November 29, 2013

Episcopal Elections

Over at Facebook I posted a comment, as follows, which has engendered a lively discussion.

I am distressed to see that our upcoming election for a suffragan bishop includes provision for caucusing spaces (in the chapels, no less), seconding speeches, and all the paraphernalia of politics. The only times listed for prayer are the opening Eucharist and at Noonday.

I was asked by two of the candidates if I’d give the “seconding” speech. To both I noted that I couldn’t in conscience, as I think these speeches are unnecessary (the diocesan canon allows for them but doesn’t require them) and they contribute to the “popularity contest” that is already too much of the process.

I'd love it if we spent 20 minutes in silent prayer — or singing Taizé or the Psalms — after each ballot instead of caucusing.

But in New York that is likely a lost cause... :-(

What’s your perspective? Or the practice in your diocese? As far as I know, for background, the “caucus model” in NY dates back to the election of Bishop Grein; right after the first ballot, dearly beloved suffragan (and Visitor to BSG) Bishop Walter Dennis, who was the front-runner, collapsed and was rushed to hospital (he recovered, Deo gratias, but was out of the election.) This threw the election into chaos and people started gathering in affinity agglutinations in the various chaples motu proprio. Now it is the way things are done.

Weigh in here or at FB.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 27, 2013

Thought for 11.27.13

Reading all of the debate on the attempted settlement to the English “women bishops” row, I noted someone claiming that “Our Lady” would be pleased with the continued provision of a place that those opposed to women in the episcopate could deem “safe.”

But, what if, on the other had, “Our Lady” might approve of the ordination of women — not as “headship” or power, but as an office of service and dedication. I’ve long thought that the model most helpful to the church — and the bishop — is that of “bishop as midwife.” 

If “the lowly and weak” are to be “lifted up” — as Mary sang — she evidently intended there to be no stained-glass ceiling. But the lifting up is being raised and called to serve, not pontificate.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 24, 2013

Holiness in Action

James Otis Sargent Huntington was a man who believed in life — religious life to be exact; but a religious life lived not in isolation from his fellow pilgrims, but with and among them, in a community consisting not only of the monastics, but of those among whom they served. It is fitting that his feast day is observed in the Episcopal Church not on the day of his death, but on the anniversary of his making life vows on November 25, 1884.

James was a major player in the development of religious life in the Episcopal tradition and context, part of that burgeoning interest in the late 19th century, a flowering of Anglo-Catholic social consciousness and Christian socialism — views not nourished at the bosom of Marx, but perhaps of St Mark, an example of the dangerous power of the Gospel when taken seriously and put into practice.

God be praised for the faithful work of this servant of Christ.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 23, 2013

In Paradisium

“Father, forgive them...”

There is a place that’s not a place
Where every memory wears a face,
Where nothing moves but all things race
Towards the throne of grace.

The Lamb of God is seated there,
A Monarch willing yet to share
In every joy, in every care,
With those who see his face.

Before his face are gathered in,
With every joy and every sin
Some who were lost — but all there win
Who run and end this race.

There peace with conflict’s end is found,
With righteousness and mercy bound,
And sinners’ songs with saints’ resound
Around the throne of grace.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
November  2013 — for the feast of Christ the King

November 21, 2013

Why I'm Here

Tomorrow, November 22, is the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, but also the 50th anniversary of the death of C S Lewis. Lewis was a storyteller, a poet, an apologist, and a scholar. He was also a Christian who managed to put into words some of what Christianity might mean in a mid-century context. He had his faults, to be sure, his blind spots, as all of us do. But his vision, when he got it right, was "spot on."

It was largely as a result of discovering his work in the mid 60s, along with that of Teilhard de Chardin (and there's an unlikely combo for you!) that I was led back into Christianity from a kind of earnest agnosticism and romantic orientalism. I'm not about to launch into a chorus of Amazing Grace, but boy, I'm glad I found Lewis (the Narnia books and then the "Space Trilogy" before launching into his apologia and polemics). After a fashion, he saved my life... or at the very least helped to make it what it is. To God be the Glory, and thanks for giving the world C S L.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
icon from earlier this year, tempera on panel

November 12, 2013

Song of Another Simeon

Charles Simeon was a leader in the Evangelical revival of the Church of England, calling the clergy especially to a high standard of devotion and practice. Among his more influential acts is his role in the founding of the Church Missionary Society in 1799 — a strong force in the outreach of the Church of England around the globe. Among those he influenced was the young Henry Martyn, who traveled to India and the Middle East, translating the Scriptures and the Book of Common Prayer into the languages of the people.

Let us pray. O loving God, we know that all things are ordered by your unerring wisdom and unbounded love: Grant us in all things to see your hand; that, following the example and teaching of your servant Charles Simeon, we may walk with Christ in all simplicity, and serve you with a quiet and contented mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 8, 2013

Creating Problems

The most recent reflections from GAFCON assert that same-sexuality is a rebellion against or a departure from “the created order.” This position of course of necessity must take as an underlying premise that sexual orientation is not real, but is rather a collection of behaviors or inclinations. This enters into muddy metaphysical waters (“Is the mind real or is it only the behavior of the brain?” And if the latter, “What makes the brain behave that way?”). It also must of itself require that heterosexual orientation is equally mere behavior, not being — so we are back where we started with having to decide that some behaviors are good and others bad. Morality, after all, is about behavior, not being.

There are grave problems with the thesis that gay and lesbian relationships — even those evincing moral values such as fidelity — are rebellions against creation, and they go to the source of the notion. Those who hold this position admit that it is upon the first chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans that they base this claim. However, when one turns to Romans 1, one does not find Paul critiquing those who rebel against creation, but those who exalt the creature. Created things, Paul affirms (1:20), are a means by which God’s divinity has been revealed, but the foolish mortals who fall under Paul’s condemnation have stopped short, mistaking the message for the messenger. They have made idols in the form of created things (1:23) and have begun to worship these stand-ins rather than the Creator (1:25). And it is for this reason, because of this, that God has given them over to futility and degradation: their punishments reflecting the futility of the worship of idols and the degradation of the Creator replaced with the creature.

Now, there is no question that Paul’s portrayal of this futile degradation includes the frenzied passions of male same-sex orgies. (It is not clear that female same-sexuality is mentioned in this passage. I’ve addressed this at length in Reasonable and Holy.) However, the catalogue of vices concluding this passage (1:29-30) makes it abundantly clear that Paul’s concern with idolaters has little or nothing to do with the same-sex relationships of faithful Christians.

No, if there is an error of interpretation concerning this passage, it must lie with those who employ it as a generalized repudiation of any and all same-sex relationships, when only particular relationships, of a kind that would be culpable even among mixed-sex groups, are mentioned; and those as a sign of punishment.

More serious, however, is the error of those who insist on exalting mixed-sex marriage, or “male and female” beyond their traditional and scriptural roles as symbols, to some kind of reification of divinity. This falls exactly into the same category of mistake with which Paul charges the idolaters: they have mistaken the symbol for the thing symbolized, exalting the creature to the Creator’s place. Such efforts to equate a married couple with the Persons of the Trinity, to insist that the divine image is only realized in the union of male and female, and all such other questionable novelties, are produced in the effort to ward off any positive exploration of the moral values of relationships regardless of sex — it is telling that such notions only began to emerge when questions of the morality of same-sex relationships (and non-procreative sex) began to be raised in the last century, and some anxious defenders of the status quo launched a rear-guard effort to find some “theology” to bolster the traditional opposition.

These theological novelties have to be examined on their own merits, just as the novelty of recognizing same-sex relationships, and blessing them, or even bringing them under the heading of marriage, must be examined. My research has shown that the efforts to theologize the sexes as the divine image, in addition to being a radical departure from the tradition that sees the divine image in each human being, does not appear to add anything to the theological store-house, and renders crucial articles of the faith (such as the Incarnation) inexplicable (if male and female together “present” the divine, Jesus was deficient). Efforts to bring the Trinity into the picture stumble even more egregiously into modalism or functionalism. When a thesis raised in defense of an aspect of pastoral theology runs up against well-established principles of dogmatic theology, it is time to set it aside.

No, if one is to decide whether same-sex relationships are good or not, one must apply the recognizable moral categories, not biological realities. It is, after all, the mind and the heart wherein the moral lies. Morality is about behavior, not being; about virtue, not anatomy.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 5, 2013

Born that way... a thought

Whenever someone makes the claim that people are “not born gay” I am tempted to remind them that people are also not born with beards or buxom breasts. These characteristics are not “natural” in that they are not natal. They develop. And if the secondary sexual characteristics develop, so too does sexual orientation — without doubt under the guiding interplay of “nature” (what one is born with) and nurture.

I am also tempted to remind the religious-minded opponents of marriage equality that people are neither born Christian nor married. Both are estates into which one enters, the former sometimes without ones consent, but the latter never properly without it.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
who was reminded of this when reflecting on the fact that some in the early church, such as Clement of Alexandria, regarded a grown man shaving off his beard as a peculiarly serious moral failing

To this Temple...

William Temple was Bishop of Manchester, Archbishop of York, and briefly of Canterbury, before his untimely death in 1944, in the midst of the war. His was a brilliant and penetrating mind, but not one stuck in the attic of an ivory tower, academic or ecclesiastical. Perhaps one of his most famous quips says it best:

The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.

It is also telling to note that, in spite of the claims that no one really knew what was going on in Europe with regard to the wholesale elimination of European Jewry, Temple addressed the House of Lords in 1943 (March 23) with this:

My chief protest is against procrastination of any kind. ... The Jews are being slaughtered at the rate of tens of thousands a day on many days. ... It is always true that the obligations of decent men are decided for them by contingencies which they did not themselves create and very largely by the action of wicked men. The priest and the Levite in the parable were not in the least responsible for the traveller's wounds as he lay there by the roadside and no doubt they had many other pressing things to attend to, but they stand as the picture of those who are condemned for neglecting the opportunity of showing mercy. We at this moment have upon us a tremendous responsibility. We stand at the bar of history, of humanity and of God.

God bless this good and faithful speaker of the truth.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
icon written 11/4/2013