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.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

If This Is Your Parish

St. Blasé’s welcomes you!: a diverse, inclusive, and dynamic congregation in the heart of the suburbs. Their mission is to “care for all God’s children through service, justice, and intentional community-building.”

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Presiding Bishop Slate, 2015

So, we have a slate of four nominees for the next presiding bishop, all men, all from eastern dioceses, one black. There is some predictable creeching about this, particularly in the lack of a female candidate. It appears that there is only one woman who could have been nominated, and that she declined to be considered. I note that of late women have tended to be elected as suffragans rather coadjutors or diocesans, and you can argue back and forth as to the degree this represents some sort of lingering sexism.

At any rate, it's a decent slate, in spite of grexxing from someone at the E-Cafe about one candidate's "lack of prophetic voice on marriage equality in the church." OK, any place where people are hearing "prophetic voices" is a place to flee from, lest a real prophet make an appearance. I'm somewhat more concerned about tales that another candidate has been hard on traditionalist parishes in his diocese.

So, what do we need? Well, Scott Gunn has his list of qualities, and I have mine, which is shorter but largely consonant with his, to whit:

  • Orthodox. No finger-crossing on the creed, no hedging on the resurrection. A bishop must represent the church's teaching, and all the more so for the church's chief clerical spokesman.
  • Articulate. We need someone who can face the press and not sound confused or obscure.
  • Inspiring. I am not necessarily convinced that we need a visionary leader; vision is too often connected with wild deviancy. But we need someone who leads others to say, "I want to be part of their church."
  • Conciliatory. The battle against the marriage traditionalists has been destructive and has been literally costly, to no good end that I see. The combat must end.
  • Prayerful. Above all else, we need a presiding bishop who is engaged in their religion.

OK, so it sounds like a letter for hiring the Rt. Rev. Mary Poppins. But I think there is the potential for this in our slate.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Diocesan Convention: The Aftermath

I confess to my bishop and my parish that I didn't stay to the bitter end of diocesan convention. I had planned from the start to skip the workshops, seeing as how they were more directed toward clergypersons and others with pastoral duties, and the second day was already interfering with another appointment. I bailed out in the middle of the discussion of the "death with dignity" resolution (about which more later).

The convention eucharist was in fact fairly Anglo-Catholicized, to the point of "big six", smoke, and dropping the RC prayer for the acceptance of the sacrifice in at the offertory; we also dropped the Prayer of Humble Access. It was a bit fussy for my taste, but then A-C often is. The singing (all warhorses from the 1982) was strong and enthusiastic, except that for some reason we did the Meerbecke service, which apparently is unfamiliar enough now (and especially with the 1982 hymnal's musicologist-friendly rhythms) to dampen singing somewhat.

The sermon was more an address than a homily on the text, and I must give credit to Bishop Sutton credit for walking right up to the elephants and acknowledging them all. Indeed, one might think he was reading this blog, although I think if he were reading it he might not have commended Dean Markham's preposterous address on church statistics. Nonetheless the fact of our decline was noted, and moreover seen as something to be addressed.

The main speaker, Becca Stevens of the Magdalene Communities and Thistle Farms, was quite stirring, and if it feels a bit churlish to have to say this, nothing she said had me gnashing my anti-heretical teeth.

As for resolutions, we had an extra slipped into the very back of our convention journals, to authorize appointment of an assistant bishop. This passed readily, allowing Bp. Sutton to announce in his Saturday address that Chilton Knudsen, former bishop of Maine and since assistant in several other dioceses, had been asked to take the position had convention passed the resolution. It's hard to imagine that there is anyone left for whom Bp. Knudsen's gender represents a stumbling block, but her position as one of the official consecrators of Gene Robinson represents either some impressive tone-deafness, or more likely, a calculated statement that theological discussion of sexuality and gender is closed. As to core theological matters, I haven't managed to find significant documentation, but historically, clerics who are aggressive on gender and sexuality have had a bad track record. I suppose I shall just have to see.

Compensation was passed as a matter of routine; regions were rearranged (and taken out of the budget process, not that they had real input before) with one tweak to put all of Baltimore City in a single region. These resolutions and those that follow were put through a preliminary by-table discussion phase which produced cards asking questions and giving comments to be sent back to the resolution proposers. This was supposed to reduce "wordsmithing on the floor"; I think it sort of worked part of the time, but I don't know how well Robert would have countenanced such a thing.

In the case of the anti-fracking resolution the process produced a substitute resolution asking us to tell the governor to sign the moratorium bill that the legislature had already passed, the earlier version of the resolution having been overcome by political events. I sent in a card expressing my opposition to this sort of resolution, but did not rise to express my opposition on the floor. It could also be argued that, as this asked us personally to act, this version passes Scott Gunn's political resolution test. At any rate, it passed. Expect Gov. Hogan's mailbox to explode.

The resolution on, well, something having to do with the Sandtown mess was also heavily reworked, but the resulting resolution now read (freely interpreted) "the situation with the police in Baltimore City is atrocious difficult but we still don't have any idea of what do about it but mouth somewhat revised platitudes." (my alterations in italics) This also passed, though again without my vote.

I left as the deliberations on the "death with dignity" resolution debate got started, with the tone (as I expected) set by one of the first contrary speakers noting that the phrase "is a euphemism for physician-assisted suicide." Instead of getting a resolution to think about the matter, however, I'm told that the matter was tabled, effectively turning it into a resolution not to talk about the matter. The rector told me that he voted against this, because he wished the debate be worked through; I'm guessing that the desire of others beside my self to be elsewhere triumphed over moral debate. I would feel better about it if I had been prepared to offer a thought-out position, but I was not.

And thus we rolled over the diocesan odometer. And if the direction be positive, the indication of this was more a lack of some common negatives. No liturgy was emasculated (though Rite I makes this moot in any case); other than a couple of Romanisms, the liturgical texts were straight from the BCP. Hymns were sung with far more gusto than were praise songs, though unfamiliarity and some definite confusion on the part of the projection squad undoubtedly contributed to that. Bp. Sutton expressed the hope, not entirely explicitly, that the homosexuality controversies were dropping into the past. And yet at the national level I see that the latest round of the same-sex rites hew to the Enriching Our Worship pattern of 1970s radfem deviations and heresies. There was also a strong sense that the diocese was well rid of the dissenters on these issues, which is surely not a positive message for those who hold on. Bp. Knudsen's appointment is a rebuke to any conservative as well. But still, Bp. Sutton radiates a sense of vitality, which may serve the diocese well.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Love, as Christ Teaches It

This sermon had its genesis in a remark from the rector during diocesan convention when he remarked that since his usual sermon-prep day was Friday, he had nothing ready for Sunday. I offered to take over, which he readily accepted. Not that I had as much time as he did: I took off from convention Saturday at noon to drive to Delaware for the christening of a rowing shell at my high school, named in honor of one of my classmates who has been a strong support of the crew program.

So Sunday morning I am still getting it all worked out, and at 8:45 my wife remarks: "you aren't preaching at 9?" I flew to church in record time and pull into a space waiting for me right in front of the side door, and pop into the sanctuary just as the rector was trying to explain his way through my absence. What follows is (more or less what the 11 o'clock service heard, since at 9 I still didn't have anything printed out and had to wing it.

This should be a simple, short sermon, easy to preach. Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Is there any more to be said? We all know what love is, right? We can rise from our pews to go forth in the name of Christ, and— Thanks be to God!— we then look upon each person we encounter and love them. Isn't that so? Our law is love: “love God with all our heart and soul and mind;” “love our neighbors as ourselves.” We know what the means, don't we?

Well, apparently we do not. It is our nature to be born taking love and returning it only in our infant neediness, and as we grow into maturity often enough we consume love and give nothing back at all, or that we “love” others back by rendering them evil for their good. We return the love of the one, true, loving God by ignoring him, denying him, and defying him. Willful rebellion bubbles up within the heart from our early years, and thoughtlessness is ever revealed in our youth. And thus a child must be raised, to learn to love others, and to know and love God.

Then we attain our maturity, and do we then know how to love? I look around, and it seems to be that at best we do so imperfectly, and that often enough we forget love, or we cloak the lovelessness of our hearts in the costume of words and deeds which pretend love while speaking and doing ill.

Much of this we know better than to do, if we but hear the Spirit as it conveys that Father's judgement upon our thoughts and acts. But even in our benevolence, we do not know what it is to love. I mean, we know in a general sense, right? But when it comes to where we are now, we must be taught. And how are we taught? The people of Israel had the old law, all spelled out, and if you had a question, there was always a rabbi to come up with an answer for you. And we see how well that worked out: the Pharisees were scrupulous followers of the law and every elaboration put upon it by the rabbis, and yet Jesus decries the way they love from beginning to end. No, we are taught love best by example, not in word, but in deed. Our parents teach us love, not by talking about it, but by doing it; that infant, consuming love, is also learning love. And in scripture, we learn love not through abstract philosophy, but through the story of love.

We see this in our first lesson. It is unfortunate that here we only get the end of a chapter-long story, which begins with Cornelius the centurion being told by an angel that God is answering his prayers, and that he should send for Peter. Meanwhile Peter is waiting for dinner to be served, and he has a vision of a great sheet lowered from heaven, full of all sorts of creatures. And he hears a voice calling to him, three times: “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” Now Peter, being an observant Jew, relies in kind three times that he will not, for he has never eaten anything unclean. And three times the voice replies, “what God has cleansed you must not call profane.” So Peter is wondering what this about when Cornelius's messengers arrive, and Peter, dense though he often is, sees the connection, and goes forth with them.

Now Cornelius is called “a God-fearing man,” which has a particular meaning: it signifies a gentile follower of the Lord GOD of Israel. Yet he is still separate from Israel because of his ancestry, and the disciples at first understand the newly-born church's ministry as only to their fellow Jews. Well, Peter arrives, they each speak of their visions, and Peter delivers the sermon we hear every Easter Sunday, summarizing the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ succinctly. And thus we arrive at today's lesson: the Spirit came upon them, and Peter understood the breadth of God's love: not just the Jewish people, but the Samaritans, the Romans, and all the people of the world.

And thus, if we learn love by example, there is no higher example of love than Jesus himself. To the two ancient rules of love, he adds another: “love one another as I have loved you.” And how far does the example of his life extend? As far as a man lays down his life for his friends. And we are all, as Jesus says, his friends. Thus over the years the church has particularly noted the martyrs, those who have given their life for the faith, and among them we may note those who traded their own lives for the safety of others. We are unlikely to be presented with the same opportunity for sacrifice, but our day-to-day sacrifice has the same merit in heaven, and it is all the more worthy for the difficulty of recalling, each day, how we may love each whom we encounter.

Our bishop said this at convention yesterday: “Suffering, evil, and death will not have the last word as long as love abides.” And love will abide, and reach its perfection on that terrible last day when all that is unloving is cast down forever. But in these latter days, it is given to us to live love toward others, and thus teach the world what love is, and in whom it may be found: Jesus Christ, the love of God incarnate.