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 The very idea rests on the outdated notion that the church is a flock, of which bishops are shepherds.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.