January 22, 2011

Stopping the Flow

There was once a rich and prosperous land, which derived its wealth and prosperity from a river that ran through it. A number of large and prosperous families lived and farmed close by this river, and as they grew and prospered further, realized they could do even more if they added field to field and extended irrigation to land far from the river. And so they set to work creating conduits and aqueducts and irrigation ditches, to feed these added fields. And they did increase their harvest and prospered more and more. But as they did so, draining off more and more water from the river, there was less and less for those further downstream. So they too began to construct cisterns and catchbasins so as to keep as much water in reserve for their land as they could. In the end, there was not enough water for the few farms further downstream, and it came to pass that the river no longer even reached the sea.

This parable has been acted out time and again in human history. At one point, in ancient Rome, it gave rise to a legal principle designed to curb such actions: What touches all must be agreed to by all. The ones at the end of the stream have as much right to the water as those at the headwaters, and along the way.

The Windsor Report made use of this legal principle, although in an inappropriate way. The assertion is that actions of a few have “touched” the larger Anglican world, harming the majority who have to put up with this unwanted new reality.

This is, of course, an inversion of the principle. What in fact is happening is the imposition of pressure from the majority to keep one certain kind of flow — concerning two rites and ceremonies of the church, ordination and marriage — from reaching a particular minority. That minority is not preventing or withholding anything from the majority — even their right to be offended and express that displeasure — except their purported right to stop the minority from doing that which offends them. As the action of the minority is simply to drink from the same stream that the majority enjoys, the application of the principle ought to be clear.

To put it in the context of another parable, leave to us our little ewe lamb.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


WSJM said...

I think you have quite correctly analyzed the situation, Tobias. As you may be aware, we are going to have a major fight here in Iowa over the marriage issue, with attempts to undo our state supreme court decision from a couple of years ago, and even to forbid civil unions.

What's so hard to understand about "If you are not in favor of same-sex marriage, then don't marry someone of the same sex." This whole thing (in the church as well as in the state) is not about morality, it's about power.

Daniel Weir said...

One turning point in my journey was when I was asked to think of things that I, a married heterosexual, took for granted but my LGBT friends couldn't. Our wedding was the first thing that came to mind.

Christopher (P.) said...


I agree wholeheartedly with you, but after a recent long discussion with a (very) conservative friend, I offer this as a bit of insight.

1. My friend maintains that God forbids same-gender sex, as seen in his unambiguous revelation in Scripture, supported by tradition and reason.

2. Anything that is against this law is to maintain something contrary to God's truth, and to act on it is to act contrary to God's will.

3. And, just as we support laws against murder and perjury (10 Commandments) as part of our commission to spread God's truth and to fulfill his will, so are we commanded to support laws against same-sex marriage, also to spread God's truth and to fulfill his will.

4. To do less, is to risk God's withdrawing his goodness, favor, and blessing towards us, for God may abandon the church until it reforms. (That is, our sin has cut us off from God.)

Don't understand it, but this is as I see it: real fear of damnation motivates many--that is, damnation if one doesn't move the church to return to the straight and narrow, or failing that, damnation for staying in a church that teaches a error that can result in the damnation of others. This fear is often expressed as anger.

And yes, my friend is an Episcopalian--ordained actually. But the position seems more Southern Baptist to me--to which is rejoined that the Church is--or ought to be--One.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you Bill and Daniel. There is much to learn from stepping into another's moccasins.

Christopher, that is how I have understood the position of some conservatives. It reminds me of an observation that Charles Williams once made about those who burned women as witches. (I'm quoting from memory here, and am not sure of the source off hand, so please bear with any inaccuracy.) "If a community actually believes that a person is using some hidden power to curse, kill or maim other members of their community, they will feel justified in taking such punitive actions to stop it."

This is why addressing the claim in your friend's "point 1" is so crucial, as the rest follows in a sort of Deuteronomic logic, that is, a belief that God, rather than loving us "while we are yet sinners," doles out favors on the basis of performance of less than clearly given rules which some are convinced are lucid in their clarity.

It is a belief structure with a long track-record, most of it acknowledged to be (as in the case of heretic- and witch-burning) to be unfortunate.

I can only hope your friend comes to a better mind before he too comes to stand before the tribunal of the terrifying and unloving God he worships: for the measure one gives will be the measure one receives. Unless he is perfect, he will find his pleas for mercy fall on the ears of a deaf and heartless god.

Christopher (P.) said...

Thanks, Tobias. Yes, in logic as relentless as this, it's point 1 that needs to be addressed.

And it's quite spiritually disturbing, to see the energy my friend puts into asserting the truth of the command, and, as you intuit, the relentlessness with which he pursues his own perfection, only to fall short in his own eyes.

Erika Baker said...

"for the measure one gives will be the measure one receives. Unless he is perfect, he will find his pleas for mercy fall on the ears of a deaf and heartless god"

Oh no. At that point, all he will be met with the truth of the loving God, and he will understand his shortcomings. That will be so terrible that it can only be borne because he will be held in the arms of true love and true forgiveness, and he will be healed.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Christopher. It is a very hard place for your friend to be in, and it saddens me. I am reminded of "It hurts you to kick against the goad" addressed to the righteous Saul who was so sure he was doing God's will in judging and puniching others...

Erika, a good reminder, and one in which, in my more "quasi universalist" moments I am inclined to find myself at home. Still, are there some who will find that God has accepted others even as he accepts them that they will find that so unacceptable they will not accept it for themselves? I'm reminded of Lewis' "The Great Divorce" and the notion that all even at the judgment have opportunity to relinquish the narrow life in which they have confined themselves and sought to confine others. Yet they may still refuse; or is God's love so irresistible that all will bow before it? I would like to believe the latter, and treat Jesus' words about sheep and goats, and forgiveness dependent on forgiving, and measures dealt as doled as threats rather than promises. Life is, I think, a school of charity, and we shape our ultimate destinies to a large extent by the form we model for ourselves and others. Still, there is that higher designer who shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will... Thank you for the reminder.

Erika Baker said...

I think both our views can co-incide. He will be met with the loving God, because there is no other.
He might still be able to reject him.

But I would like to think that God's revealed glory will be too strong to reject, that there will be healing for all, certainly for those whose only sin is that they made God too small.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Erika. It may be, in the long run, that the only hell one is destined (possibly) to inhabit is that which one has crafted for others!

Erika Baker said...

yes, I could imagine that. The hell one crafts for others tends to reflect the emotional desert places within oneself.
I still can't believe, though, that anyone should ultimately be willing to place themselves beyond redemption, healing and love. Some just need to experience it more closely first than they can do now, or be more able to accept it than they can at the moment.

MarkBrunson said...

A God of Truly Universal Love would, necessarily, appear unloving at times, since His sympathies would not necessarily be our personal ones.

In the same way, such a Love would mirror back the energy we give as love - constantly. I think a lot of "conservatives" are so angry, so desperate and so fearful because they are, in fact, receiving that which they give as love right back. Unfortunately, most are so poor at self-searching and . . . well, faith, frankly . . . that they don't understand that they are doing it to themselves.

One of my reasons - along with my own obstreperousness, but a conscious reason, nonetheless - for being so confrontational and dismissive with conservative reactionaries is to force them into a position in which I can say "See! You don't like it, but it's a mirror image of what you're doing!" If it's made forcibly conscious to them, then there is a possibility for real communication - otherwise we're both dealing with ghosts, illusions of each other through a subjective frame.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Erika. I do wonder, though, if there is something like an eternal Stockholm Syndrome where folks who have constructed a world of judgment and pain would find forgiveness and love uncomfortable.

Mark, that is part of what I understand in the "what you sow is what you reap" in the teaching of Jesus.

As to the argumentative strategy -- yes, I see that as a way of engagement, and you are not alone in that approach of "tit for tat" which game theory shows sometimes to be effective, depending on circumstances. For my part, however, I'm following more in the path of my mentors Crew and Tutu, seeking to engage whatever vestiges of rationality survive the heady emotion and confused thinking evident in the conservative position; and shaking dust from my virtual heels when it reaches the point of utter nonsense (as it too often does in some cases) -- always remembering that my task is not to convert the prosecution but to sway the jury.

Erika Baker said...

I cannot believe that anything pathological can be eternal. If God is truly God, better, bigger and greater than anything I can conceive of, then he has to be able to heal even the worst Stockholm syndrome.

If I can see people's transformation by the small love we can show each other on earth, even if only a very few get there, and if God is truly bigger than all of us here, then there cannot possibly a place in anyone's soul that cannot be healed by him.

If there is, he would be smaller than my imagination of him - and that, again, cannot be possible.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Erika, I sympathize with your position, and it does reflect my hope. Though I am unable to affirm it as an article of faith, I can hold on to it as a hope. "The love of God is broader than the measure of our mind..." And I do like to think that the love of God can melt the hardest heart.

I shared a dream I had years ago, in which Satan was in heaven, which was like a large garden party, anxiously going up to all of the others gathered (i.e., everyone) and saying "Can I get you anything..." Hitler was there too, giving foot massages to victims of the Holocaust and tickling their feet. And everyone was laughing. Some have found the image impossible to imagine...

Erika Baker said...

For me, it's the only article of faith I have.
Everything else I can sit lightly to and let go if I need to.
But this one thing I have to believe with the whole of my being.