February 29, 2008

Not about Food

I am becoming more than a little annoyed at people bringing up Paul's advice to the Corinthians (in the eighth chapter of his first letter to them) as if it had relevance to the present debates and tensions in the Episcopal Church and wider Anglican Communion. The analogy is most often made by casting the Episcopal Church in the role of the knowledgeable Corinthians who should refrain from exercising their liberty for the sake of the weaker brethren who might be led into sin.

In case you don't remember you might want to go back and reread that chapter. (You might also want to take a look at the last half of Chapter 10 where the theme returns.) The issue concerns people who, like Paul, know that there is only one God and that idols are simply dead statues. For such enlightened folk eating food that has been "offered to an idol" is no more problematical than eating anything else. It doesn't "mean" anything because an idol is "meaningless." But a less well-informed seeker from that pagan society, newly come to Christianity but still preserving some superstitious belief that idols might actually represent some secondary divinity or demon or other, seeing a full-fledged Christian eating food offered to an idol, might then themselves eat food offered to an idol in earnest --- that is, thinking that it is all right to actually eat food offered to one of these pagan deities or demons. Which is, of course, a sin of idolatry.

So the moral issue is twofold: first, on the question of idolatry, that it is sinful to eat food offered to an idol if you think an idol represents a real divine or demonic entity, but not sinful if you know there's no such thing as a secondary divinity or demon. The second moral issue, at the center of Paul's concern, is that although the "knowledgeable" Christians are not sinning, they may be leading their weaker brethren into committing sin. It is important to keep Paul's moral relativism in mind in this case: the act itself is morally neutral, only sinful or not depending on whether you believe in idols or not. Eating meat offered to idols is only sin if you believe in idols.

The analogy with the present state of the Anglican Communion fails on a number of counts. First, does this really extend to a general principle --- that is, once one gets beyond the immediate question of food offered to idols, is there some basic rule that one should always defer to the "weaker brethren" regardless of the moral issue in question? Did Paul "give in" to the weaker brethren on the issue of circumcision (which he admitted mattered "for nothing" yet was very exercised about in addressing the Galatians)? Of course not; so even Paul did not apply this principle to the things he felt strongly about. He told the Galatians not to give in to the "mutilators" because he thought they were wrong, and even if circumcision didn't matter, it was a symbolic act that to his mind undid a central Gospel concept: trust in Christ instead of in the Law. He never implied it would be all right to just go ahead and get circumcised — it counts for nothing after all — in order to keep the peace. This would have led others into getting circumcised thinking it was necessary to do so — the very position Paul is most eager to oppose.

Secondly, the parallel breaks down over the question of what sin the weaker brethren are being led into committing. In the present tension over sexuality we are not dealing with something that is held to be permissible if you think about it one way and not permissible if you think about it another way -- in the fundamental sense of the case it is not at all like food offered to idols. Saying that same-sex relationships that are mutual, faithful, and lifelong are capable of grace and of moral goodness does not lead anyone who doesn't agree with that premise to enter into a same-sex relationship while thinking it morally wrong. Rather, we are dealing with a question of whether a certain form of relationship is permitted or not, morally right or not. The present situation is simply not analogous to the one Paul is describing.

Finally, and most importantly, we are not dealing with such a trivial matter (as Paul maintained) as food offered to idols. We are dealing with the extent to which the church is causing harm by maintaining a teaching that is actually costing people their lives — and that includes people in Nigeria perhaps more than here in the US. To what extent are hate crimes fueled by religious belief? To what extent are such crimes in Nigeria and the West Indies given tacit support by church leadership -- the very so-called "weaker brethren" that some are trying to protect from the "scandal" of having to be in Communion with a church that -- as a whole, and through its legitimate process of decision making -- has come to disagree with them on this issue? Who are the "weaker brethren" and who is "puffed up with knowledge" in adopting a superior tone and telling the rest of the world what it must do? The loose structure of the Communion (up until now) was capable of providing adequate space for people to disagree without going into schism or requiring compliance by all to the belief of some. But that is not good enough for those insistent that all toe their line. TEC has not required anyone else to conform to its views; but voices from the "Global South," though they may dwindle in numbers, continue to insist that theirs is the only way forward. Who is acting in the spirit of deference to which Paul called us, and more importantly, in the Spirit of Christ, in this case?

Tobias Haller BSG

February 27, 2008

Paul Moore and a Thought for 02.27.08

Given that the church is not a society of the perfect but a hospital for sinners, it is good to remember that doctors and nurses too suffer with their own illnesses and injuries.

Tobias Haller BSG
I snapped the photograph of Bishop Moore in the fall of 1983

February 26, 2008

Thought for 02.26.08

It is a terrible thing to "call evil good and good evil," but it is only the latter that represents a sin against the Holy Spirit. So, if we are to err (as err we do), let us adopt the prudent practice of risking letting the guilty go free rather than making the innocent suffer.

Tobias Haller BSG

February 23, 2008

Thought for 02.23.08

Faith holds fast to what is past, hope looks for what is to come; love exists in the present, and only in the present can love exist. This is why love is eternal, for it is always now, always coming into being, always giving itself away, always dying to itself.

Tobias Haller BSG

February 22, 2008

Thought for 02.22.08

Given that "all of us make many mistakes" (James 3:2) — and that this applies to the church as much as to individuals (Articles XIX, XXI) — autonomy is preferable to hegemony, in order to encapsulate error while allowing opportunity for healthy developments to arise and be tested locally before being accepted globally.

Tobias Haller BSG

February 19, 2008

Presiding Bishop Defends Slavery

Here, therefore, lies the true aspect of the controversy, and it is evident that it can openly be settled by the Bible. For every Christian is bound to assent to the rule of the inspired Apostle, that "sin is the transgression of the law," namely the law laid down in the Scriptures by the authority of God -- the supreme "lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy." From his Word there can be no appeal. No rebellion can be so atrocious in his sight as that which dares to rise against his government. No blasphemy can be more unpardonable than that which imputes sin or moral evil to the decrees of the eternal Judge, who is alone perfect in wisdom, in knowledge, and in love....

With entire correctness, therefore, your letter refers the question to the only infallible criterion -- the Word of God. If it were a matter to be determined by my personal sympathies, tastes, or feelings, I would be as ready as any man to condemn the institution of slavery; for all my prejudices of education, habit and social position stand entirely opposed to it. But as a Christian, I am solemnly warned not to be "wise in my own conceit," and not to "lean unto my own understanding." As a Christian, I am compelled to submit my weak and erring intellect to the authority of the Almighty. For then only can I be safe in my conclusion, when I know that they are in accordance with the will of Him, before whose tribunal I must render a strict account to the last great day....

First, then we ask what the divine Redeemer said in reference to slavery. And the answer is perfectly undeniable: He did not allude to it at all. Not one word of censure upon the subject is recorded by the Evangelists who gave His life and doctrines to the world. Yet, slavery was in full existence at the time, throughout Judea; and the Roman Empire, according to the historian Gibbon, contained sixty millions of slaves on the lowest probable computation! How prosperous and united would our glorious republic be at this hour, if the eloquent and pertinacious declaimers against slavery had been willing to follow their Savior's example!

-- The Rt. Rev. John Henry Hopkins, Bishop of Vermont and Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, writing in 1861 in A Scriptural, Ecclesiastical, and Historical View of Slavery, from the Days of the Patriarch Abraham to the Nineteenth Century, pages 5-12 passim

February 16, 2008

Not near so much like a Communion

In the preceding post but one, Jane R made a comment about how difficult some people find it to understand that Anglicans do not form a single world-wide church under a single government, but rather a communion of self-governing churches.

This is certainly true in our relationship with Roman Catholics. I was reminded of the comments of a Cardinal some years back, who complained, I believe to Archbishop Runcie, that they never knew where they stood with Anglicans, because the Americans could go ahead and have women bishops while England didn't. "We don't know who we're talking to" he said, or words to that effect. The implication is that if only Anglicans could learn to be a bit more organized and centrally governed, they would be much easier for Rome to work with than they are at present.

In the context of the present disagreements about the chaotic nature of the Communion as a whole, and the development of a Covenant to give it a firmer and more cohesive form of — government is too strong a word — rational organization, in which I perceive the influence of certain Romeward impulses at a number of levels, I was reminded of this wonderful interchange from Pride and Prejudice, by the inimitable Jane Austen:

"I should like balls infinitely better," she replied, "if they were carried on in a different manner; but there is something insufferably tedious in the usual process of such a meeting. It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day.''

"Much more rational, my dear Caroline, I dare say, but it would not be near so much like a ball."

We could well continue to strive to bolster greater centrality in the organization and governance of the Anglican Communion, which might please the Roman Catholics and other Carolines of this world, giving them someone to converse with without the need for fancy footwork; and at the same time transform Lambeth from a gathering for fellowship and prayer into a Synodical Body for the Purpose of Settling Issues — both would be ever so much more rational, but then neither would be near so much like the Anglican Communion.

Tobias Haller BSG

February 15, 2008

Thought for 02.15.08

A thought sparked by comments in a post of the Mad Priest:

Real Evangelicals know that God has forgiven all our sins through the blood of the Cross; False Evangelicals think that God is cross because of our sinful blood.

Tobias Haller BSG


Five of the Primates of GAFCON have responded via Nigeria to the letter from twenty-one English Evangelical Bishops beseeching them to come to Lambeth.

So now there are five clear signatures (or names at any rate) on the Not Going to Lambeth For Sure (Maybe) List. Venables is now listed among them, joining Akinola, Orombi, Nzimbi and Kolini. Jensen is not listed, though perhaps this is because he is not a Primate.

The signatories say they will not feel "at home" and will find themselves beset by "activists" -- rather than being assisted by an Archbishop such as their "champion" George Carey, who helped them through their "great difficulty in making [their] case heard in the face of the process of the conference [in 1998]." Yes, we know how helpful the Archbishop was in 1998. I would say he helped them make their case very clearly indeed.

Once again it appears that sexuality is the sticking-point for these bishops, the one point of Scriptural interpretation upon which they seem unable to conceive a legitimate difference of opinion. That was their view in 1998, and so it is now. Nothing has changed. One hopes this will once again silence the blather of those who persist in saying "It isn't just about sexuality." On the contrary, yes it is.

I continue to hope that their absence will remain circumstantial and topical, and that they are not heading towards the establishment of an alternative "Anglican" Communion. While I believe in laissez-faire, I am also of the mind that institutions can take on a life or longevity of their own, and persist long after the reason for their coming into existence has faded. The "walking apart" of Windsor always seemed to me to imply a possibility of "coming back together" after a time. This is much more difficult once jurisdictions have been set up.

Minds change faster than institutions; another of my reasons for not favoring a Covenant mechanism for brokering institutionalized agreement.

Tobias Haller BSG

February 13, 2008

Mercy and Sacrifice

Senior Sermon for the Friday after Ash Wednesday,
being Valentine’s Day

(Isaiah 58.1-9a; Psalm 51.1-10; Matthew 9.10-17)
Preached in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd
of The General Theological Seminary, February 14, 1997
by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Happy Valentine’s Day, and please be seated!

Life, as Forrest Gump repeatedly and annoyingly observed, is like a box of chocolates. By this he did not mean that life is fattening, or that life is heart-shaped and gift-wrapped and presented to loved ones on days like today. No, the perpetually optimistic Gump meant that like a box of chocolates, life holds an element of surprise. A box of chocolates, whether a Whitman’s Sampler or an elaborately beribboned and lacy Valentine’s Day heart, is a box of mystery. Each individual chocolate — unless you use the crib-sheet in the lid of the box, or have memorized the candy shapes and colors that by unalterable tradition match shape with filling — each individual chocolate promises a small bit of excitement for the easily entertained. And even people more jaded and blasé than Mr. Gump generally find the experience to be a happy one.

What would you say, however, if upon opening the beautifully wrapped and ribboned heart-shaped box, and biting down on the first carefully selected and promising morsel, you were to discover that you had been presented with an extra-large assortment of chocolate-covered garden slugs — each one a soft-center — with a few shards of broken glass, tin-foil, and sprinkles of white lead paint for contrast? What would you say to the person who gave you this monstrosity, standing there with a coy grin, eyebrows raised with an eager look of expectation, waiting for you to dissolve in gurgling gratitude?

If you can picture this you will have a fairly good idea of how Yahweh feels in the passage from Isaiah appointed for today. The people have offered God their multitudes of sacrifices, fat beasts with the smoke of rams, then followed up by depriving themselves of food and drink, putting ashes on their heads, dressing up in sacks and crawling around in the dust with their foreheads to the ground. And all the while they apparently think that this is exactly the sort of thing God finds most pleasing. It’s as if someone has told them, “You know, God can’t resist a really well-burnt goat, and if you want to get on God’s good side, make sure you put ashes on your head. Oh, and God just loves it when people don’t eat and dress up in bags. It just makes the Lord’s day.”

The problem, of course, is that someone has told them just about that. Herein lies the dilemma, the heart of the tension between mercy and sacrifice. For when God thunders through the prophet Amos, “Did you offer sacrifice in the wilderness those forty years?” it is not entirely out of order for the people meekly to respond, “Well, yes, actually!” Of course, as seminarians well know, much of the law of sacrifice and fasting comes to us from the priestly redactor; let’s call him “Father P.” However, from a canonical perspective this is quite beside the point. There, for the vast majority of pious Jews including Jesus himself, through the bulk of Jewish history, there in the heart of the law is the divine mandate to sacrifice and penitence.

Moreover, penitence and sacrifice were not Jewish inventions. Both flow from deep within the human heart — from mysterious pools of mythic power. The impulse to sacrifice and penitence transcends religions and cultures, races, clans, and times. Human beings have found innumerable ways to offer up what they could have used for their own benefit, or to mortify themselves for the sake of many “gods.” And this is not just the stuff of primeval forest or windblown desert. Even today many willingly offer sacrifice to the god of their ideology, some cause or crusade; others pour out their wealth into building a monument to a heroic figure or a national ideal. Not only individuals, but whole cultures arise around such worship, which takes many forms. The human heart is not only, as has been said, a perpetual manufacturer of idols, but also a perpetual Standing Liturgical Commission churning out new supplemental rites with which to worship them.

+ + +

It is, of course, the ultimate insult to treat the God who made heaven and earth like an idol, to treat God not as the ultimate subject and source, but as the object of our attentive worship, as if God needed our worship more than we need to worship God. And when such worship leads to neglect of other duties, so much the worse.

So it is that countering both the deep need welling up from the depths of the heart, and the demands of the priestly code handed down from on high, there rings out the prophet’s voice, and in the Gospel Jesus echoes it: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” This call and challenge, in Jesus and the prophets, is not an abrogation of human need or of divine mandate, but an effort to restore a balance of both mercy and sacrifice. This is a challenge framed in the characteristic rhetoric of prophetic hyperbole, which, in order to drive its point home to hardened hearts, often says more than it means. After all, a number of the prophets were also priests of the cult, and Jesus ate the Passover with his disciples and observed the Jewish law of sacrifice. So the prophets and Jesus weren’t calling for an either/or, but for a return to the wholesome both/and in which mercy and sacrifice balance and strengthen each other.

The prophetic words are addressed to those who have come to see sacrifice or fasting or any of the external works of piety as a means to buy God’s favor, to remind them that God doesn’t need sacrifice. God is generous, but God will not be coerced. God will take, as one unfortunate translation has it, no bull from us. God intends sacrifice for the people’s good. How? In addition to supporting a priestly clan ministering amongst a priestly people, the sacrificial system reminds all of them — priests, Levites, and Israelites — that their blessings come from God and are owed to God. The sacrifice does not purchase God’s blessing; rather it reminds the people that they have been blessed, and invites them to share that blessing.

Unfortunately, as we heard in the reading from Isaiah, sacrifice and fasting became for many a transaction in which God was reduced to a kind of heavenly appliance, producing blessings-to-order in exchange for services rendered. And the people of Israel were not the only folk to drift into this mind set: the medieval church slid along the same groove as it shifted from penitence to penance — and the eucharist itself became a commodity, so many masses at a penny apiece to trim one’s term in purgatory.

Jesus and the prophets reminded the people of their slide into this commercial formalism, of sacrifice unseasoned with the salt of mercy; and so did the reformers of the church — catholic and protestant — through the turmoil of the mid-millennium, and the church has tottered between extremes and walked the tightrope even unto this day, even to this hour, even to this church, this chapel.

You have heard it said — I know I have heard it preached — that Christians shouldn’t be so involved in liturgy; that the “real work” of the church lies out in the world — and today’s texts are held up in support of that argument. However, this approach, if carried to its logical conclusion, would do away with all external worship whatsoever — which is impossible. It is impossible because the tendency to liturgical obsession is just as —if not more — insidious when a church imagines itself to be “non-liturgical” — the little inner Standing Liturgical Commission simply turns its attention to such matters as where the flag should go, or how the preacher holds his floppy bible. Press the envelope further with me — even the works of mercy themselves can become as formalized as the works of worship: the flip side of the coin with which I am tempted to buy or earn God’s favor rather than enjoying — and sharing — God’s freely given grace. Just as self-centered sacrifice can become its opposite, idolatry, so too mercy, if it is not seasoned with true self-sacrifice and the overflow of a compassionate heart, can become its shadow-self, patronizing benevolence, against which Jesus warned his disciples at the Passover meal he shared with them before he suffered.

+ + +

So how do we keep the delicate balance between mercy and sacrifice? As with many dilemmas, the solution lies at the heart of the problem. The liturgy itself, capable as it is of being misused, is a God-given means to help restore this balance. The record shows that the church is most effective in its social action when it takes its liturgy seriously but not obsessively: and this is true whether that liturgy be conducted in chasuble or Geneva gown, as a High Mass or a Quaker Meeting. For the liturgy is the school of love; the heart of sociability from which effective social action flows; the rehearsal for the wedding of the Lamb. In this school, at this rehearsal, we can be serious, without ever being somber — serious with the deep and joyful seriousness of children at play, children who alone know the way to heaven. We can enjoy our worship as loving service we perform for each other, in which our service mirrors the divine love.

After all, God is not, as someone once said, “a nice old man who likes to be read to.” I am told that God is completely indifferent as to whether we use Rite One or Rite Two, so long as we speak in the accents of love. The God who set the Pleiades in their place, who shows the Great Bear its way, and orders the planets in their march is not terrifically impressed by our processions or our liturgical choreography — but these acts can order and join our hearts and focus our attention on Jesus, the one who did the greatest balancing act of all, up there on the cross, perfect mercy and perfect sacrifice all in one.

Thus is the habit of mercy learned at the heart of sacrifice. And if we cannot learn it here in the shadow of the cross, we will not be able to learn it or practice it anywhere else.

We gather here in this place to hear the word, to break the bread and share the cup. The Holy Spirit descends upon us and upon the gifts we offer in a sacrifice of thanksgiving in and for and through the mercy of Christ, in which we partake of that holiness, and are made holy and one, even as God is holy and one — and then we are equipped to go forth for service to the wounded world.

This is what we do when we gather at this table to share our daily rations, our fast-like feast, the pilgrim food we feed to one another until the bridegroom comes. Do you know what will happen then? Let me tell you a mystery. Our present fast is over and the Bridegroom returns. We have nothing with which to welcome him, nothing but ourselves, our souls and bodies; even our oil lamps are almost burned out. He’s been a long time coming.

But the Bridegroom comes and brings a wedding gift in his own hands. And — wonder of wonders — the gift is for us. For by a turnabout compared with which all the happy endings of all the Cinderella stories ever told are but dim shadows, we bridesmaids and waiters and caterers and stewards — and wedding guests called here from the highways and byways and dark corners of terrible cities — we gathered here and throughout the world have been transformed into the Bride.

And the Bridegroom holds out his gift to us. It is not a heart-shaped box, all satin and lace. It is his heart, a human heart, pierced by a human spear. And from that heart there flow two streams — of water and of blood. And the stream of water is deeper and broader than the Red Sea, and colder and purer than the River Jordan. And the stream of blood is more eloquent than the blood of all the sacrifices spilled from the day of Abel on; and it speaks more clearly and more powerfully than the blood of the prophets shed by those who would not let their hearts of stone be turned to hearts of flesh.

For the water from the wounded heart of Christ is the water of mercy in which the Bride has washed herself, and the blood is the blood of the sacrifice with which he bought her, the one sacrifice of himself once offered for the sins of the whole world.

When the Bridegroom comes the wedding feast will begin. Our fast will then be ended. I cannot begin to describe the heavenly banquet that this our present fast on word and water, bread and wine, sharpens our hunger for. All I can say is this: Christ in perfect mercy is sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast.

The image at the head of this sermon is from a series of visual mediations on Genesis 3:1-7 by members of the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory. This was my contribution to the exercise.

February 12, 2008

$.02 on San Joaquin

While I would not use, as some have, the word stink, the DSJ situation is a mess. It represents a situation unconceived-of in the canons and constitution. I am of the opinion that the Standing Committee did not cease to exist on the illegal actions taken by the Convention, or as a result of their failure to interpose an action in the Convention’s or the Bishop’s path; in the absence of certain knowledge, I assume at least some members of the Standing Committee were elected at previous sessions of the Convention, not all of them at the “Robbers’ Synod” (a reference for all you church history buffs out there).

In any case, the duly elected Standing Committee has a canonical responsibility and is not merely a creature of the Convention, even though elected by it — any more than the Bishop is a creature of Convention because elected by it.

Moreover, I disagree with those who see this as being a “systems” thing. There are only, in this case, individuals, since a Diocese cannot, in fact, leave the Episcopal Church — there is no canonical way to do that apart from action of General Convention, and even then it is possible only in the case of Dioceses that are not part of the territorial United States. If you want the canons, that’s what the canons say. The “Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin of the Southern Cone of the Americas” is an “illegal fiction” with no standing whatever. There is only the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, with a number of disobedient or disorderly members and clergy (who meeting in convention took an action they were not by law empowered to take) and one bishop (now awaiting deposition), together with a number of loyal and obedient clergy and members.

The question comes down to, and has been posed as: does casting an improper vote or failing to exercise due diligence in preventing improper actions by others cause one automatically to abdicate an elected office? I would say not, for there are canonical procedures in place to address these failings; there is no mere ipso facto deposition absent an action by those with the authority to impose such a sentence. Even if the charge is abandonment of the communion of this Church (which is well appropriate if one voted to leave it and join Cono Sur) this should properly be addressed by the use of the canon next after the one already applied to the errant Bishop.

The situation is complicated by the fact that it is the Standing Committee itself that normally brings charges in such a case. As the old Latin tag has it, Qui custodet ipsos custodes — who will guard the guardians?

My view, then, is that if the members of the former/existing Standing Committee can unambiguously reaffirm their allegiance to The Episcopal Church (the real one), they should be able to continue to function as members of the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese, and serve out terms until the next elections by the diocesan convention. (I disagree, by the way, with the language suggesting that there is a need to “reconstitute” the diocese; some organization and reordering is needed, but the diocese still exists, and the illegal efforts to amend its constitution are void.) This may, in fact, be what is happening in the interplay of letters and conversations, and the continued hard work on the ground by a number of folks, not least of them the Presiding Bishop.

We can only hope for some greater clarity as time goes on. But to blame the present problem on Katherine Jefferts Schori is not helpful: she is attempting to deal with a novel situation created by Bishop John David Schofield’s hubristic folly, “L’eglise, c’est moi.”

Tobias Haller BSG

February 9, 2008

Altogether Too Much Fun

Saturday (and beyond) Satire

Over at Barkings of an Old Dog, Clumber has begun a detailed description of the Periodic Table of Anglican Elements. There you can learn of the remarkable properties of Schorium (Pb), Preludium (Mh) and Rowenium (Abc).

Clumber has also graciously published my own research on Lambethium (Cc), the heaviest of the noble gassers, incapable of forming bonds, and subject to radioactive decay. Efforts to enrich Lambethium by bombarding it with protestons in the new Anglode-Cathodic High Energy Decelerator (ACHED), have not been successful. Some have suggested just leaving it alone until all existing instances of the element simply vanish. Others persist in trying to synthesize it through the forced implosion of Wrightium, Ephraimite and an isotope of Spongium. Most researchers suspect that the presence of trace amounts of Rowanium are necessary as a catalyst, but a few studies have suggested otherwise...

Tobias Haller BSG

February 8, 2008

A Covenant with Death

The Saint Andrews Draft Covenant (SAD) represents a marked improvement over the earlier effort. Many of the concerns that I had expressed in earlier commentary have been addressed, and a number of the troublesome details have been eliminated. The few that remain are hardly worth noting because, unfortunately, the main problem still persists, like a stubborn stain that will not give in to the most rigorous scrubbing.

The details never were the primary concern. Rather it was, and is, the as yet unanswered (or at least not clearly answered) questions: What is this covenant for? That is, what goal is it intended to achieve that we have not already reached, or cannot achieve by less formal means? How does this covenant advance or improve on our present capacity for mission and ministry?

The whole covenant process to date — apart from the efforts to frame a covenant based on cooperative missionary and ministerial efforts — has inherited a fatal flaw from its genesis in the Windsor Process: the idea that a mechanism can be developed by which people will always get along, and by means of which the disagreeable or the difficult can be excluded either temporarily or permanently from participation. One need look no further than the current fracas over Lambeth invitations to see how hopeless it is to develop such an agreement with the present cast of characters. There are some who are already well advanced on the road to "walking apart" from the rest of us; however much they employ the relativistic language by which it is not they who are moving but everyone else.

A covenant such as this SAD one will not solve our problems — it will express them: and it will be a tautology at best, since only the agreeable will agree to it. But if people are already absenting themselves from the Lambeth Conference — attendance at which is purely voluntary once the invitation has been extended, and the criteria for invitation to which are minimal (only a very few not having been invited) --- if they do this when the wood is green what will they do when it is dry? You can not make people be agreeable.

It still seems to me that very few people are actually sanguine about the development of such a covenant at all. Most people, again it seems to me, without having done exhaustive research, are more or less happy with the status quo and laissez-faire of the present Anglican Communion. Perhaps this and only this question should be put before Lambeth (not that I want to accord it particular authority, but just to test the waters): Do we need a written covenant? Yes or no. I do not sense at this point that the motion would carry in the affirmative.

So while I continue to support the idea of continued conversation around a covenant of sorts, it needs to be of a very different sort: a covenant affirming the common mission and ministry of the Church, our common membership with one another in the communion of the Body of Christ, a communion which is irrevocable, and from which no one shall or can be excluded other than by their own deliberate action. This is a covenant based upon the notion of grace which is a gift of God which one can refuse to accept (and so alienate oneself) but from which no power on earth can expel. What God has joined together, let no one put asunder.

We are already married, friends. It is too late to think about concocting a pre-nuptial agreement. We are stuck with each other: for life, for better for worse. Let us not allow the death which comes by reliance on the Law (a new Law or an old one) to overtake us. Let us deal with our difficulties under that rubric: Live + Jesus.

Tobias Haller BSG

February 5, 2008

Human Responsibility and Divine Response

a meditation for the beginning of Lent

Lord, look at the nations engaging in war
as they ravage, destroy, and slay.
Why is it, O Lord, that you seem to ignore
all this violence, day after day?

My beloved, I gave you the power to choose
to love one another or not.
You have chosen the latter, and now you confuse
what I gave you with what you have got.

Lord, look on your people now stricken with AIDS
as they perish, waste, and die.
Is it nothing to you that this virus invades
as you watch from your throne in the sky?

My beloved, I gave you the cure for this ill
in the bark of a tropical tree;
but you burned down the forest to fatten the till.
You made that decision, not me.

Lord, look at the peoples divided by race,
by language, culture and clan.
Why not give us each the same color and face?
Please tell us, Lord, what was your plan?

My children, I gave you your races and clans
that in contrast you might find delight.
Instead you have chosen to counter my plans
using race as a reason to fight.

Lord, look at the needy, the starving, the poor
who have insufficient to eat.
Why do you in silence and distance ignore
them, up there on your heavenly seat?

My beloved, I give you enough food for each,
that all might be filled and not die.
I have given you freely all that you beseech,
Yet you hold it and hoard it, not I.

Whatever we do, Lord, we seem to go wrong;
we turn all your good gifts to ill.
Lord, help us and save us—for we are not strong—
if your grace is offered still.

My children, I gave you a brother, my Son;
the very best thing I could do.
I gave you myself: that is what I have done,
and I made that decision for you—
I took flesh, and became one with you.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG, 1990

February 4, 2008

Are You Being Served

The inestimable Ruth of the Times has given advance notice that a new draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant will see the light of day on Ash Wednesday. She reports that Archbishop Drexel Gomez seems to think that under the new draft (dubbed the Saint Andrew's) the Episcopal Church will be "unlikely to face discipline or any form of exclusion from the Anglican Communion as a result of consecrating Gene Robinson." (Ruth's words, not Drexel's.) She also reports him as saying (again, not as a quotation but in summary) that "most of the conservative churches of the Global South would welcome the text of the new draft."

As Captain Peacocke once said in reference to Mrs. Slocombe's dress (the one that made her feel 18 years old again), "A remarkable garment indeed."

However, I look forward to the revelation of the Saint Andrew's Draft (even though it sounds rather like a pint of bitter) on Ash Wednesday. Rather than a bitter brew, will it be an exercise in simultaneous cake possession and consumption; or perhaps a new form of Anglican Fudge? Perhaps it might be well to forgo both on one of the official Fast Days in the calendar. But if this new version is as good as seems to be claimed, perhaps it will be irresistible. We may soon know if we are being well served, and the extent to which anyone will be able to claim, having submitted to the bonds of affection, "I'm free!"

Tobias Haller BSG

(Related) Thought(s) for 02.04.08

1) True believers are attracted to the possibility of losing everything for the sake of that in which they believe.

2) Fervor in belief is no guarantee of rightness in belief.

3) Some people who lose everything have actually lost everything.

Tobias Haller BSG

Taking No Thought

As I lay in bed this morning listening to the customary newscast from NPR, designed both to awaken me and render me aware of the doings in this world of ours, I was greeted by two items of interest: (1) the continued chorus of pollsters opining on what the results of tomorrow’s primary elections will be; and (2) the retrospective suggestions that the Patriots might have allowed their unbroken streak of wins to have rendered them complacent in the face of the Giants.

Clearly we are dealing here with various species of false prophecy. That anyone can take pollsters very seriously after their recent and notorious failures to take the pulse of the nation (or at least of Iowa) never ceases to amaze me. And yet we are right back listening to them as they pontificate on the probabilities. In the case of the Patriots, we have some good evidence of the detrimental effects that expectations can produce.

What is this urge to know what is to be before it is? There seems to be a separation between expectation and reality, and an urge to turn the one into the other. I mean, what good are exit polls? Surely the actual vote will be revealed in a few hours, and the results will be fully known; so why this continued staring through a glass darkly when we can be assured that the electoral eschaton (or at least telos) is not at some remote remove, but it will have arrived by 11 p.m. — unless delayed by hanging chads or counts too close to call?

I also reflected on the extent to which polls and early primaries may have a detrimental effect on the electoral process as a whole; as people move from second guessing or merely guessing, or using their votes — not to vote for the person they actually wish to see elected — but for the person that the pollsters tell them seems to be the most electable, in a posited contest the actual opposite candidate of which has not yet even been chosen.

I am reminded of a story from a few years back of an episcopal election in which the candidate won on the first ballot by an overwhelming majority — much to the amazement of people who, it is said, voted for the candidate not because they thought this was the best person to be bishop, but because the candidate was a very nice person whom people liked and towards whom they wanted to express their fondness.

The fact is, your vote is your vote. None of us has control over anyone else, and using one’s vote as an imagined means to manipulate the outcome of an election or express some secondary opinion about the state of things — beyond the force of one’s own preference — can, quite simply, backfire. The law of unintended consequences is binding on us all.

In any case, this was all running through my mind as I sat down to say the morning office. And what to my wandering mind should appear, in the first verse of the first lesson (Proverbs 27:1)? “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” That seems to say it all, for patriots and Patriots alike. So my word to athletes and voters is: do your best and vote for the person you actually want to see in office; do not allow your expectations or desires to cloud your performance or your judgment.

This has been an unpaid political announcement. And I approve of it.

Tobias Haller BSG

February 2, 2008

Apparently Docetic

In my post of last week I was having a bit of fun when I wrote, "Their teachings aren't really docetic; they just appear to be." But lo and behold through my letterbox today slid the latest issue of The Living Church, with an article by the Reverend Hugh C. Edsall on the foundations of the faith. For a foundational article, it gets off to a shaky start. The first paragraph reads:

Any presentation of elements of the faith needs to begin with two urgent questions: does God exist? Is Jesus Christ God in human nature? If the answer to either of these questions is "no," then the existence of churches and the practice of the Christian religion is in vain. (Emphasis mine.)

The article closes with this assertion:

We further believe that Jesus Christ is precisely who he said he is — God in human form.

Of course, the orthodox teaching is that the divine and human natures are united without confusion in the one person Jesus Christ, and that Jesus was not simply God in human form, but truly God and truly human, Son of God and equally and fully Son of Mary. I certainly don't accuse the author of either confounding the natures or of docetism; any more than I would accuse Gerard Moultrie of doing more than "deriving without his poetic license" on account of his adaptation of an eastern Orthodox liturgy into "Lord of lords in human vesture..." I imagine we are dealing here with slips of the tongue; and that, in both cases the slips are amenable to correction, and the bulk of Fr. Edsall's article attests to his essential orthodoxy, centered, I am happy to say, on the Resurrection. I look forward to the next installments.

However, all of this does go to show that when doing theological writing one can't be too careful, and sticking to the language of the Creeds is the safest course of all! And, saints preserve us, I know I've stumbled into the unintentional theological thicket myself from time to time. Which is one reason blogs have comments...

Tobias Haller BSG

For an interesting discussion of "heresy" in the hymnal from last year, as well as my suggested amendment to Hymn 324 visit Creedal Christian's blog.