January 30, 2010

What's Up with Scripture?

It is not that progressives such as I are teaching contrary to Scripture, but that we are interpreting Scripture contrary to a traditional teaching.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
more on this later

January 27, 2010

Global Village Idiocy

It is a commonplace that new communication developments have made the world smaller and more intimate. I would like to opine that this is more appearance than reality.

The proliferation of social networks, twitters and tweets, facebooks and googles and myspaces and second lives may create new electronic connections and foster communication by these means, but I do not think this makes us a global village. Look at how difficult it has been to get real food and medical supplies to real people in Haiti — for all the almost instantaneous footage of the disaster, and the goodwill to text-message a contribution, the aid seems to be taking about what it did a quarter or a half or more of a century ago to reach those in need.

And that is because whatever the speed and form of communication, it remains communication: a text-message may speed the message on its way, but the actual human contact (perhaps well aided by simultaneous improvements in travel capabilities) will still take a while to get up and running. There is, in short, a humanity gap — the gap between the virtual communication and the real presence.

There is also the question of how intimate one can be with hundreds of facebook friends or twitter followers; and how deep an engagement of persons can be when limited to 140 characters. Does this not rather substitute for intimacy something analogous to fast food? Perhaps starved for true intimacy we accept the appearance of dispatches from facebook or tweets from twitter as eagerly as war-brides once looked for the postman.

I"m not saying "Down with social networks." What I'm saying is, "Let us not kid ourselves." It takes a village to be a village, and for all the benefits of quick and easy and voluminous communication, true fellowship and intimacy will always take more than speed-dialing.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 25, 2010

A thought from retreat: Killing Truth

The quickest way to kill the truth is simply to speak it, and then not act upon it. If you really want to bury it for good, inscribe it on the walls of your temple, where you can bow to it and do it reverence, then turn your back upon it and walk away from it. Thus you will be able to act in ways contrary to it, but always point to the temple on the hill.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
coming out of a discussion of Bonhoeffer

January 24, 2010

Way With Words

A cow is an adult female bovine, a boy is a human male child. A cowboy is neither. A cowboy is an adult human male who herds steers or steers herds.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
inspired by an earlier discussion of the slipperiness of language, and the importance of context for meaning.

January 21, 2010

Thought from retreat 01.21.10

Bubbles don't look like bubbles from the inside.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 18, 2010

Mrs Ashworth is misinformed

and perhaps a meddlesome interferer who by her own admission did not consult with any Episcopalians other than those she appears to represent; or at the very least a well-meaning busybody.

Mrs Lorna Ashworth is bringing a Private Members Motion to the General Synod of the Church of England, appealing recognition by the Church of England of a state of communion with ACNA (the self-styled "Anglican Church in North America). You can review her background document for yourself. Amongst the numerous errors and half-truths in this document, I want simply to flag her assertion that the "Dennis Canon" was somehow a novel creation by which all parish property was transferred to "the ownership of the national church."

In fact, the "Dennis Canon" (which she quotes but clearly does not understand) merely put into canonical language the practice and understanding of the church (and in most places, the state) up to that time: that parishes may own their property, but they hold it as trustees for the wider church. It is not theirs to sell, for instance, and never has been, without diocesan approval, under canons far older than that proposed by Walter Dennis. (This is perhaps slightly different than they do in England, admittedly, but I very much doubt the leadership of an English parish could suddenly claim no longer to be part of the Church of England and retain the real property until then held in its name.) The Dennis Canon merely made explicit what had been the normal practice up to that time. Dozens of court cases had been decided in favor of the larger church prior to the adoption of this canon, and very, very few against (most of the latter involving peculiar circumstances in a given parish).

But to clarify for Mrs Ashworth, and any member of the Synod who might not understand, the question isn't ownership but trusteeship. I have dealt with this at length before and will not dwell on it here, but the basic principle is not that hard to understand: when people have custody of a property as trustees, the maintenance of the trust forms the basis of their control. Most Episcopal parishes were founded for the good and use of The Episcopal Church; they were maintained and contributed to over (in some cases) generations with that end in mind, and the vestries serve as the custodians of that trust. Those who give to the support of the church give -- the church doesn't belong to them simply because they have contributed to its construction or maintenance. (Ananias and Sapphira learned that the hard way.)

Moreover, when leaders of a parish vote to leave The Episcopal Church, even though they may feel that they are the truly faithful Anglicans, they fail in their trustee responsibilities, and at the very least remove themselves from being qualified to exercise that trust — they have, in fact, violated the trust. So the control of the property (not its ownership, per se) reverts to the body for whom it was held in trust: the diocese and national church. In many cases the members of the parish who remained part of The Episcopal Church will take up control of the property. Mrs A seems to show a great deal of pity of those she says are "excluded" from their churches, with scant recognition that in many cases a portion of the congregation has no wish to secede from The Episcopal Church, and it is they who have been "excluded" and are seeking to regain property wrongly occupied by those who wish to walk apart from the church of which they formerly were part.

I certainly hope this mischievous motion is not adopted. It will seriously muddy already well-trodden waters. (See the comments to this effect in the additional document from the Secretary General, especially noting the citations from the Windsor Continuation Group Report ¶ 93-96.)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 15, 2010

Covenant +

I just want to flag a thought here -- which I confess is not original, but popped up some weeks ago somewhere I can't recall.

That is to suggest that if GC chooses to sign The Anglican Communion Covenant, we do so with an accompanying document that lays out our understanding of what the various articles in the Covenant mean to us, and how we are able to accept them.

This is the kind of proactive laying-on-the-table that I think would be helpful all round. Apparently (and this is not an area of personal knowledge, but came from the above-mentioned source) this is how certain international concordats and treaties are handled. It strikes me that such an explanatory codicil might well be of practical aid, and assembling such a document a good exercise as we continue to consider TACC itself. The tone would be not, "We disagree with..." but "We understand this to entail..."

Whoever first mentioned this, please take credit! I think it a very productive suggestion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 13, 2010

Suffering Haiti

That the poorest country in the hemisphere should be struck with such a disaster, reminds me of Iris Murdoch's telling phrase: "like being battered on a bruise." Pray for the people of Haiti, and work to send them help.

Niobe, 1968 pen and chalk, Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 12, 2010

Tempus Fidget

We appear to be in a fidgety time of impatience regarding the Anglican Communion and its afterthought Covenant. The wealth of comments at Thinking Anglicans (to which I admit to having contributed) is one indication. To read some of the comments one would think the eschaton was round the next bend.

It is good to remember, however, that actual signing-on to the Covenant, in The Episcopal Church in any case, is some time away. There is ample opportunity both to reflect on the document and consider other provinces' reactions to it e're we in TEC adopt, seek to amend, or reject it.

For many, this ambiguous state will seem intolerable. The irascible antagonists will cry for immediate expulsion of TEC, or affirm their belief that TEC cannot sign; the anxious communionists will appeal for diocesan, parochial or even individual subscription; and somewhere in the middle the rest of us will try to read the actual document with care and set aside our knowledge of motives and aims, and address the Ecclesiopolitik of what it means to express a desire to remain in communion with some who don't want to be in communion with us.

It is a difficult state to be in. As Schrödinger's Cat was heard to mew from within her thought-experimental box: "This is not a super position to be in!"

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 11, 2010

Unity at what cost?

Those who built the tower of Babel did so as a means to promote their unity and prevent their dispersal. The problem was that God was not at the heart of their plan, but a handmade "door to heaven." Those who sought a comprehensive unity ended with mutual incomprehension.

Meanwhile, in the Great White North it seems a Girardian game of "Scape the Goat" is under way. This is a familiar scene in tea-shop and schoolyard, where a cozy feeling of fellowship and commonality (and I dare say, communion) is engendered between two parties by tut-tutting about an absent third party. Sometimes a similar dialogue takes place between a self-acknowledged sinner and her God, "I thank you, God, that I am not as bad as _______." None of these is a very pretty sight. When, after all, does community become conspiracy?

I am growing weary of the manners and morals of the schoolyard.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 10, 2010

A Sobering Blast from the Past

I had the very great pleasure of knowing Bishop Walter D. Dennis, Suffragan of New York, in his capacity as Visitor to the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory. He also had a keen eye for trends in the church, and often wrote about his prognostications. In the process of browsing through my library I came across the following from twenty years ago, which I think should rank him among the prophets. Archbishop Runcie, quoted herein, also has some apposite words for us, in light of the strained efforts towards an Anglican Covenant. Bishop Dennis writes:

If it turns out that unity with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches is a high priority for the new Archbishop of Canterbury [George Carey], then ECUSA, as part of the Anglican Communion, may feel obliged to sell out on some of the commitments it has already made, namely, on the ordination of women, on the issue of abortion, on the issue of theological dissent and liberation theologies, and on gay rights. Clearly, many would revolt, feeling that the price of unity is too high if it requires Episcopalians to forfeit these commitments.

In the next decade, there will be much talk about authority—jurisdiction—collegiality, and ecclesiology. In using such terms, we had better be certain that in our discussions there is common definition of each term. The Anglican Church says that the four marks of Anglican authority are: The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Lambeth Conference, The Archbishops and Primates of the Anglican Communion, and the Anglican Consultative Council. As I understand it, such authority from any and all of these are consultative, but there will be heavy discussion about whether or not this consultation is for advice or for approval or, at the very least, for consensus. Also, many people will be discussing whether the Archbishop of Canterbury and Primates as well as the Anglican Consultative Council are on the same footing with the other two, and if so, how did this authority come to be? Did autonomous churches participating in all this give approval for those two additional bodies from their National Synods and/or Conventions? Speaking of his own authority and that of Lambeth, Archbishop Robert Runcie made the following statement in his opening address at Lambeth 1988:

One of the characteristics of Anglicanism is our Reformation inheritance of national or provincial autonomy. The Anglican tradition is thus opposed to centralism and encourages the thriving of variety. This is a great good. There is an important principle to be borne witness to here: that nothing should be done at a higher level than is absolutely necessary. So Anglicans have become accustomed to speak of a dispersed authority. And we are traditionally suspicious of the Lambeth Conference becoming anything other than a Conference. We may indeed wish to discuss the development of more solid structures of unity and coherence. But I for one would want their provisional character made absolutely clear; like tents in the desert, they should be capable of being easily dismantled when it is time for the Pilgrim People to move on. We have no intention of developing an alternative Papacy. We would rather continue to deal with the structures of the existing Petrine Ministry, and hopefully help in its continuing development and reform as a ministry of unity for all Christians. [The Lambeth Conference, 1988, The Truth Shall Make You Free (London: Church House Publishers, 1988).]

“A Personal Prospectus On The Episcopal Church In The 1990s,” Walter D. Dennis, in The St Luke’s Journal of Theology, December 1990, Volume XXXIV Number 1, pages 11-12

brought to you by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 7, 2010

Thought for 1.7.10

If the Church is to err (as err it does) I had much rather see us err in being over-tolerant rather than in being over-scrupulous. This seems to me to be entirely more Christ-like -- the tolerance, not the error!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 5, 2010

A Diagnostic Tool for Anglicans

Tell me if this handy checklist doesn't describe the state of the Anglican Communion, and many of its individual members (including TEC) in recent years.


January 4, 2010

Thought for 1.4.10

Sparked by a discussion at Thinking Anglicans...

I think it very important, if (as it appears) we are discussing some kind of trans-provincial Covenant, that we understand the difference between voluntary commitment and legal sanction. The Anglican Communion Covenant describes itself (and is described by others) along the former lines, though it has some clear hints of the latter still, even after the fourth section has been slightly watered-down. Some have suggested that signing the Covenant binds a signatory never to do anything others might find objectionable. This is clearly specious as the Covenant itself includes procedures for dealing with just such an eventuality. And in this touchy time, who knows what oxes yet unborn may one day be gored.

For me the question is simple: Shall we have a new body of Anglican Law, or a Charter of Good Intentions? For the sake of clarity I would prefer the former, though I also do not think we are ready for that. At this point I still am torn between ignoring the Covenant on one hand, or killing it with kindness on the other, by encouraging everyone to sign on. As I have noted before, not signing, and signing and then being disfellowshiped for purported offenses, both leave us more or less in the same place.

From the beginning, the Windsor and Covenant processes have been redolent of the mindset of the schoolyard, of hurt feelings and violated affection. It represents not interdependence but codependency, a situation I would not want to see played out in a parish, let alone throughout the Communion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 1, 2010

Jesus Shall Reign

A setting of Isaac Watts great hymn, an arrangement of the tune "Duke Street" by yours truly, sung at a Brotherhood eucharistic celebration by the Brotherhood Schola under my direction, in 1994 -- at the Graymoor Ecumenical Institute, Garrison NY.

Happy New Year!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

MP3 File