December 30, 2009

Thought for 12.30.09

I am struck by how much theories of Natural Law share principal characteristics with Creationism, Phlogiston, and the Lumeniferous Æther... as opposed to Evolution, Thermodynamics, and Relativity.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 28, 2009

Thought for St John's Day '09

The motto on the Compasrose emblem of the Anglican Communion states a timeless concept from John the Divine: "The Truth will make you free." (John 8:32) It is good to remember, in light of an increasing number of assertions and asseverations concerning that Communion, that the inverse is also true: "The Big Lie shall make you slaves."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 25, 2009


Snapped this yesterday and thought it captured a typical view of Saint James Church Fordham... hardly know it's in the midst of a busy Bronx neighborhood, would you? Last night's vigil liturgy was a delight, the warmth of the congregation and the fellowship meal we'd shared earlier in the afternoon offsetting the cold winds outside. We wish all a very blessed Christmastide.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 23, 2009

Another Thought for 12/23/09

It is one thing to bear each other's burdens, and quite another to heap upon others a burden we ourselves are not willing to bear.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
cp. Gal 6.2, Mat 23.4

Thoughts for 12.23.09

For all its casting itself as a model of catholic Christendom, at its worst The Anglican Communion Covenant (TACC) could become a form of lowest common denominationalism. With the capacity for intramural carping and critique a highlight of its discipline, it could become a modern version of the perverse "communion" Paul condemned in Galatians 5:15 — "If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another."

I am all for remaining in fellowship and working together with those with whom I may disagree on this or that — even important thises or thats — but I really do not want to submit the informed judgment of my church to a forum that appears to base its judgments on misinformation, or at least refusal to engage in a close examination of the matters at hand in a dispassionate way.

This is why I prefer a loose federation to a "world church." Given the very extreme differences in cultures and societies, within which any church must live, move and have its being; and given the very different readings of the Gospel itself, informed by history and movements within and against those cultures, it seems unlikely that anything approaching consensus will be reachable, and a world-church struck voiceless, unable to witness within those different societies to the truth of the Gospel as each perceives it. What does it profit us to gain a "world church" at the cost of our true ecclesiastical identity? What does it profit us to gain a Covenant at the cost of the Gospel?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 21, 2009

A Poem from Mimi

On this feast of Thomas the Apostle, friend and sage (though she'll deny it, of course!) Mimi has posted a wise poem about the weakness of the apostolic band, and how much encouragement we can derive from knowing that even the best and greatest are far from perfect. In our pilgrimage of faith (with its doubts and dark moments) this can help to give us strength to continue the journey Godward, knowing we are forgiven by the very God who draws us on.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 18, 2009

Incarnation (?)

The official final version of the Anglican Communion Covenant (as it is now presumptively, not to say presumptuously, called) is now available for adoption or otherwise "entering into."

I've promised some further musings on the Covenant in days leading up to now, and as the final text is abroad I suppose I must put some effort into it. Fighting the ennui of the dim days leading up to the darkest of the year, and word of an impending blizzard, I will observe, in light of the upcoming feast of the Incarnation, that the main problem I have with the Covenant is that it incarnates the very problems it ostensibly is designed to solve. It is self-fulfilling prophecy, putting into turgid church-speak the stunningly obvious fact that those who want to get along with each other will get along without a Covenant, and those who don't want to get along with each other will fail to do so even if there is a Covenant in place.

Thus this whole Covenant business is really a form of adoptionism, rather than a real new incarnation or birth — christening our crises and diagnosing our dilemma without offering any real direction for maturing growth in community or treatment for what ails us — which at this point appears to be a form of auto-immune disease.

Section Four, even after reworking, strikes me as still much too much in the world of the ecclesiastical busybodies and perfectionists, the fixer-uppers of other people's failings, even with its suggested form of DIY discipline, consisting mostly of voluntarily dropping out of participation in aspects of the life of the Communion. That hardly seems churchly, except in the worst sense of Benign Neglect which the English Episcopate brought to a high art in the 19th century. At its worst it suggests too much the other classical English solution of Partition (though voluntary in this case) and so once again paradoxically points us away from each other rather than toward each other or to Godward — the root problem of placing the focus for Communion with each other not in Christ but in our own handcrafted Instruments, on none of which is the varnish even dry.

This is not to say we have no need of institutional structures, but this proposal, for all its lipservice, seems to replace autonomy-in-communion with a kind of heteronomy-in-diffusion, with nothing to keep people together in Christ except their own weak and fallible wills and mild threats of being sent to Coventry. What is really needed, I'll say again as I've said before, is the kind of oikonomy-in-commonality enjoyed by the Benedictines — each household committed to follow a common rule, without any necessary superstructure or power from above apart from that of God's own Holy Spirit. Let the Gospel be our Rule, Baptism our commonality, and our cooperation focused on the needs of the world, not on the maintenance of our structures.

In the long run voluntary discipline doesn't work when it is completely voluntary, does it? Those who are not able or not willing to discipline themselves will not frame themselves to someone else's idea of right and wrong, especially when there are strong differences of opinion at work as to just what is right and wrong. (Appeals to the mind of the Communion beg the question entirely, as the Communion lacks any authoritative instrument to determine what that mind is. Right now it is twitching like a brainless frog. It isn't just that the center cannot hold, but that there is no center. By taking our eyes off of God and Christ in each other we have begun to drift.) And external discipline is useless if its only punitive form (excision) is seen as a reward or at least as no big whoop; and we've seen more than enough of the "you can't fire me; I quit" mentality at work in the Communion (on several sides of our several divides) over the last few years to keep us for a while.

So, in short, I don't see the Covenant "solving" anything but merely putting the seal on the ultimate collapse of the Anglican experiment — or at least this phase of that experiment. This proposal neither preserves the old nor offers something truly new; it merely fixes us in our present state of tension (or "restraint") until time's ever-flowing stream does its work and the slow movement of consensus drags Anglicanism (some of it kicking and screaming) forward a few feet into the reality of a post-Christendom world. By the time it gets there, however, the world will have moved on, and I suspect few will be interested in anything we have to say.

And so... that being said...
Should the member churches adopt it? As I hope I've made clear, at this point I don't see it as accomplishing much of anything, but not damaging too much either. It all just seems so dilatory and passive. I would much rather a missional covenant based on a commitment to work together (come what may, for better or worse in terms of what we like or don't about each other) on common human issues. I suppose I'd rather see a loose federation that accomplishes something rather than a tightly linked communion that does little but obsess over its internal issues.

But as this Covenant will allow for getting back to work once we get it out of the way, signed and filed, perhaps the best thing to do is simply sign on and then be on about our business, as long as it is God's business. It appears, if anybody gets upset with anything anyone does that is "incompatible with the Covenant," the worst that could happen is some unnamed "relational consequence" — but whatever that is could hardly be worse than the current mess of unilateral communion-breaking and interference in the internal affairs of other provinces.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 16, 2009

Thought for 12.16.09

God did not intend the church to be the Busybody of Christ.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 15, 2009

Thought for 12.15.09

The surest way to become a sect is to establish something other than Christ as the focus of your unity or identity.*

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

*like a covenant, the episcopate, the chair of Peter, a confession, national boundaries, a political agenda, a program, a locale, a tradition, a language, a culture, whatever

December 12, 2009

Thought for 12.12.09

If we could all sign the Covenant we wouldn't need one.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
(more on this later...)

December 10, 2009

A Distinction to be Made

I would like to highlight one source of confusion in the present debates on marriage and sexuality (in the classic sense of a mixing together of various things).

That is the subtle distinction between Holy Matrimony and Marriage. The terms really ought not be used interchangeably, though they often are. However, marriage, properly speaking, is a human phenomenon (as part of the creation; and as many believe, thus instituted by God). Even given that source, there is wide variability to the form of marriage in many cultures and countries, through time and space, including the Jewish tradition out of which the Christian tradition grew. In many respects the Christian understanding of marriage was as much influenced by prevailing Roman custom (and law) as it was by Jewish understandings.

Holy Matrimony, or “Christian Marriage” is a particular subset of these various forms of marriage. The Canons of the Episcopal Church (I.18.1) attempt to preserve this distinction, limiting Holy Matrimony to marriages that are “entered into within the community of faith,” that is, within the church. (As a side note, I will point out that the BCP rubric, page 422, allowing “Christian marriage” in which only one of the parties is a Christian, pushes the envelope considerably, and is arguably discordant.)

The Exhortation at the opening of the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage, on the other hand, supports the distinction, noting that “marriage” has existed since the Creation, but that what the assembled body has “come together” for is Holy Matrimony. The Catechism, page 861, continues this clarification by stating, “Holy Matrimony is Christian marriage.” (I will also note that the Catechism is one of the formal elements defining the Doctrine of the Church according to Canon IV.15. This is as “official” as one can get.)

Thus our church recognizes the existence of marriages which do not come under the law of our church as Holy Matrimony. This includes civil marriages as well as the religious marriages of non-Christians. We do not deny the legal reality of civil marriages, nor do we require the members of our church to have been married in a church wedding, or to participate in the “Blessing of a Civil Marriage,” in order to be considered married. (To some extent this reaffirms the ancient doctrine that the ministers of marriage are the couple, and the church serves to witness and bless the marriage.) This is, needless to say, not the case in all Christian traditions, and this is just one more example of the discontinuities that exist between those various traditions.

In the Episcopal Church, clergy are required by Canon I.1.18 to abide by the law of the church concerning Holy Matrimony and the law of the state concerning marriage. Where these are in conflict, it seems to me that preserving the distinction between Holy Matrimony and marriage is a helpful factor in determining what to do — or refrain from doing — in particular cases.

I hope raising this distinction will be helpful in continued discussions of the interaction between church and state, and within the church.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


December 6, 2009

Episcopalections

Yesterday was a busy day for me, leading a retreat at Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia. It wasn't until later in the day, on the snowy ride home, that news came through about the election of two bishops in Los Angeles, and when I reached home, of the election of one in Louisiana. The Louisiana election has been much overshadowed in the church and popular press, but it is, I think, significant that a moderate priest open to developments in the church was elected there. I hope and pray the Bishop-elect Morris Thompson will bring all his pastoral gifts to bear, and serve the people of Louisiana with courage and humility.

Of course, the news that Canon Mary Glasspool was elected in Los Angeles overshadowed even the fact that so too was Canon Diane Jardine Bruce, and that in fact Bruce was elected first. Why? Well, if you don't know, you may perhaps be insensate or very much behind the times. It's the usual thing that grabs headlines these days, and not sex but sexuality. I'm laying odds that the third partnered gay or lesbian bishop to be elected will get much less notice, and so on, until some day the out bishops will be just as much the norm as the closeted ones are now.

Still, the news machine has been in high gear since yesterday, and numerous statements have been issued, including one from the Archbishop of Canterbury, which I can only imagine has been resting on a hard disk somewhere these last few years just waiting to have the name filled in. (The statement was so well composed as to avoid any personal pronouns needing adjustment. Clever...)

I would also suggest that had the Archbishop of Canterbury wished to polarize and demonize at the same time, he has achieved his end neatly. The finger of blame is pointed towards The Episcopal Church as surely as that of the Ghost of Communions Yet to Come.

But given the paradoxical American tendency towards Anglophilia and Independence of Spirit, it is hard to say which way this particular puff of wind will blow our ecclesiastical barque. It may well be that it will pique the orneriness of the liberal wing more than it will curry the concerns of the conservative, with the net effect of assuring confirmation of Canon Glasspool's election — thereby helping to cause the very thing it appears to wish to avoid. Ah, this ecclesiastical brinksmanship and crozier-rattling is a challenge to get just right. All the more ironic since the Archbishop has acknowledged that his silence about Uganda stems from the fear of unintended consequences an intrusive bit of advice from his corner of the globe might cause. He should know by now that Americans can be just as reactive to unwelcome interference from foreign bishops.

But, of course, it may well be he knows that and is more of a Machiavelli than he lets on. The sublimest gift of the master politician is to manipulate to a desired end while appearing to do the opposite. (I might well think that, of course, but he couldn't possibly say that.)

Meanwhile, the Ghost of Communions Past has some good material on offer, and reading through the failures of previous Lambeth Conferences should be helpful in dispelling any reliance on a so-called Mind of the Communion as anything more than affectionate bondage to the spirit of the age, and a little behind the time at that.

The Ghost of Communions Present seems of two minds — and I'm leery of those two boney children under his robe, Ignorance and Want — yes, it's the same two who shelter under the robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present; it's always the same, you know. And just as Dickens's Ghost does nothing about them, but turns to "Man" to do the teaching and provisioning, so too the Ghost of Communions Present turns to us, to combat the ignorance and want of our own day and time (in the present: the only time in which we can do any actual good) instead of worrying ourselves about what bishops — any of them — do in bed.

Will we heed the warning and do something for those children? Or will we continue our obsessive-compulsive game of forging a chain in life to drag about in the historical hereafter, leaving our epitaph engraved for all to see in that stone of witness; the fob and seal, the bed-curtains and nightgown fetching something at the Rag and Bone-Man's shop?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 30, 2009

Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking


MP3 File



This composition has been a labor of love over the last twenty years or so. I eventually hope to create a larger work based on four poems by Walt Whitman — to my mind the supreme American bard — but it is a slow process if I am to do honor to the beauty of his words. Here is the first section of the first section of his powerful seascape, in which he begins to describe how he learned the art of poetry from the bird-muses and the wise refrain of the ocean on the Long Island shore, whispering the ultimate word.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 27, 2009

An Irish Interlude

It was a cool fall evening in the city that constantly grows in size — “because it’s always Dublin.” The light streaming from the pub windows created an island of warmth and welcome. Within, the usuals were in place. Connor the tale-teller stood leaning with his back to the bar, one arm resting on the rim, while the other held his pint aloft. A thin man in his mid-fifties, he had worn many hats in his industrious life — estate agent, salesman, amateur journalist — in all of which his ready wit and smooth tongue had served him well. As he began to speak, most eyes in the pub turned towards him.

“There was once an ancient people ruled by priests. And every year they would hold a great sacrifice out on the plain that spread before their chief city. The priests would select a calf, and slaughter it by slitting its throat, and then butcher it and roast it on a great fire. The people would then be served portions of it — a mout’ful or two at most for each of the lot of them.”

He paused to take a sip of his porter, licked his thin lips, and continued.

“But after many years, the priests grew lax in their duties, and as the population grew the people complained they were not being well served. They demanded a change, and the priests were only too happy to oblige — them havin’ grown weary of the task. And so they devised a way to accomplish the sacrifice with minimal burden to themselves.”

He paused again, this time to take a last long draught from the pint. His Adam’s apple bobbed in his skinny throat at each swallow. He then set the emptied pint on the bar, and with a demure gesture declined another. The denizens of the pub leaned expectantly closer.

“Now listen what I’m tellin’ you,” he continued. “The priests would sprinkle the calf with spirits, and set it alight with a torch, and shoo it off into the crowd of worshippers. And they’d each have a knife or a blade of some sort, and as the poor beast ran wild, they would poke and hack at it until it was dead, and then they’d cut off a bit and have their mout’ful of the sacrifice.”

“The sons of bitches,” a loud voice boomed from the far end of the pub. The crowd turned their attention from Connor to the large, stooped man seated at a table by himself. Before him were a handful of dead soldiers: five empty whiskey glasses. “The sons of bitches,” he intoned again. Suddenly aware that he had drawn the attention of the crowded pub, he raised his reddened eyes to gaze on them with a mixture of accusation and appeal.

“The priests and brothers — what they did to those children in their care. Hophni and Phinheas, I tell you, Hophni and Phinheas. And the bishops are as bad if not worse. An Eli every one of ’em, turnin’ a blind eye, and coverin’ up when they oughta’d rooted out the evil from their midst. There’ll be hell to pay, I tell you.”

The crowd shifted uneasily in the silence. Connor began slowly to make his way toward the door.

“It used to be said that Ireland was the old sow that ate her farrow,” the burly man continued. He clenched the edge of the table with his outstretched arms. “But it was never Ireland. It was the church; it was always the church. Damn them to hell. Damn them all to hell.”

Connor, by this time, was at the door and soon out on the quiet street. A light rain, more a mist than rain, was falling. The street-lamp opposite, with its rain-born halo, seemed to him to be held out in benediction. “Damn them all to hell,” he said, as he turned to walk into the darkness.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 27, 2009

with thanks to the spirit of James Joyce, which appears to have paid a call in the wee hours of this morning


November 23, 2009

Thought for 11.23.09

The Manhattan Declaration* gives me one more reason to be glad I live in the Bronx.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

* to which I will not link as I have no wish to give it any more notice than it deserves, which is to say, none.

November 21, 2009

She woke one morning

For all women diminished and debased
by culture, cult or clan

She woke one morning only to find
that her mouth had disappeared.
She could no longer eat,
but wasn't feeling very hungry.
She could no longer speak,
but then, no one had ever listened
when she spoke.
And so she lived a little while
much as she had lived before:
starving,
silent and
ignored.

—Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
November 21, 2009

November 13, 2009

More on the DC situation

Perhaps the saddest thing in all this is the failure of the Archdiocesan leadership to make use of a commonplace of Roman Catholic ethics (the so-called Principle of Double Effect) to free themselves of the concerns that they are "supporting gay marriage" if they have to provide health-care benefits to same-sex spouses. If the intent is simply to provide employee benefits neutrally to all employees (as the civil law requires) any alleged "support" for gay marriage is incidental and it becomes an ethical non-issue.

The failure of the Archdiocese to make consistent use of this principle, which is long enshrined in official Roman Catholic teaching, is precisely what I mean by a disorder in thinking and application. The way around an ethical dilemma is there, ready to be put to use.

Moreover, the fair treatment of employees is, as a biblical and ethical principle, at least as foundational as the Roman Catholic reading of sexual morality, and thus an ideal candidate for the Double Effect principle, whereby an unintended evil can be accepted (if not ideal) in the interest of an intended good. The failure to make use of this principle is only exacerbated by the not-so-subtle threat from the Archdiocese to drop out of social service provision if it is forced to comply with the law.

It seems to me the Archbishop of Washington needs a good Jesuit lawyer.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 12, 2009

Thought for 11.12.09

One of the tragic discontinuities in the Western Christian Tradition, since Augustine anyway, is the notion that the universe at hand (that is, as we know it) is simply not as it ought to be. This offers a neat way to avoid any data that might actually be at our disposal in favor of unrealized (and unrealizable) idealistic hopes and dreams. That this worldview is not one Jesus would have comprehended ('the kingdom is among you') is bypassed in the interests of privileging some of what is "natural" over and against other things equally "natural" (but deemed "fallen"). And the choice is sometimes quite arbitrary, depending on whose cow is sacred, and whose ox is gored.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Those were the days....

When will the Roman Church wake up to the fact that it exists, in this country at least, in a pluralistic society where, while it is free to teach whatever it chooses anywhere and everywhere, it is not free in the public sector to infringe the rights of others, and to the extent it enters that public sphere has certain responsibilities to the whole public? Henry IV at the gates of Canossa in 1077 was a long while ago — and expecting civil society to toe your line borders on the fantastic, and it isn't going to get any better. Meaner and leaner seems to be the forecast.

Thus the Archdiocese of Washington whines that due to what they regard as insufficient "protection" for religious institutions in the DC gay-marriage law:

...[R]eligious organizations and individuals are at risk of legal action for refusing to promote and support same-sex marriages in a host of settings where it would compromise their religious beliefs. This includes employee benefits, adoption services and even the use of a church hall for non-wedding events for same-sex married couples. Religious organizations such as Catholic Charities could be denied licenses or certification by the government, denied the right to offer adoption and foster care services, or no longer be able to partner with the city to provide social services for the needy.

The idea that employee benefits required by law represent the "promotion" of anything other than simple justice is ludicrous. Employees are, as the church teaches, all sinners in one way or another, and paying them a fair wage with benefits need not be seen as the promotion of their sins, whatever they may be. I'm not aware that the Romans require their secular employees to be Roman Catholic, or even Christian, let alone to be free from sin, or regularly to be shriven prior to payday — though I know in some cases (religious school teachers) they don't want them to be gay or divorced, and I believe may well continue to maintain such restrictions.

As to adoption, the Romans are already on record that they'd rather have children go unadopted than go to gay or lesbian parents, so there's nothing new there. How this squares with "true religion" as James described it is another matter.

As to renting the hall ("even"!) — well, yes, if you rent your hall as a public facility for secular use you might well be in trouble with the law if you refuse to rent to someone in violation of anti-discrimination laws. Still, renting the hall is hardly promotion of anything that takes place in the hall, or the beliefs of the renters, is it? The fact is that if you wish to dabble in the secular realm (as a landlord taking people's money for the use of your hall) you will have to get real and be welcome to the civil society. You are, of course, entirely free to reserve your church hall for religious uses — which the law fully protects.

Finally, the veiled threat to find itself unable any longer to reach out to the needy in collaboration with the secular realm is a particularly low ethical posture. Whatever happened to not letting your left hand know what the right is doing? Is there something immoral with feeding the hungry or clothing the naked if they are gay or lesbian?

The Roman Archdiocese seems to suggest so. Frankly, this tired and manipulative ploy is well past its sell-by date, when Rome used to be able to call the shots for the secular society. The leadership of the Roman Church continues to show itself not only to be behind the times, but to be morally and ethically disordered. Objectively disordered, at that, for it is one thing just to be unethical or immoral, but for a church to be so, as in this case, is at odds with its "object."

Let me add that I have considerable respect for many individual Roman Catholics, including some in the leadership, but the recent antics many of the leaders, in many spheres, leads me to wonder how much longer this will go on. (I'm told that the Prophecy of Malachy provides for only one more pope after Benedict XVI, before the final fall of Rome.) I'd hate to see the lights go out with lean and mean as the watchwords — somehow just doesn't sound like what Jesus wants, does it?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 9, 2009

Engagement

As you can see, I'm on the panel for this event next Sunday afternoon. I plan to speak a bit on the issue of the entanglement of church and state, which I see as a major part of the Fog (sometimes more like a Stephen King "Mist") that seems to descend on otherwise sane and sober minds when this topic comes up.

It seems evident to me that the independence of civil and religious marriage is simply a norm -- at least if one is speaking of any particular religion or state. Marriages exist in many forms in many cultures, some with religious overtones and some not, and in some cases they are mutually exclusive. That is, marriages that might be recognized in some civil societies aren't in others, and the same goes for religious marriages and religions. There is simply no "one size fits all" including perhaps most especially the "one man / one woman" model, which is just one of many forms of marriage.

The entanglement in the US is particularly troublesome, and I imagine it to be in part a by-product of our English colonial heritage. At the time of the Revolution, English Law (Lord Hardwicke's Act) required all couples to be married in the Church of England with the sole exceptions of Jews and Quakers. This law was on the books from 1753 through the middle of the 19th century, and was a scandal for Roman Catholics and Nonconformists alike, and many quite rightly said, "I'll be damned if I'm going to get married by an English Vicar!"

It is still something of a mystery to me why the US for the most part retained this vestige of the Establishment after the American Revolution, allowing clergy of whatever sect to function as civil officials. As to the French Revolution, I presume you know that that unfortunate movement led at length to a strict separation of these powers, and in many nations influenced by the Napoleonic Code one may marry in church but such marriage isn't recognized by the state unless one is also married through the civil authorities.

I am all for freedom of religion in this regard. But at this point I am increasingly irritated with the movements by Roman Catholics and Mormons in places like California and Maine to intrude their religious beliefs beyond their own membership and meddle in the lives of citizens who want nothing to do with their belief systems. Perhaps this is payback for Lord Hardwicke's Act after all. But I've had enough of this exercise of the libido dominandi -- the root of all evil in attempting to dominate others to ones own parochial views.

Opposition to same-sex marriage on any grounds is heterosexist by definition, just as opposition to mixed-race marriage on any grounds is racist. Both are irrational, and within the next quarter century, I believe more will have come to see heterosexism's intellectual impoverishment and moral bankruptcy, as we have with racism.

Tobias Stanislas Haller

November 8, 2009

An Honor to Be Here

This has been a busy weekend. I'd heard in the late summer that I had been promoted to the rank of Officer in the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem (read more at the Saint John website). The investiture was yesterday, and the snap above (grabbed by Millard Cook) is just after the Prior "pinned" me and I stepped aside, assisted by Confrère Barbara Hayward). The Order is all terribly British (revived by Victoria, now led by Elizabeth II, active in England primarily in support of St John's Ambulance). We sang God Save the Queen as part of the celebration, which took place at the recently refurbished Cathedral Church of St John the Divine (not the John of the order, who is the Baptist.) The American Priory, which is growing in numbers (and invested not a few new members, officers, commanders, knights and dames yesterday) has taken the St John's Eye Hospital in Jerusalem (and its branches in the area) under its wing as a particular project, which gives us a strong connection to the original foundation of the Hospitallers. (And, as Americans, we sang The Star Spangled Banner, too, as well as Jerusalem, My Happy Home).

The Englishy bits give me something to look forward to when I am next in London, as the St John's Museum in Clerkenwell (at the site of the medieval foundation, dissolved by that other English monarch Henry VIII) should be open once more after some additional recent renovations. Meanwhile, the events of the weekend surrounding St John's were a treat, and it was a delight to see old friends and meet a few new ones.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

October 30, 2009

Popular Religion: Risk and Opportunity

"Popular religion" is very much a part of our culture, and that includes our churches. I can guarantee that if you were to scratch the surface of many members of your congregations, and not a few clergy and bishops, you might find some rather astonishing theological opinions, especially concerning such things as the "life of the world to come."

I know this tension between popular religion and dogmatic orthodoxy also exists in the Roman Catholic Church -- alongside the dogma a very rich personal and popular devotional life thrives, and it is not always "orthodox" in its underpinnings. (I can remember the nun who told our Catechism Class about the salvific value of a mother's tears, carried by an angel to the Virgin Mary who put it in the scale to weigh it against the wicked heart of the distraught mother's son! Talk about unconscious syncretism — that even resonates with the Egyptian Book of the Dead!)

Perhaps this is in part a result of being heirs of an established church (whether legally or culturally — so that includes "big" churches like the Roman Catholic, and Lord knows that there is plenty of "popular religion" in countries where the Roman Catholic Church is dominant). I suspect as well this may happen in liturgical (rather than confessional) churches a bit more frequently. People become used to being part of the church's worship, its general atmosphere as opposed to official doctrines, and it may or may not touch their lives otherwise beyond The Three Sacred Elements of the Transitional Rites (you know, Water, Rice, and Earth in the Hatch, Match and Dispatch role the church has so long taken.)

In the long run I approach this in much the way C.S. Lewis did: which is to ask, How much worse off might such people be — even with their less than perfect grasp of the doctrinal rudiments of the faith — if they were not exposed to the church at all? And so we clergy keep on hatching, matching and dispatching — but I hope in as honest and rich and faith-filled a way as possible, not giving into the temptation to substitute popular pious platitudes for the sometimes hard doctrine. We are not, after all, a society of perfect people, but pilgrims. As long as the guides keep their heads on straight, not giving in to the sentiment that passes for faith, we will be moving in the right direction, under the shadow of our banner, the Cross of Christ.

But that takes perseverance — the "popular" course is popular for a reason —it's easier. A few weeks ago, Archbishop Barry Morgan delivered the Hobart Lecture here in the Diocese of New York. One of his themes was clerical honesty: especially in times of loss and tragedy resisting those pious platitudes that are so easy and attractive and tempting; and which reaffirm those troubling aspects of sentimental and popular religion. What does "He's gone to a better place..." have to do with the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the dead? As Morgan challenged, is it really at all true that "God never gives us trouble without giving us the strength to bear it..." when we are surrounded by evidence to the contrary?

I commend the lecture to you -- it is good, bracing, reading and touches on this whole question of sentimental religion vs. a faith that can face the facts.

Peace and joy, and a Glorious All Saints Day upcoming! (I've got three rounds of Water to deal with three of the newly Hatched!)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

October 28, 2009

An Aspect of the Nature of the Church

In Light of Approaching All Saints Day

There is continued discussion in some circles about the relationship between a church as a body and the various members who make it up — a discussion no doubt started by Saint Paul!

Richard Hooker once observed,

The Church is always a visible society of men; not an assembly, but a Society... Assemblies are properly rather things that belong to a Church. Men are assembled for performance of public actions; which actions being ended, the assembly dissolveth itself and is no longer in being, whereas the Church which was assembled doth no less continue afterwards than before. (Laws III.I.14)

That is, the structures of the society endure even as different individuals take part in the assembly of that society from time to time. Congress is still congress, regardless of the change in party majorities, and of the actual senators and representatives seated. And a parish is still a parish regardless of the fact that, for instance, none of the founding members of Saint James Church Fordham in 1853 are still active members!

Like the cells of ones own body, which die and are replaced, while each of us still is who we think we are as a continuing entity, a person with an identity that survives the change in our actual substance — the church goes on, living a life not entirely its own: With saints below and saints above, some having crossed the stream, some crossing now, and some with their feet unmoistened yet!

This is also why the notion of transforming our wonderful communion-in-diversity into a kind of patchwork of special-interest-chapters-in-affinity is such a terrible step backwards. The big tent is so much more, while still imperfect, a vision of what we are called to be, than the proliferation of franchise outlets (or ‘tiers’ or ‘tracks’) into which we might further devolve.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

October 26, 2009

Thoughts for 10.26.09

On the Global South Steersmen's View of Rome and Hopes for a Disciplinary Covenant

Continued bluffing after the cards have been played is an ineffective strategy. Les jeux sont faits.

i.e., had all y'all bided your time instead of launching your own forays contrary to the Covenant's intent, your urging the Covenant might persuade. You cannot pretend still to be playing chess after knocking the board over, or in this case, imagine White can win by purloining a few of Red's pieces before the game begins.

Sorry for all the game analogies, but it really does seem to be a game, doesn't it? Played with human lives...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

October 23, 2009

Yorkshire Suite

This composition for small orchestra is based on a series of tunes I composed in the early 70s to serve as the incidental music for a production of D. H. Lawrence’s "The Daughter in Law" directed by John Pasquin at the McCarter Theater in Princeton. Then it was for solo bass recorder, here it is reimagined as perhaps an overture in two short movements. The tunes are original (as far as I know) and were written after some time immersing myself in North of England folk music. The play, a tragicomedy, was itself a composite of ups and downs, a world of morris dances and dirges. Enjoy.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

MP3 File

October 21, 2009

Teachers to Ones Liking

Perhaps the strangest response to the recent Roman Catholic offer of transition and incorporation for disaffected Anglicans is this from the group Reform. They alert us at the head of their site that they very rarely issue press releases, so this is a rarity. Perhaps a second draft might have been advised, to avoid the apparent disconnect between the two final paragraphs (emphasis mine):

“If priests really are out of sympathy with the C of E’s doctrine (as opposed to the battles we are having over women’s ministry and sexuality), then perhaps it is better they make a clean break and go to Rome. However, when they do, they will have to accommodate themselves to Rome’s top-down approach to church life, whereas the C of E has always stressed the importance of decision making at the level of the local church.
“It is illusory to pretend that this development is an outcome of ecumenical dialogue. It illustrates the difficulties the C of E faces and the need for stronger leadership, rather than the ‘softly softly’ approach so far taken to those holding liberal views who are splitting the church.

So, let me get this straight, or at least decently and in order: Top-down is that unpleasant Romish thing, and local discernment the English, but the problem with the C of E is that very lack of a top-down imposition of control from the leadership. Which leads me to suspect that if Rome actually enforced all that the Reform folk agreed with, they too would fly to her bosom.

Which is just another example of "I like strong leaders and tough enforcement when I agree with it" — the tautology of tyranny and the unassailable rule of private conscience writ large.

No thanks. I'll stick with subsidiarity, even when it's upside-down.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

October 20, 2009

There’s No Place Like Rome...

The news appears adequately to have been aired abroad, but in case you haven't heard, the Vatican has issued an Apostolic Constitution providing an expedited course for Anglicans who want to become Roman Catholic en masse and retain some of their distinctively Anglican liturgy — and clergy. There are scads of links to various reactions at Thinking Anglicans and Episcopal Café. I've not yet found a link to, and hence have not read, the actual document in question, so my comments at this point are provisional. But in the best spirit of modern journalism, I do have a few general observations, and the facts can always be dealt with retroactively.

In spite of the press coverage and the cries of alarm or celebration in some circles, this "hydrofoil across the Tiber" is not an entirely new thing. In the United States at least, congregations along with their priests have occasionally made a transition to being Anglican Use Roman Catholics. The present offer seems closer to a Uniate arrangement, rather more ordinary than exceptional, with a tad more polish than the usual slightly used congregation.

Although married male priests appear to be part of this proposal, it doesn't appear that married male bishops are going to be allowed. That, it seems to me, will thin the flow of the exodus somewhat, at least the purple end of the pond. It also seems very likely that reordination or at least conditional ordination will be required for the priests (and deacons).

Some have wondered at Rowan Williams’ apparent calm acceptance of this new phenomenon. It appears he was not aware it was in the offing. This is strange since the proposal from the "Traditional Anglican Communion" has been talked about for some years, and it appears that the Vatican’s response, although it may seem sudden to the unprepared, is really not all that startling if you've paid close attention to what they've been saying about Anglicans over the last decade or so. Which is to say, as always, “The light is still on and you are always welcome to come home.”

I think three things may factor into the Archbishop's relatively calm response: First, what's he supposed to do? Second, this may well thin the ranks of some of the more forceful and tiresome opponents of the ordination of women to the episcopate, and obviate the need for the dehumanizing (and rather “federated”) scheme currently on the table in the Church of England. Third, he may finally have experienced the sobering reality that dialogue with Rome always has been in truth a one-sided exercise.

More can, and no doubt will, be said before long. I look forward to seeing the actual text of the official document. In the meantime, I imagine many of the most Romeward-looking Anglican clergy are now considering if they are willing to put their stipend where their mouth is, and do what they've so often said they would do if only they could. As Dorothy learned, of course, they always had the power to do so, as indeed many had, individually, before them. Just click the heels of the ruby slippers three times and say, "There's no place like Rome; there's no place like Rome; there's no place like..." And Anglicanism they will say, was just a colorful dream populated with familiar figures.

May they find peace in their new abode. I prefer this side of the Tiber Rainbow.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

October 15, 2009

Engagements

I have two speaking engagements coming up in the near future, for anyone interested. Next Monday, October 19, 2009, at 7:00 pm I'll be at Saint Luke in the Fields in Manhattan kicking off a series of three sessions about General Convention. I'll be talking about the legislative process and the impact of D025 and C056. As well as General Convention in general.

Then in early December there's this:

“Getting the Word (of God) Out”
Speaking the Unspeakable

Meditations by Br. Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Join us for a quiet day of reflection and prayer
before the frenzy of the season has a chance to draw you
away from the true work of Advent!

Saturday, December 5, 2009
9:00am to 3:00pm
Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church
1625 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103-6388
www.saintmarksphiladelphia.org
(215) 735-1416


Sponsored by The Brotherhood of Saint Gregory-Province II
and St Mark’s Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, PA

Thoughts for 10.15.09

The Blogosphere as Schul
It seems to me that much of our discussion, on a number of topics, has taken on an almost Talmudic quality, in which any given thesis or concept is surrounded by a halo of commentary and commentary on commentary — much of it in the interlinked realm of the Internet rather than the printed page. In the midst of this sometimes polemical but always expanding web of conversation, what are we to make of those who want a simple black-and-white up-or-down answer to the underlying question? Perhaps the best answer to the unanswerable is to hedge it about with every possibility, in the hope that a pattern might emerge?

Actus Purus
Think of God not only as Being Itself or the Ground of Being, but also as Potentiality Itself; not as a Thing or even the Best Thing or even just the Source of all Things, but also the origin of even the Possibility of Thinginess. This gets us away from Nobodaddy and the God Rejected by Dawkins, but also and to an important extent even somewhat away from the God of Scholasticism. As with the former thought, this is also about hedging about the Unknown with the Merely Known.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

October 14, 2009

Post 600: Some thoughts on Health Care

I'm going out on a limb to run a few thoughts up the proverbial flagpole on the whole Health Care issue. These are in no particular order -- just consider them theses for thought, rather than a list of credenda:

It isn't really about health care (the provision of medical services), it is about health insurance (handling the costs of health care), and who should manage it.

The best health care in the world is no good to you if you can't afford it.

There is no "joint ownership of the means of production" because health care isn't a product, but a service. Insurance is also a service, though it has been more efficiently monetized.

Health insurance, by its nature, is also "socialized" in that it is a cost-sharing mechanism in which people pool resources through "premiums" so that there is a spread of cost. Whether the money is going to the government or to an insurer is not really relevant, except to the extent that administrative costs or profit come into the picture. The difference between insurance premiums and taxes lies largely in their relative lack of proportionality to the capacity to pay.

Since almost everyone either gets sick or injured at some point in life, a system to share the cost of health care is logical.

In insurance, a portion of the "premium" is eaten up by the system -- in administration or profit (on top of any administrative costs or profit to those actually providing the service of health care). Money that could go to patient-care is actually going to insurer-care. This actually adds to the total cost of health-care, and the burden on all who are insured, rather than lessening it.

As I note, these are just some thoughts that have been rumbling about my mind for the last few days. Frankly I don't see what all the horror about socialized medical care is about, except as a kind of "religious" issue for those opposed to anything "pink."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

October 12, 2009

Thought for 10.12.09

Leaders are not always in the position to govern, and governors don't always lead.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG, reflecting both on the phenomenon of bishops becoming prophetic in retirement, and the fact that the laity, the Holy People of God, sometimes (perhaps often) lead the church more effectively than the hierarchy

October 10, 2009

Night on the Town


Fellow-blogger Grandmère Mimi was in town for a brief visit and James and I went out for drinks and dinner to the famous Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station. This is my first visit there in about forty years. It was a true treat, to visit with Mimi and enjoy a meal together. That's her at the left, me at the right, and James in the midst. And yes, the camera makes us all look fatter than we are, even after a hearty meal!

Peter Feeds His Sheep

Bishop Peter Selby has presented a superb reality check — bracing as a brisk Beaufort five — in response to the Archbishop of Canterbury's post-General Convention reflection. (I have to admit that the publication of such essays as Selby’s delay my own response, as I find words and ideas preempted and stated better than I could hope.)

In any case, it seems to me that Bishop Peter expertly demythologizes three of the primary myths of the Rowanian Mythos (the Rowanogion?):

  • that merely deploring homophobia functions as a talisman or prophylactic against performing homophobia
  • that mutual recognition and consensus lie at the heart of communion, as opposed to communion being the safe context in which disagreement can exist because of mutual love and respect, and as a consequence of this supposedly necessary consensus
  • that it is necessary for the Anglican Communion to be able to speak with a single voice in its relations with other traditions, churches, and communions

Bishop Peter ably deconstructs these highly questionable propositions, and gently (in that British self-effacing way) reveals them for the half-truths they are. I will only at this point add to the undermining of the third by noting that The Episcopal Church has been quite capable of undertaking significant ecumenical dialogues apart from any supposed universal Anglican Teaching — with the Lutherans and the Moravians. (And does Rowan really believe that dialogue with Rome is anything other than what it has always been — and that whether Anglicans speak with one voice or not is immaterial, as the rock against which all such ventures run aground is the heir of that other Peter? Any or all Anglicans makes no difference, if they cannot submit to Petrine doctrinal and ecclesiastical supremacy. That is a defining teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, and she is not about to bend on such a fundamental doctrine crucial to her identity. The current incumbent of Peter's Chair has been very clear that doctrinal uniformity is central to the Roman notion of what it means to be a church. Anglicans adopting the same principle — contrary to our history and ecclesiology — will be of no avail to-Rome-wards if the doctrines themselves differ in detail.)

Meanwhile, some, perhaps correctly, see Bishop Peter's comments as aimed at the proposed Anglican Covenant. I see them more as addressing concern over "the Covenant via Rowan" — that is, not the Covenant as a text delivered as it were de novo but rather one that has emerged from a process so full of spin and intention, in particular from some of the authors of the earlier drafts, that it will never be free of spin and second guessing, under hermeneutics of deeply suspicious pedigree. However much persons such as I might want to see the Covenant as a way to hang together, and work through our differences, this may not be possible. The "our" is in my mind the set of those who can tolerate differences of opinion and continue to work together. Others (such as the ACI+Wright) want the consensus first, so that only those who already agree about everything important will be in this new and peaceable communion. This is where Selby's concerns about "two tracks" come in: for if consensus is to be the Shibboleth for admission to the Covenanted Communion, what really is the point? Likemindedness, mutual recognition, uniformity, univocality -- these are all very nice things, but as Iris Murdoch reminded us, there is a huge gap between the Nice and the Good.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

October 5, 2009

Truest Life

A sermon from Saint James Church Fordham

Proper 22b 2009 • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
For the man there was not found a helper as his partner.+

The second chapter of the Book of Genesis presents us with a marvelous example of God’s generosity and care, and the extent to which God’s children have the responsibility to make decisions, and how God abides by those decisions once they are made.

You no doubt remember the events that lead up to the events described in our reading from Genesis today. God created Adam from the clay of the riverbank, breathing into him the divine life and spirit. And God planted the beautiful garden of Eden, and placed Adam in it, to tend it and care for it as God’s gardener. And God looked down upon this peaceful creation and instead of smiling at its goodness, frowned slightly and shook his head a little. And for the first time in the whole narrative up to that point God said that something was not good.

And what was that? Was it something God had made? No; it was something yet unfinished, something yet to be made. “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” And taking more clay, the same stuff he’d made Adam from, God set to work.

Now, this next part of the story is something many people forget, so I’m glad it was included in this morning’s reading. For what was it that God made out of that additional clay? Not another human being, but rather all of the animals of the field and the birds of the air. And God brought all of these creatures to Adam, for Adam to name, approve and accept. But Adam did not find among them a helper meet or suitable to be his partner.

Only then did God put Adam to sleep and take, not more clay this time, but some of Adam’s very own body, to make for him a helper suitable to be his partner, one like himself. And Adam recognized this kinship immediately, and rejoiced that at last here was one like him, another human being, one who could truly be called his mirror image, bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh.

The wonderful thing about this narrative is that God gave Adam such respect, and abided by Adam’s judgment as to who in all creation was to be his helper and partner, one truly like himself. God did not force Adam to be content to live alone as a solitary hermit in a garden. God did not force Adam to be happy with just the animals to keep him company. God did not take offense when Adam shook his head at all of these other creatures, and found none to be a suitable partner for him. God did not force Adam to accept them, and didn’t get offended and say, “Who do you think you are to turn down what God has provided.”

Rather God allowed Adam the freedom to choose the one who was like himself, his own flesh and blood, as a partner and a helper. God used no force in this: but allowed freedom, revealing, as our Gospel hymn said, that “force is not of God.”

+ + +

Well, you know the rest of the story. Adam and Eve lived in the garden only for a short time. One of those animals Adam had rejected as an unsuitable helper and partner perhaps didn’t take too kindly to the rejection. It was the creature God made with some of the leftover clay, the kind of animal any child knows is the easiest thing to make with a lump of clay — just as the Gary Larson cartoon shows God at his work table rolling out the snake and saying, “Gee, these things are a cinch!” Cinch it might be, but it opened up a whole can of worms! The serpent wriggled in and did his dirty work, sowing the seeds of discontent and pride, taunting with the fear of death, tempting with the promise of divinity, leading Adam and Eve to disobedience. The serpent dangled temptation before them, and they bit.

And so the caretakers got evicted from the garden. And for thousands of years human beings continued to stumble about in their ignorance and pride. Humanity lived under the fear of death, yet unable to escape it, no matter what they did, alternately sinned against and sinning, unable to find righteousness even though God tried time and time again to show them how, by giving them the Law and inspiring the preaching of the Prophets.

God would not, you see, simply force people to be good, any more than God forced Adam to accept Eve. God wanted people to be good from the inside, good from the heart, not just coated over with a whitewash of proper behavior, but deeply loving, deeply just, deeply free — and deeply responsible for the choices they made in that love, justice and freedom.

Just as God had a few false starts in creation, so too there were false starts in this re-creation. God first gave the people a law written in stone, and the people disobeyed it and rejected it. God sent the people prophets, but they ignored them or mistreated them. God gave the people kings and most of the kings turned out to be worse than the people!

But finally, in the fullness of time, God decided to do something similar to what he had done way back in Eden. God would not this time send the Law. God would not send a prophet. God would not send a king, at least not the kind of king people were used to. God would not even send an angel.

God would instead give to humankind one who was human, a human being like Adam himself, but one who was also divine, one who was God incarnate. God would choose incarnation — being made flesh — our flesh.

So as of old when God took the raw material from a human being, from Adam, this time God took from the flesh of a young woman named Mary all that was needed to make the one who was for a little while to be made a lower than the angels, one not ashamed to call men and women his sisters and brothers, for he shared the same human flesh as they — as we. “He sent him down as sending God; in flesh to us he came; as one with us he dwelt with us, and bore a human name.”

+ + +

The human name he bore is Jesus, which means Savior. The divine name he bore is Emmanuel, which means God is with us. He was and is our Saving God who is with us, who shared with us in mortality and pain, shared the weakness of human flesh, so that he might redeem and save that human flesh. He suffered death so that he might destroy death for ever, and destroy the one who, as the Letter to Hebrews says, had the power of death, the same devil who ages before had snaked his way in, to ensnare and enslave humanity by their fear of death.

Jesus, our Savior and our God, is also our brother, for he taught us to call his Father our Father. We who share in the flesh of Adam also share — through Jesus — in the Spirit of God. The old serpent can do nothing to us any longer if we do not let him. He’s done his best to do his worst, and he failed utterly when Jesus broke the power of death and was raised to life again. And we who are united with Jesus in his death, are also given the power to rise with him in his life.

We can still refuse God’s offer. God respects our freedom too much to force us to follow the path he so desires for us. And there are those who would rather listen to a serpent’s lies than to God’s own truth. There are still some so possessed by their fear of death that they have forgotten how to live. We look at a world in which we see that all things are not under human control — disease, crime, famine, and injustice still seem to rule. Some seek long life or wealth, or pleasure or fame, but rarely find lasting happiness. But we also see Jesus, the human one who suffered, the human one who died, who gave up everything and yet who through the power of God triumphed over everything, and now is exalted over all things.

We too can confront all the shallow promises of the world, promises offered in the devil’s accent, to find that none of these things will answer our deepest need. In none of these things can we find our true and final happiness whatever the snake may say to the contrary. It is only in Jesus — God from God, light from light, true God from true God, that we recognize our own truest human self — the perfect image of humanity made after God’s own image and likeness. God offers us the option, and will not force us to choose life rather than death. God invites us to find our truest life in him, and has shown us the way, but he will not force us on that path.

In this is our hope, our freedom, and our challenge. As we make our choices, let us always remember the promise of our Gospel hymn, and choose rightly:“Not to oppress, but summon all their truest life to find, in love God sent his Son to save, not to condemn mankind.”+


October 3, 2009

The Coinherent Bishop

An online conversation with a bishop, friend, and colleague sparked a few thoughts about ministry, particularly the ministry of bishops. What I will say here applies to all of the "ordered" ministries of bishop, priest, and deacon, but also to the wider ministry of the whole people of God. Indeed, my fundamental thesis is that no ordered ministry properly functions apart from the people of God.

Drawing on the language of Trinitarian theology, one can say that any ordained ministry is coinherent with the other ordained ministries and with the ministry of the faithful. For the purposes of this brief reflection, I will focus on the episcopate, and its coinherence with the church. Certainly we've had enough of incoherent bishops of late, from the abreactions of Durham to the megalomania of Pittsburgh, as well as somewhat less than pellucid prose from the chair of Augustine.

The bishop is, first and foremost, also a priest and deacon — one of the best arguments against per saltum ordination lies in this coinherent reality. That is, the bishop exercises both the gathering and teaching ministries of the priesthood, as well as the missional and prophetic ministries of the diaconate — and note as well that all of these ministries subsist in relation to the whole people of God: calling together the assembly which is the church (the ekklesia), teaching and convicting them and leading them in prayer with boldness and spirit, and sending them forth to do the work of God in the power of that self-same Spirit. It all hangs together.

Or it hangs separately, as Franklin observed. For when any of the ordered ministers of the church takes it into his or her mind to be a loner, unless their witness is ratified by the Spirit acting in the life of the church, repenting as they did at the sign of Jonah (his preaching), the very singularity of the act, and the lack of reception, reveals the misguidedness of the solitary or schismatical motion.

This is one of the reasons that episcopal acts, even those undertaken by a validly consecrated bishop, are of no effect if exercised apart from the church. The "power" or authority of a bishop is not a personal power exercised for the church, but the corporate power of the whole church exercised through that person. This relates to the doctrines of the Incarnation and Atonement. As William Law pointed out, Christ did not suffer and die in our place (that is, we still all suffer and die) but for our sakes. He did this having assumed unto himself all of human nature; that is, our flesh and blood, from the womb of his Blessed Mother. He was not simply a representative human, but all of humanity itself, human Being itself, together with God's Being in one person.

So too with the ministers of the church, perhaps especially bishops who are called upon in many circumstances to be the voice of the church to the larger world (though I note that this is a ministry they share with deacons, and still as deacons, priests), it is vital they recall that they speak in the church's true accent, rather than merely their own. The bishop is coinherent with the whole body of the church, and acts not in its place, but as its instrument. One of the positive notes in the proposed Ridley-Cambridge draft of an Anglican Covenant, is the recognition of the role of bishop's personal ministry not only in Synod, but "collegially and within and for the eucharistic community." (3.1.2-3) The bishop is not a monarch, but a minister. His or her "power" is not magical and individual, but derives entirely from the larger church of which she or he is an integral part and organ. Otherwise it would be Harry Potter instead of Henry Potter!

The bishop acting outside or apart from the church as an episcopus vagans is like an electric fan unplugged from its source of power. Its blades may show some signs of movement in a strong wind, but are of no effect in actually generating a breeze. And the same is true of any minister, ordered or lay, who amputated from the body of fellow-believers attempts still to function as an organ of the body.

We are, in the long run, all in this together. Lone wolves go hungry. And shepherds are nothing without their sheep.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 28, 2009

Thought for 09.28.09

Fruits and Consequences

There was an interesting short news story on NPR this morning concerning the drying-up of the Mesopotamian paradise long thought to be the historic background to the Garden of Eden. And it got me thinking whether the tale in Genesis 3-4 doesn't preserve an authentic memory — not of a change in location, but of climate.

Moreover, it strikes me that even if human interaction with the Garden didn't lead to its drying-up — though perhaps there is a hint in Cain's metier as a "tiller of the ground" and the movement from hunter-gatherer to agriculturalist linked with the end of Eden — it strikes me that in our contemporary situation it is precisely our recent treatment of our "island home" that is rendering our being kicked off the island all the more likely.

We have plucked many fruits from the soil of this world, and may within the next century reap the harvest due to those who slash and burn. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, fruit for fruit, and "fire next time" in a slow bake, and hunger sore. Thus famine follows intemperate feast.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 26, 2009

The Upside-downity of Subsidiarity

I've been thinking more about the proposed Covenant and Archbishop Rowan's post-GC Reflections these last few days, including some helpful conversation in London, both with friends and in connection with other programs. I have also found Savi Hensman's essay to be of great help in providing some further digestive enzymes to break down the harder-to-swallow portions. I promise to offer some additional thoughts on the Covenant and the Archbishop's Reflections anon, but wanted to note a shift in direction within the Virginia Report and further movement in the Windsor Report which is, I think, to some extent diagnostic (if not prognostic) about less than helpful trends. It has to do with a shift in the understanding of subsidiarity.

The Virginia Report (4.8 ) helpfully quotes the Oxford English Dictionary for its definition of subsidiarity:

The principle of "subsidiarily" has been formulated to express this investment in the local and face-to-face. Properly used, subsidiarily means that "a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level."
and goes on to say (4.9):
Subsidiarity may properly be applied to the life of the Church in order to resist the temptation of centralism.
However, a bit further along the drift towards that very centralization begins to scrape bottom, including the introduction of vertical rather than horizontal language (albeit in scare-quotes):
4.10 ...Every "higher" authority ought to encourage the free use of God's gifts at "lower" levels. There must be clarity on what has to be observed and carried out at that level, and also on the limits of its competence. As much space as possible should be given to personal initiative and responsibility. For example, in the relationship between a bishop and a parish priest and congregation, there is initially a giving of responsibility to the latter for the task of worship, witness and service within its geographical boundaries or area of immediate influence. The priest and parish will be given a set of tasks which they are obliged to fulfil. These will be few in number and general in character The limits of their authority and responsibility will also be explained to priest and parish. These will essentially reflect agreements made previously by church synods, and expressed in canons and other ways. They will be honoured by all unless and until they are changed by the due processes of agreement. Subject to such boundaries the priest and parish will be encouraged to use all their gifts, energy and commitment to enable the gospel to go forward in that area. The bishop and parish priest will maintain the highest level of communication possible so that encouragement, advice, and, where necessary, correction can be given, together with new task as occasion arises.

4.11 Anglicans may properly claim that the observation of different levels and the granting of considerable freedom to the lowest possible level has been a feature of their polity. In Anglicanism today canonically binding decisions can only be made at the level of a Province or in some Provinces at the level of a diocese.
You will notice that the text I have italicized in section 4.11 has already inverted understanding of "subsidarily" from the assignment of broader duties to a more central authority into the grant of freedom to a lower level.

By the time we get to Windsor, even this dim memory has faded, and subsidiarity is essentially trivialized, and described as only concerning matters literally of no importance.
38 This highlights a fourth key strand of our common life: subsidiarity, the principle that matters should be decided as close to the local level as possible. Subsidiarity and adiaphora belong together: the more something is regarded as 'indifferent', the more locally the decision can be made. It does not take an Ecumenical Council to decide what colour flowers might be displayed in church; nor does a local congregation presume to add or subtract clauses from the Nicene Creed. In part this belongs with the missionary imperative: the church must give its primary energy to God's mission to the world, not to reordering its internal life.

39 The fourth reason for our present problems is thus that it was assumed by the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Diocese of New Westminster that they were free to take decisions on matters which many in the rest of the Communion believe can and should be decided only at the Communion-wide level.
And so it is that this notion, originally about the bottom-up nature of governance, which refers by a natural process broader functions to a more centrally coordinated authority, has become the classical pyramid of top-down government.

Yet surely it can be shown, as I have stated time and again, that the actions of New Westminster and TEC were precisely consonant with the original meaning of subsidiarity. To use the language of WR39, their assumptions were precisely correct, and the false assumption was that of those who felt such matters could only be decided at the Communion-wide level. However, as the Virginia Report notes, "In Anglicanism today canonically binding decisions can only be made at the level of a Province." There is no Communion-wide canonical procedure for the approval of the election of bishops, for example, and no bishop has any authority outside his or her own province -- that is, the province that, through its appropriate canonical processes (the only such processes that exist, approved his or her ordination. The office of bishop is precisely the locus of a subsidiary function. Until an Anglican Congress or Council is established, bishops of the whole Communion have been given no authority to legislate for the whole Communion. They have not yet been granted that subsidiary authority, to do what cannot be done more effectively at a local level, where, if a Province doesn't want to have a partnered gay bishop, it need not do so -- nor allow such a one to function within its borders.

I will not comment at length on the topic of same-sex marriage, since it is of even less necessary impact beyond those places where it may take place. No one is forcing any other province to do what it doesn't want to do. In the long run, either the individual Provinces have certain liberties in matters of rites and ceremonies -- an explicitly Anglican declaration of subsidiarity and provincial liberty from the very beginning -- or they don't.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 22, 2009

Further thoughts on Grace

A previous short note on this subject generated a good bit of discussion. I asserted that the catch-phrase "cheap grace" is one of those handy terms that is misleading: grace is always free -- not cheap which implies some bargain-rate cost -- it is a gift, as Paul affirms: if it cost us something it wouldn't be a gift. (It cost the one who gave it everything.) The proper "cost" to us lies in discipleship, which is subsequent to the acceptance of the gift. Perhaps the free gift of grace might be thought of as something like the gift of a craft-kit, a knitting or embroidery project complete with yarn, or thread and canvas, together with a pattern in a neat plastic bag. Work will be required to follow that pattern to produce the final objective, ultimately both a gift from another and the work of one's own hands. Thus, as Paul says, we are saved by grace but also work out our own salvation -- even as we know that it is really God at work in us to empower us to action. (Phil 2:12-13)

Today's morning office reading from 2 Kings seems to me to be a short summary of the personality types who variously fall along the grace / works spectrum. Naaman clearly expects that he will be asked to do something extraordinary both to obtain healing (= salvation) and to give thanks for it. The true prophet demands only the simplest of tasks, and asks no thanks -- and Naaman accepts after a brief protestation on both counts. He represents, I suppose, the normal human who knows -- or thinks -- that important things are costly, but is willing to accept correction, and continues to give thanks and ask forgiveness for any subsequent missteps.

Then there's Gehazi. I can't help but see in him a kind of parsimony as to God's grace; that it really should be more costly. And so, on his own initiative he sets out to wring some profit from the man from whom the true prophet asked none. The ultimate irony is that the ailment of Naaman then falls upon him.

This suddenly reminds me of the themes in Cocteau's La belle et la bête: the cost of the plucked rose, the tedious and irksome discipleship of the magical kingdom where one is waited on hand and foot, La Bête's desire only for freely given love that would transform him -- even as he tries to purchase it with jewels and finery (all rubbish when compared to the surpassing freedom he desires), and the interchange that transforms greedy Avenant into a beast slain by Diana as he assumes the beast's likeness.

Clearly there is a deep taproot of mythic and authentic truth at work in this interplay between freedom and service -- salvation and ministry. May we rejoice always in our salvation, and work with willing hands and hearts to do God's will, as servants and disciples who do not tally cost, but serve as freely as the gift is given, whereby we are empowered to serve.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 14, 2009

In London


Arrived in London yesterday in the wee hours, and spent the day walking about the city, and growing accustomed to the Underground. Midday had a fine walk from Charing Cross up the Strand and across Waterloo Bridge, from which the snap above "Time Pieces" was taken, and then on to lunch with Giles Goddard and Simon Sarmiento. This morning, said Morning Prayer in the Chapel at St Andrew's, on this the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory. At breakfast sampled the fabled Marmite, but also some fine English marmalade. Hope to head off to see the Tate Britain, though the Turner exhibit is not yet open, and much of what I would have liked to have seen will be by this time likely moved into that installation. Still, no doubt there will be Constable, Blake, and others. On this my first trip to England I can attest that the sky looks just as Constable, Turner, and others, have shown it to be.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 10, 2009

September Midday Mass

The tall old priest entered the half-lit sacristy,
fresh from his usual Tuesday morning studies.
The fair-haired acolyte with the bad complexion
was ready, vested, standing in the dimness
quietly. The old priest noticed he was sniffing
and his eyes were red. A failed romance,
he thought; but keeping his own rule on chit-chat
in the sacristy, vested silently.
The old familiar motions and the prayers
displaced whatever thoughts he might have had;
the only dialogue to break the stillness was
the rote exchange of formal preparation.

Then, in one motion as he slipped his hand
beneath the pale green veil, the other hand
upon the burse, he lifted vested vessels,
turned and followed in the sniffing server’s
wake. Eyes lowered to the holy burden
in his hand, he failed to notice that
the chapel for this midday feria —
on other days like this with one or two
at most — was full of worshippers; until
he raised his eyes, and saw the pews were filled —
but undeterred began the liturgy:
the lessons and the gospel from last Sunday,
his sermon brief, but pointed, on the texts.

It wasn’t till the acolyte began
the people’s prayers, and choked out words of planes
that brought a city’s towers down, and crashed
into the Pentagon, and plowed a field
in Pennsylvania, that the old priest knew
this was no ordinary Tuesday in
September —
not ordinary time at all,
that day he missed the towers’ fall.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

first posted on March 8, 2008

September 6, 2009

The Heterosectual Communion

The soi-disant Anglican Communion Institute has a knack for inverting the old Latin tag, "the mountains labored and bore a mouse." In this case the gang of three, augmented by an attorney and a bishop, have given birth to a mountain of verbiage which in the long run, fundamentally flawed as it is, amounts to less than a mole-hill.

The attorney in question, Mr. McCall, of whose eccentric writings I have commented elsewhere, is apparently retired from the field of international law, in which, one hopes, he had some skill in practice. Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, when your only tool is a hammer everything looks like a nail, and so this paper applies the international law definition of the word autonomy to the very different ecclesiastical context, in which it has an almost antithetical meaning, and the more basic one, "self-governing." The notion of comparing the autonomy of a member church of the Anglican Communion (there being no superior synod as of yet) to an autonomous indigenous people living within the borders of another superior state — well, that is not the closest parallel I think most Anglicans would light upon. But as I say, Mr. McCall has trod that path before, with that peculiar leapfrog of governance from diocese to communion without recognition of the provincial authority that is, in fact, at the head of the governing hierarchy.

The more serious problem with this paper is its failure to understand the essential premise under which the Anglican Communion is actually working — pace Bishop Wright's and Ephraim Radner's insistence otherwise. That they both have worked at the behest of the Archbishop of Canterbury does not necessarily indicate that they have fully grasped the intent of his program — which is unity in difference, not division because of it. It should be clear to anyone but the most heart-set on purity of doctrine that the Archbishop desperately wants to keep the Communion together, not preside over its division.

The purpose for drafting a Covenant is not to ensure that all who agree to it will think and act alike and so because of that uniformity of thinking and doing stay together . (If that were the purpose, it is doomed from the start.)

The purpose of the Covenant is to ensure that we will stay together precisely when we have differences — that we won't start flying apart the next time some contentious issue comes along, as no doubt it will. The Covenant is designed to deal with future disagreements, not to settle the differences of the past or present. (Some suggest that this cause is equally doomed from the start.)

But the bright light at the tunnel's end is not, I think, a train heading our way. I sense a greater willingness in the Communion to hang together, to accept some of the differences of the recent past and present as not "communion-breaking" and certainly not as rendering participation by the majority of the member churches — including TEC — impossible. This is why the folks at ACI expend such futile energy in painting a very different picture — a picture of an Anglican Communion no longer inclusive of TEC, or anyone else who thinks otherwise than they do on an assortment of topics.

Fortunately, the language of the Covenant is not about settling the controversies, but about living with them. It is about the manner of life to be followed by the Communion as a whole, its chosen lifestyle, if you will: shall it be one that embraces difference of opinion under a loving and overarching charity; or shall it give in to the old fissiparousness that has plagued Western Christendom from long before the Reformation?

In short, How best can the Many be One.

Paul the Apostle provided one answer: unity in Christ in which the various organs of the body retain their different gifts and functions, and yet are part of one body, under one Head, who is Christ, and in whom unity emerges not from uniformity, but through fellowship, a vibrant fellowship that relishes its own heterogeneity and delights in its manifold gifts.

The ACI provides the other sort of answer, the uniformity that seeks to place some other thing in God's place -- unity itself idolized into a Golden Calf, to which difference is sacrificed, beaten to a homogenized pulp.

Little ones, keep away from idols.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 3, 2009

God's Gift

Grace is not only cheap, but free. The price was paid by someone other than ourselves, who came to us while we were in the depths of sin, and forgave us when we didn't know what we were doing.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 2, 2009

Thought for 9.01.09

I was reading an interesting essay by Michael Poon today, and it led me to think about what happens when we mistake our own particular cultural models for the gospel. It seems to me that one of the singular tragedies of the missionary endeavors of the 16th through the 19th century was their "marriage" of Christianity with European Culture. For Native Americans, Africans, and South Sea Islanders to become "Christian" seems to have had less to do with Christ and more with conformity to a European dress code. Not only did European missionaries destroy much in the way of local culture and art, but they mistook starched collars and trousers, corsets and long skirts for the Gospel. The long-range effects of such cultural bondage had a deleterious effect on the real Mission of the Gospel. Clothing became an idol for the missionaries, who equated nudity with sin. (Nudity no doubt raising specific temptations in Victorian minds — but what was the locus of the sin? Who was the sinner, the unselfconscious bare-breasted islander, or the scandalized missionary?)

I suppose the question has to be, "What is today's church's idol?" What cultural artifact or folkway is being insisted upon as vital to the Christian life, to the detriment of the church's mission? Where are lines being drawn? When we place any symbol -- however venerable -- on the throne that belongs to God alone, we transform it into an idol, and that is when we become idolaters.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 27, 2009

Failing Solomon's Test

The Hebrew scripture reading at Morning Prayer today was the account of Solomon's test of the two women who both claimed to be mothers of the sole surviving child in their household. When Solomon gave the order that the child be cut in two, the true mother, moved by pity, was willing to let the other woman have the living child. This revealed her identity and Solomon's wisdom.

When it comes to dividing the Anglican Communion I think we are dealing with a similar situation — though a less lethal one: that is, even if divided, some sort of Anglican Communion, or a split-level Anglican Communion, or perhaps two distinct Anglican Communions (each claiming the title) will continue to exist; hampered in mission, diminished in scope, but still able to say, with Monty Python's medieval peasant, "I'm not dead yet."

Where I see greater resonance with this impressive episode in Solomon's reign is the similarity of certain voices from the edges to the voice of the not-mother of the child, "Let it be divided!"

To be blunt, the far right represented by GAFCON has already moved on the division and is unlikely to recant short of a change in leadership and a change of heart. They do not wish to be part of an entity that fails to live up to their standards, and are confident that they represent the vital body while those they oppose are a tumor or a gangrenous limb, to be removed not simply as a matter of convenience but in order to preserve the life of the body.

But to be fair, there are also voices on the far left of the progressive end of the spectrum who have been equally vehement in their rejection of continued unity if it is going to mean any hesitation in or denial of adopting what they see as righteous, good, and just. "Let the schismatics go!" is the watchword; or even more extremely, "We don't need no stinking Communion..." (or words to that effect.)

Somewhere in the midst of all of this are those who see a virtue in unity even if it is an imperfect unity; who see virtue in staying together even if it means a lack of clear consensus; who see a value in compromise even if it means everyone not being entirely satisfied.
And this is where I once again return to my appeal for patience, a laissez-faire attitude, and honoring the provincial autonomy of the member churches of the Communion. For there are many provinces in the Communion who are willing to live with anomalies taking place in other provinces — not all are insistent that all must do as they do in all things.

We are not, after all, a world-church — which is simply a statement of fact, not an effort to short-circuit what might emerge as a world-church after a considerable period of time.The proposed Covenant — more proposed than a covenant at this point! — may find ways, one hopes particularly Anglican ways, of fostering our unity without undercutting our traditional liberty in matters of rites and ceremonies and, more importantly, the relationships and ministries for which those rites and ceremonies are designed, and which they institute and support.

The majority of provinces in the Communion appear willing to engage in this process of exploration, listening, and reflection: respectful of others' actions without the need to approve those actions. This seems to me to be on adult and mature manner of working.

And I do not think it takes a Solomon to see the wisdom of such an approach.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG