July 18, 2011

Albert John Luthuli of South Africa

Eternal God, we thank you for the witness of Chief Luthuli, Nobel Laureate for Peace, who was sustained by his Christian faith as he led the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Strengthen us, after his example, to make no peace with oppression and to witness boldly for our Deliverer, Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

For his feast on July 22 — posted early as I will be on retreat.
Ikon written by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Four for Freedom

O God, whose Spirit guides us into all truth and makes us free: Strengthen and sustain us as you did your servants Elizabeth, Amelia, Sojourner, and Harriet. Give us vision and courage to stand against oppression and injustice and all that works against the glorious liberty to which you call all your children; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

For their feast on July 20 — posted early as I am going on retreat.
Ikon written by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 14, 2011

Thought for 07.14.11

Same-sex marriage is no more a threat to marriage than universal suffrage is a threat to democracy. 

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 13, 2011

The Cost of Bigotry

Last month watched a very interesting film on Netflix. A Film Unfinished is based on a recently discovered cache of Nazi film footage and outtakes from the Warsaw ghetto. As the outtakes reveal, what appears to be a documentary on life in the ghetto is actually a highly crafted example of propaganda — the goal of which was to portray the Jews in the ghetto in the worst possible light, emphasizing the characteristics imposed upon them by the racist bigotry of Nazi ideology: as greedy, uncaring and uncharitable to the suffering among them, and bestial in that suffering. Of course, there is no suggestion that the conditions in the ghetto were caused by the Nazis!

I should probably run this past Counselor Godwin, but this film on the Nazis reminded me of another film I saw recently on PBS, a documentary about Stonewall, which included clips from “educational” films from the 50s and early 60s that portrayed the “depravity and tragedy” of homosexuality. The major theme in this propaganda is that homosexuals live furtive, dirty, and depressing lives. Again, there is no recognition that such conditions might almost entirely result from the larger society’s criminalization and marginalization.

I would love to come up with a catchy name for this syndrome: when Group X forces Group Y into a situation in which it acts in certain ways which Group X then condemns as proof of the inferiority or depravity of Group Y. Perhaps I should call it Bachmann’s Effect, in honor of the aspirant to the presidency whose comments on homosexuals are remarkably similar to those of the bigoted “educational” films of the 50s.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 12, 2011

Nathan Söderblom of Uppsala

Almighty God, we bless your Name for the life and work of Nathan Söderblom, Archbishop of Uppsala, who helped to inspire the modern liturgical revival and worked tirelessly for cooperation among Christians. Inspire us by his example, that we may ever strive for the renewal of your Church in life and worship, for the glory of your Name; who with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

ikon by the hand of TSH+

July 11, 2011

Oh, England

Colin Coward has some choice words concerning the Church of England's entangled state of affairs concerning the ordination of gay (and eventually) lesbian persons who are living in partnerships (and one foresees, some day, marriages). In the meantime, he correctly observes that this is simply an invitation to duplicity and a step back into the closet.

It is good to remember that the official motto of the Anglican Communion is, The Truth Shall Make You Free. The fact on the ground, in England anyway, is "The Lie May Make You Bishop."

This is a shameful situation, and has nothing to do with any overarching understanding of morality. I hope that in their reexamination of the "Issues"* the leaders of the Church of England will finally come to understand that morality is not based in "the flesh" and come to see that the virtues of fidelity, self-giving, love and charity are applicable to same- as well as mixed-sex couples.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

* See my earlier analysis of the successor to "Issues in Human Sexuality" — which was hardly an improvement. It is time for a wholesale revision and reexamination.

July 10, 2011

Doing What Comes (Un)Naturally

A Sermon for Proper 10a

SJF • Proper 10a 2011 • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Some of the philosophers of the romantic era and in the 17th to 19th century came up with the idea that people living in simplicity in the time before civilization were somehow more innocent, more “natural” and hence unspoiled. The notion is sometimes referred to as that of the “noble savage.” The concept became attached to Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but it isn’t exactly his idea. Still, he shared the tendency somehow to idealize human beings in their uncivilized condition. He saw civilization itself as a kind of introduction of morality and consequent decline.

The idea as Rousseau espoused it is that people in their primitive state were morally neutral, and that it was only with later civilization that evil entered the world as society began to corrupt the natural innocence of primitive existence. As Rousseau put it, the problems began “when the first man staked out a bit of land and said, ‘This is mine,’ and convinced others foolishly to agree.”

The Christian tradition is said by some to see things rather differently, but a closer reading may reveal that it is not quite so different. People sometimes look to the story of Adam and Eve and think of the innocent perfection of life that they enjoyed in paradise. But surely the point of the story is precisely that they were not innocent. They sinned — disobeying what at that point was just about the only thing God had commanded them — while they were in paradise. They may have been created innocent, but they were also created capable of committing sin, and it took them almost no time to do so.

+ + +

Theologians have wrestled with the question of human nature for thousands of years — whether people are good by nature or bad by nature, or started good and became bad, or whatever.

It seems to me that Saint Paul had it right, and made the most sense both out of that ancient story of the Garden and the Fall, and the practical reality of his own human experience. Human flesh — with its cravings, devices and desires — is weak. Human beings also have a natural tendency towards self-preservation, like most living things. And human beings develop very quickly the sense of property: at least when it comes to their own property. Much as Rousseau observed, children don’t take long to get to the point at which they have learned the first person possessive: Mine! It’s just that he saw this as part of a decline rather than natural, in contrast to another earlier philosopher, John Locke, who took the view that property was a natural right. Whether a right or a tendency, though, as a child, I had to be taught that not everything was mine — I had to learn how to share with other children.

For Saint Paul, this natural tendency is a part of the “mind set on the flesh.” It derives from our creaturely existence — our neediness. We need things; we need air to breathe, we need to eat. All of that is natural, natural to us. And that neediness has to be governed and ordered and civilized by some kind of regulation. Thus far Paul would be in agreement with Rousseau and the English philosopher Hobbes, with the exception that Rousseau was a bit more optimistic about the short-lived innocence of primitive humanity.

+ + +

But Saint Paul stands apart from all of these secular philosophers, in that, while they saw from rather different angles that law was society’s answer to the problem of human weakness, Paul saw that law was an insufficient solution to the problem. It is like a drug that comforts but does not heal. He saw law as an insufficient means of bringing peace to the warring hearts of fallible human beings. Even the law given by God could not bring compliance: in fact, God’s law only laid down the penalty: “Of the tree in the midst of the garden you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall die.” That was the law that God gave to Adam and Eve, and it was the law they broke, before the proverbial ink was dry.

So what is the answer? What does Saint Paul offer us as an answer? Paul looks to God again — for something different this time; not for the law, but something different — after all, God is the source of all good — the fountain of all goodness, as we sang in our hymns today: it is from him that everything comes, the source of all good — but Paul did not look to God for the same old kind of law that God had given in the past, the law that was weakened by the flesh and so could not bring true righteousness.

Instead God sent his Son, but not, as the evangelist John would say, to condemn the world. God sent his Son precisely to relieve the world of that endless cycle of law-giving and law-breaking that was getting us nowhere, as we spun our wheels in the dry soil or the mud of our own failings.

+ + +

For Paul had observed something in that old, old story: you may recognize it too — let me ask you, when was it that Adam and Eve sinned? While God was away from them, while they were on their own. (Of course God was not really “away” but that is how the story goes — and we had best pay attention to the details of that story.) And Eve was off on her own — away from Adam — when the Serpent whispered sweet nothings in her ear and tempted her to violate the only law on the books at that time. And her weak flesh — the desire to live forever and become like God (even though, as the text shows, she and Adam already were like God, being made in God’s image) — as I say, her weak flesh gave in, and then she persuaded Adam’s equally weak flesh to join her: all of this while God was “away.”

So the answer to all of this, Paul says, is to be always “with” God — such that God is never “away.” And this is made possible both through the fact that Jesus Christ came “in the flesh” — that is to say, in and through and by means of the very human flesh that was the problem in the first place. And further to know that God is always with us, always present to us through the Spirit. If the Spirit of Christ dwells in you, God is with you, and even though the flesh might still seek to drag you down to death because of sin, the Spirit — God’s presence — is life because of the righteousness of Christ.

This is the hopeful message that Saint Paul brings: Christ came in the flesh and remains with us in the Spirit, and his spirit is at work in us and there it can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: even though we have no power in ourselves to become righteous, his spirit working in us is life because of his righteousness.

And it is a life that contains within it the promise of new life, the resurrection life. The Son of God, the Word of God, is at work within the soil of our human flesh. Remember how the story tells, what God made us from, at the beginning. Our soil, our flesh, comes from the earth. It is like the seed of the word received and nurtured, which grows in the soil to bear fruit for righteousness, “in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” We are not good by nature, but by grace: our soil cannot bear fruit on its own, unless the seed of God be planted in it.

And so we do not trust in what is merely natural to make us good, but in the supernatural goodness of God to make us his. That is the message of salvation and grace through Jesus Christ our Lord.+

July 7, 2011

Thought for 07.07.11

We do not trust in what is merely natural to make us good, but in the supernatural goodness of God to make us his.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG, from next Sunday's sermon...

July 3, 2011

Matter of Substance

The Proposed Anglican Covenant (PAC) is not structured as a means to reach agreement on difficult issues, but as a means to manage disagreements on any issues whatsoever when they happen. It has nothing to offer as a way forward: all brake and no engine. As a nobbled runner in the race for new models for the governance of the Anglican Communion, it is never going to win, precisely because it does not govern, or propose to govern. It still leaves the traditional autonomy (in any and all things, let’s be honest and clear) up to the individual provinces, and by its own account shields their local constitution and canons from outside interference like the sensitive private parts they are. The PAC can manage some of the interrelations between the provinces — but again only to the degree that the provinces are willing to take up the recommendations of the official recommenders. That is what it says.

If this is beginning to sound like the elderly dowager in the upstairs bedroom banging her stick against the floor to quiet her fractious and disruptive heirs and assigns gathered in the parlor, the analogy may not be too far off. To what extent is the Anglican Communion in danger of becoming a provincial staging of Gianni Schicchi?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 2, 2011

Taking Council or Leaving It

My brief post (a "thought" really) seems to have struck a nerve in some circles. In part, I think it has not been well understood. Fr. Jonathan, at the Conciliar Anglican, has read far too much between the lines, and come to conclusions utterly at odds both with my intent and with what I actually said.
But he dissents courteously from the position he imagines I maintain, and all is well. For example, he says,

Communion for him equals autonomous churches (geographically oriented, presumably, though he does not say this explicitly) that share in something called “mission” and “ministry” rather than sharing in doctrine.
This is fine up through the word ministry but that "rather" completely misses my point in the whole thought — i.e., that it is precisely the shared minimalist doctrine that "goes without saying." Anglicanism classically professed not to be innovative in doctrine, but to be faithful to the biblical and ancient core of the faith. In this sense they were "catholic" — proclaiming the universal faith of the early church.

Of course, he and others disagree with, or wish further to explore, a position I actually do maintain, which is that classical Anglicanism is geared from the outset, not to a centralized conciliar form of polity, but to a distributed model in which, as it developed, the various member churches of the communion (most of them originating almost genetically) inherited certain characteristics, including the notion of strong autonomy from outside influence, even from other members of the Communion.

The group I'll call "conciliarists" hold the contrary view, that a deep conciliarity is part of the Anglican ethos. The "test" for this understanding of conciliar catholicity as engrained in classical Anglicanism is to look closely at what the classical Anglicans said to the Roman Catholic Church of their day, and how they felt themselves competent to judge the "errors" of ecumenical Councils, and reject them; and to accept the Creeds and other acts of the early Councils not on the authority of the Councils themselves, but because in their judgment the Creeds and doctrinal findings of the (first four) Ecumenical Councils were concordant with Scripture. (Note they did not go along with the disciplinary decrees of even the first four Councils, and felt themselves competent to disregard the three later Councils — again, on the basis of their own judgment.) This is all laid out in the Articles of Religion.

The point is that the classical Anglicans did not think of themselves as conciliar, but patristic or even apostolic. They were interested in "primitive Christianity" unadorned with the accretions of later traditions.

I have, of course, no objection to a discussion of the relative merits of the conciliar model, and it has many attractions, but I am finding the revisionism that wants to retroject a hankering after conciliarism onto primitive Anglicanism unhelpful. The Conciliar Anglican makes a number of claims, including this
Our notions of unfettered autonomy for individual churches are very recent and not at all tied to classical Anglicanism which balanced the doctrine of self-governing, national churches with the much more central doctrine that Holy Scripture, interpreted through the lens of the Fathers and the creeds, is our highest authority, through which the Lord governs His Church.
that does not quite pass the test of historical accuracy, or at least make sense as a complete thesis: that is, it was precisely the "unfettered autonomy" of the Church of England that allowed it to make the claims about the centrality of Holy Scripture, rather than the authority of the papacy or the councils, for establishing doctrine. The classical Anglicans did not look to the Bishop of Rome or the Councils of the Church for answers, but to Scripture.

This tendency continued, as I say, with the successive foundations that grew to become the Anglican Communion. Look deeply into the memoirs of William White concerning the founding years of the Episcopal Church, and you will find that TEC did not in fact adopt all of the doctrinal or disciplinary positions commended to it by the Church of England, and felt competent to do so. Examine the full record of the Lambeth Conferences down the years and see how various provinces have ignored its recommendations, until the things Lambeth sought to control became so common that Lambeth adopted what had been so long opposed. (I can cite birth control and reluctant toleration of polygamy as just two examples off the top of my head, but I know there are others.)

I think an accurate handle on the reality of our situation is the most helpful way to move forward. Conciliar government has its strong points -- it does not need a specious claim to historical roots in classical Anglicanism. I would find such a discussion helpful and interesting, and although I am a conservative at heart, I also am open to examining proposed revisions to old customs. This is one of the reasons I have been devoted to the Covenant Process and the discussion surrounding it, as I am not utterly opposed to the idea of improvements to the structures of contemporary Anglicanism. I just haven't seen them yet.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Update: Fr Bryan has added some thoughts to the conversation, and ends with some challenging questions:
  1. Is the fact that we argue and disagree with each other on such basic questions as "What is Anglicanism?" and "Is there a unique Anglican doctrine?" itself revelatory about the nature of Anglicanism?
  2. Is the term "Anglicanism" too monolithic and insufficiently descriptive of actual faith and practice? If so, would it be better to speak of a variety of Anglican identities (to borrow from the title of a book by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams)?
  3. Can Anglicanism be anything anybody wants it to be? If not, what are the boundaries?
  4. To quote from Fr. Tobias' initial posting, is "the idea of being a fellowship, a communion — not a 'church' or a 'federation' — of self-governing churches whose individual decisions do not bind the others, even as they cooperate in mission and ministry" a sufficient basis for stemming the tide of communion-breaking division and schism?
  5. Can unity or communion in practice ("mission and ministry") take precedence over unity or communion in belief and order?
I assayed a response as follows:

Dear Fr Bryan, Thanks for your thoughts. If I'd known what a response my short thought would generate I'd perhaps have taken greater care! Maybe with it and your musing questions we might have something challenging for the GOE.

To take a stab at your questions, they are much the ones I have. I'm still wading through all of this, but my sense is that the very delicate balance of the Anglican model was "disturbed" when Lambeth, in 1998, tried to act as a Council, "settling" a matter that was really far from settled. It is the effort to build Babel as a center of unity in se that leads to the dispersion of the people. The focus of unity ought to be in service pro alia. This is what I mean about turning the focus of unity outward: in common service to others we find out identity with Christ and each other.

The difficulty on practical terms is that no one can declare what is adiaphorous at the time of the conflict. It seems to me the genius of Anglicanism up till now has been the very graciousness to close one eye and look the other way instead of engaging in head-butting or mutual anathemata. We lose our sense of the really large deposit of the faith we hold in common when we become obsessed with those things on which we differ.

I realize that is not really in the form of an answer to your question. But it is where my musings have taken me...