June 30, 2010

Thought for 06.30.10

Comprehension in diversity, not unity in uniformity, is the more secure road towards even approximating truth: thus a fellowship of autonomous churches is more likely to possess the truth distributed among them, than a monolithic world-church with a unified doctrine to possess the truth entire, as all can and likely do err in some particulars.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Update: see also the wise words from Barchester in the next post.

June 27, 2010

Consensus Shmensus

The recent move on the part of the English House of Bishops to promote adoption of the Anglican Kovenant by simple majorities surely flies in the face of all of the talk about a high level of consensus. If the "mind of the communion" and its Instruments are to govern with the consent of more than a simple majority of the governed, then surely at least the two-thirds rule ought to apply. Oughtn't it?

Whatever happened to Quod omnes tanget... (What touches all must be approved by all)? See here, and here, and even tangentially here.

It certainly begins to look Orwellian when a principle demanded at the outset, i.e., a high level of consensus before making any changes, no longer seems important when the institutional tool to implement it fails to partake of the value it espouses. What really is the point of this exercise?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/t to Thinking Anglicans

June 21, 2010

New Cast for English Production of King Lear

In a stunning move, the team of Williams and Sentamu have announced they hope to take on the role of Lear on alternating nights in the continuing long-running production called the Church of England. This comes in the form of a proposed amendment to legislation that has slowly been working its way through the gut of General Synod for it seems like years... Oh, it is years....

Under this scheme, the church will be divided into fictional dioceses, in which "jurisdiction" will have magical qualities of invisibility and opacity at will, and things will be as they seem or not so much depending on the fancy of the schemers. Or, indeed, in spite of them. The special effects and pyro team for the big "storm on the heath" are working overtime.

Critics have long admired Williams' portrayal in the lead role, noted for the tension inherent in attempting to unite by division, and affirm by denial, and advance by restraint. What new logical contradictions await us remain to be seen. However, long time fans can rest assured of one thing. Bishop N.T. Wright has recently announced his retirement from Durham in order to devote his full time to his acclaimed performance as Mad Tom.

Of course, the Synod may instead reach the decision that the run of this particular drama has gone on long enough.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 20, 2010

The Difference of One

SJF • Proper 7c 2010 • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
They will look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child… On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.

Those of you who have seen my Christmas tree know that I am among those who can legitimately be called a “Trekker” — all of the ornaments come from Hallmark’s “Star Trek” series — though I stop short of dressing up as an alien and attending Star Trek conventions. I belong to the generation that grew up watching and enjoying the original “Star Trek”— and I’ve remained a fan of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future through its various film and TV versions. One of the reasons I’ve done so is that“Star Trek” often deals with issues of serious social or theological significance, using the fantasy world of the distant future to hold up a mirror to our own times, in which we can see our own faults and virtues reflected, and sometimes learn a thing or two thereby. I mentioned one of these just the week before last, in reference to the character Data wanting to become fully human — an important theological theme!

Another such theme comes up in one of the early “Star Trek” movies, as the passionless Vulcan Mr. Spock sacrifices his life for the sake of the crew. As he is dying, he tells Captain Kirk, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” And he dies a heroic death to save his crewmates, one life given to save many. And, indeed, at his funeral Captain Kirk extols him as the most “human” person he had ever encountered.

+ + +

This sort of heroism, this sort of self-sacrifice, is noble and true, and you don’t have to go to the realms of science fiction or fantasy to find it. Many a soldier has performed an act of heroism to save his squad; many a doctor or nurse has risked contracting a deadly illness to continue to minister to the sick in the time of plague. And when one hero gives his or her life to save many, giving their life as a gift, then the equation makes moral sense, and we honor that giver as a hero: after all, “Greater love hath no man than this...”

But where the equation doesn’t make sense, where it all falls apart, is when the decision to sacrifice one for the sake of the many is made by someone else — is made by one of the many, instead of the one choosing to sacrifice him or herself — when someone decides not to perform a noble act of self-sacrifice, but to sacrifice someone else whom they consider expendable, or inexpedient, making them a scapegoat. Then the death of one for the many becomes the cold calculus of Caiaphas: not the free gift that shows the greatest love, but commercial capitulation to the demands of power. The high priest Caiaphas said it was better that one should suffer instead of many. He had no intention of suffering himself, of offering to sacrifice himself, of course, but to hand Christ over as a victim for the Romans to execute. Caiaphas, in doing this, rejected the teaching of his own faith in favor of the calculating philosophy of utilitarianism. For the great Jewish Rabbis had taught the supreme value of every human life. They had taught that human beings are not to be weighed by the pound in the balance of expediency; instead, they taught that “to save a single life is to save an entire world.” If you’ve seen the powerful film Schindler’s List you know just how important that teaching is.

Caiaphas chose the other way, however, and took the cold path of political prudence, turning Jesus over to be crucified, offered up as a scapegoat in order to prevent further problems with the Roman government. And ironically, his choice to reject the Son of Man, to turn him over to be killed, did indeed lead to life for many, for the death of this One was for the life of the whole world. As I’ve often noted, God can take our worst mistakes and turn them into something good.

+ + +

God through Christ was able to turn Caiaphas’ cold-blooded calculation into something positive, into the most positive thing that ever happened, something that saved the whole world. And Christ did this by accepting the cross, taking it up, and not rejecting it. Instead of being a scapegoat he became an offering — “a sacrifice of himself once offered for the sins of the whole world.” Had Jesus gone to the cross kicking and screaming, it would not, it could not, have been the means of salvation for all. Had Jesus used the power that was at his command to summon legions of angels to deliver him from death, he would never have died, and salvation would not have come. Instead, Jesus took up his cross willingly, obedient to his Father’s will that he should drink the cup of human sadness and frailty, and suffer death as one of us. And by taking it up instead of rejecting it, through his obedience, Jesus transformed Caiaphas’ selfish act into redemptive action of self-sacrifice. His life was his to lay down for his friends, and he did so — and Caiaphas and the Romans were thereby transformed into the instruments of his self-sacrifice, no more in control of the situation than the grenade upon which a hero throws himself to save his squad.

So it was that they looked upon him whom they had pierced. And three days later a fountain of grace opened as a stone rolled away from a tomb and the Son of Man was raised from the dead in glory. The one who gave himself as a ransom for many triumphed over death so that the many might not perish, but have everlasting life. Such is the difference of one, the difference one makes, the one who makes a difference, all the difference in the world.

+ + +

We are part of that many affected by that one — we gathered here today, together with all the believers who have walked this earth since the days when Jesus lived and died and was raised from death. We are the many, but we are also one in him. We who have been baptized in Christ have been clothed with Christ: we have put on Christ like a garment. Thus washed and newly dressed, our many individual differences are cleansed and covered because of the difference he made when he died for us. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female any more, but all are one in Christ Jesus — the One who made a difference. Jesus has wiped away the old differences by which, according to the tradition, only Jewish men thought themselves special in the eyes of God.

For every day the pious Jewish man of those times would arise and say this prayer, “I thank God that I am not a Gentile; I thank God that I am not a slave; and I thank God I am not a woman” — and that’s the prayer Saint Paul was responding to point by point in his Letter to the Galatians. Paul was challenging the neat little world that the a Jewish man of those days — such as Paul himself before his conversion! — believed God had carved out for him from the rest of the world, a world of difference from all of “them” — thank God I’m not one of them, and thank God I’m not one of them, and certainly thank God I’m not one of them!

Well, Jesus upset that neat little world as surely as he wiped out the expedient politics of Caiaphas. And Saint Paul confronted that world in his Letter to the Galatians, a world in which Paul knew one could not find salvation through race or class or social position or gender, but in which salvation depends only on the one — only in God, and Christ: the one who saves us all. For with the coming of Christ, and with his “sacrifice of himself once offered,” all human beings are empowered to become the children of God, all the many to become one in the Risen Lord, the personal differences covered over with the garment of salvation, the garment of baptism, all of the individual differences covered by that spotless robe, so that it doesn’t matter any more if you’re black or white, male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek, gay or straight, young or old — none of these things make a difference any more — all have been baptized into the one Lord through the one Faith in the one baptism, a baptism whose waters spread from the fountain that opened two thousand years ago, to cleanse us and make us one in Christ.

+ + +

All that remains for each of us — for all are together, but each is called — all that remains for each of us is that daily putting on of the Christian garment, that fits each of us like a glove no matter how big or small we are, no matter how wide or narrow, or tall or short. It is the only garment on which the label reading, “One Size Fits All,” is absolutely and completely true. And the really strange thing is that this Christian garment doesn’t look like a garment at all.

It looks like a cross, a cross each and every one of us must take up anew each day — and each of us has his or her very own cross to bear — and we are not to judge how well or poorly our neighbor might be carrying his or hers. We can only answer for our own lives — our own lives that we give to God for God’s purposes — and that it more than enough to keep us busy!

It is in taking up the cross that we join Christ in his act of self-sacrifice. In Christ we transform the assaults of the world, the attacks of the devil and the thorns of the flesh, into opportunities for grace, as Christ transformed the calculation of Caiaphas into the fountainhead of salvation, by means of the cross.

This is how we too make a difference, each and every one of us. All our individual differences fade away in the light of the cross, all our personal differences fade to insignificance. When we put on that cross-shaped garment, we no longer even look like ourselves any more, but like Christ, who offered himself for us, and for the sake of the whole world. In Christ there is no east and west, no north and south, no black and white or brown or yellow or red, but only the whole humanity of the children of God. Let us rejoice in this, brothers and sisters of the faith, brothers and sisters of the cross, that we have been clothed in Christ, anointed in baptism and marked with the sign of his cross, which we take up day by day as we learn to make a difference through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom we give all praise and thanks, henceforth and for evermore.+

June 15, 2010

Rowan's Millinery Petition

According to Hugh Muir of The Guardian UK, the Archbishop of Canterbury asked our Primate, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, not to wear a mitre or carry a crozier when she preached -- as she was licensed to do -- at Southwark Cathedral the other day.

Muir suggests some might see this as "petty" but let us not underestimate the power of haberdashery. After all, strip away all the vestments of the English Episcopate and you will have a shivering collection of generally pasty male Brits, with a few exotic flavours mixed in for good measure. And allow a woman in authority actually to cover her head as Scripture mandates -- with a sign of her authority publicly to preach and pray (1 Corinthians 11:5,10) -- and who knows what people might think!

Meanwhile, it is a truism that when people have no power over great things they descend to controlling the few small things they can.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 13, 2010

June 12, 2010

Thought for 06.12.10

If God had wanted us to fly He would have given us wings, or the mental and physical capacity to conceive and construct mechanical devices that would allow us to fly.

June 10, 2010

Canterbury 2010 - A Vision and Lament

In the light of the setting sun
I saw the stones of the cathedral
seemed to be made of gold, pure gold.

And the great white crane flew by
on wings that beat so slow, so slow,
much slower than the beating of my heart,
and turned not, but flew on, flew on.

And after sunset, in the dim gray light of evening
I touched the stones of the cathedral
and found they were not gold at all;
not gold but only stone, cold stone.

And the great white crane still flew,
and turned not back
past Canterbury’s cold, cold stone.

Tobias Stanislas Haller

June 10,2010

June 4, 2010

Dueling Epistles

Much is being made of the publication of two letters from two primates of the Anglican Communion: the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Both of them are well worth reading and say important things from their different perspectives: the Archbishop properly speaking in the role and to the end for which he feels responsible: to preserve the unity of the Anglican Communion; the Presiding Bishop properly speaking for the historic and continuing independence of the Episcopal Church concerning its internal affairs, while remaining Anglican in the same way it has from the beginning. To vastly oversimplify, Rowan appears in the role of loving parent of unruly children instructed that they will have to stay in their rooms without TV until they can get along with the rest of the family. He is very even-handed in laying down what he clearly thinks is the law. Katherine’s response is a reminder and reassertion that this role-play is in itself an assumption of a power not granted in an entity not yet constructed.

So, in its own way, this epistolary exchange incarnates the larger debate on the nature of the Anglican Communion itself, and whether it should continue as a fellowship of autonomous churches or morph into a more tightly governed structure, such as that proposed by the draft Anglican Covenant.

Some commentators are engaging in a bit of revisionist history when they seek to portray in the foundation of the Episcopal Church a desire to serve as a branch or outpost of the Church of England, which indeed the colonial churches had been, answerable to the Bishop of London, prior to the War of Independence. There may well indeed have been a few individuals who thought that way at that time. However, the bulk of the evidence shows that the emerging Episcopal Church of the late 18th century wanted nothing from England but bishops — that is, they wanted bishops (to remain Episcopal) but knew the church would not be English — and indeed if they were unable to obtain the episcopate from England they were happy to go to other quarters. Indeed, it is ironic that the principled Tory Seabury ended up going to Scotland, while the Patriot White held out for England, pressing other Patriots such as Jay and Adams in that cause. But however bishops were obtained, the documentary evidence shows that it was bishops that were wanted and not any kind of continued governance from England — a cordial relationship, yes; but governance, no.

On the contrary, great pains were taken in the new land to militate against any such divided loyalty. As the preface to the 1785 Constitution of the Episcopal Church stated as its first “Whereas” — “in the course of Divine Providence, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America is become independent of all foreign authority, civil and ecclesiastical...” This language was echoed in the Preface to the first American Book of Common Prayer in 1789.

Nor were the English particularly interested in ecclesiastical entanglement with this new independent church in America, playing what is best described as an affectionately avuncular role. In witness of this, the Act of Parliament permitting Canterbury the ordination of American bishops contains this important proviso:

Provided also, and be it hereby declared, that no person or persons consecrated to the office of a bishop in the manner aforesaid, nor any person or persons deriving their consecration from or under any bishop so consecrated, nor any person or persons admitted to the order of deacon or priest by any bishop or bishops so consecrated, or by the successor or successors of any bishop or bishops so consecrated, shall be thereby enabled to exercise his or their respective office or offices within his Majesty's dominions.

Hardly a “continuation” of the Church of England, and rather a blow even to the notion of communion itself — usually understood as involving recognition and interchangeability of ministers — or to the ahistorical notion that a “bishop is a bishop for the whole church.” In fact, this proviso echos the language of the ancient canons that required bishops to confine themselves to their own sees and not meddle about extramurally.

But back to the dueling epistles: some, such as Diana Butler Bass, see this as a turning point — something’s got to give, and the Communion will never be the same. She may well be right, and I think that is unfortunate. I wish Rowan had exercised the wisdom of a truly loving parent, when from his perspective the children started acting up, to let them be, rather than to formalize their quarrels — and his Pentecost letter continues on that road of mildly vexed and punitive paternalism. It may have effect: It is so much easier to have consensus when those who disagree are removed from the conversation; but then, as with Caroline’s “ball without dancing” — it will not be near so much a conversation. Or a Communion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller

June 1, 2010

Unrecognized Love (2)

I want to say a few more words about Jonathan and David based on the comment stream in the preceding post. First of all, let me clarify that my distinction between love and friendship is based on the one that C.S. Lewis made some years ago. While he went too far in his efforts to draw hard boundaries between “the four loves” — failing to recognize how in actual usage there is significant immigration and emigration between the lands of Eros, Philia and Agapé in particular — his distinction between love and friendship is very usefully applied to the relationship of David and Jonathan. Ironically so, as it occurs in a passage in which Lewis was attempting to downplay any suggestion of Eros in that relationship. His mistake lay in trying to separate the categories of Eros and Friendship completely, even while he recognized that they can and do overlap. Beginning with that logical paradox, Lewis wrote,

[We] know that though we can have erotic love and friendship for the same person yet in some ways nothing is less like a Friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest. Above all, Eros (while it lasts) is necessarily between two only. But two, far from being the necessary number for Friendship, is not even the best... In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God...

The homosexual theory therefore seems to me not even plausible. This is not to say that Friendship and abnormal Eros have never been combined. Certain cultures at certain periods seem to have tended to the contamination. In war-like societies it was, I think, especially likely to creep into the relation between the mature Brave and his young armour-bearer or squire. The absence of the women while you were on the war-path had no doubt something to do with it. In deciding, if we think we need or can decide, where it crept in and where it did not, we must surely be guided by the evidence. (The Four Loves, 91ff)

The passage degenerates into some rather dated language which demonstrates Lewis’ inability to distinguish homosexuality from effeminacy — really, Jack, “Pansies”? — an all too common cultural failing. The traditional patriarchal mind is horrified by the idea of a man acting like a woman, of a man treating another man like a woman, or of women acting independently of men. Ultimately, for the culture-bound heterosexist, homosexuality is “all about Eve,” and he finds it difficult to grasp that sexuality, biological sex, and gender identity are three different axes or spectra which may describe any individual person. For instance, not all gay men are effeminate, and not all effeminate men are gay — even though belief in the converse is the basis for much cultural homophobia or heterosexism, even today. It is this same cultural understanding that explicitly underlies the one biblical legal prohibition against male same-sexuality: it is understood and expressed as one man treating another like a woman. No mention is made of a man treating another as a man! Such sexual egalitarianism is inconceivable to a culture in which sex is about “use” of one by another.

In the present instance, Lewis is unable to conceive of David and Jonathan as homosexual because for him homosexuals are, as he says, “pansies.” Moreover, while intentionally setting out to “defend” David and Jonathan, Lewis outlines precisely the points of evidence which are key to reading their story. In addition to the “warrior setting” into which Lewis grudgingly and censoriously acknowledges that Eros “creeps” or can “contaminate,” the rest of the tale matches Eros far better than Friendship, by Lewis’ own description.

Jonathan and David are not simply two men brought together because of an intense common interest. They are in fact always talking to one another about their love — and it is the two of them against the world; or at least against Saul and the Court. The story begins with Jonathan’s intense attraction to David as David; he loved him as he loved his own soul, apparently on their first encounter. There is no such thing as “friendship at first sight” and this cannot be conceived simply as great admiration for a brave and daring military action. It appears that David eventually reciprocated this love — perhaps the only relationship in his life without ulterior motives. This is Love writ plain for all who care to see it. Call it “Platonic” if you will; but recall that Platonic love is based on Eros. Eros need not necessarily entail sex, since sex is one culmination of Eros but not its necessary companion, and sometimes is a stranger to it.

Finally, I want to take note of the discomfort factor that arises for so many when this possibility or reading is raised. It may stem from a need to protect the Scripture even from a hint of approbation of such a relationship. As Hooker taught, not everything in Scripture is of God, and this is an historical, not a doctrinal or legal passage. Why cite it then? Because it provides to gay men a positive image of a deep and caring love story, which happens to find itself enshrined in the tradition; and it represents and reflects the actual issues before us far better than the cultic legal prohibitions whose applicability to our present concerns is tendentious at best.

Meanwhile, it is the abreaction to the suggestion of a possibility that is so telling. Whether those who suggest that it somehow tarnishes or reduces or contaminates this love even to suggest the possibility of an erotic element are driven by heterosexism, homophobia, or mere prudery, I cannot tell.

But in closing, let me just point out that the biblical literature definitely and explicitly “eroticizes” the love of God for Israel and Israel for God — both in its successes and its failures — and no one seems to be bothered by that, or feel that it “diminishes” that love. If the church can model its relationship or that of the individual Christian with Christ upon those images, there is no reason for gay couples not to recognize in Jonathan and David something admirable for their own loving and self-giving relationships.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG