December 16, 2016

The nature of the/our church

In a recent interview, Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon revives interest in the Anglican Covenant. This proposal has only found favor among the minority who would like to see the Anglican Communion more tightly organized into a conciliar body, rather than continuing to be a loosely affiliated grouping of national churches sharing a common heritage but no central governance.

What I don't understand is why those who want to be part of a communion not based on independent national churches don't affiliate with the church that the Church of England left when it decided being an independent national church was of crucial importance. To claim — as do some who favor the Anglican Covenant — that the idea of “national church” is un-Anglican is to rob “Anglican” of any relevant meaning.

And if one believes conciliarity is of the esse of the church, to continue as a member of a non-conciliatory body is to be outside the church.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

December 4, 2016

Child's Play

Church of the Advent Baltimore • Advent 2a • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
Advent is the season of the church year in which we prepare our minds and hearts for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, not only the yearly commemoration of his coming as a newborn infant to the stable in Bethlehem, but in watchful preparation for the as yet to be realized coming in glory at the end of time, when he will judge the living and the dead in perfect righteousness. So we find ourselves, in Advent, perhaps especially in the Church of the Advent, somewhat torn between two images: the sweet Christ Child in the manger, and the transfigured, majestic figure of the everlasting Judge and King, whose coming is foretold by the wild prophet John the Baptist.

On this Sunday the two images come together. in the prophet Isaiah’s words. The prophet describes the peaceable kingdom, his vision of God’s just and righteous reign. And at first the vision of the one who shall come forth from the root of Jesse sounds like the same mighty judge John the Baptist promises. Here is one upon whom the Spirit rests, who is full of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear of the Lord. Here is one who shall judge with righteousness and equity, whose very voice strikes the earth like a rod, whose breath slays the wicked.

But then the imagery shifts. Suddenly all is peaceful: wild beasts of forest and field no longer prey on the domesticated animals of pasture and barnyard, but graze and nestle beside them. The two worlds, wild and domestic, come together in peace. And, wonder of wonders, all this harmony is orchestrated, brought about and led not by an army of lion-tamers with pistols and whips, or a crowd of Australian alligator wrestlers with cages and anesthetic darts, but by a little child. Even more surprising, infants young enough still to be nursing, and others just starting on solid food, can play with snakes in perfect safety, the archetype of human enmity with the natural world from our infancy in the Garden of Eden — the serpent — has lost it’s poison, and has become a plaything for the children of Adam and Eve. This peaceful lordship that turns the curse of Adam on its head, this peaceable kingdom established on God’s holy mountain is, simply put, child’s play.
+ + +
Now, this is not frivolous talk. Few things are more serious than child’s play. I really mean that. Have you ever watched children playing? Children take their play very seriously, and the more deeply involved in play they are, the more intense their concentration. Where else but in play do you see actual wrinkles form on the foreheads of children? Where else but in play do you see little tongues appear at the edges of tiny mouths, as tiny hands struggle to color within the lines, to make a puzzle come out just right, for a doll’s hair be styled in high fashion, or a plastic peg hammered down just so with a plastic hammer into a plastic hole? No, children at play are quite intent on their playing!

Children in a snowball fight are as focused on their battle as any general. And I dare not even mention the intensity of a child apparently glued to a PlayStation! And a five-year-old hosting a tea party for dolls and teddy bears will — should you be honored with an invitation to such an event — enforce upon you a protocol and etiquette as rigorous as a state banquet. The Cabbage Patch twins must always be served first, in recognition of their youth, while Barbie, being a mature young lady, is expected to be patient, and Pooh Bear has to be watched lest he sneak a cookie before the proper time. As you balance the tiny saucer and minuscule teacup, savoring the invisible tea and make-believe cake, you are apt to marvel at the child’s knowledge of etiquette, and stern resolve to enforce it.

Yes, the prophet was right in describing the kingdom of God as child’s play, for child’s play is not frivolous. It is just that we tend to forget this as we grow older. As we age out of the pure, clear world of childhood, we are apt to begin making compromises, to accept less than what we know is right, to move from the clarity of the black and white into those shades of grey. And we tend to see this as maturity. We gain peace at the cost of principle. We become judicious; we weigh profit and loss ratios, and we deal and we compromise. And we settle. And how often do we end up with far less than justice and righteousness for the sake of an imaginary peace — a peace that turns out not to be peace at all.
+ + +
But the judge eternal described by Isaiah, comes upon us with the ferocious intensity of a child: a single-minded child who can look straight through our adult compromises to the burning truth of our failures. He does not judge by what he sees or hears, this eternal judge whose coming we await. What? A judge who pays no attention to evidence? What kind of justice is that? Who wants a trial before a judge who passes sentence before he hears our excuses and our explanations and our rationalizations?

But my friends, this is the justice of a child, of the child. The child who knows what’s fair and what’s not, and from whose ringing sentence, “It isn’t fair!” there is no appeal. The child who knows when her parents have been arguing, however much they try to pretend it’s all O.K. for her sake. The child knows when he’s being lied to, however good our intentions, and his piercing eyes see through us as if we were so much cellophane. The child who knows the rules for snowball fights and tea-parties, and dispenses the firm justice of the playground. The child who knows how to tame animals more real than the ones of flesh and blood, the animals of the playroom, where Pooh Bear and the Lion King take tea together, and a dinosaur eats cookies from a plate. And all the while, the child oversees this feast with serious attention, and a sense of what is fair and right that puts any adult tribunal to shame.
+ + +
This is what the Justice and Lordship of Jesus is like, the just, clear, focused reign of the Son of God. Under the watchful eye of this child who comes forth from the root of Jesse, all our excuses and compromises and rationalizations are laid bare. All of our efforts to bend the rules are exposed. All of our lording it over one another, preying on each other like wolves and bears and lions, is shown up for what it is.

But the good news is that this Child of God who comes to judge us is merciful as well as just. Though he sees right through us, perhaps because he sees right through us, he will also save us, for though he sees how shallow we are he knows we are worth saving. And his loving justice can begin to transform us, and redeem our corrupted nature as surely as it undoes the curse of Adam. The old curse is done away with, transforming serpents into playthings, undoing the ancient enmity and antagonism between the wild and the domestic. Under the miraculous rule of this divine child-king even our own rough nature is transformed, our rough coats of wolf-grey fur, soften and turn to plush. Our shaggy lions’ manes are trimmed and turn bright gold, festive with bows and ribbons. Our leopard spots turn into polka-dots. Rough grizzly bears grow plump and soft and dip their blunted claws into a jar plainly labeled H-U-N-Y. And all of us together gather around the tea-table, colorful bows around our necks and ribbons in our hair, as the Child pours us our tea, and feeds us cakes, and we partake of the sacrament of peace — coming to God’s kingdom, at long last, precisely and exactly as he said we would have to come: as children.

May we then, dear sisters and brothers in Christ, be ready to enter the heavenly child’s-play of the this miracle child, the just and righteous rule of the Son of God, whose infant hands possess all might, majesty, power and dominion, henceforth and forever more.

November 23, 2016

Tectonic Shift or Slip of the Tongue?

The Secretary-General of the Church of England has just issued a clear response to the  syllabus of accusations raised by GAFCON that the said Church has "violated" the provisions of Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference.

I'm very pleased to see one particular affirmation in the letter: "clergy and laity alike are entitled to argue for changes to teaching and practice." Those with sufficiently long memories will recall that the principal reason for denying the episcopate to Jeffrey John was not the fact of his living in a civil partnership (which was within the bounds set) but the fact that he was advocating for something contrary to the teaching of the church.

It would appear that this "raison de ne pas être" has reached its sell-by date. It also indicates that same-sexuality need not be regarded as a first-order doctrinal issue, or a part of the permanent deposit of the faith.

UPDATE: GAFCON UK has responded to William Nye. The rejoinder continues the trend noted above to raise marriage to the status of a "core doctrine" — this time explicitly. And there you have the nub of the problem: GAFCON and its fellows believe and claim marriage to be a central doctrine of the Christian faith, about which there is one and only one orthodox position.

Obviously, as any reasonable review of Scripture and the Tradition show, this assertion is not true, since Scripture itself and the Tradition (both within Anglicanism and outside it) offer mixed testimony concerning the nature of marriage itself, and provide no evidence for a continuous place for marriage as a central doctrine. Marriage has rarely found a place as more than peripheral in dogmatic theology, if it is mentioned at all.

A further UPDATE: Stephen Noll has issued yet another response to Nye's letter. This is a particularly absurd example of revisionist history. It contains the astounding statement, "These [Lambeth] Resolutions, read together, form a fairly harmonious tradition." I suppose to give him benefit of the doubt his definition of fairly might differ to mine. But to pretend that Lambeth has consistency on matters of "family life" is an absurdity. Instead, the Lambeth resolutions explicitly rescind, overturn, or contradict each other on things such as birth control, polygamy, and remarriage after divorce.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 21, 2016

Thought for 11-21-16

If I hate someone, the hate is mine, my emotion, my feeling. I should not say I hate someone because they are hateful. It is I who am full of hate. It is mine to conquer or be conquered by.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

October 17, 2016

Fulcrum says it all

English author Andrew Goddard, at the aptly named blog, “Fulcrum,” has published a long essay on why he thinks a pastoral accommodation for same-sex couples in the Church of England cannot work.

It strikes me that Goddard’s arguments, particularly in the detailed section on how the church has come both to change its teaching and to make pastoral accommodation concerning remarriage after divorce, demonstrate a willingness to read texts (both liturgical and biblical) in the broadest and most flexible sense possible when applied to such changes and accommodations. Goddard does not show the same flexibility and generosity in his reading of texts concerning same-sexuality, and pastoral accommodation for same-sex couples who take advantage of the civil law to marry. So it appears to me that his inability to see a possibility for accommodation in the latter case is based in part on an unwillingness to weigh the evidence equally on both sides, but to excuse (if not condone) on one side rather than the other.

The reason I suggest that “Fulcrum” is an apt name and forum for his thinking is that a fulcrum — unlike a scale as held in the hands of Justice — is inherently unequal. It is designed to allow a small amount of pressure to accomplish a great deal of work; or, as in this case, for a weak and unbalanced argument to hold sway and persuade a multitude. In spite of my concern for those who “make the ephah small and the shekel great” (Amos 8:5) and those who trouble themselves over gnats while gulping camels, I do not think that Goddard’s arguments will carry much weight outside his own circle. I remain alert, however, to the nature of the fulcrum: to allow small weights to do big things.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 19, 2016

Off Center

It continues to surprise and bemuse me to see Christian authors (particularly Anglicans and Roman Catholics) these days writing about marriage as somehow the central doctrine of the Christian faith. For example, one author defends a notion that "The biblical narrative, ...locates marriage at the centre of the history of a good creation, a creation gone awry, and God’s redeeming action; to this narrative, further, sexual difference is essential."

Of course, Scripture does no such thing. The author in question has fallen into the fallacy of averages — that is, while Genesis clearly places sex (and as traditionally understood, marriage) at the beginning of creation, and Revelation reveals the marriage of the Lamb and the New Jerusalem at the other end of time, there is precious little about marriage in the center. Nor does the beginning stress sexual difference, as I have written before (Genesis 1 is about the first human couple and their likeness to God; and Genesis 2 is about the likeness of the couple to each other, not their difference.)

Moreover, it is obviously completely wrong to suggest that marriage is at the heart of redemption, given the Christian witness of the New Testament. Consider these facts:

  • The Redeemer himself comes into the world not through an ordinary marriage involving sexual difference, but a miraculous birth without any sexual intercourse at all, and a putative marriage that under Jewish Law would have been considered adulterous had the source of the Virgin's pregnancy been heterosexual sex. (Matthew 1:18f)
  • When pressed on the issue, Jesus declares that marriage is wholly a matter of this world, and that those worthy of attaining to the resurrection do not marry. (Luke 20:34f)
  • Paul holds marriage to be inferior to celibacy, but allows it for those incapable of containing themselves. (1 Corinthians 7:8-9)
  • He also affirms that sexual difference (the "male and female" of Genesis 1) has been transcended in Christ, in whom all difference is dissolved. (Galatian 3:28)

If we look at the Christian tradition, it is obvious that the main stream of thinking on marriage is that it was good and useful, but hardly essential to the Christian life and faith. From the traditional Roman Catholic view that marriage was inferior to celibacy, through the views of the Reformers that it was "allowed" (Anglican) or "a matter for the town hall" (Lutheran) marriage was peripheral to dogmatic thinking until about the middle of the 20th century, when some Roman and Reformed theologians began to try to elevate it to a more central place — largely in reaction to societal pressure involving increasing divorce rates and contraception use. Some, such as Pannenberg, went quite off the deep end (in addition to jettisoning central Christian dogma such as the Virgin Birth) in an effort to drag marriage into the spotlight. It is helpful to observe that if marriage and sexual difference is part of the creation — a creature — then it is good to recall that putting the creature in place of the creator is exactly what Romans 1 said was the problem, not the solution.

It is, of course, good to continue the discussion of marriage and sexuality and their place in the church, but let us have no more nonsense about their being central to the Christian faith, or Christian theology. The center of the Christian faith is Christ, and him crucified.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 20, 2016

Lost Youth

Some people involved in crafting liturgy find it difficult to accept that they are no longer young. They seek to attract the youth of today by means of the things that attracted them in their own youth. This rarely works well since few things are less attractive to the young than the fashions of their parents' youth; better to aim for the great-grandparents, as fashion tends to skip several generations before it become fashionable again. Besides which, the whole enterprise becomes a too mercantile approach to evangelism. It is not so much the church's task to give people what they want, but to equip them with what they need — not to please themselves, but to serve others. Temple said it best, that the church exists primarily for the good of those not yet its members. “Do that, and you — and the church — will live.”

—expanded from his now lost comment on Facebook about so-called contemporary worship music, most of which dates from before the intended “audience” was born, by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG 

August 12, 2016

On Voting

My basic rule is: vote as if what you vote for will be adopted. This assumes that you actually want it to be adopted. That seems simple, but some people vote for secondary reasons. What does that mean? I offer two real-world examples. Some years ago, a bishop was elected on the first ballot — not unheard of, but at least unusual. He was a widely admired figure in his diocese, but it emerged after the election that a number of people reported they had voted for him as an expression of their admiration and support for his good work as a priest, but had intended to switch their votes on the second ballot to the person they actually wanted to be bishop. The second example is more recent: a number of those who voted in favor of Brexit reported that they had voted for it not because they wanted it to succeed, but to "send a message" to Europe that there was a substantial minority of people who weren't entirely happy with the European Union.

So what are the implications for the present presidential cycle? Vote for the candidate you wish to see elected, as if he or she will be elected. That includes third party candidates — don't vote for them as a symbolic act, but as if they will be president. It also means withhold your vote if you don't want to see any of the candidates elected. (I have supported all elections having a "none of the above" option so as accurately to gauge electoral discontent — mere abstention is a nullity, and one cannot distinguish between dissatisfaction or nihilism. This approach also allows for voting for "the lesser of two evils" in a pragmatic sense — not as a protest vote but a conscious choice of between two or more imperfect options with a view to choosing the least damaging.

But don't vote to "send a message" or to "show support" for a lost cause you would not want to see in power.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 10, 2016

Marriage Inequality

The dominant biblical understanding of marriage in the Hebrew Scriptures was based on inequality, in which a man ruled over a woman (or several women), but was himself free to indulge his sexual appetites with other women, so long as they were not married to another man. This inequality is reflected in the language used to describe marriage: throughout the Torah and beyond, the husband is "the lord" (ba'al) of the woman; for a woman to be "married" is to be "governed" (be'ulah) or to "have a lord/master" (be'ulat ba'al).

But it was not always so. This inequality can be regarded as a consequence of the curse delivered to Eve after she and her husband ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge: "He shall rule over you." But it was not so in the beginning, when equality reigned, an equality recognized by Adam in his exclamation of joy upon his first encounter with Eve — the one like himself; taken, as the figurative interpretation has it, from his side — as one to stand beside — rather than from his head or his foot, to rule or to be ruled.

Hosea (2:16) recognized this in his portrayal of the loving God speaking to his unfaithful but redeemed spouse Israel: "On that day, says the LORD, you will call me, 'My husband,' and no longer will you call me, 'My Baal.'" The word Hosea uses for "my husband" is "ishi" — the same title the primeval couple shared in Eden (ish and ishah — man and woman, husband and wife). This expresses their fundamental equality, as God intended.

Karl Barth held that a husband is only a husband in relation to his wife (an assertion complicated in German, as in Hebrew, because Mann and Weib have this ambiguous double meaning.)  The double meaning actually reveals more than Barth intended: for a single man is a man, a single woman is a woman; but a married man is still a man, and a married woman still a woman — though now married, joined in a union and relationship of equals.  The quality of "being married" has to do not with the sex of the person or the pair, but on the covenant of relationship that exists between them. In German one can say "Mann und Mann" or "Weib und Weib" with all the ambiguity intact. For a married man or woman is married because of the plighting of a troth and mutual pledge of exclusive fidelity — the exclusivity, as Jesus observed, harking back to the necessarily exclusive first married couple; but the fidelity, as he also taught, is the essential meaning of marriage. So it is not the relative sex-difference that constitutes the marriage, but the mutual swearing of faithful love. This is one of the reasons that opening the institution of marriage to same-sex couples is both a recovery of a Creation principle of equality, and an eschatological realization of the ideal relationship between God and the People of God, based on love, not domination. This is one of the things marriage equality can reveal to the church, for so long mistakenly serving the notion of male dominance.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 1, 2016

Prophets with Honor

a sermon delivered at the Annual Convocation of the Brotherhood of St Gregory, at Mt Alvernia, Wappingers Falls NY 
Although Wisdom is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets.
In one of the Elizabethan period episodes of Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder, the principal character, plagued with a personal problem of Shakespearean proportions, sets off to find help. One of his goals is to find a wise-woman, and in that quest he meets one of those annoying gnomes who litter quest stories and add plot elements by giving cryptic directions or posing ridiculous riddles. This particular gnome gives the advice, “Two things must ye know about the wise woman. First, that she is wise. And second, that she is a woman!” Our hero departs with this useless bit of guidance, cursing under his breath.

Well, today we get to hear about not just one, but count ‘em, four wise women. And two things must ye know of Elizabeth, Amelia, Sojourner and Harriet: They were wise, and they were women! More importantly, they were wise, and persistent in their wisdom, in an age when the powers and principalities rarely expected wisdom in women, and regarded their persistence as obstinacy or worse. Some few recognized their gifts in their own time, and today we honor them as prophets.
+ + +
One irony with which this presents us is summed up in the reading from Proverbs. Here we have a hymn of praise to Wisdom with a capital W, portrayed as nothing other than a woman. The irony is that this tribute comes from a culture that generally did not honor women, or give them much of a place in the councils of leadership or authority. That same book of Proverbs also goes on and on about that other sort of woman, no better than she should be, the harlot who uses her wiles to trap unwary, foolish men to their destruction. One woman offers wealth and riches and is herself more precious than gold and jewels; the other — well, with the other as the saying goes, You pays your money and you takes your choice. This is, of course, part of the well known male view of womankind as either on the pedestal or in the gutter, a pure virgin or a dirty whore.

In their day, Stanton, Bloomer, Truth and Tubman were seen by many men, and probably some women, as of this latter sort — hussies and harlots, harridans and harpies, sluts and slatterns and slags, skanks and skags, bitches and witches: and isn’t it interesting that English provides us such an array of colorfully nasty names for women — and I challenge you to think of some nice nouns for good women when you have the time — and to reflect on how our language shapes our perception of reality. I don’t know if it is true that the Inuit (The People Formerly Known as Eskimo) have forty words for snow, but English has a huge lexicon of nasty names for women, and precious few nice ones.
+ + +
But back to our four prophets: There were some few, of course, who saw these women for their virtues:their persistence in seeking justice, their commitment to the betterment of the world they lived in, and their wisdom. And some would call them prophets.

But what is a prophet, after all; and what is wisdom? I would start with another Shakespearean word, soothsayer, which is someone who predicts the future. That’s one way to understand a prophet — one who can accurately predict what is going to happen. In fact that is the test of a true prophet, given a word from God, recorded in Deuteronomy 18:22: If what the prophet predicts in God’s name comes true, they are a true prophet. If not, not. Simple.

But is the prediction itself always so easy to understand and verify — that is, what is being predicted? You may recall the soothsayer from Julius Caesar, who warned, “Beware the Ides of March!” Beware of the date — or what might happen on that date? This prediction didn’t help poor Julius much, but the soothsayer was proved right, in that always 20/20 hindsight. Successful soothsayers, like the oracles of old, and those annoying gnomes in quest stories, owe part of their retrospective success to giving such general or ambiguous warnings. Because human beings are pattern-seeking critters, seeing castles in clouds and faces in inkblots, you can be considered a true prophet if you cast your prediction as vaguely as the oracles or soothsayers of old.

Or you could use the cynical technique Nikos Kazantzakis described in his novel The Last Temptation of Christ. In the vision in which Jesus comes down from the cross to live an ordinary life, one of the apostles returns home and tells Jesus, “I’ve learned the secret of prophecy! When things are going well, tell people they are going to get bad, and when they are going badly tell them it is going to get better! It always works!” It still works for politicians of every sort.
+ + +
But I am less interested in the flim-flam men of old, or of now, when we have such excellent women before us. What I want to stress is that soothsayer and prophet at base mean, not “One who predicts the future,” but “One who speaks the truth.” And there is a lot of wisdom in that, for an accurate assessment of the present is the best way to think about and plan for what is possible in the future. A firm and discerning grasp of the present rules out impossibilities for the future, and allows one to focus on the range of what may be most probable — as that other famous wise guy, Sherlock Holmes, observed, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” A chess master is a master precisely because of the ability to focus on the state of play at each moment, to see only the range of possibilities for the next sequence of moves, eliminating impossibilities to weigh the optimum possible outcome and urge it into the best actual move.

So the real wisdom lies in understanding that the truth — what is — is not just possible, and is never improbable, as strange as it may seem. It just is. And as I’ve often said, Reality is our friend. And engaging with reality, persisting in discernment, asking the questions, searching for answers, knocking at the doors even to wake the sleeping and embarrassed friend (for Reality is sometimes drowsy and often embarrassing, and unknown until known) — these actions of asking, seeking, and persisting in knocking at the door of Reality are the tasks of the wise.
+ + +
This is all the more true for those who worship the God who goes by the name The One Who Is, the Great I AM! Those who engage with Reality at its deepest levels, who plumb the depths of Holy Wisdom, become, as Proverbs says, “friends of God and prophets.” We have such friends before us today: Elizabeth, Amelia, Sojourner and Harriet — one of them even known as Truth! You can see their image and read their story in the handy Office app, so I won’t repeat it here. Suffice it to say that they were wise, and they were women — in times and places where few associated those categories.

But they persisted in the quest — not so much as those sought out, but as seekers themselves. And what they sought was justice, charity, equality, and truth. They knocked on the doors of Reality, and a sleepy and reluctant world roused and still rouses itself to respond with like justice, in all charity, and by and for the truth. May God give us strength to do the same, Soli Deo Gloria — to the glory of God alone. In the Name of The One Who Is, whom we know as our Maker, Defender, Redeemer — and Friend.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 15, 2016

On Church Growth

People talk about church growth but are terrified of change. They want clones, not contrast, numbers in the sense of ciphers, rather than the challenge of novelty, newcomers who come but who are not really new, who fit the mold and don't rock the boat. 

But God created difference, and we should welcome those who bring it. More than welcome, we should go out in search of them. This is part of the wisdom of Indaba: difference energizes with opportunities. Fear keeps things the same, then kills.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 13, 2016

O, Canada!

In case you haven't heard the news, the Anglican Church of Canada has adopted a resolution towards the amendment of their canon on marriage, making marriage equality in the church a canonical reality if the change is ratified at the next session of the General Synod in 2019. The motion passed by the large required two-thirds majority in each order (bishops, clergy and lay) though not after some confusion due to a single affirmative clergy vote having been miscounted in the wrong order, and three other affirmative clergy votes not counted at all. In the end the super-majority prevailed by a comfortable margin.

It should also be noted that the ACoC Chancellor had already opined that even the current canon does not actually forbid marriages for same-sex couples; but some minds may rest easier given the adoption of the first reading of the amendment. Several Canadian bishops have indicated they plan to move forward on these bases, so as a practical matter marriage equality has arrived.

Other minds are not so easy, and the comment threads on the related stories at the Anglican Journal, in addition to expressions of joy and hope, are replete with the complaints of those so unhappy with this turn of events that they are abandoning the church, or mobilizing for a militant effort to defeat the canon change in at its second reading in 2019. Further afield, the trumpet from the Global South has not tooted yet, or at least not loudly or clearly enough to be heard here in the North; nor has there been a comment from Canterbury — though the Church of England has also just emerged from its own General Synod, in which the Shared Conversations formed a major part. That and the turmoil with the recent Brexit vote and the change in parliamentary leadership is no doubt occupying archepiscopal focus at the moment.

We continue to live in interesting times.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 9, 2016

Racism and Realism and Jesus

Racism, no less than beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It is the junction at which perception meets prejudice, and what is is distorted in the mirror of the mind, as a characteristic obscures the character, the generic obscures the specific, and the individual is lost in an emotional cloud so that who is seen is only a member of a class, and even then not the class as it is but as it is believed or felt to be.

Some offer as an answer an appeal to common humanity. This is good so far as it goes, but it too is generic. Some go further and say we must see the face of Jesus in each person. Again, a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough.

The goal is not to see Jesus in a person, but to see the person as Jesus sees the person, who “looks on them and loves them” — to see the precious individual who is, in her specific individuality, the image of God, just as much as Jesus is; not because of a common resemblance, a common humanity or a common divinity, but as a specific person, One Who Is.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

July 7, 2016

The System is Corrupt

Police violence is a tragic but logical element in the systemic racism that is foundational to the American political and social fabric, embedded in its DNA from the beginning: colonial slavery, revolutionary hypocrisy, constitutional inequality, legalized classism via segregation and separation with detriments to housing and education and medical care, a war on drugs selectively deployed, a misnamed “justice” system feeding a commercialized prison system, and a mania for weapons fueled by a fear of the other when the self is the danger. And we wonder why we have problems with a police force that is the enforcement arm of this same system.

I offer no solution; only my grief. God forbid I should give up hope, but hope is ever more difficult to maintain.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


The problem isn't a few bad apples in the barrel. The problem is the barrel.

That is, the system supports and enables the bad behavior. We’ve seen this with the way the Roman Catholic Church mishandled pedophilia — moving guilty clergy instead of dismissing them; with the similar handling of police misconduct; with the polite homophobia that declares it is “just holding to the traditional doctrine / biblical view...”; with a wealth and oppression complex that keeps the greatest wealth among the fewest people. The corrupted system resists reform because reform threatens the system itself. 


June 25, 2016

No Trust in Princes

There is a root problem that plagues any concept of government: a hopeful idealism or dogged perfectionism. If only we can get X better (or a better X) it will solve all our problems, or work perfectly. A benign and wise absolute philosopher-king at one extreme, or a total democracy at the other, both make  the false promise that a systemic solution is possible. But the common factor in all human error is the humans — there is no system so perfectly designed that fallible humans cannot render it FUBAR: this is the normal situation, AFU. Ask anyone who works at the help desk of any software company.

This is one reason I am so fond of the Anglican dictum that councils are fallible since they are a collection of fallible individuals. Democracy is no more a perfect solution than absolute monarchy. The mob and the monarch are equally fallible, and no less dangerous. It is the phantom of perfect government that haunts us, the feeling that if we just try a new system we can get it right. There ain't no philosopher's stone of government, and the admission of a felt need that something needs to be governed — i.e. controlled — reveals there is an unruliness under the surface of any and all government, and those from whom this government is confected (all, many, few, or one) are inescapably the root of the problem. To err is human, and so long as humans are in charge, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will police the police?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 27, 2016

Known in Bread

a sermon delivered on Corpus Christi 2000 at Christ Church Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

Believe it or not, in our gathering together here this evening we have been surrounded by miracles, and swept up into a mystery. For miracles need not be overtly supernatural so long as they produce faith. That is, the importance of miracles does not lie in whether they appear to defy the laws of science and reason, but in what they work upon the human spirit, leading us into all truth, revealing God’s presence to the eye of faith, parting the curtain of the mystery for a moment to let the mortal behold the immortal, and adore.

You may have heard of the miraculous tortillas that occasionally appear on the griddles of devout women in Mexico. Now the tortillas do not appear as manna from heaven, discovered in the morning with the risen dew, already baked and ready for gathering, with a double portion on the eve of the Sabbath. No, the miracle lies in the fact that cooked into the surface of these otherwise quite ordinary tortillas is the appearance of the likeness of Christ. Perhaps you’ve seen photographs of these miraculous tortillas, dried and preserved in cigar boxes lined with colorful wrapping paper, adorned with plastic flowers, and reverently placed on the shelves of the homes blessed with this miraculous visitation.

And of course one could say that all of this has a scientific explanation: that the human brain, with its need and ability to read pattern into chaos, can see the likeness of Christ in the random scorches on the surface of the baked tortilla, much as one can look at clouds and see them forming ships at sea, castles in Spain, or an entire zoo of fluffy animals.

Yet even though the miraculous tortilla may have a fairly simple explanation, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a miracle — for it brings faith and nourishes faith — and it is faith, not magic, that is truly miraculous. Faith is the reason miracles happen in the first place, whether the heart disposed towards God is open to accept the gift, or the soul turned away from God receives a gentle (or not so gentle) tap on the shoulder to recall the straying and jaded eye to the heart and source of reality.

For the real miracle isn’t that the face of Christ should appear on a tortilla; the real miracle is that anyone could believe in a God who would be interested in having his face appear on a tortilla; the real miracle is to believe that God might be interested in surprising and blessing a poor Mexican housewife while she labors over a hot griddle at the end of a long day; that God would be at all concerned with being in our midst this evening as we undertake a ritual with its branches in the high middle ages, and its roots in the depths of the human psyche where the mysterium tremendum et fascinans lurks to raise the hairs on the backs of our necks; that God would be interested in the wanderings of an insignificant tribe of desert nomads, to feed them for a generation on bread they had no better name for than “what is this?”; that the creator and governor of the universe could be concerned about the political affairs of a shepherd-boy turned king; that the God whose love moves the sun and the other stars would visit a young woman at her prayers and chose her to be the mother of his incarnate Son; and then chose to have her bear him in a barn; that God would, in that Son, live and die as one of us, and be raised from the dead, and then — the miracles continue — not immediately ascend to heaven, but continue those prosaic little field trips, having breakfast by the seaside, taking a walk with two disciples, and finally, breaking bread with them.

This is the heart of the miracle we celebrate this evening. That the bread of Emmaus and the manna of the wilderness are no more a revelation of the presence of God than the tortilla of Guadelajara, or the spotless host of Carroll Gardens, even carried in procession like a pillar of fire here to Cobble Hill.

For it is in the simple actuality of bread, an every-day kitchen table commonplace, that God Almighty has chosen and still chooses to be made known — and that is a miracle if ever there was one!

+ + +

And yet… and yet. How slow we are to realize the miracle as it happens! We look for the technicolor, hi-res special effects of the apocalypse, while God reveals himself in the simple white-bread world around us.

How slow of heart, like the children of Israel who looked at the manna with a shrug, and soon complained that it wasn’t adequate food; how like the disciples who walked that road with Jesus, how slow to believe we are when we miss the presence of God with us, feeding us, walking at our side and opening the Scripture to us, and breaking the bread with us, the risen Lord who deigns to be our guest, the God who calls us no longer servants, but friends.

Jesus says, "How dull you are! How slow to believe the prophets!” And with this simple exclamation he echoes God's never-failing amazement with Israel. “When will you get it?” God seems to say. “How many seas must be parted, how many pillars of fire, how much bread from heaven, how many crucifixions, how many risings from the dead until you understand how much I love you?”

God is ever-patient, but often speaks to his people in this way. Just as Jesus walked with the disciples on that rural roadway, so God accompanied the children of Israel in their wandering in the wilderness, and brooded in their midst in the Temple all those years. The prophets, from Moses to Mary Magdalene, had been discounted, ridiculed, and disbelieved by the very people who most needed to hear the news. The church still stands divided, suffering with self-inflicted wounds while a world it was meant to save looks on bemused.

Yet God does not abandon these stubborn children. God loves them — loves us — too much for that. And that is the greatest miracle, the greatest faith: God’s faith in his children, God[‘s faith in his friends. God’s faith in us. It is to that faith, to God’s faith in us, to which God bids us open our eyes! God does not and will not leave us comfortless. There is always time for another message, even a message from God's own Son, risen from the dead. There is always more bread to be handed round, even though we thought there were only five loaves.

God’s faith in us is such that even when we doubt and disbelieve he stoops to make his presence known to us, coming into our midst in a miracle that startles us by its simplicity, that shames us by its audacious condescension — that the gate of heaven opened by this saving victim might be no wider than “this” [the fingers’ breadth width of the host in the monstrance] and that the God who created the universe should be made known in bread.

O come, let us worship, alleluia. ✠

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 21, 2016

The Importance of Being Articles

I don't have the time to flesh it out in full just at the moment, but I want to flag how important close attention to text is to any case made concerning marriage. There are two places in Scripture where inattention to the difference between definite and indefinite nouns has wrought havoc with a consistent and canonical comprehension of the texts.

First, when Genesis 1:27 and 5:2 speaks of "male and female" (zakar u'nqebah) it is using nouns, not adjectives. It would be better to translate as "a male and a female." Reading this text as referring to classes of people instead of two individuals has given rise to much unproductive theological reflection concerning everything from the nature of the image of God to a defective anthropology that squeezes the understanding of humanity into a dualistic, yin-yang strait-jacket.

Evidence for the correct reading (as nouns and not adjectives) comes in part from Jesus' reading of the passage to be about a pair: the "two" who become one. (Mark 10:8; as in Matthew, Jesus picks up the LXX version of Genesis which refers to "the two" -- an emphasis not needed in the Hebrew). Jesus uses this as his starting point for the durability of marriage. (I've noted elsewhere that the Qumran texts follow this reading concerning "the two" in support of the call for radical monogamy.)

Additional canonical support for this reading comes from Genesis itself: whenever the phrase occurs in Genesis it could (and should) be translated with the indefinite article to indicate nouns are being used, rather than cast as adjectives. This is perhaps clearest Genesis 6:19 and 7:3,9, and 19 (the only other uses of this phrase in Genesis), all of which refer to the pairs of animals to be saved in the ark. Each pair consists of one male and one female. (Note that other uses of "male and female" in English translations of Genesis, such as references to "male and female slaves" add further confusion. No words for "male" or "female" occur in these passages; there are separate Hebrew words for "a male slave" and "a female slave.")

The second mistaken reading (unfortunately well enshrined in the tradition) is the reading of Ephesians 5:32 that forces "Paul" to make the very unlikely statement that marriage is a great mystery -- understood as a sacrament. Again, I've written about this at some length elsewhere, but want to flag the problems with this reading here. First, it is obviously inconsistent to suggest that the Pauline School (if not Paul himself -- there being some disagreement as to the authorship of the epistle) would attach a quasi-divine status to an institution elsewhere in "his" writings given scant honor beyond its social utility. Second, this is not the only verse in the epistle to refer to "mystery" -- and as the author makes clear in the following clause, he is talking about that same mystery that is addressed throughout the document -- the mystery of Christ and of the Church, how the two become one, a mystery reflected in -- but not consisting of -- the marriage of a man and a woman. And, of course, that is what the text says, though bad translations have twisted it in such a way as to have the author speak of "a" great mystery -- one such marvel among many. But a literal translation of the verse, far from saying "This is a great mystery," would read, "This mystery is great -- but I speak of Christ and of the Church." Not marriage, not the verse from Genesis; but the mystery of salvation in Christ, in which all of humanity, Jew and Gentile, is taken up and redeemed. And if that isn't a genuinely Pauline message I don't know what is.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 2, 2016

Great Cloud of Confusion

There is a good deal of confusion in some quarters concerning the status of the commemorations in Holy Women, Holy Men and the forthcoming Great Cloud of Witnesses. This confusion stems in part from the commendable desire felt by many clergy obediently “to conform to the ... Worship of the... Church,” and uphold the principle of common prayer. The confusion enters in due to the habit of General Convention of authorizing various liturgical resources for trial use over the years, and Great Cloud of Witnesses has not been presented in that way.

That need not be a concern. The reason commemorations listed in Lesser Feasts and Fasts went through “trial use” was their inclusion on the Calendar of the BCP (only alternatives or revisions to the BCP actually require trial use; the Bishops of the Episcopal Church, and even single diocesan bishops, can authorize additional liturgical resources as they will, per both the Constitution and the BCP). HWHM was originally to be an extension of Lesser Feasts, and so was offered for trial use due to the changes in the Calendar it would have presented, but GCoW is offered as a resource for congregations to do what the BCP already allows; it does not need “trial use” because the rubrics of the BCP already "authorize" such commemorations, for which GCoW supplies proper collects and readings. The resolution enabling the publication of GCoW states this clearly: “That the 78th General Convention make available for publication and distribution by individuals and in congregations and other church groups for devotional or catechetical use, or use in public worship subject to the provision for optional commemorations on page 18 of the Book of Common Prayer, the liturgical resource entitled, ‘A Great Cloud of Witnesses...’” (emphasis mine). The language is a bit tortured, but “use in public worship subject to... the BCP” is crystal clear.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 21, 2016

On Political and Social Engagement, or Not

While I resonate with frustration over the wrongs of the state (or the state of the wrongs) I have to demur from a strictly Christian Anarchist position, such as that espoused by Jacques Ellul. I regard such Anarchism as aspirational rather that practically universal. While it is perfectly reasonable for a follower of Christ to aspire to abdicate from participation in the state, short of becoming a hermit in a wilderness most of us still reap the benefits of "civilization" (the benefits of the earthly City, not of God, but of Humanity). It is almost impossible not to benefit from the public works of the state, short of retirement to the desert. 

As even St Francis realized (presaging Kant’s categorical imperative), if everyone followed the Franciscan example of absolute poverty and a mendicant lifestyle there would be no one from whom to beg. (One of the rationales for the Third Order was to allow those who could not give up everything to give up something — to support the mendicants — while acknowledging their imperfect realization of Christ’s poverty in penitence.)

This is in part why I am a Christian Socialist rather than a Christian Anarchist: the state itself is not evil (or no more evil than the individual person), “simul iustus et peccator,” and capable of doing good as well as wrong. By participating in the state, I hope to urge it toward being as good as possible, while recognizing that it is not, and never will be, heaven on earth. There is only one City of God, and it is above, where Christ is. In this vale of tears we continue to do the best we can; and there is room for hermits as well as merchants, each of them witnessing to Christ in their own ways and to the extent they are able.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG 

April 8, 2016

Emmaus: A Symphonic Poem for Easter

This is a musical composition reflecting the Lucan account of Jesus encountering two disciples as they were walking in the countryside. In this encounter he recalls for them the events of Holy Week, showing them how these fulfilled the prophecies of the Hebrew people concerning the Anointed One. These recollections warm their hearts strangely as they walk along. When the disciples urge him to stay with them, he does so. At the table, he breaks bread — as he had done on the night before he suffered — and he becomes known to them in that breaking and in that bread, even as he vanishes from their sight.

Images are mostly from Rembrandt, with a few other classic and romantic works. The burning heart is a sculpture from my Brother in Christ Karekin Madteos’ garden.

Blessed Eastertide to all...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 18, 2016

Failure to Concur

This year Good Friday falls on March 25, which would be observed as the Feast of the Annunciation were it not for our rules of precedence which privilege the days of Holy and Easter Weeks above all other Feasts. This is the last time Good Friday will fall on March 25 in this century, and when it does, the power of Cross will once again gently nudge the Virgin Mother forward by a bit over a week.

This failed concurrence gives rise to imagery of such weight I cannot shift it so easily from my mind. Nor have others found it so light a thing. Here is the poem John Donne wrote in 1608 on a similar concurrence.

Upon the Annunciation and Passion Falling upon One Day. 1608

Tamely, frail body, abstain today; today
My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees Him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came and went away;
She sees Him nothing twice at once, who’s all;
She sees a Cedar plant itself and fall,
Her Maker put to making, and the head
Of life at once not yet alive yet dead;
She sees at once the virgin mother stay
Reclused at home, public at Golgotha;
Sad and rejoiced she’s seen at once, and seen
At almost fifty and at scarce fifteen;
At once a Son is promised her, and gone;
Gabriel gives Christ to her, He her to John;
Not fully a mother, she’s in orbity,
At once receiver and the legacy;
All this, and all between, this day hath shown,
The abridgement of Christ’s story, which makes one
(As in plain maps, the furthest west is east)
Of the Angels’ Ave and Consummatum est.
How well the Church, God’s court of faculties,
Deals in some times and seldom joining these!
As by the self-fixed Pole we never do
Direct our course, but the next star thereto,
Which shows where the other is and which we say
(Because it strays not far) doth never stray,
So God by His Church, nearest to Him, we know
And stand firm, if we by her motion go;
His Spirit, as His fiery pillar doth
Lead, and His Church, as cloud, to one end both.
This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one:
Or ‘twas in Him the same humility
That He would be a man and leave to be:
Or as creation He had made, as God,
With the last judgment but one period,
His imitating Spouse would join in one
Manhood’s extremes: He shall come, He is gone:
Or as though the least of His pains, deeds, or words,
Would busy a life, she all this day affords;
This treasure then, in gross, my soul uplay,
And in my life retail it every day.

And here is my short poem upon the Annunciation, reminding us that whether the feasts concur or not, salvation is all One.

She knelt beside the neatly planted rows
of cummin, dill, and mint. The clear March sky
was bright; a flock of birds flew high.
She pinched a leaf;
                    then, suddenly, she froze —
a voice had spoken. There was no one there.
It spoke a second time; she looked around.
“How can this be?” she asked the vacant air.
Once more it spoke, yet there was not a sound.
She paused again; her answer in her mind.

In thirty years and three, her words would find
an echo: “Not my will, but thine be done,”
said in another garden by her son,
while three friends slept.
                           So here none heard her words —
except an angel, a high flight of birds,
and three neat rows of cummin, mint, and dill:
“Be it to me according to thy will.”

Bless this day of contrast and devotion, of sacrifice and blessing. Bless us all.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 14, 2016

Stanzas on the Way of the Cross

The Lord who set his hand upon the deep,
who stretched the compass on the heavens’ face,
who planned the universe and gave it life,
here, now, is trapped — the victim of a plot.
The judge is judged, and shares a sinner’s fate,
while Pilate, at the warning of his wife,
evades his guilt with water and a towel,
delivering up the one who would deliver
the world that owed him all of its existence.
The very ones who call out for his death —
that he deserves to die — owe him their breath.

The eternal word now mutely keeps his peace
and opens not his mouth. The worthy one,
held worthless now, takes up his heavy cross.
The one who bore the weight of all the worlds
now wearily takes up a cross of wood.
The Lamb of God who takes away our sins,
in meekness his last pilgrimage begins.

A star shot from its place in heaven and fell
down to the depths of the abyss. Was Christ’s
descent less terrible, his humble stooping down?
Yet humbly he had washed the apostles’ feet,
so now he falls to wash away our sin.
Can we do less than kneel here and adore
the one who all our sin and anguish bore?

A mother’s pain! to see her own child die —
tragic reversal, when age sees youth undone.
The heart that stored such hope, such promised joy
now breaks to see the ruin of that hope.
Yet breaking, that heart’s hope finds its release
and brings the world the promise of its peace.

Simon didn’t know who Jesus was;
just that he’d better do as he was told:
take up that cross and carry it a while.
What unknown hands lift crosses from our backs?
Who serves us? And what strangers do we serve?
Whom do we serve, if not our Lord himself,
who told us that as we each do unto
the least of them we do it unto him?
To follow him we must take up that cross —
to save our lives our lives must suffer loss.

He came to show us all that we could be,
to stand displayed a perfect man, that we
might have a model for our lives. Instead
we turned away; and worse, we cursed and mocked
his beauty, so much greater than our own.
Yet all our hurts and harms could not deface
the inner glory of his perfect soul,
and his wounds only served to make us whole.

How can he bear that weight? How can he bear
the gathered sorrows of a billion souls?
How bear these sins, since he is innocent?
It is no wonder he should fall, beneath
the heavy weight of all this unearned guilt.
All we like sheep are scattered, wandering, lost;
we set the price; and he has paid the cost.

What tears are these? Whence comes this grievous moan?
Is it for him, or for the loss of hope?
If this is how the world will treat its Lord,
what hope is there for anyone? For us?
If green wood burns so easily, what flames
will ravage those whose hearts and souls are dry?
It seems for our own sins we’d better cry.

Where is the light? The candles have gone out!
There is no hope, no way to see the way;
the one we hoped would lead us has collapsed.
Yet in his fall, this third bone-weary fall,
his voice cries out, Remember me, O Lord;
and God, who hears the fallen, will not fail.
Up from the depths and darkness without light,
he calls on our behalf through our long night,
his prayer ascending God’s high throne unto:
Father, forgive; they know not what they do.

The night before, he’d spoken of his blood,
and blessed the cup of wine, removed his robe
and kneeling, washed their feet; and later, in
the garden kneeled again, and asked his God
to let the cup of bitterness pass by.
All comes together here: wine, blood and gall.
The garments are removed, the veil undone:
We see the naked glory of the Son.

The carpenter of Nazareth is brought
at last to Skull Hill’s bloody, dismal mound.
Between two criminals, hemmed in by sin,
the sinless one is nailed upon the cross.
How many times had he with his own hands
wielded the hammer, pegging wooden frames,
or driven nails. He’d made good yokes, good yokes
for oxen at the plough, or at the cart.
Yet here he is undone with his own art.

What legacy is this, what parting gift?
A mother loses one son, gains another,
as John, belov’d disciple, gains a mother.
The end has come; time for one bitter taste
of vinegar on a sponge, a gasping breath,
the words of commendation, and of death.

Long, long ago, an angel called her bless’d
and full of grace. Did Gabriel know the course
her life would take, the life of her womb’s fruit,
the Son of God — that it would come to this?
And did he know as well that this was not
the end, that there was more — far more — to come?
Yet Mary’s grief is not relieved in this,
as on his wounded brow she plants a kiss.

His foster father was named Joseph, too;
in death, he takes another Joseph’s tomb.
He had no earthly father of his own,
nor would he have a grave but as a gift.
His birthplace was a stable let on loan,
his burial in a tomb another built.
And all this was to free us from our guilt.
The Way is ended, now the tomb is sealed —
our eyes have seen the love of God revealed.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 10, 2016

Disagreement, Good and Bad

The Church of England is in the process of exploring the limits of disagreement on matters of sexuality. One might say the Anglican Communion as a whole is doing the same. England already reached a settlement on the propriety of women bishops, allowing "both integrities" to flourish side by side in peaceful contradiction. (The nation that gave us Lewis Carroll has done itself proud in this.)

The goal, of course, is a peaceful detente, going by the name "good disagreement." The church has been plagued by disagreement -- good and bad -- from the days of Peter and Paul. Ultimately it is the object of the (dis)agreement that determines whether it can be (a) a peaceable willingness to bear with difference or (b) a cause for schism. "It seemed important at the time" is the watchword of warning for any church tempted to divide over what may turn out in the long run to have been a minor point of dispute. Remember the common cup, and vernacular liturgy? Or circumcision? The church's history is draped with conflicts that in retrospect have faded and lost their color; so much so one is tempted to ask, "What was the matter?" What matters — the living Text — is Christ, and him crucified, died, buried, risen and ascended. All the rest is gloss.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 7, 2016

Duned, We're Duned

[satire on]

There can be little doubt that D J Trump of Old Terra thought of himself as the Kwisatz Haderach (“he who can be in all places at once”). His confidence in his eventual success was nourished by his uncanny prescience, supported by his devotion to melange, which he stockpiled in vast quantities, and the superhuman speed with which he could alter his positions. He had strong support for this belief based on passages of the Orange Catholic Bible, which he held to be descriptive of his personal features, the result of the blend of bloodlines (the characteristic red hair of the Harkonnens, and the eerie blue “Ibad” eyes of the Atreides, enhanced by consumption of the spice). Supported by the ghola Christie, his efforts were crowned with the success he presaged, leading, as historians have reconstructed, to the atomic war of the early 21st century.

— from Tales of Old Terra by Princess Irulan

[satire off, with a tip of the hat to Frank and Brian Herbert]


March 3, 2016

Political gloss on Mark 4:25

There used to be a joke among Anglican religious that people who came from money entered the Franciscans and people who grew up poor joined Holy Cross. With the electorate it is often the reverse. People with money want to keep their money, and so in self-interest choose the candidate less likely to increase the tax burden on the highest brackets. And vice versa. Cui bono, quid pro quo, and q.e.d.


March 2, 2016

Rare Political Outburst

As much as the GOP would like to pretend that Donald Trump is simply the crazy cousin that they hid in the basement all these years instead of providing adequate mental health care, this is not really the case. The truth is that the GOP has labored on this, though unwittingly, ever since Barak Obama came on the scene, even before he was elected. They have nourished falsehoods and suspicions; they have prejudiciously pledged themselves to obstruction of anything he might propose; they have been as good as their word and blocked actions not terribly unlike some they themselves proposed in earlier days; they have fostered unreasonableness and know-nothingism as if these were cardinal virtues, feeding denial of science and common sense at the capacious breast of religious quackery. In short, they have none other than themselves to answer to the charge that things have gone terribly wrong.

I rarely make political comments on this blog, but I could not resist at this point. Mea culpa.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 22, 2016

Denature of Communion

My chum from New Zealand, Bosco Peters, has posted a very helpful essay on the nature of the Anglican Communion, focusing on the extent to which communion is an applicable term, given what it usually means — mutual recognition of ministers, and their ability to function within each other’s churches (mutatis mutandis).

The problem did not begin with the recent collapses and severances of recognition (and function) at primatial gatherings; nor in the disagreements in the wake of Gene Robinson’s election and consecration. Nor did the breaches start with the “impaired communion” (a term which has always reminded me of “partial virginity”) declared (or described) by Archbishop Runcie after Barbara Harris’ consecration (and concerning every woman bishop since, given the fact that a woman bishop can still not function as even a presbyter in some parts of the “communion.”)

For one could go back all the way to the 26th year of George III (1786), and the Act of Parliament that first permitted the ABC and ABYork (with others) to ordain and consecrate the Americans White and Provoost without the royal warrant, and absent the oaths normally required. Among other things, the Act stated: it hereby declared, that no person or persons consecrated to the office of a bishop in the manner aforesaid, nor any person or persons deriving their consecration from or under any bishop so consecrated, nor any person or persons admitted to the order of deacon or priest by any bishop or bishops so consecrated, or by the successor or successors of any bishop or bishops so consecrated, shall be thereby enabled to exercise his or their respective office or offices within his Majesty's dominions.

So from the outset the Anglican “Communion” has been one in a (partially) shared spirit, a variable historical deposit, but lacking the uniform application of the standard mark of “communion” as it is used in ordinary ecumenical relations.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 4, 2016

Anglican Cuisinart

I hope most people can at this point see that the recent Primates' gathering (or meeting, depending on who is speaking) was not a great success. There is little agreement on what it accomplished, who was actually there and for what parts of the meeting, what those who were there agreed to, and what it all ultimately means. I think it hard to argue that it has improved relations, or settled anything. Things were at a low simmer of discontent before, but now the pot has boiled over and there is pasta hanging from the ceiling.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 1, 2016

Not of the Book

Christianity is not, properly speaking, a religion of the “book.” The distinctively Christian part of the Bible (what most people mean by “the book”) is a product of Christianity in its earliest days. The Christian faith is actually a religion of the Spirit of God, who, yes, infuses the text the writers of the early church were inspired to produce, and who continues to enlighten the minds of Christians as they read and hear that text. But God is not the text. God is God, and it is the Spirit of God that gives life, not the letter. The Scripture is testimony, a pointer and a witness; Jesus is the Truth to whom this witness points.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 31, 2016

Fixing Easter

There is a move afoot in some ecumenical circles to find a common date for the observance of Easter. I won't go into the calendrical problems here — you can read about it on Wikipedia — but some churches follow the archaic Julian calendar, while others accept the Gregorian revision that brings the astronomical year into better sync. This leads to Easter being celebrated on different days by different Christian traditions. (There are also some splinter groups who don’t like either of these solutions, which further complicates things.)

Beyond that, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has suggested that not just a common date, but a fixed date, would be even better; which is to say, for instance, that Easter might always fall on the second Sunday in April. He has argued that this would be ever so much more rational and helpful for the business world and for the schools. He may be singing the lost number from My Fair Lady, “Why can't Easter be more like Michaelmas?” — but he also seems to me to be upending a longstanding tradition primarily so as to make the merchants more comfortable in the Temple precincts. Such a move might be more rational for the schools and banks, but, to paraphrase Jane Austen, "it would not be near so much like Easter."

While I certainly support the effort to settle on the calendar, Julian or Gregorian, to find a common date for the observance for Easter, I think in fixing a date we would miss something literally cosmic about the traditional dance of the sun and moon and earth that governs the commemoration.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Thought on Today's Gospel (Luke 4:21-30)

With regard to The Episcopal Church, the Primates of the Anglican Communion appear to have taken as their text, "...shut up for three years."

I would rather focus on the truth that the power of the Holy Spirit often lights on those who minister among the outcasts, poor and untouchable, of Sidon and Damascus. Prophetic words — which simply means “true words” — are not always welcome among the family, and those who utter them are sometimes dismissed from the table (or threatened with being thrown from a cliff) by those who do not wish to hear that God’s mysterious work takes place even where, perhaps especially where, it is unexpected and unlooked for.

So it has been, so it is now, so it will be: the water flows in the desert, and those who thirst find relief, while the proud will not stoop to the spring.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 24, 2016

Church Management

The leadership of the Church of England, and by extension (since the majority are relatively recent products of English missionary efforts) many of the Primates of the Anglican Communion seem to have taken a managerial approach to the development of doctrine and polity within Anglicanism. One might observe this is better than the almost impossibilist approach of the Eastern Church or the heavily top-down of the Roman, but in recent years these leaders seem to have taken their cue more from those directions than from the more traditionally Anglican model of provincial autonomy to innovate and the process of reception over time.

This is not meant to give unqualified endorsement to the Gamaliel principle ("If it lasts, it is of God") if for no other reason than that things of God don't always last, and many things that are downright ungodly seem to endure very well! The danger in the "wait and see" approach lies in the fact that deferring action on what is later judged to have been unjust or immoral puts one in a bad light under that later judgment. C. S. Lewis long ago, in a children's book of all places, denounced the danger of taking a wait and see attitude in which, "The dwarves are for the dwarves." They end up unable to see, having refused to act.

Nor am I endorsing a free-for-all adoption of anything new because it is new. Both antiquarianism and novelty are poor guides to rightness. What I am suggesting is that rather than attempting to manage the process, the Primates and the members of the various Anglican churches allow the process of reception -- or rejection -- to take place over time. We are dealing, after all, not with a core doctrine of the faith, but a matter of marriage discipline -- and one far less troublesome than that of remarriage after divorce which the churches managed to gulp (with some discomfort) while gasping at the "bulk" of the recent gnat.

In the long run, the call to submit to such managerial policies runs counter to the history of how the church has worked over time. Almost exactly a decade ago (June 2006), I assembled the following "chain of events" that explores what might have happened had various parties given in to the putative authorities urging their submission. I don't think anything need be added:

  • 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.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 21, 2016

Me and My House

Were I a conciliar Christian, I would no doubt belong to a church that recognized conciliarism as part of its essence — as in the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox traditions. If I wanted to be part of a confessional church, I would join one of those that had a formal confession, such as that of Augsburg or Westminster. But as it is, I am an Anglican. As such I reject the notion that councils can be trusted always to be right in matters even of faith; and accept that confessions are basically just the work of relatively recent councils (or conventicles), and are just as prone to error, as well as being much too much concerned over controversies that later turn out to have been of no lasting importance.

As I say, I'm an Anglican — of the Episcopal sort — a "creedal Christian" if you want to give it a name. I'm happy to read the confessions and reflect on the decisions of councils, but am not hard pressed to adopt either. The doctrinal minimalism of the Anglican tradition — what C. S. Lewis called "mere Christianity" — suits my temperament. I'm able to recite the doctrine of the church every Sunday morning, in the words of the Nicene Creed. (Yes, I realize that was the work of two, count 'em, two Councils. But, as my mother said in her last words on this earth, "That's enough.")

So I'm puzzled by the efforts of some to drag Anglicans into some other form of either conciliar or confessional church. The ones that exist along those lines seem to do quite well, and I think we Anglicans will lose something of value if we seek to become more like one or the other. I had rather we continue as a somewhat rambunctious and not always agreeable family of interrelated national or provincial churches with a common heritage balanced by the freedom for considerable local adaptation. Oh, and the Gospel at the heart.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 19, 2016

The Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politicks

So what have we? On the one hand we have a body, founded in 1789 and in continuous existence since, with duly elected members called and assembled, which by its constitutional authority and in keeping with its governing law has adopted a policy which concerns no entity other than itself.

On the other hand we have a group, first assembled in 1978, meeting sporadically since, this time 'round in an irregularly convened ad hoc session; with at least one voting member improperly credentialed; having no constitutional authority whatsoever; described as recently as 2004 in The Windsor Report (¶ 104) as having until then "refused to acknowledge anything more than a  consultative and advisory authority" for itself — now presuming an enhanced capacity to deem the imposition of consequences upon the aforementioned body over whom they have no authority, because of their policy change.

This must be what some people mean by "Godly order." Seems relatively ungodly to me, and far from orderly. If this were the political realm, I'd call the latter a junta and their action an attempted coup.

As it is, their advice must be taken simply for what it is worth, as we in that first body continue to preach and practice the Good News. (The One who started it all also got into trouble with a hastily gathered assembly...)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Addendusm: I was asked how much of a majority it takes to make such decisions. A very high standard is necessary when individual rights are being restrained or removed; the maxim "quod omnes tangit ab omnibus approbetur" ("what concerns all must be approved by all") cited (though almost completely misunderstood) in The Windsor Report, essentially requires universal consent, or at the very least the consent of the ones "touched" by the decision. Since this is the nature of issues raised in the recent Primates' Meeting, it would seem that a reported less than unanimous decision falls short.