September 29, 2010

Rowan's Job Description

Archbishop Williams' interview with the Times, portions of which have been cited hither and yon, portray the torture of attempting to abide by his Job description. He feels it is his task to hold the reins in keeping the carriage of the Anglican Communion from going up on the sidewalk or over the cliff, but without any apparent notion he might also take a decision as to how to steer by a particular course, even if it means taking an unlikely detour through unfamiliar byways. (The horses may well be wilder than even he imagines, and this may be an impossibility, but he appears to think it not in his scope even to try. Meanwhile, a few of the passengers have already jumped from the carriage, in a few cases with someone else's luggage). In another image, he says he does not want to put a thumb on the scale, casting himself as an honest butcher.

And so he is in the position of restraining his own perhaps deeply held theological beliefs in order to maintain a kind of status quo in keeping with the long-held views of others on the topic of sexuality. He attempts to tease out fine distinctions -- and they are distinctions, and they are fine -- between orientation and activity, between the fact of who one is as opposed to the choices one might make. He articulates the traditional POV with regard to the matters at hand, as if that tradition were in fact as uniform as some would like to portray it, and with no clue as to how his own thoughts on the subject might lead to developments in that very tradition. (Fans of Cardinal Newman, take note!)

In the Daily Office last week I was reminded of the tale of Esther, who came to a position in which she could influence for the good, not by keeping silent, but by stepping bravely forward to take advantage of the opportunity presented to her. Her uncle Mordecai warned her that her failure to do so would redound to her loss.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 27, 2010

Distinction for 09.27.10

I wish people would stop saying celibacy when they mean abstinence. One is a state of life, the other an [in]action.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 22, 2010

Thought for 09.22.10

The polity of the Episcopal Church is not that of a chain of command, but a network of service.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 21, 2010

Pious No No

Garry Wills, writing on "Stealing Newman" in his blog at the New York Review of Books launches an assault on papal misdemeanors in the truth department. If nothing else, it shows the extent to which traditionalists (such as the current pontiff) can rewrite their own tradition and history to suit current needs. Progressives, it seems, have no monopoly on revisionism.

For myself, I am finding the adulation of Newman as a great mind to be less than well substantiated by the evidence. He strikes me as one of those people who can be smart without being wise; or what the English call "clever." He was bold enough, in his Development of Doctrine, to point to the essential inadequacy of the Vincentian Canon but his replacement notion, that the development of doctrine could safely be conferred to curial hands, is scarcely a defensible thesis, as his own dismay over the first Vatican Council's extravagant claims for the papacy indicate. Curial custody of development is no surer a defense against error than the Apostolic Succession was against heresy, for all of the trust that Irenaeus put in it. (Strangely enough, some Roman Catholics think Newman was trying to save Vincent's doctrine rather than replace it.) In his faith-based urge to indefectibility and a secure harbor in the See of Rome, Newman, with all his smarts, missed or chose to ignore the obvious fact that his Anglican heritage had long proclaimed: "the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred; so also the Church of Rome...General Councils... (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God,) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining to God." (The Articles of Religion, XIX, XXI)

That is a hard truth, but it is the truth, whatever pious fictions some wish to promulgate.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 20, 2010

Mission on the Move

Good things happen sometimes around tables. Bread is broken, wine shared out. Sometimes a stranger from outside the circle, perhaps observing the care of those at table, or overhearing their conversation, is emboldened to step into the circle for a moment; perhaps to kneel at someone's feet to wash them with tears, perhaps at others just to offer thanks for listening, for giving hope.

This is the miracle of grace; that just as at Pentecost, those outside heard of the Spirit being at work, and were moved in response.

The wind blows where it wills, and God's will is done! Thank you, Susan, for sharing this breath of fresh air.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 16, 2010

The Pope in Scotland

The pope has landed and commented on the evils of atheism (as he sees them) and the problems inherent in a secular society.

Well, I'll take a secular society that promotes the life and health and well-being of its people any day over the tyrannical, brutal and cruel regime of theistic hierarchs condemning and demeaning the innocent on the basis of their theological opinions and world-views — Christian or Muslim, for that matter.

The pope should be aware from his own personal experience that Nazism was not atheistic at heart, but rather polytheistic and idolatrous, drawing heavily on the "Northern Religion" that also nourished the imagination of Richard Wagner and JRR Tolkien. Religion is morally neutral — it's what you do with it that counts.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 14, 2010

Witness to the Witnesses

James and I are home from the celebration of the life and ministry of the Martyrs of Memphis. The observance began with an evening concert of early music celebrating the Blessed Virgin Mary, at St. Mary’s Cathedral, performed by a quartet Voce dell’Anima: voice, organ, viola da gamba and cornetto. Beautiful singing and playing!

St. Mary’s School and the adjoining Church of the Holy Communion observed the Martyrs and we toured the facility — a very impressive institution and going great guns. We’ve enjoyed a catfish fry up lunch at the Women’s Exchange.

James and I’ve managed to squeeze in a trip to Graceland (a shrine of an entirely different sort!)

After evensong and dinner at St. John’s Church (which is adorned with spectacular murals from the early 50s) I did a presentation on icons and iconography and lead a group in a workshop on creating our own icons with crayons — conté and Crayola!

The following day I preached in the Sisters' Chapel commemorating Constance & Companions, after which we went to Elmwood Cemetery, and enjoyed a box lunch and a fascinating talk by Patricia McFarland — highlighting some of the less well known figures in the story of the 1878 yellow fever outbreak. She also gave me a copy of Charles Turner’s The Celebrant — a novel on the life of Louis Schuyler — which I look forward to reading.

We then walked in a light rain to pray at their grave(s) — the sisters are buried head to head in a pinwheel formation, and Frs Parsons and Schuyler share a grave in another area of the cemetery. We also attended Evensong at the Rev. Bindy Snyder's parish, All Saints.

On Sunday morning I had the honor of celebrating the Eucharist at the Cathedral, and enjoyed the vibrant music program — the place was alive with the spirit. It was also a great privilege to celebrate with the "Memphis Chalice" — the chalice used by the sisters during their time in Memphis, now carefully and lovingly preserved as a memento of their service. Prior to the celebration Sister Mary Grace CSM and I did an adult forum on religious life — an effective tag-team, if I say so myself!

I’m very happy we were able to gather the four sisters with James and myself to pose with the Martyrs of Memphis icon on the Cathedral’s north wall. James and I stood in for Charles and Louis, and the sisters (left to right: Miriam, Elizabeth Grace, Mary Martha, and Mary Grace) represented their predecessors in the Community of Saint Mary.

On the last day we managed to visit the National Civil Rights Museum (at the site of the Lorraine Hotel where Dr. King was assassinated) and enjoyed a lovely dinner with the sisters and brothers of the Memphis Emmaus Chapter of Rivendell, another Christian Community bearing witness to God’s love and the Spirit’s movement.

All in all a very rich experience.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 13, 2010

Need and Gift

God did not need to create the world, but the world needed to be created. The need of the world-yet-to-be was met by the gift of the perfect love of God, and the world came to be out of that love, for it is God's nature to love, for God is love. The becoming of the world is the overflow of the abundance of the love of God.

A thought for September 13, 2010,
on returning from Memphis and the celebration of Constance and her Companions,
and as a partial response to Professor Hawking
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 9, 2010

September Midday Mass

The tall old priest entered the half-lit sacristy,
fresh from his usual Tuesday morning studies.
The fair-haired acolyte with the bad complexion
was ready, vested, standing in the dimness
quietly. The old priest noticed he was sniffing
and his eyes were red. A failed romance,
he thought; but keeping his own rule on chit-chat
in the sacristy, vested silently.
The old familiar motions and the prayers
displaced whatever thoughts he might have had;
the only dialogue to break the stillness was
the rote exchange of formal preparation.

Then, in one motion as he slipped his hand
beneath the pale green veil, the other hand
upon the burse, he lifted vested vessels,
turned and followed in the sniffing server’s
wake. Eyes lowered to the holy burden
in his hand, he failed to notice that
the chapel for this midday feria —
on other days like this with one or two
at most — was full of worshippers; until
he raised his eyes, and saw the pews were filled —
but undeterred began the liturgy:
the lessons and the gospel from last Sunday,
his sermon brief, but pointed, on the texts.

It wasn’t till the acolyte began
the people’s prayers, and choked out words of planes
that brought a city’s towers down, and crashed
into the Pentagon, and plowed a field
in Pennsylvania, that the old priest knew
this was no ordinary Tuesday in
September —
not ordinary time at all,
that day he missed the towers’ fall.

Tobias Haller BSG
March 8, 2008

Reposted now annually as a traditional observance

September 7, 2010

Burning Question

I think it important to speak against the proposed public burning of the Qur'an not on the basis of fears of consequences, but on the basis of it being wrong in itself, as a hateful act intended to insult and demean others.

It says more about the burner than the burned.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Some further thoughts on theology

Based on some comments in the thread below...

Dawkins, and others like him, appear to me to be attacking religion and thinking that in the process they are debunking God. Their proper interlocutor should be theology, not religion. And the proper analogue from the atheist side is not science, but mathematics, it seems to me.

What sort of interesting conversations took place between the atheist Russell and his colleague the philosopher Whitehead. Did they have discussions along the lines of, "What is 'Number' and does 'Number' exist? Is mathematics 'science' in the same sense as biology? Does it have 'hypotheses' and verifiable outcomes? Is it falsifiable in the same way as relativity?" And just wait until Gödel got hold of their work!

As far as I am concerned, from a philosophical perspective, 'Three" can be just as much a mystery as "Trinity." And thanks be to Gödel for showing that for any sufficiently non-trivial system there must be truths that can't be proven by the system!

Tobias Stanislas Haller

September 2, 2010

Of Starfish, Spiders, and People

This morning I listened to an NPR interview with Ori Brafman, author of The Starfish and the Spider:the Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations. It got me thinking about how little I care about ideology. That is, I'm not one who goes for the starfish or the spider, the federation or the dictatorship, monarchy or democracy. Starfish are great at self-perpetuation and coral reef predation, but what else do they do? Spiders (at least some of them) build webs of astonishing intricacy. Both seem to be good at what they do.

But what about humans? People can be good or bad at governing themselves and other humans, and no system will guarantee a maximum best of all possible worlds. I reject the old saw that "democracy is a terrible form of government but better than all the others" simply on the facial evidence. There have been terrible, repressive, abusive and dehumanizing democracies; and there have been noble, righteous and humanizing monarchies.

In short, systems, as interesting as they may be, as important as they are, are not the answer. Those who put their hope in a system --- that if we just got it right --- all would be well, are fooling themselves with the dream of Utopia, which means nowhere.

I would start the Pragmatist Party if I thought starting a party would accomplish anything. But I know it would just be one more voice in the whirling storm. Yet it is ultimately how each human acts -- each human him or herself a form of government with a head and heart and hands -- that will produce the net effect of any society's worth.

And yet each one of us is living in the flesh the drama of coalescence and senescence and evanescence; each of us a little State soon subject to overthrow as the Monarch loses power, the Workers go on strike, the Resources are exhausted.

Vanity, all is vanity, saith the Preacher.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG