January 31, 2012

Numbers and Reality

The Episcopal Church's premier number-crunchers have reported to the Executive Council on their view of the state of things. These reports almost always leave me wanting to ask a much more basic question: Can anyone provide a figure for overall church membership and attendance across all churches? What is the actual Churched Population and ChurchGoing Population in the US, over a period of years? If we knew that we might be able to see what the TEC "share" of those larger populations is, and if that share has changed markedly. The raw stats, though they attest to decline, seem to me to be singularly uninformative in addressing the cause of decline, and if the decline is due to a wider movement in the public rather than to something we in TEC are doing or failing to do.

The real reality must have context: context is reality. What I really long for is a Hans Rosling TED-style analysis. Anyone out there skilled in that area; it would be a lot more helpful than tables without relationship to a bigger picture.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 30, 2012

Charles, then and now

The following is my address to the 2002 Convention of the Diocese of New York in support of adding King Charles to the Calendar. Portions of it seem oddly timely, so I dig it out in honor of the day. By the way, the motion passed overwhelmingly, but did not make it through the next General Convention.

It feels odd for me, as a lifelong democrat, to be urging support for including King Charles I on the Church Calendar. I have no interest in the divine right of kings.

But it would be unfair for me to criticize Charles for supporting the monarchy. He was, after all, a monarch, one who took his office seriously, believing God had given him a divine responsibility to serve his subjects.

What is important to me, as a member of an Anglican Religious Community, is that Charles supported the first such community, and protected Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding against Purtian attacks. When Charles visited that community and saw their first English Harmony of the Gospels he was so moved by it, that he commissioned a harmony of the Books of Kings and Chronicles, so that he might better study the biblical record of the kings who ruled God’s people.

As kings go, Charles was well-meaning, but unsuccessful. And it would be a mistake to think that those who brought him down were democrats with the people’s needs at heart. On the contrary, Charles’ defense of poor farmers alienated the squires who sought to enclose and strip the land. His insistence on raising the wages of textile workers offended the cloth merchants. Military failures turned the army against him so that they twice staged coups to purge Parliament of his supporters. And Archbishop Laud’s untempered enforcement of the Prayer Book gained the ire of the religious extremists who wanted neither bishops, nor religious communities, nor Prayer Book, nor no not Christmas nor Easter neither! These weren’t Enlightenment Protestants, but religious fanatics who wanted nothing but a theocratic police state in which no one would be free from the dictatorship of the pure and the elect. If you want to know what Charles was up against, you need look no further than the Salem Witch Trials.

Charles is relevant to us today, when power brokers call for “small government,” not out of interest for the poor, but so they can profit through deregulation; when military strongmen join religious extremists to threaten the good of society, and the peace of the world.

Not that Charles was perfect. He was as flawed as any saint on the Calendar, the BVM excepted, of course. But in the day of decision, he stood for something — not only as a lay leader defending the episcopate, or as a pious Christian defending the Prayer Book, but in witness to a whole religious way of life, a way we call Anglicanism.

I urge you to vote to encourage the Episcopal Church to join our sister churches in the Anglican Communion who already commemorate Charles, not for his monarchy but for his fidelity and courage unto death in defense of the Anglican vision of the Christian faith and life.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 29, 2012

More on Doll's Paper

Another thought struck me this morning concerning Peter Doll's essay in support of the proposed Anglican Covenant. Yesterday I read Lionel Deimel's exhaustive response to Doll's paper, and I commend him for his endurance and effort, though he reminds me that the danger in such thorough fisking is that one is drawn into the largely fantastic tar-pit, and the simple wrongness of the thesis is lost in the multitudinous wreaths of assertion piled on high. It is helpful that Lionel calls him on a few factual errors, but these tend to be lost in the shuffle of vague assertional legerdemain.

For the simple fact is that Doll's paper rests on faulty premises leading towards a predetermined conclusion. It makes basic confusions of concepts: speaking of unity when he means uniformity, or of "communion" when he means "institutionalism." He appears not to recall that Anglicanism has historically rejected conciliarism as the means to settling disagreements, preferring a balanced comprehensiveness-in-autonomy that has been a characteristic mark of Anglicanism since the Articles of Religion and the Elizabethan Settlement..

In the long run, for all the high-falutin' language, the Anglican Covenant holds conformity to peer pressure as both the highest value and sole indicator of "communion." It is, thus, suited for an adolescent body, but not for self-differentiated adults. Perhaps the reality is that much of the Anglican Communion is not prepared to live in the adult Christian world where difference of opinion — even on important matters — does not and cannot sever the robust reality of communion in Christ. Perhaps much of the Anglican Commuion is frozen in the realm of middle-school "conformity to the in-group or exile" model of fellowship. But I know which of these models is the actual strength of Anglican Christianity, and the one of which I hope to remain a part.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

UPDATE: an additional thought.
To use an analogy, Doll is like someone for whom the essence of matrimony lies in the wife's vow to obey her husband; all the rest is beside the point in that view. Needless to say, this is an inadequate understanding of a responsible adult relationship: one of the reasons that particular vow has dropped from the liturgy! (Even in England — though it is still there as an option in the "Series One" liturgy — so this is not another surmised American thang.)

January 28, 2012

That Choice of Lifestyle

It is a lifestyle choice, built around a set of behaviors and practices. As such it is a self-constructed "identity."

There is no evidence that it is genetic or biological in origin, and it appears to be almost entirely due to nurture rather than nature. The fact that it may run in families is a result of context, not biology.

Because their behavior is not inherited and does not arise spontaneously, they have to recruit to maintain their existence, and are particularly focused on the young, the elderly, and the economically vulnerable.

It causes dissension and division in families, undermines the good order of society, and has been the cause of societal collapse. Nearly every past fallen civilization was riddled with this practice.

It has often been criminalized or otherwise discouraged or controlled by many governments.

In spite of efforts to suppress it, it often flourishes in a shadowy, underground world on the edges of society. They communicate with each other with symbols and code language, forms of dress, or mannerisms. They gather regularly in groups to share in its practice.
Some are bold enough to flaunt the behavior in public.
In spite of it being a self-generated identity based on entirely optional personal behaviors, they insist it be granted special protection as a "right" and even portray it as a "natural" right.
Many of them are active in the media and entertainment industry, and exercise disproportionate influence on the culture.
They form a particularly powerful "special interest group" and lobby extensively in support of their "agenda." Once they achieve a degree of power they usually become intolerant of all who disagree with them.

In case you haven't guessed by now, it is religion.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG 
in a satirical vein

York Preaches to the Choir

Archbishop of York John Sentamu is wagging a primatial finger at Prime Minister David Cameron from the relatively safe and supportive context of Jamaica, know for its robust defense of all that is good and holy.

In his statement, the Archbishop reveals himself to be almost completely innocent of familiarity with sacred and secular history, and the rudiments of political science. Most importantly, he seems not to be aware that marriage is not a Christian invention, nor are Christians the only ones with a right to determine who may or may not marry, or how, or for how long — though, to be fair, the Church of England itself has shown remarkable adaptability in changing its own rules to accommodate folks down through the years.

Ultimately, the notion that the state is dictating to the society represents an ironic example of failing to recognize ones own visage in the glass. Sentamu wants the Church of England to be able to dictate to the civil society on a subject which only partially concerns it. The idea that the State will insist that any church perform same-sex marriages is absurd, particularly when every effort has been made to clarify just the opposite.

Scare tactics, red herrings and straw men: The Church of England welcomes you!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Update: A full transcript of the Archbishop's interview is now available. Although it casts some of his more offensive comments in a kindlier context, those comments themselves remain problematical as examples of circular and/or definitional reasoning: i.e., marriage is between a man and a woman because that's what marriage is; and, the state shouldn't get involved in such things because it isn't the state's business.

January 27, 2012

Doll on the Covenant

Jonathan Clatworthy has penned a rebuttal to Peter Doll's essay in support of the Anglican Covenant. Doll's paper relies a great deal on a supposed American ethos that is clearly recognizable as an eccleiastical cousin of the “Ugly American.” Doll draws heavily on the early days of the foundation of the Episcopal Church and its revised Prayerbook, as if the rationalism of the Enlightenment was an American invention that passed the English by! He also engages in the sort of circular reasoning in favor of the Covenant to which we all have become accustomed: we should do this because we must do this because it is best we do this. He entirely begs the question that a "closer union" is in fact a good thing, and seems not to know that the root of the word federation is foedus, foederis — the Latin for Covenant — while calling for more submission to the group-mind of the Communion.

For me the greatest irony in Doll’s essay is the amount of projection it reveals: the urge for empire and control and subordination that he says America wants for the Communion is actually what the Covenant proposers want for themselves: in short they do not want a fellowship of autonomous churches, but a Federation in the legal sense, bound by a Covenant pledging submission by each to all.

Doll even quotes the misused maxim, "What touches all" — missing the point (as has been missed since Windsor) that it was designed to protect the rights of the minority, not insist upon their submission to the majority. As with so much else, Doll has it precisely backwards.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

UPDATE: See also, More on Doll's Paper

January 26, 2012

Thought for 1.26.12

Why do Defense of Marriage people insist on a zero-sum game? There is enough marriage to go around, as the supply is increased by every couple who wish to make use of it.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 24, 2012

Monstruous Regiment Redivivus

Andrew Brown writes in the Guardian concerning the various schemes proposed to answer the famous riddle, When is a bishop not a bishop? with the obvious answer, When the bishop is a woman! Above all, it seems, the beliefs of some must be protected at all costs, even if it means creating structures of virtual non-episcopacy within the episcopate. Those who do not accept either the reality or even the possibility of women in orders of any kind (except possibly the diaconate — and definitely not the episcopate) must be insulated from any challenge to those beliefs. The schemes themselves may not go far enough to please the most fervently opposed, who do not wish a woman bishop even to delegate authority to a “safe” male bishop, since the very act of delegation offers a tip of the biretta in acknowledgement of her office.

I am reminded about houses divided against themselves. I see the irony of simultaneously arguing on one hand that gays can't be bishops because they can not serve as a focus for unity, and on the other hand that a scheme should be enforced whereby women ought to serve in precisely that unfocused, double-vision office of divided disloyalties. And I marvel at the extent to which some think it is salutary to believe impossible things before breakfast, as the White Queen suggested, or would have done, if women were allowed to function in such a capacity.*

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
*The first blast of the trumpet against the monstruous regiment of women, by John Knox, was directed against female monarchs.

January 21, 2012

A Note on John 4

The story of the Samaritan woman in the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel has formed a part of the readings at Evening Prayer this week. This has led me to reflect once again on that curious middle: the question of the woman’s husbands. I don’t have time for an extended essay but want to flag a thought to which I might return later for elaboration.

I have long felt that when Jesus says, “The one you have now is not your man,” he is referring to himself. I checked a number of commentaries on John’s Gospel and discovered that my view may be a novel one — and yet it seems rather obvious to me. First to the commentaries, then to my sense of things — again very briefly.

Most of the commentaries put the focus of this section of the encounter on the woman and her moral status. Arguments are raised as to whether the rabbinic “three husband rule” applied to Samaritans — or even if it was a rule. Allegorical interpretations also come to play: reflective of a supposed pantheon of five Samaritan deities — the sixth being the God of Israel imperfectly accepted. Even further afield an allegory of the five senses as opposed to the sixth sense of the Spirit has been suggested.

All of this seems rather far from what appears to me to be going on in this encounter. First of all, this is John’s Gospel — an intense theological work rather than a mere historical record. In addition, certain key words and phrases with emphatic meanings in John’s language show up in the passage in question — not just in the part about the husbands, but throughout the pericope. Crucial among these words is one used by Jesus in his response to the woman: Now.

Second, the whole passage is about Jesus — note how he keeps turning the conversation back to himself. In a way it reminds me of the joke about the actor at the cocktail party, who after going on and on about himself, finally says to his host, “But enough about me. What did you think of my performance?” On this ground alone a detour-with-badinage into the woman’s marital life seems quite beside the point if in the end it does not turn back to Jesus — as do the surrounding passages that make up this dominical sandwich.

In the first case Jesus asks for water but then displays himself as the source from which a living spring will well up to eternal life. In the third case the issue about where to worship is settled by a pointed now (again, the hour coming and here), and in the person of Jesus the Messiah. In between is this seemingly off-topic persiflage about “her man.” Why would Jesus ask for her man if she didn’t have one — as she says she doesn’t. (The ambiguity is exacerbated for us because the passage does not use a distinctive word for husband; it would seem that if she was living with a man, he would be, well, her man even if not her husband, if such a distinction could even be made.) And so the one she “has now” is Jesus — right then and there by the well of Jacob — and he isn’t “her man” because she has not grasped him for Who He Is, or accepted him as He Who Is... yet.

So, in each section of this short three-act play, the focus begins with the woman and her concerns but turns back to Jesus. This triple construction is not at all foreign to the Johannine way of thinking or constructing (e.g. Way, Truth, Life), and the whole incident fits in well with, and has echoes of, the other encounters in which Jesus reveals his true identity to people who do not seem at first to grasp what is being revealed to them — in particular in contrast to the Baptist, who does recognize and testify. Note the dialogue with Nicodemus in the preceding chapter; and also more significantly the verbatim resonance of the woman’s “Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob?” with the later “Are your greater than our father Abraham?” — which leads in the end to another of the great “I Am” proclamations. John 8:53,58).

In short, then, I think it misses the point to read this passage as about the woman’s marital history, and obscures the reason Jesus raised the question in the first place: as a way to point her back to himself. Which is, as I remind us, the stated purpose of John’s Gospel. (20:31)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 18, 2012

Equus ex machina

a brief comment on Stephen Spielberg’s War Horse

I saw the film this afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed it, blubbering helplessly a couple of times, in spite of the sheer unbelievableness of it all. A miraculous horse indeed to survive the horrors wrought by humanity and emerge with its equinity intact. Horses such as this are clearly more humane than most humans.

This is a refreshingly old-fashioned film, the progress of its episodic story unimpeded by the presence of mega-star actors. A few faces were familiar enough to invoke recognition without being distracting, and there are fine moments all around. The message is simple, and obvious, and though the denouement is utterly predictable, when the whistle blew it struck a note so right that I dissolved. The catharsis was salutary and timely, as the recent state of affairs in church and world and politics has gotten me right depressed. It was very good to let go of these frustrations when faced with simple goodness, even if idealized and fantastic.

There aren't too many films about the “Great War” but this one will rank equal in value but at the sentimental end of the shelf opposite such brutal classics as Paths of Glory and Johnny Got His Gun. War Horse has its brutal moments, but is bouyed aloft with a sentiment of innocent, and perhaps therefore all the more poignant, hope.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Thought for 1.18.12

Why is it that gays and lesbians get blamed for starting the slippery slope towards loose sexual morals, but it is the heterosexuals who merrily ride down the slide of premarital or casual sex, serial monogamy, and easy divorce and remarriage, while the gays and lesbians are stuck immobile at the top of the ride, if they are even allowed to climb the ladder?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King jr

Although the feast of Martin Luther King jr falls on the day of his "heavenly birthday" — that is, the day of his death — it seems that the people of God are choosing to follow the secular practice, and many churches observe him on his birthday, January 15, or the Monday designated as a holiday. This morning, the parishes of the Bronx gathered at Church of the Mediator and celebrated the life and ministry of Dr King, with a fine sermon by Archdeacon Parnell, and the opportunity for Bishop Coadjutor-Elect Dietsche to celebrate. It was an uplifting and joyous celebration, and the offering will support the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Scholarship Fund of the Bronx Council.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
ikon by TSH

January 10, 2012

Good Intentions

Archbishop Thabo of Southern Africa has issued a supportive response to Archbishop Rowan's recent Advent Letter urging adoption of the Proposed Anglican Covenant. He suggests we look past the present dissension over sexuality and look to possible future disagreements, and the Covenant's possible tole in keeping the peace, as all of the members of the Communion vow to remain mutually submissive.

Sadly, this continues several of the themes purveyed by those who see the Covenant as a benign or helpful document. To them I commend a careful rereading of Section 4.2, which places into the hands of the Standing Committee the capacity to commend what amounts to the essential dissolution of the Anglican Communion, or at the very least the expulstion from it of any member whose behavior is judged "incompatible." I am not making this up. It is, of course, quite true that there are already mechanisms in place to do this, at least insofar as the Instruments are concerned; that is, the Archbishop of Canterbury sets the table and arranges the placecards at both Lambeth and the Primates' Meeting, and the ACC is capable of amending its charter of membership with the cooperation of the Primates. But up until now we have not had a Damocletian Clause hanging over the Communion, and section 4.2 of the PAC places this threatening weapon over all our heads, suspended only by the narrow thread of good intentions.

As I've written before, even were it not for the punitive mechanisms laid out in the PAC under the Newspeak terminology of "relational consequences," there is something deeply wrong about the notion of mutual submission. The main problem with this idea is that it consists in practice of submission of the few, or the one, to the many. In this it stifles the Holy Spirit, which does not suddenly inspire everyone everywhere with the same insight, but always starts locally, often individually, and then spreads like the good infection it is. This is a reflection of the Incarnation itself. The PAC represents a kind of diffuse gnosticism of goodwill, which in operation will mean the submission of any new insight to the judgment of the old and possibly calcified views of a majority. It will convert the Communion into a Sanhedrin or Bet Din, the wisest of whose members will at best be able to say, Let us wait and see; and in the meantime, the decision of the body will prevail: to let these innovators be disciplined -- or crucified.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 9, 2012

Jesus and the Law

It is sometimes said — I think I’ve said it myself in the past — that Jesus extends the scope of the Law in his moral teaching. An early morning train of thought leads me to want to revisit this concept. Jesus does not expand on the Law, in the manner of the Rabbis; he deepens it by finding the moral foundational spirit behind and under the letter.

To contrast the two: the Rabbis, in the interest of “putting a fence around the Torah,” enacted protective measures that helped ensure that the Law would not be broken. For example, though the Law requires that a kid not be boiled in its mother’s milk, the Rabbis, in order to prevent that possibility, ordained that no meat or milk should be prepared or eaten together; this later came to mean separate sets of cooking and serving ware for meat and dairy, and rules about the amount of time that had to pass before an item from the other food group could be consumed.

Jesus, on the other hand, doesn’t deal with such fine points of corollary laws and regulations, but literally cuts to the heart of the matter. In response to the law that says “Do not kill,” Jesus advises, “Do not hate.” In response to the law that says, “Do not commit adultery,” Jesus advises men not to look with lust at another’s wife, committing adultery in the heart.

Ultimately Jesus doesn’t just amplify the Law, he reorients it inwardly, moving it from legality to morality. He declares to be immoral things that are strictly legal (such as hatred or lust), and holds as moral things that are technically illegal (such as breaking the Sabbath to do good).

The irony is that many in our own time take the path of refined and insistent literal legality rather than looking to the heart of a generous and self-giving and spirit-filled morality.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 5, 2012

Thought for 1.5.12

Love is the bridle to authority and the spur to obedience.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG