Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Advent Puritans

For some reason, it has become the thing to do this year to harangue one's fellow Christians for paying attention to Christmas before, well, Christmas. We are not taking Advent seriously, we are told. This has gotten folded into the standard lecture about the overcommercialization of Christmas, to the point of practically accusing us of being traitors to our faith if we do any shopping. And heaven forbid we should sing a carol out of season.

I have a picture of a parade of assorted clerics carrying signs through the mall saying "NO CHRISTMAS YET". The puritanism of this has gotten out of hand, more so than the commercialism. It is not meet that we should prepare for the Nativity by being so crabby about it.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Proper Concern for Doctrine II

One of the things that bugs me about Brian McLaren is that, like a lot of people coming out of the evangelical wing, he seems awfully oblivious to mainline Christianity and its travails. So here we have an exchange bouncing around the blogosphere, as quoted in Leaving Munster:
I remember hearing Brian Mclaren talk a few years ago about an interview he' d given at a conference. I believe it was with Dallas Willard and they were discussing why a trip to your average bookshop would reveal a great upsurge of interest in Buddhism and New Age, but a sharp disinterest with Christianity.
Willard's response was simple and - it seems to me - spot on: "Christianity is a set of doctrines, whilst Buddhism offers a way of life."

Now, this is a platitudinous misrepresentation of Buddhism in its native lands. Anyone who has read much about modern Japanese culture has run across the aphorism that "the Japanese are born Shinto and die Buddhist." Beneath that is a deeper truth: that a buddhist "way of life" is the fartherest thing from their minds. The Japanese are the only modern true pagans left, and religion as westerners tend to see it is just not part of their lives. There is nothing systematic about it; their way of life is Japanese first, and Shinto and Buddhist observances are simply subsidiary parts of that life, put on and off like (and for that matter as) ceremonial clothing.

And it's not at all irrelevant that, in the USA, Buddhism tends to get lumped with "spirituality" while Christianity gets lumped with "religion". The latter word suggests something ritualistic, to be sure; but it also suggests something systematic and even life-encompassing. "Spirituality" suggests dabbling and a lifestyle-accessory attitude.

The thing is that mainline Christianity has already had it out with the "doctrine" matter, mostly to a bad end. It's not really the doctrines of Christianity that are the problem. The papers like to claim that it is, but that's because they need to controversy to have something to cover, and because it makes them look smart when they really don't get religion. The big problem is that Christianity IS all-encompassing and sets out a way of life-- which people don't want to follow! The "solution" in the West was to make all sorts of distinction between Church and State and what-have-you, leading in Europe to the collapse of moral values that was WW II, and in the US to a corrupt bargain between Church and Business which Business gradually reneged on anyway. Throughout this there was always a mainline stream of objection; but since the western wolrd these days seems to be largely made up of rebellious children, the last thing anyone wanted was a church that told them what to do. So this fiction was made up of a "doctrine-only" Christianity, something that never ever existed and doesn't exist now.


It did exist to a degree in American fundagelical Christianity, because there the Church-Business bargain held. And because it held, it led to corruption, personal in the case of various now more-or-less fallen church leaders, but also more systematic. The US is the locus of the "sex is the only form of immorality" Christian ethics, even though mainline liberals had been criticizing business (lack of) ethics for decades.

Now, bookstores are stocked along strange reasons, as might be seen in my previous articles on bible buying. Christian bookstores and book services eat a lot of the Christian book market. But I suspect that, at the local Borders anyway, a lot of the wierdness can be traced to bookstores being heavily staffed by the kind of people who do buy into the spirituality as lifestyle accessory ethos.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Whch theologian are you?

On of them-there quiz thingies....

You scored as Anselm. Anselm is the outstanding theologian of the medieval period.He sees man's primary problem as having failed to render unto God what we owe him, so God becomes man in Christ and gives God what he is due. You should read 'Cur Deus Homo?'



John Calvin


Karl Barth


Martin Luther


Charles Finney




J�rgen Moltmann


Jonathan Edwards


Friedrich Schleiermacher


Paul Tillich


Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Bible Oddity II

OK, here's is where it gets wierd.

I checked out a Barnes & Noble, for completeness' sake. They hardly had a bible section, though the store was at least as big as the Books-a-Million I visited. (To be fair, a large section was taken up by a coffee shop.) The only Catholic bible they had was an RSV Catholic Edition (how ironic), and they had a spread of NIV and NLT and KJV and NKJV. That was about it. Clearly their heart was not in their religion section.

Before that, however, I visited the Potomac Adventist Book & Health Food Store. This is a "big box" store for SDAs, complete with a bronze statue of Jesus washing Peter's feet on the sidewalk out front. As you might guess, they have a HUGE bible section. They have LOTS of KJV editions, and NKJV, and all the other big commercial versions (though they don't push the NIV as much). But they also have all the traditional modern "liberal" translations (except maybe the NAB, now that I think about it). JB, NJB, Goodspeed, Moffatt, NRSV, REB (disguised as the Oxford Annotated Bible). They had the KJV apocrypha; they had the NASB; they had Lamsa's Peshitta; they had the JPS Tanakh; and they had a slew of parallel and bog-literal versions I'd never heard of.

So here we are at a conservative Christian bookstore, and it's the only place (other than a trip downtown to the shrine or the National Cathedral) to get the translations favored by liberals. THe irony is thundering.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Bible Buying Oddity

So here I am at Borders, and out of curiosity I drift over to the bible section. And what I find is really quite surprising.

If you wanted to buy a copy of the RSV, you would have been out of luck; they didn't have it. And they had a single edition/copy of the NRSV. Jerusalem Bible? They didn't have it, nor the newer edition either. New English/Revised English? Ditto. NASB? Nope. Today's English? I don't think so.

So what did they they have? Well, they had a few oddities, such as a copy of the Lamsa translation of the Peshitta. They had a fair number of New American Bible editions. But mostly what they had were King James, New King James, New International, and New Living Bible. Oh, and the English Standard Version, which, if you haven't run across it before, is a recent "conservative" redaction of the RSV.

Travelling over to Books-a-Million, I found a somewhat more restricted selection, plus the Holman Christian Standard Bible in various versions. It is apparently an attempt to produce an inerrantist formal equivalence translation (in other words, to replace the NIV, whose dynamic equivalence model ended up being criticized by almost everyone).

For an Episcopalian, the situation is passing strange. We have a canonically designated list of translations we can use, and hardly any of the bibles available at these general interest bookstores are on it. Of the current list, only the KJV, NAB, and NIV are (apparently) readily available, which is particularly an issue since the RSV is the reference version of scripture readings. So what we have is a very archaic Anglican bible, a heavily criticized RC bible (which is particular a problem because of the many textual reorderings), and a heavily criticized fundamentalist bible.

But even more interesting is what this says about what they think the bible market looks like. Now, some of this is surely distorted by publisher marketing issues. The Holman and the ESV are new translations; the NLT and NKJV and Holman are owned by specific publishers. But even so, what we see is a mass market which, with the exception of the Catholic NAB, is completely occupied by theologically conservative translations. From a strictly textual or translational perspective, they are not all conservative; the Holman, for instance, uses a modern textual basis, and the NLT is paraphrastic. But they are all connected to radically conservative Protestant groups.

What this would appear to say is that mainline Protestants are not an important bible market anymore-- or if they are, that they can be satified by strictly ceremonial copies of the KJV. You can't buy the preferred mainline versions in a regular bookstore. (I'm tempted to venture down to the Adventist bookstore, just to see.) Now, I haven't been to a Barnes & Noble, nor have I been to a variety of Borders shops. And who knows, maybe in a different city or state I might see something less odd. The two stores I did visit, however, are in two quite different communities.

And I also am not sure how long things have been this way. I haven't bought a bible in years, not because I don't own plenty (I have something like twelve different translations), but because I've come to rely on on-line bibles, except for liturgical use. For that I use my trusty RSV Common Bible, which I've had for a long time.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Think of the Starving Children in India

The latest spin in the campaign to demonize the opposition seems to be this one, courtesy of the PB-to-be:
But it seems to me that the shame in all of this is that we’re being diverted from feeding people who are starving, and treating people with AIDS, and malaria and tuberculosis, and providing basic healthcare for children who are suffering in other parts of the world, because we can’t get get away from bickering about these issues. They are certainly important, but they’re not the most important thing in the lives of the whole world.
She must really think we are stupid.

The truth seems to be that she thinks that bending the church to the will of its homosexuals is AS important as working for adequate food, shelter, healthcare, etc., because she and her allies are willing to keep the church in a froth over it. In fact, I'll take a step further: it's MORE important in her scheme to gain and retain control over church institutions in order to put them in the service of achieving homosexual objectives. If she were really serious about the priorities she (and Fr. Jake, for that matter) keep bringing up, she would give up the fight, reconvene General Convention, and preside over the division of the church. That way both sides could have their sexuality status quo, and they could get on with the charity (and political arm-twisting of course) that she claims to be their basic work.

But instead the new line is that rebellious dioceses and parishes will be subdued and put to the work of the liberal establishment. It's OK for (again I turn to the Fr. Jakites) us to rebel against our British overseers, but not for those dissident conservatives to rebel against the "heresy" of the PB-to-be. So now more money is going to be spent by the national church to crush the rebellion, instead of letting the rebels leave and giving that money to the poor. The hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty stinks. When 815 is abandoned in favor of Minot, North Dakota, when Mt. St. Albans is sold to the Baptists for a tidy sum and the proceeds all sent to Africa, when St. John the Divine is converted into low-cost housing, then I'll take this seriously.

{Tip to titusonenine)

Thursday, June 29, 2006


(With apologies to Aretha)

Jim Naughton, who seems to have signed up to be the Episcopal Diocese of Washington's Canon Spinmeister, tries his hand at Rowan Williams's "Reflection" on the Anglican communion:
As I read the archbishop, he, like many others, is suggesting that the struggle in the Anglican Communion is not about homosexuality but about how we make decisions in concert. To me that is similar to saying that the American Civil War was not about slavery but about states' rights. Both arguments allow you to ignore sins against humanity while you debate the nature of polity.
Well, perhaps Naughton ought to reflect a minute as to who the despot is in "Maryland, My Maryland". Casting John Chane as Abraham Lincoln might work within the diocese-- after all, look at how things went under Jane Dixon-- but in the communion as a whole, it isn't going to fly.

But perhaps Cantuar is supposed to stand in for the Tyrant Lincoln. Well, then perhaps the War of Northern Agression, the War Between the States, the War to Free the Slaves might then be a better analogue-- but for one fact. Cantuar is actually capable of no tyranny over PECUSA. He can expel us from the club, but he cannot do more than that.

And it is more than a little disingenious to suggest that homosexuality is the only issue presented by PECUSA. After thirty years, ordination of women is not universally accepted in the communion. What with the "Mother Jesus" sermon (which, coupled with Jefferts Schori's address to the deputies, gave us the repugnant image of Jesus giving birth to a montrous PECUSA), we have the next crisis: first sacraments, then morality, and next the language of theology itself. Williams's reflection fairly hammers on this point: that the succession of American adventures is in its essence a repudiation of conciliarity, and that therefore it's not at all unreasonable to deny the Americans a place at council.

There are in fact two struggles going on. At the moment, statements from Canterbury are but rumors of war. The bigger problem for the bishop of Washington is that his erstwhile liberal allies have (perhaps) reneged, and are choosing conciliarity over conscience. That's the real purpose of Naughton's statement: to pressure (say) the Bishop of Maryland to give consent if and when the Diocese of Newark or some other diocese elects the next homosexual bishop. If we are casting roles in the Late Unpleasantness, it's as easy to cast Chane as Leonidas Polk, especially considering the language of rebellion I hear from his corner. Over on Fr. Jake the war of choice is that of 1776, with Williams as, well, the British; I guess they prefer to cast GC as the Continental Congress. So-- has anyone seen Richard Henry Lee recently? Or would the troops of Chane's diocese rather fire on Ft. Pitt-- er, Ft. Sumner?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Electing Schori

Let me say that I don't have any chromosomal issues with the Rt. Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori. She's not whom I would pick for the job, male or female, and if I were to pick a woman, it would probably be the Rev. Fleming Rutledge, who is probably the female cleric in PECUSA who is least acceptable to those who voted for Schori (or practically anyone else, for that matter). I mean, how many priests of either sex in the country appear in Geneva bands?

I don't doubt that Bp. Schori brings some considerable gifts to her new position. But she also brings considerable symbolism. At least one of those symbols is positive by anyone's standards: no longer need I suffer self-indulgent hand-wringing about the need for further empowerment of women in the church. I suppose I can sigh with the flounder and the fisherman when this turns out not be enough, and it must be that the Archbishop of Canterbury, and then the Pope, and the God in His/Her/Its/Their heaven must be a woman, but I personally think Presiding Bishop is enough of an aspiration for any Episcopalian.

The problem end is epitomized by this spin from Jim Naughton:
I don't know how the politics of this is going to shake out in the Anglican Communion yet. On the one hand, this is another "first" from the Episcopal Church, and maybe that won't be well received. On the other hand, the hand I favor, it now becomes clear that attacking the Church that deals fairly with gays and lesbians also means attacking the Church that deals fairly with women. The cause of the small, vulnerable gay population is now linked to the large and much less vulnerable female population.

That's one way to put it. But here's a better one: Schori's election is very much about rubbing it in the rest of the communion's faces that the leaders of PECUSA are going to do what they want, and to hell with everyone else. PECUSA is already the church whose female bishops represent a problem for the rest of the communion, and a problem which somehow has managed to remain dormant through the last Lambeth conference. Now, in the midst of a severe strain over the one issue, the other issue has been raised again.

Naughton has it exactly backwards. In the current context, Schori's election has linked the women to homosexuality, and not the other direction. The position of women in the communion has been weakened, not strengthened, because the coupling of the two issues has given conservative, moderates, and even some liberals a very strong reason to chuck us out of the communion. The message is that we are willful and don't care about the consequenceds for anyone else, and are in general impossible to live with. Everything that Rowan Williams and his emmissaries have said over the past few months indicates an increasing frustration with PECUSA. And on the other hand, I'm hearing increasing resentment from the liberal vanguard that Cantuar dares even to express an opinion, however veiled. Meanwhile, there are rumblings from the center, with Bp. Peter "Schism is worse than heresy" Lee of Virginia propsing a moratorium on such extreme terms that I can only read this as realization that (a) the current course is going to get us thrown out of the communion, and that (b) he values communion unity higher than PECUSA unity.

That last evaluation will destroy the denomination, or at the very least cleave it in two. Fudge is becoming increasingly difficult to make; and for that, too, perhaps we can thank Schori's electors.

My prayers for you, Bp. Schori. You are going to need all the Divine Help you can get.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Past My "Pray By" Date

I've tried not to afflict anyone who still bothers to read this with too much about the Sausage Factory-- er, the PECUSA General Convention now underway. But then I read (courtesy of T19) this ENS story about resolution D061 "Pastoral Plan to Revise the Book of Common Prayer".

The resolution itself seems almost innocuous:
Resolved, the House of _____ concurring, That the 75th General Convention direct the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to present to the 76th General Convention a pastoral plan for the future revision of the Book of Common Prayer.

That sounds like good idea, you might say. Well, here's the real message of the resolution:
“Our prayer book is already outdated and it is hard for my generation to relate to everything in it,” said a youth, identified only as Hannah, from Northern California.

The Rev. Stephanie Speller, 34, of Boston, also testified at the Friday hearing that she uses alternative resources for her diverse congregation. Our diversity “is a miracle of God’s grace, but…where people enter church on Sunday morning they may see a multicultural congregation but what they hear is all European American,” said Speller, whose congregation at St. Paul’s Cathedral includes African Caribbean, African, African American, Chinese, Latino and Anglo parishioners.

Speller added, “After awhile you begin to feel like the marginal voices are only found in the marginal text; at what point do those voices come to the center?”

Really? Thirty years of folk masses and clown masses and hip-hop masses and rave masses, and it's only now we've discovered that the prayer book is getting in the way?

I wish I could say that it was astonishing to hear this stuff, but it seems that the downfall of the Episcopal Church is going lie not in sex, but in the overwhelming urge to demolish the one thing that gave us any unity: the Book of Common Prayer. Thus it was drearily unsurprising that convention liturgies read anything but "it is right to give him thanks and praise"; some sullen, hidden vein of traditionalism in me want to say that it is their own damn fault for getting rid of the certified patriarchy-free response used from 1549 to 1928.

But let's go back to that word:


I have to join with those who question the judgement of young adults who WANT to go to church conventions. Young people who would rather inflict all that bloviation on themselves, when they could be out copulating or tipping cows or doing almost anything else, surely need to reexamine their priorities. That dreary work should be left to their tired and jaded elders, who have already put decades of office work and parenting under their belts. But they point to what seems to be a very common belief: that church must be made juvenile in order for it to survive.

That's the real message of all the clown/rave/hip-hop/folk masses. And while I am not a Rite I partisan, there are times when Rite II retreats from a clean, modern language into childishness. But the problem with this is that (duh) people grow up. I did so prematurely, I suppose. I went to an Episcopal boarding school with a very high (in the church sense) standard of ritual, so all the "relevant" mid-week services we were sentenced to produce seemed impossibly dated once I set foot in college. (Indeed, the whole "hold hands around the altar" communion schtick of the chaplaincy seemed, in 1978, to be an embarrassing hangover of the '60s. And it's still with us.)

And here it is, thirty years later, and in a year I'll have a son in high school. And I think of those young women at general convention, and I wonder whether a service for their teenage children will be keeping them in church when I'm a white-haired elder. And my thirteen year old son, sitting next to me, informs me that he does not think that the BCP is hard to understand. Of course, his throwback of a father has already corrupted him.

Rev. Speller's words fly in the face of decades of Anglican practice. The BCP liturgy, unbowdlerized and even unmodernized, has proven adaptable to services from church camp eucharists to evensong of the highest music standard.

The last thing the church needs is to even think of revising the prayer book. There are certainly changes which ought to be made, but now is not the time.

Monday, May 22, 2006

It's an Episcopal Church, Isn't It?

So here we have Questioning Christian complaining about one aspect of the Angican covenant proposal:
I see no reason to entrust the primates with that kind of gatekeeper authority. The very idea rests on the outdated notion that the church is a flock, of which bishops are shepherds. This notion apparently derives from patristic times: Before leaving for Jerusalem, Paul reportedly exhorted the elders of the church of Ephesus to keep watch over "the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers," and to "[b]e shepherds of the church of God" (Acts 20.28). Perhaps taking their cue from Paul, some early church leaders wrote in a similar vein, notably Ignatius. All this presupposes that the rest of us are sheep who must be led by their wise, benevolent human overseers. Nonsense. Bishops are not divinely-appointed monarchs; they're "hired help," with specific jobs to do.
It is to laugh. Anyone who has ever watched a mainline church in the throes of controversy knows that bishops are not the leaders one looks to for theological restraint. Controversial votes in the ECUSA General Convention are decided by the deputies; the House of Bishops is always comfortably in the vanguard.

Those who hold the croziers for the dioceses of ECUSA lack almost any accountability to anyone. Hired help? They're more like "presidents for life". When it comes to shepherding, they are as wont to drive their flocks into new fields as they are to keep them within bounds.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but the language of liberals is all too often exactly expressive of the opinion that the laity are dumb sheep who need to be led to the green fields of tolerance and every other liberal virtue, and that without this direction, they would stray into choking down the thorns of bigotry. I have yet to find time to read the material about the proposed convenant, but it's rather obvious that the biggest problem with letting the primates at it is that the liberals would be consistently outvoted.


It is a common feature of traditionalist critics that they will attempt to theorize that traditional high art is objectively good and that anything else is objectively bad. This is amusingly constricted by one's tradition, so that for instance Russian harmonized chanting can be good or bad, depending on whether you are embracing that tradition or rejecting it as an innovation.

So here we have Daniel Mitsui railing against popular culture. Well, specific media, at any rate, as proxies for it. I'm surprised he doesn't take a few swings at modern high culture, but as he hasn't I'm to be deprived of the amusement of watching him try to drag himself out of that intellectual swamp.

Popular music and popular culture, as it is, presents enough problems. One only has to look at the situation of music in the early 20th century, particularly as it involves Americans. The class meanings of different categories and even nationalities are bloody obvious. Folk music of the period doesn't exist as, well, folk music; it exists as a sort of upper class archaeology, rendered acceptable by the suave touch of Vaughan Williams or Grainger or Sharp or Child. Gottschalk was reduced to popular music by dint of being an American. Gershwin, writing for the theater and the "dance" orchestra, swasn't respected as high culture.

Is American shape-note music folk music, or not? Well, it doesn't neatly fit into any slot. On the one hand, it is an isolated subculture; but on the other, it has from the beginning relied upon the technologies of printing and travel. And while we're at it, relying on the technology of music for income can be traced right back to Byrd and Tallis getting a monopoly on music printing.

What about Tchaikovsky's church music? Is it an imitation, or the real thing? Is the distinction even meaningful? I would say that it isn't.

And so, on it goes. It's very hard to point to popular culture as anything different from low culture-- which is to say, as a class difference-- before the late 1800s. Popular culture is a function of prosperity, of the lower classes being able to purchase art as easily as the upper classes. In music, it is closely coupled with the appearance of pianos in middle class homes, and then with recordings. But a funny thing happened: middlebrows took over the old high culture, and therefore the high culture had to invent something new-- preferably something that the middle would not appropriate. That's how we ended up with 20th century "epatez les bourgeous" "High Art With Furrowed Brow" (Peter Schickele, with lots of reverb). This freed pop culture to be the anti-culture that it is today.

But then again, the notion of artists as "humble craftsmen" is laughable. Artists as a group are notoriously arrogant-- often with some reason, of course, inasmuch as they express their talents. They are also prone to theorizing, a trait particularly evident starting in the 1800s, but also conspicuous in the theory-happy middle ages. Nor is the artist-superstar a particularly modern idea. Nodern communications and prosperity simply allows the lower classes to participate in the phenomenon, and thus amplify it.

If there is an argument to be made, it is in the totality and immediacy of film. I have always sensed something akin to envy on the part of wordsmiths in particular when they talk about music, and some of the same feeling I sense in discussion of film. Music is granted a gateway into the psyche that is barred to mere talk, a channel deemed dangerous in its power and disrespectable in its "irrationality". I see that film gains the same power.

But the notion that one will put such time to better use is verging on juvenile in its laughability. Some of us are destined to be polymaths, and some of us just need a break from shovelling coal. And a lot of us who fancy that we might be polymaths are destined to be no more than dilletantes.

Over in Serge's blog, where the real action on this seems to be taking place, Mitsui said (among many other things), "I see natural traditionalism as the primary way that the faith is preserved, not catechisms or papal pronouncements (the metaphor I use is that those are part of the armor, not part of the knight). Catholic art and liturgy and music and culture are part of Catholicism - to reduce the "teaching of the Church" to the moral and doctrinal precepts is to ignore the Church as an incarnate reality and an actor in history." Natural tradition is "doing what you've always done", and that's not Catholicism. Roman Catholic art is every bit as systematized as Roman Catholic doctrine; indeed, the schoolmen didn't see a distinction between one and the other, nor did their followers in later days feel any much compunction to halt its development at any given point. Going "back" to the middle ages was the province of Anglicans, not that they ever succeeded in truly doing so. But for many years the division between Anglican and Roman art ran neatly between Abbot Suger and Palladio, with the Romans firmly on the side of innovation in this.

I'm not going to see The Da Vinci Code. partly it's because, having children of a certain age, movie going has to be carefully rationed, and by most accounts this one isn't worth the aggravation. Part of it is because I would have to resist throwing rotten tomatoes at all the misrepresentations. But I'm not going to reckon this as unto righteousness.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Is This Liturgy Heresy? Please Discuss

It's our buddies at the Office of Women's Ministries again, this time with a Eucharist Using Female Nouns and Pronouns which is "for use in discussion". They want discussion? I can give them discussion.

One point which has come out of all the liturgical revision proposals is that the 1979 structure has become the de facto ECUSA standard. All the changes have concentrated on the words; none have suggested the kind of rearrangements that 1979 made. This has important positive and negative consequences.

The positive consequence is that a fixed structure reinforces examination about how church architecture supports the liturgy. I've had some discussion of this with others, and then there are those crazy liturgists at St. Gregory of Nyssa who are clearly working from the 1979 structure as the basis for a radically different space. (In my view, it's an unsuccessful experiment, but that's another post.)

The negative observation is, unfortunately, the one that matters more. Changing the words tends to imply a certain rejection of the old words. OK-- the whole experiment here seems to be to do without the male language for God. If that is so, then there are a lot of changes which go beyond this. For instance, the conventional change V&R at the end of the readings is changed from

Reader The Word of the Lord.
People Thanks be to God.

to this:

Reader The Holy Word.
People Blessed be.

The first change is obviously explicable by the desire to avoid the word "Lord". The second change is not; the original response ought to be utterly innocuous. What's more striking, as a number of the respondents on titusonenine have pointed out, is that "blessed be" is a conventional response among wiccans, and has no particular Christian precedent. This change is objectionable; we ought not to be replacing our own language with that of an anti-Christian group.

The puzzling changes continue in the prayers of the people. They have chosen to adapt Form III, which is a rather good use of the V&R form. But again, the changes seem to step far outside their program, because the only "problem" word is the first one: "Father". I wonder why there is a problem with saying "Grant that every member of the church may truly and humbly serve you; that your Name may be glorified by all people." (I've italicized the words that were changed, as in the following passages.) I also don't understand why we cannot say "We pray for all bishops, priests and deacons; that they may be faithful ministers of your Word and Sacraments."

WHen we get to the confession, the changes multiply, and some of the changes have a history of contrary objections. The invitation has many changes (which I've bolded): "Let us confess the ways we have separated ourselves from our Divine Mother, from our own best selves and our neighbors." "Sin" has been excised; "against" has been excised; and "our best selves" has been inserted. Getting rid of sin is a weenie revision, to begin with. But there's also the question of whether we can sin against ourselves. The confession itself seems to think so, and boldly inserts a third commandment after the two Great Commandments.

All of this is before I step up to the central change: calling God "Mother" and using a lot of non-biblical language to emphasize the feminine. There's a long record of objection to this which I mostly endorse, so I'll confine myself to two observations pertinent to this text. Right at the beginning, the celebrant says, "Blessed be the Lady who births, redeems and sanctifies us." Right off the bat, I'd object to the word "births". God made us. I also have to complain about the modalism that creeps in every time they have to work around the Triune Name, and following the greeting there is a seemingly needless rewrite of the COllect for Purity. But the choice of "births" is striking. All along there seems to be some implication that we-- well, that women need to feel some connection to the Persons of the trinity that is strong than the mere human image. Well, this gets tripped up by the sensible yet perverse judgement that Jesus' masculinity must be scrupulously preserved in the texts. They also do not dare to change the Lord's Prayer, though they do dare to resist calling Jesus "Lord". And in the one explicit reference to the second person of the Trinity, he is called "son". Well, isn't Jesus supposed to humanize the godhead? And so, isn't the scandal still there, that Jesus is and must be a particular sex? And therefore, doesn't this make the whole argument rather moot, because we must be able to relate to Jesus regardless of our own sex?

My reaction, in the end, is that if the words of 1979 need revision, for the most part at this point we can only justify some tinkering. It amazes me that, only thirty years after the most extensive changes ever made in the liturgy, we are already talking about wholesale change again.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Please, Thor, Make It Stop!

What is it with the pagans, anyway?!?!?

I come home, bring up titusonenine, and here's the first entry: Love Potion Number 815

I follow the link (the only content) to this article at Stand Firm, wherein it is revealed that the Episcopal Book/Resource Center (at good ol' 815 2nd Ave.) is selling a book of love spells and potions, written by a woman who is apparently reasonably well-known in wiccan circles.

Folks, I'd love to be able to say that "you can't make stuff like this up." Unfortunately, it seems as though we can expect this sort of thing at regular intervals from our friends in high places.

But fortunately, the bookstore has just the thing: The Book of Occaisional Services. "Restoring of Things Profaned" begins on Page 202 and "Concerning Exorcism" is on Page 155 of my 1979 edition. If they've taken them out in the 2003 edition, I'm sure I can make my copy available.

UPDATE:After numerous complaints, the book is no longer being offered. See also this very perceptive comment by Fr. Dean A. Einerson:
The problem is not paganism, but a dull, stupid secularism. The people that order books like that do not believe in witchcraft. They do not believe in anything except themselves. For them “Spirituality” is a hobby, a leisure time activity, a way to spend time and money that is no different than any other diversion. It certainly has nothing to do with heaven or hell. CS Lewis wrote the following in “Is Theism Important,” *God in the Dock,* p. 172. (Eerdmans, 1970): “When grave persons express their fear that England is relapsing into Paganism, I am tempted to reply, ‘Would that she were.’ For I do not think it at all likely that we shall ever see Parliament opened by the slaughtering of a garlanded white bull in the House of Lords or Cabinet Ministers leaving sandwiches in Hyde Park as an offering for the Dryads. “If such a state of affairs came about, then the Christian apologist would have something to work on. For a Pagan, as history shows, is a man eminently convertible to Christianity. He is essentially the pre-Christian, or sub-Christian, religious man. The post-Christian man of our day differs from him as much as a divorcee differs from a virgin.” What, I am sure, Lewis never imagined was how close we are to opening the General Convention that way. Fortunately for the bull, we are not there quite yet.
(tip to Common Reader)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Not a Prophet

Apparently I'm not the only person bothered by the frequent appearance of the word "prophetic" in revisionist statements. And frequent it is. As of this writing, there are fifteen articles on the front page of Fr. Jake's blog. None of them contains the word "prophetic", but there are seventeen occurances of the word in the comments, spread out over comments on eight of the articles. Perhaps its just my mistaken impression, but it seems to me that the word hardly appears in Catholic or Evil Right Wing blogs.

Matt Kennedy is not impressed. Neither is newbie Anglican. I can't say that I am all that impressed either. Nobody would ever mistake me for a prophet, nor would I ever dare to claim that my words here are any but my own. And if the councils of the Episcopal Church speak as the Spirit, where does that put the councils of all those other churches?

To me, this is the other great distasteful character of the revisionists. The unconcealed contempt (if not hatred) for their opposition is bad enough; that their repetition of secualr liberal shibboleths is prophecy is more than I can take. Yes, the opposition is often quite arrogant; but this is beyond the pale. I don't hear prophecy; I hear the Spirit of the Age.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Round the Table

Over at Fr. Jake we had a discussion that centers on the image of an extended family meal. A lot of interesting stuff happened in the course of this discussion, but all along I felt a certain discomfort at the image.

Five of the seven sacraments specifically refer to real aspects of our humanity. We are born (baptism); we cannot take care of ourselves or take full responsibility for ourselves until we grow old enough (confirmation); we eat and drink (the eucharist); we form families and have children (marriage); and we sicken and die (unction). I can't quite fit confession and ordination into this, but I don't think that's essential to the point.

When one talks about meals in this wise, the image calls up communion. But I don't think that the eucharist, for better or worse, is much like a family meal, especially the omnium gatherum thanksgiving day feast. Perhaps it ought to be, but that's not the point. No, I think the actuality of the eucharist is more like a restaurant, with the Father setting the menu, the Holy Spirit doing the cooking, and the Son picking up the tab. The clergy are like the hostess/maitre d', the waiters, and the busboys; and the laity are the customers. Now, this is not an ideal image either, but it's quite a bit more like the real image from scripture:
Then he said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Inasmuch as the weekly eucharist realizes on earth the wedding feast of the lamb, it is not a family meal. Great and small, known and unknown are all gathered together, not for conversation, but to enter into the joy of the master.

But sitting to table together, if we do not converse, is not so hard. The hard sacrament here is not communion, but marriage. Eating is a simple thing; forming a nousehold and living in fidelity and bearing and raising children: those are impossible things, by comparison. The subject is so complex as to support most of the fiction in the world, when it comes to that.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Campaign Continues

The attack upon the ani-liberal forces continues, with Chane taking up where his communications office left off. This time it's in the pages of Episcopal Life:
Gifts from such wealthy donors as Howard Ahmanson Jr. and the Bradley, Coors and Scaife families, or their foundations, allow the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy to sponsor so-called "renewal" movements that fight the inclusion of gays and lesbians within the Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches and in the United Church of Christ. Should the institute succeed in "renewing" these churches, what we see in Nigeria today may well be on the agenda of the Christian right tomorrow.

I don't know about Bradley, Coors, or Scaife; it has already been established that Ahmanson is Episcopalian. However, there's that weaselly "may" in the last sentence, the sure mark of alarmist claptrap. The diocese's revelation of Ahmanson's intent is weak and unconvincing, but in any case the image of ECUSA as a vehicle for some sort of sexual fascism is just silly. ECUSA's inevitable risk is turning into a club for right-thinking snobs who want a little religious ritual in their lives. Dog-collared Black Shirts? Preposterous.

WHen it comes to denunciations, I'm waiting for Chane to denounce, oh, Spong and the Office of Women's Ministries and any number of other heretical persons/organizations in ECUSA. Fair's fair, after all. If he doesn't denounce them because he agrees with them, then I'm happy to add him to my list of excommunicate bishops. Or maybe he doesn't denounce them because they are allies in the battle against the conservatives. But that would make his demands here, of course, hypocritical.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Big House Syndrome

Over at Entangled States we have some discussion of the overview of the Faith COmmunities Today study of Episcopal congregations.

Now, there are many, many statistical boobytraps in this study, and one of them has to do with parish size and growth. Now, from the report, we have these figures:
The median seating capacity in parish worship facilities is 175 persons. Only 16% of Episcopal congregations have facilities that seat more than 300 people, while one in four seats 100 or fewer.
And our commentator goes on to observe that these figures place an upper limit on possibilities for church growth.

Well, not exactly. First, there's the solution brought up by another: more services. But more fundamental are two other issues. First, let's look at a few more numbers. The report identifies 16% of parishes as rural/small town, and another 45% in communities of between 2,500 and 50,000. It's a little hard to decipher what that 45% means, but that's not all that important. What is important is that the 16% of small town/rural parishes significantly skew the numbers. It's a very safe bet that most of those parishes are on the small side, both in ASA and seats. So the median of seats of churches that have some expectation of growth is prabably rather higher than 175.

Or maybe not, because in my experience the biggest determinant of church growth, other things being equal, is what the community is doing. Huge spikes of growth around here (semi-rural/outer-suburban Maryland) are associated with established churches that get surrounded by development.

But the other side of the "too small to live" theory is that all of this presupposes expansion of parishes without increasing cleric staff and without doing any building. A building in the hand is a considerable asset, and something like Fr. Knisely's church is essentially irreplaceable. But even when the building is abandoned and the parish moves into school cafeterias and other rented spaces, the real savings comes from paying for one priest for 500 people instead of the more usual two.

Al of this is moot if there isn't any real pressure for expansion. I suspect that parishes (again all other things being equal) which do not feel pressure to expand will in fact experience significant contractions if the abandon their buildings. Expansion requires keeping the parish on the upper side of that magic 2/3s number. Also, in terms of programs, I wonder about the assumption that they belong to the parishes and not to the diocese.

Anyway, the point in the end is that this more complicated than just buildings that are too small.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Following the Money - The Wrong Way

In the continuing campaign to discredit the conservative opposition, we have a new entry from the Diocese of Washington, in the form of an expose of the funding of the American Anglican Council and other opposition organizations and of the connections between these groups and the Institute on Religion and Democracy. The timing of this missive, late in a Friday afternoon with very little trace on the diocesan website to show that it is even there, suggests a maneuver to get this in the Saturday papers (especially the Washington Post religion section) while largely denying the AAC the opportunity to present an effective reply. But perhaps my cynicism is misplaced.

About a third the way down the first page, the name "Howard F. Ahmanson Jr." is presented in big, not-so-friendly letters. This profile from Salon seems to give a better sense of what Ahmanson is about, but eventually even the diocesan article gets around to the inconvenient fact that Mr. Ahmanson is an Episcopalian, albeit in a dissident parish. It's not unreasonable, therefore, for him to direct his resources in the current crisis. Both the Salon profile and the diocesan expose take some pains to outline his connections with the (IMHO a bit cracked) R.J. Rushdoony, who is notorious as the father of Christian Reconstructionism. Reconstructionism is pretty far afield of any Anglican perspective, but the Salon profile seems to indicate some sort of break after Rushdoony's death, and it's unclear that Ahmanson's present positions owe much to reconstructionist thought per se. In any case, Ahmanson has a dog in this hunt.

The two articles both lean on Ahmanson's reclusiveness, though again, there reason is right there in the articles. If I were wealthy, and were held to be influential, and I suffered under Tourette's Syndrome, I'd be media-shy too.

So from there we pass on to the American Anglican Council. I wish the AAC website would 'fess up as to who its current officers are. Let's go back in time quite a ways, though, to an AAC chapter organizing meeting at St. Francis Potomac. (I should say at this point that I am not and never have been a member of the AAC.) The featured speaker? Mary Haines. Yep, the bishop of Washington's wife was there to denounce him. I mention this because the Diocese of Washington articles imply that the AAC was essentially bought by its funders without really producing much in the way of evidence. The reality out here in the parishes is that the conservatives do not need to be directed to find issues to object to in their dioceses. For instance, if I recall correctly the organizing meeting was not that long after the Haines/Dixon campaign of forcing Dixon on the parishes which continued to deny her sacraments.

And from thence we go back to Lambeth 1998, which the diocesan article passes over in a single sentence. I followed this fairly closely, unfortunately having to rely on the paired opposing weak reeds of Louie Crew and David Virtue, neither of whom could be accused of working from a neutral viewpoint. Lambeth was crucial to the current crisis, because it showed that if the conservatives could throw off the direction of their Anglo-American handlers, they had the numbers to dictate the future of the communion. The conference was therefore marked by a succession of such crises of control, and enlivened by some impressive displays of arrogance on both sides. Perhaps the most telling of these, for the present controversy, were the "chicken dinner" remarks. I don't for a minute think that the Africans and Asians needed to be bribed to vote against the Americans, and those who made these accusations in pbulic revealed a blistering condescension and contempt for third world bishops. The whole notion was conspicuously delusional.

Which brings us back to the present. Against the accusations which the article makes about AAC et al. external management of Dromontane runs the principle long observed about Anglican communion councils: "The Africans pray, the Americans pay, and the British write the resolutions." But recently the British resolution writing has not been that congenial to the American establishment, and none more so than in the person of Rowan Williams. There was great expectation at his appointment, on all sides, that as a card-carrying liberal he would be a mouthpiece and would marshall the communion in favor of liberal causes. This was met with dismay on one side and triumph on the other, but what very few foresaw (and if I may be immodest, I say it earlier than most did) was that Williams would foreswear advocacy of any position on the crucial matters, and would act strictly as a custodian of the expressed will of the communion. So when Dromontane came around, the conservatives were prepared, and liberals, as at Lambeth, lost the initiative.

And so we're faced with the following situation: two gay and one lesbian candidates for the Bishop of California, and a standing threat by the majority of the communion to excommunicate us if one of them is consecrated. And somehow, it is wrong for the conservatives to resist this-- not because of the moral argument, but because of some notion of fair play.

Those who've been paying attention will notice I've not mentioned the author of the expose. I've avoided doing so to point out something: this is not the advocacy of a private individual. It is the statement of the diocese itself, and thus is itself a poitical maneuver within the field of conflict. It's hard to say what the house of bishops will do, and it seems to me, ironically, that the most craven response would also be the most damaging to the conservative cause. If Chane and the other vanguard bishops get their way and get a gay or lesbian candidate with the necessary consents, they will end up in control of ECUSA as a whole, and probably almost all of the dioceses should they be hard-nosed about it. The reason is obvious: retaining power over the national church means retaining power over the dioceses, and retaining power over the dioceses means being able to impose their doctrines on the parishes. For again, we are back to the church as a locus of power, and a power which is presently delivered into the hands of the vanguard. And it's a power which draws its funds from many not entirely willing sources.

My parents are presbyterians, and my father was at one point clerk of the session at their church. It's sort of like being senior warden, except that the session delegates the housekeeping functions to the deacons (who are laypeople) and reserves all of the congregational governance to itself. Well. Over the same period as the parallel ECUSA problems, there has been a repetitive pattern of the national presbyterian church taking liberties with church prestige and influence, and with the reaction of being pulled back into line. Since they have no bishops, accountability is potentially complete. Episcopal accountability, by contrast, is almost nonexistent, and accountability of national church and diocesan offices is very low. So in both ECUSA and PCUSA people find their donations being directed to causes which they find morally (and often theologically) objectionable.

It's not hard, therefore, to deconstruct the whole thing in a different direction. I tend to suspect that a major part of the outrage which Ahmanson's funding is supposed to provoke finds its origin in the realization that the conservatives now have a source of support which the liberals cannot co-opt to their own ends.

A Right-Wing Conspiracy, Of Course

So, here we have Fr. Jake and his cheering section talking about Daniel J. Webster's review in The Witness of Hard Ball on Holy Ground by Stephen Swecker. The thesis in all of this? Let's go to Webster:
"In the end, the IRD is not a program grounded in faith but, rather, in fear -- both fear of change in general and fear of loss by those who benefit most from the status quo, i.e., the wealthy and the powerful," writes Swecker in his closing article.

In other words the IRD has little to do with religion, except for control and contempt of it, and everything to do with democracy and demagoguery.
OK, let's deconstruct this for a bit. Webster, is actually Fr. Webster, "most recently the director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Utah". He's a member of the church establishment, a person accustomed to the use of ecclessial power and resources.

And that seems to be a running theme in all of this. The whole point of IRD's supposed campaign to seize control of ECUSA and other churches (and thus return us, I presume, to being "the Republican Party at prayer") presupposes that ECUSA is a locus of power. And of course, it is-- far more powerful than IRD could hope to be on its own. And Frs. Jake and Webster are officers at different levels within this structure, so right away they are subject to the suspicion that their ox is being gored.

So let's go back to Fr. Webster's earlier article on the subject. At that time, he said:
But this article started with power and control. Liberation theology, feminist theology, inclusivity of all whether they be homosexuals, people of color, the poor, have all threatened the "power holders" throughout church history.
I shall be blunt: this is all so much bullshit. Liberation theology has been accused, in my opinion with utter justification, of being upper middle class dabbling in leftist politics. Feminist theology is likewise an upper middle movement, straight out of the academy, which is ensconced in the power structures of ECUSA in the form of the Office of Women's Ministry: an organization seemingly impregnable in spite of numerous incidents of dabbling in non- and anti-Christian religion. Homosexuals in the church are not, by and large, powerless people. Black bishops in ECUSA are commonplace and unremarkable, reflecting their ascent into the gentry decades ago. Black bishops in the communion are of course the norm now-- but that seems to have become a problem. All in all, the liberals are borrowing the grievances of the downtrodden, but without the actuality of oppression or poverty.

The "power holders" are people like Webster, people like the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, people like the Rev. Margaret Rose, people like the Rt. Rev. Otis Charles, people like the Rt. Rev. Jane Dixon.... I could go on. These people are the establishment, and a lot of them always were even before they were ordained. And now, they speak for Jesus, just as did their supposedly Republican forefathers. When Jimmy Carter, former Chief Power Holder of the United States of America, complains about this, I can only conclude that there is a sense of entitlement to power, of being accustomed to power, and of annoyance that this sense of privilege and authority is being challenged.

Given the actuality of strictly religious arguments about sexuality and femininity (race having, in practice, passed entirely out of the discussion in these latter days) I must conclude that the Real Agenda of the Wealthy Right Wingers is to protect their position and their pocketbooks. I've already discussed how they and the liberal powerful share position, so let's move on to money. To a great degree, they share that too. Oh, the lawyer's wives (and ex-lawyers) may not be living on trust funds, but the Ordination Process that prevails in the big, urban, liberal dioceses largely guarantees that only the comfortably well-off can afford to pursue ordination. It's already clear that the powerful in ECUSA are not going to give up their bishop's palaces and their beautiful old rectories and their handsome faux-gothic churches. They will not move into apartments and walk-ups and storefronts, but they expect the opposition to do so.

IRD's supposed conduit as a vehicle for control of the Africans is reminscent of the shameful "chicken dinner" remarks made by some of those powerful bishops in their fancy digs at the last Lambeth conference. But even then, the desire for control need not translate into actual control, and especially not when it comes to the church. Clerics are legendary as biters of the hands that feed them. I suspect that the backers of IRD are no more likely to get what they want out of the deal than Henry II was when he had Becket appointed to Canterbury's throne.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Fundies and Bullies

Here we go again, with another rant against those "fundamentalist" African "bullies", this time from The Rev. Dr. James Bradley, Rector of St. John’s, Waterbury, CT. For example:
Now the Fundamentalists of the third world who call themselves “Anglican” want to destroy the ethos and genius of Anglicanism by making us a church based on doctrine and hierarchy rather than worship and equality.

The whole posture of this is so very much bull hockey. Let's get back to reality for a minute:

First, the self-image of the liberal vanguard as anti-establishment crusaders is an utter fraud. In ECUSA, these people are the Establishment. Literally.

Second, all Akinola and his fellow Africans can do is talk. He cannot deprive American priests and laity of their positions and parishes, as American bishops have been doing with regularity. (Special attention should be directed to the acts of Dr. Bradley's own bishop.) He cannot change the canons of churches and dioceses.

Third, the essential argument is whether the Anglican "big tent" is so unlimited as to encompass essentially any difference. When it comes down to it, this degree of latitudinarism fails. Bradley plainly wants the Africans out of the tent, after all.

Fourth, the snobbery is obvious. Dr. Bradley all but says that Anglicanism belongs to an Anglo-American elite: the right-thinking establishment of the American church and their allies.

Dr. Bradley says:
Anglicanism is not a doctrine, creed or confession—it is a Book of Common Prayer and a remarkable dose of “common sense”.

The question, apparently, is not whether Anglicans are defined by doctrines, creeds, or confessions. Actually, I take that back; that very Book of Common Prayer has us all standing up every Sunday to profess the ancient Creed, so I will say that Yes, we are all bound by that. But in any case, the real issue is not binding to some theology. It is that Bradley and his partners in crime abuse the freedom they claim to find in Anglicanism to bind us to their doctrines of sexuality. Surely the time will come, if nothing were to intervene, when the establishment which Dr. Bradley represents will in fact move on to keep dissenters on this issue from ordination, and then will turn to rewriting the BCP to have it express their doctrines.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Future Part V

The folks at The Anglican Communion Institute have played the "what if?" game and have worked through a scenario which they describe as a "thought experiment". It begins as follows:

  1. The Diocese of California (CA) elects a ‘Gay/Lesbian’ Bishop; consents process at General Convention reveals 45% in favor of approval in the HOB; consent denied in HOB;

  2. CA consecrates said ‘Gay/Lesbian’ Bishop anyway[.]

and goes on to a four-way division of ECUSA whose various conflicts are expected to prove to be seriously debilitating to each sept.

It's a scenario which I hadn't considered, since I have expected up to now that the House of Bishops (the "HOB" referred to in the scenario) will give California its consents. But it seems to me that there is a flaw in the presentation of the scenario.

California cannot consecrate a new bishop on its own; they will need a set of bishops to do so. Perhaps they will be able to collect together a set of retired bishops and suffragans to protect the diocesan bishops from involvement (as Righter was used to protect Spong from the immediate consequences of the Robert Williams ordination). In that case it will be easy for the HOB to denounce the consecrators and for the scenario to play out along the lines of the ACI scenario. But I expect that some diocesan bishops will choose to participate, in which case the consecration will create a de facto schism from the start. And since we all know that "schism is worst than heresy", I don't think the moderates will be able-- and maybe not even inclined-- to attempt bridge-building.

Of course, it is all speculation. It is even possible that California will heed Griswold's warning in the Guardian, though I doubt that. Righteous indignation at being denied a homosexual bishop is running very high, from what I see on the net.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Yet ANOTHER New Gospel

Catholic World News reports:

"Gospel of Skip and Muffy" Discovered

(courtesy GetReligion)

I guess we'll just have to revise our faith again....

Friday, April 07, 2006

Yet Another Gospel

A day or so ago I saw the headline roll up in CNN about a "new gospel discovery". I don't think everyone simply republished the same story, but in every newpaper report I've seen, the reporter doesn't get around to the word "gnostic" until near the end, and never really manages to convey how gnosticism relates to either orthodox Christianity or the general religious milieu of the era. We all know that the media doesn't "get" religion, and it's easy to see how underinformed reporters and newswriters were seduced into reporting this (and in all fairness, the headlines from the National Geographic are similarly misleading, though the timeline they supply is essentially sound).

It can be hard to keep a historical perspective on gnosticism because it is so caught these days in theological anti-establishmentarianism. It's terribly ironic, because figures like Elaine Pagels are undeniably establishment. So I was pleased to see that Al Kimel has recommended a book of conventional historical analysis which addresses the issue. Its conclusion:
Despite all the recent discoveries, the traditional model of Christian history has a great deal more to recommend it than the revisionist accounts.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Here We Go Again With the Pagans

Once again, another notable Episcopalian has been caught out moonlighting as a neopagan. At least this time the culprit isn't an Episcopal priest; no, his (legal) name is Maury Johnston, but after an article appeared on Louie Crews's site and was referenced in titusonenine, his name rang some alarms for one "Liz", and she did some investigating. Among other incriminating bits was the following passage from a coven's website:
While judges in Fairfax and James City counties have questioned the validity of Wicca, Maury Johnston said Henrico County is a more Wicca-friendly system.

Johnston, known in the Wiccan community as Shadwynn, has performed nine legal marriages for his order since 1988, when Henrico granted his license. He said he has noticed some shift in public opinion toward Wiccans over the past decade.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, June 23, 1999

The article on Dr. Crews's site is of course already gone. One wonders how much other damage control is forthcoming (that was an unfortunate choice of words). This blew all over the Anglican Blogosphere in a matter of days if not hours. The only reason I missed it is that I've pretty much stopped reading these analysis articles. I only found it when I visited the Stand Firm site to look at its list of blogs.

WIll this make as big a splash as "Oakwise"? I doubt it. The circumstances aren't quite as embarrassing, and it's unlike the interim rector at Holy Comforter, Richmond is going to excommunicate this guy. Who knows? Maybe he's a pagan too. These days, you never can tell.


Fatehr Jake has seized the occaision to engage in a rant about witchhunts. Outside its intemperance, his posting plays a little loose with the facts. I personally don't know "Liz", but it was she who first turned up the connection, and not Greg Griffith nor Brad Drell, who merely followed up. Nor does she come across as an "extreme conservative"-- though frankly, it would take aome effort to match the extremity of Fr. Jake's vituperation.

Somewhere along the line he seems to assert that Mr. Johnston has given up his pagan past-- perhaps some time ago. But then there is this message, dated January 13, 2006, in which one Shadwynn says, "Having been a Wiccan priest for 18 years[...]". It appears to be the same person as this Mr. Johnston. His repentance, if it has happened at all, is recent. The various suspicions are not without merit.

And if Drell and Griffith are overly gleeful about turning up another, it isn't as though there isn't a track record here of far too great a length. Let us recall the last pagan flap, with the Melnyks. That round did not begin with an attack upon them personally. The Office of Women's Ministry, as it has been wont to do in the past, went too far afield in its search for novel liturgical material, and got caught at it. Posting a liturgy which used elements specifically denounced by OT prophets was unwise, but leaving a trail all over the internet was probably unavoidable and led to the Melnyks' downfall. The sense of outrage at the OWM was utterly merited.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Bible Meme

I'm doing this from memory, so it's likely I've forgetten a few.

1. How many Bibles are in your home?

Not sure of the exact number-- we have thousands of books! (Counting below I get twelve "full" bibles, one OT, and two NTs.)

2. What rooms are they in?

Books tend to wander from room to room, but there are large caches in the living room and the sunroom (which has most of the theology). There is also at least one in my bedroom, one on the Six Foot Shelf, and a stray or two in the family room.

3. What translations do you have?

(deep breath)

King James (at least three copies, including two of the Washburn College Bible (pulpit bible as art object)) plus Apocrypha in a separate volume
New English Bible with Apocrypha
Revised Standard Version (RSV common bible and at least one 1960s standard prot. version)
New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha
Jerusalem Bible (reader's edition)
New American Bible
JPS Tanakh
New International Version
Today's English (I think-- might just be the NT)
Goodspeed NT
New World Translation
Nestle-Aland NT

4. Do you have a preference??

I normally use the RSV for liturgy and the KJV for music. The Washburn College bible is useful for crushing passing demons.

5. Nominate an interesting verse:

Saul was a child of one year when he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel. (1 Samuel 13:1 in the Douay-Rheims)

Our bible acquisition has dropped to nothing since so many online bibles became available. They are of course of limited use for study (no critical apparatus) but for comparison of trasnlations they'll do.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Following a link from one of Ponty's recent posts to an older one, I came across the following remarkable statement:
(Perry Robinson)

This is why Protestants say that everyone is in the same boat and they are just honest enough to admit it. For them, the Church just is a merely human organization of like-minded individuals. For them, the humanity of Christ is never truely united to his divine person. If it were, if it were deified by the energies of his divine person, then as a consequence it is easy to see the Church as having those same energies or properties. This supposed “honest recognition” by Protestants is a restatement of their Nestorian presuppositions—the church can’t be infallible because the church is only human. And a revisable set of propositional formulas is the best we humans can do.
Now, I pretty much approach any statement by a Catholic about what Protestants believe and how they think with the assumption that the statement is at best a crude characature, and at worse a lame libel. In the quoted passage, my expectations were fulfilled.

If the church were as unified with Christ as this passage implies, we would expect to see perfection of action by its members; and this we clearly see is not so. Moreover the Roman church concedes its fallibility on many matters (such as, famously, astronomy), which if the union were this complete it would not need to do. The church isn't "only" human, but it is human enough.

Indeed, what I see in the infallbility arguments is that the "infallible" churches are not satisfied to be merely the members of the body, fingers and toes which move at the will of the Head. No, it seems that they aspire to be the head.

A little earlier in the same article, Mr. Robinson posits the following logic:
1. Everything taught by God is doctrine.
2. Everything taught by God is infallible.
3. Therefore doctrine is infallible.
4. (Premise) No statements made by unaided fallible agents can be infallible.
5. No statements made by unaided fallible agents can be doctrine.

This definition of doctrine is entirely question-begging, and its premises again misstate Protestant belief. Classically, Protestants believed that no Christian was unaided; also, doctrine would normally refer to church teachings. It is one thing to say that everything Jesus himself teaches is infallible; but when the church teaches through a process of interpretation, it needs to be established that this process manifests God's teaching. It is not an obvious point, and it is hardly unreasonable to posit that this process is potentially capable of misstatement and other more serious defects. Indeed, there is an issue precisely because some such interpretation is seen to be erroneous, though in theory when in error it is being done outside the church.

The problem is therefore mispresented in this little exercise. The question is whether aided agents manifest the infallibility of the divine. Perhaps one can talk oneself into faith that it does happen, but such faith is against reason.


Over at All Too Common we have another pass at justifying remaining an Anglican. I think some of the pessimism expressed there is too strong.

It has become a commonplace to predict the death of the Elizabethan settlement. Now, it seems pretty clear that it is going to have suffer some limits. Without them, the exploitation of church polity that is the source of all troubles will remain a threat. But this goes too far:
It seems nice in theory, but what good is a church that refuses to dogmatize or declare the truth in many areas of the Faith? We are now witnessing the logical extreme of the via media, for now pure paganism is replacing orthodoxy. For how can three mutually exclusive theologies co-exist without a final authority? Liberalism (read: revisionism), Evangelicalism (read: Protestantism), and Anglo-Catholicism (read: ├╝ber-English-Catholicism) all claim positives about God and theology that contradict the other schools of thought; they also all claim that the other schools err in one way or another.
Well, yes they do; and I think they do all err. But "mutually exclusive" is an overstatement. The obvious answer to the first rhetorical question is that, in seeing through a glass darkly, we are fatally tempted to dogmatize where the conclusive evidence and irrefutable reasoning simply are not there. And if we are tempted, our institutions are far more tempted to exercise dogmatism as an instrument of division-- which is to say, politics.

Likewise, the obvious answer to need of a final authority is that, on the one hand, the actual final authority is each individual, and on the other, that the desire of such an authority is not being given divine satisfaction. Maybe salvation is to be found or lost among the pious differences of opinion offered by the various parties, but I don't think so-- at least, not most of the time.

Back the first time around, Ponty said:
The great weakness of the Via Media is its claim to comprehend a plurality of beliefs under the “supreme authority of Scripture.” What is neglected is the fact that the Anglican reading of Scripture is ultimately ruled not by Holy Tradition and magisterial authority but Protestant private judgment.
I don't think that getting rid of private judgement is as easy as this, or even possible, but in any case for those of us who have already seen that much tradition is not holy and that magisterial authority is inadequate, this rejoinder isn't compelling. And no amount of argument can fix this, because argument is, in the end, an appeal to private judgement: my judgement. The constant hammering on private judgement has become something of a characture anyway; Anglicans don't really believe in doing theology in a vacuum.

Ponty also said:
Our Common Anglican has fallen in love with a paper religion, as has so many before him, including this lowly Pontificator. But paper religion is not real religion. It does not feed the deepest hungers of the soul, and it leaves one trapped within the prison of the self. Nor does it strengthen one against the onslaught of the principalities and powers. Only the Church of the saints and martyrs can provide what is truly needed.
It could be said that any religion of theological propositions and dogmas is paper. I did not fall in love with a paper religion; I did not fall in love with propositions, but a real church in a real place, and now the proponents of Roman conversion tempt me with the paper goods of infallibility and a whole list of other dogmas. I am sorry for them that I do not feel a call to the Roman church, the fact remains that I do not.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Fundamentals, Reconsidered

A post by Benjamin Myers on "fundamentals" has been attracting a lot of attention around the blogosphere. I have some sympathy for what he says, but as seems to be inevitably the case, I think he overstates.

Say "fundamentals" and inevitably one brings to mind that liberal swear-word: fundamentalism. The real thing is reactionary in the truest sense, and it overcompensates, and it has become almost a synonym for anti-intellectual, angry, hypocritical factionalism. In ECUSA, tagging anything as fundamentalist is tantamount to refutation.

But then we have statements like this:
The most serious error of the early fundamentalists was that they tried to turn faith into a law, into a set of doctrines that must be believed—but faith is only ever a matter of freedom and permission, not of law or obligation.
As Al Kimel says, this fails as a reflection of Christian history. Until a century or so ago, Christians were united-- even Anglicans-- in their insistance that faith in Christ Jesus entailed believing the right things about Him. I have to agree with Al on this point, which has been taken up by many others, e.g. C.S.Lewis. It is fashionable in some Eastern and Roman circles to belittle Lewis's notion of "mere Christianity", but it's really not hard to establish a core set of beliefs, in which the Nicene Creed holds pride of place. Modern latitudinarian theology really needs to own up to its rejection of this consensus.

The "danger" lies in the temptation of systematically converting all of what you believe into core dogmas. Of course, if you are infallible, it's not a danger, but an invitation. And thus, as I've remarked before, faith in the institution becomes reckoned as unto righteousness. Thus, when Michael Liccione writes (in comments to Al's post):
The problem with Ben’s approach is the same as with all versions of ecumenical Protestantism: it turns the issue of the content of Christian faith into a scholarly exercise rather than one calling for the obedience of the whole self to something that has nothing to do with one’s own mind.
... I am not convinced that executing this obedience by submitting to someone else's "scholarly exercise" is an improvement. "Scholasticism", after all, is practically the name of Roman theology.

All Christian theology has the problem that it is manifestly the result of human intellection, whatever else it may be. It lends itself to the interpretation that it is the product of people talking about God behind His back, as it were, instead of speaking to Him face-to-face. He who listens to good theology should be hearing what God Himself has said, or at least what is the right conclusion of what God has said. If one follows the direction of bad theology, one simply gives one's obedience to other people, instead of giving it to God.

There is surely the possibility in this for theologians to mix bad theology with good; and that is what I believe happens as a matter of course. It is the obvious consequence of human nature, both in its limits, and in its Fall. Other sciences take this in stride; as a whole, theology would appear to need to do the same. Invocation of infallibility appears, in the same larger context, as a political response to the difficulty of acheiving sufficient consensus.

And that leads to some big problems. First, the insinuated coupling of ecumenism with rejection of the Nicene consensus simply isn't true. There are people who can be "ecumenical" with anyone, and there are plenty more (such as myself) who find ecumenism possible only within a certain consensus. It's not all or nothing: Roman Catholic anti-ecumenism is one extreme (and Eastern Orthodox opposition more so), and unitarianism the opposite extreme. They are not alternatives; they are endpoints of a scale. The badness of theology is thus potentially one of degree; and I personally believe that all theology is contaminated, to one degree or another, with this badness.

The second problem, though, is where the trouble really lies. If fealty to The Church is where it's at, it's abundantly clear that claims as to who exactly represents the church are humans talking about God. Maybe they are, but given the sinfulness of humnas, I'm betting they're talking about themselves.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Salty's Letter

Via titusonenine I came across the Salty Vicar's response to a "Letter From a Young Catholic".

Salty and I tend to disagree a lot, but I would like to commend this letter, though I disagree in degree with its valuation of searching perhaps over and against finding.

Over at Pontifications, of course, there is a reply. It is a reply that doesn't speak to me, for reasons that I think might resound to Salty and be a rebuke to Ponty, who says:
But how does one discern the will of Jesus, given the manifold and contradictory voices in the world? If the Catholic Church is the Church, then assent to her authoritative teachings is assent to Christ; obedience to her commands is obedience to Christ. [....] When I became Catholic just under a year ago, I made this profession: “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.”
In a sense, I have no problem making the same profession, because I do not agree that the Catholic denomination represents the Church in the fullness which it claims. One can assign infalliblity to almost any human authority, and with sufficient will and possibly derangement of thinking one can perhaps maintain this indefinitely. But when one sees falliblity, there is nothing one can do but place limits on one's fealty; and if the failures are severe enough, so may be the disillusionment.

The obvious answer to Ponty's first question is, "imperfectly, because we are imperfect, sinful humans." And of course I may well see this imperfectly, but the reality I see is that the reification of teaching by Catholics into an infallible Catholic teaching overreaches. I say this with the acknowledgement that by and large Catholic teaching is pretty good. Its claims for authority, however, are too political. Teaching that is really infallible shouldn't have to resort to authority for its defense.

The truth is that in the largest picture, picking the truth out of "the manifold and contradictory voices in the world" is actually difficult. But in one sense, the difficulty is overstated, especially by Catholic converts from other Christian denominations. In someone like Al Kimel or any number of other high profile convert ex-clerics, the Church of Rome is gathering the harvest that another has planted and raised. These and many others testify in their deeds, if not their words, to the breadth of the fundamental Christian consensus about who Jesus was and what his life means for us.

But in the other sense, the problem is actually difficult. Constantinople and for that matter Mecca, Salt Lake City, and wherever the Scientologists camp out vie with Rome, and at some point infallibility is just another claim to puzzled through in all those voices. If it is hard "truth", the harder and truer truth is living without it.

Sorry For the Snooze

I apologize to anyone who dropped by looking for new material in the past two months. Things have been a bit crazy personally, and then there was the Cold From Hell that led to the Bronchitis That Never Ends. One of the penalties for having a powerful singing voice is having a powerful coughing voice to go with it.

Over the next few days I expect to get back into the posting business.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

New Patagruel Interviews McLaren

I've now been through my rector's "emerging church" seminar, and in poking around I've come across an interesting interview in The New Pantagruel.

Brian McLaren (associated with Cedar Ridge Community Church, about two miles from my house) seems to be both an important spokesman (a term I think he might object to) and lightning rod for whatever "emerging church" is (again, the taxonomy of this thing is disputed). One can start from the interview and read a few more traditionally analytical criticisms of the whole idea in general and McLaren's writing in particular, and while these are of some interest (and make, I think, some valid points) the interview is, to me, more interesting because of the way that Dan Knauss (the interviewer) interacts in a way which seems more acceptable to McLaren. More acceptable, and yet probing.

At this point I don't know what more I should say, so I urge you to read the interview and post some of your immpressions in the comments.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Future, Part IV

This time from Ask the Priest:
My guess is, General Convention 2006 will probably maintain the status quo. It will agree to a moratorium on Episcopal consecrations of people in same-sex unions until after Lambeth 2008, it will restate its position on local-option on same-sex blessings, and it will express regret for the breach in the "bonds of affection" around the consecration of Gene Robinson. This will fulfill the letter of the Windsor Report - at least until after Lambeth.
Well, maybe it will, and maybe it won't. This is at least plausible. The question is whether the liberals will be able to restrain themselves from enacting gay marriages. I disagree that the status quo is approval of local option on this; we have local option, but it's because neither side has the power to enforce discipline, not because anyone wants the current situation. I tend to believe that the Windsor Report will get a "Thank you for sharing, Victoria. Now put your head down" courtesy resolution and will be otherwise ignored, and that spiting Akinola will be the prevailing mood. The liberal anger that he would dare to pass judgement on them is openly expressed all over the internet, and GC is the perfect place to realize that anger in action.

But if they do manage to forestall the divorce, then Lambeth? I'm not sure why I am supposed to believe that Akinola thinks he can "win" by threatening a boycott, when he can win much more commandingly by attending and getting the conference to vote ECUSA out.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Future, Part III

Canterbury Trail has another response to the post in Kenesis on the future of ECUSA:

I think that we need to go back to our roots and reaffirm some basic doctrines and beliefs. This does not mean that we make any less room for those who question, or who doubt, or who see things differently. Welcoming, and listening, and affirming the different ways that God speaks to us is in our DNA…but I believe that we still need to have some sort of foundation…some sort of fundamental commitment to a form of “mere Christianity,” if we are to offer a cohesive witness instead of a noisy din of dissonant voices.

I think there is going to be a lot of resistance to doing this. It's hard for me to imagine an ECUSA stripped of its traditionalists and summoning up more nerve to anathematize the next Spong.

But the other issue is more basic. Actual teachings of Jesus from the gospels and actual teachings of the epistles are gravid with moral dictates. Commitment to the Quadrilateral by the bishops is mostly easy, therefore, because the four principles do not make reference to any moral issues. It is also therefore mostly meaningless. To the Catholic and Orthodox, catholicity and orthodoxy do not end where moral teaching picks up.

And indeed, the issue is likely to back up into basic creedal issues because the gender/sexuality issues which are driving the split now are also driving an effort to make fundamental changes in God-language. I question whether ECUSA could ultimately resist, for instance, the urge to reword the creed in language which Orthodox and Catholic believers, in conformity with their traditions, could no longer say. That would in effect abrogate the quadrilateral, but when push comes to shove I have to suspect, if not claim, that the liberal moral vision would prevail and that ECUSA's claims to any kind of orthodox faith would be increasingly open to challenge. In ECUSA, I do not think that 'mere Christianity' is safe; I think that in a conflict between it and liberal morality, the latter is likely to win, with the church paying no more than lip service to orthodox belief, while in reality positively rejecting its tenets.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Future, Part II

Bouncing around the end-of-year posts, I came to a few more links prognosticating What Will Happen.

So, here we have Bishop Swing, in an article contemptuously titled This Mutiny Will Fail; the Church Will Abide:
What they don't realize is that the Episcopal Church has more staying power than they suppose. When our bishops, priests, and deacons took a solemn oath at ordination vowing to be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, worship of the Episcopal Church, we meant it.

Come now, Bishop, to whom do you think they'll have more loyalty: you, or Jesus? Isn't it just possible that every cleric will take any release given to the network bishops as a liberation from their loyalty oaths? And suppose Pittsburgh calls your bluff, and three quarters of the diocesan clergy and vestries simply get up and walk away from their properties. Do you really think that their former parishioners are going to be so loyal to you as the representative of the national church that they will stay?

Has anyone ever noticed that this is a Protestant church, and that loyalty is earned in direct proportion to the perception that the church honors and serves the gospel? "Mutiny" is such a telling word, as though an Anglican bishop somehow can claim the sort of absolute despotism that obtains on shipboard. It is a deeply self-righteous word, under the circumstances. The one thing that I take away from this article is that the liberal establishment intends to fight, tooth and nail, to force the Network and whoever joins them to walk away with nothing more than their clerical collars and their MDiv deplomas.

I had seen Thomas Bushnell's speculation on What would +Rowan do?, and I continue to believe that ECUSA establishment confidence in Canterbury endorsement is misplaced. When he says that
And we know, with dead certainty, that the Church of England, the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Church of Wales, and the Episcopal Church of Scotland (and plenty others) will all be in the same group when push comes to shove.

... well, I'm not counting on that. It's pretty clear that Canada and ECUSA will end up in the same boat; it's immediately obvious to me that the situation in the Church of England is not so clear-cut. Ordination of women in the USA was resolved by a single vote, thirty years ago; in England they are still sorting through the polity of it.

But what I do see here is, again, this emphasis on making sure that the liberals end up with all the assets:
Duncan and Iker are smart men, and they know as well as I do that this is the upshot when all the dust finally settles. This means that all their noise is not an attempt to achieve some other (essentially impossible) result, but rather an attempt to simply carry away as many toys as they can in the end. It is up to the rest of us, who don’t intend any leaving, to decide how many toys we are willing to let them steal.

This is utterly in contradiction to the sentiment expressed in Kenesis:
{The new Episcopal Church] will be leaner and less encumbered by the bloated budgets that come from maintaining old buildings and expensive real estate.

As I remarked before, I don't for a moment see this happening. What I see is that the liberal establishment seems to intend the bitterest divorce possible.