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.

November 9, 2011

Et in Albania Ego

I will be in the Diocese of Albany this weekend, speaking at the Annual Meeting of Albany Via Media on Saturday afternoon and celebrating the eucharist and preaching on Sunday (9 and 11:15 am): all events to take place at the historic St. George’s Church, Schenectady.

The talk will be about “Anglican Disunion” — which is to say, about the realities of Anglicanism, and how to live with them! I hope friends in the area of upstate NY might make it to one or more of the events.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Elegy for a Past that Never Was

a short review of Never Let Me Go, a film based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro

I came across this little film last night while scrolling through the offerings on HBO and thought it sounded interesting. It was more than that — it was riveting and disturbing and moving. Some have apparently found the formal element of its being “alternative reality” — or science fiction set not in the future but the past — confusing, but it added to its haunting quality. It would make an interesting double feature with the more spectacular Children of Men.

Some have wondered how people could treat other people in the manner they are treated in this film, but I think the evidence from the not so distant past is overwhelming, and the evidence from the somewhat more distant past (say the antebellum era in the American South) conclusive. People can and do treat other people as if they were not people. Q.E.D.

However, it would be a mistake simply to see it as a story about medical ethics or even the larger issue of how society “commodifies” everything. Rather, the situation and the story provide a matrix for a meditation on impermanence and what the poets call “intimations of mortality.” The title, ironically, says it all: ultimately letting go is part of the human condition. As the film's last line observes, using its own peculiar jargon, "We all complete."

This is a relatively “quiet” film — its emotional impact is cumulative rather than sharply punctuated. Like the author’s earlier Remains of the Day this film dwells in the subtle, muted world of restrained emotions and conformity to values and structures that seem irrational and oppressive, and yet which people seem willingly to embrace. And that is its terror.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

ps An interview with the author on some of the themes in his work. Thanks to Paul Halsall for the link.

November 7, 2011

The Wedding Banquet

Saint James Fordham • All Saints Sunday 2011
a sermon by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

The angel said to me, Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.

There is an old tradition that on the night before a marriage, the future bride and groom are separately wined and dined by their friends at bachelor or bachelorette parties — with perhaps more emphasis on the wining than the dining! Well, All Saints Day is the day on which the church celebrates the marriage supper of the Lamb. And since the marriage supper is yet to begin — we’ve received the invitation but it isn’t dated; we’ve just been told to be ready and alert — in one sense the church’s whole vigil here on earth is like a long bachelor or bachelorette party as we anticipate the great day to come. We who have yet to cross over to the life of the world to come, we in what is called the Church Militant (as opposed to the Church Triumphant), we who feebly struggle while they in glory shine, we, Christ’s body still at work, remember and give thanks for those who rest from their labors.

+ + +

Now one of the things about the parties surrounding weddings, is that the guests usually bring gifts for the new bride and groom. But what can we possibly bring as a gift for someone who has everything already! For the wedding we are talking about is the wedding of Christ and the Church, the wedding supper of the Lamb! And if anyone ever deserved the title The Man Who Has Everything, it is Jesus Christ, the one who draws the whole world to himself.

The answer is that Jesus wants one other gift, one thing we possess but which we can hold back if we will, or choose to let go of and give to him. And that is ourselves. We can choose to keep to ourselves, or we can choose to give ourselves to the one who gave us everything; we can give our selves, our souls and bodies, as a reasonable and holy sacrifice.

The Saints in glory, both the big famous saints with churches named after them, whose likenesses are enshrined in stained glass and icons, (or on the wall outside the parish office!), and the less well-known saints with likenesses preserved on our own little remembrance board there under the altar, the saints are those who gave themselves to God. And their example can help us to be as generous with ourselves as they were with themselves. The wonderful thing about the communion of saints — and I mean all of the saints, living and dead, including us here as much as the saints in glory — the wonderful thing about the communion of saints is that we help each other become gifts to God. We bear each other up when we are tempted to slide back and away from our best efforts to serve our Lord.

Ultimately all of us come to the wedding banquet carrying some of our brothers and sisters and being carried by others of them. No one gets in empty-handed! We are called and invited to the wedding, and we are to come bearing love for one another, which ofttimes means literally bearing each other up. The only wedding invitation we will have to show at the door to heaven is each other. No one gets in unaccompanied.

Remember the stern question that God asked the first murderer, and his cavalier response: Where is your brother? and Am I my brother’s keeper? Think of the sadness that pierced the heart of God when he heard those words in answer to the question, and left unsaid the response, “Of course you are." We are responsible to and for each other, connected through the bond of our common humanity. That bond is stronger than mere nationality or culture, and is fundamental and basic to our very being as human beings.

The weight of each other, as we bear each other and each other’s burden — as indeed Christ bears us — is the gentle and easy yoke of Christ. All of us are brothers and sisters in him, because it is through him that we become children of God.

What form that family will take, what we will become when we arrive, remains to be seen — it is not yet revealed. All of the blessedness that Jesus describes in the beatitudes is sometimes only perceived in that retrospective glance. In the present, most of those things are not pleasant while they are being endured! The road of sainthood is hard, no doubt about it. Being persecuted for righteousness sake is no bed of roses. It is only once we have arrived at the goal of the heavenly call — only when we look back to see our lives laid out in testimony, that we will see what a journey we have taken.

And more importantly, who has been with us and bearing us up along the way. What unknown hands lift burdens from our backs? What unknown saints walk at our sides and help us over obstacles of which we may not even be aware? Only when we’ve reached the goal will we be able to look back and see.

And what we will see will be worthy of the vision of Saint John the Divine. All the church through time and space, all the prophets and apostles and martyrs, all the saints in their festal company, and all the holy people of God will be displayed as a huge inverted wedge of souls and saints carrying and being carried by one another, an inverted pyramid that focuses its sharp, heavy point on a man nailed to a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem — who bears it all, with arms outstretched.

Though that weight pushed him down to the very depths when he descended to the dead, yet the power of God working in him raised him up again, and the power of God working through him can and will push that whole great pyramid of charity right on up and out of time and space and into eternity. And the first shall be last: the first fruits of the resurrection, Jesus the Bridegroom, is behind us urging us on, bearing us forward, ushering us into the banqueting hall.

+ + +

God is full of surprises. We thought we were coming to the wedding banquet as servants, then found we were no longer servants, but friends. Then we were surprised to find that the bridegroom would act as usher. But a far greater surprise awaits us. We had just settled into the notion that we were to be guests at the banquet, friends of the bridegroom. But it turns out that we are much more even than wedding guests. All this blessed company — ironically blessed in poverty, meekness, thirst for righteousness, hunger for mercy and peace, and even under persecution — all this company of blessedness will gather at the banquet, as more than guests: we are the Bride herself.

We, in company with all those who have gone before, the apostles, prophets, and martyrs, all the holy people of God, the blessed company of all faithful people, the saints militant and triumphant are the Bride!

This is the mystery we celebrate today. We and all our beloved ones, together with the unnumbered saints who have gone before us, participate in God’s great saving act in Jesus Christ our Lord. We as the Church in the communion of saints are eternally united to him by his gracious gift of himself once offered for us all — for what God has joined together shall never be put asunder. And so, to our Lord and God — and loving Spouse — let us with grateful hearts ascribe all might, majesty, power and dominion, henceforth and forevermore.+

November 4, 2011

With You Anon.

I saw Anonymous on my day off, in an almost empty but palatial new movie theater in Yonkers.

Let me say from the start I am no fan of the “WS didn’t write the plays” theories. My major objection is to the Main Premise, with which the film starts off in its Prologue (and with which it doesn’t advance much further): the poorly educated son of a middle-class suburban glove-maker could not have had the mental or experiential bounty to bring forth the richness of these plays and poems. This accusation, reeking as it does of Good Old English Classism, reminds me of the thesis that the Egyptians couldn’t have built the pyramids because such backward people were incapable of doing so; it must have been aliens.

I utterly reject this premise because I was, in my former career, an actor. Actors with whom I have worked are among the most well-rounded and culturally well-informed people I know, as are not a few of the directors and playwrights. The upper-class English twits I’ve encountered over the years couldn’t hold a literary candle to some of my actor friends. I’ve sat backstage in dressing rooms with actors wiling away their off-stage moments doing the London Times crossword, or working on a monumental thesis on Finnegans Wake. In my undergraduate school, actors were treated to a superb course on “Theater in the Humanities” where faculty from across the college were brought in to lecture on the history, culture, science, literature, art and religion of the various eras in which plays were written and set — producing an enviably well-rounded liberal arts education that would put the specialists in other of those fields to shame. So don’t get me started on the impossibilist assertion in re WS’s capacity for brilliance. Oxford himself gives the verdict, of course, when he tells Jonson, “People like me don’t write plays.” Aristocrats are often the most boring and ill-informed people.

What about the film as film? Well, the underpinning “theory” and the attendant revisionist history aside, it was diverting and beautifully produced. Someone got the “secretary’s hand” down pat, and the costumes and CGI scenery were impressive. The use of the theatrical Prologue in the manner of Larry O’s Henry V was clever. The snippets of the Bard’s own words are inspiring and rather well spoken (Henry more than Hamlet, but I digress...). Vanessa Redgrave is as quirky and brilliant as ever, and there are other creditable performances.

But it is in how the film failed to make use of the ample possibilities of WS’s architectonic genius that it was most profoundly disappointing. One of the things WS was so brilliant at was the layering of multiple stories in parallel and counterpoint. Here we had two stories, both reflecting the issue of anonymity, running side by side: the authorship of the plays, and the “authorship” of the progeny of ER I. Yet this rich material just sits there, never truly woven together in the delightful way that WS could do, so that the great “A ha!” moment of revelation is more of a “Huh? Oh...” The things that ought to have clicked into place didn’t. There is little or no humor in the film, none of that brilliant interplay of “conceptual rhyme and rhythm” that carries you through scene upon scene. The time-shifting was not well handled (again, providing the audience with too few of the kinds of visual and verbal cues that would enable them immediately to know when was when and what, what — the very thing the Prologue of Henry V knows must take place in the viewers’ minds — and of course this lack is fatal to the story as the author intended it to be understood.

In short, it goes to show that not everyone can write with the genius of a Shakespeare — or perhaps even be aware of the technical aspects of what make Shakespeare’s plays so enduring: it isn’t just the stories, for goodness’ sake, or even the poetry, but the resonances and braided layers of a highly refined narrative art.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 3, 2011

Thought for 11.04.11

One problem with the Anglican Covenant Process is not so much that it is a case of closing the barn doors after the horses have bolted. Rather, it is like proposing to engage in a process to consider building a barn after the horses have bolted.

We have never had a barn. We don't need a barn. We have the field and hills before us, ripe for the galloping mission of God.

Tobias Stanislas Haller

November 2, 2011

Hidden in (Not So) Plain Sight

One of the more interesting discussions at the recent conference I attended in South Africa concerned the nature of homosexuality in those parts of Africa where its presence is most vehemently denied or persecuted. Several of the lay and clergy leaders from those areas indicated that “homosexuality” was widely seen as some kind of alien import. They allowed, however, that as long as a man was married and had children, a concurrent sexual relationship with another man could — while still being viewed with opprobrium — likely be given a pass. Such a man would not be labeled as “homosexual.”

This reminds me, of course, of the situation in many communities even in the United States — thinking in particular of some Latino and African-American communities — based on their cultural construction of homosexuality. That is, a “man who sleeps with men” might well not be seen as “homosexual,” while an effeminate man or sissy-boy might be described as such even if he is a virgin and completely heterosexual in his orientation.

This is in part due to the confusion of the many variable axes that combine in human personality to define one’s identity. It isn’t just a matter of male and female (biological sex, and allowing for the reality of intersexuality), but of feminine and masculine (cultural or societal gender), attracted to one’s own sex or the other (sexual orientation), and so on. The simple fact, put simply, is that many gay men are not effeminate, and many effeminate men are not gay.

More importantly, the African situation reminds me of how it is that David and Jonathan’s relationship (with the emphasis on Jonathan’s attraction and attachment to David) can also be covered from perception as a same-sex relationship (which it no doubt is, regardless of whether acted upon erotically). The fact that both are “manly men” and warriors, both married (in David’s case we have quite a bit of evidence along that line), shields them — in cultures that cannot distinguish sexual orientation from notions of gender — from any suggestion of being what C.S. Lewis so revealingly called pansies. (The Four Loves, 62) While it is questionable to attempt to craft a psychological profile at such a remove, it is fair to say that David’s relationships with women all seem to be based either on the desire to possess and control or some kind of political or dynastic interest (as indeed may be true of his relationship with Jonathan in taking advantage of the latter’s attraction to him), while the relationship of Jonathan to David appears to be one of deep and lasting love. At least that is the language of the text. “Pansies”? No. Oriented towards a romantic relationship towards each other?” Very likely yes. At least David is not reported to have shed any tears over his female partners, and Jonathan’s testimony of complete dedication and what the text reveals as “love at first sight” is amply clear.

The role of choice

The question, “Is homosexuality natural or a choice?” also came up at the Conference in South Africa. The implication is that if it is a choice, it is a wrong choice, or at the least a choice that need not have been made, or could have been made otherwise. In earlier times it was assumed that the choice was a conscious act to choose wrongly — a perversity: doing deliberately and willfully what is known to be wrong.

Most gay and lesbian persons do not feel their orientation to be a choice, but something about which they become aware at some point in their life — just as do heterosexual persons of their sexual orientation. Most people, it seems, do not have much of a conscious awareness of sexual attraction in very early childhood, and begin to become aware of sexual attraction later in childhood or in early adolescence.

At this point the question of choice arises: do I choose to accept my inclinations? to act on them? to suppress them? Some people choose celibacy, while others choose relationship.

This leads me to reflect on the question, “Is choice a bad thing?” Aren’t we blessed to be chosen by the one who chooses us for life? The language of choosing and taking to oneself is intimately (!) connected with both salvation history and the life of human relationships; so much so that marriage is held to be an image of God’s relation to God’s Chosen.

Can this apply to same-sex relationships? Let me take another look at the relationship from Scripture that is often held up (and at the same time denied) as being homosexual, to which I alluded above: the story of the love of David and Jonathan. This is clearly a relationship between two men, but some do not see it as sexual in nature. It is true that sexual acts are not clearly recorded (though in a few places suggested) in the text — but this is true in large part of the Scriptural attitude towards descriptions of sex, which are usually veiled in metaphor or euphemism.

But let me start with a strongly negative view of the relationship between David and Jonathan from the text of Scripture itself. Jonathan’s father Saul verbally assails his son, when he says, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your confusion, and the confusion of your mother’s nakedness.” (1 Samuel 20:30) Jonathan’s choice, is of course a choice, but it does not come from perversity. He has no wish to see the kingdom of his father fall to confusion, and to see the swift end of that dynasty. But Jonathan knows that he had little power not to chose the one whom he has chosen; the one to whom he knew his whole being to be bound when he first laid eyes on him, the one whom he loved as his own soul. (1 Samuel 18:1) This covenanted love (1 Samuel 18:3; 20:8,16,41-42; 23:18) was the greatest love he would ever know, the love for which he would eventually risk everything (1 Samuel 20:33) and lose his life; this wonderful love surpassing the love of women. (2 Samuel 1:26)

Was Jonathan wrong so to choose? I don’t think so.

Tobias Stanislas Haller

November 1, 2011

Two Thoughts for 11.01.11

Due to travel and the press of other work, blogging has been light. There will follow a series of relatively short posts about things that have been on my mind. Here is the first.

The May 2011 issue of Scientific American (yes, my magazine reading is backlogged, too) had two interesting articles. The first was a short piece on Bayes’ Rule by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, author of a book on the subject, The Theory That Would Not Die. The rule (or theorem) has a more complicated definition in probability theory, having to do with linking the uncertainty concerning the likelihood of an event prior to collecting evidence with the uncertainty after trial evidence has been collected. As McGrayne puts it in plain English, “the formula is a simple one-liner: Initial Beliefs + Recent Objective Data = A New and Improved Belief.”

It struck me that this is the way all systems of human knowledge should work, but that in the real world objective data often seems not to have much impact on people’s beliefs.

The second and more interesting article, “The Hidden Organ In Our Eyes,” by Ignacio Provencio, dealt with the discovery that certain special neurons in the eye are responsible for sensing light — not for the purpose of vision but in relation to the circadian cycle — the internal clock by which we adjust to day and night. Thus the eye serves two purposes. This reminded me of something I cited in my Reasonable and Holy (7):

The difficulties with ends-based natural law arguments in this regard, which are advanced against birth control as much as against same-sexuality, in particular those that focus narrowly on the mechanics of sexual intercourse, are well summarized by Gerard J. Hughes in The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics.
It is one thing to say that the natural function of the eye is to see. But even bodily organs can and do serve several functions. And if one asks of the body as a whole what its function is, the answer is much less clear. Even less clear is the answer to questions such as “What is the function of a human life?” or “What is the function of sexuality in a human life?” The way one might try to answer these questions seems quite unlike the way one might try to answer questions about the function(s) of the endocrine glands or the heart in the human body. The notion of “function” at this point becomes much more a matter of moral assessment than a scientific inquiry. (“Natural Law,” 413)
I reflected on this issue in parabolic fashion with the short fable, On the Island of Silence. I am fascinated by the extent to which some people insist that anatomy — or their understanding of the nature of anatomy and biology — must be determinative of moral values. Fidelity is a moral value. Gender isn’t. Those who insist that only heterosexual relationships are capable of moral value are in fact insisting that there is a moral value to “male and female,” and ultimately, therefore, to the Y chromosome.

The fact is that we are more than our bodies. What we do with them is important, but just as the eye is not only for seeing, so too the body is not only for reproduction. Morality does not lie in our chromosomes, but in how we treat each other as complete human beings.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG