March 31, 2010

No To Imperium

Jesus Christ did not suffer and die for the sake of a centrally administered eccelesiastical institution. Nor was this what he conceived; quite the opposite, as he alerted his disciples to the danger of exercising authority over one another. Christ desired no Empire.

The Church, the Body of Christ, is not One because it has one central government, but because Christ himself is One Lord. He is the Head of the whole Church of which all who are joined in the One Baptism are members.

It is a terrible thing to see Anglicans even consider forsaking the hard-won liberation from heteronomous rule, in a massive retrograde motion towards that which is demonstrably dysfunctional in its present incarnation, the relic of an ancient capitulation to imperial pretense.

For it is precisely in areas of administration and discipline that big ungainly systems tend to go awry, and resist correction. Since all humans err from time to time, the surest safeguard both for limiting the extent of error and avoiding becoming too set in error is to bound the limits up to which any given authority can command submission to its rule. Diversity will not guarantee a firm or universal hold on truth (or even virtue) by all but it increases the chances that at least some will be right and righteous, rather than all stumbling and erring together.

Autonomy is not the enemy of fellowship. It is its precondition: for only the mature and independent can choose voluntarily to enter into relationships of interdependence and truly mutual submission. Otherwise it is dependence or codependency, or at its worst, tyranny or lordship of one over another, or over many.

Christ had no wish to see his Church become a shadow of some royal curia, full of intrigue and denial. Anglicans, do not trade the sublime vision of a communion of autonomous churches in fellowship for such a kingdom of shreds and patches.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Thought for 03.31.10

Church growth in the midst of persecution is not "extraordinary." It is the norm. And that goes for churches being persecuted and doing the persecution. And in both cases the growth often has little staying power.

It's a funny old world.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
in response to repeated unexamined praising of the "extraordinary" growth of the church in places facing persecution

March 28, 2010

The Ladder of Humility

Palm Sunday 2010 -- "He took the form of a slave..."
A sermon by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

MP3 File

March 25, 2010

Hymn to the Virgin

Hymn to the Virgin from the Celestial Rose, from Dante's Paradiso, Canto XXXIII. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux sings:

«Vergine Madre, figlia del tuo figlio,
umile e alta più che creatura,
termine fisso d’etterno consiglio,

tu se’ colei che l’umana natura
nobilitasti sì, che ’l suo fattore
non disdegnò di farsi sua fattura.

Nel ventre tuo si raccese l’amore,
per lo cui caldo ne l’etterna pace
così è germinato questo fiore.

Virgin Mother, daughter of you Son,
Humble and high beyond creature,
Fixed limit of the eternal counsel,

You are she who so ennobled human nature
that the Creator did not disdain
to make of it his maker.

Within your womb was rekindled
the love by whose heat, in eternal peace,
thus was germinated this flower.

(The Flower is the celestial rose which is constituted from the company of saints themselves...)

This was recorded in rehearsal, the only recording I have, sadly. Sung by the Choir of St Luke in the Fields, with the cellist of the St Luke's Chamber Ensemble. William Entriken, Organist.

Pardon the poor quality of the tape.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

MP3 File

The sheet music is available at Scribd.

March 24, 2010

Thought for 03.24.10

The Devil Prowls

While Jesus wills that the members of the church should be one, even as he and the Father are one (John 17:11), that likeness to God is not "something to be grasped at" (Phil 2:6) but is rather a gift from God. (2 Cor 5:18) We do not achieve unity, we accept it as we are reconciled to one another by God in Christ.

Otherwise, to seek on our own to become like God, we fall prey to something like the primal temptation from the Garden (Gen 3:5), though in form rather than knowledge.

Rather, let us accept that we are one in God through God, through the love which comes from God and transcends and encompasses and comprehends our divisions; not through our own machinations — and above all not through the reduction of our number in a mode of false unity by division and expulsion and judgment: the unity not of God, but of the Adversary.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 23, 2010

A Covenant Haiku

seeking to be one
they cease to be what they are
and become nothing

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
with proper credit to The Parmenides, and the good people of Babel

March 22, 2010

Is My Communion Leaving Me?

One of the rationales given by some who have parted fellowship with the Episcopal Church over the last few years is summed up in the sentence, "I didn't leave the church; the church left me." While I find the rationale less than compelling (and far less than exculpatory in those cases where it has led to bad behavior) there is some truth to the claim: there have been a number of fundamental changes in the Episcopal Church over the last 50 years. Just as there have been fundamental changes in the church as a whole over the last 2000 years.

A sea-change seems to be afoot in the Anglican Communion, at least as it is being urged in some circles — and a sea-change being afoot is not a very good idea unless you can walk on water. This change is summed up neatly in Canon Michael Poon's recent essay on the Anglican Covenant, in which he sees its particular utility in providing "a canonical structure that unites the Churches of the Communion to be "Church". (¶ 54)

Transforming the Anglican Communion in this way marks a fundamental change in its polity — which from the beginning has stressed the autonomy and integrity of individual national or provincial churches: with strong resistance to meddling by bishops from other churches. Whether one approves of this change or not, it is important to note that it is a significant change.

The parallel with changes within a national church, and the dissatisfaction that breeds in some, breaks down almost immediately, however. For the changes within the Episcopal Church (with which some have taken issue) were undertaken with and through the canonical mechanisms already in existence: no new entity was created or granted power in order to adopt and ratify these changes by majority action and due process —at least not since 1789 when the Episcopal Church gained its constitutional form, and at that time stressed its continuity with the traditions it inherited from England, including the importance of the autonomy of the national church enshrined in the Articles of Religion.

The change to the structure of Anglicanism that Poon reads into the Anglican Covenant (whether it is really there or not is another matter) is dramatic, and false to this rootstock of Anglican identity. While I am not opposed to some formalization of relationships within the Anglican Communion, or even some spelled-out rules of procedure for addressing difficulites which might arise between the members of that "fellowship of autonomous churches" (which is my most generous reading of the proposed Covenant), I have absolutely no wish to be part of a "world church" with a central command. I would truly hate to see the essence of Anglicanism boiled away, and the remainder reduced to a mess of pottage that is not even a good imitation of Rome.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 17, 2010

Early Annunciation for Another Mary

Word has come from the Presiding Bishop's office that sufficient episcopal and standing committee consents have been received for the ordination of Mary Glasspool to the episcopate in mid-May. Many will rejoice at this, myself included, but many also will be troubled — and I feel for them as well. Change is often difficult, and I know many will be wounded in their conscience, or concerned for possible consequences, even as others give thanks and celebrate.

I am reminded of a passage concerning Mary the Mother of our Lord, from the Protoevangelium of James (17:2):

Joseph and Mary drew near unto Bethlehem, within three miles: and Joseph turned himself about and saw her of a sad countenance and said within himself: "Peradventure that which is within her paineth her." And again Joseph turned himself about and saw her laughing, and said unto her: "Mary, what aileth thee that I see thy face at one time laughing and at another time sad?" And Mary said unto Joseph: "It is because I behold two peoples with mine eyes, the one weeping and lamenting and the other rejoicing and exulting."
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 15, 2010

God of Love or Logic?

SJF • Lent 4c 2010 • a sermon by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
The son came to himself and said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!”

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the great, memorable passages of the Gospel, familiar even to many who may never crack the pages of a Bible — it was even made into a ballet with music by Prokofiev, first performed in Paris by the Ballet Russe in 1929, and at the New York City Ballet many times since!

But in spite of how familiar it is, this parable still bears our close attention, as our familiarity can cause us to miss details revealed by taking more time with it.

We’ve just heard it, so I won’t repeat the story. But I want to remind you of where it comes in the Gospel of Luke. This will help us to understand who Jesus is speaking to, and what he is getting at, why he told the parable, and what he means by it.

The fifteenth chapter of Luke begins with Jesus teaching and preaching, and tax collectors and sinners are gathering round eagerly to hear him, like people starving and thirsting for a gracious and generous word. The Pharisees and scribes, with their focus on salvation through personal propriety and righteous observance of the law, grumble among themselves and tsk-tsk that “this fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” In response to these clucking tongues, Jesus launches into a series of three parables — all three of them dealing with recovery of something that has been lost: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. All three accounts end with a celebration — though in the parable of the lost son, the most elaborate and detailed of the three, the celebration comes in the middle.

For though the celebration begins shortly after the prodigal son’s return, and the recovery of “the lost,” that isn’t the end of the story. There is an additional character, mentioned only in passing at the beginning of the tale, but making his full appearance at the end: the angry elder son. He complains about the celebration, and the manner of his complaint suggests he’s stored up quite a few resentments about how he feels he’s been treated by his father. And yet, the father assures him that he loves him as well, and that his inheritance is secure — but that they must celebrate and rejoice at the repentance and return of the younger son, rather than grumbling about it.

Now, given the placement of this parable in the gospel, and those to whom it was told, and why, it is abundantly clear that Jesus intends the younger son to represent the sinners who have turned their lives around and come to hear his preaching, and the older son to represent the scribes and Pharisees themselves, with their grumbling complaint about the “sinners” being paid any mind at all, including Jesus eating with them.

This is perhaps the gentlest rebuke to the scribes and Pharisees in the whole Gospel — certainly unlike the strong condemnations with which Jesus greeted them a few chapters earlier. Here the parable presents even the Pharisees with some Good News, assuring them that they too are “always with the Father,” and that “all that is his is theirs.” Perhaps this is Jesus’ last effort to reach out to them, to get them to see that they do not need to occupy themselves with judgment of those they deem unworthy, they need not be lost in their own self-righteous anger but can break free of it and find their way home, and come to join the celebration, rejoicing in the breadth of salvation, in which all who are lost are ultimately found!

+ + +

That is an important lesson in itself. However, I’d like to note one more thing about this parable. We tend to romanticize the younger son — even if we don’t make his story into a ballet! We tend to see him as a figure of heartfelt sorrow and repentance. But look closely at the text and I think you’ll see instead something more like calculation than sorrow, even if it leads him to change his mind and come back home. He’s spent all his money, taken the lowest job you could imagine for a Jew — feeding pigs! — and realizes what a mistake he’s made, comparing himself to the hired hands back home and seeing how miserable he is. He is sorry — but mostly because of the mess he’s in, sorry about his own discomfort more than for the pain he caused his father, more sorry for the consequences of his action than for the act itself.

So he makes an entirely pragmatic and practical decision to go back home — motivated not so much by love for his father, as by hunger in his belly. He makes a quick calculation that he couldn’t be any worse off as a hired hand, so it’s well worth taking the chance of returning home.

+ + +

The thought of calculation reminds me of another young man’s story — a real one this time, but with a similar theme. Blaise Pascal was a 17th-century French scientist and philosopher, famous among other things for inventing one of the earliest mechanical adding machines before he was twenty years old. He is also known for his having undergone a religious conversion and for his adherence to a strict sect of very pious Roman Catholicism.

Now, as you know, it is not common for scientists to be fervently faithful or embarrassingly pious, so it is no surprise to find that in addition to his fervor and mysticism there is also a more calculating and rationalistic side to Pascal’s faith. He knew as a scientist that he could not prove that God exists, but as one of the originators of probability theory, he had to admit that God might exist. And so, in what came to be called “Pascal’s Wager” he calculated that if God exists, it is wisest to win eternal life by placing your bets on God — for, if God doesn’t exist, you’ve lost nothing, but if God does exist you stand to win everything! It’s a compelling notion, and it has held up well for over 300 years. A modern form of this wager is the comment of a believer to an atheist: “If I am wrong about God and life after death, I will never know; but if you are wrong, you will!”

There is a similar kind of calculation in the younger son in our parable. “Better take a chance on my father welcoming me back, rather than starve to death for certain, here.” But you can also hear the wheels clicking in the mind of the older brother, too — though to a different calculation: not the younger brother’s “it can’t get any worse so what the hey, let me go home”; but the colder calculation of the older brother’s carefully tabulated column of resentments — “Working like a slave for years, never disobedient, never got so much as a goat to have a party with my friends...” I can picture him, red-faced and angry, perhaps about to burst into tears. How long has this good obedient son been holding in this catalogue of resentments and injuries? Storing up all the debt he things the father hasn’t paid him?

+ + +

And perhaps that touches something in the father, too. But it is not simply a response to the calculus of resentment, any more than his response to the younger son was based on a calculus of repentance. This isn’t about calculus, or logic, or anything like that. It is about love.

The father doesn’t love the younger son because he repents, or the older son because he remains loyal, but because they are his sons. It is not about calculation: either the calculation of a gamble that you might be forgiven, or the calculation that if you tote up enough obedience and loyalty you will get a rich reward. Like the generous employer who gave the workers in the vineyard the same wage regardless of how long or short their work-shift, the generous father in this parable loves his sons not on the basis of what they’ve done or failed to do, but because they are his children. It is not about calculation, but relationship; not about logic, but love.

This, ultimately, is the message Jesus wanted to get across to those scribes and Pharisees, the message the tax-collectors and sinners had already understood, the message that the God of Love intends for us. God’s love is not based upon what we do or fail to do; God’s love is not something we earn by being good or lose by being bad. God’s love is a gift that came to us, reconciling us and the whole world to God, even while we were yet sinners — not counting our trespasses but forgiving them, wiping the slate clean and cancelling the debt, hitting the delete key on the whole spreadsheet of human sinfulness.

Christ did not save us because we were good, or because we repented, but because we needed saving and he loved us so much that nothing could stop him from saving us, even at the cost of his own life, by which he showed us the greatest love.

This is how the lost are found, how the dead are restored to life; this is how new life begins, how new creation starts, and this is why we celebrate — as we must — and keep the feast, through Jesus Christ our Lord.+

March 7, 2010

The Elder Son and the Father’s Repentance

My brother’s gone inside. Hot tears well up.
“O Father, don’t you love me? Have you
one such blessing? For this son of yours
you kill the calf, and open wide the doors
of welcome. But for me, it seems, you choose
no festival, no ring, no robe, no shoes...”
My voice cracks with a sob; the tears run down.
“When my friends last came by, you seemed to frown;
I didn’t dare to ask you for the goat —
you know, the little one — so we could feast.
Oh, had you offered that, at least
I’d feel you took some notice, made some note
of how I’ve worked and not complained... but now...”
My voice gives out.
                    But then I see his eyes
are also filled with tears; he on my shoulders
lays his hands, then draws me to his breast,
“My Son, my Son,” he says, “My firstborn son,
my heir, my joy, my pride — when I to rest
am gone, all that I have is yours, and none
but you shall hold it. Did I, Son, neglect
to tell you that? That you were the elect,
to hold by right inheritance all this?
Then I confess that I have done amiss.
Forgive me for assuming that you knew,
for never saying how much I love you...
but come inside; to celebrate with joy;
I love you, Son, more than the younger boy.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Lent 3 2010