December 6, 2009


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


susan s. said...

Thanks, Tobias. Did I notice a slightly changed line from 'House of Cards" spoken by Francis Urquhart? "You may think so my dear, but I couldn't possibly comment." I could but laugh. . .

June Butler said...

...until some day the out bishops will be just as much the norm as the closeted ones are now.

What a day of rejoicing that will be! I hope that we don't have to wait until we all get to heaven.

IT said...

Oh, thanks, Susan S, now I have the sublime Ian Richardson's voice with those words in my mind's ear...

We'll see, won't we?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Susan, Mimi and IT. Yes, that was a conscious reference to the delightful Ian Richardson in the role of the delightfully wicked "F.U."

As to the timeline for normalization, I think a generation is too far out, and a decade perhaps too short. But who, after all, would have thought 20 years ago that same-sex marriage would be legal anywhere in the U.S. Of course, having a fair number of out gay or lesbian Episcopal bishops some time down the road assumes the continued existence of the Episcopal Church; and I would suggest it is a directly proportional arrangement; that is, the more honest we are about the values of loving relationships, in keeping with the teaching of Christ, the better off the church will be. Otherwise we face, I think, irrelevance to the world, and a continued life only as an inward-gazing and dysfunctional sect, stewing in its own poisonous juice. (If you want a preview of what that looks like, I think you know the blogs and urls to visit!)

IT, I had the great pleasure of meeting Sir Ian early in my theater career, when I had a small role in a production of Twelfth Night at the Princeton McCarter Theater. Sir Ian was doing a lecture at the university, and attended the performance, a dapper tall gentleman in a velvet jacket. I was in the role of Feste's accompanist, playing an odd assortment of instruments, and doing a "turn" as the Priest who appears late in the play to deliver a single short speech -- one of those delightful small roles that British actors love; and under the director's adept hand it always managed to get me a round of exit applause. Sir Ian was most gracious and generous with his time, as he made an effort to chat with all of the cast at a reception following the performance.

The House of Cards miniseries is a masterpiece -- and I commend it to any who may not have seen it. It and the Yes [Prime] Minister episodes are crucial if one is to understand the workings of the English state and church.

Lapinbizarre said...

I now fully understand the emotions of the Colonists when they finally concluded that enough was enough where British rule was concerned. I write as an expatriate Brit, baptized and confirmed in the Church of England.

Bradley said...

My take on --Rowry is that he has become an extreme co-dependent towards Rome. I think his deep personal desire is to see unification with such and anything that gets in it way is subject to his scolding. And if there ever was a religion that has it's priorities misplaced, Rome is a prime example.

I think what we see here is power corrupting a very insecure person.

Bradley Upham aka "choirboyfromhell"

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I think you are spot on. Rowan has been smitten with the romance of reunion with Rome. Like much romance, it is fiction, but he still has this starry-eyed fascination with that fantasy of unity and clarity. He is still smarting from a comment made by one of the hierarchs, to the effect that "We don't know who we're talking to..." when it comes to dialogue with a poorly formed (in their eyes) "Anglican Church." Rowan lacks the courage to say, "Yes, that is a difficulty, isn't it. But it is characteristic of Anglicanism to embrace a wide range of teaching on any number of topics. So perhaps we ought to call off any communion-wide Anglican / RC dialogue and let it happen on a province by province basis." That would be a rational statement of how things are. But of course, in the effort to please Rome, Rowan wants to concoct a scheme to make Anglicanism more Rome-like, via a Covenant.

IT said...

Wonderful story, Tobias. I agree about Yes M. and House of Cards, essential to understand the politics of the UK. Having lived in the UK for 4 years right around the Fall of Thatcher, I can attest that those small screen versions really capture the political play!

June Butler said...

Regarding Rowan and his low performance as Archbishop of Canterbury, I had a flash today. My flash may seem to be "all about me", but bear with me.

I am not a leader, and I expect that I'm not teachable, either. No number of training classes in leadership would make me a good leader of others. Give me a one-person task to do, and I will be faithful and do the work, but I will not score high on "works well with others".

Which leads me (heh, heh) to think that part of the picture in the difficulties that Rowan finds himself in is that he is not, by his nature, a leader, and is perhaps another of the unteachables.

I'm quoting myself above from the comments to another blog, where the flash came to me. Of course, I could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Tobias, an absolutely eloquent statement as only you can make it. You certainly have a way with words!

Paul Martin said...

When I think of the gulf which separates Uganda from TEC, there seems to be only two possible solutions: either we learn to live with our differences, or we go our separate ways. ++Williams' solution, a uniformity of practice enforced by a new centralized authority, is the "solution" least likely to work. It would be hard to come up with a less appropriate response. It works for Rome (to the extent that it does) only because Rome has no self governing provinces. If you wanted to impose the same thing on the Anglican Communion, you would have to get rid of all of those pesky provincial councils first. I hope that isn't what ++Williams has in mind.

JCF said...

I now fully understand the emotions of the Colonists when they finally concluded that enough was enough where British rule was concerned. I write as an expatriate Brit, baptized and confirmed in the Church of England.

Oh, some of the fiercest (US of) American patriots from the War of Independence WERE, Lapin. You're very welcome among us! :-)

...and speaking of which: if things continue the way they're going, may I suggest that at GC 2012, under TEC's standard, we fly the "Don't Tread on Me!" Rattlesnake Flag? It's time Rowan learned it's not only "Global South" hierarchs (much less, the Pope) he has to fear! >;-D