Sunday, December 20, 2015

Hope in the Child

preached 4 Advent 2015

many of you have wondered what Micah is talking about when he speaks of “Bethlehem Ephrathah”? What, you, may have wondered, is “Ephrathah”? Well, it's a place name, which may or may not be a simple synonym for Bethlehem itself; but what matters to us is that, like many such names, it has a meaning, which is “fruitful”. Bethlehem, out of which was born the King of Kings, the savior of Israel and all humanity: this the prophet foretold.

But first, a stopover in Judea, before the promised births.

An unborn child is all potential, the object of our hopes as parents. Then the day comes, and we parents are presented with a bundle of nascent humanity, whose impact upon the world is unrealized and whose future, for good or ill, is seen only in our dreams, and in the providence of God. Some weeks back I came across a consideration of the morality of killing baby Hitler to forestall the evil he brought forth; in truth, it is only an academic exercise. We know not whether our children are destined for obscurity or fame or notoriety. But the two mothers-to-be in our gospel, unlike the rest of us, had Gabriel's promise that the children they carried have a place in divine providence above all others. The two miraculous conceptions, Elizabeth's out of her age, and Mary's out of her virginity, were the sprouted seeds of the grace of God; Jesus, the branch of Jesse's tree, was promised to bring to fruition the salvation so long awaited by the prophets.

And thus, in the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, the Theotokos, the God-Bearer (for so she is titled in the east) came to visit her. The child in Elizabeth's womb lept, he of whom the angel promised, “he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” Caught up in the Spirit, she blessed Mary, the vessel of divine grace, for Mary's trust in God's promise, that Mary would carry the son of the Most High, the heir to the throne of David, whose kingdom will have no end.

Mary's hymn in response to Elizabeth's greeting, praising God for his mighty acts and for the grace laid upon her, is one of the great and most ancient hymns of the church. But that hymn, as she sang it, looks to the past: God has shown strength, has scattered the proud, has put down the mighty, has filled the hungry and has sent the rich away empty. The Lord God was known to her and to Judah in the history of Abraham and his descendants, bringing them out of Egypt to Sinai and then to Jerusalem, where his presence filled the temple in the midst of the land. She recalls how the Lord acted, not out of the mighty among men, but out of the small, the weak, the outcast. Abraham was childless; the children of Jacob were slaves before they passed through the sea to freedom; David was the least of Jesse's sons. But God did not forget the covenant with the father of the nation of Israel, as Mary recalled, and God does not forget his children adopted through the water of baptism. Thus did she trust in the angel's promise.

We know where the promise was to lead: to the cross and the tomb. Mary did not, or at least, Gabriel's message gives no hint of the road to Calvary. Did Mary cling to faith in God's promise to her on that Friday when the apostles' hope was broken? We do not know, though we know that she was among the few who stayed in witness. We as parents see the future in our children, whom (we hope) outlive us to continue humanity. Mary, and Elizabeth if she lived to that day, saw their sons executed, seemingly the end of hope. But God's promise was not empty: his providence was fulfilled, and beyond the hopeless Friday and dismal Saturday came that glorious Sunday, the day of life reborn and unending.

In these latter days we wait between that first advent and the next and final advent, when the kingdom will be complete and all death and sorrow shall be ended. We start out with hope for our offspring, hopes and desires which may be fulfilled or disappointed or crushed entirely in this world of sin and loss. And yet in our our sorrows, in our losses, at the grave, we sing this song: alleluia, alleluia, ALLELUIA! So in this season, let us set aside our hopelessness and look to that holy child, Jesus Christ, in whom our hope and salvation is made incarnate, and who with the Father and the Spirit is given praise and glory unto ages of ages. AMEN.

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.

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.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Diocesan Convention: In the Elephant Pen

It surprised both the rector and me that the sole mention of the suffragan mess in the diocesan pre-convention journal is the following entry in the list of standing committee actions: "Requested the resignation of bishop suffragan." Well, and perhaps the announcement in the schedule of two local AA meetings on Friday night might count, though it invites a number of other peculiar interpretations. At any rate, there is nothing else recorded on the matter, and nothing on the schedule except possibly the bishop's address to the convention or a resolution from the floor. This diocese has enough parishes that, with a single bishop, it's hard to arrange a visitation to each in the canonical three years, much less the preferable per annum visit. Even with two bishops we have had to press one of the canons into service as a third visitor, and I at least have no idea what arrangements are to be made; nor has there been word one about electing another suffragan.

Leaving that behind (or trying to, at least, with the word that Cook has been deposed and has resigned), we have the report of the Horizons 2015 group/committee/task-force (it's not immediately clear which title applies). As I appear to be among the 99.95% of laypeople in the diocese who have never heard of this, permit me to list the bullet points of this Great Leap Forward:

  • By 2015, in response to the call to proclaim the Good News and make disciples of all nations, the diocese will grow its average worship attendance by 10 percent.
  • By 2015, the diocese will have equipped every member of the diocese to express his or her faith story by words and actions.
  • By 2015, the diocese will be an agent for transformational change in the State of Maryland and local communities and be recognized as such.
  • By 2015, every congregation will have 40 percent of worship attendees of all ages participating in a Christian formation program.
  • By 2015, provide every region in the diocese training and strategies for advocating for the poor in education.
Now, as we say in the testing world, only two of these offer any metric for evaluating success. And in the headline goal, we are, as the representative for this effort admits, abject failures. I can do little better than to quote them: "The diocese not only did not grow by 10%, but we lost 9%." But I would add that the last time the diocese saw increase in ASA was the year Before Gene: ASA in 2013 was 70% what it was in 2002. Five parishes were closed since 2009, but more significantly, two parishes left. Mount Calvary was quite small, but St. Timothy's Catonsville was not. Most parishes in the diocese show either slow decline or if they are very small an erratic struggle to survive; nobody shows a steady increase, however slight. We've also been running budget shortfalls for some years, though at least the size of the deficit has been diminishing.

And of course, well, um, religion. I was astonished to pull up the convention booklet today and find that the convention eucharist is going to be Rite I; perhaps there is some hope that the diocese can pull away from the destructive and self-absorbed gender theology of the 1970s. At GC, it appears, we still have much to fight on this, given that all the same-sex rites have options to omit "Father" and "Lord" almost everywhere. A diocesan convention is mostly about business, but perhaps there is hope that the attendees will recall that our first function is religion.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Diocesan Convention: Reports and Resolutions

So I am the lay representative this year for diocesan convention (Maryland), and having looked over the convention journal with the rector and talked strategy, I thought I'd give a few thoughts about it and diocesan business. Now, to me the most interesting stuff is in the supporting material, where there is a lot of informative stuff that the average parishioner is completely blank about. For instance, there is a complete list of parishes, and by "complete" I mean that it includes all the closed an merged parishes too, with dates of demise. There are quite illuminating reports of what the bishop and the standing committee did in the year, and a list of all clergy including ordinations, transfers in and out, licenses, and the like. There are reports from various ministries, some of which are illuminating in perhaps the wrong way: did you know that there is a national white privilege conference?

It's a terrible temptation to snark mercilessly at what is an earnest attempt to do right on the part of (one hopes) well-meaning people. And yet, the resolutions. It's always the resolutions. So, we have six resolutions, one of which is the inevitable and necessary compensation resolution which sets forth expected rates for clergy and employees as well as the standards for supply priest pay. Two more have to do with rearranging the system of regions we have (something like deaneries in some other dioceses) and adjusting their function a little. These are the real business and can be discussed on their merits.

After that, however, comes the other part. The fourth resolution asks us to "[support] all such measures prohibiting the Department of the Environment from issuing a permit to authorize the hydraulic fracturing of a well for the exploration or production of natural gas in the State until April 30, 2023 or until a specified panel is appointed, convenes, and reports to the Governor and General Assembly on the safety and environmental risks of such activities." Well. I personally am extremely wary of fracking; the fears of groundwater contamination seem to me to be well-grounded even if they haven't (yet) been demonstrated, and if contamination happens, it's likely to be widespread and extremely difficult if not impossible to undo. That said, environmental effects of industrial techniques are not even vaguely in our core competency. As my very liberal daughter observed (more pungently than I shall express it here), this is about making ourselves feel good about doing something absolutely ineffectual. really, nobody in the diocese who wasn't at convention will ever know that we passed this, and nobody can seriously believe that such a resolution will have any impact when general assembly meets— and the governor is a Republican, and appears to be a Catholic.

Next up is a resolution which asks us to "support the adoption of state legislation for “death with dignity” in the 2016 session" and "encourages on-going discussion of the issues surrounding this issue". OK, well, this is a little closer to stuff we actually know about, but "death with dignity" is after all a euphemism for physician-assisted suicide in the face of terminal illness. It's not something that we, as laypeople, are up on as to the moral and legal nuances. Half of us will want to oppose on the grounds of our inarticulate moral queasiness, and the other half will want to support on the basis of some relative's painful and undignified final days. Both sides will sigh in relief when the first clause is struck and we pass an ineffectual but self-affirming resolution to talk about the matter some more.

Finally, we get to a resolution which "encourages Episcopalians to build bridges that will foster positive relationships between residents and local law enforcement officers who are assigned to police neighborhoods where congregations are located" and which states that "community engagement such as this is in line with the concept of what it means to be a parish." This takes a bit of unpacking unless you have been following the news recently of the death of a man in Baltimore City police custody apparently due to their brutality. It's a serious social problem, made all the more dire given developments since the convention journal was produced; but again, we're outside our competence, and the impotent wording of the resolution shows this. OK, so this is turning out to be a big issue, but I fail to see how we in convention can contribute much, especially since few of us live in Baltimore City. And note the phrases used: what does "building bridges" mean? How about "foster positive relationships"? What's "the concept of what it means to be a parish"? These vacuities are progressive church buzzwords, rhetorical filler; they are about saying the "right things" without saying anything. So what it actually says is "the situation with the police in Baltimore City is atrocious but we don't have any idea of what do about it but mouth platitudes."

So we have three resolutions which amount to nothing but self-congratulation, and meanwhile there are three very big elephants standing in the room.

Friday, April 24, 2015

An Unlikely Anglo-Imperial Union

My wife has been studying early 20th century Japanese history, and the advent within the household of a novel in which Hirohito makes an appearance brought me to the thought that he and the presiding bishop shared an interest in marine biology. The thought of them meeting and discovering their shared interests led me to flash upon the following:

I must however say that for all the regrettable vesture of her career she never wore a miter to compare with THAT. Further reading also informs me that while her interests turned to squid, his lay in hydrozoans. I should have known the relationship was doomed from the start.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Stability and the Liturgy

General Convention is coming up in July, and we now have a resolution to amend Article X of the church constitution to specifically authorize forms outside the BCP (the bolded material represents the addition):
But notwithstanding anything herein above contained, the General Convention may at any one meeting, by a majority of the whole number of the Bishops entitled to vote in the House of Bishops, and by a majority of the Clerical and Lay Deputies of all the Dioceses entitled to representation in the House of Deputies, voting by orders as previously set forth in this Article:

a) Amend the Table of Lessons and all Tables and Rubrics relating to the Psalms.

b) Authorize for trial use throughout this Church, as an alternative at any time or times to the established Book of Common Prayer or to any section or Office thereof, a proposed revision of the whole Book or of any portion thereof, duly undertaken by the General Convention.

c) Provide for use of other forms for the renewal and enrichment of the common worship of this church for such periods of time and upon such terms and conditions as the General Convention may provide.

This addition has become the focus of some small controversy. I think Tobias Haller is correct in pointing out that this regularizes the anomalous position of the Book of Occasional Services (and to a lesser extent, Lesser Feasts and Fasts: most of the latter is covered under clause (a) above) in the collection of our liturgical texts. But these are not the only books we have, and Enriching Our Worship is really the focus of most people's concern, together with the writing of same-sex blessing rites.

Historically, western liturgy was divided into several volumes, e.g., missals, ordinals, psalters, each of which fit into a different context of worship. In the reformation these were all wrapped up together in the Book of Common Prayer, which due to a certain paralysis has never been updated itself. The US BCP has always followed the pattern of its ancestor in terms of what it covers, but the need for a supplement was felt over a century ago, leading first to the Book of Offices and thence to the current BOS.

There's a substantial shift in content along the way, however. The vast majority of the 1914 book is devoted to dealing with consecrated things; the order for compline (which made its way into the BCP in 1979) is an exception. The 1940 offices show the same pattern, but the BOS adds a whole new category of services, listed there under the heading "The Church Year". This section contains, in large part, services people were already doing, mostly keyed to the church year. One can argue the need for some of this, as anyone who wanted to do Lessons and Carols at Christmas already had copies of Carols from Kings 1 (in order to do the Willcocks descants if nothing else) and therefore had the order laid out for them, but the section as a whole reflects the high-and-wide interest in recovering all these seasonal liturgies as part of the official cycle of things (which, by the way, the Anglo-Catholics were already doing without benefit of GC authorization).

Some of the material promulgated of late by the SCLM fits into these two patterns, whatever the merits of the texts in question. By and large I don't think much of it, but that's not the main issue here. A lot of the most egregious stuff from the last round is material that nobody is every going to be subjected to unless the rector gets bored with the prayers in the BCP and goes on a hunt for novelty. Thus we got a devotional cycle of prayer which I found it hard to tell whether the theology or the writing was worse, but I would venture to guess that it would never appear on a Sunday morning, so no doubt the average parishioner will never be exposed to it.

But that leads to Enriching Our Worship, which is not a prayer book supplement. Indeed, when it was first promulgated, it was set forth as material for the future revision of the BCP. These days, it's an alternative service book, except that it has never gone through the trial process because it is permanently stuck in it. And it has a lot of problems, bad enough to where I won't take communion if it is used. It enjoys no permanent approval, and yet it appears to be the basis and standard for all of SCLM's other output— not the BCP, the supposed standard for our worship.

That's the problem in this resolution: in authorizing whoever writes liturgies for the church to produce whatever anyone feels they need, it follows the spirit of exactly what's being done wrong now. I suppose we ought to amend things to allow for extra-BCP work, but that material also needs to go through the same kind of review as the BCP itself, including sunsetting of trial liturgies.

Friday, April 03, 2015

God's Dreadful Plan

Preached on Good Friday, 2015

So this is where God's plan takes us.

But then, God's plan so often makes no sense, at least while it is playing out. God sets Adam and Eve in the garden as part of his creation, and right off they get themselves expelled because they will not keep the forbidden fruit out of their gullets. He picks, for his new nation, an ancient couple who can no longer bear children; their grandson cheats his brother and proceeds to bear a pack of sons who sell one of their own into slavery. That act in turn leads the whole “nation” into Egypt and slavery, and when the LORD God brings them out of bondage in a display of mighty wonders, their response is to gripe constantly about the rest of the trip, when they aren't raising up an idol of a false god. Skip forward to the kingdom, and they get as far Solomon—three kings in all—before the whole thing falls apart: the northerners are dispersed by the Assyrians, while Judah and Benjamin hold on for another two hundred years before going into exile. The prophets go with them, and mourn the lost kingdom while proclaiming a messiah who will come and set all things right.

Does this make any sense? Our sacred history tells us that the LORD, the Almighty, the king of creation time after time picks such weakness in men in which to manifest Himself. And then, in Roman Judaea, he puts Himself in humanity, the promised messiah; and heaven announces this to shepherds in a field and to foreigners who, having brought their gifts, disappear back into their own country. This God incarnate, this Jesus, then picks twelve followers who are apparently among the thickest of men. The chief, whom he could just as well have named Peter for his rockheadedness, is throughout a weak reed, prone to fits of enthusiastic faith followed by abject cowardice. Thus, on this Friday, we find the disciples dispersed, Peter's bluster betrayed in his three denials; of the lot, only John makes it to Calvary, to stand among the women.

And Jesus? There he hangs, nailed to the rood, tortured, bound in his humanity to mankind's death, expiring as we all shall. Is this any way to run a creation? Many rebel, and say, “no God could run things this badly.” But who are they to say? Where were they when the world began?

When the world ended, the old world before the temple's curtain was torn in half, it is easy to see where we all were. There is the God-and-man, hanging on the cross, and there is mankind: one with a hammer, another with a nail. One taking silver pieces, another handing them to the betrayer. One swearing lies about the messiah, another having at him with a whip. One dressing him and robes and mocking him, another washing his hands. A few helpless faithful stand watching; a multitude jeer. We stood moments ago in the midst of his passion, our hearts with the faithful, our lips with the spitting. And is that not our way in all things?

Perhaps it is unfair to lay upon us all the various outrages and neglects committed in Jesus' name. And certainly the godless have tortured and stolen and murdered with the best of us. And yet, the hymn puts in our mouths the truth: “Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.” Who among us can deny it? In a myriad of offenses, we hammer away at the cross, while we gaze upon it in sorrow.

And God presided over it all, enthroned in pain. Where is God when we suffer? He is in our humanity, for he joined the divine to the human in Bethlehem, and carried it to its end on the cross. And yet, we know, that is not the end. On the cross is laid all our sin, from the beginning until that latter day when all passes away. The world sees this all as foolishness: how fitting that the God whom they do not heed finds His end here! Yes, they say, how proper it is that this religion for idiots be put to rest in a rocky tomb! In a just world, they say, things would have happened differently; and there is the proof that justice is what men make it to be. And on another continent, the followers of another god fall upon Christians, and slay them, ostentatiously. Twenty-one are martyred in Libya; a hundred and fifty more are killed in Kenya. Islam cannot accept Jesus on the cross. He was replaced there by another, they say, or in any case he did not die. We, his true followers, know differently; the holy women, and after them, the disciples, testify that Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried, and on the third day....

But for now, in our weakness, we kneel before the cross, watching as the plan is worked out. And to what purpose is this plan accomplished? Because God so loved the world. He gave his only Son, and that son is how we see love, suffering and dying for us. God's love of itself we do not understand; or rather, we cannot see how it is carried out as the days roll onward. But his love in Jesus: that we can understand. It is a love in weakness, not in power; it is a love in sacrifice, not in trade. The paradox of divine purpose is in its revelation through the small, the scorned, the futile, even the perverse and evil: a man and his aged wife, a trickster father and his scheming sons, a nation of whiners and a pair of contending kingdoms, and finally, the god-made-man dying in public scorn, abandoned by his followers. Those same frightened disciples became the apostles who endured abuse and finally death or exile to spread the faith, joined by one of their chief persecutors.

And we live under the same commission: to spread the kingdom, not through worldly power, but in testimony. We speak the word of God as it has been delivered to us from of old; we baptize as we have been told; but most of all we make known our discipleship through love, to those we know and those who, unknown to us, are our neighbors. We cannot make sense of the love of God, but we can see it here, on the tree which is both the instrument of shame and the sign of triumph. Therefore contemplate the cross, for there is found our salvation: not in the reasonable plan of the world, but in the sacrifice of God's only son.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Even the Bishops Aren't Safe

I'm always interested in Bishop Martins's blogs, and especially his blogging of church meetings. So the last few days he has been writing about the bishops' convocation at Kanuga, and for Sunday he had the following to say about the eucharist:
Now, I don't want to sound whiny, but I can't not mention the level to which I was upset by the liturgy itself--ostensibly Rite II from the Prayer Book, but with the text generously emended to exclude masculine pronouns for God, which is the ideological hobgoblin of today's liturgical elite. I can usually take this somewhat in stride on such occasions--ideologues gonna be ideologues--but I had my own little meltdown when we sang Thomas Ken's Psalm paraphrase, the concluding verse of which is the ubiquitous 'Doxology,' and the text of that verse was altered to exclude "him" in the first three lines, and render the Holy Trinity as "Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit" in the last one. I can tolerate a little ideology, but heresy is a tougher pill to swallow, and any evocation of the Trinity that eschews "Father" and "Son" is most likely just that--heresy.
I personally am the parish delegate to our diocesan convention, and I can tell you now that if convention features a liturgy which pulls this kind of thing, or if they use Enriching Our Worship, I won't partake. I am tolerant of the clunky avoidance of pronouns in reference to the Godhead, but erasing the Father is not something I'm going to put up with.

And again I say, in this sort of large gathering, this kind of act is exclusionary. What's more galling is that it is probably meant to be so: if those of us with a commitment to orthodoxy are put off, I suspect that's held to be all for the better.

Monday, March 09, 2015

The Other, Bigger Lent Problem

David Lose, via Sed Angli:
[T]he brunt of the problem of Lent is in the first four words, “And when you fast….” And when you fast?! C’mon. Except for the occasional crash diet before summer vacation, who fasts anymore?

And there it is in a nutshell, you see, the trouble with Lent: it feels like this strange,weirdly anachronistic holiday that celebrates things we don’t value and encourages attitudes we don’t share.

Read it all.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Dust, Made Living

Preached on Ash Wednesday, 2015

This year I have volunteered to relieve the rector of the annual task of explaining how one should “beware of practicing your piety before others” and then proceed to daub our foreheads with char. That task, however, I will cheat upon by suggesting that one may apply a damp tissue or, failing that, the back of one's hand upon leaving the church.

No, it is the words which accompany the smearing to which I will speak first: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This was the word of the LORD God to Adam, after the first sin, and it speaks the fundamental fact of formation from the inanimate matter of the earth. We are not spirits which occupying fleshly vessels, as Gnostics ancient and modern teach; we cannot live separate from our animal bodies. We must eat and drink, and rise and sleep, and in all but the warmest climes we must cloth ourselves and seek shelter from the weather. This is the way of our living, and yet, from the day of our conception, the day of our demise awaits, unless the Day of the Lord intervene. It is as a sign to ourselves, therefore, that we mark our foreheads: a sign of our mortality.

Nevertheless, we who are baptized carry the divine light and are joined into the holy body, the church of which Christ is the head. Still, our fallen nature struggles against the divine. Thus the Church, in her wisdom, has set apart seasons in the year for penitence, which is to say, times in which our minds and bodies are especially harnessed to spiritual discipline for the sake recollecting our sins and purifying our wills, as best we feebly can. Therefore we fast: by tradition we fast of meat, and in the East they also forgo eggs and dairy, and even cooking oils. But if other abstinences prove more fruitful to you, if some other act of self-denial more constantly keeps you mindful, then choose it. The point is recollection of the spiritual through discipline of the flesh, not mere obedience to a rule.

Beyond that, we are called to greater prayerfulness; and if you are not already doing so, I commend to you the daily devotions which may be found in the Prayer Book, even if you can fit only one into your day. And if you can start in Lent, perhaps you can continue through the year, so that prayer becomes ever more part of your daily living.

In these forty days we are reminded of the days spent in the ark during the flood, the days of Jesus' temptation, the days of resurrection before Jesus ascended to the throne of heaven, taking our earthly form to the heart of the Godhead. From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead, on the day of the Lord, which as the prophet Joel says shall be terrible beyond human endurance, were it not for the mercy of the Lord in our salvation. Thus we prepare ourselves for that dread day, that we may watch with the wise virgins, our lamps well lighted. Our appetites, though, call us away, both in body and mind. Let us sleep! Let us find pleasant diversions! Let us give free rein to our impulses! they disobediently cry, as on that sorry day in Eden.

And thus it is given to us in some seasons to rejoice in our salvation, and in others to look upon our sins and acknowledge them. We reheat the twisted metal of our souls in the forge of self-denial to make them malleable, and hammer them on the anvil of spiritual disciplines to restore their proper shapes. And thus we begin this season, the mark of ashes recalling to us our origins in the substance of creation. We are but dust, made living through the first grace of God in creation, and now, made living again through the grace which comes through our savior Jesus Christ, who shares in our flesh, its morality made immortal. In that terrible last day, when the old earth and heavens pass away, all that is worldly will finally pass with them, all that has not withered or rusted or been eaten away long before. And before the last, we may, like Paul, be called to set aside wealth and comfort and the approbation of our fellows in our witness to the gospel; indeed, like those slain in Libya, we may lose our lives. But in these losses is salvation found, when what is worldly passes away. And thus it is well that we prepare through self-denial and prayer.

Easter will yet come, the day of glorious resurrection, and after the Day of the Lord, the glorious eternity of the new life. But we are not there yet; and the way to Easter leads first to the cross, that great sacrifice. Can we not watch with our Lord in our own Gethsemane, praying and fasting?

Thursday, February 05, 2015


So, being in Boston again, it was time to look for a place to go to church on Sunday. Last year's trip to Trinity Copley Square having ruled them out, I then found that Old North only had a said service within my service time constraints. (Tourists seemed to be surprised that church services were held there.) The nautilus in the pediment at the cathedral is, um, off-putting; Greek revival isn't my thing anyway. So next, I looked into Emmanuel's website, but the statement that "Believing is not a condition of beloving or belonging here" told me that wouldn't be welcome.

It was thus that I turned to Church of the Advent on the edge of Beacon Hill. Advent had been recommended to be after my recounting of my experience last year at Trinity, but as AC is not my churchmanship (I'm sky-high) it hadn't been at the top of my list. Their schedule, however, listed "Sung Mass (Rite II)" at 9, which sounded promising enough.

Trinity out-decorates Advent, but only because it's bigger and because John Hubbard Sturgis did not paint every square inch of the brick and stonework. Instead, he built one of the few American essays in "muscular Gothic", with its massive structural elements and elaborate patterning. It is emblematic of the style's overmuchmess that Sturgis put a hammerbeam ceiling in an not-all-that-large room more or less because he could, and perhaps because nobody else up to that point had done such a thing in America. Various lily-gilding through the years includes Ralph Adams Cram's rood, and the elegant but very French and not at all muscular aumbry whose golden tower can be seen to the left of the altar in the picture.

It is an intense space, and at 9 o'clock it was populated, not terribly densely, by a mixture of grey heads and parents with very small kids. One gathers that the main action is the "high mass (Rite I)" at eleven. But what we got at nine was, with a few quirks, the perfect image of a high church Eucharist of about 1986 (which date being dictated by the delivery of the 1982 hymnal, which actually came out in '85). The words of the BCP were said exactly as written, with no messing about with God's gender or lack thereof. The lessons were according to the original lectionary and were read from the RSV; indeed, each hymnal rack also held a volume of lectionary readings, copyright 1978. The service music was by Dom Gregory Murray and was unfamiliar to me, but it was quite singable and very much of the period. There were a very few deviations: the sursum corda was lined differently from that of the hymnal, and the tone used to chant the Lord's prayer was also unfamiliar, and quite difficult to sing without music. I also found their adherence to the dictate of the BCP that there should be a definite pause at the asterisk in the psalms, to be exaggerated to the point of posing an impediment to common recital. The two insertions in communion (the prayer of humble access and the non sum dignus) were not typical of the period.

And yet. THIS was the direction that prayer book revision took, before the loss of nerve in the face of the happy-clappy set and the political purists made decently-and-in-order services out of the BCP increasingly rare. And it is something that could be recovered, if people are willing to take church seriously and solemnly again. It is something that could be regained, if people could admit that, for most of the population, the contrived speech patterns of leftist academia are off-putting where they are not outright rejected. It could be revived, if the stupid progessivist doctrine that we "can't turn back the clock" (meaning that we cannot ever say that some supposed accommodation to the culture was a bad idea and should be discarded) were once and for all rejected.

Sure, 1979 is (as everyone admits while looking at a certain sentence in Prayer C) hardly perfect. But the way it was originally done, by serious-minded Episcopal parishes, is much better than the way I find it done in so many supposedly progressive places today. The "celebrating the community" ethic does not work. It produces worship of the community and of our identity as righteous members of the same. It's time to repent of it and go back to celebrating the Godhead instead.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Suffragan Mess

As a parishioner in the Diocese of Maryland, and especially as the parish delegate to the next diocesan convention, the accident in which the newly elected suffragan bishop killed a bicyclist has a double impact upon me. I have elided the bishop's name out of charity, though I will not paper over the facts of the matter by calling them allegations. The various witnesses are clear: on a Saturday afternoon, the bishop swerved and struck a man, then fled the scene. When she returned she was found to be deeply intoxicated, and was apparently texting at the time of the accident (I am unclear as to the source of this assertion); she was eventually arrested and is being held on bail. This is bad enough, but it has also come out that in 2010, while she was serving in another diocese, she was stopped by police due to her erratic driving and because one of her tires was shredded; the officer on the scene cut the coordination tests short for fear that she would hurt herself, and her blood alcohol was determined to be far in excess of the legal limit. Charges were eventually dropped on other charges of possessing marijuana, and the incident was eventually pleaded down to probation before judgement.

I am somehow managing to view the episode with an emotional detachment suitable to a Vulcan, and thus am not moved to expressions of moral outrage or judgement. It is clear, as Bishop Ihloff (MD ret.) says, that she cannot be allowed to continue as a bishop of this church; the disciplinary machinery of the church has begun to move in this direction, so we are told. Care for both the victim's family and for the soon-to-be-ex-bishop must proceed, and as I understand it, is being provided for. Justice will be done.

But what also will be done is a second election to replace her, for this diocese is simply too large to be served by a single bishop. And while I am not interested in assigning blame in the previous election, it is abundantly clear that The Process (or at least its execution) failed us. That process, at least as described in Rev. Anjel Scarborough's letter, seems to have invited someone deeply in the thrall of alcoholism to engage in a campaign of denial in order to advance her clerical career. Regardless of the conclusions of any psychological examination, any elector with full knowledge of the details of the 2010 incident would surely have to question how well-controlled the drinking was of a person who but three years before had to be pulled over before she hurt someone else (or herself, for that matter). And all the more so considering that she was not forthcoming to those electors about her situation: that should have been a red flag.

The "experts" have opined that really, nothing much more than a failure of judgement within the process was at fault. I am not convinced. And furthermore, this doesn't provide a route for correcting a patently faulty process. I'm not seeing testimony from people who are familiar with alcoholism and who look back at the older incident and say, "well, she could have been OK, from what we knew then." The testimony I have read is that everything about it, all the way to the election itself, should have told the search committee members responsible that her nomination should not have gone forward as it did.

The second search is going to have to be different. If nothing else, electors are going to have to be proactive in researching the candidates, because it is apparent that current processes do a poor job of presenting the candidates. What we had here was a situation in which someone was implicitly encouraged to hide the truth about herself in favor of presenting a facade in a few short written statements (none of them, to my mind, particularly demanding) and to show up at various public events and put on a good show. The potential for this to produce disastrously bad bishops ought to be obvious.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sine Symbolo Fidei

AAK over in Sed Angli writes of a Christmas Eve service in which the creed was not said, in contradiction to the rubrics. Let us turn to page 358 of the BCP: On Sundays and other Major Feasts there follows, all standing The Nicene Creed. Turning back to page 28, we find Christmas listed among the "principal feasts".

Just so we're clear on that.

Of course this is the twenty-first century Episcopal Church, where rubrics exist to be set aside as the priest pleases, so the mere fact that the BCP tells us to do something doesn't amount to any actual requirement. And gosh darn, it wouldn't be "inclusive" to have all those C&E visitors be asked to state their faith in public, not to mention their lapsed and irreligious relatives. Not only that, it speeds up the service by a precious two minutes to leave this out.

Come on, clerics. It is obvious that on the two greatest feasts of the year, those in attendance should be called to recommit to the mysteries of the faith, as they are called to do on every Sunday of the year. Those who cannot do so can stand silently, and they can absent themselves from the altar rail in turn. To do otherwise shows our own lack of commitment to the faith.