December 30, 2011

Thought for 12.30.11

Patience and charity are renewable resources, replenished by repeated exposure to the Son.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 28, 2011

The Outer Limits (of Communion)

We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical... We can change the focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to crystal clarity. — Not The Joint Standing Committee of the Primates Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council
“Communion is the fundamental limit of autonomy.” So proclaimed the Windsor Report (¶82). This observation could be merely the recognition of the harsh reality that people often break up when one does something of which the other disapproves, even when the action is objectively within the competence, authority, or right of that other person. But “limits” here has a stronger, and more intentional meaning. It is not a mere marker of a transition point, but an attempt to bar the transition — not a mere border marker but a sentry point, armed and at the ready to prevent any incursion.

At its most generous reading, this represents an aspirational and idealistic approach to human and ecclesiastical affairs. The sentries do not want to shoot anyone; they do want everyone voluntarily to submit to the discipline. They want no one to do anything to offend anyone else. This must mean, when push comes to shove in the situational and real world, that some are expected to refrain from doing something — something they feel strongly about, something they think is right and that they have the right to do, something which the failure to do would be wrong — on the basis of the possible (or real) offense such action may (or will) give to someone else.

This becomes particularly difficult in our touchy times and even touchier Communion, in which a pervasive neuralgia and hypersensitivity seems to have afflicted portions of our former fellowship — to the extent that fellowship is now actually broken. A recent instance of this is the “Dear John” letter from Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan to the Presiding Bishop of TEC. It is a masterpiece of high dudgeon, closing with, “We will not give TEC advice anymore, because TEC ignored and has refused our advices.”  Clearly, either you do as they think right, or that’s the end of it. If you do not take Sudan’s expert advice on the interpretation of Scripture, they will have nothing more to do with you.

All of this leads me to see things rather differently from Windsor, and from the optimistic view of the Communionists and Covenanters, and to place the shoe delicately on the foot of the one taking offense. It is not the exercise of autonomy that ruptures communion, but the abreaction of those who find that exercise intolerable. Thus: tolerance is the limit of communion. As I wrote back in December 2010
It is not possible to “agree never to disagree”; [but it is possible to adopt] a commitment “never to allow any disagreements to lead to a severance of communion or any other consequences to the covenanted relationship.” The short message is in this maxim: “It is never possible not to give offense; but it is always possible not to take offense.” ...It is always possible to forgive, in the manner of Christ, even those who do not think or know they need forgiveness. It is possible not to insist that all do as I do, or think as I think. This is the way of Christ...
It is, in the long run, more Christlike and more practically possible to “agree to disagree” while remaining committed to one another, “for better, for worse,” than to walk on ecclesiastical eggshells for fear of doing anything others might not like.

Case in point

Over at Thinking Anglicans, an interesting comment stream developed in response to the post about Jonathan Clatworthy’s worthy essay on the proposed Anglican Covenant. One commenter, in response to the appeals (such as my own) for an essentially laissez-faire model for the Communion, threw down the gauntlet (or the other shoe for the other foot) of lay presidency at the Eucharist as proposed in Sydney, Australia.

A few responded that such a thing would be a move beyond the pale, but a number of others, including myself, reflected that this is precisely what I would see as something to tolerate even while disagreeing with it — that is, I could tolerate, and believe the Communion could tolerate, Sydney approving such a novel experiment. I hasten to repeat that I would not personally support such an innovation and would oppose its introduction in my own province. Frankly, while I don’t see the idea catching on, I have my reasons for not feeling this need be a communion-breaking issue.

My general reason is that lay presidency is, as far as I can see, similar to the question of same-sex marriage or the ordination of bishops engaged in such marriages, to the extent that these questions cannot be answered by a sole appeal to Scripture. In Reasonable and Holy I have laid out at some length how I feel Scripture, Tradition, and Reason can support the broadening of marriage to include same-sex couples, and I won’t belabor that here.

But let me sketch out a few of the reasons I see lay presidency as a tolerable experiment, even though I do not support it, except perhaps in the emergency “desert island” situations in which I think the commandment of the Lord to “do this in remembrance of me” outweighs the church’s tradition requiring a priest or bishop to preside at the remembrance.

First, that “desert island” scenario is a good example of “the exception proves the rule.” There is a rule, no doubt about it, from very early on in the church’s history, that the eucharistic assembly is to be presided over by a bishop. This presidency came eventually to be shared with and committed to presbyters. But that evolution itself reveals that the rule is not hard and fast, and bears exceptions as it evolves. No doubt there were those in that transitional period who felt short-changed or took offense that the bishop was not the chief celebrant in their assembly, as the officiant’s task in a growing and spreading church was committed to mere “country-bishops” (chorepiscopoi) — who are very likely the genetic ancestors of our later “parish priest.”

This reveals a church willing to experiment — as experiment it must if it is to survive in a changing world, and evolves new ministries such as the diaconate and presbyterate as part of that experimentation. Look at Paul’s advice to Titus concerning establishing presbyters in Crete, for example. This is evolution and experiment at work.

As the Scripture gives no clear evidence as to who the celebrant must be, other than by commission of the apostles or someone commissioned by them, the question can turn to the various means by which this commissioning has been performed since their times. Although laying on of hands holds pride of place, insufflation, anointing, and the handing over of the instruments essential to the performance of the rite all have formed part of the elements of the rite by which a person was authorized to take on the office of Eucharistic presidency. The crucial factor is authorization, not the form or sign by which that authorization takes place, since the form or sign is of human origin. Late patristic scholar the Rev Canon Richard Norris was once asked, “What do you call a lay person authorized by a bishop to preside at the Eucharist?” His pert response, “A priest.” Celebrating the Eucharist is a“faculty” that when conferred, is conferred.

Moreover, old models of “confection” of the Eucharist by the celebrant have in more recent years given way to a much broader community-based understanding of the sacrament even in many “catholic” contexts. Sydney is not, as I understand it, talking of a kind of informal “anyone like to officiate?” model for the Eucharistic assembly, but the designation of certain individuals to take up this function. This may press the buttons of those — including myself — who favor the rich and sacramental understanding of ordination. But the buttons marked “Break Communion” or “Schism” need not be among those pressed.

Again, let me state that this is not meant to be an argument in favor of lay presidency. It is, however, an argument for toleration of such an experiment, for mission needs in face of pressing situations. Meanwhile, such a local experiment will either catch on or not, and no other province need participate or copy, and the economy of God will cover any other deficits. Or so I trust.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 25, 2011

You have a personal message waiting

The Original Word is reissued in a new edition, bound in flesh and blood -- and swaddling bands... a sermon for Christmas Day

Christmas 2011 • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.
When I was working on the 150th Anniversary history of Saint James Church, I had a good deal of material at my disposal. One of the most important resources was the 100th anniversary history, the “gold book” as it used to be called because of its cover. Actually I had a copy of this book from long before I came to be Vicar at Saint James Church, left to me as a bequest from my brother-in-Christ William Bunting, who served over at Saint Andrew’s Church in the east Bronx for over thirty years.

The only problem with this “gold book” is that it is what historians call a “secondary source.” The authors of this book handed along to posterity their own understandings of all that went before, tinted by the views of what was important to them at the time they wrote Even concerning its own time, the 1950s, it turned out not to be a reliable source for me today, as folks were so accustomed to things of their own time — the 40s and 50s — they did not think it important to record them, since “well, everybody knows that.” So, fifty years later, some important information was no longer recoverable to me, now, because everybody back then, knew it at the time and no one thought it was necessary to write it down.

Fortunately, the “gold book” was not my only source: I also had the parish records at my disposal. In the safe there were old papers and documents, what historians call “primary sources” — records from the actual times that things happened. And these records bear the mark of personal testimony and connection. Among them are letters from young soldiers serving in the First World War, writing from the horrors of the trenches to their priest back home in New York. There is the pencil entry in the parish record book, of the burial of the curate’s wife with no further comment — and it was only through correspondence with her great-granddaughter (now that’s a real primary source) that I discovered that the reason for the silence was the fact that she had taken her own life.

There are the more prosaic items like the last cancelled check to Tiffany & Co. to pay for the Saint Augustine and Monica stained glass window, probably the last surviving work of the great artist Louis Comfort Tiffany, or the receipts of sixty-five years earlier from the quarry for the very stones that form the walls of this church, signed and approved by the head of the building committee, Mr. Gustav Schwab.

And the difference between the secondary documents like the “gold book” and the primary sources like these handwritten notes, is that the primary materials speak for themselves, while the later records come second-hand, with interpretation and editing, and most importantly, omissions.

+ + +

John opens his Gospel with an affirmation that the Word was God and was with God at the beginning. This is the Original Message — the first “text,” if you will — that God spoke to creation, the Word through whom all things were made, the source of light and life, the primary source of all that is, but at that point seemingly distant, past and inaccessible to us in the present day. In between come the messengers, such as the Letter to the Hebrews refers to — the secondary sources — most importantly John the Baptist, who comes as a witness to testify to the light, and John the Evangelist, another testifier. But then, surprise surprise and Merry Christmas, the Word becomes flesh: not the secondhand word of a transcribed or translated message, but the Original Word itself, coming with all the power that it had in the first place: the primary source issued in a new edition, bound in flesh and blood — and swaddling bands.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews affirms this, this distinction between the secondhand word from the prophets, to the word of the Son himself, the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being. This Jesus, this Son of God, this Messiah is no mere messenger: he is the message!

+ + +

Yet still, John tells us, some turn away — the Word comes to his world which owes its existence to him, yet that world refuses to know him. He comes to his own, but his own people do not accept him, or at least not all of them. Those who do, who accept the message, the powerful message, the personal message who has been waiting to be delivered from the beginning of time, waiting for the moment the right instant when it is meant to be spoken — those who accept this message, who believe in his name, receive power themselves to become children of God.

This is the miracle of Christmas, that the power and the person of God became a human child so that we — we might through him — become children of God. He came to us, not through interpretation or translation, not through secondary sources or a third party, but directly and personally. The Original Word, the Original Text, appeared in a new, living, cloth-bound edition — a Christmas present for each and every one of us. As the great old hymn says
He sent no angel of his host
to bear this mighty word,
but him through whom the worlds were made,
the everlasting Lord. (Hymn 489)
+ + +

Beloved, we have a personal message waiting. He’s been waiting for two thousand years, for us. Let us, once again, open our hearts to receive him, open our minds to learn from him, open our eyes to behold his light, which enlightens everyone who will receive him and believe in his name, even Jesus Christ our Lord. O come, let us adore him.+

December 22, 2011

Nan’s Christmas Village

Visited my old friend Nan Marvel last night, and was floored by her annual setup of the Christmas Village, which has grown mightily since last I saw it. So charmed was I that I decided to grab a rough video on my cell phone. Hope this gets across some of the charm...

December 21, 2011

Modern But Not Modernist

I heartily commend Jonathan Clatworthy’s essay Instead of the Anglican Covenant over at the Modern Church website. It is a calm and measured call for engagement rather than schism (de facto via the incursions, severances and refusals by some of the provinces of the Global South; or de jure via the imposed relational consequences of the proposed Anglican Covenant.)

He offers a much more sane, safe, and traditionally Anglican way forward in our Anglican disagreements, and I hope his words will help persuade those seemingly held captive by the “Only Way Forward” scenario to perceive that there are other ways, and better.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/t to Thinking Anglicans

December 19, 2011

Radical Jesus — O Radix Jesse

We are not called to serve the poor because we recognize Jesus in them. It is in serving the poor that we come to recognize Jesus for who he really is.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Inspired by a comment on the previous post

December 18, 2011

Occupy Jesus

Now mark that—this is the Gospel truth. If you are prepared to say that the Anglo-Catholic is at perfect liberty to rake in all the money he can get no matter what the wages are that are paid, no matter what the conditions are under which people work; if you say that the Anglo-Catholic has a right to hold his peace while his fellow citizens are living in hovels below the levels of the streets, this I say to you, that you do not yet know the Lord Jesus in his Sacrament. You have begun with the Christ of Bethlehem, you have gone on to know something of the Christ of Calvary—but the Christ of the Sacrament, not yet. Oh brethren! if only you listen to-night your movement is going to sweep England. If you listen. I am not talking economics, I do not understand them. I am not talking politics, I do not understand them. I am talking the Gospel, and I say to you this: If you are Christians then your Jesus is one and the same: Jesus on the Throne of his glory, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus received into your hearts in Communion, Jesus with you mystically as you pray, and Jesus enthroned in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters up and down this country. And it is folly—it is madness—to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. It cannot be done.

There then, as I conceive it, is your present duty; and I beg you, brethren, as you love the Lord Jesus, consider that it is at least possible that this is the new light that the Congress was to bring to us. You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet. 

Bishop of Zanzibar Frank Weston
From his concluding address to the Anglo-Catholic Congress 1923

December 17, 2011

Calling Out

I was very pleased to see a letter in the December 18, 2011 issue of The Living Church, rebutting the misrepresentations and straw-man arguments which the Rev. Dr. Philip Turner raised in response to the "liberal" or "expansionist" authors of the House of Bishops Theology Committee report on sexuality, published in the Winter 2011 ATR. As the Rev. Robert MacSwain, the author of the letter, demonstrates, Turner assailed the gay-marriage-urging authors for a position they explicitly rejected. The argument he attacked is that gay and lesbian marriage is a move towards personal self-satisfaction and sexual happiness. The argument actually made in the papers is about the hard discipline of marriage as a form of sanctification towards holiness — just as for mixed-sex couples. Careful readers will note the resonance of this argument with my own work on the subject.

But why is it that someone as bright as Turner feels the need to concoct such a misrepresentation? Does he truly not perceive the difference? I begin to think that some "conservatives" may in fact have such a blind spot.

That is in part because I have been experiencing something similar over the last few weeks. An obviously intelligent and well-read anonymous blogger posting in the comments section of Peter Carrell's Anglican Down Under criticized me for adopting arguments in defense of same-sex marriage which I have not made, and persistently attempted to paint a picture of a kind of liberal modernism that is very far from my work (as any who have read it know). Let me hasten to add that I do not find Peter himself to be guilty of this sort of reaction, and regard him as a model interlocutor!

Then, over at Titus One Nine, another anonymous commenter declared that I was responsible for leading the charge in trying to depose Bishop Mark Lawrence, and that in a "raging and fulminating" way. That really surprised me, as I was not aware of any rage or fulmination, or even much by way of comment or interest, in or on the subject. When challenged, this person proudly produced three shorter than 50-words each comments separated by over a year — one from the House of Bishops / Deputies list-serve and two from blogs. None of these three line comments called for action against Bishop Lawrence, and the two most recent merely noted, as a point of canon law, that were action to take place it would likely be because of property concerns. As far as I know, and I've done the Google search, these are the only things I've said in reference to the good Bishop of South Carolina in the past year. I assured this irate denizen of Kendall Harmon's comment stream that were I intent on pressing a case against the Bishop I would certainly do more than make three three-line comments over the course of a year!

The point in all this is, What is it with "conservatives?" (Not all, just some.) Does their own upset with how they perceive things to be going blind them to what is actually happening? Is it simply a want of charity that takes everything someone dubbed "liberal" says at its worst possible, and often wrong, interpretation? Is it perceptual set, or a form of neuralgia and heightened sensitivity?

In this season, I plead for better understanding and calm. There are sane and sober "conservatives" out there, able to converse across even strong disagreement. I have had many such conversations so I know this to be true. The key, of course, is listening, and being able to describe to someone with whom you disagree their own position in ways they can recognize and affirm, and especially not telling them what they "must have meant" when they explain that they didn't. Kendall always espoused that, and I admire him for it; and I wish some of the folks who populate the comment-streams at his blog would follow his example. As to Turner, I hope he will re-read the essays which he misrepresented with newly opened eyes and attempt to wrestle inwardly with the arguments as they are actually made. He may still not agree with them but at least then be able to do them the courtesy of responding to them on their own terms. And that may advance the discussion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 14, 2011

Have You Seen This?

I'm taking advantage of the Internet age to ask if anyone has come across this wood-carving that was part of a Gospel Book. It was used by the Brotherhood at its liturgies and stored at the friary of the Society of the Atonement, Graymoor, in Garrison New York when we were not using it. It went missing about a dozen years ago, and I thought now might be a time to ask if it has turned up anywhere. It's about 12 by 14 inches or so, carved in oak (or that color anyway), if I recall correctly, with touches of gold leaf here and there. It was my second effort at wood carving. I hope it is serving somewhere, as a Gospel Book cover or in some other sacred setting; but if anyone were to come across it, the Brotherhood would love to see it back in our use. Thanks to any for information.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 13, 2011

Those Were the Days (Lambeth 1878)

from the Encyclical letter of the 1878 Lambeth Conference, section 1.5

There are certain principles of church order which, your Committee consider, ought to be distinctly recognised and set forth, as of great importance for the maintenance of union among the Churches of our Communion.

1. First, that the duly certified action of every national or particular Church, and of each ecclesiastical province (or diocese not included in a province), in the exercise of its own discipline, should be respected by all the other Churches, and by their individual members.

2. Secondly, that when a diocese, or territorial sphere of administration, has been constituted by the authority of any Church or province of this Communion within its own limits, no bishop or other clergyman of any other Church should exercise his functions within that diocese without the consent of the bishop thereof.

3. Thirdly, that no bishop should authorise to officiate in his diocese a clergyman coming from another Church or province, unless such clergyman present letters testimonial, countersigned by the bishop of the diocese from which he comes; such letters to be, as nearly as possible, in the form adopted by such Church or province in the case of the transfer of a clergyman from one diocese to another.
It appears to me that most of the troubles in the present Anglican Communion stem from the failure of some provinces to observe and abide by point 1. Some of those same provinces have gone on to violate point 2, and the recent trouble in AMiA seems to reflect a bit of the mess one gets into by not observing point 3.

But point 1, in one sentence, is the key to any real Anglican unity. No further "covenant" is needed. And the one currently on offer provides a mechanism to frustrate point 1, by shifting from respecting the actions of the provinces to placating those offended by them. The proposed Covenant is  government by discontent and disrespect.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 12, 2011

Cb4B was CwoB

Over at the Episcopal Café a discussion has appparently drawn to an inconclusive close on what is variously known as "communion before baptism," "communion without baptism," and (more confusingly for those who remember or still use the term in its older sense) "open communion." The discussion was launched from an unlikely port: the story of a Japanese UCC minister disciplined for this practice.

I have many concerns about this practice, by whatever name, and with the arguments used to support it, about most of which I have written in the past on this blog. This includes the irony of emphasis on the Baptismal Covenant while diminishing actual baptism to what seems an optional or at best secondary place in sacramental life; the loss of Morning Prayer as an alternative form of worship in many places, precisely at a time when a larger number of the unbaptized might be present; and a general interest in being hospitable and inclusive. But ultimately it seems to me that Cb4B is the wrong answer to a very real problem, or set of problems.

My greatest concern is not that the odd unbaptized individual might receive communion, or even the disciplinary lapse by which clergy in this church think it within their competence to issue a general invitation for those not baptized to receive communion.

Rather — and this comes through in some of the comments following the story cited above — it is that we risk a great devaluation of baptism, or a confusion about what baptism means in relation to being a member of the Body of Christ, at least from our perspective as part of a sacramental and catholick church.

Part of the problem, as I tried to address it at the Café, is the emphasis on sin in the Western tradition, thanks largely to Augustine of Hippo and those who emphasized this element in his work at the Reformation, including Cranmer. Thus sin becomes a lens to see both baptism and the eucharist, in ways not quite so highlighted in the Gospels and Epistles that give us what little we have to go on about either rite — both of which, if truth be told, evolve and develop in the Apostolic and Patristic era into something like their present forms.

This much can be said, however: baptism is primarily a rite of initiation into a new life, through death to self and sin, in union with Christ. The reason it rids of sin is not just by means of a "washing" or purification as in the baptism of John, but rather a union with Christ in his death. As Paul draws out this theology in Romans 6-7, it is about our being no longer subject to the law because we have died, or been liberated from its slavery. (Paul, as usual, tries to balance two analogies simultaneously, not always successfully!) It is through baptism that we come to be "united with him in his death" and come "to share in his resurrection."

And the Holy Eucharist is the celebration of that resurrection, which is not just a future event but is made real in our own bodies as we join at the Eucharistic table and are re-em-bodied and re-membered into Christ's living Body on Earth, the Church. Cranmer, and the Protestant Reformers generally, tended to fix the Eucharist to Calvary, and focus on the Paschal and Last Supper aspects of the celebration, and concerns of individual salvation: but these need not be the only emphases in our approach to this Sacrament. The rich material of the post-Apostolic era (the Didache, for example) show that early on the emphasis shifts from the personal to the corporate, and to celebration of the unified body of the Church, Christ's Body on Earth, typified in the grain gathered together and made one bread, which is only broken so that we can consume it and thereby be made One.

So, in brief, this is my argument for maintaining the traditional pattern: initiation followed by celebration. You become a member of the Body before you celebrate you membership in it. The practical concerns of a larger number of unbaptized seekers, the urge to be hospitable and inclusive, and so on, can — and must — be addressed: but there are more effective and theologically coherent ways to do so than through inverting this sequence, which tends to rob baptism of its fundamental character as a liminal rite by which one passes from this life into the risen life of God, as a member of the Body of Christ.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 9, 2011

Brother Louis (Thomas Merton) 12.10

Gracious God, you called your monk Thomas Merton to proclaim your justice out of silence, and moved him in his contemplative writings to perceive and value Christ at work in the faiths of others: Keep us, like him, steadfast in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Merton was a major influence in my life, in a number of ways. Most importantly, he began to introduce some of the ideas that would merge into what is sometimes called “the new monasticism” — of which my own community is but one example of new models that emerged in the late 60s in response to a new wave of spiritual hunger, of which Merton was part of the avant garde. In my own thinking, his Contemplation in a World of Action formed a very important part of my coming to seek to follow a life of Christian service and devotion.

Merton lived in tension with the model of monasticism to which he made his commitment. His human frailty makes him, to my mind, all the more important in that witness.

Thank you, Brother Louis, for all you have meant and done for so many.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
ikon from the "quick ikons" series

December 7, 2011

Thesis for 12.07.11

The Anglican Communion has no mechanism to determine or express its mind apart from the decisions and actions of the individual member provinces.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG 

Maxim 20111207

Anyone unwilling to live with tension is unworthy of marriage.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 5, 2011

Maxim (20111205)

Better an honest disagreement than a false consensus.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 4, 2011

Short Story

There was once a man who was always writing stories. It occurred to him one day that he had never written a story about himself, and so he did. And this is the story he wrote.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 2, 2011

Wounded healer

a review of Hugo, a film by Martin Scorcese

Hugo is a rich film with much to commend it to a wide range of audiences. There is enough action and youthful characters with whom the thoughtful younger set can identify, as well as some poignant older characters with whom any adult who has experienced disappointment or loss will be likely to resonate. The primary theme is brokenness and loss, but the film is about triumph through and over these obstacles. That a child is the bringer of healing — it does not go too far to say salvation — is all the more appropriate to this season.

That child is played by young actor Asa Butterfield, whom I’d only just seen in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas the day before. He is a bit older and much wiser in this film, and I am very happy to say that unlike the sad emptiness and pathos with which I was left at the end of the earlier film, Hugo left me uplifted and bright with hope. All is not lost, it reassures us. It is just important to be sure you have all the pieces, and they must be there somewhere because that is how things are made. Things can break, or be lost or misplaced, but there is hope for repair, renovation, and restoration.

This film of many films within a film is also a love song to cinema, from one of its more daring artists. He has tried many things in the past, but this is Scorcese’s first foray into 3-D, and I’m not entirely sure it was necessary, even though the result is spectacular. I have to confess that while I find 3-D fascinating, I remain unsatisfied as it presents an image that is not really quite as the pair of human eyes sees it, since our brain wants to focus on whatever holds our attention. This leads me to become even more aware of the artifice, rather than suspending any disbelief. But then again, this is a film about artifice, so perhaps that is all to the best.

Ben Kingsley is his usual excellent self as a man slowly pulled from the depths of bitterness and despair into the literal magical light in which he had once reveled. Sacha Baron Cohen makes the most of what could have been a totally two-dimensional figure, and fleshes it out with poignant effect, as another broken man who finds his own completion and restoration. The other supporting players are quite fine, though I would have liked to have seen more of Christopher Lee as the bookseller — I wonder if something was lost in the cutting room, as his story seems a bit of a loose end. Keep an eye out for James Joyce and Salvador Dali in the crowded train station; I spotted the first but have to say I missed the second.

Enjoy this film this season of expectancy and restoration. There is much to delight the eye and lift the spirits here. And we could all use some of that.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 1, 2011

Shedding some light

Further to the previous post...

In what seems a very disingenuous statement, I just noticed (thanks to Rod Gillis for pointing it out in the comments to the report at Thinking Anglicans) the irony in another portion of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Advent musings:

In spite of many assurances, some Anglicans evidently still think that the Covenant changes the structure of our Communion or that it gives some sort of absolute power of ‘excommunication’ to some undemocratic or unrepresentative body.  With all respect to those who have raised these concerns, I must repeat that I do not see the Covenant in this light at all. (¶ 7)
Beg pardon, but it is the Archbishop who introduced language of two tracks or two "tiers" for the future of the Communion. Moreover, the invitation not to participate in, or be suspended from, one or more of "the Instruments" is spelled out in the Covenant at 4.2.5. And further unspecified "relational consequences" concerning the actual status of communion between members churches, is also threatened (4.2.7).

If these are not "change to the structure of the Communion" then what are they? It seems to me they are fundamental changes to the only structure we have. Evidently, the Archbishop thinks otherwise, which leads me to wonder what he means by "structure."

But perhaps the light in which he sees the Covenant is the gloomy light of the doomsayers who are convinced that the Covenant is the last best hope for Anglican humanity. My hope is that the Archbishop might come to see the Covenant in a different light. I suggest daylight, at the very least, if not the illumination of the Spirit.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 30, 2011

Noises off...

The Archbishop of Canterbury has issued an Advent Letter to the Primates of the Communion, and in it made some comments about the proposed Anglican Covenant, in which he clarifies that

it outlines a procedure, such as we urgently need, for attempting reconciliation and for indicating the sorts of consequences that might result from a failure to be fully reconciled...It alters no Province’s constitution, as it has no canonical force independent of the life of the Provinces. It does not create some unaccountable and remote new authority but seeks to identify a representative group that might exercise a crucial advisory function.
Once again we are presented with something "urgently" needed, but which ultimately creates nothing new, more, or other than a procedure for giving advice as to how to get along, or face the consequences of not getting along. One of the reasons the Archbishop offers for adopting the Covenant is the supposed greater "coherence" following these advisory processes will bring about, allowing us better to interact with other Christian bodies.
We should bear in mind that our coherence as a Communion is also a significant concern in relation to other Christian bodies – especially at a moment when the renewed dialogues with Roman Catholics and Orthodox have begun with great enthusiasm and a very constructive spirit.
But, of course, this "coherence" will only arise if and when disagreeable provinces of the Communion settle their disagreements — for which the Covenant, once again, provides only advice and the exercise of what amounts to peer pressure to conform — or those who continue to resist this pressure are edged out of being "representative" of Anglicanism towards these other supposedly more "coherent" ecclesial bodies.

The Archbishop also asks a question, and then assumes his question has no takers as he rushes back to square one.
I continue to ask what alternatives there are if we want to agree on ways of limiting damage, managing conflict and facing with honesty the actual effects of greater disunity. In the absence of such alternatives, I must continue to commend the Covenant as strongly as I can to all who are considering its future.
I can, of course, think of any number of "alternatives" to what I continue to see as a deeply flawed and, by its own self-confession, ineffectual effort at conflict management:
  • Reliance on the Covenant for Communion in Mission from IASCOME
  • Restoration of the purely consultative function to Lambeth, with a staunch refusal to adopt any resolutions at all, other than those that directly empower mission and ministry
  • Expansion of ministry and mission cooperation between provinces, focused not on the mechanics of the Communion or disagreements on policies, but on doing the things Jesus actually commanded
  • Continuing to provide forums for the sharing of views between provinces, as in the Continuing Indaba and Mutual Listening Process which is “a biblically-based and mission-focused project designed to develop and intensify relationships within the Anglican Communion by drawing on cultural models of consensus building for mutual creative action.”
That last one sounds like a particularly good alternative, doesn't it. I could go on, but I think the picture is clear. I note that two of the alternatives listed above are on the Anglican Communion website. It is not as if these things are hidden away or unavailable. Whatever role the proposed Covenant might take in the future of the Anglican Communion, it is by no means the principle player, and could well simply be put in the category of offstage sound effects.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


a review of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

This film has been around for a few years, but I only had the opportunity to view it last night. It contributed to troubled sleep the rest of the night.

Naturally for any film attempting to address the Holocaust, this work deals with the horrors of that surpassing act of inhumanity. But by placing the primary focus on a child, on two children, this work evokes an emotional level not reached by many other films. For behind these children’s suffering always lies the child’s unanswerable question, Why?

The film naturally addresses the reality of inhumanity, but neatly summarizes how easy it is to dehumanize others and then treat them inhumanely. When young Bruno asks his father about the people on “the Farm” (as he imagines the camp to be), he receives the halting answer, “Those people... well, they really aren't people.” That is it, in a chilling nutshell.

The film is beautifully made, with fine performances and skillful direction. It builds rather like a Mahler symphony to its inevitable and tragic end, and is profoundly moving and disturbing, perhaps most of all because that question is left hanging in the air: Why?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 28, 2011

Uneasy Accommodations

England is embroiled in a debate over whether any religious premises, of whatever faith or denomination, should be free to celebrate a civil partnership with religious trapping or within its walls.While some would like to see the Church of England do this, the powers that govern that church seem dead set against it. But there also seems to be pressure against allowing even the faith-groups that want to do it, i.e., Quakers, Unitarians, and Liberal Jews, from doing so. This angst seems to derive from a sort of slippery-solipsism; that what is allowed to some today will be required of all tomorrow.

And indeed that sort of clamor after uniformity is a part of the Church of England's problem, particularly under Establishment, and particularly surrounding marriage. There was a time in England when the only legal marriages were those in the C of E (and the early exceptions were made for Quakers and Jews then, too!) And unlike the US, where, for instance, an Episcopal priest is free to refuse to officiate at any marriage he or she chooses, the parochial rights of English folk to be married in church even if they have absolutely no other connection than residence remains a sticking point.

However, the legislation permitting houses of worship to provide religious services or a venue for registering civil partnerships will no more require the Church of England to do so — and the act specifically guarantees the protection — than the General Synod measure permitting women bishops (when it is adopted and effective) will require the Roman Catholic Church in England to do the same. Permission is not requirement.

If (or should I say, when) Parliament passes a law for marriage equality, then the church will have to make a decision. It might then take a cue from Roland Allen, who over a century ago resigned his cure in protest  about having to baptize those he felt showed no real commitment to the baptismal promises, and the "sham marriage" tradition in English parishes -- that is, unchurched people exercising a legal right to use the church as decorative backdrop for "doing the baby" or for their nuptials. Surely that is a real problem, isn't it? And one well worth solving over a hundred years after Allen's resignation on principle.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/t to Thinking Anglicans

November 26, 2011

Lies and Consequences

a review of J.Edgar

Clint Eastwood’s latest film is a biopic in the more or less classic/modern mode, telling the story of the long and tortured life of a short and troubled man, J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio). Although there are some fine performances, the film doesn’t click at the level of morality tale that one suspects Eastwood was reaching for, and falls short of the grand tragedy it might have been. The most effective elements are the touching interpersonal and domestic tragedies of Hoover’s relationship with Tolson (Armie Hammer), and the insidious relationship Hoover had with his mother — and let me say Dame Judi Dench is riveting as a twisted and twisting mother out of some private Hell.

But the larger tragic theme never quite seems to click: how a man supposedly so devoted to truth and justice could remain so blind not only to the lies he told himself but the lies he told others, and how by setting himself up as private arbiter of justice committed great injustices against the country he loved. The theme almost clicks in the late scenes in which Hoover (perhaps) recognizes in Nixon some of his own foibles and failings, but the connection fails to link with a satisfying chunk of dramatic inevitability.

Perhaps I’m asking too much — but it seems to me that here was a story of possibly Shakespearian proportions, complete with subplots and levels of resonance. Yet the personal and public levels of the story fail to align in this dramaturgical dance, and remain as clumsy as Hoover’s own first efforts at terpsichore.

The film could have been a morality play for our time: when the well-meaning and self-righteous commit crimes in the cause of justice, and promote real falsehood in support of some abstract truth. Perhaps in retrospect the film will be seen in that light, but for the present it fails to make the connections.

There is much to admire in the technical aspects of the film, in terms of decor, costume and sense of period, but the make-up imposed upon Hoover and Tolson in an effort to age the actors has to be the worst I’ve seen in decades. The high-resolution camera is a harsher critic than I will ever be; but it is astounding to me that the make up on the men is so poor (you can practically see the seams) while Naomi Watts’ is so subtle and convincing. (Different make-up artists were involved, and it is easy to see who has the knack and who doesn't) A minor point, to be sure, but a distraction in engaging with the characters, who, to the actors’ credit, do manage to move and engage.

So this remains an actors’ film rather than a director’s. See it for the performances, and perhaps with a goal to find among the remnants some hint of what it might have been.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

R I P Wally Coberg

The Internet is a funny thing. Particularly given the emergence of social media. I've found myself connecting with folks I've not seen or been in touch with for thirty or forty years. A case in point is Wally Coberg, whom I first met in the early seventies when I was part of The Electric Shakespeare Company performing outdoors in the Baltimore summer at Towson State College. We reconnected via Facebook last summer, and had planned to get together on my next trip to Baltimore, but then early this week I received word from another old colleague, director Paul Berman, that Wally had died. Today his obituary appeared in the good old Baltimre Sun.

The Electric Shakespeare Company performed two plays that summer, with the same company on the same set — which was Wally's design. Both plays were of a post-apocalyptic sort, about the collapse of society: Troilus and Cressida and Lear: A Rock Musical. Yes, you heard that correctly. I played Thersites in the first, which was set in a sort of pre–Mad Max world of motorcycle gangs — the Greeks — and cobbled together sports and military equipment — the Trojans: Priam looked like Alec Guinness in River Kwai. In Lear, I was one-half of the Fool (look, it's complicated: there was a young Fool and an old Fool). In any case, Wally's set was marvelous, especially in the outdoor setting of the natural amphitheater of Towson's "Glen." It resembled a half destroyed relic of the Globe theater, with many levels suitable for Thersites to clamber about on — which made the famous "spy scene" in T&C especially effective as there were literally three levels of action and commentary going on. The photo herewith is a picture which I didn't have, but which Wally sent me last fall, from that production, which I hope gives a tiny glimpse of his wonderful set. That's me on the left and the late Dennis O'Keefe (as Pandarus) on the right, in the closing scene of this dark comedy.

Wally's career had taken off in new directions recently, including work on Edgar Allan Poe, who used to live right around the corner from where I now abide. Small world. And smaller, in many ways, for Wally leaving it, though he did much to enlarge it with his art. God bless him.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 25, 2011

Role Model

Mary, with your human nature
God himself was pleased to dwell.
Every priest should imitate your
Hosting thus Emmanuel.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving and our Role

While preaching my extempore sermon for Thanksgiving Day, just prior to feeding the hungry in our parish hall, I realized I'd picked the Gospel for Year B insead of Year A (I'm already thinking next Sunday!) Perhaps this was a serendipity, though, for it struck me how well this Gospel about not worrying about what you will eat, drink, or wear fits in with this past Sunday's Gospel of judgment upon those precisely who failed to provide food, drink and clothing to the least among the king's family. God provides most of us with so much. Yet others have nothing. Isn't it then, through us, that "God provides" them with food, drink and clothing?

It is a scandal that today — this very night — people will starve to death while others scrape wasted food from their plates that they are unable to eat for surfeit and satiation.

Lord, have mercy. Even in thanks, remember. And more than remember, act!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 23, 2011

Anglicans Down Under

One of the joys of the Anglican Communion is being able to share conversation and reflection with folks from literally the other side of the world, either virtually or in person. One of my favorite interlocutors is Jenny Plane Te Paa — seen here with me at the recent conference in South Africa. She and I enjoyed Bible study together, and lively conversation about Communion affairs, and the life of the church in her own New Zealand / Aotearoa. (Photo by Jon Richardson)

Another New Zealander with whom I've had some good conversation is Peter Carrell, although he represents a view very different to mine or Jenny's. I commend a recent long and winding discussion that while it strays off-topic from time to time has, I think, some definite virtues. There are times I would rather I could chat with Peter over a pint than via comment-boxes, and perhaps that may one day happen.

I'm also fond of the writing and postings of Ron Smith, who blogs at KiwiAnglo. And let's not forget Bosco Peters for all things liturgical. All in all, the connections with the Southern Hemisphere are a vibrant part of my own warm feelings towards our Anglican Communion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 21, 2011


On Saturday, the Convention of the Diocese of New York elected the Rev Canon Andrew M L Dietsche as Bishop Coadjutor, by a very large majority on the third ballot. Shortly after the election, members of the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory who were present for the election managed to recruit Alito Orsini of the diocesan staff to snap this picture next to the great pulpit — with its representation of Gregory the Great at the left. In the photo are (l to r) James Mahoney, Tobias Stanislas Haller, Thomas Mark Liotta, Bishop-elect Dietsche, James Teets and Millard Cook.

Andy has been Canon Pastor in the diocese, and has been a support and friend to many of those who serve in the parishes of a complex region. God grant him many years of service in his new capacity.

November 18, 2011


Contrary to Graham Kings' repeated assertion (scroll down to the first long comment here, the Proposed Anglican Communion Covenant is not "the only way forward." It is one of many ways sideways.

The Proposed Anglican Covenant (Part 4) attempts to manage disagreements by assigning a supervisory task to the Standing Committee of the Communion, and the power to make recommendations not terribly unlike what can now be done without a recommendation, but simply by each province on its own to refuse to have to do with innovations elsewhere that it doesn't like.

Surely this is not the only way to manage disagreements, nor even the best. The simplest way, Gamaliel's laissez faire and provinces ignoring what they don't like in other provinces (as they are free to do, and have done) seems much more likely both to keep some relative peace and lead to eventual reform or reception.

There is no need to manage disagreement. People can be quite disagreeable on their own.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 15, 2011

Anglican Disunion: The Issues Behind “the Issue”

A talk to the Albany Via Media Annual Meeting
St George’s Church, Schenectady, November 12, 2011
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


I’m delighted to be here, and the first thing I want to do is bring you greetings from “your sister who is in Pittsburgh” — the Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, that is. Lionel Deimel asked me to bring that greeting, and I’m very happy to do so. You are not alone in this great church of ours, in being in a minority in a situation where patience and endurance, just as in the opening chapters of Revelation, is called for.

My plan is to speak somewhat formally at first and then break into a more informal discussion. My theme is Anglican Disunion: the Issues behind “the Issue.”

And I want to begin, as an historian, to ask, Was there ever union? What do we mean by unity as opposed to uniformity? I do believe we have a very deep union in the church, and I’ll be getting to that in my talk. But there is clearly a good deal of disunion on the surface of Anglicanism.

So let me start by asking, What is this thing called “Anglicanism”? Is there such a thing as “the Anglican Church”? What do we have in common with the other parts of the Anglican Communion? The old joke was, “The BCP and Wippell’s.” But there is no more common Book of “Common” Prayer throughout the communion, and Almy’s competes with Wippell’s...

We have the bonds of affection — but just how affectionate have they been in recent years?

So what do we have in common besides our genetic heritage as descendants of the Church of England (and let’s not forget our godmother, the Scottish Episcopal Church), with other siblings and our own offspring around the world? (While we’re not forgetting, let’s not forget that it was The Episcopal Church that is responsible for founding most of the Anglican provinces in Central and South America and much of the Pacific, and even Liberia in Africa). A number of these are now independent Provinces of the Anglican Communion, such as the Philippines, Brazil, and Mexico; but others are still part of TEC — Haiti still being part of our own Province II!

Let me first say a word or two about where I don’t think we find our identity. And that, ironically, is in the very “Instruments of Communion” which the Proposed Anglican Covenant appears to wish to install at the center of our ecclesiastical life.

The Windsor Report called them “instruments of unity,” which is not a little blasphemous since our unity is in Christ. But those instruments don’t in any case seem to have had the effect of improving unity. The four are the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates’ Meeting. These are all relatively recent entities not only in Christianity but even among Anglicans.

Obviously the Archbishop of Canterbury has been around since the late sixth century, But the office only began to function as anything like a voice in a “communion” with the beginnings of that “communion” when the Episcopal Church became an independent entity in 1785-89. Canterbury’s role at the time was to offer an unenthusiastic critique of movements in the formation of the American church (and I don’t mean just tinkering with liturgy but dropping two out of three Creeds and editing the third)— and the suggestions Canterbury made were not entirely accepted. (The Athanasian Creed didn’t make it back into our BCP until 1979!) Nonetheless, Canterbury, York, and Bath and Wells obtained the guarded permission of Parliament to extend the episcopate to us former rebels, only on the condition that neither the first bishops they ordained (White and Provoost), nor anyone they ordained (nor anyone ordained by anyone ordained by them) would ever minister within His Majesty’s dominions. So much for Canterbury being “in communion” with the nascent Episcopal Church. As Bishop Pierre Whalon points out in an excellent article in the ATR, for the first 80 years of TEC’s life, we were treated with benign neglect by Canterbury.

It was not until 1867 that the first Lambeth Conference was called, largely to deal with problems in the by then much more widely dispersed collection of provinces in the Anglican family. It was a full century after that, in 1968, that the Anglican Consultative Council, a representative body including for the first time laity and clergy as well as bishops, was created. Ten years later, in 1978, the Primates of the Communion gathered for the first time as a separate body.

Obviously these entities can hardly be held to be either “foundational” or “essential” or “definitional” of what it means to be the Anglican Communion, which appears to have gotten on well enough without them for much of its life. Yet since the Windsor Report they have loomed rather larger in the picture. And the pressure towards a single unified body has taken form in the Proposed Anglican Covenant.

I don’t want to get bogged down in the Covenant discussion — though I’d be happy to make it part of our open discussion. What I’d rather do is attempt to focus on some of the things that I do underlie what unites the Anglican Communion and our identity as Anglicans.

I’m sure you are familiar with the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral: the statement of four doctrinal and ecclesiological principles that chart out the boundaries for dialogue between churches wishing to join in closer common purpose and mission. The Quadrilateral thus describes the essentials, from an Anglican perspective, for church union or reunion.

I would like to suggest that alongside the familiar Quadrilateral we consider another structure that for want of a better term I’ve called the Anglican Triad (with apologies to those who use this term for what is often known, incorrectly, as “Hooker’s Three-Legged Stool.”) This Triad consists of three elements which I think are particularly characteristic of Anglicanism — not necessarily unique to it, but together constituting a unity which I fear is at present very much under assault.

For shorthand I will call these three elements Humility, Provinciality, and Variety. They stand in the via media between Humiliation, Provincialism, and Chaos at one extreme, and Pride, Centralism and Uniformity at the other. All three are well attested in foundational documents of the “Anglican Way.” (The Articles of Religion, the Prefaces to the English and American Books of Common Prayer) and in the work of those who first focused the Anglican vision, such as Richard Hooker. I’ll limit my citations to the Articles of Religion. (They are in the BCP, and I’ve always thought it good of the church to provide us with something to peruse during a boring sermon, if only to remind us that there are things more boring than sermons!)

1. Humility

“The church... hath erred.”(19, 21)

The admission that the church makes mistakes is profoundly revealing of the nature of the church we understand ourselves to be part of. It reflects the Pauline judgment that “our knowledge is partial” — that we “see as in a glass, darkly”; and it asserts an attitude of faith and hope — and one hopes, love — rather than of certainty and judgment. This admission of uncertainty renders all but the most fundamental dogmatic matters to some extent provisional. Understood in this way, Humility is not a weakness, but a strength. It stands midway between abject humiliation and overweening pride.

This acknowledgment that the church makes mistakes is followed by a corollary: mistakes can (and should) be corrected. The church is not trapped within an immutable legal structure such as that attributed to the Medes and Persians. This is why Anglicanism can embrace and advance the development of doctrine and moral theology. We are not stuck, because we can admit that we’ve gotten it wrong, and move on. This does not mean that every development will necessarily be correct — as the principle notes, the church makes mistakes, even as it changes. But the ability to admit to mistakes is the first step in correcting them. (Those familiar with 12-Step programs will at this point I hope recognize a resonance with the Serenity Prayer.) It is very easy for the church to become addicted to the need to control, the need to have a final answer, especially to control others through the claim of unassailable infallibility of judgment — to which Humility is a counterpoise and corrective.)

Humility stands as a meek (which does not mean “weak”) witness against domination by so-called consensus. As the Articles (21) testify, since individual human beings may err, there is no guarantee that an assembly of such errant beings will not also err. Humility points out that even an overwhelming consensus can be quite profoundly mistaken — Galileo can testify to that! So consensus in itself cannot form a term in an argument when a given proposition is being reexamined: to suggest that something must be true either because “we’ve always believed this to be true” or because“everyone says so” is simply a form of logical fallacy — for the truth of a proposition is established neither by being long held or popular: the church can err.

Consensus, after all, means a “common mind with little or no opposition” — so the moment opposition — a new questioning, a new challenge — appears, consensus ceases to exist, and the new proposal must be examined on its own merits against the possible errancy of the formerly unchallenged position. (This is, by the way, why Hooker rejected tradition as an authority in and of itself. He was wise to know that many errors have long lives.)

Anglicanism thus humbly rejects concepts of inerrancy and infallibility; for itself as well as for others. Even the Scripture is not held to either such standard, but is “sufficient” for the end for which it was intended: salvation (6). Human understanding, even of the Scripture, is likely to be fallible as well. And so our human understanding of the sacred texts is subject to a constant review, constant reexamination, as the church bears its responsibility as the “keeper of Holy Writ.”(19)

Humility also stands as a warning against the tendency to adopt unanimous statements for the purpose of apparent unity, in spite of real disagreement with one or more parts of the adopted document. This sort of curate’s-eggery produces the appearance of agreement that cloaks with a light whitewash the underlying division. Better humbly to acknowledge the division of opinion, as the collect for the feast of Richard Hooker puts it, seeking “comprehension for the sake of truth” rather than “compromise for the sake of peace.” For as solutions such as Lambeth 1998.1.10 and the Primates’ Communiqué from Dromantine showed us, such peace will be no peace, as different people then go off with their own interpretations of what was said or meant, but which in theory all agreed to. It may well be that the current Proposed Anglican Covenant is simply the latest in half-baked or watered-down solutions on offer — solutions for problems that don’t exist.

2. Provinciality

“The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England.” (37)

Few things could be clearer than that the Church of England reasserted its ecclesiastical independence from Rome at the Reformation. It thought itself free and competent to do this, and believed it was returning to an ancient principle that had been more successfully preserved among the Eastern churches than it had in the West: the basic unit of the church is the national church or province.

It is sometimes said — it may be said in Albany; I don’t know... You will have to tell me! — that the diocese is the basic unit of the church. However, a diocese cannot be self-sustaining in terms of the essential thing that makes it a diocese, the requisite episcopate; it requires the participation of at least two bishops from other dioceses in order to continue to be a diocese with a bishop, in order to maintain its existence even at the basic level of ordination. In TEC polity even more is required: no diocese can obtain a bishop without the express approval of the majority of those already diocesan bishops, and of the lay and clergy leadership of a majority of all of the other dioceses, either acting through their standing committees or at General Convention. Can you imagine the outcry in our civil government if it were to be required that the governors and legislatures of a majority of all of the other states had to approve the election of a governor in any given state? So much for the claims that the polity of The Episcopal Church resembles Federal polity of the United States! No, the diocese is not the basic unit of the church. It is an organ in the body of the province, and cannot subsist on its own; it depends upon the province for its continued existence as a diocese.)

Some have lately taken to claiming that the idea of a “national church” is somehow novel. However, this understanding of the structure of church governance goes back to the earliest days of Christendom: to whom, after all, were those letters written in the opening chapters of Revelation: to Ephesus, Sardis, and Philadelphia and so on. True, these were city-states, rather than nations in our modern sense — but in the post-Apostolic era it was into national churches that they evolved, and so remained in the East, while in the West things took a different course, as the church fell under a too close alliance with the faded glory that was Rome. Even at that, the myth of Roman supremacy was largely that — a myth — and even in Italy the church of Milan maintained much independence for many years, to say nothing of the churches in Northern Europe and England, where the debates over who was in charge had raged for centuries prior to the tempests raised by Henry VIII’s dynastic dilemma.

In any case, from the days of the declaration of English liberation from the Roman yoke, Anglicanism became marked by this characteristic notion of national churchdom. On our shores this understanding was so well ingrained in our collective psyches that, as the preface to the 1789 Book of Common Prayer puts it “When… these American states became independent with respect to civil government, their ecclesiastical independence was necessarily included.” This attitude carried over to the time of the Civil War, when the leaders in the South felt that they had to form the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America, while in the North those who supported the Union had to pretend that no such thing had happened, and kept calling the role and listing the bishops and deputies merely as absent from sessions of General Convention. And at the end of the war, everything was neatly folded back, and everyone acted as if nothing had happened. The one bishop elected in the Confederate States was simply welcomed into the House of Bishops, no questions asked.

So much for the historical background to this concept of a national church. In practice, Anglican Provinciality is expressed through the concept of provincial autonomy. A significant element of our state of “disunion” is brought about because of this. We are now a very large collection of autonomous provinces, with independent churches now part of nations with very different histories, and very different cultures — as I’ll get to in our informal discussion. The world, and the communion, is very different to what it was in the mid-19th century, when every face at Lambeth was white. The world and the communion have fundamentally changed, and all of those cultural differences that were subsumed by colonial or missionary dioceses, are now finding their voice in independent churches — and this comes to a head when the bishops gather at Lambeth or any other setting. They bring their nationhood with them.

Now, autonomy has gotten a bad name in some circles recently. Autonomy should be understood not in terms of not wanting to have anything to do with anyone else, but rather in terms of the rights, powers and responsibilities exercised within and for a national church in terms of its ability to govern itself. It relates to the concept of subsidiarity: things should be done at a higher or more central level only when they cannot be accomplished more locally. Thus priests are ordained by the diocese for the parish; bishops by the province for the diocese; all governed at a national level by canons which leave a good deal in the particulars to the local structures.

Above all, autonomy, properly understood and exercised, is not the enemy of fellowship. It is, I believe, its precondition: for only the mature and independent can choose voluntarily to enter into truly adult relationships of interdependence and truly mutual submission. You have to be truly confident in yourself in order to have a deep relationship with other selves. You need a clear sense of who you are if you are to give yourself to someone else. Otherwise we get into dependence or codependency, or at its worst, tyranny or lordship of one over another, or many over a few.

Provincial autonomy is tempered by Humility, in that while each province asserts that it is fully the church, yet it does not assert itself as the only church. Rather than a “Branch” theory, this represents a more holographic understanding of the nature of the church’s fullness: the church is complete within each province, as Christ is fully present in every Eucharistic celebration, and in each fragment of the broken Bread — and yet there are not many Christs, but one. The external divisions between Christian churches insofar as they may lead to mutual non-recognition, constitute a scandal in that they impede the mission and work of Christ, and a failure to recognize that we do indeed share one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; but it is not necessary that there be single world-church institutional structure take the place of a fellowship of independent and self-governing provinces. Instead of a human-instituted system of authoritative government, the provinces are called to a work of service and mission, together, in the recognition that the church is already “One” through its faithful response to the dominical command to baptize all nations. It is to be hoped that Christians may one day recognize this baptismal unity, and remove the various obstacles they have set in place that prevent our sharing in the one Bread at one Table. This unity in the two dominical Sacraments forms an essential element of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. If we could find unity in those, any institutional church structure would be for the purpose of mission, not identity.

Humility and Provinciality taken together reveal the process by which development in doctrine is both possible and limited within the Anglican Communion. This is both a possibility for change and a safeguard against error. Cardinal Newman came to believe that development of doctrine could only take place under the watchful eye of the Bishop of Rome. Anglicanism broadens the scope for the source of innovation and correction to the whole communion, the various national churches themselves being the determiners of what and how things are to change or remain the same: each determining for itself those matters that concern it. If I can offer an analogy: the RC Magisterium is like a boarding house where you eat what is set before you or go hungry; any change in the menu is purely up to the kitchen. The Anglican approach is more like a restaurant with a finite but various menu from which to choose; and the fact that I like mushrooms and you like asparagus should not keep us from eating at the same table.

An even better analogy might be to say that Anglicanism is like the parish pot luck supper in which each brings a dish in which all can share — but I can politely avoid the Jell-O mold you brought while you can forego my oxtail stew. Yet all are fed in one fellowship.

Provinciality means that changes and developments may be made within a province and need have no effect upon the governance of any other province. One example of this was the decision of the Episcopal Church to move forward with the ordination of women to the episcopate. No other province was forced to recognize or approve this decision, and it had no impact on the governance, rights, privileges, or responsibilities of any other province. As time passed, other provinces chose to adopt — or not adopt — this innovation: this is the process of reception, and it is not complete even now: there is at present no Anglican consensus on the rightness (or the wrongness) of the ordination of women to the episcopate. In the meantime any difficulties that may arise — such as the inability to license a visiting woman bishop to function as such in a province that does not [yet] ordain women to the episcopate (such as England), or to license or transfer clergy ordained by a woman bishop — are readily dealt with by the canonical provisions already in place within each of the provinces; it is a matter of record keeping that need engender any ill will or severance of communion, even if in the particular case it may mean our Presiding Bishop not being allowed to wear a miter in one or another church.

The principle, What touches all shall be decided by all, comes to play under the rubric of Provinciality. The Windsor report misapplies this concept, so I want to say a word on it. “Touches” does not mean, “having an opinion about” or “creating a situation which might lead to difficulties with a third party.” “Touches” means having a direct effect upon ones rights and privileges. The legal principle, Quod omens tanget, as the 16th century political philosopher Johannes Althusius clarified in early modern terms, is about rights, privileges and authorities of each province that can only be restricted by each province’s individual consent to the restriction. Thus, Lambeth 1998.1.10.e would have overstepped its bounds if it were anything more than the advisory recommendation that it is — a fact we tend to forget, since people treat it as if it were a rule laid down — since it would place a restriction on the right of provinces to ordain and bless whom they choose — and these are rights pertaining to each province that must be explicitly foregone by each, and which cannot be taken away even by all of the other provinces combined. All, save even one, is not all, and what touches all must be decided by all.

Provinciality thus provides a balance and a means to implement development in conjunction with Humility: it allows innovations to be tested locally before anyone else considers implementing them in their own locale; and there is no provision for them being globally mandated until all agree — at which point, of course, no mandate is needed as agreement has been arrived at by an organic process of reception. This is, of course, how the church has generally functioned through the ages. One could note, for example, that the adoption of vernacular liturgy by various national churches at the Reformation finally after several centuries had impact upon the very Roman Catholic Church that so bitterly opposed the development.

Going further back in history, the emergence of the Gentile church began in isolated communities, and it took some while — even after the conference of the Apostles in Jerusalem — for the church more widely to accept this innovation that non-Jews could be saved through Baptism. “What about circumcision? Scripture says you have to be circumcised!” There were some who held to that, until they became a tiny minority that faded away, as the church moved on.

After the collapse of an old consensus due to the action of the church in one place or a few places, a significant period of reception will be necessary before a new consensus is established. Ultimately, this movement from particular to universal is reflective of the Incarnation itself. Jesus was born in a particular place, at a particular time — he entered into human history in one spot, and yet that birth echoes to the edge of the cosmos and has filled the whole world. Things happen someplace before they can happen in every place.

3. Variety

“Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish Ceremonies or Rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority.”

This is where we confront the issue of disunity most directly. It must be admitted that Anglicanism has always experienced tension between uniformity and variety. However, as another example of the importance of Provinciality, this citation from the Articles demonstrates (and a reading of the Preface to the 1549 BCP will support) that the concern is for uniformity within a national church, and permits variety between or among them. Everyone in a church is to use its BCP, but the BCP in America — extensively modified when we became an independent church, even to the extent of modifying the Creed (and those of you old enough to remember the 1928 BCP will recall that little rubric that allows different wording for “he descended into hell” — that was one of the bones of contention with Canterbury back in the 1780s.)

It has also to be acknowledged that among the “issues” currently causing distress in the communion there loom two that concern rites and ceremonies: in particular ordination and marriage, neither of which, as the Articles say, “have any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God” (25), and so appear to fall within the rubric of permitted change. (This is an edgy argument, but I stand by it.) It will quickly be pointed out, however, that the limit on Variety in this regard is set by “God’s Word written”(20, 36).Some contend that the present innovations have crossed that boundary.

The question though is, Who is to make that determination if not the national church? If the rites and ceremonies in question concern only a given province and its governance — for under Provinciality, any other province is free to reject or refuse these rites and ceremonies, in principle or in the persons of those who take part in them — as indeed they do — then as with all such matters the error is limited to the province which has erred in the opinion of the others. No one else need by “touched” by these errors. Are rites and ceremonies — even if errant — matters over which to break communion — as a number of provinces have done, not just with the individuals immediately representing the innovations, but with any who even approve of them? It was no big surprise, after all, that Gene Robinson was not invited to Lambeth. But need the churches divide over this issue? If he is the problem, don’t invite him to the party. He understands; he is a grown-up who knows he is a controversial figure, and he won’t crash the party and grab a seat. In fact, he knows he scores more points being outside!)

Are these matters over which to shun Christ’s table, as some have done, when the Primates gathered and some would not share with Frank Griswold because of what he represented for having ordained Gene Robinson? How many degrees of separation do you have to have from the “error” in order to be “clean.” I believe these are not things to be divided about — not here, not at this Table. I hope that there is yet time for those who have walked apart from Christ’s open embrace and invitation to “take and eat” with their fellow Christians, to reconsider their breach of communion.

Ironically, even the Windsor Report — which has given rise to so much talk of “restraint” — suggests this very openness to Variety, to variation. It did this in part by bidding a moratorium on the ordination of bishops who live in same-sex unions until a greater consensus on the appropriateness of such a manner of life can be reached, and also in part by asking for further exploration of how this might be consistent with the traditional understanding of bishops as moral exemplars to the flock of Christ.

This leaves the door open for such developments — it did not say, “no how, no way, you’re wrong, go away” — it said, “could you please hold off on this while we discuss it further.” That leaves the door open for development; after all, a moratorium is by its own standards a temporary restraint rather than an outright prohibition — Windsor thus reveals that this is not a matter of fixed and immutable doctrine. One could scarcely imagine the church issuing a document calling for further study of the Incarnation while we waited to see how things come out, for example. Windsor therefore revealed that the “issues” of same-sex blessings and the ordination of bishops in such relationships, while in its view inadvisable, is not a matter of final doctrine: the old consensus is no more, even if a new one has not yet emerged. (143)

The difficulty with the moratoria is that they require a de facto acceptance of an “as if” — as if a consensus actually exists, but which in fact no longer exists, and submission to an authority that has yet to establish either its legitimacy or its trustworthiness.

For instance, the Windsor Report stated (127) that the “Communion has made its collective position clear” when actually only Lambeth and the Primates and the bishops of a number of Provinces had spoken. The “communion” had not made its position clear, because the “communion” has no means to do so. This set up an illegitimate and arrogant (in the strictest sense of the word) assertion. It is, after all, one thing for a club to enforce rules that all its members have actually agreed to; but it is quite another for gatherings of bishops meeting in bodies which specifically and historically state they have no power to legislate on matters of doctrine suddenly to begin to do exactly that, calling for obedience to a constitution that does not now and never has existed. This is not consensus.

When we more closely review the history of Lambeth’s positions on sexual morality, a clear pattern emerges. Three such issues have come before Lambeth over the years (marriage after divorce, birth-control, and polygamy), and on all three Lambeth first upheld but later reversed or radically amended its recommendations as the consensus changed. I invite you sometime to look up the 1908 Lambeth resolution on birth control, and the report prepared by the committee studying it, to see how adamantly opposed the bishops were to any suggestion that this practice of what the report called “preventative abortion” should be permitted. This position was modified in 1930 and by 1950 Lambeth not only said the pope was wrong but that birth control was good and should be used in some circumstances.

So for the present, one might ask, is this Lambeth walk really necessary? Do we trust that the bus-driver knows where we are going? Who hired this bus-driver? Is there even a bus? Isn’t it rather pointless and divisive to continue to draw line after line in the sand that time and tide will only wash away? Why not just allow the organic process to work rather than freezing a moment in time that incarnates the very things that divide us, that perpetuates our disagreements as permanently disagreeable?

Ultimately the burden of proof (as the Articles of Religion require) lies upon those who wish to make strict adherence to this one aspect of traditional sexual morality a matter of salvation. Although they may have at least one strand of the tradition on their side, those same Articles point out, as I noted, that tradition is often in error. At the same time, contemporary biblical scholarship is clearly tending towards limiting the scope of the negative judgments on same-sex acts to the same range of relationships and circumstances as mixed-sex acts: infidelity, abuse, rape and idolatry. The “reasserters”(as they call themselves) deny this. But they must do more than simply reassert, they have to address the arguments, and to date they have been unable to make their case— and it is the responsibility of the “prosecution” to do so. The “defense” need only demonstrate a reasonable doubt and show, as Windsor put it, that “...what is now proposed not only accords with but actually enhances the central core of the Church’s faith.” (WR 60) As I have argued in my own work on the subject, fidelity is a moral value, gender is not.

When it comes to offering an explanation in defense of this manner of life, since there are an unknown but real number of Anglican bishops living in same-sex relationships (all but less than a handful of them surreptitiously), and they are all serving (or retired from having served) as exemplars to the flock of Christ, isn’t that sufficient evidence of the rightness of their lives and a better proof than further merely theological debate on an issue which seems to have precious little theology to back it up? Do not the gifts of the Spirit count for anything? Do not actions speak louder than words? They were enough to convince Peter, and through him the church, that Gentiles were worthy of salvation.

And when John’s disciples sent to know if Christ was the expected One, he did not offer them a reasoned point-by-point from scripture, but rather he offered them himself and his acts — the acts of liberation from blindness, brokenness, and death. He ended with those telling words, “Blessed are those who take no offense in me!” (Luke 7:19-23)

I have, as you know from my bio, done a good bit of study on the subject of same-sexuality (the “issue” behind the issues, and over and under and beside the issues) — in particular as it relates to ordination and marriage — and how it can be addressed within a biblical, reasonable, and traditional framework; that it need not be seen as an unscriptural and unbearable innovation.

But matters are proceeding apace. The world is changing. The Global South objected to the consecration of a gay bishop with a partner, but Gene Robinson is no longer alone in that category even in the US House of Bishops (If he ever really was...). They objected to the idea of bestowing a blessing on a same-sex couple, and yet now in many states of this Union, including our own, the church is not only bestowing its blessing, but either seriously considering or already solemnizing the civil status of marriage.

In short, the process of organic development is afoot, it is not going to stop, and reception is or isn’t happening as I speak. In the meantime, the mainstream via media of the Episcopal Church is steadily reasserting our understanding of our authority to vary— to live out the variety of rites in our own context, which is very different from that in much of the Global South. As I learned intimately and personally at the conversation I attended in South Africa just a few weeks ago. The people in those places represented at that conference are free to maintain their various rules and traditions, suitable as they are for their contexts. I will say more in the open discussion about the extent to which the friction between the North and South has been exacerbated by misunderstanding and misinformation. But it is my sincere hope that corrections to those misunderstandings, and better information, through the mandated listening process and the Continuing Indaba — in both of which I have been involved — will assist to lessen the friction and perhaps even help calm the storms that have swept through our beloved Anglican Communion — not just the issue, but the issues behind the issues of Anglican disunion.

Some of this talk is based on an earlier blog post “The Anglican Triad.” I consider this the more informative and complete exposition.