Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Athanasius on Enriching Our Worship

Given the suspicion that the program of BCP revision is intended by many to establish Enriching Our Worship as the pattern for future common prayer, it behooves the prudent liturgist to examine its rites with an eye towards the orthodoxy of its language. Fortunately Matthew S.C. Olver has done the heavy lifting for us in a series of three articles on the Covenant website. Part 1 provides an introduction and lays groundwork for the study; Part 2 examines the differences between the EOW and BCP rites in the large, and Part 3 focuses on the eucharistic prayers.

But you can readily get a picture of where this is heading by opening up a PDF of EOW 1 (daily office, litany, and the eucharist) and searching for the word "father". The word appears as follows:

  • Once in the preface (a reference to the church fathers)
  • Nine times in the canticles, of which three are in the Te Deum alone
  • Twice in the Apostles Creed
  • Six times in the Nicene Creed
  • Three times in a section explaining the omission of the filioque
  • None whatsoever in any of the eucharistic prayers
The tallies for "Lord" would appear to be better until one realizes that maybe a third of them are in the Benedicite, and that most of the rest are either in other canticles or in the exchanges which open the eucharistic prayers (plus one in the Sanctus). But it's the composite of this, the way it comes together in a theology, which makes the difference. Fr. Olver is not sanguine about this:
The reason that the Episcopal Church must find a different way to address the feminist concerns I outlined in my first post is that, despite the claim of SCLM’s principle that “the truth of the Gospel which proclaims Jesus as the Son of God the Father and as Lord is essential,” the EOW1 rite as a whole, speaks a fundamentally contrary word. EOW1 speaks a de facto different Trinitarian theology. Let me be clear: I do not wish to imply in any way that the SCLM is trying to introduce a new Trinitarian theology. Rather, I want to suggest that the Trinitarian implications of their revisions take a back seat to the stated goal of removing gendered language for God. My reading is that they have not considered carefully enough the wide-reaching implications of these revisions in Trinitarian theology, Christology, soteriology, and beyond.
Personally, I do not think the situation is that innocent, and I think that allowing Arian interpretations and other heterodoxies is part of the intent, albeit perhaps indirectly. Recall that the driving word behind all of this, and really behind nearly any ECUSA controversy, is "inclusion". Inclusion has been construed extremely broadly, so that it has been seem to encompass not only avoidance of racism, not only resolution of disputes over sexuality, not only conflict over the role of women, but has moved into the whole issue of whether the church even has any boundaries. And throughout church history, the two markers which drew such boundaries were sacrament and doctrine, and they were always coupled.

But now we are seeing numerous attempts to blur the line between being a Christian and not really being a Christian: communing the unbaptized, claiming saints who aren't Christians, priests who claim to be both Christian and Muslim, a bishop-elect with an infatuation with Buddhism, and numerous experimental rites which incorporate neo-pagan elements, tamper with scripture, and excise the creed. Thus the door is opened to Arian (or even Unitarian) tenets because the people in particular to be included encompass those who cannot deal with the doctrines of the virgin birth and the resurrection, or who for that matter don't want to be Christians at all.

In order to make this church safe for that sort of indifferentism, it must, in the end, be made inhospitable to any insistence of orthodoxy. The Council of Nicaea must not only be made optional, but in the end must be proscribed, for the canons of Nicaea are the very realization of the judgement that it does matter what we say about Jesus, and that when we worship his resurrected humanity, we recognize also his divinity, and with Thomas say, "my Lord and my God." Thus, the intent will surely be, in the end, not to place the rites of EOW alongside those of the true prayer book, but to displace them. And, in orthodox faith, I cannot have that. Rite I and Rite II are the starting point of revision, not these error-ridden substitutes.

Monday, October 26, 2015

This Fragile Book, Our Island Tome

Prayer C no doubt sounded like a fabulous idea back in 1974. Four years after the first Earth Day, the environmentalism-themed Expo '74 was underway in Spokane; that same summer saw the "irregular" ordinations in Philadelphia. The time was surely ripe for a last-minute addition to the new prayer book. And thus Howard Galley, officially "Assistant to the Coordinator for Prayer Book Revision" but in practice working editor of the new book, wrote the liturgy one summer evening in his office at 815.

Much of it is good; as a proper for Trinity Sunday its basic structure of recounting the history of salvation from "in the beginning" to our present day is sound. It has its infelicities as well: the responsorial form sounded like a good idea back then but has not worn well, and the final paragraphs, with their (oft altered by feminists) invocation of the patriarchs, do not live up to those grand opening words. But chiefly are we bound to remember it for the passage which inevitably earned it the sobriquet of "the Star Wars prayer":

At your command all things came to be,
galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses,
and this fragile Earth, our island home.

Forty-odd years later, and those words still draw a snicker from many a liturgist; in their earnestness they call forth recollections of bell-bottom pants and huge lapels, not to mention guitar masses and "hip" clerics celebrating in blue jeans. And for me at least they also recall the overheated activism of the turn-of-the-decade. Us pre-teens of the time (I went off to high school the fall of that year) got to see how it all actually panned out: not in glorious revolution against the Establishment, but in gas lines, shoddy polyester clothes, the AIDS crisis, student loans and finally, Ronald Reagan. But in 1974 it was still barely possible to maintain a "tin soldiers and Nixon coming" hysteria— barely, given the course of the Watergate investigation, which by that point had yielded its first indictments.

As for the fragility of the earth: consciousness was certainly raised, and we enjoy the benefits of that, so that the bald eagle, reduced to less than a thousand, has recovered in great numbers. But at the same time the sense that the world was in imminent danger of being snuffed out in a chemical cloud has faded. The world has turned out to be a sturdier place than that, for all the injury done to it. And thus we passed from the threat of chemical apocalypse to the 1980s obsession with thermonuclear doom, which has in turn moved on to the current threat of global warming.

But the same time, America's social structures were simply falling apart. Family structures among whites were torn up, and in the black community they all but collapsed, so that it is now the rule that blacks are born out of wedlock. It's pretty clear, as this Brookings report summary argues, that the abrupt endorsement of abortion by the Supreme Court played a very large role in that: men could and did dump responsibility for a child back on the woman, who after all could then be expected to exercise her newfound control over her body and evict the unwanted (by the father) child. And yet, here is where this church is on the subject: the official position as put forth by General Convention explicitly condemns abortion "as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection, or any reason of mere convenience," but if you can find anyone actually teaching this I have to think that it's going to be in a pretty conservative parish. I don't recall ever hearing an Episcopal sermon touching on abortion, and I have to think that only the most foolhardy male preachers would dare. Marriage doesn't present quite the same peril as a topic, if only because Episcopalians tend to be in the social classes in which marriage still prevalent.

Environmentalism, on the other hand, is reasonably safe. Sure, the rector may lose some of the few remaining Republicans who are paying attention, but a seminary professor after all need not be exposed to even that consequence. And besides, much of the blame for environmental crises can be laid upon those Republicans, or better still on Corporate Interests. Our retirement funds may rely upon the moneys those corporations take in, but what of that? We can always push for a ineffectual solution like carbon credit trading which monetizes the transfer of responsibility.

Likewise, given the events of the past few years it is going to be a tremendous temptation to make our liturgy somehow less racist, whatever that means. And that last phrase is particularly important because a lot of people without an investment in the matter are going to look at the 1979 book and say, "what exactly is racist about it?" As far as sex is concerned we do not have to speculate, because the erasures of the masculine characteristic of Enriching Our Worship and the other recent products of SCLM trace right back to the 1973 publication of Mary Daly's seminal work (if you will pardon the pun), Beyond God the Father. This was an important work, no doubt about it, but it was very much a product of its time and place, where Daly could say "When God is male, the male is God" (p. 19 of the original edition) and not be ridiculed for the gaping logical hole in the claim. She eventually was effectively apostate; meanwhile back in PECUSA we had the sorry spectacle of the Office of Women's Ministry, years later, promulgating a bizarre liturgy which I described thusly: "It almost sounds like a seminary assignment: 'Write a liturgy contravening at least the first commandment. Use ritual acts denounced by at least two OT prophets.'" The weird neopagan cast of these alterations seems to have faded (or at least is kept in the closet) but the continuing attempt to minimize "Father" and "Lord" and to wipe away every male pronoun still comes across, for those of us who were academic onlookers at the time, as the product of a decades-old anachronism.

What we don't need in 2015 is to bring the liturgy of 1976 up to the academic fads of 1979. I will not dare to speak for the young man or woman of 2015, but in 1979 I was not in the market for a "contemporary" or "relevant" service, and I did not have to worry about being subjected to "inclusion" only because the obsession with homosexuality had yet to build up to a fever pitch. When I stood with all the old ladies at the 11:00 service I called up the image of people across places and ages turning to the altar to profess the ancient doctrines. Perhaps there are young people today who are pleased to join in the same antique declaration. But I cannot imagine that many of them want to recover the fashionable faith of the 1970s.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Numbers: 2014

Plenty of other people are trumpeting that the number are, as usual, bad, with domestic Average Sunday Attendance down 3.7% this year, so there seems little point in going over what has been a consistent decline for over a decade. Instead, I'm going to look into the South Carolina situation.

Last year I observed that the Diocese of South Carolina numbers ignored the departure of most of the diocese. This year the departures are no longer so hidden, except that for some reason you cannot get a chart for the diocese as a whole. Excepting the money, however, I can produce a substitute chart, which as you can see shows a cliff-like loss in 2014.

The schism continues to produce detailed statistics which show just how bad the departures hurt. Looking at ASA, the loss of nearly 9,200 attendees represented over three quarters of the previous year's attendance, and 39% of 2014 losses in domestic ASA. Now, the schism reported ASA of 9,325 in 2014, which when added to the rump diocese gives an increase of 132 over the previous year; but doing the subtraction on the 2013 numbers indicates that the rump diocese itself had an increase in ASA of 99. Had the schism not occurred, the unified diocese would have grown by 1%, and the loss in domestic ASA would have been reduced to 2.2%.

And departures continue to be the name of the game. Baptisms and receptions together exceed burials by some five thousand people, to say nothing of what portion of the ten thousand adult confirmations represent new members. The Episcopal Church is shrinking because people are leaving it.

Friday, October 09, 2015

On Keeping the Creed

A year-old post from Father Christopher concerning the use of the creed in the liturgy attracted new attention last month, with further responses from Derek Olsen and Fr. Hendrickson. I sense in the original post that I sit at the crux of the age gap between those who object and those who accept the creed willingly: born in 1960, I am technically a boomer, but my experience is that people around my age pretty much missed the boomer bandwagon. I was a child in a mainline Presbyterian congregation, where I learned and memorized the Apostle's Creed; my religiosity was reawakened in high school, not rescued from a theologically dictatorial childhood. I have no fundamentalist upbringing against which I in any sense rebel, then or now. And this indeed seems to be the core of the matter.

There are two big questions which arise about the creed in liturgy: one which everyone steps up to one way or the other, and the other which pretty much gets ducked by everyone. The first is the expectation that we say this together because we are at least in part bound into the church by our assent to her teachings, in this case tenets which bind us through time for some sixteen centuries. I've been over this before, and there comes a point where I lose patience. And that is where I hit the second problem. I spend a lot of time here grousing that the clerisy takes people like me for granted and assumes that someone orthodox is going to keep showing up and writing checks even if there is really nothing left of the church they signed on for. And constantly we are warned, in Change Sermon after Change Sermon, against being mired in the past. But this is precisely my I loathe such sermons: they are essentially about making the past indefensible, when an examination on merits would present a strong defense.

For the creed itself, that defense is precisely that the church has been saying this "on Sundays and other Major Feasts" for age upon age. Why should the feelings of some sixty-something Americans gainsay that? I know this sounds terribly belittling, but there's a coloring of the adolescent to the insistence that the liturgy be edited to suit those rebelling against the old patristic teaching. Earlier generations might well have accepted the dissonance between what the creed says and what they are comfortable with believing as a personal responsibility to resolve by being taught by the church (and thus understanding their failure to believe as a failing) or finding/founding some less orthodox religious community. The notion that the creed, fought out as it was in those early controversies, was subject to editing or outright omission to cater to the foibles of any individual layman: this was not only foreign, but anathema. The whole point of the creed, after all, was to draw a line between Orthodoxy and the Arians.

The sign in Fr. Christopher's seminary experience, I think, is that this modernist insistence in the primacy of personal beliefs is passing, but more importantly, that the elevation of rebellion against The Establishment is also passing. Or perhaps it is that younger folk no longer believe in an establishment, but instead see their church for the outsider rebel community against the unbelieving world that it is supposed to be.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Is There Anything on the Other Hand?

How many Episcopalians does it change a light bulb these days? As many as it takes to form the committee to decide between CFLs and LEDs.

The story from Mark this Sunday, in which the subject of food and dish washing before meals (as prescribed by tradition) is raised, is a terrible temptation to give a Change sermon. After all, it uses the word "traditions"; what more is needed? Well, to start with, the rest of the passage. Once again the RCL reading leaves out a substantial portion of the text, so that of twenty-two verses the congregation hears but thirteen of them. And it isn't as though there is an intervening story or parable in this; they simply cut out first Jesus' condemnation of the pharisees' hypocrisy, and second his statement that what one eats cannot defile. The sense of it is plain, all put together.

But it doesn't have a lot to do with tradition in the church, and especially not within the typical Episcopal parish. This is particularly obvious when talked about in the context of the typical tradition (which is to say, story) of tradition (which is to say, custom) in the Episcopal Church. That tale is that we are fixated on the past, and doggedly resist changing anything. So what is that past? Let's start with the current Book of Common Prayer, proposed in 1976 and ratified in 1979. These are printed as two different editions, but as far as the text is concerned, the constitutions and canons dictate that the text of the book itself be identical between the two, because any changes to the book itself requires two GCs to pass. The only difference between the two is the word "proposed" on the title page and that the certification page has different text and has a copyright notice in the 1976 book.

I was sixteen when the proposed book came out, midway through high school. People born that year are approaching forty, so that except for a few retrograde parishes (and the various Anglo-Catholics) these relative youngsters have never had the opportunity to experience the "old" prayer book. It would not at all surprise me that very few Episcopalians my age remember doing the 1928 rite week in and week out; 1979 has in many places become the de facto "old prayer book" since Enriching Our Worship came out in 1997. And while I've heard of struggles in which altar guilds supposedly nailed altars to the wall and otherwise impeded the March of Liturgical Progress, I regard them as strictly legendary. Episcopal priests perhaps do not enjoy the same absolute freedom to apply the wrecking ball to the furnishings that Roman priests apparently do, but I have yet to come upon a parish where the transition to 1979 Rite II wasn't accomplished with all due haste. And the transition to a post-1979 liturgy is in very many already accomplished, so that if a 1976 book survives in a pew somewhere (which I doubt, considering the condition of my copy) it's because so many parishes use a liturgy from a leaflet which is more or less that of 1979, but might come from EoW or from who knows exactly where.

And it comes down to this, anyway: what goes on in the liturgy these days is a contest between traditions. The differences between EoW and all previous BCPs trace back to notions which were current in academia back when I was in college, if not somewhat earlier. They are barely younger than the BCP, and they come from a mixture of radical theological and secular ideas and movements. "Change" comes down to picking which tradition to follow, an issue to which scripture speaks. "Tradition" is used in a lot of senses in the New Testament, as it covers the transmission of stories and teachings of all sorts. The difference is that when you look at these in the large there is a consistent distinction between good and bad tradition: the latter to be shunned, the former to be clung to.

There's a better than even chance that any preacher my age or older who talks about tradition is going to mention Fiddler on the Roof. But mark well Tevye's three monologues when asked to yield on his daughter's desired marriages: twice he does yield, but on the third time, he states, "there's nothing on the other hand!" Scripture forbids his daughter's marriage to Chava's goyisch suitor, and thus Teyve refuses to consent.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Prayer Book Revision: Why Bother?

Few in the pews are aware that General Convention has activated the prayer book and hymnal revision machinery, which means that we could be stuck with a new proposed book six years from now. Really, everybody who knows it's coming(Matt Marino for one) knows what this is about: completing the triumph of modernist and radfem revisionism. Oh, I assume the new book is likely to leave enough in it so that the moderates and traditionalists can talk themselves into believing that they can still have an orthodox liturgy (my bet would be that they keep Rite I almost unaltered), but the long term intent is clearly to deny parishioners the use of orthodox, "sexist" language. Oh, the program is described in the usual progressive coded language, but anyone who has been following this isn't deceived. All one has to do is look at Enriching Our Worship and the more recent proposed supplements.

As for the hymnal, the survey data is out there that revision is largely unwanted, and especially so by the young. The hymnal definitely has its problems, largely brought on in the last revision: too much musicology, not enough material suited to the typical congregation. But again, nobody seriously thinks that this is what will be addressed. The purpose again will be social engineering, with a dollop of pandering to the young with "contemporary" style— where "contemporary" will continue to mean "in the style of Catholic guitar music of the 1970s that was written by people who are now retirement age."

But then, why wait? If you live in a big coastal diocese, it may already be hard to find a parish where the letter of the prayer book is followed. Your chances of getting stuck with EoW are pretty high, and a high profile city parish (especially one that advertizes its inclusiveness) may largely be done with "Father" altogether.

And this Sunday, for the second time in a month, the supply priest mucked with the words of the institution narrative, editing Jesus' word as recorded by Matthew and Mark. I have no idea where the Catholic translators of the Novus Ordo got the idea to translate pro multis as "for all" but you know, it wasn't from the Greek. This is one of the places I have to draw the line: if liturgy quotes scripture, it has to quote scripture, not "fix" it because it supposedly offends someone. So for the first time, in my own parish, I stayed behind at communion. choosing instead to catch up on some praying, on my knees (a posture little loved by progressives, in my experience).

There is some hope that, if revision be held up long enough, sufficient old-time modernists and radfems and other relics of my college years will have aged out of control of the process to where a new generation can belie those fogies' claims about "What Youth Want". But I don't see it. At my age, as a layman, I'm now reduced to having little recourse other than to look for priests who can say the words right, and abandoning parishes when they are staffed with priests who won't say the words right. I cannot count on bishops keeping their clerics in line. Indeed, it seems that the bishops are worse than the priests; one need only look at thirty years of bad House of Bishops votes. The whole thing replies upon the average parishioner not understanding what is at stake, until they eventually discover that the church that they remember is gone, replaced with the celebration of the community in which all difficulties of religion are diluted to homeopathy.

What is a layman to do? Well, I am almost in despair. After all, I am lay, and a man: more damning, I am the father of children, and White and (mostly) Anglo-Saxon, and middle-aged. I thus have no actual privilege of race or gender or sexuality or age to use as political leverage. Yet I write, and pray.

As the book yet says: "Pray for the church."

Friday, June 26, 2015

No Longer Any Excuse

Now that the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled, there is no longer a reason for the church to consider same sex blessings. Marriage equality dictates immorality equality; we aren't going to start blessing heterosexual fornication, after all.

And thus there is no reason to consider the proposed same sex blessing rites further, what with all their failures to stick to orthodox language. It only remains to draw up appropriate changes to references to the participants, and to come up with some decent scriptural texts (which was a problem the last time, but hey...). The dean of the cathedral in Buffalo should be ignored when he equates language of the BCP rite to the waving of the confederate battle flag; his rhetorical excess is far more offensive than mere biblical language, and if he thinks otherwise he should consider moving to the Unitarians.

Someone is bound to say that we have to have blessings to accommodate our foreign dioceses. I doubt that. As far as Europe is concerned, our marriages there generally have no legal standing anyway; down south I have to wonder how much demand there would be for such a rite. In any case, in a coherent theology of marriage, there is no longer a reason to allow them to happen in the USA, and there was never a reason to continue the Enriching Our Worship-style theological and liturgical faults to be perpetuated.

Deans, Apparently, Gotta Hate

Seeing as how so much idiocy these days is being promulgated by deans, I'm increasingly inclined to think we should go back to John Walker's model and not have any. Today's specimen is the dean of the national cathedral, who I am told wants to yank the Lee-Jackson window for the sin of displaying the confederate battle flag. His rationale? "Hall [the dean] says celebrating the lives of the Confederate generals and flag now does not promote healing or reconciliation, especially for African Americans. Hall says the Confederate flag has become the primary symbol of white supremacy."

This is so much self-righteous crap. Obviously this is (a) about hating on the white south, and (b) feeling good about doing so. Dean Hall is, from what I can tell, another aging boomer; he's a Californian with the most impeccable progressivist credentials (went to EDS and served at All Saints Pasadena). He seems to be utterly clueless about white supremacists other than what he reads on the Southern Poverty Law Center, failing to recognize that his Yankee interloper stance helps justify their cause.

Look, he as much as admits that the window is, in its way, about reconciliation. Lee and Jackson were once hugely admired figures even outside the south. I personally, being the son of a man who left Charlotte NC with every intent of never returning, and having survived the Dukes of Hazzard period, take the "Stars and Bars" as a useful indicator of people who aspire to be southern hicks. I have no love for the banner, and no great love for southern culture; I won't live south of the Potomac, and my Ohio-born mother frequently found Maryland too far south for her. But the current, abrupt reaction to treat the battle flag with the same hatred as is directed at the Nazi flag is contrived and repugnant. It is now, in this hatred, a symbol of progressive hubris, and a sign of rejection of the gospel.

The current battle flag animus is not really about blacks at all. It's about making progressives feel good about themselves in spite of the fact that they can't do squat about the problems of poor blacks, and don't care squat about poor whites (who, after all, are racists through and through and therefore deserve to be hated). Taking out a window (and sticking in something about slavery instead) perhaps makes the cathedral a better House of Prayer For All Upper Middle Class People, but it also acts out every crazy right wing theory about self-hating white liberals.

I'm presuming that there will be enough backlash from cathedral donors that this asinine effacement isn't going to be carried out; and perhaps the whole point is for the dean to curry favor from his fellow progressives for Speaking Truth to Power (and never mind that he is the power here). In any case, I utterly oppose this.