June 27, 2012

Stations of a Different Cross

V. Her tears run down her cheeks.
R. And she has none to comfort her.
from the 13th Station

I visited the 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan today, set on the footprint of the fallen towers. I'd not been there since the time I spent as a volunteer chaplain at St Paul's Chapel. The memorial is profoundly moving, in an appropriately secular way. But I could not help but think that this monument will serve as a kind of civic Way of the Cross to memorialize a great tragedy that befell this city, and the fields of Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon. Grief washes down into those dark shadowed pits, as the old Anglo-Saxon lament put it, "under night-helm." This morning's Hebrew Scripture reading at Morning Prayer told of the reaction of the people to the punishment of Dathan, Abiram and Korah, when they and their families went alive down into Sheol. Anger is not the best response to wrong, even great wrong. Anger continues to wound. Grief can heal.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 25, 2012

Sex and Civilization

In spite of the efforts of some to insist that heterosexual marriage is the cornerstone of civilization, people of the same sex, committed to each other for life, and very often with the blessing of the church, have also made significant contributions to civilization. I’m referring, in case you haven’t guessed, to the religious orders. Renouncing procreation, these monosexual bands of committed persons saw the West through the rough times of the dark ages, preserved the wisdom of the past in their libraries and scriptoria, and in their industriousness — and I’m thinking in particular of the Cistercians here — moved into unsettled frontier territory and established outposts that would form the core of new cities.

I was reminded of this by a radio interview this morning with the monastic casket makers in Louisiana who are fighting the funeral lobby to be allowed to manufacture simple wooden caskets. I wish them well in their efforts to persevere.

Now, some might say, well this is a silly issue. No one would suggest that monastic life was morally questionable simply because it is monosexual. To even bring it up in the same breath as same-sex marriage is unthinkable.

Well, think again, or for the first time. For no one less than the venerable Karl Barth, in his tirade against same-sexuality and idolization of heterosexuality, did precisely that. Clearly he was operating out of his own homophobia, and not a small amount of Reformed Protestant anti-Romanism, but here is what he said:

Everything which points in the direction of male or female seclusion, or of religious or secular orders or communities... is obviously disobedience. All due respect to the comradeship of a company of soldiers! But neither men nor women can seriously wish to be alone, as in clubs and ladies’ circles. Who commands or permits them to run away from each other? That such an attitude is all wrong is shown symptomatically in the fact that every artificially induced and maintained isolation of the sexes tends as such — usually very quickly and certainly morosely and blindly — to become philistinish in the case of men and precious in that of women, and in both cases more or less inhuman. It is well to pay heed even to the first steps in this direction. (Church Dogmatics III/4)

Here is the ripe fullness of complacent and self-satisfied bigotry, ad hominem assertions, largely baseless, including the tendency specifically to “dehumanize.” It is good to know that late in life Barth eventually rethought some of this — too late to pen a full retraction, but only to express regret both for what he said and the lack of time to correct it.

Moral: Better to avoid offense than to need express regret.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Storms and Structure

First, an observation on yesterday’s Gospel: the disciples rock the boat as much as the storm and they forget that Jesus’ presence with them, even sleeping, should be a blessed assurance through the storm and the night.

Second, application: it seems to me that a kind of manic panic has set in at the governing level of our church. From an Executive Council that doesn’t have the time to discuss important issues and frame a coherent budget, to battling proposals that seem more intent on the deck chair arrangement than on the reported mishap down below -- or is it on the bridge? -- and focus only on what is happening at 815 or GC sessions instead of the life of the church in its growing edges and root-tips; we seem to forget that though the church is not immune to the realities of politics and polity, that is not its primary goal or mode of living and working.

So my appeal, brothers and sisters, is that of Jesus, “Peace, be still.” Most importantly, can we focus on actual proposals and legislation free from any attributions of motive or power-play, and judge them on their merits? Could we take a breath , count to ten, and refocus our attention from the ad hominem to the substance of the tasks actually at hand, with less of a sense of urgency and panic and apocalyptic? Think for a moment about just how much the decisions on the budget, and the resolutions of General Convention will touch your parish, or your ministry, for good or ill. Stop trying to solve all the problems and save the world. Jesus did that already. He is asleep in the stern. We can do our part to assist in that ministry and mission, but our efficiency at that task is seriously encumbered by panic and busyness that accomplishes little work. Can we begin by trusting each other rather than assuming the worst? Can we approach our work as colleagues rather than as adversaries?

On the other hand...

I think we are right not to trust “the institution.” It is in the institution that the powers and principalities lurk — as the late, great Walter Wink reminded us. Whatever ill lies in human hearts — even the ill that persuades us its intentions are good — is amplified by the institution.

My suggestion is that we trust each other, or at the very least start from a position of assuming good intentions. And even at that, I think the wise words, “Trust, but verify,” ring true. I by no means intend that we should curtail the debate — just that we should be debating the actual issues, not the personalities or alleged agendas of those who advance one position or another.

That being said, there are the practical problems of our system, and this is where some restructuring is in order. I’ve been around long enough to remember when Executive Council was blind-sided and manipulated in the financial area much to our corporate detriment.

So I think another wise saying is apposite: Measure twice, cut once. We seem instead to have a proliferation of budget cuts being proposed, but some very dicey measurements on which to base them, particularly on the income side. I would not want to live in a house constructed on such a regimen.

One of my concerns is that the Executive Council has too many committees that seem to me to duplicate the work of a number of the standing committees and commissions of the church. This takes them away from their principal work, which I regard as being the Board of Directors of the corporation arm of The Episcopal Church. As a practical matter, as I look at restructuring, this is an area ripe for change. This goes against the proposal to do away with the other committees and commissions or trim them back and let Executive Council do more. I think that is a mistake. I’d be very happy to see the Executive Council focus on administration and let the other busy bodies concentrate more on Mission and Ministry issues. It seems to me that’s what a wise Board of Directors would do.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 23, 2012

On the Eve of John the Baptist in Pride Month

There is a poignancy in celebrating the feast of John the Baptist in "Pride Month." John is clearly an example of the proper kind of pride — the kind that stands up for the right, not based on his own being who he is but because of whose he is.

Our theosis is the reason for Christ's kenosis, the response to his versicle, our filling up and raising up by his emptying out and condescension. We are baptized with him in a death like his, which makes us "worthy to stand" in God's presence and live a life like his, living, in fact, with his life — for there is, in the end, no other life. This is the "pride" of deep engagement with who you are in the world as it is, our little share of the great I AM, shared with us adopted orphans, fostered into the Father's care by our Brother's gift of himself. The thought is ironically humbling, but I think that's the point. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, and even more fearfully and wonderfully redeemed.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 19, 2012

Impeded Marriages

For those who have difficulty grasping the difference between civil and church marriage in the U.K. Government's presentation on same-sex marriage, it is helpful perhaps to frame the divorce question in the terms in which it is applied to marriage.

"Being unmarried" (whether by virtue of never having been married, or through widowhood, an annulment or legal divorce, is a  "necessary condition" for each party entering into a legal marriage. Up until this point in the U.K., so has the mixed gender of the couple — though this interestingly enough is a quality not of each member of the couple but of the couple as couple.

That being said, the Church makes distinctions concerning which divorces it recognizes -- if, as in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, it recognizes them at all. There is no legal difference between marriages officiated by the state or the church; but there are some marriages the church will not recognize that the state will, on the grounds of other living spouses.

That is the difference the Government is attempting to point to, and it seems obvious that the church's legitimate choice to refuse to recognize some marriages does in fact create or reify this difference.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

UPDATE; It seems part of the English confusion lies in the fact that marriage can mean both a rite and an estate.

The issue for the church is in solemnizing marriages of which it might not approve; and the church is at present free to refuse to solemnize some marriages that can be solemnized under the civil law, as in the case of divorced person, where the church has discretion to refuse to solemnize the marriage.

As far as I know the legal status of “being married” does not confer any ecclesiastical rights or entail any responsibilities. The church therefore has no interest in distinguishing between a married or an unmarried couple; or married or unmarried individuals; I think we are long past the days when a person who was divorced and had a civil marriage might risk excommunication as scandalous to the community. It is only the rite of marriage that is at issue.

So the confusion here seems to be the use of marriage both for the estate and the rite. It is the rite that is at issue for the church. The civil law proposed is affirming that the church will not have to make the rite available to couples it deems incapable of marriage — just as it does now with [some] divorced persons.

Civil and church marriage will still have the same legal statue, as an estate, but the church can and will be able to reject some couples as unmarriageble under its rites. There is no separate "species" or estates of marriage, but there are civil marriage ceremonies and church marriage ceremonies, and some people eligible for the former are, and will be (likely for some time)  ineligible for the latter, on objective and legally cognizable grounds.


June 15, 2012

Further on the Rejected Marriage Proposal

I commented below on the Church of England's response to the Government's proposal for marriage equality. I neglected to note that among the many flaws in the C of E document (sorry Church Times, you too are wrong on this, in your otherwise eloquent debunking of the church statement) is the assertion that there is no difference between church and secular marriage. I can point to any number of books on my shelf of books on marriage and matrimonial institutions that show the teaching of the Christian church at least until recent times as declaring that the marriage of non-Christians is not "marriage" at all — or at least not Christian marriage. How could it be?! Scripture also shows, in Paul's permission to married non-Christians to divorce, that he regarded pagan or secular marriage as distinctly different from the marriage of Christiana. All this aside from those churches that teach that the nuptial blessing, or the church's role, is an essential part of what makes a marriage a marriage in the fullest sense.

Any effort to create a single all-encompassing definition of marriage cannot be successful without significant qualification and many words, e.g., "one man and one woman, unrelated by blood or affinity, of the age of consent, with consent freely given, with no other living (or in some traditions, dead) spouse, etc., etc." Marriage is, in short, far more complex than a simple formula can compass. That's why I have a half-shelf of books on the subject!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
with another tip of the biretta to Thinking Anglicans

June 12, 2012

Church of England Disses Marriage Proposals

The Church of England has issued a statement in response to the British Government proposal to recognize same-sex marriage. The document is a particularly disappointing rehash of the same defective anthropology and circular reasoning to which we have become accustomed on this issue. For example, the paper asserts:

Such a move would alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as enshrined in human institutions throughout history. Marriage benefits society in many ways, not only by promoting mutuality and fidelity, but also by acknowledging an underlying biological complementarity which, for many, includes the possibility of procreation.
The authors hammer away on the alleged "complementarity" of the sexes as a necessary component of marriage without apparently recognizing either the circular nature of that argument or the dangerous tendency towards Christological heresy inherent in its anthropology. The circular nature of the argument is: “Marriage can only take place between a man and a woman because only a man and a woman are of different sexes.” This is, of course, merely restating the premise. The more dangerous, and heretical, trend of this argument lies in the suggestion that the sex difference implies a different order of being for men and women. This is known as sexism, and it undercuts the orthodox doctrine of the incarnation. One would think the church might be more sensitive to that issue, though one wonders how many English bishops actually believe the doctrine.

The other problem, of course, lies in the mistaken assertion(s) of intrinsic universality -- if, even, universality of something means it is either necessary or good. However, in this short paragraph alone there are several imputations of universality that do not bear up. Polygamous, polyandrous, and group marriages have existed in various cultures down through history, so the assertion of an intrinsic natural monogamy will not stand. The utilitarian approach — asserting some social benefit on the basis of the complementarity of the sexes — also will not stand. Even if there were a real complementarity to the sexes, it is not evident how that in itself benefits society. To take the more obvious reality of procreation, surely that is a mixed benefit to society, as an excess of it can have negative consequences on a society. Nor is procreation intrinsically connected with marriage, but rather with biology. Procreation outside of marriage, and marriage without progeny both exist as relatively common realities. There is no intrinsic connection. The paper is trying to argue that their “should” derives from an “is” — and the “is” is not true in this case. The real assertion here is that it is best that procreation take place within marriage. That is, at least, an arguable point, but it has no bearing on the question of same-sex marriage, any more than it has on an infertile marriage. But procreation in itself is not a virtue, even if procreation within marriage is. Mutuality and fidelity, as virtues, are at least recognizable as such, but are also shared by all good marriages, same- and mixed-sex. Arguing from universals that are not universal makes little sense: look instead for virtue where it actually exists.

The paper also includes this statement:
We also believe that imposing for essentially ideological reasons a new meaning on a term as familiar and fundamental as marriage would be deeply unwise.
Well, my position is that imposing for essentially ideological reasons an old meaning on a term as familiar and fundamental as marriage would be deeply unwise.

There is an old saying that one who marries the spirit of the age will soon be a widower. The fact that the Church of England was wed to the spirit of a past age, and is now a widower to it, is becoming apparent. Age is no certification of rightness or goodness. Theses must be tested by their consistency with reality, not on the basis of an ideology that can find no better argument than the continued hammering on the same self-ratifying premise.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/t Thinking Anglican

June 11, 2012

Thought for 06.11.12

The argument that the physical embodiment of the sexes is morally determinative for marriage is identical in form and substance to the argument that the physical embodiment of the races is morally determinative for slavery.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 6, 2012

Prospero’s Island: Fantasy for Orchestra

Images from the 1976 National Parks Service production of The Tempest, outdoors on tour of the parks in the DC area, including battlefields and the Ellipse opposite the White House. The accompanying music is a composition I wrote in the late 70s, realized here by our friends at Garritan. The cast of the play included Tony Tanner (Prospero), who also directed, myself as Ariel (complete with peach jumpsuit), Sara Rice as Miranda, Richard Niles as her love interest, Richard Lupino as the tipsy mariner, and Jon Polito as Caliban. It was an interesting summer of '76!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 4, 2012

Resource on Baptism and Eucharist

Water, Bread and Wine is a collection of essays designed to promote conversation about the relationship between the two great "Sacraments of the Gospel" — including their sequence. I contributed to the collection, as did a number of friends and colleagues from the wider church. Each essay is followed by a series of discussion questions.

As a point of full disclosure, I have to admit I've not read all of the essays in the collection yet, as I've not received my copy. But I know there are sound and persuasive voices here, and I think I can say that the modest cost of the volume will be well worth the expense in terms of insight and reflection.

This seems to be my year for essays!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 3, 2012