March 31, 2013

Putting Things In Order

Christ came among us to put us back in our proper place...

Easter 2013 • SJF • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order.

When our cat Augusta Victoria died last year Brother James and I took our time before we sought a replacement. Finally after some months I looked at the website of a local animal shelter and the picture of one of the cats available for adoption spoke to me. (He said, Meow.) When we went to the shelter the cat himself was most insistent that he be adopted. There is an old saying that you don’t choose a cat but a cat chooses you, and this was very much the case: as he came right up to me and looked me in the eyes through the mesh of the separating screen. And so Sir Bootz Paddington found a new home.

His predecessor Augusta Victoria, as her name would suggest, had been a rather regal and restrained lady, particularly in her later years, and I’m afraid we had forgotten just how energetic a young cat can be, and so Sir Bootz not only found a new home but has very quickly made it his own. There is another old saying that “to cats all the world belongs to cats.” And one of the things that cats believe is that everything high should be brought low. (Perhaps all cats are inspired by the prophet Isaiah!) Placemats, paperweights, coasters and silverware belong not on dinner tables but on the floor. Towels belong not on the towel-rack, but on the floor. Magazines do not belong on an end or coffee table, but on the floor. Seat cushions belong not on chairs — but where? — on the floor. After all, the floor, like everything else, belongs to the cat, and it is his natural habitat. What appears to be dis-order to us is completely orderly to the cat.

+ + +

Human beings, in the long run, are often no more in accord with the will of God than with the world-view of the cat. In fact, we human beings had gotten ourselves completely out of order with the will of God — to the extent that God himself had to come among us as one of us to put things back in order. This is what Christ was doing in the incarnation; in his birth, life, suffering, death and — as we observe today — his resurrection. God in Christ came down to our level — a level which we sometimes need to be reminded does not actually belong to us any more than the floor belongs to the cat. (Don’t tell the cat! And if you did tell him, he’d just give you a blank stare anyway, and say, O.K., sure, I know what’s mine...)

Christ Jesus came to put things back in order, to restore things from the disorder into which our ancient ancestor Adam had disturbed and disrupted things — introducing disorder into God’s orderly world. And God did this by coming among us as a human being, in a very orderly response to the disorder: for, as Saint Paul assures us, since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead would also come through a human being.

Now, this is a point on which we need to be very clear — as it sometimes gets a bit confused. I have heard people describe the incarnation — Christ’s coming among us — almost like one of those old stories about a king who wants to discover what his subjects really think of him, by going about among them disguised as an ordinary person. And it is true that Jesus Christ came among us as an ordinary person — but this was absolutely not a disguise. There was no pretense or deception, or mere appearance of being human. Jesus Christ was a human being — a man who lived in the Middle East some 2000 years ago, who exercised a ministry, fell afoul of the authorities, was condemned to death and executed — dead and buried. He was a man.

But he was also God — not just a very good man looked upon favorably by God, — and adopted by God as I might adopt a cat — but God himself, fully divine at the same time he was fully human.

And this addresses the second fallacy of this wrong thinking: God did not need to come among us, like a king disguised among his people, to find out how badly we had gotten things wrong, to find out what we really thought about God. God was only too well aware of just how badly off track we had gone, and the questions posed by God to Adam and Eve about whether they had eaten of the forbidden fruit were purely rhetorical. God knew exactly how far humanity had fallen from the place where God had placed them.

+ + +

And it is because Jesus is one person with two natures, human and divine, that he is able to reconcile and repair the disorder that Adam introduced, when he and his wife took and ate of the fruit of the tree that had been forbidden, in their misguided effort to be like God. The tragedy is that they already were like God — they had been made in God’s image, after God’s likeness. If they had resisted the temptation to grab at what in due course God would have given them when they had grown to greater maturity, they would have reached the perfection which otherwise had to await the coming of the perfectly obedient son of God, born as a human being, to share the fate that human beings earned through the fall of their ancient ancestors, but to redeem that fall and put humanity back in order.

And thus the great disorder of death was dealt with once and for all. And from the cat’s perspective — at last — this was done exactly as any cat would do, by putting all things under his feet. Jesus triumphed over that old enemy, death itself.

+ + +

And yet, as we look around us, don’t we see that there is plenty of disorder in the world; that although Jesus Christ defeated death on Calvary, people still die? Surely they do, and we know that very well. God help us, though, if we stop at that; if, as Saint Paul observed, “for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” If all there is, in other words, is this life followed by death and the grave; if there is no resurrection of the dead, no hope of the life to come, then we have wasted an awful lot of time and energy. But as Saint Paul said, “In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead.” When the women went to the tomb that morning long ago, the angels assured them that the living one was not to be found among the dead, but that he was risen. And as Peter said to Cornelius and his household, “God raised him on the third day and allowed him to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

That, my friends, is the unanimous testimony of Scripture, words from long ago. But there is other testimony closer to us — as close as our hearts, if we will listen to God speaking in them and through them, assuring us that death is not the end. Death is simply part of the disorder that God put right in Jesus Christ. We will all still die — we will see, many of us, our parents, our friends, sometimes even our children, pass beneath the shadow of death. Some of us have already seen these things. But those of us who trust in God rely on the assurance of things not seen — of the hope of the resurrection, the restoration of order where all things were disorder, the lifting up of that which has fallen down, the raising up of that which had been buried.

Although the cat might like to see all things brought down to his level, God will raise up all that has been brought low. Our Lord Jesus Christ stooped to pick us up from where we had fallen, and will do so again, and again, with each death, new life will come one day, on the great day of resurrection, when the trumpet sounds and we are raised incorruptible, restored to the likeness we once shared with God himself in Jesus Christ. To God be the glory henceforth and forever more. Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.

March 30, 2013

Risen to Reign

I needed a pick-me-up, so I'm posting this setting of Isaac Watts’ great hymn, in an arrangement of the tune Duke Street by yours truly, sung at a Brotherhood eucharistic celebration by the Brotherhood Schola under my direction, in 1994 — at a BSG profession liturgy at Graymoor, Garrison NY. Thanks, my Brothers!

Alleluia, Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

MP3 File

March 27, 2013

Query for 03.27.13

Why do so many of the opponents of marriage equality dabble in social science fiction?


March 26, 2013

Marriage, Not!

Pardon me if this is getting repetitious, but...

Marriage is not a religious institution. It is a human institution, existing in many cultures, some of them religious, some not, and many of them in forms that are contradictory to others. Marriage comes in many shapes and sizes, and even within some religious traditions you can find various forms at various times, and sometimes at the same time. There are religions that restrict marriage only to members of the same religion, and others that don't seem to care. There was a time not too long ago even in this land of liberty that people could not marry in some places if they were of different races. There are marriages that are not religious at all, including some of those that take place in churches and synagogues. There are religions that think only their form of marriage is real, and others fully comfortable with recognizing the civil form.

Furthermore, for the word curmudgeons who insist that marriage can only mean one thing, i.e., one man and one woman for life: There are marriages of convenience, marriages in haste, marriages soon ended by divorce. There are bigamous marriages, plural marriages, loveless marriages, Josephite marriages (look it up!), Levirate marriages and same-sex marriages. There are marriages of high-boys and low-boys, marriages of true minds, and marriages of pairs of socks.

It is not helpful when a false simplicity is alleged in place of the rich variety of reality.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 25, 2013

Holy Week, Holy Women, Holy Men

By long custom the observance of the sanctoral calendar (the feasts of saints) is suppressed during Holy Week and Easter Week. Even the Annunciation gets bumped — robbing us of that great contrast so well observed by John Donne when Annunciation fell on Good Friday.

But this week has also been chosen to inaugurate the latest exhibition in the Episcopal Church and the Visual Arts, aptly titled, Holy Women, Holy Men. I'm pleased to note that one of my works in a series of “quick” icons of some of the newer (and a few of the older) saints, “Four For Freedom” — Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth (in the detail at the left) and Amelia Bloomer, is included amidst a colorful and moving collection of images.

The superb introduction by the curator, my brother in Christ Karekin Madteos Yarian is also well worth a visit for the more verbally oriented, and anyone who appreciates a fine message of hope for this week's journey to Calvary and beyond.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 23, 2013

Lauda Sion Variations

Eucharistic Meditation #3 -- Something for Palm Sunday.

MP3 File

A work originally composed for recorder and portatif organ, when St Luke in the Fields was St Luke in the Gymnasium!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 20, 2013

Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury

Merciful God, who through the work of Thomas Cranmer didst renew the worship of thy Church by restoring the language of the people, and through whose death didst reveal thy power in human weakness: Grant that by thy grace we may always worship thee in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Like Peter, Cranmer was a waverer, a saint for the fearful and the troubled, who in the last moment summoned courage that was beyond him to testify to the truth that was in him. There is a terrible poignancy about this flawed saint, an example for us all if not an ideal. No plaster saint he, but a man of fallible flesh and blood.

Thomas, if above you be, put in a good word for a church that sometimes does no better than you did, but which also hopes to find, as did you, conscience and courage in the end.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
icon the latest in a series of Holy Women, Holy Men

March 18, 2013

More Walking Apart

It seems that the usual suspect Primates are threatening a boycott of at least part of the festivities surrounding the enthronization of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

If Archbishop Justin is wise, he will say to them what any wise pastor would to a recalcitrant parishioner: I'm very sorry you feel that way, and hope you will find a parish that meets your spiritual needs. The one great thing to get over is the fear of "losing" people. Those who "choose to walk apart" are not lost, they're just heading in a different direction. Who know but that the paths may again converge somewhere down the line...?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 16, 2013

Inconsistency is not Orthodoxy

Listening to Mary Eberstadt of the "Ethics and Public Policy Center" this morning I was at the end struck by the incredible gaps in her thinking, and the logical non sequiturs and other fallacies (mostly of causation) she managed to fit in a very short interview.

She pressed for cleaving to "Orthodoxy" rather than becoming a bellwether of the wider society because it is necessary for  "families of a certain size to carry on the Christan Tradition." (I suppose the Holy Family wasn't big enough. She also tipped her hat in favor of continuing the celibate priesthood rather than giving in to pressure to change from so-called Catholics, deploying an example of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy.)

She noted the "graying" and "few children" among mainline Protestants, and the booming "Orthodox" evangelicals. (Has she considered it might be the music and atmosphere, rather than the doctrines? Are Pentecostals "Orthodox"?) She made the telling observation that "If you water down Christianity by telling people to be nice to each other.... people figure out they can be nice at home..." So it isn't really about the central moral teaching of Jesus, focusing on how you treat others, but about, as the English say, "bums in pews."

But wait... When faced with the decline in the Roman Catholic Church she then ended all of this with the astounding assertion that "It's not a numbers game; it's a Truth game..."

After building up an entire argument about numbers, it's really about Truth. So why was the bulk of her talk devoted to family size and demographics?

No thanks, Mary; you can keep your incoherent "Truth." This is not Orthodoxy, but Conservatism.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Update: and here's some evidence of the wrongheadedness of Eberstadt's argument. The Pew study shows that, yes, "strong" protestantism is on the rise, but in addition to Roman Catholicism's general decline, there is a particular decline among "strong" RCs, in relation to the total population.

March 15, 2013

Sir Bootz Salutes Saint Pat's

This noble cousin of the famous Maru shares his interest in boxes.

Tobias Stanislas Haller

March 5, 2013

Things That Rise To the Top

Behold this, and likely be surprised.

It is a staggering display, but I'm equally staggered at the fact that most people don't realize how big the discrepancy is between the one-percent and all the rest.

This difference is most likely the result of undesign rather than design, of deregulated ambitions rather than plotted greed. Even Jesus observed that those who have will get more, and those with less will lose even what they have. Any "free" market will eventually produce disproportionate wealth for the very few. It takes regulation, planning, and will and work to produce a more equitable distribution of wealth. Left to itself, the stats behind these graphs show what happens.

Which is why I am at heart a Christian Socialist who utterly opposes the myth of "trickle down." Money does not trickle down, it floats to the top, where it attracts more of itself.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Epitome 23

The Lord my Shepherd will provide
In every taunt and test;
God will be with me at my side
In rising or at rest.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
a thought that arose this morning... short epitomes of the Psalms in verse.

March 4, 2013

Ethical Divide (?)

Over at Thinking Anglicans, the still swirling debate concerning the ordination of women to the episcopate has raised some questions about the underlying worldviews (or perhaps it would be better to say church-views) of the various sides. There is no doubt that there is on this issue a divide between traditionalists and progressives. But surely it is an error for the traditionalists to try to co-opt every element of the tradition, and to charge advocates for change with a wholesale abandonment of the philosophical bases of Anglicanism if not Christianity itself.

One of these claims took the form of the statement that the traditionalists are following a basically deontological system of ethics while the progressives have adopted a consequentialist mode of ethical thinking. There is a tiny grain of truth in this, to the extent that deontology tends, in itself, to be rather dogmatic and a bit less interested in the broader context of actions in determining their ethical weight. This may reflect a general tendency towards idealism and an attendant yearning for objectivity. But the suggestion that deontology is the standard mode of Anglican — or Christian — ethical thinking is unsupportable.

Let me first say a few words about these two approaches. Deontological ethics rest on the principle of duty — an action is right not because it leads to right results, but because it is right in and of itself, in conformity with law, whether human or divine. Consequentialism, as a species of teleological ethics, tends to look at the results of actions. Utilitarianism falls under this heading, as one particular manner of making judgments about the rightness of an action in terms of its producing the greatest good for the greatest number.

It has to be admitted that there is a deontological strand in Christianity, and hence in Anglicanism; as indeed there is in Judaism and Islam. Any ethical system that is based on law and obedience to law, especially when that law is held to have a divine mandate, will value duty and obedience as high ethical principles.

But it is equally true that Jesus himself appeared to take a consequentialist approach for much of the time — not looking at acts in themselves, but in a larger context including intent prior to action and results in the wake of action. This is perhaps summed up nowhere so well as in his teaching on the nature of Sabbath observance — that it is not observed simply for its own sake as a matter of duty, but for the good results that come from the observance, whether the right use of leisure, or the opportunity for acts of charity. He also adopts a strictly teleological ethic when he speaks of knowing virtue by the fruits it bears. In other words, there is a strong subjective element in the ethical teaching of Jesus; and his Summary of the Law, while it gives a nod to duty, also places a reflexive value on the moral and ethical relationship of oneself to others, as does the Golden Rule a fortiori.

In any discussions of changes in practice — whether the ordination of women or marriage equality — it is of little use, and of minimal persuasive value, to rest ones opposition on the charge that those advocating change are advocating change, and that only those opposed to the change are truly faithful to the tradition. As with the claim that traditionalists are absolutists and progressives moral relativists, it is a brush far too broad to paint an accurate picture. It is good to be aware of the underlying differences in philosophical approach employed by any argument, upon whichever side of the debate it is deployed; and it is perhaps helpful to attempt to have some agreement on basic philosophical or ethical approach prior to engagement. But many traditionalists, far from cleaving to the dogmatic and deontological, have often employed arguments that are at least in part teleological, or, as in the case of opposition to marriage equality, baldly utilitarian.

So let us deal with the actual content of arguments rather than their formal or philosophical attributes.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG