March 29, 2011

Thought for 03.29.11

A bishop is called to guard the faith, a theologian to explore it. The tasks are not mutually exclusive, and it might well be said that one who has thoroughly explored a territory may be its best guardian.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
(a thought not unrelated to another.)

March 26, 2011

The Church Times on the Covenant

The Church Times of London has produced a very good and helpful (imho) document discussing the relative merits and weaknesses of the Anglican Covenant. It offers many sides of the debate, from thoughtful people across the spectrum, or at least the visible wavelengths.

(It is a fairly slow download, so be patient. I had trouble reaching it in Firefox and so bowed the knee to Gates and switched to Internet Explorer just for this.)

The last section is an "annotated" Covenant that looks vaguely Talmudic, which appeals to me!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 24, 2011

No New Revelation

When addressing controverted subjects, we are called to look back on the Scriptural text for guidance in dealing with things about which those texts are themselves silent. The issue is not, "What would they have said?" on a topic about which they did not speak; but rather, "What do we say based on what those texts say about other things, using natural reason and knowledge gained since their writing to interpret old texts for new principles."

This is not about any new revelation. As one important story from rabbinic history shows: Revelation is now closed, but interpretation is open -- even a voice from heaven, even from God, cannot contravene the findings of the living interpretative community because, "It [i.e., the Law] is not in heaven" -- that is, God has given the Scripture to the people of God and it is up to us to wrestle with it.

People may well disagree about the outcomes of the wrestling match. And the question, "What Would Jesus Do?" is not entirely out of place, but has to be asked by positing Jesus not of his time, but as he is with us in our time -- as I believe he is, in his church, through his Spirit, which is now engaged in addressing challenges he did not address in those earlier days. There is no new revelation, but there is always new understanding.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 21, 2011

A Sacramental Angle

Marriage is not just for the couple. Their relationship, like the bread of the Eucharist, is blessed and broken open, given, taken, and feeds a multitude.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 16, 2011

Let their deaths not have been in vain

Friday the 25th of March will be the 100th anniversary of one of the most terrible and tragic events in New York history, the deadly fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Most of those who perished in the fire, or leaped to their deaths rather than burn, were young immigrant women making a paltry wage in conditions best described as poor; 146 died in the flames and smoke, or on the pavement below. Witnesses at the time were helpless to do anything more than listen to the distant screams and the dull, repeated thuds of the falling bodies as they struck the street. It is a horror that led to changed laws governing safety, and spurred the growth of the labor movement.

In the midst of the tragedies of today, it is good to remember those of the past. In the face of injustices and inequalities, and the exploitation of workers in substandard circumstances at home and abroad, it is even better to do something positive, and to be well-informed about those who make the goods we purchase, who grow the food we eat, who care for us and those we love.

Let us do justice, love mercy, walk with God in our sisters and brothers, for as we do to the least of them we do to the greatest of all.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
The Kheel Center at Cornell University has a superb online exhibit and resources about the tragedy.

The Way

C S Lewis once observed that those who have been most effective in this world are those whose hearts were set on the next. There is a destinationalism, an unrealized eschatology, at the heart of our yearning for God, to whom our earthly quest Godward is always and must be asymptotic. God forbid we should put our craft in the place of God. (As Lewis also reminds us, God has forbidden it!)

Anglicanism as it has been at its most effective in this world will never appeal to those who want an object rather than a process, who want final answers instead of follow-up questions, arrival instead of journey, the bonds rather than the affection. As with the Christian faith itself, our particular take in Anglicanism is a Way. Efforts to fix it in static forms rob it of its vitality, its life.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 11, 2011

Through Lent with Images

Episcopal Church and the Visual Arts has opened a Lenten gallery "Word and Example" and one of my "rapid icons" (a technique I use in teaching iconography as a means to seeing what is to express what might be) forms what might be called "the last Word."

The icon is called, "The widow waits for justice." She is the widow who persists in knocking at the judge's door, and will not give up until her righteous claims are recognized and met.

The model for this icon is the African-American actor Ruth Attaway. I had the pleasure of working with her many years ago when I designed the lighting and took the company and production photographs for the Theatre Off Park production of Harlem poet Owen Dodson's The Confession Stone — a powerful retelling of the story of Christ through the lens of the African-American culture and tradition. Ruth, whom some may recall from her role as housekeeper to Chance (Peter Sellers) in Being There, played Mary Magdalene at the age of 86, still keeping witness, still waiting to join her Lord and God. Her fierce characterization struck me as so suitable as the subject of this icon, written late last year. Ruth died some years back, in a fire in her apartment building in Harlem. She too has joined her Lord and God, and if she waits for justice, it is the justice we all await, tempered with the mercy of God.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 5, 2011

Asking the questions

Mark Vernon's Guardian column has a great catchline at the head, and while the article as a whole doesn't quite live up to the pugnacity and poignancy of the slug, it is well worth reading. The catchline or slug is,

Why do we have such an unbalanced attitude to doubt, demanding certainty where there is none, and pretending to doubt what everyone knows?
This got me thinking about the level of certainty with which some approach the question of same-sex marriage: they are completely sure it is ruled out by Scripture, in spite of the fact that the evidence is indirect and circumstantial (that is, the Scripture does not rule out SSM in so many words, unlike, for instance Sifra on Aharei Mot in the Jewish tradition); and yet they take a very chary attitude towards the evidence of the experience of those who live in or witness the evident virtues of such longstanding relationships, and dismiss it as if living "experience" were somehow less reliable than their just-possible interpretation of ancient documents, venerable though that interpretation may be.

One can sense this tension in the papers and responses that grew out of the House of Bishops Theology Committee blue-ribbon panel of theologians and scholars, recently published in the Anglican Theological Review. I've just finished reading them and am allowing them to percolate before saying any more in detail, but I did sense, in the "traditionalist" papers and responses a growing awareness of this dissonance between ideology and reality.

The question is, in reference to Vernon's catchline, How long are people expected to submit to an unverifiable requirement when the experience of their own lives and of those closest to them casts more and more doubt on its veracity?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 2, 2011

Thought for 03.02.11

The most important "stable family" in human history was not a biological nuclear family. There was no room for them in the inn; hence the stable.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Defining Moment

Over at what calls itself the Anglican Mainstream, Andrew Carey reflects on the impossibility of same-sex marriage based on the fact that "The essential nature of marriage as complementary union of a man and a woman, and the stable nature of marriage for children remain appealing." Marriage, by definition, is thus and so.

Andrew is smart enough to recognize this is not entirely true. He even raises the obvious counter-argument: "We are constantly being told that marriage has come in many forms over centuries and millennia and that if it has changed in the past, why can’t it change now?"

Unfortunately, rather than make a cogent response, he merely points out that while such an argument may gain traction outside the church, there enough people in the church who find the old notion "appealing" to be able to communicate this to the larger society, and argue passionately in defense of the ideal.

Andrew's "definitional" approach is a classical example of begging the question. It reminds me of the thwarted efforts of word-purists to resist the changes in meanings of words (based on their actual usage). It is as impossible a task as Canute trying to stop the tide. Reality will always win over false idealism. Andrew, welcome to the real world.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

h/t The Lead

March 1, 2011

The Covenant as Fruitcake

I was at a meeting of my diocese's Covenant Task Force last week. We are working on educational resources to inform the parishes and members about the proposed Anglican Covenant. The topic of other covenants came up, especially the Lambeth Quad and the one based on the Marks of Mission. I noted that they are both there in the proposed draft, and the following image occurred to me:

The elements of the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral and the Marks of Mission, and bits of Scripture and dollops of assorted Anglican Premises have been folded into the batter of the Anglican Communion Covenant like so many raisins, candied citrons, cherries, and whatever those semi-gelatinous green things are, go to form part of the conglomerate of Fruitcake.

It has long been observed that few people actually eat Fruitcake, and yet this does not prevent its seasonal appearance as a "gift-giving opportunity." Someone once wrote that his family used fruitcakes towards building a fallout shelter in the basement. (Remember fallout shelters?) So people keep giving them to each other, in spite of not actually eating them. And it would be considered rude to refuse one, or, once the habit has commenced and taken root, suddenly to stop giving them. They serve as tokens of affection or respect, rather than as food.

It strikes me that the Covenant has become a Fruitcake. We are being urged to adopt it and accept it, in spite of the fact that it offers little in the way of novelty towards solving any of the current or possible future woes of the Communion. It confers no powers on any bodies or individuals they don't already have, though it lays out patterns by which recommendations can be made to those bodies or individuals that might lead them to take actions they could well take without the recommendations. It imposes no mandatory restraint on anyone beyond a call to self-restraint, with the possible consequence of changes in relationships -- which changes, some of real consequence, also have happened and could happen without the Covenant being adopted.

In short, the Covenant is a Fruitcake: we can smile nicely and say thank you, and put it in the cellar with all the other fruitcakes (many a well-meaning scheme or resolution of General Convention or Lambeth or the United Nations); we can refuse it with an equally polite smile, and watch faces fall and lips quiver at this implicit rejection of affection. For Fruitcake it is: a token of habitual affection; and little more.

I continue to be torn between these options, and am grateful for the time remaining before the virtual postal worker struggles up the walk with the burden of the 6-lb. confection, and General Convention is forced to say either, "Why, how nice!" or "Return to Sender" or something in between.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Thought for 03.01.11

Tradition is often little more than the Zeitgeist of the past.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG