humans — not the highest, not a king or an emperor, but the lowest and the humblest, one not even considered human by many: a slave, treated as you or I might treat one of our appliances, something bought and paid for, and valued while serviceable but dumped out on the sidewalk for collection by Sanitation once it has served its purpose. A slave is one with no control over his or her own life, one who placed himself at our mercy — placed himself into the hands of fallen humanity — our hands. And we would work our will upon him, doing him to death.

This is a great mystery: that the one before whom every knee must bow should become a human being, who would kneel to wash the feet of fishermen and tax collectors — and of the one he knew would betray him.

Yet all the while Jesus knew what this humble act would cost. He knew perfectly well what he was doing, and who he was doing it for. Jesus’ simple act of foot-washing is set side-by-side with his knowledge of who his betrayer was, and what he was about to do. Jesus knew that his hour had come, that he was about to be betrayed into human hands by human hands, the very hands that would dip in the bowl with his. Believe me, one thing you don’t want to do is fall into human hands. And yet he stripped himself of his robe, and knelt to wash his disciples’ feet — all of them.

+ + +

This was the last straw for Judas — Judas who expected the Messiah to reveal himself as King of Israel at last, and lead a rebellion against Rome. And Judas wasn’t the only one of the disciples who expected thrones instead thorns, crowns instead of crosses. But Judas was the one who would do — and do quickly — “what had to be done,” and Jesus knew it. Judas was a man of action, of the worldly mind; Judas the man of control and operations, Judas the money-manager — so Jesus’ act of humility, washing his disciples’ feet to show that his kingship was not a kingship of this earth, this simple act was the final gesture of humble generosity flung in the face of one who couldn’t bear to see anything given away, Judas the Thief.

Jesus, knowing even this, washed the feet that would soon be running over paving stones on the dark streets of Jerusalem, running to betray him for a handful of silver coins — coins stamped with the image and likeness of an earthly king.

It is in his act of humility, washing the disciples’ feet, that Jesus irrevocably sets the course that will take him down the last step in his descent — that one more step down the ladder of being that Paul describes in Philippians. The ladder of humility led from God’s majesty, to humanity (just below the angels), to slavery — that so distorts human beings that they are no longer seen as human, even by themselves — and then to that one last step, that final step of death, where being altogether ceases. Jesus voluntarily takes these steps, even the final step into the abyss of non-being, the step into death, even death on the cross — for us.

+ + +

And this is the glory of the holy cross we celebrate today: that the cross which marks the lowest point to which the Son would descend — should be the very means by which the Son would be lifted up, and draw the whole world to himself. This is the glory of the cross: that the abyss of death into which he was willing to descend should be forever patched and sealed by two beams of wood laid crosswise.

This is a day of paradox: that He who Is should cease to be; that the death of one should bring life to all; that the slavery of one should bring freedom to all; that the highest should become the lowest. Only from that lowest point could Christ in rising again bring all of humanity back up with him from the grave. Only by getting completely under the burden of fallen human nature could Christ lift and carry it. Only by descending to the grave, the place of non-being, only from that lowest point, could he place the lever of the cross against the fulcrum of his death, and raise up a fallen world. Only from the grave could Jesus raise us from death, the death that comes to all of us.

Jesus did not, after all, put an end to death. People went right on dying after Jesus died — and after he rose again, and people are dying still. I will die some day, and so will you. Jesus did not put an end to death — but he saw to it that death is not the end. He emptied himself, descended into the pit of death, but left his cross like a ladder lowered down, to be a way of salvation for all of the fallen who would climb from the grave and even at its edge sing out their Alleluia.

And all the while the means of Christ’s great miracle, the means of our salvation, the cross, stands before us, there above the altar, delineated by thin lines of gold against the dark wood. This is the ladder on which the Son of God climbed down from heaven so he could be lifted up on earth, and bring the whole world to himself. This is the instrument by which the slave was revealed as the king in disguise, the one deemed no longer human, revealed to be humanity in perfection. This is the tool by which Christ, who took a slave’s form in order to bring freedom, died so that we might live again after our own deaths.

We are called to lift high that cross, our standard and our rallying point, the sign of victory in the midst of seeming defeat, the crossbeams that seal the portals of death, the lever the lifts a fallen world, the ladder of salvation. As we go forth from this place, to a world enslaved by riches that cannot make one free; to a world that cheapens human nature through sexism and racism and homophobia, that enslaves the children of God and binds them in chains of hate and abuse; to a world that refuses to recognize and honor love unless it fits its narrow understanding; to a world that is hungry for the good news of Christ but doesn’t know bread from heaven when it sees it; to a world that is dying of thirst while fountains of grace pour from the wounded side of the Lord of glory — as we go forth in the power of the Spirit let us lift high the holy cross upon which he was lifted up, to draw the whole world to himself. +

More than meets the eye

A meditation delivered by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG at Trinity Church San Francisco, September 13, 2008

Julian of Norwich wrote: “Suddenly the Trinity completely filled my heart with the greatest joy. And so, I understood, it will be in heaven, without an end, for those who come there, For the Trinity is God; God is the Trinity. The Trinity is our maker. The Trinity is our keeper. The Trinity is our everlasting lover. The Trinity is our endless joy and our bliss, through our Lord Jesus Christ and in our Lord Jesus Christ. This truth was shown in the first showing and in all the showings, for where Jesus appears, the blessed Trinity is understood, as I see it.”[4]

More words have been spoken, more ink spilled, and probably more blood shed on account of the Trinity than any other Christian doctrine. I alluded to this in my first meditation. So I want to follow through, and I hope deliver on something of what I promised, in thinking about the Trinity not so much doctrinally as liturgically, in particular the ascetical disciplines of religious life, and the gift of contemplation.

+ + +

First of all, I start with the assertion that the Trinity is not a doctrine, but a Person — in fact, three Persons. “Trinity” is the name of the God whom we worship, the God we then know — insofar as we can know God — as Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit — and we get that Name from the liturgy of Baptism: told by Jesus to do it to the ends of the world, not to think about it. We worship before we understand, before we know. Like the Athenians, we worship a God to a large extent unknown — yet faith and grace support our worship even with the partial knowledge we have. God has not left us entirely clueless, as Paul told the Athenians. As Julian reminds us, God gave us as it were an ABC, so that here on earth we can have a little of the knowledge that we will have in full measure in heaven.

The first thing we gather from the Baptismal ordinance is that God is One in Three, a love so powerful it could not exist simply as a singularity but had to be more dynamic — and paradoxical. And so we give our God the name of Trinity, for this is the only way we have to grasp the hem of the transcendent garment. For though there are many doctrines about the Trinity, many unpackings of the meaning of this name, the Trinity God’s-self is not a doctrine to be discussed but a mystery to be contemplated.

Now, in liturgical theology — unlike a Hercule Poirot story — a mystery isn’t a puzzle we can figure out if given enough clues. No: mystery stems from the Greek word for sacrament — not something to be solved with the little gray cells, but to be experienced as an exercise — an askesis — of the whole self, with, as George Herbert said, the heart bearing the longest part.

+ + +

A mystery, a sacrament, is something that brings us beyond the surface to some deeper or higher reality — effectively, so that it becomes a means to experience it. There is more than meets the eye in a sacrament: some inward reality to which the appearance directs, draws, invites, and brings us. The water of baptism and the bread and wine of the eucharist reveal truths that words cannot express, truths not simply assented to with the mind, but experienced with the self — living truths from the hand of the one who is living, loving Truth.

This doesn’t mean that theologians give up trying to understand or communicate these truths in other ways, though the effort is like translating poetry into prose. Often, rather than deepening our understanding only confusion results. Worse than that, over the years theologians’ efforts to define exactly how (and if) baptism regenerates, or how bread and wine can (or can’t) be at the same time the Body and Blood of Christ have led to division and persecution in the church. And if we are to apply the touchstone, “By their fruits you shall know them,” it appears we have been wandering in a forest of very bad trees. How often have we forgotten the wisdom C.S. Lewis encapsulated in his brief epigram, “The Lord said, Take, eat; not Take, understand.”

The same is true of efforts to “explain” or “understand” the Trinity — and I am not about to add to the succession of failures. Rather, I invite you to approach the Trinity today and every day much as you do the eucharistic bread and wine, as a sacrament to contemplate and experience rather than as a proposition to analyze. Just as the bread and wine of the eucharist are not about baking and wine-making (though these arts have a place in bringing the sacrament to fulfillment) so too the Trinity is not about precise definitions meant to rule the limits beyond whose bounds we stray into the dangerous territory of heresy. Our efforts at understanding, our doctrinal formulations and creeds, for all their usefulness in defining boundaries, are at best thumbnail sketches of the Being and Loving and Doing who lies behind and beyond all that is.

+ + +

I mentioned askesis — asceticism — in passing a few moments ago, and I want to expand a bit on that. The popular mind links asceticism to not doing things — but the root meaning of the word is an exercise or practice, or as we might say, a discipline. The point of ascetical poverty, for instance, is not impoverishment — the absence of possessions — but the freedom from attachment to them, the ability as Saint Gregory the Great once said, “to make use of the things of this world without being ensnared by them.” I recall that a monk to whom I sent a membership pin for a church group returned it with a kind note saying his community didn’t pin anything on their habits. This has remained a wonderful image: religious are people who aren’t pinned down, people who are truly alive and free because they have given themselves to the One-in-Three, the source of all life and freedom. In a way, the ascetic knows things best, for she will have them in perspective, at arm’s length far enough away to be seen, reflected upon, and made proper use of as needed, without worrying whether there will be enough — because all of it is a gift. At the same time, the ascetic will be one close to God, thoroughly known by God, able to participate in the divine life that does not consist in the abundance of possessions, but in the transparency of personhood.

+ + +

True asceticism is a kind of disciplined awareness of relationships freed from the desire to possess, awareness of relationships between the self and the other, that other who is God or neighbor, or God in neighbor. And this awareness, cultivated through discipline, may explain the paradoxical spiritual richness that ascetics experience in spite of the sometimes external austerity of their lives, enjoying the rich harvest of contemplation — which is, in some ways, the simplest liturgical act which we undertake, when we remove our worldly shoes and kneel on holy ground before a flame that burns but does not consume. In these moments the soul is stilled and receptive before the One-in-Three who Simply Is Who Is.

Contemplation is not to be mistaken for passivity, as if the contemplative were simply an audience-member looking on with the view to diversion. On the contrary, diversion is just what contemplation isn’t. Just as the world mistakes poverty for impoverishment, it looks at contemplation and sees stasis. But no, the contemplative is inwardly active at the level of the soul, participating intimately, not static but ecstatic: absorbed in the divine other; and ascetic: exercising inwardly, fanning the warmth of that divine spark, dancing with God, experiencing God’s revelation not only in rumination over words from the past, but hearing new promises spoken in their personal present, or read by that glowing flame that burns but does not consume, savoring the words written long ago on stone and parchment, and exulting in the wordless words inscribed on their very human hearts.

Thus absorbed in the holy Trinity, we come to know God; but we also come to know ourselves. As Julian of Norwich said,

for our soul sits in God in true rest, and our soul stands in God in sure strength, and our soul is naturally rooted in God in endless love. And therefore if we want to have knowledge of our own soul... we must seek it in our Lord God in whom it is enclosed.[56]

And so the dance goes on!

+ + +

As I said before, the discipline of prayer and presence is related to detachment — not being pinned to things. Look at what happens when liturgical things are pinned down: in Corinth, for example. Paul warned them about being caught up in disagreements that made them forget the reason for their worship and their fellowship. His warning holds for us today, for we too live in the “already but not yet” that lies between creation and culmination; the urge to want to pin things down in a time of uncertainty is great; labels are so tempting and categories so seductive.

Whenever the church gets so caught up in seeking to define or limit the means of grace that it forgets about the hope of glory, and thereby obstructs or withholds their grace-giving power, the church is in trouble. From what we can tell about the church in Corinth this was a congregation that never did quite “get it.” And what they didn’t “get” was that the sacraments and the gifts of the Spirit point us beyond themselves and ourselves to God. Sacraments are means, not ends. People are ends, not means. And the Corinthians had it backwards. By the end of his association with them, Paul was ready to tear the whole thing down and start over! They had turned the eucharist into a dinner party, and come to see speaking in tongues as an end in itself. They got caught up in the personalities of the apostles instead their teaching. They were, strictly speaking, shallow: caught up in the surface — pinned to it, if you will — and could not see beyond what meets the eye, all the while considering themselves especially profound and holy. They were so worried about idolatry, that their very worry became an idol in itself. They missed the truth that the difference between an idol and a sacrament is that the sacrament is a means to something greater, while the idol is an end in itself. Those who worship idols, however holy they appear, are clipped to the level of what meets the eye, like water-beetles skimming the surface. What is needed is the true gift of contemplation, which can look past the reflective surfaces, past the flickering lights, past the water even, so that the one who contemplates can see the everlasting rocky foundation of the stream-bed below.

+ + +

In the end, contemplation is the liturgy of heaven. Because there is always more to God than meets the eye, even the eye of faith, we will never be bored with God the Trinity. The Trinity has been doing that inward dynamic dance of its own self-subsisting uncreated existence, God simply being Who God Is in uncontainable joy and love, from before time and for ever. And we are invited, nay plucked from our wallflower seats to join that dance, to contemplate and participate in that divine energy, that love that drives the sun and the other stars. That is what we are doing now, here, together, in this place. Our gathering is an opportunity to look at the record of God’s saving deeds, and humanity’s struggling, stumbling, and sometimes surprisingly graceful efforts to respond. But by starting with the Trinity, we focus not upon the saving story of what God has done, but with the untellable reality of Who God Is.

Corinth shows us how not to proceed — but even in their failure there is guidance. I said that the Corinthians were pinned to surface issues. The problem was that they were looking at the wrong surfaces. They were looking at walls when they should have been looking in each other’s faces.

For, however much the natural world can tell us about who God is, however much is revealed about God in the mighty acts of grace and salvation, however much is captured in the words of theologians, the most powerful and revealing thing God has ever done was to create creatures bearing the divine image and likeness; and then, in the fulness of time, to become incarnate in that same image of Who God Is. If we want to know what God is like, we can do no better than to look at each other, at our brothers and sisters, each of whom is a living, breathing sacrament of God. And in them and through them we will find God, and in God we will find ourselves, all enclosed, as Julian said, wrapped in the threefold love of God the Three-in-One.

This is where the askesis of chastity comes in: for the chaste soul treats the other with the respect due a child of God, never as a means, but always as an end — not just a way to God, but God’s real presence. This is why Paul concludes his appeal to the Corinthians by urging them to agree with each other, be at peace, and kiss each other. When we have quieted our family struggles in the church, calmed the reflecting surface so that recognizable likenesses emerge, we can then take the next step, beyond the mirror’s surface, to see Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who is himself the perfect revelation of God.

Coming to agreement and peace in the church will mean further detachment, giving in and giving up — to use the fancy phrase, it will mean the sacrifice and oblation of ourselves. Each of us will have to step off our own little pedestal if we are to reach each other and face each other and embrace each other in the holy kiss of peace: it is no accident the Peace comes at the center of our liturgy. Each of us will have to take off those worldly shoes, to tread on holy ground.

In this very action our divine likeness is revealed, and the sacramental mystery bears fruit, enabled by the gift of the Holy Sprit. This is what Jesus did in becoming one of us. This is what Julian experienced when she chose to find no heaven other than that which is revealed in Jesus Christ, and him in his passion.[19] This is what God did in risking to create creatures that would be capable of being truly free — which means being capable of rejecting their Creator. In the paschal giving of ourselves to one another, in the setting aside our own needs for the sake of one whose need is greater, our resemblance to God emerges, and we become recognizable as what we are meant to be: the children of God.

In embracing our brothers and sisters we are re-enacting and celebrating and contemplating the cosmic turnabout when Love Divine came down and lived among us as one of us, and we penetrate beneath the surface and see beyond what meets the eye to what enlivens the mind, touches the heart, and lifts up the spirit. We encounter and contemplate the Trinity: Who God Is in all richness and infinite variety. As Julian said,

I am he, the might and goodness of fatherhood; I am he, the wisdom and the lovingness of motherhood; I am he, the light and the grace which is all blessed love; I am he, the Trinity; I am he, the Unity; I am he, the great supreme goodness of every kind of thing; I am he who makes you to love; I am he who makes you to long; I am he, the endless fulfilling of all true desires.”[59]

For the Trinity is: the Giver, the Gift, and the Giving — the one great God, so in love with the world that creation itself will not be complete until the Triune Name is carried to its ends, and everything that has breath praises the Lord in the never-ending dance of contemplation whose center and whose music is the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.+

The numbers in brackets refer to sections of Julian's Shewings.

September 18, 2008

The Real Revisionists

Over at the self-styled Anglican Communion Institute's website, the troika of Communionists has posted an essay by attorney Mark McCall, purporting to show the astounding discovery that The Episcopal Church "is a church with no constitutionally established hierarchy above the level of the individual dioceses of which it is comprised." The chief irony for me in this novel proposal is the strange "leapfrog" mentality that would insist on a worldwide Communion hierarchy -- as a kind of international federation of individual dioceses -- apart from, and with no notice taken of, the "national or provincial churches" that everyone else has always said constitute the Anglican Communion -- which itself has no constitution. Yet.

Of course, the timing of this essay in relationship to votes to be taken anon in Pittsburgh, cannot be accidental. Subversion of good order is afoot by the very folks who claim they are seeking greater order and stability. This is all part of the Communionist agenda of rendering the national or provincial churches subservient to a central authority, as a very parsimoniously spread sandwich between a collection of independent dioceses and an overarching international government. Careless (and ahistorical) remarks by the current Archbishop of Canterbury notwithstanding, the notion that the "national church" is a legal fiction will not bear close examination even of the Church of England (whose linkage of region and religion resonated with the form of the Reformation in parts of the Continent, as, to keep the peace, the sect of the monarch determined the sect of the state in each principality).

It is also clear from the Preface to the American BCP that even where the church was not so established, it was by means of that very disestablishment that "the different religious denominations of Christians in these States were left at full and equal liberty to model and organize their respective Churches, and forms of worship, and discipline, in such manner as they might judge most convenient for their future prosperity; consistently with the constitution and laws of their country." (1979 BCP, 10) And as the Preface goes on to make clear, it was the General Convention that did that work for Episcopalians, creating a centralized and "fundamental" form of Government to which the dioceses were required to give due respect and obedience.

Note, for example, that amendments to the TEC Constitution itself do not require the assent from the several dioceses, except through their deputies and bishops in attendance at General Convention. The diocesan conventions are informed of the amendments, but their conventions have no power to vote on them -- or if they do choose to vote, the result is merely advisory to the bishop and deputies. The amendments, once finally adopted, are binding on each and every diocese, even if the bishop and deputies from a given diocese are absent, or vote against them at the General Convention. This is even more centralized than the US Constitution! But then, some people don't want to be bothered with facts, in pursuit of an agenda.

You don't have to take my amateur's word for it. Historian Joan Gundersen has gone into the details by which the General Convention established itself as the central form of government for this Church in a rebuttal to McCall's paper. I urge you to read it for its clear historical grasp of something that until now was a clearly understood fact: The Episcopal Church is not a mere association of dioceses (in the way the Anglican Communion is a fellowship of national or provincial churches) but is rather a centrally governed body in which certain powers are delegated to the dioceses and bishops (such as the right to consent to the election of bishops outside the practical capability of the General Convention session), but which has central control over the common governance of The Episcopal Church.

I will repeat an earlier observation that the absence of a secession clause in the TEC Constitution is of no more significance than the absence of such a clause in the US Constitution. Secession, once a union has been formed, is as unthinkable as divorce after marriage -- at least in the 18th century. Individuals can leave the church, but the domestic dioceses of The Episcopal Church are not free to affiliate with any other province of the Anglican Communion, and even the overseas dioceses require the permission of the General Convention to do so.

Tobias Haller BSG

September 17, 2008

Come, Holy Ghost

In honor of Hildegard of Bingen, I wrote this composition some years ago, and it was used at the profession liturgy for some of the Sisters of Saint Gregory. No recording was made at the time, and it hasn't been performed since. So this is a synthesized choir (The East/West Quantum Leap Symphonic Choir program) which sounds a bit like a group of (perhaps) Bulgarians for whom English is a second language. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy...
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

MP3 File

September 14, 2008

The Fog of Pittsburgh

Religious Intelligence has published an essay on the legal tangles around the move to recognize that Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh has abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church.

What a strange mixture of strained readings and false statements.

This is not a trial, nor even a hearing. It is a proceeding to determine if the certification of the Review Committee is to be sustained in light of Bishop Duncan's response to same. Bishop Duncan did receive timely notice of the January certification of the Review Committee, and issued his response in March. His shock that he's only received five days notice (for a meeting he says he plans not to attend anyway) sounds as believable as that of Captain Renault on finding gambling at Rick's.

His written response, taken in conjunction with his much more important statements and actions towards "realignment" have made it very clear that he does not deny there is -- in his mind -- a two-church situation at play, and that he is making his choice not to be in communion with The Episcopal Church (the one with General Convention), regardless of any actions taken by his diocese -- which he has urged to follow the course of realignment. I have long maintained that this urging in itself is actionable -- it is a form of incitement or conspiracy -- and that the action of the diocese is not determinative of the guilt of the bishop.

For Duncan has urged "realignment" publicly and unapologetically. He no longer wishes to be part of The Episcopal Church whose House of Bishops will soon be meeting, though he recognizes it has the authority to discipline him. He has played the word game that he and those who believe what he believes represent the "real" Episcopal Church -- on his tendentious reading of the Preamble to the Constitution of TEC (though his hopes that TEC would lose its status of being in communion with Canterbury fell flat; he has rather painted himself into a corner in this regard.) Duncan had a chance to back down from his course of throwing in his lot with Common Cause against and opposed to the "course" of The Episcopal Church, and he refused to take it. He is for realignment -- which in this case is just another word for abandonment of communion with one Church in order to join another, in this case assembled from the fragments of several dozen churchlets also not in communion with The Episcopal Church. To suggest this is not schismatic involves a distorted view of the nature of schism.

Back to the Intelligence article: There is no need for this consideration to be "on the agenda" of the House of Bishops' meeting, as the Canons say the PB is to place the matter before the next regular or special meeting of the House after the two-month period for response or retraction. (The red herring of the sessions at Lambeth is typical obfuscation -- those were not meetings of the House of Bishops, but provincial gatherings of those bishops who happened to be present at Lambeth.)

Duncan's choice to stay away from what his coterie characterize as a "trial" would simply be contumacy if it really were a trial. If he wants to assure the House of his bona fide he should show up and recant his program of realignment. In this case it is Duncan who is "steeped in so far" that turning back is difficult. But it is still a lively option.

Further, citing Robert's Rules is in vain as the Canons and the Rules of Order of the HB cover this situation without any need to appeal to the stopgap of Robert's. (RRoO is only called upon to address matters not dealt with.)

Moreover it takes a two-thirds majority (not a simple majority as the article states) to overrule the chair's decision on a point of order on appeal, according to rule XV of the House of Bishops.

For those who want to judge for themselves if Duncan's response to the certification of abandonment was adequate, I copy it out below. This was posted originally in mid-March. While he acknowledges himself to be "subject" to the discipline of this Church, he in no way indicates any sympathy with it, but rather his opposition to it. Which would be fine if he stopped short of realignment -- about which his "response" says nothing. His actions speak much louder than his words in this regard. If this was intended as a good faith retraction, it fails miserably.

Tobias Haller BSG

Duncan's Response:

Dear Katharine,

In response to the request set forth in your letter of January 15th (which enclosed the certification of the Title IV Review Committee), I state that I consider myself "fully subject to the doctrine, discipline and worship of this Church."

In particular:

1. I have striven to follow the Lord Jesus with all my heart and mind and soul and strength, all the while relying on God's grace to accomplish what my sinfulness and brokenness otherwise prevent.

2. I have kept my ordination vows – all of them – to the best of my ability, including the vow I made on 28 October 1972 to "banish and drive away all strange and erroneous doctrines contrary to God's Word."

3. I have preached and taught nothing but what faithful Anglicans and mainstream Christians have always preached and taught, with the exception only that I have supported and encouraged the ministry of women in Holy Orders.

4. I have been present to all but two meetings of the House of Bishops (out of twenty-four) during the last 12 years. In those meetings I have clearly and openly opposed the theological and moral drift of the Episcopal Church, often in the face of great hostility and sadly, at times, derision.

5. I have made no submission to any other authority or jurisdiction.

6. I have gathered Anglican fragments together from one hundred and thirty-five years of Episcopal Church division, vastly increasing understanding and cooperation, though preserving the jurisdictional independence of all.

7. I have, with the clergy, people and para-church organizations of my diocese, built missionary relationships all over the world, fielding both missionaries and resources on five continents.

8. I have faithfully served and shepherded the clergy and people of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh through what has, by God's grace, been one of its greatest periods of extension and blessing. My intention is to continue in this call for what remains of my active ministry.

Faithfully in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Robert Wm. Duncan

September 7, 2008

The Many and the One

SJF • Proper 18a • Tobias Haller BSG
Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.+

Our readings today speak of how the church is to be the church — not only how Christians are to behave towards each other, but also what it means to be a body of Christians, what we call not just a church but the church.

It should be clear to anyone who reads the newspapers that our own Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion of which it is a part, has had more than its share of upset over the last few years. Many wonder whether the church will survive the tension and grow stronger, or split apart into factions and divisions. It is true that Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.” But that doesn’t mean every two or three people have to start their own church!

That reminds me of Garrison Keillor’s Church of the Sanctified Brethren: his immediate family, a cousin, and his uncle — the founder of this tiny denomination, which had split and split and split to end up being six people who worshiped in the parlor every Sunday morning, believing themselves to be the only true Church.

I’m reminded of this in part because we’re in the midst of confirmation classes, and the topic of what it means to be an Anglican is much on my mind. So I would like to reflect with you on that question, because our scriptures today are admirably applicable.

+ + +

You may have heard of the Anglican theologian Richard Hooker who wrote during the reign of Queen Elizabeth and contributed to the Elizabethan Settlement. This was the elegant compromise that allowed Anglicans — even then split into disagreeing and sometimes disagreeable parties — to keep peace in their household. Anglicans respect three sources of authority — Scripture, Tradition, and Reason — and somehow this trio has gotten attached to the name of Richard Hooker under the title “Hooker’s Three-Legged Stool” even though he never referred to it as such. Hooker did not actually regard Tradition as an equal source of authority, and he placed Reason ahead of Scripture because, as he said, without Reason we would not be able to reap the benefit of Scripture at all — without Reason you wouldn’t even be able to read it! We also use Reason to inform our reading of Scripture, which helps to keep us out of the kind of trouble the Roman Catholic Church had with Galileo, or modern of fundamentalists have with Charles Darwin. So if it is a three-legged stool it is a wobbly one.

+ + +

What I want to speak about today is another set of three characteristics of Anglicanism, reflected in our Scripture readings as they address the problems of authority and disagreement in the church. I call these three principles the Anglican Triad: Humility, Locality, and Variety.

The first one, Humility, is the what drew me to the Episcopal Church in the first place. I was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church, and in those days questions were not encouraged, and the rule was “do as you are told.” This didn’t sit well with me, and I drifted away from it when I was a teenager, only to discover the Episcopal Church when I went to college.

What attracted me most was the fact that Anglicanism is one of the few Christian traditions that says, right up front, “The church makes mistakes.” One would think, looking at the church history, that this would be obvious — but many people want a religion that will tell them what to believe, give them answers instead of questions. Whether it’s the fundamentalist’s, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it” or “The Pope is infallible” — some people want that kind of security, to know that they are Right.

Anglicans, however, accept that just as the people of Israel made mistakes — and boy did they make mistakes — so too the Christian Church is not immune from its own failures and errors. Anglicans accept that since individual people make mistakes — however exalted their position — there is no guarantee that when you get people together in a group, even a church group, that they will somehow miraculously be preserved from making mistakes.

Why this notion of humility is important is that only those who are open to realizing that they might make mistakes will be ready to correct them when they do. Few people are more dangerous to themselves and others than those who think they never make a mistake and are always right.

And when the church makes mistakes, as it surely has, and when some member of the church has the courage to stand up and say, “My friends, this is wrong” — whether it’s about how the church supported and benefitted from slavery, or the second-class status of women, or apartheid, or anything else — the right thing to do, as Ezekiel assured the people, is to “turn back from their evil ways, and live.” That takes humility.

+ + +

The second characteristic of Anglicanism is Locality. The Anglican Communion is not just one big centrally governed international church. Rather it is a fellowship of national and provincial churches, independently governed, but sharing a common heritage and tradition. This element of Anglicanism goes right back to the foundation of the Church of England, when it asserted its independence from the Church of Rome, rejecting the idea that the church throughout the world had to be centrally governed by a single leader. In this, the Anglican Communion is like the churches of Eastern Orthodoxy — each of them independently governed nation by nation but recognizing and in fellowship with each other.

This aspect of Anglicanism has come under a lot of pressure lately, as disagreements between the individual national churches have come to the foreground. What should be our strength is becoming an additional challenge. The strength lies in the fact that the Episcopal Church in the US doesn’t have the right to tell the Church in the Sudan what to do in the Sudan, nor does the Church in the Sudan have the right to tell the Episcopal Church what to do here in the US. The problem is, quite a few of the churches outside the Episcopal Church have in fact been trying to tell the Episcopal Church what it ought to do, indeed what it has to do if those other churches are going to continue to have any kind of relationship with it.

Some of the other churches in the Communion are standing with the Episcopal Church in this, and understand that giving orders to others is a dangerous path to follow — we become a communion of busy-bodies interfering in each other’s households. After all, in our Gospel today Jesus only gives the right to confront another member of the church if that member has sinned against you — you personally. He gives no general authority to Christians to judge the behavior of others with whom they disagree about anything — in fact, as you well know, Jesus teaches exactly the opposite: Do not judge; and Do not try to remove the splinter from your neighbor’s eye while you’ve got a two-by-four in your own.

This is also where his language concerning “two or three being gathered together” comes in — the church subsists in every faithful gathering of Christians, and it isn’t for one gathering here to tell another gathering there what it is that they must do. After all, we may be wrong, and they right! So Humility and Locality support each other. After all, things acceptable in the US may not be acceptable in the Sudan — and vice versa. By keeping a clear sense of our own limitations as well as gifts, we can be humble enough not to insist on others following our local customs and decisions.

+ + +

This leads to the third characteristic of Anglicanism, Variety. One of the things the Church of England recognized when it became independent from the Church of Rome was that not only could the form of church government differ from place to place, but also the form of prayer and worship. For instance, two changes the Church of England made at that time were to worship in English instead of Latin, and to allow the congregation to drink from the Cup. (And isn’t it interesting that some 400 years later the Church of Rome caught up?)

When the Episcopal Church became independent from the Church of England — back at the American Revolution — we Episcopalians also took advantage of the opportunity to change our liturgy — not just dropping the prayers for the royal family, but adopting a form for the Eucharist based on what was being done in Scotland instead of England. After all, it was Scottish bishops who ordained our first American Bishop!

This kind of variety is also reflected in the teaching of Jesus. He gives the church — the local church of two or three gathered together — the right to bind and loose. When they agree on earth, it is done in heaven. It is not necessary that worship be the same all around the world — for God is praised in many tongues by many peoples.

So it is that these three elements of Anglicanism can nourish the church and foster its growth if we will let them. We can affirm that even though not all agree with us, we need not in all things agree with them. In humility we can remain open to receive criticism — for none of us is perfect. As we worship in our own communities we can also respect that others will worship in ways unlike our own and yet share a heritage in the Anglican tradition. We are many in our ways of worship, but One in the Lord whom we worship.

So let us work to love and appreciate each other with mutual affection; to outdo each other in showing honor to each other. Let us not lag in zeal, but be ardent in spirit, and thus serve the Lord. Let us rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer, each in our own portion of this great fellowship of churches we call the Anglican Communion, and to the glory of God alone.+

September 6, 2008

Update on Sundry Matters

Well... the old computer has been replaced, grudgingly, by a new one with Windows Vaster... uh, Vista. I am experiencing some of the expected quirks and quibbles, though not enough to keep me from working. Most importantly, I've been able to make use of some of my favorite antiquated software by applying Compatibility Settings from the dim ages of operating systems past. (If there is any reason for my reluctance to make the Mac switch, it is my fondness for these archaic but helpful utilities, which some day, if the switch becomes inevitable, I will find still run under a Windows Emulation of Some Sort.) Meanwhile, discovering things such as the disappearance of the Parallel Port (and the need to find a USB-to-Parallel adapter cable so I didn't have to buy a new printer as well) have kept things interesting. Much gleaning of the internet has led to being able to install software people said can't run under WinVista. I really do pity the less than computer savvy: I've been at this since the days of hexadecimal code and machine language, and am not terrified to go under the hood if need be; but I can see how this whole thing is a nightmare for anyone less adept at the mysteries.

I am still struggling with Facebook, and find it to be interminably slow if it loads into Firefox at all. I've checked with Firefox folks and they suggest a virus, but I don't think that's it, as I've used all the virus scanners on the market and they come up negative. I get notes from people via Facebook but am very frustrated not to be able to respond in my preferred browser. Facebook runs and runs faster on IE, which I don't like just on principle, and I begin to think it is something about Firefox, or Facebook, or the two together.

In the meantime, the good news is that I have been able finally to finish my manuscript (Reasonable and Holy) and deliver it to the Editor -- or rather, to her office, as she has had a bad fall and twisted an extremity; prayers for Suzie if you please! But it is a load off my mind and onto someone else's for the time being, though I expect to receive it back with the usual suggested emendations and corrections, as well as urgings t'wards transitions, expansions and contractions. But for the meantime I can turn my mind to other things, grateful that my old computer was sufficiently "backed-up" so that I literally only lost the sentence I was working on when the old thing went [blink] and disappeared into Computer Sheol. (No computers go to Heaven. A few very good ones might end up in Limbo, or an internet cafe just off the Elysian Fields, or perhaps in the Valhalla Public Library, but not heaven. That goes for Macs too.)

I'm packing now for a trip to California, to visit with the San Franciscan brethren and lead a retreat, and preach next Sunday at St John the Evangelist in that fair city. While there I hope to see a few of the sights (and sites) and a few other friends from church and/or blogosphere.

My last very brief post unleashed a cataract of comment, though I think it has slowed to a trickle at this point. I will have some access to Ye Olde Internet while in San Fran, but hope to spend my time there not glued to the phosphorescent or liquid-crystalline, but take part in the actual more than the virtual, so updates to this blog and to any comments will not happen with alacrity, and depending on the Daemons, if at all!

Finally, I commend to all the last article by the Rev Dr Richard Norris, appearing in the current issue of Anglican Theological Review (Summer 2008), on Homosexuality, Ethics and the Church. I was very honored back at the turn of the century to have worked with Dick Norris and others on a statement of Hermeneutical Principles commissioned by the Bishop of New York in response to Lambeth 1998; and even further flattered when Dick asked me to take a look at and offer comments on an early draft of what now appears at last in print. Sadly, it is unfinished, though there is much to think about in the essay as it stands, and the responses from various thoughtful contributors, in what amounts to a posthumous Festschrift. The volume as a whole is a very helpful ethical reflection. As Augustine heard the child sing, tolle lege.

Until my return, unless something truly momentous comes up, Hasta luego...

Tobias Haller BSG

September 2, 2008

Thought for 09.01.08

We should no more expect the Scripture to provide a reasoned explanation for human psychosexuality than we should expect it to provide us with an accurate value for π.

Tobias Haller BSG