December 26, 2014

Keeping a Secret

One of the celebrated icons of the tradition portrays John the Divine (that is, the Theologian) with a finger to his lips in the age-old gesture for silence or secrecy. I've always supposed this imagery is based on the commandment John receives in Revelation 10:4, to keep secret the message delivered by the seven thunders. Roger that, 10-4 indeed, point taken.

Whether this passage or the whole theme of an ironic “revelation” written in such heavily coded language that only an initiate can understand it, the suggestion of secret knowledge is a sure-fire way to generate book sales. Few books of the New Testament generate quite as much reflection — some of it no doubt widely divergent from the author’s intent — as well as a good amount of fevered speculation as to when it is going to “come true.” There seem to be a couple of cable TV channels dedicated more or less permanently to such prognostication.

I do not think, however, that this was the goal of the author, be that author John as the text indicates, or some other figure making use of his name. The message does seem distant from what one might expect of a Galilean fisherman promoted to disciple, perhaps the beloved one. But a lot could happen between the time spent by Galilee and in Jerusalem, and the long years on Patmos. My sense is the author made use of the time for reflection and introspection, and in the end was passing on the warning his Lord had given: be prepared to endure before you are finally vindicated. This is also, perhaps needless to say, a welcome message, particularly to those suffering real persecution.

So we honor John the Theologian, accepting his counsel to keep stum on some things while proclaiming others boldly. And to bring things a bit up to date, I've recreated the icon with a modern model, my own dear Brother-in-Christ Maurice John Grove, casting a wise and knowing eye in our direction. My goal in all of these icons is to make the saints as real and human and living as I can, and I give thanks to Maurice John for serving to that end.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 25, 2014

Christmas Dialogue

a reminder of the what why and wherefor of the Incarnation

Lord, look at the nations engaging in war
as they ravage, destroy, and slay.
Why is it, O Lord, that you seem to ignore
all this violence, day after day?

My beloved, I gave you the power to choose
to love one another or not.
You have chosen the latter, and now you confuse
what I gave you with what you have got.

Lord, look on your people now stricken with AIDS
as they perish, waste, and die.
Is it nothing to you that this virus invades
as you watch from your throne in the sky?

My beloved, I gave you the cure for this ill
in the bark of a tropical tree;
but you burned down the forest to fatten the till.
You made that decision, not me.

Lord, look at the peoples divided by race,
by language, culture and clan.
Why not give us each the same color and face?
Please tell us, Lord, what was your plan?

My children, I gave you your races and clans
that in contrast you might find delight.
Instead you have chosen to counter my plans
using race as a reason to fight.

Lord, look at the needy, the starving, the poor
who have insufficient to eat.
Why do you in silence and distance ignore
them, up there on your heavenly seat?

My beloved, I give you enough food for each,
that all might be filled and not die.
I have given you freely all that you beseech,
Yet you hold it and hoard it, not I.

Whatever we do, Lord, we seem to go wrong;
we turn all your good gifts to ill.
Lord, help us and save us—for we are not strong—
if your grace is offered still.

My children, I gave you a brother, my Son;
the very best thing I could do.
I gave you myself: that is what I have done,
and I made that decision for you—
I took flesh, and became one with you.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG, 1990

December 22, 2014

On the Development of Discipline

There is an old joke about a man offering a woman a small sum of money to sleep with him, which she rejects in indignation. He then offers her a fantastic amount and she agrees; but he then counters with another low offer, to which she responds, “What kind of woman do you think I am.” He answers, “My dear, we’ve already established what kind of woman you are; we are just haggling about the price.”

This reminds me of the claim by some in the church that approving same-sex marriage would be caving in to the demands of worldly culture. Surprised at the connection? Stay with me. When one examines the history of the church’s engagement with marriage, one finds that the early church gave in to worldly culture by conceding to marriage in the first place. The teaching of Jesus and Paul marks out marriage as a “worldly” phenomenon in which Christians are permitted to participate (per Paul) when they cannot control themselves and (per Jesus) provided that they remain permanently faithful. A review of the history of marriage in church law ever since shows a steady stream of concessions and adaptations to life in the world. Second marriages of widows, marriage with one not baptized, marriage of one (or more) divorced persons, marriage within the borders of affinity — all of these mark out concessions to worldly pressure.

One cannot claim that this is a matter of the faith once given instead of the discipline constantly revised.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 20, 2014

Static Charge

There is a well-known twist on an equally well-known saying: “Don’t just do something; stand there!” While this can be good advice for a stage actor in her first TV role, or a person perched on a narrow ledge, it takes on a very different quality in the church, particularly when it comes in the form, “Please don't do anything that might upset other members of the Anglican Communion.” This was the philosophy that lay at the heart of the still-not-fully-adopted Anglican Communion Covenant, and it has reemerged in the past few days in the form of a charge from the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith, and Order to the Anglican Church of Canada not to amend its canon law to allow for same-sex marriage within the church, in order to give more time for delicate relationships to heal.

There are a number of problems with this request, itself a response to a request from Canada, and I suppose if you ask you will receive; though one is reminded of the saying, “Who among you, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone.” The most glaring problem for matters of "Faith" (a part of the Commission’s work) lies in the distance between the core doctrines of the Christian faith and issues surrounding marriage, especially civil marriage, as far as Anglicans are concerned. I won't repeat the obvious here, but note the absence of much reference to marriage in the core doctrinal statements of the early church (the Creeds), the silence of the classical Anglican Catechism on the subject, and the short references in the Articles of Religion that acknowledge marriage as “allowed” and that it is “lawful” even for clergy to marry “as for all other Christian men... at their own discretion...” (Note to Scotland!)

The second “faith” problem lies in the implication in the IASCUFO statement that this is a temporary urging, and that as soon as relationships are healed in the uneasy marriage of inconvenience the Anglican Communion, it will be belly up to the wedding prie-dieu. So this is not pitched as the faith for all times, but a temporary moratorium. The implication is that same-sex marriage will be acceptable as soon as those offended by it reach a better mind, and it is only to avoid offense that the delay is counseled. Saint Paul commended giving in to “the weak” in matters indifferent such as food; but he held the line when it came to matters he regarded as important, such as circumcision. In this case marriage is clearly important to some — those who are marrying; no one need take offense as someone else’s marriage is for them to work through, and for others to respect. If you don’t want same-sex marriage in your own province, then don’t approve it.

This sums up for me the deepest problem with this static charge: the confusing ethic that underlies the request: “Do not do for yourself what someone else doesn't want to do for themselves.” This barely recognizable “tweak” of the Golden Rule has long been the ethical standard in the dead center of Anglican circles. Rather than walking together, it amounts to standing still together, and is utterly foreign to the way history shows the church at its actual work in promoting transformation. Had this principle been employed in the 16th century, there wouldn’t be an Anglican anything today. The whole history of the church is based on some one or ones doing something that some others thought was a Bad Idea at the time.

I wrote a short blog post entitled “What Should Have Happened” about this ethical stance back in 2006, and I think it worth repeating here:

  • The General Convention should have listened to the clear directions of the Primates and repented and repudiated all that had been done to offend
  • The Episcopal Church should have ignored the tradition of national church polity and remained as a missionary arm of the Church of England even after the Revolution.
  • The Church of England should have listened to the pope and never separated from Rome.
  • The Eastern Orthodox should have done the same and submitted to Rome so as not to sever communion.
  • The martyrs should have followed Saint Paul’s advice to obey those in civil authority.
  • Saint Paul, in the interest of not tearing the fabric of the early church, should have acceded to the circumcision party instead of trusting to his own private interpretation of Scripture.
  • The Jerusalem Council should have ignored the anecdotal evidence of Paul and Barnabas — which could only serve to make Law-abiding Jewish converts uneasy.
  • Saul should have ignored his personal “experience” on the road to Damascus and followed his orders from the Sanhedrin.
  • The other apostles should have ignored Peter’s “dream” and stuck to the letter of the Law.
  • Jesus should have heeded Peter’s advice and turned back from Jerusalem.
  • He might also have considered more seriously the various options presented to him in the Wilderness Report.
  • Joseph should have ignored the “personal revelation” he received — again in a dream, no less — and acted in accordance with the Law, and when he found Mary to be with child by someone other than himself, had her stoned to death, and her unborn child with her.
  • Then we wouldn’t be having all these problems with the Anglican Communion.
True then, true now.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 11, 2014

Faulty Divorce

There is such a thing as “no fault” divorce in which the parties agree to separate with no other “cause” than their desire no longer to continue in their marriage. By its very nature this is not something that one party can impose on the other. When one spouse says to the other, “I can’t go on living like this,” a number of responses are appropriate. These include:

  • “What have I done?”
  • “Can’t we work this out?”
  • “Are you saying you want a divorce?”
It would, however, be inappropriate and presumptuous to say, “You’ve asked for a divorce; so be it.”

Similarly, when a worker approaches a boss and says, “I can’t go on working under these conditions,” there are appropriate and inappropriate responses. Appropriate responses include:
  • “What conditions? What is / are the problem(s)?”
  • “How can we work this through to our mutual satisfaction?”
  • “Things aren’t going to change; are you planning to resign?”
It would be utterly inappropriate to say, “I accept your resignation.” You can no more “resign” another person than you can force them to divorce you. You may be free to fire them or divorce them, but that puts the action — and the responsibility — on your side.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG