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


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