August 3, 2009

Reading Rowan — Part the Second

I ended the first section of this reflection on the Archbishop of Canterbury with reference to Truth; and I would like to focus on that theme in his second section. I will do that by sharing with you some of what I said to the Archbishop at the meeting in Anaheim.

Being True to Oneself

I deferred a call to ordained ministry for a number of years in large part due to the “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy that was in place in the Diocese of New York. I felt I could not in good conscience function in such a regime — in part because of the value I place on openness, authenticity, and honesty in pastoral ministry — and I could not imagine ministering effectively under such circumstances. With a change in that policy by the newly elected bishop, and a change in attitude reflected in the House of Bishops itself at the 1991 General Convention, I knew that it was time to answer that call. Little did I know that I would end up serving in a congregation 90 percent of whose members are from parts of the Anglican Communion in which I would not be able to serve with such honesty. In part because I preach the gospel and treat my personal life as a fact on the ground, as I think any pastor should, allows most of the members of the congregation to do the same. They support me, and my partner of 29 years, in our ministry with them; and they treat him with respect they would any clergy spouse. The women of the parish make cakes for his birthday, and people always ask after him when he is away on business.

However, as with all ministry, this is not ultimately about me: it helps the gay and lesbian members of my parish to be themselves as well. They come from parts of the world where they could only do that literally at the risk of their lives and safety, and more importantly, might never cross the threshold of a church.

This is an important witness to the Gospel, in the ultimate rule and moral standard that Jesus gave us: to treat others as we would be treated, to love our neighbors as ourselves. And to do that, we must be ourselves, reveal ourselves. Being forced to live in the closet — or even choosing it as the easier way — is a fundamental violation of human dignity as well as an almost gnostic violation of the embodied truth of persons in their integrity and identity.

I am reminded that the motto of the Anglican Communion, in the words surrounding the Compass Rose: “The Truth Shall Make You Free.” One of the principles of Ubuntu, a concept which has occupied so much of our thinking and working at this session of General Convention, is that we cannot authentically be ourselves unless we are in relationship. My question is, How can we be in authentic relationships if we are not open and honest about ourselves from the outset? If we are all wearing masks, it is not a meeting of true self with true self, but a masquerade, a game of mask facing mask, reflected “in a glass darkly.” What would happen; what wave of opportunities for new ministry might break forth across the Anglican Communion if we were to take off our masks — all of us? What would happen if we were to be set free by truth for Truth? I am reminded of an eponymous line from CS Lewis’s great novel, “How can we truly know and love each other face-to-face, until we have faces?”

What is Truth?

That is what I said, more or less, to the Archbishop. And of course, any discussion of truth, either with or without a capital T, is bound to be dicey. Let me say, first of all, I reject relativism: that is, I think truth has to do with reality; though perceptions can and will differ, I think there is something that is perceived. I also accept that certain things I believe to be true cannot be proven but must be taken on faith — such as that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. I believe other truths can be demonstrated: such as that committed, life-long, monogamous same-sex relationships are not only not sinful, but capable of showing forth the grace and love of God.

While expounding the truth, or what one believes to be true, can certainly lead to division, I also believe — and this is where I differ most sharply with the Archbishop — that it is expounding the truth that leads to unity rather than being in unity leading to truth. Let me be more precise (which may also serve to lessen the gap between me and the Archbishop somewhat) — it is first of all a question of knowledge, of what we believe to be true; in short, an epistemological question. How do I know anything at all, let alone whether it is true or not? Relationship is clearly an important aspect of knowledge — I learn from others, both human others and “the other” in the form of the sensible world, as well as the ultimate Other, God, through God’s self-communication in revelation and most particularly in the person of Christ. And I refine my knowledge (that is, I learn) in communication with those others, in listening to those others, and come to know what I believe to be true in that forum and interchange and relationship. And out of this there grows a form of dynamic community. This is how truth both leads to and fosters community, truth-speaking in dialogue and listening leading to understanding, and community (as opposed to division) fostering that conversation. As Paul said to the Ephesians, “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” One’s truth can only be heard if there are those willing to listen. Uncertain trumpets and ears not geared to hear are equally obstacles to the task of evangelism: a task which reveals the need to speak as well as to listen, and which itself testifies to the fact that, “All have not heard,” and that the Truth must be communicated and spread. The church as a whole and in its members is, after all, “called” — it is assembled by the proclamation, and then gives rise to yet more proclamation, in the sending forth to spread the Evangelical Truth.

It seems to me that the Archbishop may be calling “unity” what I am calling relationship or community. But he appears to me to have a more limited notion of the institutional forms in which such unity might be incarnated. He wants a tighter and more regulated union as opposed to what he dismisses as a federation — and yet it seems to me that federations work very well, or at least as well as more tightly unitary entities. Benedictines and Franciscans both have a lively sense of identity and community, incarnated in very different structures. And I cannot help but note that given the Anglican Benedictine heritage, it might be good to remember the essentially autonomous nature of each abbey — living a common rule but individually governed, with only a superficial ecclesiastical structure at a higher level of management, an arch-abbot whose primary task is to check in once and a while at each abbey to see how well they are following the Rule they hold in common, but exercise as individual foundations. Sounds like the Anglican Communion to me!

My concern about “unity giving rise to truth” lies in awareness of how central control can quash the very sensibility, adaptation to local circumstance, and experimentation through which truth is often perceived, expressed, and more widely received. Monolithic entities — especially when they think they already have the truth or even are infallible — tend not to be open to correction, reform or development; they often do not listen to the corrective warnings of the child who sees the naked emperor. It is very easy for unity and unanimity to lead to self-deception; even to conspiracy and repression of the truth. Sanhedrins often are not good at accepting input, even from some of their own number.

The Elephant in the Room

Let me take up for a moment the old parable of the blind men and the elephant. In their touching and feeling they think they are engaged with different things rather than one elephantine entity: a rope, a tree, a pipe, a wall, a fan. If they remain out of communication with each other they will of course continue in this misunderstanding. But they do not need to form a “union” or “unity” in order to come to a better mind — they need communion or community: in short, to communicate with each other, and the precise form of that communication — federal, synodical, or monarchial, is irrelevant. In the world of modern networking, a distributed and open communication system may be preferred over a central administration.

Of course, they must also have some prior concept of “elephanticity,” even if it is a vague or second-hand report of heffalumps or oliphants. Thus they build not only on their individual experiences but on their own past knowledge, gained from community, of an idea of an elephant. Had they no knowledge of an elephant, who knows what strange joint vision they might construct, without any relation to the reality of which they each had only partial experience.

But, and here I may be treading over into paradox and an Anglican koan — what if it is the elephant who is blind? What if it is the elephant who has no ability to form a concept of itself? How do you tell an elephant it is an elephant? How can the elephant know the truth of its own elephant-self without the help of those blind but sensitive witnesses whose limited knowledge can only be perfected in communion, yet without which communion cannot come to be. Mustn’t the elephant construct a self-identity as a unitary entity from the evidence of the individuals reporting on its aspects? It seems to me that the Anglican Communion — indeed the whole church — is best approached as an entity that has no understanding of itself apart from the understanding of its individual members, who jointly seek understanding: truth communicated leading to unity.

To use another analogy: Consciousness itself emerges from the bicameral nature of the brain: our brain is not a unitary entity, but a consortium of independent clusters of activity, cooperating with each other to give rise to self-awareness. The church is a body with many members, contributing different faculties to the whole in organs of sense and motion.

E Pluribus Unum

It is obvious that the church does not simply spring into existence fully formed. The One is formed by the community of the Many. It grows by the addition of new members. It is, as we ourselves are, woven in secret, knit together from various components with which it is equipped, to come together and grow together in Love. Perhaps the Anglican Communion needs a refresher course in Ephesians, to understand how telling the truth can lead to unity and communion, while duplicity (the dual-minded opposite of community) can produce only an appearance of unity, the masquerade of which I spoke, a false-front facade of an edifice that is empty at its heart, a Temple forsaken by the Spirit who does not simply bestow all truth, but who leads us into it.

This is why the so-called Listening Process is so important: and it reveals, to some extent, Rowan Williams’ own trust in an emergent unity — that is, if unity were necessary for dialogue, why treat dialogue and listening as a means to encouraging unity? This gives me hope that in the actual working out of things it may be that the Archbishop is an idealist and the Vicar is a realist, but we are both dealing with the same entity under it all. That is, we are looking at the same church from two different angles; and both of us are committed to the Listening Process as a means to a better end.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Davis said...

This is superb.

Tom Sramek, Jr. said...


I am struck particularly by this:

And I cannot help but note that given the Anglican Benedictine heritage, it might be good to remember the essentially autonomous nature of each abbey — living a common rule but individually governed, with only a superficial ecclesiastical structure at a higher level of management, an arch-abbot whose primary task is to check in once and a while at each abbey to see how well they are following the Rule they hold in common, but exercise as individual foundations. Sounds like the Anglican Communion to me!

Perhaps we are once again at a Synod of Whitby point--do we go with a Roman, centralized, top-down structure or with a more Celtic, monastic, grassroots-based one? The difference, of course, is that to some extent that train has already left the station. Few are likely to look kindly upon anything that looks the least bit like a power grab. On the flip side, I'm also a little wary of the Americanized sense that democracy is somehow more Christian than other forms of governance.

James said...

Fr Haller,
Words are inadequate to comment on your post. Superb doesn't even begin to come close. Thank you for sharing this.

And, congratulation on 29 years with your Beloved Person.

IT said...

I think you are too hopeful.

Monolithic entities — especially when they think they already have the truth or even are infallible — tend not to be open to correction, reform or development; they often do not listen to the corrective warnings of the child who sees the naked emperor. It is very easy for unity and unanimity to lead to self-deception; even to conspiracy and repression of the truth.

seems to describe Rowan's ideal. I view the "listening" as mere cover, not intended to lead to any change, merely to placate the talkers.

But then, I'm a cynic about politics.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Davis and James. Tom, I think the analogy with Whitby is a good one, particularly given Rowan's longing for playing footsie with Rome. It is something to be aware of, and I'll say more about that in part 3 or 4, if it goes that long.

IT, you may be right, but that is not the feeling I get based on direct experience, however limited. I think Rowan is playing a waiting game, but the ones to whom he is presenting "enough rope" are the GAFCON folks, who are the only ones actually "walking apart." I think he also knows, as I said elsewhere, which way the wind is blowing -- towards greater inclusion -- and he is trying to hold together the progressives and moderates. As I've said before, the communion is split in thirds -- the more progressive part, the moderates, and the reactionaries. THe most extreme reactionaries are virtually if not actually out the door. The rest can work together even if not in complete agreement on the Big Issues. The "listening" is far more than mere "cover" -- as people even in parts of the GS (not certain Primates, I agree) are wooed into staying within the Communion. There are fault-lines in the GS as much as in TEC, and it will be very hard to make a monolith of such diverse material.

Closed said...

What I have been calling conversation--this is our Anglican method. The problem is when there isn't the space not only for listening, but for disagreement and even argument.

Good of you to point out federation as a solidly catholic Christian way to go, as the Benedictines and Franciscans do much ministry by it.

June Butler said...

Tobias, one way that I arrive at truth is through stories. Jesus was wise to use parables so often in his teachings.

As I see it, your story is powerful teaching. And it's not just your story. With differing circumstances and personalities, it's the story of many others. If I needed any convincing that people need to live their truths of who they are, I believe that your story would have moved me in that direction. Your story would have been enough to convince me that living a life of "don't ask, don't tell" is not the way to go.

The ABC listens, but the stories seem not to engage him enough to change him or to cause him to change direction. I can't even address the rest of what he's doing, because I don't know what he's about. But everything he says and does seems to result in pushing the members of the community apart, rather than drawing them together. Playing the waiting game, trying to pacify everyone just enough not to have a formal break does not seem effective leadership.

If I want strong central leadership in my church, which I don't, I can always go back to Rome.

We've had no listening process in our diocese, at least none that included lay people.

Unknown said...

The blind elephant koan is brilliant! I think, in fact, that it may apply just as well to brain-based consciousness itself (which you cite in the next paragraph). Is our own self-awareness not continually building itself from scraps of memory, learning, and perception?
How much more so, then, our societal structures? I now have a new way of considering what "the mind of the Communion" might actually mean.

Thank you.


Leonard said...

I believe Archbishop Rowan selectively ¨listens¨...he´s been very ¨attentive¨ when granting audiences for Global South Anglicans/Gafcons and their North American accomplices.

Dr. Williams ¨listened¨ briefly to TEC at a HOB´s Meeting in New Orleans a couple of years ago and recently for two days at TEC General Convention (where he also threatened deputies and Bishops).

Not much REAL listening in the flesh.

Selectively ¨listening¨ to a few and NOT paying attention to the irresponsible results of anti-LGBT human/demeaning actions of Pope Benedict, breakaway Bob Duncan or bordercrossing Greg Venables is a problem. The REAL, and daily, on-the-ground persecution of LGBT Anglicans/others by +Orombi and +Akinola/others is revealing disrepectful, feardriven and of unsound balance in Spiritual leadership at The Body of Christ.

Silence. Is Dr. Williams paying keen attention to HATE CRIMES against LGBT Anglicans (and often heterosexual women) throughout the Anglican Communion and in the U.K.? This IS a religious matter of grave importance...REAL lives with Souls are being tormented.

We want to know Dr. Williams and his PERSONAL experience, Spiritual dilemmas, and his complete views on the ministry.

Please, the ABC ought bare ¨witness¨ from the depth of his being and in the ¨first person¨ from his position of first amongst equals as he ¨listens¨ to the REALITY of mission in all Provinces of The Anglican Communion.

So far, there seems to me a dangerous and irresponsible omission that calls for more TRUTH in responsible/accountable leadership.

My own, individual, belief and experience with God must be authentic and original as well as collection of the ¨traditional Church values¨ that I was ¨taught¨ but sometimes must review because those ¨beliefs¨ may harm ignore wrongdoing against fellow Christians/others is a sin of the slothful variety.

Is there a Spiritless vacuum created when dusty or feardriven outdated superstitions and taboos are ¨encouraged¨ to be revalidated (Anglican Covenant?) while blatant wrongs are done against Anglicans/others?

Denial of brute harm being done against OUR brothers and sisters at The Body of Christ is cowardly believing and leading.

Thank you Fr. Tobias, I look forward to Part Three.

MarkBrunson said...

I'm sorry, but I still am shocked that people consider Williams such a great intellect!

Is it just his degrees? His use of language (If ya can't dazzle 'em with brilliance, baffle 'em with . . . you know)?

He lacks insight, strength of character, sensitivity, perception, self-awareness. Surely, those are the true signs of brilliance in a leader?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the additional comments. Let me just note, in response in part to Leonardo and Mark B, that I think part of Rowan's problem is his intelligence. He is bright enough to see all of the possible courses of action -- and is paralyzed to inaction. I think it is a case of an intellectual sensory overload. Instead of following his heart, he is transfixed by his head. His terror of "consequences" leads to inaction and the "easiest course" -- talking to TEC, who he knows will to at least some extent, give in to him, instead of facing up to the GAFCONites who he knows hold him in contempt.

Important Point:
Fear of consequences of action (read the Reflection carefully!) is his problem, but it need not be ours. In a way, at some level, I think he wants TEC to make the decision for him by being as bold as he is afraid to be.

June Butler said...

In a way, at some level, I think he wants TEC to make the decision for him by being as bold as he is afraid to be.

Perhaps, you're right, Tobias, but it's an odd game for an Archbishop of Canterbury to engage in.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Not at all, Mimi. It is a classic truism that intelligent liberals become almost incapable of action upon achieving positions of authority; unlike conservative bullies, their overwhelming desire for inclusion and peace causes them to cave to the right.

Obama, anyone?

June Butler said...

Obama, anyone?

Aha! Although one would have hoped that the archbishop, with the help of the Holy Ghost and grace and heavenly aid, might do a bit better.

Nathan J.A. Humphrey said...

I believe it is a great grace that we hear seven Sundays' worth of readings from Ephesians every Year B in post-Pentecost, because they usually fall right in the middle and aftermath of General Convention. They are perfect "damage control" readings for people fed up with the church for being too progressive, or conversely impatient with its being too slow to make progress.

Nathan J.A. Humphrey said...

I forgot to check the "Email follow-up comments to..." box. Check!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Mimi, I have never forgotten the old advice, "Put not your trust in rulers..." What is so frustrating is with Rowan we see Nietzsche's maxim, "It is a terrible thing to come to power, for power stupifies" coming true before our eyes.

Yes, Nathan, Ephesians is a good antidote!

MarkBrunson said...

I think it is a case of an intellectual sensory overload.

My point is, Tobias, that that is not intelligence - that's merely exposure to facts. Even absorption of facts does not indicate intelligence.

Intelligence is processing and using those facts - something Williams simply cannot do.

I often worry about our church; we often have a college-faculty mentality - Published = insightful. Tenured = intelligent. The higher the degree, the more capable.

Having only a BA, I appreciate I carry a bias, but the reality is that this is a man with a great deal of education, and little to work with to use that education.

June Butler said...

I believe that I understand a little better what you are saying, Tobias. When a person sees more of the future possibilities of certain actions than most others envision, and that person moves into a powerful position, that can be paralyzing. Which way to go? And he would find it hard to explain the reasons for what he says and does to others.

Is it possible that what Rowan lacks is emotional intelligence, that he can't foresee the emotional effect that his words and actions have on others?

I confess that his words too often have a stinging effect on me. Doesn't he "get" that others will feel hurt after what seem to be scoldings and snubbings to them?

IT said...

Mimi, I think you are right. I have several colleagues who completely lack emotional intelligence, and whose comments often offend people. They aren't truly Aspergian, but definitely have a blind spot in some of their more intellectual pursuits.

Meanwhile, on academics, there is a famous quote :
"The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn't need its brain anymore so it eats it! (It's rather like getting tenure.)" There is some truth to this.....and I speak as one with tenure.

Perhaps this should be adapted to Bishops.

June Butler said...

...and I speak as one with tenure.

Et tu, IT? I don't think so. Your EI seems to be working.

I believe that your quote regarding academics might well be applied to certain bishops.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

IT, I think high functioning Asperger may not be too far off...

As to Bishops, they were formally classified as belonging to the phylum Chordata, but have recently been transferred to the Invertebrates. What has long been assumed to be a spine was revealed to be a spongiform calcification.

Daniel Lee said...

Bottom line, RW is not going to listen to me, a little person at the bottom on the margins. I'm reminded of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Hades, asking to go back to warn his brothers. Let them listen to the voices already speaking truth and wisdom, is the reply.

In the end, it will all be what it will be. RW has lots of status and leeway; he could set a large example, but so far seems more paralyzed. Perhaps the day will be saved by those willing to show the boldest, most conscientious actions? Is that how witness speaks?

Going into second track exile with modernity may well be telling, in the long run, at least for Anglicanism in this century.

4 May 1535+ said...

Hi, Tobias+, and thanks for these two parts.

Dr. Williams argues that a gay cleric in a committed relationship, or even in a civil marriage, is in the same, untenable, position as a heterosexual cleric living with a person outside of marriage. This standard would, I think, condemn Cranmer and make Parker's position dubious.

Here's why: First, while he doesn't consider the specific case, I believe Dr. Williams would necessarily say that a heterosexual cleric living in a merely pretended marriage is in the same position as one cohabiting without even a claim of marriage.

Second, Canon 7 of the Second Lateran Council (1139) provided that marriages contracted in violation of the ecclesiastical law regarding celibacy would not be regarded as matrimony--i.e., would be invalid.

Thus, any priest who went through a putative marriage ceremony was in fact living with a woman not his wife, and was, by the Williams standard, in the same position as a gay person living with a partner.

Now consider the first two Archbishops of the Reformation.

Thomas Cranmer, a widower, was ordained priest c. 1520; in July, 1532, he married again, but the marriage was invalid under Canon 7 of Lateran II. As Cranmer was consecrated with papal approbation on 30 March 1533, it might be argued that Clement VI knew about the secret marriage and decided to overlook it. Unless that is the case, however, Cranmer was, by Dr. Williams' standards, precisely as unable to serve as a bishop as Dr. Robinson is.

Matthew Parker was ordained priest in 1527; in 1547, the first year of Edward VI, he married. Again, the pretended marriage was in violation of both canon (changed in December of that year) and statute (changed in 1549). The statute of 1549 was repealed by Queen Mary's First Act of Repeal in 1553, and under Mary's Injunctions of 1554, all "married" priests were required to be deprived and divorced. Elizabeth then recognized existing clerical marriages by section XXIX of her own Injunctions in June of 1559, just in time for Parker to be nominated as Archbishop in August. So Parker, unlike Cranmer, had a valid marriage at the time of his consecration in December, albeit one that had been invalid when contracted and also for the preceding five years. (We might also note that its 1559 re-validization depended on the lay Royal Supremacy, rather than on any clerical power.) But so far as I know, Parker did not put away his wife during the time in which the then-invalid marriage would have made him, as a priest, an inappropriate representative of the Church.

Obviously, one could carry on this sort of analysis with the historical occupants of other sees: but it does seem particularly problematic that two of Dr. Williams' predecessors might not qualify for an invitation to Lambeth.

MarkBrunson said...

. . and I speak as one with tenure.

Yeah, but you can back it up! :D