December 2, 2017

Secret Faults

I think a great learning for our time will come in exploration of the question: What is acceptable but profoundly wrong in our own time and culture? — just as acceptable as were slavery to the founding fathers and sexual harrassment to the bosses in their corner offices, and just as profoundly wrong; wrong then and wrong now.

But what other things in our present culture are equally bad, but equally accepted?

Systemic racism is just one such thing, still too acceptable by some. And systemic sexism, enacted into practice by unequal pay and unfair policies, feeds and nourishes a culture in which women still are second class citizens.

But what else is in there, at the roots of our culture, accepted, but rotten at the root? What wrongs are so accepted that no one but the victim notices, and keeps silent because “that’s just the way things are.” The Psalmist had it right, “Who can tell how often he offends? Cleanse me from my secret faults....”

—Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 29, 2017

New Version of Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; he's really great; the best. I don't need anything... takes me to the best places, golfing — the greens are beautiful, really good. Nice lake. Takes great care of the highways, really good care... sign with his name on it, so he gets the credit. Great job! Even out in Death Valley... I was there once. Really hot, but heat doesn't bother me. He sent his whole staff, we had a good meeting. Very good meeting. Nice lunch, even with Chuck and Nancy there. Losers. But we’re doing great things. Really good things, always. 


November 26, 2017

Remembered Music

Some members of the parish at which I'm an associate (Advent, Baltimore) have inspired me to dig out my recorders and start playing again. I was an avid recorder player in high school and college, and played in a consort (“The Flying Buttresses”) in my early years in NY, and during my time in the choir at Saint Luke in the Fields.

Since then the instruments languished, and I fell out of practice. Happy to say that much of it comes back, somewhat like bicycling, though I am by no means back up to speed or agility. But I'm continuing to practice every day, and enjoying playing music I much missed. Hoping to connect with other recorder and early music enthusiasts, and play a bit with the parishioners who inspired me to get back into the swing of things, I've even rejoined the American Recorder Society after a 30 year hiatus, and will look into the Maryland Early Music Society.

(The image is from the late 80s or early 90s... playing an alto recorder at a Brotherhood of St Gregory liturgy.)

November 18, 2017

The price of liberty, or libertines

I’m sure I'm not the only one who has noticed that in an era where hard-core porn is accessible to fingertip reach on ubiquitous screens, and things appear on network TV that in earlier years would have been subject to prosecution even if displayed in private smoke-filled back rooms, there is a simultaneous call for an almost Victorian propriety in the workplace, in which an off-color joke or a misplaced hand on an unwilling shoulder might be cause for dismissal. I find the tut-tutting of commentators expressing horror and disgust at the Al Franken photo to be incongruous given the language and attitudes expressed on, say, the Celebrity Roasts on basic cable channels, where crowds applaud the most vulgur obscenities about both women and men, issued with the proviso of “no disrespect.” To say nothing of the incongruity of the incumbent in the White House joining in the tut-tutting.

Perhaps Yeats was right after all, and the center cannot hold, but we are entering the widening gyre where prudery and license spin, and the moral compass cannot find true North.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

September 14, 2017

Right of Marriage

In the current debate concerning marriage equality in Australia, as in similar debates in other countries, including the United States, marriage is often held up as a basic human right. In spite of the wide recognition of the right to marry in such documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, some oppose seeing marriage as a right. The opposition often comes from members or leaders of church bodies. However, in denying marriage as a right, such opponents undercut and deny the same principle that protects the practice of religion: not religion merely as singular personal belief as a species of freedom of thought, but religion in practice as gathered worship as a species of the right to assembly. It is a right of expression, not merely of thought.

It is in this that the right to marry, which is also species of the generic right to free association and assembly, that the church finds its kindred freedom, the freedom to practice its religion in a corporate fashion. For according to the author of Ephesians, it is as the assembly of the many into one — the great mystery of Christ and the church — that the church resembles marriage, the fundamental and most intimate form of human association, the type of all society, including the church.

To attack the right to marry is to attack the fundamental basis of all human communion, and to assault the foundational right upon which the church itself is built.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 24, 2017

Light, Not Heat

I'm very happy to announce that my latest project,What About Sex?, is now off press and available through Church Publishing and many other outlets. It is part of the new series "Little Books of Guidance" and as such it is designed as a guide rather than a law-book, offering [I hope!] more light than heat.

It is meant to provide the 21st-century Christian or seeker with a moral compass to navigate the changing landscape of sex and sexuality. That landscape has changed considerably since the times in which the Bible was composed — and the Bible itself testifies to some of that change, as do the evolving traditions and customs of the church. This little book places the testimony of Scripture and church tradition into the context of their own and other cultures, with tools to make the best reasonable use of the guidance they provide, in light of how Jesus himself engaged with the Scriptures, traditions, and cultures he encountered. All of this interacts with the findings of science and psychology, with a goal to inform and guide rather than to lay down the law. It is not about what goes where or who does what to whom, but about what it means to be an embodied person with responsibilities both to oneself and others. It is not an answer-book, but a guide to help seekers form their own answers to questions big and small, even as those answers lead to further questions. What About Sex? will be useful for personal study, and as a resource for adults and older youth.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

August 21, 2017

No Boundary to Grace

A sermon for Proper 15a • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Church of the Advent, Federal Hill Baltimore

My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others...+
All of our Scripture readings today point in the direction of healing the division that has existed since the days when God first made a covenant with Abraham and designated him as the ancestor of a special, holy, and chosen people. This was a people separated from all the other nations of the earth. The covenant of their separation was cherished by the Jewish people down through the centuries. The covenant was also renewed many times down through the years. Moses recommitted the people to obey their God at Mount Sinai. Joshua recommitted them, challenging them to obey the Lord as he and his household swore to do, when they entered the Holy Land. Ezra and Nehemiah reminded the people of these commandments after exile in Babylon, and the Maccabees did the same after their liberation from the Greeks. Time and again that message was hammered home: you are God’s chosen people, unique in all the world because of your relationship with the maker heaven and earth.

That message, as it came to be understood — or perhaps I should say misunderstood — was that salvation itself was only for the children of Israel — a people chosen not only for this world but for the next. Among the rabbis it became a topic of debate as to whether a non-Jew — even a righteous one — could have any share at all in the life of the world to come.

Of course, the rabbis were good lawyers, so they focused on the Law, but in the process neglected the Prophets. For the prophets, such as Isaiah, had revealed that God had a special place reserved for the Gentiles who sought God and dedicated themselves to righteousness in God’s name. In spite of these prophetic promises, the question of whether Gentiles were worth God’s notice, or God’s salvation, was still a hot topic among the rabbis by the time of Christ.

You could even read Jesus in this morning’s Gospel as a supporter of this theory of Israelite exceptionalism. He appears to adopt that stricter view that Gentiles and foreigners are not God’s concern — God’s interest is in caring for the children of Israel, maybe as part of a plan to “make Israel great again!”

But then Jesus appears to be moved by the Canaanite woman’s persistence, and her chutzpah in talking back to him when he indirectly compares her tormented child to a dog. She is bold enough to remind Jesus (who has himself brought up the analogy of food and the dinner table) that even dogs are remembered and fed — along with the children — even if only with crumbs.

+ + +

Now, I’ve often wondered if Jesus really was being as hard-hearted as he appears to be to this poor woman with a sick child, or if he wasn’t perhaps testing his disciples — seeing whether they would abide by the prevailing view that foreigners are second-class interlopers, unworthy of God’s attention. Was he testing them to see if they would show the kind of gracious openness Jesus himself shows on other occasions? You note that it is the disciples who first urge him to send her away...

But that is a topic for another sermon. Because whatever the reason, whether Jesus was moved by this woman or was testing the disciples, in the end he broke through that boundary to allow grace to flow freely to a Gentile. And of course, by the end of Matthew’s Gospel it is abundantly clear that Jesus intends salvation for the whole world. By the end, Jesus sends the disciples out to baptize all nations — which is to say all Gentiles — into the faith of the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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In today’s epistle, Saint Paul addresses this question in the manner of a good rabbi — which, as he often reminds us, he was, a student at the feet of Gamaliel, himself a student of Rabbi Hillel the Great. In the rabbinic debates of those days, Hillel had been an advocate of the generous view that Gentiles could be saved, and Paul no doubt came to believe that in Jesus Christ this doctrine of his spiritual grandfather had come true.

Much of Paul’s letter to the Romans is an effort to explain just how this might work. In the section we heard today the image is almost one of a seating at a banquet. Those who had formerly been seated — God’s chosen ones — have lost their seats through disobedience. Only that misbehavior has opened up the possibility for the Gentiles to take their place — for a time. And that “for a time” is important because Paul promises the eventual ushering back in of all of God’s people, all whom God foreknew and chose as his own — Jew and Gentile — for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.

+ + +

In God’s good time, there is plenty of room for Gentile and Jew alike on the mountain that Isaiah envisages. In God’s good time there is no boundary to grace, nor a wall around it, no limit to the abundance of God’s generosity and patience with Jew and Gentile alike. The ultimate message that Paul is transmitting in his Letter to the Romans is that salvation is the work of God. Just as the original creation is the work of God, so too is the new creation in Christ; it is God’s work. It is God’s project.

And it is God’s party — and God invites to it whoever God wishes. It is not for self-righteous party crashers to push themselves forward on the basis of their own righteousness. Nor, even worse, is it right for some at the party to seek to keep others they judge unworthy out, but for all to trust in the saving mercy of God, and God’s invitation, as the only basis for admission to the banquet. We are not invited to the banquet on the basis of our righteousness, but God’s righteousness, God’s generosity.

God has cried out the invitation to the ends of the earth, and cries out still: it’s God’s party and he’ll cry if he wants to! And through the prophets and apostles, through the church, God cries out: Come! There is plenty of room at the table, and crumbs aplenty under it — but believe you me, no child of God invited to that table will have to live on crumbs, but will receive the choice and richest portions of the feast. As I said, this is God’s party. God’s grace is God’s, after all. And our God is a God of abundant blessing and not of parsimonious stinginess, a God not of crumbs and crusts but of marvelous abundance, of multiplied loaves, and bread showered from heaven enough to feed a people forty years. The table is set, not in a cramped and crumbling hut, but in the grandest wedding banquet hall, in the house of prayer for all nations. The invitations have gone forth to the ends of the world, to people near and far: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’” Happy are those who are called to this supper.+

June 5, 2017

The Benedictine Options

Regarding Rob Dreher’s The Benedict Option I’m inclined to think the plural ought to have been invoked. The option Dreher offers is more or less a standard “flight from the world” model in which like-minded Christians edge away from wider secular society (rather than completely walling themselves off from it), clustered near each other and their churches in what amounts to abdication of the possibility of redeeming the rest of the fallen world. They gather together to live a more perfect life, in accord with their beliefs, having lost the fight to impose their views in the public square.

There is nothing new in that model. Groups of Christians (and Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and probably many others) have followed just this course of action, forming just this sort of community, down through the centuries. Some of them have been Benedictine.

But I would argue that this is not the only, nor the principal, model for Christian religious community, Benedictine or otherwise. From a Christian perspective, Dreher emphasizes the “work out your own salvation in fear and trembling” model rather than the gospel call to bring a saving message to the world — a world already saved but in need of waking up. (Perhaps he follows a more Calvinist model in which salvation is partial rather than universal?) And from a community perspective, there is a difference between gathering a body of like-minded believers in contempt of the world, in pursuit of purity and perfection, and gathering a group of penitents who know their imperfection and need of support in order to do any good at all — between those who see the community of the church as a society of the elect and perfected, and those who see it as a clinic for sinners, the wounded healers gathered for comfort and strength not as an end in itself, but in order to be sent back out in witness to the power of God's love.

There is more than one option, including for Benedictines.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 26, 2017

Scenes from the Life of St Gregory the Great: Scene 2 — The English Mission

For the feast of Augustine of Canterbury, a dramatic reading of the correspondence between Gregory the Great and the Archbishop of Canterbury. With yours truly and Br Thomas Bushnell in the roles.

Of the Paradox of Anglican Tradition

It is a paradox of the Anglican Way that one of its traditional tenets is that tradition is unreliable as an independent source of authority. This paradox is evident in the works of the judicious Hooker (who never mentioned a three-legged stool) and the more authoritative Articles of Religion. Anecdotally, I have seen this paradox play out a number of times in religious community and the ecclesiastical life of the church. Time and again, people who come to religious life, or to positions of leadership in the church, expressing a desire to be under authority come to reject that authority when it proves either less than authoritative or authoritatively asserts something contrary to what they independently want to believe. It is as if they are saying, “I want to be told what to think,” but when they are told to think for themselves, or are told something they do not find congenial, dig in their heels or shake the dust from them. It has been my experience that the most schismatic and disobedient are the ones who profess to hate schism and claim obedience “to a higher authority” — code for “one that agrees with me.” They head off to seek a church or community which either tells them what to do, or places them at the apex of leadership.

Anglicanism, as it is expressed in The Episcopal Church, lives in this tension, and seeks to help people to find a mature faith growing from within rather than impressed from without. Instead of formation — molding the person to fit a necessary pattern — it is education — the drawing forth of insight, relying (it is true) on a framework, but trusting to the power of the indwelling Spirit to guide and nurture.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 14, 2017

Triduum Thoughts

At last night’s Maundy Thursday liturgy, I felt a bit like Scrooge on Christmas Day: “I don’t deserve to be so happy.” But I was, despite the solemnity, perhaps because of it. Last year on Maundy Thursday I was in the hospital ER with a heart attack, waiting to be operated on the next day... yes, on Good Friday, under local anesthetic, able to watch my beating heart on the fluoroscope as the doctor threaded it with a stent, lying on the table in the same hospital in which I was born, intimations of mortality dancing in my head like preserved sugar plums.

But last night — through the washing of the feet (with painful knees on the stone floor) as I have done so many times before, but then to a liturgical act new to me, cleaning the altar with water carefully poured into the five incised crosses on the mensa, and wiping it down with the same sort of towel used to dry the parishioners’ feet, and then using that same moistened towel, folded, to stifle the light of the sanctuary lamp, watching it dim and die, stopping Ed the cantor’s voice as all the lights went out — I experienced the same inexplicable joy.

More apt for joy, perhaps, such moments as bearing the incomparable weight of the Body to the Altar of Repose, beneath the canopy, God’s parachute. But the most joyous moment came at the Sursum Corda. As I turned and looked down the long aisle of the nave, out through the clear glass doors and the open wooden ones, I saw a man across Charles Street, walking along, who at that same moment turned to look into the church. He stayed standing directly, centrally opposite, looking, through the call for lifted hearts, the call for thanks to be given. I was calling to him perhaps more than to the people already churched, already on board. I don't think he could have heard me — the glass doors, open earlier, had been closed to hush the sounds of traffic on that busy street — but I hoped he knew, and knows, that I was calling him, I was calling him on behalf of someone far greater than us all. And I hope his heart was touched by that mystery, if even only for a moment, and that perhaps those doors, or the doors of some other place where God is calling, will feel the press of his hand, and gently open wide.

I don’t deserve to be so happy. But I am.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 9, 2017

The Options Market

a sermon delivered at Church of the Advent, Federal Hill, Baltimore, on Palm Sunday 2017

It has been said that our lives are constituted by the choices we make. At every point of our lives we are faced with options, alternatives to go one way or the other — and the choices we make determine the shape of our lives, each choice like a bead on a string, strung together by our identity. Some of these choices are dramatic and obvious; some, we may not even be aware of as we make them.

This truth is laid out plainly in Matthew’s account of the Passion. We see the choices people make all along the way, choices to act or refrain from action, options and opportunities taken or rejected. So many options for so many lives! And each of these choices shapes the reality of each one’s world — and our world!
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Think of the terrible choice that Judas makes: the choice of betrayal, the choice to accept a handful of silver to betray a man to death, a man in whose company he could have found eternal life. Instead, he opts for delivering him to death, and when stricken with remorse, chooses death for himself.
Then look at Peter, the unsteady man who totters between heroism and cowardice, pulling out a sword at one point to defend his Lord, and then cowering in the shadows at another, denying that he even knows him. He chooses to deny Jesus, and only the rooster’s crow recalls him to himself, and rebukes him for his choice.

Then there’s the high priest, Caiaphas. Matthew doesn’t supply us with a window into why he acts as he does; for that we have to depend on John’s Gospel, which we will hear on Good Friday. Caiaphas is a practical man — he follows what would later be called the utilitarian ethics of “the greatest good for the greatest number.” So, John tells us, he advises that, given the danger Jesus creates in the fragile political climate of Jerusalem, it is expedient that one man should suffer instead of many. This choice goes against the teaching of the greatest rabbi in Judaism, Hillel the Great, who ended his ministry during Jesus’ childhood. Hillel taught that to save a single human life is to save an entire world. Caiaphas on the other hand, weighs human life in the shopkeeper’s scale, one life against many, and figures the trade-off is reasonable. And by that choice he sets the course for all that follows.

Then we have Pilate, another politician, a man who also weighs his choices carefully. It is easy to sympathize with Pilate — so much is pulling him one way and another — even his wife chimes in to warn him to disengage. And so Pilate makes the interesting choice not to choose. Like many a politician before and since, rather than take a position — he takes a poll. Pilate is a leader who leads from behind, safely insulated — he thinks! — from having to take responsibility should things not work out, sheltered from the consequences of his inaction, able to wash his hands of the whole matter — a perfect example of “plausible deniability” — but only known to ages since for this one choice not to choose, forever immortalized wherever Christians gather with those words: “crucified under Pontius Pilate.”
+ + +
All of these choices, all of these lives, swirling in the mix of options and opportunities! And step by step, each one of them choice by choice, each life collapses into reality as each choice is made, all the fuzzy options fading away as each choice becomes concrete, and the path is taken. And amidst this cloud of options, the most important choice, the one that is the eye of the storm around which all of these other possibilities swirl, is the one that Jesus makes, and he keeps right on making it through to the end.

It begins in the garden of Gethsemane, as he appeals to his Father for another option — a way for salvation to be accomplished without his having to drink the cup of suffering set before him. Matthew portrays only one side of the conversation: it is as if we were witnessing a telephone call — we hear what Jesus says, but not the response. God spoke at his Baptism and his Transfiguration. But now? Is God truly silent? Is this the beginning of the terrible silence of God that will lead Jesus to cry out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We do not know. What we do know is that Jesus has a choice, there in the garden, and throughout the rest of the suffering that follows. There in the garden it is perhaps clearest: even with Judas and the guards on their way, it is still not too late for Jesus to escape, to leave the city and head on back to the safety of Bethany, to flee to far-off Galilee. But he doesn’t.

That same choice is available to Jesus right on up to the end. When they bring him before Caiaphas, he could choose to deny himself and his mission as God’s holy one, the Messiah. But he doesn’t. When brought before Pilate, he could play on Pilate’s weakness for “the art of the deal.” But he doesn’t. Even when they nail him to the cross, he could indeed — as the taunters say — choose to “come down now from the cross.” But he doesn’t.

For he knows at any one of these steps that for him to do so would be to disobey his heavenly Father, to deny the very purpose for which he was born. To choose not to die on the cross — that is the most tempting option, but it is one that he refuses.
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In his novel, The Last Temptation of Christ, author Nikos Kazantzakis explores what it might have been like if Jesus had given in to this last temptation, this option to come down from the cross. In a flash, even as he hangs there crucified, Jesus envisions what it would mean to come down from the cross. He sees himself return to Galilee as an ordinary man, to settle down and get married, to run his carpenter shop — and to leave the world unredeemed, human nature broken, left to lay where — not Jesus — but Adam and Eve “flang it.”

But he doesn’t. Jesus doesn’t do this, in the novel or the Gospel. He rejects that dreamlike fantasy of an ordinary life; he doesn’t give in to that last tempting choice, that seductive option to live instead of dying. He gives himself to death on the cross, knowing that in the options market of Calvary, all of the conniving deals and bartering in human souls are turned upside down. He lays down his life because he knows this is the only investment that will bring a return — and what a return it will be! What had he said? “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world at the cost of his life?” Jesus took that risk, as only he could do. And his gift of himself, his one sacrifice of himself once offered, would bring redemption to the whole world. His act of obedience unto death, even death on the cross, will lead to his exaltation above all earthly things, and the sanctification of all things, in him.

This is the path the Son of God chose on our behalf, for our salvation. It meant pain and suffering and death for him — but life for us. At the cost of his life he gained the whole world.
+ + +
We are offered a similar choice each day of our lives: we too are offered the option to take up our cross day by day, and follow him. Or... or will we follow Judas’ choice to betray, Peter’s choice to deny, Caiaphas’ choice to victimize, or Pilate’s choice to abdicate?

Will we bend our knee at the name of Jesus, or bow to other earthly gods of wealth and comfort, or act like we don’t know who he is, or take advantage of our sisters and brothers, or act as if this all has nothing to do with us? Sisters and brothers, how we choose each day of our lives, how we play the stakes in this options market, will determine our fate for all eternity. As we sow, so shall we reap.

You may remember a line from Charles’ Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” when Scrooge asks Marley’s Ghost about the heavy chain that binds him. The unhappy ghost responds: “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link... I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you? Or would you know the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this seven Christmas’s ago, and you have labored on it since. Ah, it is a ponderous chain!”

Such are the choices we make, my friends, day by day: the things we do and refuse to do — “things done and left undone.” The life and death of our Savior is set before us to show us how to free ourselves from the ponderous chain of self-interest that binds us to betrayal, fear, victimization, and evasion of responsibility. Judas, Peter, Caiaphas and Pilate — and their choices — offer their testimony.

But a greater witness still is there as well — there, on the cross. God is calling us to follow him, my sisters and brothers, and he will give us the strength to do so. So let us choose, and choose wisely, to follow him, through whom alone we find the way to eternal life. ✠

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 8, 2017

For Holy Week

This is a combination of a Symphonic Poem I wrote back in 1982 with images from the Way of the Cross that I drew last year for my parish. The musical portion is based on some of the traditional Passion music, including a closing chorale the looks beyond the Way of the Cross to Easter....

Peace and all good, and blessed Holy Week,
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 4, 2017

Bodies through the Window

The Church of England is currently being pecked at by a number of chickens home to roost, in particular those hatched from the settlement attempted over the ordination of women to the episcopate, embodied in the Five Guiding Principles. And ultimately, the problem is the embodiment.

The Elizabethan Settlement (a classic instance of Anglican Fudge) on issues such as the nature of Christ's presence in the Eucharist, comprehending mutually contradictory positions, was possible because no windows into personal belief were needed, and the language of the liturgy was adequately ambiguous so as to cover diversity of opinion and belief, so people could attend the same liturgy while holding completely contradictory understandings of what was taking place. Issues only became contentious when physical actions betrayed differing attitudes, so the advice was to keep these to a minimum, keeping the Peace, so to spek.

The problem with Order in general, and the ordination of women to the episcopate is that it is external and visible. Societies and factions are formed. Those who reject the concept are compelled to keep lists of those priests who have not been "ordained" by questionable hands, for neither they, nor the bishop whose hands were laid upon them, are true ministers of the sacraments, in the rejectionist view. Comprehension can no longer be sustained because the diversity of opinion has taken on flesh, and one has to be more or less public in response to the question of whether Jane Doe is a priest or bishop, or not.

It is, of course, still possible to allow for that diversity, within a national church structure, but it takes a much greater effort to sustain since it is now part of the structure itself that is in question. If, as some believe, women cannot sustain Order, the whole edifice risks becoming like those housing blocks Monty Python's Mystico and Janet sustained only by hypnosis.

Someone once noted the fragility of a house divided against itself.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 24, 2017

On Originalism

Originalism is a useful tool in determining authorial intent, but apart from that it is self-defeating as a legal philosophy. To understand the intent of the framers of a document by examining the original meaning of the words they used in the context in which they wrote is so obvious as scarcely to need defense. To give a trivial example, if you want to understand a first century BC text in Latin you had best begin by realizing that first-century BC Latin is neither fourth-century BC Greek nor twenty-first-century English, and the cultural contexts of these different languages also play a role in any attempt at discerning what, for instance, Julius Caesar was writing about. Just because the US Constitution is written in English doesn't mean any of the words have the same meaning they do today. I can guarantee that not one of the authors intended "arms" to mean "snub-nose revolvers" or "tactical nuclear weapons" when asserting a right not to be infringed by the state.

So originalism has its purpose as a hermeneutic tool. But it is less helpful — perhaps disastrous — when it is raised to the level of a philosophy, or worse, ideology. The notion that the Constitution should be set in 18th-century stone, and be inapplicable to later circumstances is belied by the fact that the document provides for its own amendment. The framers were intelligent men, aware of the fact that language changes, as do the times. To suspect they regarded their words as inviolable and unalterable, fixed in meaning and application only to what they intended, is to attribute an almost sacral quality to the Constitution, which is nothing short of idolatrous. I will confess I imagine that even some of the authors of Scripture itself would be shocked to think people of a later time would regard what they intended as topical advice to be unalterable divine mandate for all time. How much less would the men of Enlightenment America regard their efforts to be immutable and fixed for all time?

So go to the sources, read the contemporary commentary, study the lexicons and dictionaries by all means. But remember these are but the starting points for understanding and application. If the Constitution is to live — let it live. Do not suffocate it in the bonds of originalism's lack of imagination and understanding.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 22, 2017

But for Wales...?

The election of a new bishop to serve the Welsh Diocese of Llandaff has created a good deal of storm and strife. The electing convention failed to elect by the necessary 2/3 majority, and so the choice devolved to the five bishops to take up the task. Among other things, they stated that they chose "not to give further consideration to any candidate nominated at the Electoral College in order not to compromise the integrity of the College process."

Among those nominated was Dean Jeffrey John of St Albans. If you don't know who he is, you can stop reading now. If you know, you will recognize the significance of his nomination. Beyond that nomination, he received (so it has been reported, though much of this was to be confidential) unanimous support from the Diocese of Llandaff itself, and a majority of all the other required votes, but less than the 2/3 required for election.

Now, I can well understand the rationale the bishops embraced in their most recent action; it might well be true, all other things being equal, that to consider any of the candidates who failed in the earlier round would be to second-guess the process, or perhaps cobble the future ministry of anyone so nominated who was approved on the second go. Indeed it might be seen as quite irregular to award the seat to one who failed to win it by the normal process.

But all other things are not equal. Dean John has a past, one that includes several quite irregular twists and turns towards an episcopal seat. Secondary considerations and "concerns," such as are raised in other parts of the Anglican Communion, have reared their heads. And there is a very slight difference between "concern" and "fear of consequences" — and "fear" is English for phobia — and I think you know which phobia this seems to be.

It is a mess, without a doubt, and will get messier before it gets clearer.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

The title is part of a quote from Man for All Seasons when More chides Rich for his betrayal: "It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world ... but for Wales, Richard?"

February 21, 2017

As Jesus Did

The church could do worse than follow Jesus. He said adultery was wrong, and expanded the definition even to include lustful eyes — but when faced with an actual adulterer he critiqued her accusers and sent her on her way forgiven. He taught chastity — but when the woman of the streets broke into the banquet and poured out her tears and perfume doubly to anoint him, declared the redemptive quality of her love. So I say to the church today: teach what you will, but bear in mind that your teaching is not the heart of your mission, but forgiveness and love.

—Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 30, 2017

Prongs and Rings

Heterosexuality, under a dominant male view, is about penetration. Thus it maps well to things like electrical plugs and sockets, male and female.

Marriage, however, is about permanence and fidelity, suitably imaged by unending rings, and mapped to things as diverse as religious profession by a nun and the union between Christ and his Body, the church.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 19, 2017

Wedding Preparation

Very happy to see my latest work for Church Publishing off the press, and delighted to see the kind words about it on the back cover.

"Kudos to liturgical scholar Tobias Haller for crafting this comprehensive guide to marriage in the Episcopal Church, based on canonical and liturgical changes authorized by the 2015 General Convention and presented in an easy-to-use format, for clergy, church musicians, and couples. Great to have this information all in one resource!"
-The Right Reverend Thomas C. Ely, Bishop of Vermont

"Preparing for a Wedding in the Episcopal Church is an invaluable resource for any Episcopalian involved in wedding planning and preparation. It thoroughly and concisely explores everything from balancing the sacred and secular to navigating liturgical options to managing photographers and florists. Firmly rooted in solid theology and liturgical practice, it is a timely and practical guide:'
- The Reverend Susan Russell, Senior Associate at All Saints Episcopal Church, Pasadena, California

"Here is a very practical, thorough, and theologically sound guide for clergy, couples, and church musicians on marriage in the Episcopal Church. The church's canon on marriage was updated most recently in 2015, and Tobias walks us through the changes and implications for planning, offering practical advice and guidance to assist all those involved."
- Carolyn Moomaw Chilton, Associate for Evangelism and Stewardship, Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Richmond, Virginia

"Every parish priest should have this resource, which will help them become familiar with the marriage canon and marriage liturgies authorized in 2015. Tobias Haller offers wise pastoral guidance. Drawing from his years of experience, he explores the many options and recommends sound liturgical and pastoral practices."
- The Reverend Dr. Ruth Meyers, Dean of Academic Affairs and Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Timely Thoughts

Early this morning I woke with some images and thoughts running through my mind. 

The future does not exist except as potentiality.
The arrow of time is connected with the expansion of space-time — we do not move "into" an existing future any more than the universe expands "into" a presently empty space — it is space-time itself that is expanding, and this drives the arrow of time.
Experience (the present and past) is the collapse of potentiality into actuality.

That's enough for now. My brain hurts.