December 26, 2010

Plentiful Harvest

for the Ordination of Blane Frederik van Pletzen-Rands n/BSG
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Jesus had compassion for the crowds, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” — Matthew 9:36-38
There was once a man with abundant possessions and great wealth. And he determined to grow the very best wheat that could be grown. And he went out and took account of all his lands, and chose his finest field. And he cleared it of all rocks and stones, and fenced it ‘round; and he sent out the laborers to plow the field and plant the seed, and they took care that none was wasted: for they knew he was a hard man, unwilling to lose a single grain. And time passed, and the grain sprouted and grew, bearing thirtyfold, sixtyfold and a hundredfold. And the man went out to look upon his rich field, as it lay before him golden in the sunlight. And his servants came to him and said, Master, shall we now go and harvest your grain? And the master said to them, By no means: You shall not touch it; you shall let it rot. You shall let the rain and snow and hail of winter beat it to the ground, and the sun of summer parch it and the wind of autumn scatter it away, until there is not a grain of it left.

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My beloved, this anti-parable tells of the sort of God we do not worship. Ours is a God who will not let a sparrow fall, or a blade of grass perish without notice; our God is not a God of acceptable losses. Above all, ours is a God and Lord whose heart goes out to people wandering without guidance, a God who wills nothing to be lost, who desires not the death of sinners, who sends out laborers to gather in the sheaves, who searches for lost sheep, and brings both sheep and sheaves home from pasture and harvest rejoicing.

It is auspicious that this ordination should come in Advent, just shy of the beginning of a new decade and a mere week before the feast of the Incarnation. But that new decade marks the half-way point of our church’s ambitious 20/20 program of evangelism, and my 20/20 hindsight shows me we have a lot of catching up to do.

Making that work harder, as we know, is the chronic condition that evangelism is not something for which most Episcopalians show fervent zeal. Most prefer to leave a light in the window, or the door ajar, or the “welcome’s-you” mat on the doorstep (or the signpost) rather than going out to the fields to harvest. Evangelism is a cup that some would gladly have pass them by, if it be God’s will.
But it is not God’s will. God will not neglect the church, will not let the harvest go to waste. God will send laborers into the harvest. All will be gathered in. That is the hope toward which we look, in our pilgrimage as church, in our hopeful Advent Season that has lasted now for nearly two millennia. That is our hope.

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But what is our present reality? In addition to the chronic neglect of evangelism we also face the acute ailments that sap our ability to fulfill our mandate. Look at the state of the world and the church today: Many sheep have wandered into trackless ways and unprofitable pastures, not entirely lost but certainly misplaced. The harvest too is rich, but in danger of loss for want of being harvested. There is much work to do — but what sort of workers are we?

Too many seem ready to admit that their lips are unclean, but expect a dab with a cocktail napkin rather than a hot coal searing their conscience. For their precious conscience is the one thing they will not risk exposing to the assayer’s flames. Too many shepherds seem less intent on guiding the flock and recovering the lost than they are on separating the sheep from the goats. Too many harvesters seem less intent on gathering the grain than on separating the wheat from the chaff.

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Is this evangelism? Where is the good in this news? Fundamentalist sects are growing and thriving — and not just in our own Christian corner of religious landscape. Even our dear Anglican Communion, with all its breadth and diversity, and its reputation for tolerance — even in our own Communion we hear discordant voices raised. They call for the division — or the gracious restraining — of the pure from the fallen, the right from the wrong, the saved from the not-so-saved. They call for “relational consequences” when relationship is all that really matters in the end; the test of our fidelity to the Gospel resides precisely in how much we love each other when we disagree, not in how well we manage when there are no stresses or strains.

People long to hear the Word of God, but must it be the word of judgment rather than the word of forgiveness? Must it look to a day of wrath rather than a day of forgiveness? As has been said before, I say again: Woe to them who look for the day of the Lord: for who can stand in that day? Woe to those who call for authority, but do not submit to it themselves. Woe to the would-be shepherds who have forgotten that separating sheep from goats is the owner’s task, not theirs. Woe to the harvest workers who have forgotten that the purpose of the harvest is to bring in the grain: and there is no grain, however fruitful, that does not have its stalk and coat and husk of chaff. There are none of us who will not lose something of ourselves in the coming flames, as the chaff of our sinful nature is stripped away and discarded in the flames that never cease.

Our poor church: the people look to you for good news, and instead get a weather report: gloom and tempest, storms and fog, fire and brimstone. Our poor church; our poor Christ — for it is Christ’s body that suffers here: still our wrongs weaving new thorns to pierce his wounded brow and draping a robe of sorrow over his bleeding shoulders.

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But goodness me, I have become a part of the very gloominess against which I speak. Let me shake off these cares with a more hopeful word, in the spirit of Paul rejoicing and again rejoicing; for there is something here today about which we all can well rejoice. For in the midst of this turmoil I hear God’s voice: “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I hear — we all hear, today — another voice in response, a quiet voice, a steady voice:

“Here am I. Send me.” For not all of those responding to God’s call for laborers are of the “sorting” sort, the separating sort, the divisive sort. No; thanks be to God that some of them at least are of the seeking sort, the gathering sort, the uniting sort.

For they know that people come to the church because they are hurting and hungry. They know that those who are hungry will gnaw even on stone if that is what they are given instead of bread. But these good servants will not so treat those who come to them. They will give bread to the people, something to sustain them.

The people are searching for companionship: which means with-bread-ness, the loving togetherness of those who break bread together. The people are suffering with famine, not just lack of bread but of hearing the comforting Word of God’s forgiveness and love. And so they come to the church, to be fed on God’s word: for no one can live by earthly bread alone.

All come seeking heavenly bread, but find much more: like the animals who came to a manger one night and found a child instead, drew back, and gazed with tender eyes at their creator. For the food we seek, the bread we crave is Jesus himself, come down from heaven, Christ incarnate in human flesh, Christmas dawning in our souls.

Jesus said, Pray the lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into the harvest. And the Lord said, Whom shall I send. And a voice, my brother’s voice today, echoing many others from all our history, answers: Here am I, Lord. Send me.

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And so, my brother, I give you this charge:

Do the work of a shepherd: But as you do so, remember that you are a sheep yourself. For even the great shepherd is himself a lamb, and a lamb with the marks of slaughter upon him, giving up his life for the world. And as he does so, a saving stream of living water flows from his side, and he becomes the light of the City of God: Walk in that Lamb-light as a child of God among the children of God. And may the God of peace who brought again from the dead this Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the everlasting covenant, equip you with everything good for the doing of God’s will.

And, as it is God’s will, do the work of an evangelist: Bring people the good news of salvation: that we are forgiven our sins even as we forgive those who sin against us; and that God loves us. Give people the gracious word of God to feed them, not a stone of judgment to weigh them down. And May the Love of God strengthen and uphold you in spreading the Word of God.

Finally, do the work of a laborer in the field: Go joyfully into the harvest to cut and gather and bind the sheaves. But as you gather the grain, do not be overly concerned or worried that you yourself must gather every grain: for you are not alone in this ministry, and something must be left for the gleaners: they are careful, and will not miss a single grain. Leave something for Ruth.

And as you bring the wheat in to be winnowed, don’t then store it up in bigger barns: Take the grain and grind the grain, and make it into bread. We all have heard of indelible ministry; just don’t get involved in inedible ministry: Feed the sheep, feed the lambs.

And as you celebrate the holy meal, as you celebrate the Holy Eucharist, for the first time, and every time you take and offer and break and give that bread, remember yourself as you preside at the re-membering of the community of faith: that the bread which you break is the bread which came down from heaven for the life of the world, in mercy broken. It is the real presence of Christ in each of his members in the church: the people of God, who, gathered from the four corners of the earth — like grain once scattered on the hillside now made one in the bread in your hands — are reunited — from seed to grain to bread to body — the body of Christ.

He who has called you is faithful, and to your “Here I am, send me” let all the people say, “Amen!”+

Blog Silence

A friend pointed out to me that I've posted precious little to my blog over the past two weeks. This is due to having been away in Buffalo for my brother Blane's ordination, and the following day, and returning home to Christmas week to find my parish church had been burgled — the consequent dealing with detectives, insurance adjusters, locksmiths and repair people being at least as trying as the break-in itself. There is a news report from the NY Times, if you are interested in more detail.

As to the internet, I have been commenting a bit on a thread at Thinking Anglicans. After reading his comments on history, I'm surprised Dr. Seitz calls me a revisionist!

In any case, I do promise to post the sermon from Blane's ordination, in that beautiful Cathedral in Buffalo, shortly. Those interested in my Christmas sermons can find them at Ekklesiastes.


December 8, 2010

One means one

I'm getting a tad annoyed at people talking about "organic unity" when they mean "institutional unity." When I say, in the words of the Nicene Creed every week, that I believe the church to be "one holy catholic and apostolic" I mean every word. There is one church of Christ, made up in an organic union of all baptized persons with Christ as its Head. This is the official teaching (doctrine) of the Episcopal Church, and can be found in the Catechism on page 854 of the BCP.

There is one church. All of the disagreements with this doctrine are either from those who think there is more than one church, or that they constitute the only one true church, or who have confused institutional structure with ontological substance.

This is not to say that the institutional is unimportant; but it is best put in perspective. Any institution built on a foundation other than Unity In Christ will not long stand. Whether there needs to be — or ever has been or ever will be — a single institutional church coequal with the Body of Christ; or whether that foundation is wide and broad enough to support a number of more or less independent and autonomous structures, cooperating in various ways as the Spirit empowers them: these are questions the answers to which seem to me to be glaringly obvious.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 2, 2010

Covenant Genetics

There is a legal fiction (or perhaps illegal fiction) at work in so much of the discussion surrounding the Anglican Covenant Process. The fiction is that the Covenant is not about specific issues, but is intended to provide a way to deal with issues of disagreement as they arise. (A description far better applied to the Continuing Indaba and Mutual Listening Process.)

The problem is that the Covenant sprouts in lineal descent from the Windsor Report which just might have been used as a beginning of a neutral process had it not fatally "specified" itself as really being about gay bishops, same-sex blessings, and border-crossings, by calling for moratoria on these three doings. These "issues" became part of the genome of the Covenant Process, and have passed along to all of the descendants, even though not "expressed" in the phenotype. The Covenant appears to be a generic tool, but everyone knows it was created to deal with a particular set of problems. (That it has been attenuated, due to ecclesiastical environmental effects, in its ability to deal with those problems to the satisfaction of some of its progenitors only makes for more confusion. Some of them are prepared, upon its adoption, to do some quick therapeutic adjustments to encourage the expression of the suppressed genes.)

In the meantime, it is perfectly possible for the Archbishop of Canterbury to allow no butter to soften in his mouth, and plausibly to deny that the text of the Covenant says anything at all about punitive measures, and so on; but the process that has informed the Covenant is rife with calls for discipline, either the self-discipline of restraint or the heteronomous discipline of "relational consequences." The bad seed is there, and it will breed true in bearing bitter fruit.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 30, 2010

(Don't Ask and Don't) Tell it to the Marines

So the long-awaited survey of military personnel shows that for the most part there is little concern about gay and lesbian persons serving in the military without keeping their sexual orientation a secret. About seventy percent of those in the survey (and at over 100,000 it was a large sample!) said changing the present rules which require such military folk to conceal their secret identity, would either be positive or neutral. That leaves about thirty percent who are concerned about negative effects.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic, since this is about a "known known" that would come about by reversing DADT — that is, it is not about sexuality or sexual activity, but the knowledge that a gay or lesbian person is serving with you — reveals that of the 79,385 troops who believe they have already worked with a gay or lesbian colleague (that's 69% of the total) 73,035 said the experience was positive or neutral — 92%. So almost all of the people who think they know either approve or don't care. Perhaps we should call it "Don't Care, Do Tell."

Isn't that almost always the way with things one fears? Knowledge casts out fear. Getting to know a gay or lesbian person, realizing they are good and effective soldiers, sailors, warriors and citizens is the most effective way to break down the irrational fear that goes by the name homophobia. If a dude saves your life, you won't mind that he's gay.

Of course, there's the Marines. A larger proportion of them have problems with this "known unknown." This is not unexpected. Lord knows they fear being labeled "Semper Fay." Still, such unreasonable prejudice should not be tolerated. Since when is the military a democracy? Marines, suck it up! The gays won't hurt you. Why, some of you are already there.

Here's to hoping Congress makes a positive move towards a more just, truthful, and representative military. Lying is not good for unit cohesion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 29, 2010

Advent Images to Challenge and Inspire

I'm pleased to report that one of my icons, "Christ of Compassion" is included in the online Advent exhibition of The Episcopal Church and the Visual Arts, Seeking + Serving.

As the curators describe the exhibit:
For this exhibition, we challenged artists to consider the Russian mystic and writer Leo Tolstoy's illustration of the idea of seeking Christ in all persons with his parable "Where Love is, There God is also." In that parable, Tolstoy tells of a cobbler who is told by God in a dream, "Martin! Ah, Martin! Look tomorrow on the street. I am coming." The cobbler met Christ in the face of all those with whom he came into contact that day.

The pieces in this exhibition show the artists' vision of how we can seek and serve Christ in all persons.
A number of the images are provocative, many of them deeply moving, and it's an honor to have the work of my hands included.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 24, 2010

Blessed Bait and Switch

It is a sad fact of news reporting — and I confess to the extent I am a reporter of news I am as guilty as the next person — that bad news rises to the top of awareness while good news settles out of sight.

I have no excuse in this particular instance of good news, and can only plead the same Anglican Covenant Fixation that has taken over much of the Anglican Blogoleum for the last few weeks.

This obsessive/compulsive fixation has allowed some good news to slip by relatively quietly. I must make amends and point to the recent report of yet another positive round of discussions as part of the Continuing Indaba and Mutual Listening Process.

Ironically, I firmly believe that the "poor cousin" Continuing Indaba is much more likely to prove of actual utility in holding the Communion together than the Anglican Covenant could or will. It is well that Dr Williams supports both so strongly, and if I were to be cynical I might even think the was hedging his bets, and perhaps even pushing the showy Covenant (a so-far fruitless fig tree making a big show of leaves) and allowing the Continuing Indaba to do its good work as a seed planted and germinating, and whose fruit will produce thirty-, sixty- and a hundred-fold in days to come.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

GS -1; GS - 0

The Church of England General Synod has approved a resolution sending the proposed Anglican Covenant to the dioceses for consideration, approval or disapproval, and referral back to the Synod. (I note that in this process the C of E is significantly more like the US Federal Government than the Episcopal Church’s General Convention: TEC’s GC does not send resolutions or Constitutional amendments to the dioceses for action, but only for information.)

At the same time, the GAFCON - FCA Primates’ Council has rejected the Anglican Covenant as “well intentioned” but “fatally flawed” and aver that to support it would be “inappropriate.”

As I’ve noted before, the Covenant, like all forms of government, relies for its beneficence or malignancy upon the nature of the participants in it. It is well to recall that autocrats and oligarchs consider “democracy” to be little better than mob rule, and we know what happens when mobs rule.

The governmental form proposed by the Covenant, such as can be discerned amidst its imprecision and confusion of language, appears to be a kind of oligarchy. However, at this point, some of the potential oligarchs are stepping aside, or, to use the Windsor Phrase, “walking apart,” and not just from the Covenant, but from the other Instrument at the console of which they had heretofore had a seat on the bench.

Windsor as Caiaphas
Caiaphas said, “You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. — John 11:50-52

There remains a very real danger that we will not choose to walk together. Should the call to halt and find ways of continuing in our present communion not be heeded, then we shall have to begin to learn to walk apart... As the primates stated in 2000, “to turn from one another would be to turn away from the Cross”, and indeed from serving the world which God loves and for which Jesus Christ died. — The Windsor Report ¶157

For the sake of Christ and of His Gospel we can no longer maintain the illusion of normalcy and so we join with other Primates from the Global South in declaring that we will not be present at the next Primates' meeting to be held in Ireland... — GAFCON - FCA Primates’ Council “Oxford Statement” (24 November 2010) ¶5
When the Windsor Report was crafted, the minds of the framers no doubt had in mind that the walking apart would be done by the Western Provinces and those of a like mind. It appears that walking apart continues to be an activity favored by the Global Southerners and those of like mind with them. From the very beginning of tensions, it is they who absented themselves from the fellowship — from the fellowship of communion in both senses of that word: Calle y Altar, if you will — the communion both of Eucharist and Ecclesia (and ultimately, aren’t they one and the same, deep down: the Body of Christ?)

So the words of Windsor have proven true, though not likely in the sense, manner, or form intended by the authors. (So much for “original intent”!) I hasten to add this is not irrevocable. Things that are cast down can be raised up, and that which is of the old can come to partake of the new.

But whatever else can be said, the Anglican Communion is, as of this point in the shifting “now” of today — while it is called “today” — changed from what it was. What it will become, I can only hope that it will be better and more truly Christlike, based not on sacrificing others to placate a mob, but in offering itself for the life of the world.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 23, 2010

Settling for Mediocre

One of the stranger plaints of those who argue for the adoption of the Anglican Covenant is the expressed desire to be "part of something greater." And here I thought we were part of something greater. It's called the Body of Christ.

If what they mean is that "fellowship of national or provincial churches in communion with the See of Canterbury" -- we are already part of that too, and as the Covenant Fan Club keep assuring us the Anglican Covenant isn't about membership in the Anglican Communion (in spite of its title!) but about the modus operandi of the Communion and any others who wish to sign on (and who do not thereby become part of the Communion).

It remains to be explained precisely how the development of two tiers, tracks, circles, cliques or confabulations, and a legislated double track of distinction between Covenanter and Communion Member, mark improvements in our common life, rather than an engineered settlement for something far less vibrant than the communion we have known, and very far indeed from the free fellowship of the children of God in Christ.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Thought for 11.23.10

The Anglican Covenant consists of the wrong “words of institution.”

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 22, 2010

Inclusion as the Church's Identity

An address to the Welcoming Church Workshop
at St Ann’s in the Bronx, November 20, 2010
by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

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Depending on how you define it, inclusion is central to the human experience and the Christian faith. People want to belong, they want to love and to be loved. They know that they are more together than they are apart from each other.

This concept is so central to theology that it is enshrined in the second creation account in those famous words, “it is not good for the human to be alone.” And the point of that story, by the way, is not that every man needs a woman — after all, God made the animals first as companions for Adam and it was only when they proved insufficient that God took the next step of making another human being: it is Eve’s likeness to Adam, not her difference from him, that makes her the one best suited to be his partner. Clearly the contrast between Eve and the animals is not about gender but humanity.

People, as the song assures us, who need people, are the luckiest people in the world. And this goes for everybody — it isn’t about theology but about human psychology. People need people.

Where this moves into conscious theological discussion is when we look at the nature of the community we call the church. And the central point I want to make about that community of the church has to do with the fact that it is a community with boundaries. Not everyone is a member of the church — even if defined at its widest, and as Episcopalians have long seen it, as the company of all faithful people — all baptized persons, as the Outline of the Faith, the Catechism, puts it. It is something into which one is welcomed and baptized. No one is born a Christian, no one is naturally a member of the church; in fact the church is unnatural! Ironically, the false charge leveled by some Christian conservatives against GLBT persons — that we aren’t born that way and so we have to recruit — that false charge is actually true of the church. The church has to recruit — or it will die. No one is born a Christian, but anyone can become one. As Archbishop William Temple said many years ago, the church is an institution that exists for the benefit of those not yet its members.

The tragedy of course — and the reason we are here today — lies in the fact that the church so often, all too often, rather than opening its doors in a radical welcome, slams those doors in peoples’ faces when it judges that they do not measure up.

Well, let me just say that the church is not intended to be a posh nightclub with a stern guard at the door who only lets those in who seem most fashionable and likely to liven up the place and spend big bucks. The church is the body of Christ, for God’s sake — not a private club. I take my cue for this from the powerful words in the epistle of James:

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)
Substitute sexual orientation for dress code and you will see what I mean — it simply isn’t the church’s job to judge or exclude. It is the church’s task to grow by addition, by welcome and inclusion of any and all — and further, not to be content merely with those who happen to wander through the front door, perhaps having seen the sign that says that “all are welcome” and are not made to feel too terribly uncomfortable, or told to sit at the back of the bus. No the church — which is the people, not the building — actually needs to go out through those doors in mission — on mission, God’s mission — and let the world know that there is here to be found a place of hope and joy and above all fellowship — a place where no one is alone because they are joined as members one to another as the body of Christ.

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This language of membership is nowhere so well expressed as in the writings of Saint Paul. Now, I know that the name of Paul is one that can raise reservations in the hearts of LGBT people, myself included. But he still proclaims a powerful truth, in his imagery of the church as a body with many members. He goes on at length about this in the twelfth chapter of First Corinthians, but I want to close with his reflection on the subject in Ephesians.

In this very theological letter Paul is dealing with the mystery of inclusion, the great mystery of membership, and how many can be one.He calls this “the mystery hidden in God who created all things so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known...”(Eph 3:9-10) “Rich variety” — I am reminded of the fact that after the flood, when God wanted to set his name in the sky as a sign of an everlasting covenant not to destroy, that God chose the rainbow. God knows his logos!

Paul goes on to define how it is that through the power of God at work in the world the many can be one, the variety remaining various, but joined in one in an organic way in which unity does not equal uniformity, and in which the dignity of every person is respected and enhanced through the gift of loving service one to another.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Ephesians 4:4-7)
Note how the language moves from one, one, one to all, all, all but ends with each. By means of inclusion, by being included, by becoming a member — not by birth but by adoption — each human being enters the church in response to God’s call, to joining the one body through the one baptism under the watchful care of the One who is above, through and in all. But the “eachness” of each of the members does not disappear upon inclusion.

Inclusion does not mean creating either a stew in which all the ingredients lose their identity, nor a string of identical sausages, but something more like one of those fancy dishes you see on the shows on the Food Network, with multiple ingredients playing off each other in a dynamic combination. (The church is really gay!) We, the church, are a rare dish indeed, and we are impoverished if we restrict which ingredients we allow.

Ultimately, inclusion means not excluding — it is as simple as that. And woe to the church that sets itself up to exclude — it has cut itself off from its life; it has, in the long run, cut itself off from the gifts of God and the people of God, that is, the many potential people of God against whom, by its exclusion or bigotry or judgment or even misguided theology, it has closed the door.

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But enough gloominess — we are here to open the doors; and I assure you that the Spirit at work in us all will break them down if those in power do not open them. God’s will in creation is that we not be alone, and God’s will will be done.+

November 21, 2010

Reality Cheque

President Koch of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity says that Protestants have forsaken true ecumenism by not holding out for true, visible unity. By which, of course, he means institutional unity.

Well, as the policeman said, "Move along, nothing to look at here." This has always been the Roman model for ecumenism — as the church, in the view from the Vatican Hill, is officially defined as subsisting in that hierarchy of bishops in communion with the pope. The idea of independently governed churches being in communion with each other but answerable to no higher-level administration is simply foreign to their way of thinking. (And apparently some Anglicans find it hard to grasp, too!)

The proverb is true, and to be believed: When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/t Episcopal Café

November 18, 2010

Simon says...

Simon Sarmiento of Thinking Anglicans writes in the online Guardian "Everyone agrees that the Anglican Communion is in a bit of a mess. Having a covenant will not reduce the mess one jot."

Wise words, and exactly the problem.

The long and the short of it is that people who cannot agree about something will not somehow magically begin to be able to agree because they've signed a document pledging greater devotion to consensus. An engaged couple having problems will not wisely marry, especially if they think marriage is going to solve the problems. The fault, as a wise Englishman observed, is in our selves. Paper or no paper, we have real differences of opinion, and we can try to get along in spite of those differences without a handbook — especially one so open to broadly conflicting interpretations.

Let me put it simply: We can’t even agree on what the Covenant means; so why should we imagine the Covenant will help us come to agreement on anything else?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 17, 2010

Which Way Did They Go, Graham

Bishop Graham Kings, of the aptly named Fulcrum, is attempting to hoist the Sisyphian Boulder of the Anglican Covenant uphill against growing opposition, calling it "the only way forward." He likens the new model to a family. Yes, the one where the old patriarch constantly threatens to invoke "relational consequences" and change his will, or it is seen as a good idea for siblings to solve disagreements by not speaking to each other. No thanks.

But before becoming entangled in unpersuasive family imagery, the bishop begins by quoting the inimitable Yeats on how things fall apart and centers don't hold. So true: things do fall apart, however much we try to maintain them. "Tower and temple fall to dust," as another poet observed. Centers do not hold, or not for long. And it hardly seems a persuasive reason to create yet another Tower (whether of Babel or not remains to be seen) or Temple (to the God of Unity, instead of the Unity of God in whom we live and move and exist), or yet another Center with strings attached but little hope of permanence or much in the way of tensile strength.

The Anglican Covenant seems to be all of these, and less, and far from preventing division, by its own language (read carefully as the Canon of UFO suggests) outlines a process for consequences to the relationships we have enjoyed, in all their messy complexity and variability, for years. The Covenant will provide a way, not to avoid divisions, but to formalise them. Some shall hang together, and others be hanged separately, after due deliberation by the Standing Committee and action on its recommendations by the ironically named Instruments of Communion.

The Covenant is a way forward — in the wrong direction.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/t Thinking Anglicans


As a follow-up to my note on Canon Barnett-Cowan's assurances about the Anglican Covenant, and early morning thought came to mind. The Canon writes:

The assertion is often made that the ordination of women could not have occurred if the Covenant were in place. It is not at all clear that this would have been the case. The consultative processes of the Anglican Communion actually resulted in the discernment that this was an issue about which Anglicans were free to differ. 
This would be more accurate if the words "to the priesthood" were inserted in the first clause following the word "women." For unless I'm very much mistaken, the paradoxical phrase "impaired communion" entered our ecclesiastical lexicon from the lips of Archbishop Robert Runcie almost immediately following the election of Barbara Harris as Suffragan of Massachusetts. To this day, women bishops from around the Anglican Communion are unable to exercise episcopal ministry in the Church of England. They go there hat in hand, if I'm not mistaken.

And since "mutual recognition of ministers" is the bedrock definition of communion (at least when dealing in ecumenical circles and matters strictly ecclesiastical), we are now not only "free to differ" but do differ on a defining aspect of church polity.

So the thing the Anglican Covenant is designed to prevent, we have, and it's not so bad, really, is it? Or is it? And if all the Covenant does is conditionally baptize problems of this magnitude that already exist, it will not prevent future controversies, or settle them, unless they too are considered adiaphora. People will accept and live with whatever degrees of ambiguity and imperfection they accept and can live with. The Anglican Covenant is less a self-fulfilling prophecy than an engineered and costly tautology.

And as to "impaired communion" — like the new and improved "enhanced communion" introduced by the Anglican Covenant — it sounds a little like "slight pregnancy" or "virtual virginity." What is impaired or enhanced isn't really communion, except in the area of eccelsiastical rosterings. The real and important communion isn't something we do, but what we are — in Christ, as even the opening of the proposed Covenant admits. So why not stop there? All the rest is gloss.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 16, 2010

Powerless Leadership

The promoters of the Anglican Covenant simultaneously assure us it is not introducing any radical change to our life together, and that it is vital to our continued life together that we have it. As Ma Chere Mimi has observed, it is harmless and toothless, but we must have it!

Thus, like no-cal soda, it makes of virtue of what it lacks. It may quench your thirst but it will not nourish your body. It is powerless.

This particular claim of powerlessness reminds me of Rowan's Plaint:

I have no power; I am here only to see that the mind of the Communion is followed; I can't do anything. Oh, except remove representatives to committees I appoint, juggle the invitation list to Lambeth, press for voluntary renunciation of voting rights at the ACC, make a few phone calls to a few Presiding Bishops ("twisting arms" is far too brutish to describe my efforts at, ah... outreach), change the seating and conversation arrangements at the Primates' "Meeting" or perhaps even cancel it altogether, and... did I forget anything? No, I think that's all four Instruments, plus a few ringers. But no power; no, none at all. At least that's how I see it.

In the same way, the Covenant does nothing to the Anglican Communion, except to make changes in the relationships between the members. But since that is what communion is — not a substance or an institution but a form of relationship — the capacity to have consequential impact on the relations of the members of the Communion, through the Instruments thereof, cuts to the heart of the only relevant power on offer. And the fact that it does so by threats of what amounts to withdrawal of affection just makes the whole thing that much more toxic and morally suspect.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
who, if it seems he's going on a bit about this Covenant, is only doing so because of the impending vote in the General Synod.

UFO Sighting

No, not that kind of UFO. This is more a Unifying Fright Obliterator, in the person of Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, Director for Unity Faith and Order at the Anglican Communion Office. The "fright" she is seeking to address is the negative reaction to the proposed Anglican Covenant. She proposes we need a "fair and accurate" debate — a phrase which for some Americans will be a bit too reminiscent of the "fair and balanced" news reporting provided by the Fox network.

I cannot criticize her suggestion that people read the text of the Covenant itself. But I have to say I find her characterizations of the Covenant to be merely the most optimistic reading of a perilously ambiguous text. Having been brought up on a "hermeneutic of suspicion" I have long believed that legal texts need to be read in the light of the worst, not the best, that could happen.

Let me give just one example. Canon Alyson says

Some critics in the Church of England have suggested that Provinces would become subordinate to the judgements of the Standing Committee. This is not true. The Covenant explicitly says in section (4.1.3): “Such mutual commitment does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Nothing in this Covenant of itself shall be deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance. The Covenant does not grant to any one Church or any agency of the Communion control or direction over any Church of the Anglican Communion.”
This is, of course, true as far as it goes. It hinges on what one means by "subordinate." Provinces will not be forced to submit to any external jurisdiction, nor to alter their practice, nor come to a better mind about decisions they have taken. But the lack of control does not mean there is a lack of pressure in terms of "relational consequences." As the Canon puts it, rather too delicately to my way of thinking,
In a globalised world, it is no longer possible (if it ever was) for one church to act entirely for itself; decisions have ramifications, and the intention is for these to be explored together.
She also notes,
The Standing Committee... is made up of elected Primates and elected members from the Anglican Consultative Council and it co-ordinates work in the Communion. Regarding the Covenant, it would have the role of monitoring developments and has no power other than proposing to the Instruments of Communion (the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting) steps to be taken to encourage discussion and discernment about disputed questions among the Provinces, or, if processes of mediation have broken down, what the relational consequences might be.
First, let me note how much this reminds me of the plausible deniability in which the Inquisition cloaked itself when it truthfully claimed to kill no one — that onerous task was carried out by "the secular arm." But that leaves me to be open to a kind of antique version of Godwin's Law, so let that pass.

More importantly, there are those "relational consequences" again. There are "ramifications," there are "consequences" to not accepting the discernment of the Standing Committee and its advice to the Instruments. And what might those be? Well, let's take the Canon's advice and look to the text:
(4.2.5)   The Standing Committee may request a Church to defer a controversial action. If a Church declines to defer such action, the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument until the completion of the process set out below.
The only "process set out below" consists of the following:
(4.2.6)  On the basis of advice received from the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, the Standing Committee may make a declaration that an action or decision is or would be “incompatible with the Covenant”.
(4.2.7)  On the basis of the advice received, the Standing Committee shall make recommendations as to relational consequences which flow from an action incompatible with the Covenant. These recommendations may be addressed to the Churches of the Anglican Communion or to the Instruments of the Communion and address the extent to which the decision of any covenanting Church impairs or limits the communion between that Church and the other Churches of the Communion, and the practical consequences of such impairment or limitation. Each Church or each Instrument shall determine whether or not to accept such recommendations.
So the Standing Committee clearly does more than merely "monitor" as the Canon puts it. It reaches decisions and makes declarations, and passes on recommendations for action to those empowered to act on them. But from a legal standpoint, at this point there is a complete lack of "sentencing guidelines." The Standing Committee is, all other claims to the contrary notwithstanding, empowered to make a "declaration" of incompatibility with the Covenant, and to recommend undefined consequences. But if provisional limitation or suspension from participation in one or more of the Instruments can result from the mere indictment of incompatibility, what will the sentence on conviction be?

What sense, after all, does it make to turn an ad hoc impairment in communion into something that looks very much like an institutional severance in communion? Since participation in the Instruments is at least in part definitive for membership and participation in the Anglican Commuion, and as the Covenant declares as well, the means by which the members "are enabled to be conformed together to the mind of Christ" (3.1.2), anything remotely resembling permanent suspension by or from those Instruments as a "relational consequence" seems to indicate a serious and debilitating breach in the Anglican Communion and the body of Christ. And the Covenant provides a mechanism to promote it, and little in the way of helping to prevent it. It is the schema for an autoimmune disease in the Body of Christ.

This is a Bad Idea. Please, England, put it down.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 14, 2010

Reminds me of something....

It struck me today how one bit of the Anglican Covenant remind me, mutatis mutandis, of the Charter of the United Nations, especially Article 6: 

A Member of the United Nations which has persistently violated the Principles contained in the present Charter may be expelled from the Organization by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.
The evocative and more verbose portion of the AngCov reads:
(4.2.5)   The Standing Committee may request a Church to defer a controversial action. If a Church declines to defer such action, the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument until the completion of the process set out below.
(4.2.6)   On the basis of advice received from the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates' Meeting, the Standing Committee may make a declaration that an action or decision is or would be “incompatible with the Covenant”.
(4.2.7)   On the basis of the advice received, the Standing Committee shall make recommendations as to relational consequences which flow from an action incompatible with the Covenant...
The UN Charter is a bit more direct; still...


Freedom and Responsibility

Giles Fraser has penned an as usual thoughtful essay concerning the dynamic tension between freedom and the restraint to freedom brought about by being in relationship with others.This tension is well characterized in that evocative phrase, bonds of affection. Giles wisely observes the distinctions needed:

Freedom is not about having no restrictions — that is something empty and weightless — freedom is about having some sort of say in the restrictions that apply to you.
It is that "having some sort of say" that is crucial. A forced marriage is no marriage — indeed, consent is the crucial element in marriage. It also strikes me that this "having some sort of say" is what distinguishes the paschal mystery from the Girardian scape-goating conceived by Caiaphas: Christ was not simply the passive victim trapped in circumstances beyond his control, but one who offered himself to save others in the way a hero throws himself on a grenade. This free act of giving up all control was and is a cosmic undermining of the urge to self-sufficiency and ego-satisfaction that lies at the root of human sinfulness — the hunger for self-determination at whatever cost to others, even, ironically and in the end to oneself.

It is well to remember, as I have reminded us all before, that the motto of the Anglican Communion is "The Truth Shall Free You." This is, as Canon Fraser suggests, not an untethered freedom to do anything at all, a freedom so free that, as Witkacy observed in The Shoemakers, "it comes loose." The freedom to which Jesus (in John) refers is freedom in the old sense the ancients would have understood completely: freedom from slavery. Perhaps we would best translate ἐλευθερώσει as "emancipate" to remind ourselves what this freedom is freedom from, and what it is freedom for. Those to whom Jesus spoke understood, for they protested they were never slaves to anyone, little knowing what bonds of slavery they had long since submitted to.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 11, 2010

A moving personal testimony

I commend a visit to Benny's Blog to read a moving personal account of pilgrimage and return; an Anglican answer to those Roman Catholic "How I found my way home" stories that used to fill the back pages of popular devotional magazines and The Catholic Digest. Not all roads lead to Rome, and not all of those that do are one way streets.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 10, 2010

Video at 11

The Church of England is an uneasy mix of “Upstairs / Downstairs,” “Yes, Minister,” and “MI-5.”
Somehow it still manages to preach the Gospel, which is, to me, a sign of grace and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

An Introduction is Sufficient

I noted in a comment on the previous post that I'd just re-read the Anglican Covenant (being made more aware of its weaknesses than ever) but also admiring the qualities of the Introduction. It then occurred to me that the Introduction, standing on its own, would make an admirable Covenant in and of itself. What do you think? Let the Introduction be the Covenant!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Introduction to the Covenant Text
 “This life is revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us – we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have communion with us; and truly our communion is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.  These things we write so that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1.2-4).
  1. God has called us into communion in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1.9).  This communion has been “revealed to us” by the Son as being the very divine life of God the Trinity.  What is the life revealed to us?  St John makes it clear that the communion of life in the Church participates in the communion which is the divine life itself, the life of the Trinity.  This life is not a reality remote from us, but one that has been “seen” and “testified to” by the apostles and their followers:  “for in the communion of the Church we share in the divine life”[1].  This life of the One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, shapes and displays itself through the very existence and ordering of the Church.
  2. Our divine calling into communion is established in God’s purposes for the whole of creation (Eph 1:10; 3:9ff.).  It is extended to all humankind, so that, in our sharing of God’s life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God might restore in us the divine image.  Through time, according to the Scriptures, God has furthered this calling through covenants made with Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David.  The prophet Jeremiah looked forward to a new covenant not written on tablets of stone but upon the heart (Jer 31.31-34).  In God’s Son, Christ Jesus, a new covenant is given us, established in his “blood … poured out for the many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28), secured through his resurrection from the dead (Eph 1:19-23), and sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts (Rom 5:5).  Into this covenant of death to sin and of new life in Christ we are baptized, and empowered to share God’s communion in Christ with all people, to the ends of the earth and of creation.
  3. We humbly recognize that this calling and gift of communion entails responsibilities for our common life before God as we seek, through grace, to be faithful in our service of God’s purposes for the world.  Joined in one universal Church, which is Christ’s Body, spread throughout the earth, we serve his gospel even as we are enabled to be made one across the dividing walls of human sin and estrangement (Eph 2.12-22).  The forms of this life in the Church, caught up in the mystery of divine communion, reveal to the hostile and divisive power of the world the “manifold wisdom of God” (Eph 3:9-10).  Faithfulness, honesty, gentleness, humility, patience, forgiveness, and love itself, lived out in mutual deference and service (Mk 10.44-45) among the Church’s people and through its ministries, contribute to building up the body of Christ as it grows to maturity (Eph 4.1-16; Col 3.8-17).
  4. In the providence of God, which holds sway even over our divisions caused by sin, various families of churches have grown up within the universal Church in the course of history.  Among these families is the Anglican Communion, which provides a particular charism and identity among the many followers and servants of Jesus.  We recognise the wonder, beauty and challenge of maintaining communion in this family of churches, and the need for mutual commitment and discipline as a witness to God’s promise in a world and time of instability, conflict, and fragmentation.  Therefore, we covenant together as churches of this Anglican Communion to be faithful to God’s promises through the historic faith we confess, our common worship, our participation in God’s mission, and the way we live together.
  5. To covenant together is not intended to change the character of this Anglican expression of Christian faith.  Rather, we recognise the importance of renewing in a solemn way our commitment to one another, and to the common understanding of faith and order we have received, so that the bonds of affection which hold us together may be re-affirmed and intensified.  We do this in order to reflect, in our relations with one another, God’s own faithfulness and promises towards us in Christ (2 Cor 1.20-22).
  6. We are a people who live, learn, and pray by and with the Scriptures as God’s Word.  We seek to adore God in thanks and praise and to make intercession for the needs of people everywhere through common prayer, united across many cultures and languages.  We are privileged to share in the mission of the apostles to bring the gospel of Christ to all nations and peoples, not only in words but also in deeds of compassion and justice that witness to God’s character and the triumph of Christ over sin and death.  We give ourselves as servants of a greater unity among the divided Christians of the world.  May the Lord help us to “preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4.5).
  7. Our faith embodies a coherent testimony to what we have received from God’s Word and the Church’s long-standing witness.  Our life together reflects the blessings of God (even as it exposes our failures in faith, hope and love) in growing our Communion into a truly global family.  The mission we pursue aims at serving the great promises of God in Christ that embrace the peoples and the world God so loves.  This mission is carried out in shared responsibility and stewardship of resources, and in interdependence among ourselves and with the wider Church.
  8. Our prayer is that God will redeem our struggles and weakness, renew and enrich our common life and use the Anglican Communion to witness effectively in all the world, working with all people of good will, to the new life and hope found in Christ Jesus.
[1] The Church of the Triune God, The Cyprus Statement of the International Commission for Anglican Orthodox Theological Dialogue, 2007, paragraph 1,2.

School for Scandal

The chief problem with the proposed Anglican Covenant still lies in Section Four. Based as it is toeing the line and taking offense, it fails to structure the Communion as a school of charity and instead encourages it to become a coterie of busybodies. It is a school for scandal, where far from bearing one another's burdens, members will be encouraged to find fault, complain, and enforce conformity by means of the withdrawal of affection, or exclusion from the inner circle. WWJD? Not this.

It describes not a church, but a clique of self-satisfied judges of each other, busy at the work of pruning and weeding which ought to be left to God and the angels, and even then at the end of time.

Jerusalem will not be builded here or anywhere by such a regime of cornerstone rejection.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 8, 2010

Wrong Tool for the Job?

Bishop Alan has posted some fine thoughts about the proposed Anglican Covenant now looming over England. Read it all, but note this zinger:

I very much doubt that places where they are less into deference, infantilism and amateur inexperience than England will buy the covenant wholesale...

November 7, 2010

Phrases that come to mind...

... when reading the Anglican Covenant:

  • pre-nuptial agreement
  • You're not the woman I married.
  • Perhaps we should see other people.
  • Go to your room.
  • Not our sort.
  • All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.
  • Pot of message.
  • Can't we all just get along?
  • Who told you you could bring that in here!?
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Where the Wild Things Aren't

I am more and more seeing the doings in Anglicanism as an episode in the continuing battle between those who want a tightly controlled world, and those who favor freedom. I was put in mind of this today by a comment on the previous post about those swimming or hydroplaning the Tiber. There is a definite attraction to the order and rule in the magisterial realm of the Italian Church, quite different from the sometimes messy open pasture of the "Episcopal Commons" -- as Paul Wattson denigrated it. Some people just want more structure in their lives, while others are content with a bit of disorder. The proposed Anglican Covenant, it seems to me, is an unhappy mix: order poorly defined.

But I was also put in mind of one of my favorite artistic creations. Consider Sarastro's Temple (from Magic Flute) particularly as described by Gary McGath:

The virtues which Sarastro's temple cites are courage, willingness to accept any assigned task, silence when commanded, and intense distrust of women. The Temple of Wisdom is a frightening sort of organization: its members revere their leader, require newcomers to undergo dangerous initiation rituals, subject people to humiliating psychological manipulation, kidnap people for their own good, and instill strong distrust of those outside (particularly women).
Sound familiar? Ironically, Mozart's light opera is redolent of Freemasonry — at odds with Rome — but after all it's hard to tell the difference when it comes to the appeal of Order and Rule. Some might envision a modern production in our current brouhaha: Cue ++KJS as Queen of the Night (in the eyes of her detractors) vs Benedetto 16 as Sarastro. As a baritone, I'll take Papageno; like him I rarely hold my tongue; and my lovely Wounded Bird will I'm sure be happy to do a turn as Papagena! I'll leave the rest of the casting up to your imagination.

In the meantime, I'll stay where the wild things, mostly of the Anglican sort, thrive — in an English Garden rather than one of the more symmetrical Continental sort. May Anglicanism continue to be just that sort of cultivated wildness, and not trim its boxwood hedges too fine.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 6, 2010

Advice to Anglo-Papalists

concerning the Ordinariate or other Tiber-Swimming Apparatus

About a hundred years ago, an Episcopal Bishop gave the following advice to the fiercely Anglo-Papalist Episcopal priest Fr Paul Wattson, founder of Graymoor*:
You accept the whole teaching of the Roman Church save the single detail of the repudiation of Anglican Orders. . . This proposition is an impossible one for a clergyman of our Church. My advice is that, in the interest of single-minded honesty and devotion to duty, you make the choice between the two Churches. You cannot serve either the Papal Church or the Protestant Episcopal Church well if you try to serve both at the same time. Either give up belief in a divinely established Papacy and in Roman dogmas. . . as one must do who is a consistent and contented Anglican; or else give up Anglican Orders, make an unqualified submission to the Latin Church, and be a good Roman Catholic. I have no hesitation in saying that if I were in your position I should choose the latter alternative. This would seem to be the natural outcome of the line of development you have adopted.
Nothing has changed, and this advice applies to any and all Anglo-Papalists. It is simply absurd to say one believes in papal supremacy but not to accept a definitive pronouncement from that Office which concerns oneself intimately and explicitly.

The Episcopal Bishop (Kinsman of Delaware), interestingly enough, eventually did follow that course, renounced his orders, and died a Roman Catholic layman in 1944.

Tobias Stanislas Haller, with a tip of the hat to Mimi
whose post on Bishops Broadbent and Buchanan prompted this thought

*See my paper on Fr Wattson and Dr William Reed Huntington, for more on the fascinating characters involved, and the very different understandings of church unity they espoused.

November 5, 2010

The Man in the Mirror

In response to the move against adoption of the Anglican Covenant, Bishop Gregory Cameron has come up with a surprising image to describe those opposed to it: the BNP, the current incarnation of Fascism in Britain. This comes on the heels of other English sources responding to critiques of the Covenant as if such moves to defend historic Anglicanism from a revisionist experiment in ecclesiastical oligarchy were signs of incipitent Nazism. Thank you, Bishop Godwin.

What a bizarre world such Covenant supporters live in: "It is absolutely vital to adopt it, but it really won't make much difference! It will bring us closer together, except for those who don't agree with the majority, who will be relegated to a different level or status." It doesn't make one a Fascist to point out that paradox, or the un-Anglican aspects of the proposal.

Moreover, one ought remember that the symbol of Fascism is a bundle of rods surrounding an axe — the symbol of unity maintained by force — precisely what the Windsor Report (paragraph 118) called for! The seed of the libido dominandi bears such fruit, and bitter it is indeed.

Come, friends, we shall dine on bread and ashes, 
and quaff the bitter tears; 
we shall serve up messy pottage — 
the best we've had in years!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/ts to Episcopal Café & Thinking Anglicans

November 3, 2010

What God Wants

When God chose to set his Name in the sky as a sign of the Covenant, he chose a rainbow.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Richard Hooker's Smiling

Today, the feast of Blessed Richard Hooker, architect and expositor of Anglican polity, marks the launch of a web-site for an internationally organized form of opposition to the proposed Anglican Covenant. I heartily support this effort as it will involve more engagement and discussion on the very problematical, deeply flawed, and potentially dangerous Anglican Covenant recently, now, or soon to be on the sundry tables of the various Provinces' legislative bodies. Some very helpful tools are provided at the site, including a list of resources.

I've said my share about the flaws and dangers of this document (click on "anglican covenant" in the topical tags list yonder to the right). My only qualms about the organization at this point lie in its name, "No Anglican Covenant," as I do not in fact oppose the very idea, and have in the past encouraged adoption of a unifying document based on mission. Sadly, the current document up for adoption is not based on mission, but institutional uniformity and pressure to conform to the Groupthink of a particular brand of Emerging Ecclesiopolitik (depending on who is in power) that is very far from our Anglican roots.

That being said, as far as the particular Anglican Covenant on offer goes, I see it, as I have said before, as not helpful in accomplishing much of a positive nature that could not be as well or better done without it, and as a potentially dangerous source of division, coercion, and ultimate collapse. As with the Tower of Babel, there are better ways to get to heaven, and this one will not only not gather us, but will scatter us. So I support the efforts of this new organization and wish it well in bringing some light to the darkness.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

No-Purpose Tool

The proposed Anglican Covenant is a tool designed to accomplish a task which can be accomplished just as well without it.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 2, 2010

Iacta Alea Est

Well, I voted this morning in our national, regional and municipal elections, using the newly devised balloting system — Oscar Nomination Form with Folder, Modesty Panel, Pen and Fax Machine — replacing the old combination of Frigidare, Switch-Panel and Tent.

In New York City, the ballot was horribly mis-designed, and very, very hard to read. The indications of number candidates for whom to vote was in what couldn't have been more than 6-point Helvetica narrow, and the rest wasn't much better. (Don't people know that sans-serif type, and ALL UPPER CASE is actually harder to read?) The instructions printed on the ballot said to mark the bullet above the candidate's name, while the handout distributed to voters on arrival gave the correct information: to mark the bullet below the name of choice — but due to a state requirement, each modesty booth had to have a posted instruction that repeated the discordant, and in the case of the city incorrect, instructions. Those who vote by party are in luck, however, as the candidates were listed in columns by party, and one could simply tick down the page and not go astray. (I do think, however, that organizing the ballots by party is a partial source of confusion; I'm not a partisan in general, but it seems to me it would be less confusing if each office was in a block, with the candidates listed alphabetically, and their party — or parties in case of multiple endorsements — indicated in parentheses.)

However, on top of the problems with the ballot itself — hard enough to read even in broad daylight — the modesty booths were so positioned that the "modesty" portion cast a shadow from the overhead lights upon the area on which one had space to mark the ballot, so only a tiny sliver of the "desk" surface (slanted and wobbly at that) was available for actual illuminated use. It was like voting at Stonehenge — if you can imagine Stonehenge as a slanted, wobbly contraption of tubular metal and cardboard, and the sun as a fluorescent light fixture. The slant of the surface and wobble of the whole apparatus were annoying, as every stroke of the pen to fill in the bullet-holes caused the modesty machinery to wobble.

I understand the designer of the ballot has been sacked. So much for justice — though a better penance would have been to be forced to write one's memoirs standing at one of these torturous, half-lit booths.

+ + +

On another subject involving votes, this Thursday the Standing Committee of the Diocese of New York (on which I serve) will take up consent to the election of Dan Martins as bishop of Springfield. There has been considerable discussion of this election and consent on the blogs, both pro and con. I've read through the negative material distributed by the Diocese of San Joaquin, as well as Dan Martins' response. I also directly asked him what I regard as a crucial question, and he gave what I regard as an honest and satisfactory answer.

Some have compared him to Mark Lawrence, and warned of the possibility of similar problems to come, but I think, and have always advised, that in the area of vocational discernment it is unwise to compare individuals. While Mark and Dan are not as different as night and day, they are at least as different as "tropical storm warning" and "partly cloudy." While I do not agree with Dan on any number of topics, we do agree on others — but the important thing, from my perspective, is neither our level of agreement, nor the fact that, unlike Mark Lawrence, Dan Martins does not remind me of a histrionic ham actor with an axe to grind. The important thing is that I can see in Dan a person committed to do the best he can in a ministry to which he is manifestly called and duly elected, and in whose record and present statements I cannot find an impediment to his consecration. A number of deputies from across the spectrum have issued a short letter to Standing Committees in response to the request for consent; I am happy to be a late signatory, though I had no part in the drafting.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 1, 2010

Too Dangerous to Play At

Having now read through the briefing paper prepared by supporters of the Anglican Covenant for consideration at the Church of England General Synod, I am becoming more and more convinced that the possibly pernicious effects of said Covenant outweigh any possible benefits.

The briefing paper itself is so full of vague prognostications, half-hearted apologies about what might or might not happen, depending on who does what, when and where, it seems the Covenant remains, as I said earlier, a tissue of aspiration thinly veiling a pessimistic mistrust. It also appears to me to be a very dangerous toy to give to a still relatively young Communion, some of whose members have not shown themselves well able to play by what few rules already exist, let alone take on more.

Let us remember as well that the original call for "an" Anglican Covenant (in the Windsor Report ¶118) was geared to “make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection” within the Anglican Communion. But surely forced loyalty or affection are never good things. Force robs both of their profoundest value, their purely voluntary nature. Forced affection, in particular, is suggestive of "date rape." Should the Covenant Process include a supply of Ruffies?

Or have we already so forgotten basic biblical principles of moral theology (such as that "force is not of God" and "love is not rude or boastful and does not insist on its own way"), to say nothing of the apparent amnesia concerning the treasures of our Anglican heritage (humility, provincial autonomy, and diversity) that no further hypnotic is required? 

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/t Thinking Anglicans

October 30, 2010

Retired chaplains warn against 'don't ask' repeal

A Seattle News report shows me two things. In it, military chaplains, active or retired, argue against the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell on two grounds.

If a chaplain preaches against homosexuality, he could conceivably be disciplined as a bigot under the military's nondiscrimination policy, the retired chaplains say.
My response: Just because a belief has a religious basis doesn't mean it isn't bigoted.
Clergy would be ineligible to serve as chaplains if their churches withdraw their endorsements, as some have threatened to do if "don't ask, don't tell" ends.
Many religious groups have teachings that exclude certain classes of people from salvation, or preach against the activities in which they participate. If a chaplain is not able to minister to those of other faith traditions — or none — then he or she should likely take up a traditional mono-religious institutional calling — as perhaps some of the retired chaplains already have. Active chaplains have to deal with all sorts and conditions of people, many of whom will have beliefs inimical to their own. There is not enough to support a chaplain for each and every denomination or cult. So if a sponsoring church withdraws its endorsement, that church should find a suitable position for the former chaplain, perhaps in the parish of St Coals to Newcastle, where he or she will be able to preach to the choir until final retirement.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/t Episcopal Café

October 27, 2010

Bully Church

On my flight back from London Monday I saw a beautiful but disturbing film, "Agora," telling the story of 4th-century Alexandrian struggles between Christians, Pagans and Jews, centering on the figure of the philosopher Hypatia, whom even early Christian historians record was treated horribly by other Christians. It is beautifully filmed, if slow-paced; most of the "action" arises from the zealotry of some of the Christian mob, employing literal hubris to make their points against Jews and Pagans alike, and it is not exaggerated. The formerly persecuted become the chief persecutors. The church "wins" but at a terrible cost to reason, human dignity, and, I think, to its own best interest, and better self.

The film provides an interesting commentary on fanaticism, liberty of thinking, the terrible pressures of conformity to majority rule to the point of tyranny. When the gospel becomes not "this is what I believe" but "this is what you must believe" we have crossed a fearful boundary from grace to law — in contradiction to the very message intended. The church becomes a bully, a crowd of bullies, who stone and burn, and crucify. It becomes the thing it rightly rejects, and rejects the one whom the builders rejected. It lays waste while it claims to edify.

[Update: I neglected to mention that I watched this film in conjunction with rereading the Apostolic Fathers and other Ante-Nicene texts. I'm towards the end of Justin Martyr, writing in a period prior to that of Hypatia, when the Christians were on the sharp end of the stick. However, I have to say that I can see why Justin was martyred, and see the seeds of the very intolerance later displayed in Alexandria. Justin is contemptuous of pagans (the Apologies) and Jews (Dialogue with Trypho, A Jew) to the point of insult. His arguments are specious and tendentious, and when they fail to persuade he says it is just because his interlocutors are either demon-possessed pagans or God-damned Jews. Not a pretty sight; but it helped provide a context for "Agora."]

Speaking of paradox, however, the film also got me thinking — relying as it does on the symbol of the conic sections and the ellipse — about the divine and human natures of Christ. The ellipse is the actual course of our island home's orbit round the sun, not in fact the ideal shape, the circle. The ellipse has two centers, and its realization — its incarnation if you will — revolves around them so that the sum of the distance to each is always constant. As Hypatia says — in the film; I have no idea if she ever said such a thing in reality — "A circle is merely an ellipse in which the two centers coincide."

In any case, this is a commendable film, and I look to a second viewing at an altitude below 40,000 feet. (Though one repeated visual theme of the film is a God's-eye-view of earth from space, zooming in, or out, of the oculus of the temple of learning, which though round, from an angle forms the double-centered and paradoxical ellipse.)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Another update: Please check out Faith L. Justice's analysis of the historical realities as represented in the film, at a blog I will definitely revisit "Historian's Notebook."

October 25, 2010

Thought for 10.25.10

If the Anglican Covenant would work (in keeping things together) we wouldn't need it. If it wouldn't work (in keeping things together) why have it?

It is a tissue of aspirations barely cloaking a pessimistic mistrust.

It is a relatively pointless (v. supra) exercise in ecclesiastical self-absorption.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
back from London

October 16, 2010


The Diocese of South Carolina continues to traipse lightly down the garden path of surmised diocesan sovereignty — a notion that could not be further from catholic tradition if it tried, and plainly at odds both with history and canon. In addition to all of the things for which a diocese, its bishop and clergy, are answerable under the canons (gainsay them how they will), if we are to define a diocese as the “bishop, clergy and people in a given place,” then at this most fundamental level every diocese is beholden to the rest of the church in order to obtain a crucial element in that triumvirate: the bishop. (To say nothing of the need for the trio to be in union with some larger general church in order truly to be catholic — otherwise many a storefront church could claim to be a “diocese.” As I have observed in the past, the diocese is the “basic unit of the church” only in the sense that a brick is a unit in a building.)

But to return to my primary observation: no diocese can consecrate a bishop without the consent of a majority of all of the other dioceses (either meeting at General Convention or in the more diffuse times between its sessions; diocesan bishops functioning in both cases, but the deputies and standing committees taking the role in alternate performances.) And no new bishop can be confected by a single predecessor — the priest can only be rendered a bishop by the concerted action of at least three bishops. A diocese in isolation is thus not the church in its fullness; and if it remains alone, it is as fruitless as that unplanted grain of wheat, as it cannot pass on the apostolic succession apart from the collegial nature of the apostolic ministry. The diocese must die to itself, and be buried in the life-giving soil of the church, if it is to bear fruit in time to come. Those who seek to assert their sovereignty will lose it, but those who die to it will gain immeasurably.

Compare this to the actual sovereign status of the various states in choosing their leaders. Can you imagine the outcry were it to be suggested that every state’s governor, in order to be installed as such, required the consent of the majority of all the other governors, and a majority of the legislatures of all of the other states, or of congress? For those who, bemused by superficial resemblances, think the polity of the Episcopal Church is based on or mimics that of the Federal government, compare and contrast!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

ps, blogging may be light, and comment approval slow as I will be away for the next week.


October 14, 2010

There is a balm in Gilead

In the midst of the pain and anguish over bullying, abuse, suicide and murder, some words of encouragement from the Bishop of New Hampshire. Let those with ears to hear, hear.

October 13, 2010

Something Borrowed, Something New

A review of Ancient Faith, Future Mission, edited by Steven Croft, Ian Mobsby & Stephanie Spellers. Seabury Books 2010. (The Episcopal New Yorker, Summer 2010).

Just about 200 years ago, Presiding Bishop William White recorded his thoughts about enlivening the worship of the Episcopal Church with additional hymns:

As to the loading of our book with the same truths in a diversity of language and of metre, or, in any other way, the seeking of variety for its own sake, there is pleasure in recording the opinion, that it will never tend to the sustaining either of truth or of devotion. (Memoirs, the Convention of 1808)

There is nothing new about the search for novelty, or of such cautious warnings not so far to expand the edges as to lose touch with the center. In our present day, the urge to expansion and experimentation has been fueled and energized by “The Emergent Church.” The present collection of essays provides a helpful overview this exploration, as well as providing cautions of its own.

The voices in these 16 essays, introduced by our present Presiding Bishop, range from the scholarly to the pragmatic; from the Archbishop of Canterbury to leaders of emergent congregations. The editors, in a brief foreword, indicate that each contribution was made without reference to the others; so there is considerable repetition of primary themes as well as occasional disagreement. However, the dissonances tend to resolve harmoniously, and converge upon a basic drive for mission.

Echoing William White, this movement is not about variety for its own sake; nor is it a formulaic solution to the problems of decline. This is not merely about new vestments, rearranging the furniture, coopting some ancient tradition (whether Gregorian chant or the labyrinth), or adopting the latest thing in electro-pop. Nor is this a game of children dressing up in their grandparents’ clothes, but a call to deep engagement with what is emerging — to borrow Thomas Brackett’s phrase, “midwifing the movement of the Spirit.” In her contribution to the collection, Phyllis Tickle suggests that the present Great Emergence is the next wave in the 500-year cycle of seismic changes that have rippled through the Church. Something new is coming — and the present Church is both mother and midwife to the change, both subject and object. We are all part of this process, whether we know it or not.

It is no surprise that most of the essays in this collection deal with liturgy. Anglicans have long understood their faith to be constituted in their worship. It is therefore welcome to find several reminders — drawing on such luminaries as Frank Weston — that worship without mission is precious at best and scandalous at worst. It is heartening to see that a number of the emergent experiences in these pages are based on outreach to people living on the fringes of society — and to see cathedral churches revivified and renewed by taking such human treasures seriously, and embracing them.

The quality of the essays is variable, and as already noted there is a good bit of repetition. But each of them offers a thoughtful suggestion or correction to take to heart, as the whole Church engages with its ministry of bringing its own new self into being.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

October 12, 2010

Standing on Principal(s)

Awareness of the reality and dangers of bullying, especially of youth who identify as or are perceived as gay, lesbian or otherwise "a stranger in our midst" is coming to the fore in the wake of several recent tragic or horrific incidents. What can be done? A practical suggestion is to write your own senior- or junior-high principal, however long ago you were a student, and express your support for efforts at minimizing or eliminating bullying. A website has been devoted to assisting this process and collating comments and responses. A commendable idea.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/t Louie Crew

October 11, 2010

When the Benefit is the Cost

In good Jesuit fashion, I have been trying over the last couple of years to think through the cost/benefit ratio presented by the Anglican Covenant, and the prospect of The Episcopal Church signing it. To put it bluntly, it seems to me that its only conceivable benefits correspond exactly to its costs. In response to the old legal question cui bono? a voice cries out, Nemo.

Let me be more specific: the two most widely cited benefits of the Anglican Covenant are, first, to be able to speak in ecumenical dialogues with a unified voice; and, second, to be able to avoid controversy through a mechanism designed to generate consensus. I submit that both of these urged (and related) goods come at the cost of equally weighty (and twinned) evils.

As far as ecumenical dialogue goes, there is already sufficient univocality in the Anglican Communion on issues of creed and doctrine. The same can be said for most of Christendom, with the exception of some churches’ parochial dogmas. As we all know it is primarily the form of church government that creates most divisions between churches, especially as to who is in charge. All current divisions within Anglicanism, largely over matters of pastoral or moral theology — ordination and marriage — are also present in the wider ecumenical sphere. What is more, a number of our active ecumenical (or even closer) partners tend to share TEC's more innovative position. The same can be said of the churches of Porvoo. Are they the Chopped Liver of Ecumenism?

But to get back to the cost/benefit: the only way to speak with a single voice on these very matters would be for the Communion to abandon its actual identity as a chorus of voices singing in parts, and put on the identity of a monophonic choir. Now, I enjoy Gregorian Chant as much as the next monk, but the Anglican Communion, in spite of the significant role Gregory played in its creation, isn’t really all that good at singing in unison (except on the minima hammered out in the Reformation and Elizabethan Settlement) but is rather good at polyphony, rich with the cultures of many nations and tongues. Is it worth giving up our actual richness in order to please — whom, exactly? And will it please them? And whom do we offend in the process, such as all of those ecumenical partners who are already actually working with us?

The second evil is related: as the process laid out in part four of the Anglican Covenant, however attenuated since its teeth were pulled from the text in the revision process, retains a subtext of coercion as a means to consensus — coming to agreement by attrition, picking off the voices in a parody of the Farewell Symphony. Again, we stand to lose the very richness and variety that form such a characteristic element in Anglican identity — particularly the freedom in matters of rites and ceremonies, which, the last time I looked, appears to cover ordination and marriage.

Is it worth replacing the full-course banquet that is Anglicanism with such a mess of pottage? In the long run, the question remains, What does it profit the Anglican Communion to become a whole-world-church at the cost of its soul?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

October 10, 2010

Thought for 10.10.10

Homophobia is a non-geographical violation of the mandate to love the stranger and foreigner, the alien in your midst.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Shame on You

In keeping with the House of Bishops' Pastoral Letter, a sermon touching on immigration and welcome to the stranger.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

The image, from Wikipedia Commons, is William Blake's portrayal of Naomi, Ruth and Orpah.