December 31, 2012

Christmas Special

The "must see and glad I saw it" of this Christmas season was the Call the Midwife Christmas Special --- apparently a last-minute decision on the part of PBS, as it didn't appear in the program guide. I only caught word of it because of a promo on the day itself. The new series ended its run for this season earlier this year, so the Christmas special came as something of a surprise.

And not only a surprise, but a delight. This is a wonderful tale of redemption, forgiveness, closure, thanksgiving for changing times, and the sufficiency of grace: good themes any Christmas. Keep an eye out for a rebroadcast, and keep a hanky handy. Wonderful performances by the standout cast.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 22, 2012

Papal Fallibility

Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to make use of his Christmas message to do a bit of theology concerning human nature. In doing so he reveals a fundamental failure to grasp the meaning of the Incarnation.

...People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being.... They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.... The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man's fundamental choice where he himself is concerned...
This rather misses the mark, as the whole point of the Incarnation taking place in the manner it did — via the work of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, without any participation of a human male — was to reveal the secondary quality of maleness and femaleness: Jesus derived his entire human nature from the Virgin Mary (or so says the Definition of Chalcedon). Although Jesus is male, his humanity derives entirely from a female. So the "human nature" is in itself genderless, although each particular human being has, by virtue of genetics and epigenetic factors, a sexual or gender reality expressed anatomically, psychologically,  emotionally, and socially. But as with all qualities of a person, sex is not essential to the nature: it is a characteristic particular to the individual, like height, or eye or hair color, or any of the other variable factors that individual human beings have. We even have a very clear sense of the genetic factors that produce this particular characteristic quality of the person. The quality does not make them human; their humanity gives expression to the quality.

The Pope takes what can only be described as a hard-line determinist position, pure sexism in its most precise form: anatomy fixes identity. In addition to the discontinuity of this position with the doctrine of the Incarnation, this also tends, like its cousin racism (also based on "given" characteristics), to dehumanize the human person, and reduce the concept of the person to the level of the animal nature; it puts all the weight of identity on the very aspect which the doctrine of the Incarnation shows us should not be given any weight at all, for as St. Paul so famously observed, "in Christ there is no more male and female."

Categorical difficulties
Which brings me to Genesis. One of the ongoing problems with the traditional Christian view of sex and sexuality lies in the reading of Genesis 1:27 ("male and female he created them") as referring to categories of people; that is, reading the words male and female as adjectives. However, in Hebrew, they are nouns — and would likely be better translated as "a male and a female, he created them." Although the Greek translation (LXX) elides them into adjective form, the Aramaic retains the noun form, and in one of the Aramaic versions adds specific details about the couple.

It appears from the contemporary evidence that Jesus and other Jews of the Second Temple era read and understood the text in this way, as referring to a couple. The Damascus Document of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Geniza A Col. 4:19-21), for example, uses the verse from Genesis in support of its argument in favor of monogamy. The same is true of a section of a Zadokite Document (7:1-7) that is usually classed with the Old Testament pseudepigrapha or apocrypha. (It seems to me to be from the same source as the Qumran text.)

And Jesus himself, when he cites this text in his critique of divorce and remarriage (Matt 19:4-6) is also clearly referencing not some alleged complementarity that makes male and female fit together, but rather the simpler and more obvious notion that a couple join together to form a unity: he even quotes (paraphrasing the Hebrew, as do the LXX and Targumim, by adding "two") another portion of Genesis (2:24). He then nails the matter home by his own gloss, "So they are no longer two, but one flesh."

So this isn't about categories, but about the mystery of how two become one — which is, of course exactly how St. Paul deals with it in Ephesians, which is also about how two become one — the two of Jew and Gentile (2:15) in one body as well as the two of husband and wife in one flesh.

So could we please have no more of this nonsense about categorical qualities being determinative about who and what people are, at their most basic level as human beings? People are fully dimensioned with many qualities and characteristics, and indeed free — with the freedom given by their Creator — to become all that God intends for them. The Scripture may begin with Genesis, but it ends with the Revelation of the new humanity, which transcends the merely earthly categories and qualities that each of us possess. It is not our substance or our genes that matter: but our actions of love and service to one another.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

ps: Let's try a mental exercise. Surely a part of the imperative of bodily identity as male and female should be "ordered" towards what male and female exist for: sexual reproduction. So any person who fails to live out this aspect of his or her natural identity is in some way "constructing" an identity at odds with their biological destiny. So the "celibate lifestyle" is contrary to human nature.

UPDATE: You can read the full text of the address courtesy of Whispers in the Loggia. As I suspected, Benedict reads Gen 1:27 as referring to categories, not people. He's done it before, and will do it again...

December 20, 2012

Grace's Cost

Grace is not cheap. It is free. It comes as a gift, unearned, unasked for, unexpected and most of all undeserved.

He was the gift that gave it. 
He gave that gift to save us. 
That gift was costly to himself alone,
All for our sake and our salvatiòn. 
Deo Gratias.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Eve of St Thomas 2012

December 19, 2012

It's In the Cards

tsh as dr grün
Once upon a time I felt flattered to be asked to produce ID in order to order a drink or buy a bottle of spirits, wine or beer; it is now not so flattering not to be asked for ID in order to obtain a senior citizen discount...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 16, 2012

The Unheeded Warning

In spite of how obvious it is that people should deal fairly with one another, they don’t: a sermon for Advent 3c

Advent 3c • SJF • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
With many other exhortations, John the Baptist proclaimed the good news to the people.

Our gospel passage this morning ends with the assurance that John the Baptist proclaimed “good news” to the people. In light of recent events, we sure could all use some good news. I have to say I am heart-broken, right now, as I know many are, at the terrible tragedy that took place last week in Connecticut. But our other Scripture readings sound like good news, no doubt about it. The prophet Zephaniah urges daughter Zion and Israel to shout out and rejoice, and to make thanksgiving for the redemption of the Lord and God who is coming to rescue and restore that kingdom and that hope. God will restore their fortunes, the prophet promises; God will give them the victory of a triumphant warrior; God will rejoice over them with gladness and renew them in love, exulting over them with loud singing as on a day of festival. Fling out the banners and light the fireworks; strike up the brass band and start the parade!

Those sentiments are echoed in the First Song of Isaiah that we used as our psalmody this morning — words full of assurance that God the Savior is at work and that God’s work is trustworthy and solid. If there were a theological “Angie’s List,” this would let us know that God gets an A-triple-plus rating — God is someone you can count on.

Saint Paul continues the celebration in his Letter to the Philippians, beginning with that word that gives this Sunday its name, “Rejoice Sunday,” or as it is known in Latin, Gaudete. What we heard as our second lesson today would have been the first words you heard on this Sunday in the Western church right on up into modern times: not only an assurance of reasons to rejoice, but a command to rejoice. We follow that tradition by using these rose-colored vestments on this day — lightening up from the somber purple of the Advent season to a brighter and more cheerful hue.

+ + +

By this time these warm-up acts have got us ready for a celebration in the gospel. But what are the first words we hear from John the Baptist: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” It seems the parade has come to a screeching halt. As if a gunman has broken into a classroom and opened fire. As if the pink of the vestments were not a celebration of life but about breast cancer awareness, awareness of that terrible disease that strikes so many; it’s as if someone in the brass band has hit a very sour note, or even worse, that a sniper has opened fire on the band, and all of the instruments have fallen silent. The towering figure of John the Baptist points with his gnarled hand at the crowds who have come out to hear him preach — like the ghost of Christmas yet to come. And if the crowd wanted something other than fire and brimstone, they are in for a surprise, for he calls them, a “brood of vipers.” And yet the Gospel goes on to say he encouraged the people with such good news. I don’t know about you, but being called a viper is not the best news I’d like to hear.

So let us look more closely at what follows that initial stern rebuke. There is good news, thank goodness. For after this powerful condemnation and threats of axes and fruitless trees being chopped down and thrown into the fire, when it gets down to brass tacks and the fate of the crowd — no doubt shivering in their sandals by that point at the prospect of what is about to be demanded of them — when the terrified crowd gets up the courage to ask what they can do to be saved, what does John tell them?

“Whoever has two coats must share with whoever has none, and whoever has food must do likewise. You tax collectors just collect the tax, and you soldiers don’t blackmail or abuse people!”

Well, if you had been there then, wouldn’t you breathe a sigh of relief at those words? After his verbal introduction and assault, John does not ask the people to do anything at all extraordinary — he doesn’t ask them to live like him out in the wilderness dressed like one of the prophets of old with a hairy mantle and a leather belt, living off locusts and wild honey. He tells them to go home and get back to work and do their jobs and live lives of honesty and fairness.

And this is really where the good news comes in — for certainly it is good news, as Zephaniah and Isaiah and Paul assure us: that salvation is not something we have to do on our own for ourselves, but something that is done for us by one who is mighty to save. For surely, as Isaiah says, it is God who saves us, and we can trust in him and not be afraid.

And on top of that, John the Baptist, after that initial stern language, gives us the good news that what is asked of us is not impossible — but is really only fair and just and right: to share our resources with those who do not have — our clothing with the naked and our food with the hungry — and to do the work we have to do with honesty and without taking advantage of or abusing anyone else.

And that, my friends, is the good news — that we have been saved by God, and that what God asks of us is to love God and our neighbor.

+ + +

And wouldn’t it be lovely if people actually did. If it’s really that simple, why did the prophets have to keep proclaiming it? Why did John the Baptist have to shout at the people and greet them as a brood of vipers? Why did he have to warn them of the coming destruction and the fruitless trees and the great bonfire at the end of time, the threshing floor and the unquenchable fire that will burn up all the worthless chaff and deadwood of unproductive lives?

You know why — because in spite of how obvious it is that people should deal fairly with one another, they don’t. Even without the awful example of last week’s shooting, ringing in our ears, impossible to avoid as you turn on any television station at all, we know that people do not do as they ought to do. In spite of the fact that everything works so much better when everyone follows the simple rules of courtesy and fairness and generosity — just common sense — people still try to take advantage — just watch the exit ramp on any crowded highway: someone will have to create a lane of his or her own, or find a creative way to nose in at the head of the line causing everyone else to be slower. In spite of the calls for spare coats to be dropped off at the library or police station for distribution to the poor and cold, the dawning day of the Lord’s Day will find plenty of closets full of clothing that people haven’t worn in years. To my own shame I realized as I wrote these very words that there was more in my closet at home than really needed to be there; and I took that unworn second coat up to the library on Eames Place and dropped it off; how about you?

If nothing else, let this reading today be a reminder to us — to all of us — of a simple command: to check that closet when you get home and find the coat you no longer wear and bring it to the library or the precinct so it can be given to someone who will actually wear it.

We are not asked to do the impossible, my friends. We are asked to do something so easy it would be a crying shame for us to fail to do so. It would be a shame to end up crying in shame when the ax is laid to the root of the trees and every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. That’s good news, if we are prepared to hear it, and hearing it, act upon it. God gives us the warning; may he give us the strength to do as he commands.+

December 15, 2012

Rachel Weeps

A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and wailing.
Rachel cries for her children and will not be consoled,
because they are not.
Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them.
A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and wailing.
Rachel cries for her children and will not be consoled,
because they are not.

From Requiem for Children, 1980
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

MP3 File

December 12, 2012

Thought for 12.12.12

Unity is not a value to be held in spite of diversity. It is a value we hold because of diversity. If we were all the same we would not need such a value.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Being Institutionalized

Sir Tony Baldry is reported as saying, "For the Church of England, the uniqueness of marriage is that it embodies the distinctiveness of men and women, so removing that complementarity from the definition of marriage is to lose any social institution where sexual difference is explicitly acknowledged."

To imply that sexual difference is essential to marriage is just a circular argument for "only mixed-sex couples can marry." To say that removing sexual difference from marriage means we have to remove it from all other social institutions is to the point, though. I mean, haven't we? Shouldn't we? Is it just that marriage is the last bastion of the social shrine of sexual difference? To what end?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/t Thinking Anglicans

December 11, 2012

Sirens and Asparagus

It is now reported that the English Parliament, while edging towards approval of same-sex marriage, is responding to appeals by at least some in the Church of England, to make it part of the law that the Church of England (and that of Wales) be explicitly prohibited from performing such marriages.

Needless to say present law of the Church of England (and Wales) does not allow for same-sex marriages, although there has been occasional movement in that direction. It appears that some fear that if something is not forbidden it will become mandatory.

This particular "lock" or "lockout" forbidding England and Wales to perform same-sex marriages even if their governing bodies decide to do so seems a bit like our American "fiscal cliff" -- a law put in place to prevent a body from doing what it very well knows it might one day choose to do, but is unwilling to do or fearful of doing.

The fact that there seems to be a need for such an external restraint is testimony to the lack of resolve -- and the pressure for change -- within these institutions, and a sad sign of a kind of double-minded immaturity and unwillingness to deal with reality.

Odysseus bound to the mast comes to mind, knowing he has no power to resist the sirens' song, but wanting to hear it all the same, while his deaf crew row with wax-filled ears.

Of course, it also reminds me of Alice: "I'm so glad I don't like asparagus, for if I did I should have to eat it, and I can't bear it."

Is it any wonder the Church of England -- coming to resemble both of these -- lacks credibility?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 5, 2012

Jumping the Gun?

There is a press report that the Presiding Bishop has accepted Mark Lawrence's renunciation of ministry in The Episcopal Church.

While I believe that Mark Lawrence has abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church, I do not think he has renounced his ministry, at least in the manner laid out by Canon III.12.7, which requires a written declaration to the Presiding Bishop expressing a “desire to be removed.”

I think that rather than jumping the gun, and taking actions and speeches as if they met the formal requirements of the Canon, the process of dealing with the abandonment should have been followed to the letter. Lawrence's November 17 speech — and other actions — obviously do not constitute "a good faith retraction" of those things that led to the charge of abandonment, which is what he could have done in the 60-day period to reverse course. But continuing on the same course does not transform abandonment into renunciation under either the letter or spirit of the law.

Haste is not our friend.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

UPDATE: An additional problem is that “renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of the Church” — which constitutes abandonment under Title IV — is not the same thing as “renunciation of the Ordained Ministry” under Title III. I think it is clear that Lawrence has done the former, but it is not at all clear he has done the latter — in the form set out in the Canon, that is, by a written statement to that effect. There has been no canonically formal, “You can't fire me, I quit.”

December 4, 2012


The term "Mutual Responsibility" popped up in the late 60s in Anglican circles as a way to describe how the Communion ought to work together, and it has been part of our cultural DNA ever since, right up to and including the Proposed but Not Yet Widely Adopted Anglican Covenant.  I would like to suggest that this supposedly foundational principle be unmasked for what it actually is: not a creative bit of gene therapy, but an alien virus that is ultimately harmful to the Body Ecclesiastic.

It seems to me, that beneath the mask of the high-sounding terminology works the reality of former colonialists wanting to make their former colonies (and themselves) not to feel so bad about the past and present, and pretend that "we're all equal" while knowing full well that "some are more equal than others" in terms of resources. This in part derives from the colonists' romantic (and envious) view of the emerging churches ("they have such a vibrant faith") in comparison with their own staid and stolid churches, that they feel have grown lukewarm.

Some might say I am being cynical; but this seems to cover the evidence a bit more completely than otherwise. After all, why is it that this notion emerged precisely in the era of post-colonialism if not as a part of that very movement. Who can deny that we've seen the sad results of both colonialism and post-colonialism in the secular states over the last two generations; and why should anyone assume that the church is immune from the same malady?

To test the waters, one might well ask, How can one truly be "mutually" responsible? To what extent does this "responsibility" shift from acknowledging one's own faults to the larger body, to the larger body picking out the perceived faults in the individual members — or one or two self-righteous members deciding that they can pick out the faults of everyone else? "Motes and beams" come to mind. Mutual responsibility may just end up as codependency.*

Paul, in his Letter to the Galatians, seems to have been well aware of the phenomenon of one part of the church deciding what was best for another part of the church, and the tension between missionaries and those missioned. And he neatly outlined the dilemma of "mutual responsibility" in the last chapter of that document: the tension between "bearing one another's burdens" (6:2) and "all must carry their own loads." (6:5).

The answer, it seems to me, is not so much  to stress the "mutual" as the "responsibility." People ought to take responsibility for their own actions, engaging in vigorous self-critique before daring to engage in other-critique. As Paul also says, we are called to freedom, not to self-indulgence. "The whole law is summed up in a single commandment, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another." (5:13-15) If we want anything mutual let it be mutual charity and forgiveness, coupled with responsibility to the one who actually is our judge. Not autonomy, nor neither heteronomy — but theonomy, with the knowledge that God, and God alone, is both our Judge and our Advocate.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

*From Wikipedia:

Codependency (or codependence, interdependency ) is defined as a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (as in an addiction to alcohol or heroin); and in broader terms, it refers to the dependence on the needs of or control of another. It also often involves placing a lower priority on one's own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. Codependency can occur in any type of relationship, including family, work, friendship, and also romantic, peer or community relationships. Codependency may also be characterized by denial, low self-esteem, excessive compliance, or control patterns. Narcissists are considered to be natural magnets for the codependent.
Does that sound familiar?


November 28, 2012

Lincoln as Grand Opera

a review of Lincoln by Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a film that will likely stand the test of time: a splendid script, well acted and well filmed, with a weighty subject and important themes. But beyond that it has the stamp of art about it; ironically, in my opinion, less the cinematic than the operatic. This is a film of arias, duets, trios, and choruses; a film that relishes the richness of language, indeed about people who relished the richness of language and were not afraid to speak in long sentences with polysyllabic cadences and periods that clunked down at the end to make a point with no misunderstanding possible: the ponderous solemnity of sober speech as well as the rollicking ribaldry of pungent insult. These were people suckled on the twin teats of Shakespeare and Cranmer, and the film shows off their language to good effect.

The actors are all up to the performance of these roles; Daniel Day-Lewis is the leading tenor hero alternately performing the comic aria and the solemn recitative. Sally Field portrays the complex female lead, a sorely tried and trying woman with the humility of Hyacinth Bucket, the rhetoric of Foghorn Leghorn, and the emotional stability of Bill the Cat. Her verbal duel with the baritone, Tommy Lee Jones as Congressman Stevens, is an acid-etched example of the most polite and politic vitriol, razors sheathed with smiles. Jones chews the rich language placed in his mouth like a fine malt, and clearly enjoys every nuanced syllable. The operatic analogy cannot pass without notice of David Strathairn’s Seward, the standard baritone “best friend” of the leading tenor, loyal to the end.

A dramatic high point in the film is the duet between Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln caught in the dilemma created by their son Robert’s desire to serve in the military. They are each in their own world, talking past each other simultaneously — the high-minded idealism of the president crashing in a restless wave of words against the impassioned anchored anguish of a mother already bereft of two sons and unwilling to lose a third. At the end of the scene, the defeated woman collapses like Violetta into her crinolines in a visible gesture of resignation and grief as powerful and evocative as the plunge of a white satin Hindenburg.

Not since Orson Welles have we seen such exercises in fugal dialogue as in this scene and another in which young Thomas Lincoln, also known as Tad (because he looked like a tadpole when he was a baby), prattles on while the adult conversation continues around him. Gulliver McGrath is splendid in the role, and provides what I found one of the most moving, and historically accurate, moments, reacting to the news of his father’s death; for he was also at the theater the night Lincoln was shot — in a different theater, watching an Arabian adventure unfold on the stage. Spielberg’s choice not to show the assassination but to allow us to hear of it as little Tad did, indeed as most of the nation did, secondhand, is a wonderful example of his artist’s delicacy — the cinematic equivalent of a mot juste, not unlike the red coat in Schindler’s List, a film also echoed in Robert’s following a barrow of amputated limbs to see them summarily disposed of in a lime pit. Even were it not for the high-flying language, this would not be a film for children.

Another reason this film will endure is the strong political message it sends, a timely one at that. It is a political world that is also a deeply personal world — this was before corporations were thought of as people. It reminds us that the body politic is made up of individual people. It moves from the writhing, entangled bodies of the opening battle scene, a sea of blue and gray — and red — to the political battle of Congress, and the unique individual people who make it up, each and every vote counting. These too are people who in the day of decision ventured much; one might even say that decision-making is at the heart of what this film is about — a theme not at all foreign to Spielberg’s best and most serious work, echoing the powerful sentiment of Hillel and Private Ryan both, concerning the worth of each individual life. We see decisions played out not only by Lincoln and his wife and son, but the cast of Congressmen, some bought and sold, set at a price as were the slave children whose images young Tad pondered, others throwing caution to the wind as they cast a vote they know will cost them dearly. Michael Stuhlbarg, as George Yeaman, is particularly moving as he finds his voice.

If I were to fault the director on any point of this film it would have to be the ending. I had thought it might end with that long-lens shot of Lincoln walking down the hallway — after all we know how the story ends. But then we would have missed the superbly handled presentation of the assassination itself, reported by messenger as in the best Greek tragic tradition. And then I thought it might have ended with those famous words, “Now he belongs to the ages.” Instead the director gives us Lincoln in a flame, an effect all too much like a Victorian faery photograph, or Lincoln as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and a snippet from an admittedly great speech. But it seems a false step to end in this way — and is a step away from the operatic form which had served so well up to that point. What, after all could be more operatic than the leading character lying dead surrounded by the other principal players, as the curtain falls on the closing chords?
Some will no doubt accuse me of quibbling at this point; and I will not say that this minor flaw undoes all that went before. Far from it; but in a film that is so nearly perfect a small flaw is all the more irking, particularly as it comes at the end.

This is a film that will last, and bear repeated viewings.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 20, 2012

Why No

I will venture to suggest that the bulk of those voting against the draft measure to approve the ordination of women to the episcopate in the General Synod of the Church of England fall into three categories:

1 & 2. Evangelicals or Anglo-Catholics firmly opposed to the idea of women bishops on the ground that a woman is incapable of holding such an office; or

3. Progressives who felt that the compromise resolution would mean that any women called to the episcopate would be equally compromised in their ministry, by the ability of the parish to request alternative episcopal oversight — which request was to be “respected.”

So it seems that the moderate middle failed to carry the day, and England will have to wait a bit longer for women to come to the office of bishop there. It was a narrow defeat, by a handful of votes in one order, but a defeat nonetheless.

Maybe next time...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/t Thinking Anglicans

November 14, 2012


This is Sir Bootz, a shelter cat from Pets Alive Westchester, added to the rectory population yesterday. He is a fine clerical fellow, right at home on my keyboard, in fact blocking the screen at this very moment. He has a very sweet disposition, and is fascinated by my typing on the keyboard... Perhaps I can put him to work?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 11, 2012

Veterans (more)

O.K., two more pictures of my Mom and Dad in uniform. First, my mother with some of her WAVE classmates, in a spectacularly un-feminist pose — and yes, that's her in the front of the line! Then my Dad up a tree, in uniform. Have no idea where this was taken.

Blessed Veterans Day to all....

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


This is my father and mother, William and Mary Haller, both in uniform (Army and Navy respectively). They met during, and I suppose it fair to say, because of, the Second World War. They were together as a married couple for almost fifty years. Both are interred in the “Patriots’ Hill” section of the suburban cemetery dedicated to Veterans, not too terribly far from where my siblings and I grew up. On this Veterans Day (Armistice Day, or by whatever name you choose to know it) I give special thanks for my Mom and Dad, who served their country in wartime, and loved it in peacetime.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 7, 2012

Note to Pundits

To all of the pundits who predicted the election of Governor Romney by more than 300 electoral votes: There is no need to acknowledge your error, explain how or why you were mistaken, or express regrets or apologies. Reality is what it is, and has a way of taking care of itself without your input. It might be as well to remember this:

If a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.Deuteronomy 18:22

So I do have to wonder why the error-prone talking heads are still nattering away on the airwaves and intertubes, and why anyone would listen to them for any other reason than to assuage their own disappointment by listening to the echoes of their ideology. Perhaps that is reason in itself. Misery loves company, the old saying has it.

Meanwhile, it is time for the country to pick itself up, dust itself off, and get to work. The Republican members of Congress should realize that obstruction will not be long tolerated, and for most of you the next election is in two years. It is time to lead, follow, or get out of the way.

Mr. President, you have our attention. 

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

UPDATE: See this graphic from the inimitable folks at It is a graphic display of who among the pundits did well or poorly in their estimations. The fact that Conservative pundits were more "off" than the moderates or liberals testifies to the stupifying effects of their ideology.


November 3, 2012

Comprehensive Reform

for the Feast of Richard Hooker: a sermon by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG from 2004, Church of the Intercession, New York

GRANT that we may maintain that middle way, not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth. — The Collect for the feast of Richard Hooker
There once was a vicar in an English country church of whom his congregation said, “Our Vicar is like God — he is invisible on weekdays and incomprehensible on Sundays.” I hope that I will not in my reflections today prove to be the latter.

Incomprehensible is a synonym for “impossible to understand.” Such understanding can be pictured almost in a physical sense: for to understand is to stand under, as a table stands under what is placed upon it, and so must be larger and more stable than what it holds in order to sustain or support it. To comprehend in this sense is to hold the object of knowledge on the table of ones mind.

Which is why God is incomprehensible. We cannot comprehend God because however hard we try, we cannot wrap our finite minds around the infinite God; God will not fit on the table of the human mind, however rasa our tabula, however much room we make on it, however many leaves we add, because, as the old hymn says, God is broader than its measure.

And the same goes for Truth, if we are speaking of Truth With A Capital T — not just some true things, but the whole ball of wax, the Truth as a full and complete description of All That Is — for the description must be at least as complex as what it describes. Try, for example, to describe a zipper to someone who has never seen one. And when we get to natural zippers like the string of DNA that holds us all together and builds us up at the most fundamental level, the description will take volumes — the printed listing of the human genome, a single transcribed copy of just one DNA zipper, of which we each carry trillions of the real thing in our bodies, would take 200 volumes the size of the Manhattan phone book.

To make matters worse, the truth about what is — even as it is spoken — adds to the sum of what is. If we were to write down even a mere tally of all that is, without further comment or explanation, truly the universe itself would not be large enough to contain all the books that might be written. For the books themselves would add to the substance of the world, and with every word we wrote we would be adding to the subject of our enterprise, and the bibliographers and catalogers would soon have to take up their work. As the wise man said, “Of the making of books there is no end.”

Indeed, the only way to comprehend the Truth, in this fullest sense of the word, and as appears to be the aim laid out in the Collect for this feast of Richard Hooker, is to be outside of all that is. And since only God is outside of all that is, as God is the cause of all being and becoming, so only the mind of God can truly comprehend all Truth.

We get glimpses of this outside-in structure of reality in the visions of the saints and poets — in Byzantine icons and in Dante, and in William Blake too. Perhaps it is most vividly captured in that wonderful vision God imparted to Blessed Julian of Norwich: a God’s-eye-view of the universe, as she saw in the palm of her hand a tiny thing no bigger than a hazelnut, so frail it looked as if it would cease to be in a moment. And God told her, It is all that is, and it endures because God loves it. As Blake would later write,
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
That is the God’s-eye-view that only the odd mystic glimpses.Now, in spite of the visions of the saints and poets — who are careful not to mistake these momentary experiences of God’s view of the world for their own accomplishment — most of us are wise enough to know our limits. As Hooker himself put it, “The true properties and operations of [God] are to know that which is not possible for created natures to comprehend; to be simply the highest cause of all things.” (5.53.1)

Yet in spite of this, some in the church from time to time do appear to think they have come into possession of the Truth, which usually turns out to be something far more prosaic and far less visionary — a set of right doctrines, or more commonly, right behaviors. And most of us have the good sense to realize that even this limited claim is a bit presumptuous. We have learned from the hard experience of the church’s history that what you don’t know can hurt you; and that often the church is at its most errant precisely when it claims to be most certain. It is rash for any in the church to claim the ability to see in a glass brightly: especially when the church’s rear-view mirror consistently warns us that objects are nearer than they appear — and we travel at our peril if we imagine that our view through the looking glass is either infallible or complete. Indeed, as we take that backward glance on the ecclesiastical autobahn, we see that behind us HeilsgeschichteStrasse — Sacred Story Street — is littered with the wrecks of time over which God towers in divine incomprehensibility.

Just ask Galileo, Richard Hooker’s contemporary, who set about the task of trying to record a few true things about the world, things evident to the senses, or at least to the senses aided and abetted by the telescope. He suffered the fate of being told that what was wasn’t, or at least wasn’t what he saw it was. Threatened with torture, he recanted and submitted to those who refused to know the truth of what is, so insistent were they on what they thought ought to be.


Those on our side of the Tiber, the Anglicans, by Hooker’s day had learned their lesson the hard way. There had been enough burnings and tortures and beheadings on the scepter’d isle over mutually exclusive doctrines to satisfy the lust for certainty at least for a season. So a “settlement” to continuing vexatious matters emerged from the serendipitous arrival of a monarch like Elizabeth and a scholar like Hooker.

Now, Elizabeth, as a monarch, was probably more interested in compromise for the sake of peace than in comprehension for the sake of truth. She did not wish, as she said, to make windows into men’s souls. She knew that if she refrained from peeping into her advisors’ heads, she could benefit from the wisdom they would share around the privy council table, rather than having to commit those selfsame heads to the block and pike. As long as private opinion on divisive matters was kept in the privy closet, as long as one didn’t ask or didn’t tell, a form of peace could be maintained. Thus what Napoleon would later call the nation of shopkeepers kept the peace by means of compromise, the peaceful coexistence that falls a good deal short of true communion and community, but at least keeps heads on shoulders.

But as our collect reminds us, Hooker aimed higher. His Middle Way was not primarily a matter of compromise, but of comprehension. And the genius of comprehension lies in the breadth of its embrace, and in its confession of and willingness to live with an inevitable degree of error and ignorance. Hooker confesses that since we cannot know all things, and sometimes err in the things we think we know, we must allow room for all things, to make the table not infinitely broad (which is beyond our capacity) but broad enough to hold both the unforeseen and unexpected guest, as well as the uninvited and errant guest who shows up at the wrong party. Who knows, until the master comes, who really belongs there after all?

Hooker directs us to avoid the need for final answers on all but the minimally sufficient, and sufficiently salvific claims of the Gospel, secure truths at the heart of what it means to be Christian: centered on the existence of God, and the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ —the eternal Gospel without which there really wouldn’t be any point in continuing the discussion, but beyond which all else is more or less provisional. As he said concerning baptismal faith: “Belief consisteth not so much in knowledge as in acknowledgment of all things that heavenly wisdom revealeth; the affection of faith is above her reach, her love to Godward above the comprehension which she hath of God.”(5.63.1)

So the final answers and the definitive positions on everything and anything, so beloved both by Calvinists and Papists, would give way in Hooker’s view to a more rational willingness to withhold and reserve final judgment on all but a very few core doctrines, to realize that mutually exclusive opinions on other matters cannot both be true — and in the long run neither might be true, and the real truth might lie somewhere else altogether. To cast the net broadly, to make the table wider; to expand the breadth of charity to include all possibilities on matters for which clear and final evidence is yet to be shown: this is Hooker’s rational and charitable mission, a willingness to treat our knowledge as sufficient, rather than complete, and certain, in certain matters, only of its own uncertainty; and above all to trust that all such knowledge and love are securely centered in the depths of God, where the Spirit moves and searches, and where alone wisdom is to be found.

For when one is truly in the communion of the Church, truly united with the other members of the body — which can only truly be a body when all the members are lovingly comprehended in it in spite of differing opinions on secondary matters — Deus ibi est: God is there. Next to this transcendent unity-in-communion all other modified and restricted uses of that word, even the one called “Anglican,” must surely pale in comparison. In the truly comprehensive communion of the whole Body of the Church, the blessed company of all faithful people, we are in God, and God is in us.


And it is in this that we come to the grand reversal, the inside-out of God. Now, generally speaking, reversible garments are notable principally for being unattractive whichever way you wear them. But the inside-outness of God is quite another matter. Here we enter the amazing world — the real world, I might add — in which the inside is bigger than the outside — as observation shows us is true of most church buildings. God’s universe, it turns out, is more like those Byzantine icons or M.C. Escher lithographs than most people are willing to allow. This truth is summed up nowhere so well as in that Johannine avalanche of prepositions and pronouns from today’s gospel.

Jesus starts first from the expected greatness of God: “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us” — so we are nested in God, resting in the palm of God’s hand like Thumbelina, safe in our hazelnut cradle.

But then comes the surprising reversal: Jesus prays, “I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one,” and suddenly we — made one in the mystical and holy communion of the Body of the Church, the Body of Christ, the temple to which God comes and deigns to be our guest — suddenly we hold Christ within us as he holds the Father within him, nested like a set of Russian dolls with God the Father in the innermost secret room of the human heart, the holy of holies, the privy chamber and closet of good council, and the human image and likeness become the frame to hold the true divine reality behind all that is, among us and within us always.


And in this and this alone is the comprehension of the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth. I said earlier that God will not fit upon our mental tables; but there is one table on which God will fit, indeed, upon which God will fit in a few minutes. It’s right there in the sanctuary. In a few moments, the universe will turn inside out, the heavens will open and God will descend and condescend to be among us and with us, the Spirit will descend upon us and upon these gifts, and we will hold God in the palms our hands, and place God to our lips and, like Mary, become God’s earthly sanctuary. We in him and he in us, will become what we behold, and hold what we become.

Sanctified in this Truth, comprehended in this Body, fed with this food, may we be now and ever one, in the knowledge and the love of God, and the peace of God which passes understanding.

This is a repeat posting, but I think it worth repeating.

October 30, 2012

Cultural Dissonance

Many conservative Christians are willing to acknowledge that the Scripture reflects the cultures of its time when it comes to social and economic issues, but seem to be unable to see the same influence of long-gone culture on attitudes towards sex and sexuality. They will sometimes find ingenious ways of sheltering the latter from a social or cultural critique or amendment, such as asserting that some things are creation ordinances while others are mere management of human weakness — which doesn't hold up well on examination, since some of the commands issued at creation have since been eliminated or ignored; or by claiming that the Law of Moses can neatly be divided between "civil" and "sacred" matters — a notion the theocrat Moses would have found to be very odd indeed.

It is fine to say that the church should not bend to the culture of this age, but also fair to point out that the church need not bend to the culture of some former age, merely on the grounds that the culture in question was dominant at the time the scriptures were recorded.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

October 25, 2012

Maxims on Diocesan Separation

That a diocese may have been an independent entity prior to its entry into union with The Episcopal Church is no more relevant to an asserted right to separate than that a husband was single before he married.

There is no provision in the Constitution of The Episcopal Church for the independence or separation of domestic dioceses from union with the Church.

Dioceses are not sovereign in that they are legally incapable of obtaining their own bishop absent the cooperation and consent of the rest of the Church.

A diocese cannot even divide itself without the consent of General Convention.

And that's enough for now.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Thought for 10.25.12

Bats and ideologues, while not literally blind, rely primarily on the echoes of their own voices for their livelihood.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

October 24, 2012

On the Election

The sad truth is that people want to believe the fantasy that the former governor can make it all better just because he says he can, in the absence either of evidence he has done so in the past, or details as to how he will do it in the future. This is held up against the actual performance of the incumbent, which, while not perfect, shows definite progress in the right direction. So deluded by hope are some they cannot see that “I'll create 12 million jobs” and “Government doesn't create jobs” are mutually contradictory! Flimflam and snake oil; yet people line up to buy it...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

October 18, 2012

(Re)cognize Liturgy as Mission, Please

My friend and colleague Bosco Peters has penned An Open Letter to the ACC, soon to meet in his own New Zealand. He appeals to them to recall that liturgy and worship ought really to be expounded as one of the “marks of mission” — not just a past-time or option, nor even as the power-source for the “real” work of the church, but as an intrinsic and central part of that work.

I find it helpful to point out two things: first, that Saint Benedict called the Daily Office “the Work of God”; and second, that the Episcopal Church's catechism (page 855 of our BCP), in response to the question, “How does the Church pursue it mission?” states:

“The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.” 

Note that the first two and at least part of the third have very much to do with what goes on in liturgy, the implication being that this is the starting point!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
and please sign Bosco's petition

October 14, 2012

Getting What You Paid For

Wealth sticks to the wealthy like an acrylic sweater fresh out of the clothes dryer... a sermon for Proper 23b

Because you trample on the poor, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.

During the economic boom of the 80s, someone came up with a T-shirt that read, “The one with the most things when he dies, wins.” This was the era of free-for-all speculation on Wall Street. Investments moved further and further away from actual commodities or industries, from real products or services, to speculation on commodity futures, and indexes, and margins, and even futures of indexes and margins. No longer were people trading just in pork bellies, or even in what pork bellies might be worth some day; They were trading in what the market might think pork bellies might be worth some day. People were trading not just in things, but in what people thought about things — and in what people thought about what people thought about things, if you can believe that — building on a very shaky foundation — if any foundation at all!

Some people managed to make huge fortunes in this rarified world: people like the fictional character Gordon Gecko from the film Wall Street, whose motto was, “Greed is good.” Governments were persuaded by this gospel of acquisition to repeal laws that had been put in place after previous economic disasters, laws designed to prevent a melt-down of the economy. Credit extended beyond the prudent , and people were sold mortgages they could not possibly afford, even in the best of times; and the value of homes came to be keyed not to intrinsic value, intrinsic worth, but as if they only could be worth more and more as time went on — no one would imagine that to be true of a car, yet people had no trouble thinking about it for a house! Meanwhile the distances between the salaries of workers and the wealth of the owners grew greater and greater. The rich grew richer and the poor poorer, and it really did begin to look like the one who died with the most things would win. The balloon kept getting bigger and bigger, and no-one expected it to burst.

+ + +

As we all know, this out-of-kilter pile of optimism came crashing down like a Jenga game just a few years ago. The chickens came home to roost to an astonishing degree, and the henhouse was full to overflowing. And sad to say, most of the chickens were dead ducks!

Some years on, it is still true a tiny portion of the population controls a disproportionate amount of the wealth of the world. And these days in the election season, who can turn on the TV without seeing a politician, or a surrogate, or a PAC, or a super-PAC, appealing to a particular worldview — either that prosperity will come by letting the wealthy trickle their wealth down to the poor who eagerly wait below like drought-stricken farmers able to receive this gentle shower of rain; or on the other hand that the government should take more from the wealthy so as to redistribute it more effectively — but still from above, as far as those below are concerned.

+ + +

Of course, as our Scriptures from Amos and Mark remind us, there is nothing new in this. There is nothing new about the magnetic attraction of wealth — how money wants to stay where other money is rather than trickling down to where it isn’t; how the rich always seem to get richer, taking advantage of the poor. And those who have the guts to challenge this, people like Amos or Jesus, get branded as malcontents or trouble-makers. As Amos says, those with power and wealth abhor the one who speaks the truth, and in times like these the prudent will keep their mouths shut; and we know what happened to Jesus when he upset the apple-cart of a society in which religious leaders worked hand-in-hand with the politicians to keep things profitable for the few at the expense of the many.

Even some with good intentions, like the rich young man in the Gospel, is disappointed when Jesus tells him what he needs to do for his own good, and the good of his soul — to say nothing of the good he could do for the poor. He could not have been the only rich person to go away sorrowful, wanting to follow Jesus but not able to do as he counseled: unable to break that magnetic attachment of wealth. The Gospel shows us how hard it is for wealth to trickle down — it wants to stay with the wealthy; and the wealthy want to stay with it!

+ + +

This is why greed, far from being good, as Mr. Gecko believed, is such a poisonous affliction. It’s an addiction that can never be satisfied — those who think having more and more is the point of life can never get enough to make that hunger stop. Because there always is more, isn’t there? It is like drinking salt-water when you’re thirsty — it will only make you thirstier, and in the end, it will kill you.

Greed is a thirst for the wrong thing, you see. No one really needs more money than it takes to live, to provide for those practical real realities of shelter and food and a modicum of comfort and leisure; and the money and the things left when they die, as indeed they must, is beyond their employment or enjoyment. While you live, your possessions and wealth can serve you and others, but the things you have but which you do not use serve no one — not even you. There is an old saying, “The second coat in your closet, the one you never wear, really belongs to someone else.” Hanging there in the closet it keeps no one warm, not even you. Yet, there it hangs.

Just as the financial markets moved further and further from reality, to focus on speculation itself as a thing to speculate about, so too the desire for wealth and possessions moves away from the good that wealth can do — to the wealth itself, and not to using it, but just to having it. Rather than a means to an end, it becomes an end in itself — a dead end.

+ + +

I mentioned politicians a moment ago and I’d like to end with not a politician, but with a First Lady. Mary Todd Lincoln suffered much in life — she lost three of her four sons to early death, at the ages of four, twelve, and eighteen; and she suffered the horror of her husband being shot as he sat next to her in the theater, her hand in his. She was far from a perfect person, and was what used to be called “high-strung.”

One of her great failings was her unrealistic relationship with money. When her husband was elected President, she went wild; she had no sense of proportion, and began to spend his new-found salary lavishly refurnishing the White House like there was no tomorrow. When tomorrow came and Lincoln was assassinated, and then with the death of her young son, Tad, just a few years later, she fell into a cycle of madness; imagining she was lost to the world, doomed to live homeless, out on the streets.

One day she was in fact found wandering in the streets of Chicago. And it was discovered by those who took her in that all the while she bemoaned the lack of money, living in panicked fear of poverty, she had over $50,000 in bonds sewn into the lining of her dress — a huge fortune in those days. But it wasn’t even enough to keep her warm. She died a few years later, never able to enjoy any of that wealth.

Julie Harris as Mary Todd Lincoln, and your preacher, in his former life as an actor, portraying Tad Lincoln, who died shortly after his 18th birthday. Photo by Martha Swope.

+ + +

It is painfully easy to say, Well, she was a bit crazy, wasn’t she? But isn’t anyone who hoards more of the world’s goods than he or she needs to live — even to live comfortably — equally out of touch with reality? How many are like the rich young man, wanting to be free but unable to let go of the very thing that holds them down.

The disciples ask, Who then can be saved? And as Jesus answers, the implication seems to be that all can be saved from possession by wealth — but not through their own efforts, only through the power of God. We all need help detaching ourselves from the goods we accumulate, the things that seem to stick to us like an acrylic sweater fresh out of the dryer, and God has shown us the way to do so — to use the power of God that is within us, God working within us, to open our hands to give to those with less, to grow accustomed to letting go and not grasping, knowing our needs will be met a hundredfold.

And just as wealth seems to attract more wealth and drag us down, so too once we start the practice, the practiceof generosity will make us more generous; the practice of charity will make it easier and easier to open our hands, and let go of the weight that keeps us from following the one who can and will free us from all such bonds, even Jesus Christ our Lord.+

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 29, 2012

Saints and Angels

Michael and Gabriel — two of my earliest efforts at writing icons. They now stand on the gradine at St James Fordham.

It came to mind this morning at the Daily Office that we refer to Michael the Archangel as "Saint Michael" — but that he isn't a saint in the normal sense of the word. Everything about Michael and the other angels is a bit out of the normal, of course. I suppose in the long run that "Saint" here means "Holy One" — as in "Ye Watchers and... " since "Watchers" is also an old name for the angels, as is "sons of God" (see Job, in the NRSV reduced to "heavenly beings.")

Of course there is that old image of the departed "getting their wings" and becoming angels themselves, in the fashion of Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life. Jesus himself observed that at the resurrection those deemed worthy of it would be "like the angels" (attested by Matthew, Mark and Luke; while John does the reverse to have the angel declare that he is only a fellow servant...).

So the long and the short of it is that the heavenly realm is well-populated, and we hope one day to join the population. Whether we become angels or get a work-permit, there will be the endless work of praise to do. In the place beyond time and space, the placeless place, we hope to rejoice forever in timelessness, in pure being-like the Ground of all being, the Three-in-One whose only deed is Love.

All you saints and angels, praise the Lord! Alleluia.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
The full set of icons at the altar of Saint James Church Fordham.

September 26, 2012

Truthful with the Economy

There is a practical difference underlying the philosophical divide between Small Government enthusiasts who want to place societal welfare responsibility on individuals and the generosity of the wealthy, and Big Government types who want to place such programs in the hands of the state: in the former case how things fare will be based on personal strengths, the luck of the draw and the kindness of strangers; in the latter the people affected have a voice in voting for their representatives and framing the laws that will determine the redistribution of resources. While it is imperfect, I trust a system in which I have a direct say over trusting in an oligarchy any day. In some sense, the difference between Nanny State and the Rich Uncle Economy is that you can fire and hire a nanny; you’re stuck with your uncle.

When it comes down to it I suppose I’d be pegged as either a social democrat or a democratic socialist, I reject pure socialism and communism, the former because I have only limited (though real) trust in government, and the latter because I don’t think it works at levels much past a farm, commune, or monastery. I avoid particular party affiliation, and am not registered in one, though I do think, as this all suggests, that the role of government is crucial in the proper redistribution of wealth; a notion I fully support, since I have insurance, pay taxes, and contribute to my church. Some of this is voluntary, but I would have no difficulty with it being mandated, so long as I also have some say in the laws framing the redistribution.

If one were to take the alleged principle behind the Small Government argument to its logical conclusion, you would have only home schooling, people would only build the part of the road outside their house — and only if they have a car and need it; there would be no public libraries or parks or utilities; and so on. Those who favor absolute anarchic capitalism as a matter of principle are few and far between. Most “Small Government” people, including the Tea Party, are basically unprincipled — that is, there is no philosophical foundation to their belief, just a pragmatic notion that less is more, but the less always includes, “I want done what I want done, and not what I don’t.”

To those who say that private charity should be the dominant form of public welfare, I would say that while I think private charity has a role to play, I cannot put my trust in such adhocracy. So I want a voice in the process and think it is part of the government’s responsibility to provide certain services, or at least to coordinate them. (I’m not a pure socialist at heart, and don’t trust in complete government control.)

Part of my reason for this is that relying on charity only works if you assume people are inherently charitable. I wish that were true, but it isn’t. Left to themselves, people tend to accumulate wealth rather than sharing it. Some countervailing force needs to step in to insist people share or “redistribute.” There was a time when the church had the power to be that persuasive force; but now it has to be the government, in part because of the rise of pluralism. Only the government has a kind of universal sway in society — no other institution has that ambit. One only needs to look at the period from the late 19th to the early 20th century to see what happened in the era between Big Church and Big Government, including a world-wide depression caused in no small part by greed.

Let’s face it: Anyone who buys insurance really believes in the redistribution of wealth to minimize personal risk. I honor and respect those willing to hold to a true anarchic position, such as those religious sects who forego Social Security and only help their own. But this is by its own definition a sectarian solution, and not workable for the nation as a whole.

Tobias Stanislas Haller

originally published in similar form at Facebook, where it evoked a lively discussion

September 24, 2012

Thumb on the Scale

The folks at Fulcrum have published what purports to be a theological examination of the difference between marriage and same-sex partnerships. The well-meaning author takes the actual difference (the fact that mixed-sex marriages involve a man and a woman, and same-sex partnerships don't) and then attempts to show how one measures up to a purported standard and the other largely doesn't.

The essay starts well, but gets worse and worse as it goes on. The first section acknowledges that as far as love goes, all couples can on balance fulfill that divine command. But after this hopeful start, things go quickly awry, and the rest of the paper seems not even to take account of points laid out in the opening section.

The second section starts with a concise restatement of a position that is out of keeping with orthodox theology, i.e., that "Heterosexual marriage...  reflects the Unity within Difference seen in the godhead." Now, as anyone who has studied systematic theology knows, there is no "difference" in the Godhead. There is only one "substance" in three "persons." The whole point of the Trinitarian Symbol is that the persons are persons but not "different" from each other in their substance -- that is the paradox that gets lost when one simply talks about human activities like marriage, or family, or social institutions as symbols for the Trinity. It doesn't work; and if it did Trinitarian theology would be ever so much simpler! It is far better to stick with the actual symbolic use of marriage in Scripture: signifying the relationship between God and Israel, or Christ and the Church. Marriage does not reflect the inner workings of the godhead, at least not in the way this author suggests -- where it does, a same-sex couple can do so as well, in accordance with the first section of the essay: for what binds the Godhead inwardly is the essence of God as Love (not as difference) and love is universal.

The third section goes awry on the usual special pleading about procreation, including the caveat that it is talking about the "norm" and leaving to one side infertile, elderly, and other couples who do not fit that norm. The problem in this should be obvious, yet it is a logical slip made again and again on that side of the debate: you cannot argue from a norm with exceptions when we are dealing with something exceptional, and when there is an uneven application of the very principle at hand to allow some exceptions and not others. If procreation is essential to marriage, then no one who cannot procreate should be "married" (but allowed to have a "union").

The final section is the most troubling both theologically and morally. It concludes by asserting, "It is not possible to both affirm the incarnation and assert gay marriage." On the contrary, it is not only possible, I have seen it; in fact I've done it! The author seems to suggest -- it is hard to tell as the idea is so strange -- that somehow same-sex relationships are not "physical." I confess it is very hard to understand whence this strange assertion comes, though it is not uncommon on that side of the divide. In this case it is particularly perplexing as the author recognizes the physicality of eros in the first section of the paper. Indeed the problem most people have with same-sex relationships is the physicality -- if these were simply consecrated friendships few would mind them or take notice; and we all know the age-old "cover" for such relationships was, "they're just very close friends." Though, I hasten to note, even friends are physical -- in their being and their doing. Everyone lives in the real, physical world, and every person has a body, a real body, just like Jesus.

This whole idea that same-sex marriage has a gnostic, docetic, dualist or immaterial underpinning is fantastic. Gay and lesbian people are just as real and physical as anyone else, and for that matter, each is different from any other as any two persons are -- difference is not just about gender or sex, but the radical individuality of each person made in the image of God -- this is where the real "unity in difference" comes in!

I applaud the irenic tone of Grayshon's article, but it misses the mark by 75 percent.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 22, 2012

Prayer for Peace

May the God of Peace
so change the hearts
of those who give offense
and those who take offense
that God's Name may be glorified
however known, however spoken.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
I offered this prayer a few days ago on Facebook, and meant to post it here as well. As I have observed before, we cannot always be sure not to give offense (though we can try!) but we do have some control over how much we take offense.

Thought for 9.22.12

I wonder if the individual cells of my body ever wonder, “Is there some greater consciousness that guides or influences my actions?” Do they opine, “I don't care if you want to call it ‘Tobias’ or not, but surely there must be something to explain how we got here, and why things are the way they are.” And do others say, “I don't think Tobias exists. It's just a mythical explanation made up by our ancestral cell-line to explain things that they couldn't otherwise explain. Modern cells are much more sophisticated than that. Don't be such a leukocyte!”?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
who believes that he exists

September 18, 2012

Requiem for Children (1-3)

first part of
Requiem for children: victims of war, famine, and the folly of their elders
for strings, percussion and celesta
based on a 1980 work for unaccompanied chorus and semichorus (in Latin)

MP3 File
I. Introit and Kyrie
Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them.
Out of the depths I call to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my prayer.
To you, our God, shall hymns be sung in Zion and vows fulfilled in Jerusalem.
To you all flesh shall come.
Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.
Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them.

II. Gradual
Out of the mouths of infants and nursing children, your praise is perfected against your enemies.
O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is your name in all the world.
When I regard your heavens, the work of your fingers
the moon and the stars you established,
what is man that you think of him,
or the son of man that you visit him?
Out of the mouths of infants and nursing children, your praise is perfected against your enemies.

III. Sequence (Dies Irae)
Whoever should place an obstacle before one of these little ones,
it would be more expedient for him to have a millstone hung about his neck
and to be cast into the depths of the sea.
(Full text of Dies Irae. here in a translation courtesy of Fr John-Julian, OJN)

Ah, that Day, that Day of Passion,
Earth exploding, heavens ashen,
Just as prophets’ warnings fashioned.

Ah, the trembling and the shaking
With the Final Judgment breaking;
All the world is crushed and quaking.
Gabriel’s trumpet cries: its singing,
Through the graves of earth is ringing,
All before the throne is bringing.

Death and nature are confounded,
By the rising dead surrounded,
As the call to Judgment sounded.

From the book with all recorded,
Sin is judged and good rewarded;
Thence each verdict is awarded.

When to shame we are committed,
All our secret faults admitted,
Nothing then will be omitted.

How shall fools like us be pleading?
Who will hear our poor entreating
When the best are mercy needing?

Lord of kingly exaltation
Who has offered us salvation,
Pity us in tribulation

Mindful, Lord, that our salvation
Caused Your wondrous Incarnation,
Leave us not to condemnation.

With the labors You have given,
On the tree of suff’ring riven,
Shall we still be unforgiven?

Righteous Judge, for sin’s pollution,
Grant the gift of absolution
Ere the day of retribution.

Through our weeping we implore You;
Shamed and anguished we adore You;
Spare us humbled here before You.

Sinful Magdalen You greeted,
And the dying thief You heeded,
Giving us the hope we needed.

Pray’rs of ours, though undeserving,
You redeem with love unswerving,
From the endless flames preserving.

With Your lambs a place provide us,
From the goats rejected hide us,
To Your right hand may You guide us.

When the wicked are refuted
And to bitter flames deputed,
Let our sentence be commuted.

Low we kneel with hearts entreating,
Worn to ruin by death’s beating,
Save us at our lives’ completing.

On that day of agonizing
From the dust of the earth arising,

Though our sins to guilt subject us,
Of Your mercy, Lord, protect us.

Lord, all-pitying, Jesus blest,
Grant us Your eternal rest. Amen.

Latin, 13th century; tr. John-Julian, OJN, 1992
©Copyright, 1992 by The Order of Julian of Norwich
All rights reserved. Used by permission

September 17, 2012


The General Principles of the English Forward in Faith movement regarding the ordination of women (1994) begin thus:

a) During the unprecedented process of “reception” and “discernment” called for by our bishops and inaugurated by their actions in ordaining and licensing women as priests, it is desirable in all circumstances that the greatest possible degree of communion should be maintained and expressed.

b) We seriously doubt that women so ordained are priests in the Church of God; but we accept that we may prove mistaken. It is doubt about the validity of the orders conferred, and not certainty as to their invalidity, which requires us to distance ourselves from them.
These principles express doubt rather than denial. Elsewhere “sacramental assurance” is spoken of, which I take to represent a similar notion. I find this to be a bit odd; I could more easily understand outright denial of the possibility of the ordination of women, or “certainty as to” the “invalidity” of their ordination, than this attitude of “doubt.”

It seems to me that there is also an effective answer to these doubts: and in a form that is supposed to be recognized as a basic element in Anglican thinking: taken together, two of the Articles of Religion (XXIII and XXVI) ought to provide sufficient assurance to end these doubts: the former making it clear that one should receive as lawfully called and sent whoever is called and sent by those with the public authority so to do. The latter affirms that all who are ordered and consecrated according to Form are rightly, orderly and lawfully ordered and consecrated.

The express purpose of these Articles, at the time of their creation, was to remove doubt concerning ordained ministry and ministers, and to provide assurance. They could still serve in this for those willing to allow the authority of the church to speak to them, however “unprecedented” the process by which such orders have been introduced.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
who himself does not harbor any doubts about the appropriateness of welcoming women into all orders of ministry, just to be clear!

Update: An offline correspondent noted the distinction between validity and legality, or liceity. He is of course quite correct that the issue -- including what is raised in part in the Articles of Religion — hinges on liceity (i.e., “lawfully ordered”) rather than validity as such.

One of the things in the discussions that revolved around the pre-approval ordination of women in Philadelphia was the tension between valid and regular (in the sense of “licit”), and some held that the ordinations were “valid but irregular.” The House of Bishops Theology Committee, held that the necessary conditions for ordination did not exist, including certain of the legal requirements concerning the right of the bishops who ordained lawfully to act as they did. 

Let me also add that the meaning of the word respect in the revised clause of the measure likely has a stronger meaning than “hold in regard” and should be understood as meaning “heed and comply with"” as in “she respected his last wishes.”

September 16, 2012

Thought for 9.16.12

Freedom of speech should be governed by soundness of mind and charity of heart.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Inspired by James 3:1-12

September 11, 2012

Today -11

September Midday Mass

The tall old priest entered the half-lit sacristy,
fresh from his usual Tuesday morning studies.
The fair-haired acolyte with the bad complexion
was ready, vested, standing in the dimness
quietly. The old priest noticed he was sniffing
and his eyes were red. A failed romance,
he thought; but keeping his own rule on chit-chat
in the sacristy, vested silently.
The old familiar motions and the prayers
displaced whatever thoughts he might have had;
the only dialogue to break the stillness was
the rote exchange of formal preparation.
Then, in one motion as he slipped his hand
beneath the pale green veil, the other hand
upon the burse, he lifted vested vessels,
turned and followed in the sniffing server’s
wake. Eyes lowered to the holy burden
in his hand, he failed to notice that
the chapel for this midday feria —
on other days like this with one or two
at most — was full of worshippers; until
he raised his eyes, and saw the pews were filled —
but undeterred began the liturgy:
the lessons and the gospel from last Sunday,
his sermon brief, but pointed, on the texts.
It wasn’t till the acolyte began
the people’s prayers, and choked out words of planes
that brought a city’s towers down, and crashed
into the Pentagon, and plowed a field
in Pennsylvania, that the old priest knew
this was no ordinary Tuesday in
September —
not ordinary time at all,
that day he missed the towers’ fall.
Tobias Haller BSG
March 8, 2008

September 5, 2012

Going Courting

A collection of cases is heading to the European Court of Human Rights concerning alleged infringements on religious liberty by people forbidden to wear crosses in the workplace and being required to perform civil partnership registrations for same-sex couples, among other related matters.

The thing that strikes me in this is the question of how deeply Christian it is to be concerned about articles of religious clothing or decoration, and the ability to make determinations about the moral status of other parties, refusing to have anything to do with them. WWJD? Perhaps more directly, WDJS (what did Jesus say?) about such matters. Critique of broad phylacteries and fellowship with outcasts seems rather to have been his metier.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
hat-tip to Thinking Anglicans

August 25, 2012

Culture of Belief

I have no difficulty with people who ardently believe — or who ardently deny, for that matter — propositions that are incapable of proof or for which evidence is either scant or absent; to wit, that God is (though perhaps in some manner rather different from how things are). But what makes me wonder sometimes about the human race is the capacity to cling to beliefs or denials about which there is more than enough actual evidence, and in some cases incontrovertible proof, to the contrary.

This seems to be a malady that is aggravated by the closing chapters of the current political season. One can easily witness people, who by all accounts appear to be rational, fervently espousing propositions that are little more than nonsense, plainly false, proven to be false, and yet clutched to the breast like a life-preserver in a flood. Whether it is birth certificates or climate change, the abiding power of money to trickle down as of its own accord, the omnicompetence of states to solve all human ills by the mere redistribution of said money, or the marvelous capacity of women’s bodies to fend off microscopic cells even if unable to fend off the body of their larger host — ideologies corrupt the ability to perceive evidence and reach rational conclusions.

My principal fear as we slouch toward the November elections is that the common sense of the vast number of the people will be eroded by the vast stupidity of a few of the people. And I begin to fear that there is more stupidity than I suspected. Or more who are simply lying. That's always a possibility, though I'd like to believe otherwise, as little comfort as I take from thinking more people are stupid than are liars.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

The More Things Change

As England continues to debate the question of marriage equality, the Church of England, or at least a "spokesman" for it (according to press reports, summarized at Thinking Anglicans) continue to complain that such a change in the marriage law will necessitate changing the definition of marriage for everyone.

This is far from true. Marriage is an estate or manner of life, not a definition. What is changing is a matter of eligibility and capacity to marry, permitting couples who formerly were not able to marry to do so. Allowing same-sex couples to marry is a change, but not a change that will have significant effect upon anyone married at present, or on any future mixed-sex couples. The only conceivable change that might have any impact on a very small minority of people would be in changing the current English definitions of consummation and the grounds for adultery — which will only concern those seeking to nullify or terminate their marriages; in short, those trying to get out of the estate, not those who choose to remain in it. (And isn't it about time to recognize that same-sex sex is sex, and that a man married to a woman who has an erotic affair with another man is guilty of adultery rather than "unreasonable conduct?" Jesus, after all, noted that the eye and the mind could be instruments of adultery, so the more "dishonorable parts" ought to be capable of just as much, and perhaps more obvious, infidelity, regardless of how specifically employed.)

Think of two analogies in legal change: expanding the voting franchise to include women did not take the vote away from men. But lowering the speed limit affects all who drive. Marriage equality is clearly more like the former than the latter. It is a change, but not a change that need concern those who will be unaffected by it.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG