Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Budget Bracket

I never knew how ECUSA's budget priorities were worked out, but thanks to the guys at Stand Firm, now I know.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

From the Curate's Desk: "On Many and More Controversies"

Robert Hendrickson addresses the "justice" connection between communing the unbaptized and various other issues presented to the church in my lifetime. And I think he is right in saying that this is not really a justice issue; it is not unjust to say that some people are in the church, and some are not. That said, there is a definite progression to the thinking about the issues in question. Let's start with racism. Here the justice issue was as far to the fore as possible: it quickly became impossible to say that a black man was, simply by virtue of race, incapable of acting in every way as a white man could, and particularly so within the church. But they knew that already, Absalom Jones having been ordained over a century earlier. And note that there was never any question of blacks or any other race being outside the church; it was a question of office, not membership. Then we moved on to women. And here we started to hit the first real resistance, because it could not be said that in every way women and men could be substituted for each other. However the position that prevailed (and which I accept) was that in the matter of the ordained ministry, they could so serve for each other. And again, women were always a part of the church; office, and therefore power, were at the center of the dispute.

Next, we turned to homosexuality, and the character of the discussion was transformed again: for now, it was not only the office of presbyter which was at stake, but the church's approval for the sexual relations between homosexuals. The church could not, after all, seriously disapprove of blacks being black, or women being women; and it could not disapprove of women doing what women by nature do (e.g., getting pregnant and producing babies). But with sexuality there was always the tension between what people are (or at least see themselves to be), and how people act it out. If the bishop of Massachusetts, who is a monastic and thus celibate, identified himself as homosexual, well, it was difficult to object to him failing to act it out. And here scripture also began to interfere in a more complex way. If it was possible to turn against Paul's injunction against women speaking in church by invoking his own words, it was also easy to turn against the passage in Leviticus and Paul's words against male homosexuality. The words of Genesis, however, require a lot more exegesis to get past. And increasingly, people were uninterested in exegesis. But beyond that, there was a spirit of theological adventurism dating at least back into the 1950s, but which was greatly amplified in the late 1960s. The theological discussion of homosexuality was swept together with a parallel line of theological deviancy arising out of the academy, so that one gained points automatically by casting an orthodox position in a political light. This is how "inclusion" got to be such a problem word. As various people have noted, it started out as a code word for a parish in which homosexuals were socially accepted. But inclusion inevitably got coupled to access to power, and access to power inevitably led to using power against the uninclusive enemy. Inclusion meant exclusion, because the troglodytes had to be excluded from power in order that inclusion of homosexuals might prevail. At this juncture, inclusion in the larger sense and justice couldn't really live together.

Where it really fell apart, though was in that adventurism. There was a notorious incident, some years back, in which the Office of Women's Ministry was caught hosting a pagan ritual on its website; and furthermore, it was discovered that the authors of the rite were in fact Episcopal priests by day, and pagan ministers by moonlight, as it were. Some time later, the same office promulgated, "for study", a Eucharistic rite which among its various oddities incorporated the catchphrases of neopagan ceremony. Meanwhile, we had Jack Spong, who, far from defending the faith, used his bishopric in the end to attack it. All of this stuff was at the urging of, to be blunt about it, the church's enemies. So while we got (in the Righter trial) the notion that we do have a core theology, in practice, it does not as yet contain anything. Which is to say, there's no significant penalty to contradicting it, if one takes the prayer book as a guide to its contents. Therefore communing the unbaptized is conscionable because it's a discipline problem, and in lots of dioceses, there's no discipline. We were incredibly lucky that the dual Muslim/Episcopal priest was canonically resident in Rhode Island, or the contradiction might never have been resolved. The theology of salvation has dissipated into a universalism under which we might as well commune everyone, because everyone will be brought to Christ in the end; and never mind that everything we have written down, from the BCP to the last chapters of the Revelation, is vehement in its contradiction to this notion. Justice brought us to inclusion, but inclusion brought us to the lack of nerve to turn those we really have no use for Christianity, and therefore cannot truly be included anyway.

Somewhere along the line, we have to grit out teeth and start doing some real theology; and I'm afraid that means not only committing the church (that is, our organization) to particular positions, but also relieving clergy who refuse to sign up for it of their positions. And especially bishops.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bathing and Sainthood

Derek Olsen has a new post (primarily in reference to his Living Church article) which makes a connection I missed. There has been a great deal of complaint about Holy Women, Holy Men the replacement for Lesser Feasts and Fasts and particularly over the observance of days for non-Christians. Or as AKMA says in the comments, "here you have identified the simplest problem with the book: despite its title, it shows little attention to whether the figures commemorated therein are, in fact, particularly holy."

I also have to agree with with John-Julian's remarks: the parishes that would be most interested in celebrating the whole round of proposed feasts are also those which would have the most problem with the proposed observations. But I think it has a very good chance of being passed, because the theological problems don't have traction in a church where giving communion to the unbaptized is being seriously considered. Increasingly it seems that the church is directed by men and women for whom the religious functions of the church are unimportant; what matters is the church as a platform for carrying out a social program.

Of course, this will eventually destroy us. People don't need to go to church to feel good about their environmentalism (John Muir) or their patronage of the arts (Bach, Durer) or their resistance to racism or sexism or anti-homosexuality (here I stopped keeping track); even the heathen do as much. Maybe it's too bloody obvious to be said, but the only way we are going to continue to have an Episcopal Church is to convey to potential members a reason to become Episcopalians! Instead, the additions to the calendar and communing the unbaptized send the message that there's no need to join the church; we give up having any sort of sacramental or communal reason for being. Eventually people catch on, and they don't join us.

I would tend to agree with Tobias Haller that communing the unbaptized will fail to be approved. But I would be willing to be that the number of episcopal and clerical votes for it will be greater than zero, perhaps greater than ten. Maybe as much as a quarter will vote for it. And even if it go down to defeat, I would assume that the practice will continue; discipline, after all, is only to keep the traditionalists in line when the object to innovations, but innovators are empowered to break the rules. In 2015, it will come up again. And unless things change, the number of people who take their religion (as opposed to their politics) seriously will decline. Who knows? By 2018 they might succeed in passing it. But at 3% loss a year, by 2018 the church will have lost another 20% of its membership.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

815 Bleak House

Via Episcopal Café we have this highly cogent analysis of the proposed budget by the Rev. Susan B. Snook of Nativity, Phoenix. Public reaction to the proposed budget has often been negative due to the elimination of any funds for churchwide christian formation. Snook makes a run at an overall budget that is less plainly suicidal, and while I have not looked over her proposal at any length, at least she hasn't come up with something that is as automatically dismissible.

Far more to the fore, however, is how she associates 815's approach to this with the legendary probate case of "Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce" of Bleak House infamy. Snook points out how the case ends: not with resolution, but with an inability to continue because the estate in question has been exhausted in litigation costs. But that's quite consistent with the relentless prosecution of cases against schismatic parishes over the properties, is it not? The liberal clerisy's obsession with its right to the inheritance of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Unites States of America (to give the full, now never-used name of the body) really is right out of the book. And spending the inheritance away, they have: banking on our now-vanished prestige and authority, looking at properties and endowments as "fiduciary responsibilities", expecting theological loyalty when they have betrayed their responsibility to their own tradition.

And it's destroying the institution. The hardcore conservatives are largely gone, having been deliberately unhorsed when they couldn't be pried off the reins. Other people are trickling away, and there is now a large clump in the middle, whose unity transcends political alignment, dismayed at the continuing push for heterodox positions. But the administration doesn't seem to be concerned about that; indeed, the presiding bishop herself seems to incapable of maintaining at least a front of orthodox belief, if her Easter message is any indication. No, it all seems to be about keeping their hands on the power and the money, while both dribble away with the losses in membership and attendance. Eventually the legacies will be gone, the buildings all sold to developers and other churches or religions, unless they repent. Our institutions can grow, and our inheritance maintained and increased; but only if we return to the religion we also inherited, and work towards that faith's transmission to the next generation.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Oolon, Call Your Office

Bryan Owen has put himself through the torment of reading the drivel coming out of another Jesus Seminar event. I personally can't bring myself to do it any more; the smugness and the intellectual bankruptcy of it all got to me years ago. But then Douglas Adams did the heavy lifting in the ridicule department years ago:
Now [the babelfish] is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could evolve purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God. The argument goes something like this:

"I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing".
"But," says man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It proves you exist and so therefore you don't. QED."
"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
"Oh, that was easy," says man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white, and gets killed on the next zebra crossing.

Most leading theologians claim that this argument is a load of dingo's kidneys. But this did not stop Oolon Colluphid making a small fortune when he used it as the central theme for his best selling book, Well That About Wraps It Up for God.
Robert Munday's characterization of it as "an intellectual Ponzi scheme" is more or less on the mark as well. In that regard it's a testament to the gullibility of journalists who write about it as if it were something novel and challenging, when in fact it has been grinding along for over twenty-five years. I suppose there could be some point to this sort of critical study, but the conspicuous biases of this group and the manner in which it has sold the souls of its members to publicity make it mostly useful as an object example of what not to do. If this is the alternative to traditional faith, then it makes traditional faith easy to swallow.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Days of Anamnesis

It struck me first during the Old Testament reading. So many years before I had heard those words spoken, the account of the first Passover, and then during the epistle, and finally during the gospel, which I recall James Salango declaiming in his operatic preaching, forty years ago or more in my Presbyterian days: "and say ye well, for so I am!"

Of all the days in the church year, the days of the Triduum are the most concerned with the remembrance, not only of who we are, but of where we began. So we hear the same readings, year after year, or at least we did until the RCL got into the act and we are now doing a different psalm on Maundy Thursday and a different passion section on Friday. But the hymns are largely fixed too, though again 1982 has mucked with the harmony of "Ah, Holy Jesus" and we have a new hymn, set to the Third Mode Melody, whose words I am not too keen on. But "Pange Lingua" is still given 1940's accompaniment, and as ever we sing C. W. D.'s beautiful setting of "Were You There". And the lessons: after years of repetition (and helping to sing the passion on six occasions) I have nearly memorized them. The story of the Passover, the communion narrative, the footwashing and new commandment: I repeat the words in my mind, more or less. Having been raised on the RSV I still haven't gotten used to the NRSV text. But it is close enough.

And it will soon be sundown, and there will be fire. "Rejoice now; this is the night." I can sing the first section of the Exultet from memory. Then will come the lessons, not so many, this year, I would imagine, for fear that the service might offend for its length. If I were in an Orthodox church, even the sermon would be the same, and indeed for two years Barbara Seras read for us Chrysostom's incomparable sermon.

This is the season in which recall the reason for the church, which is not inclusion, but incorporation. Christ established his feast, and was killed for us, and rose as the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep, as the apostle says. And we are made part of his body, the church, through the baptism which he commanded us to take to all the world, and to recollect, to remember, to feed that body's members through the new paschal feast of his body and blood. Welcoming people is good, feeding people is good, but there are two great commandments, not one. We are first, to love God, and to love God, we must do as his son commanded. And to do that, we must worship him by and through recollection of our story as those baptized into his death and resurrection. This is why giving communion to the unbaptized is wrong, and even spiritually harmful: it is out of season. The Eucharist is not the sacrament of inclusion; it is the sacrament of the included. Those who partake, but are not baptized, are not really included; they remain outside the body. It is only baptism that incorporates.

And that is why it is important to repeat our story, year after year. We must remember that our savior's story is not just a myth, to symbolize or epitomize a salvation which he did not really enact. Possibly the second lowest point of the past few days was when I found myself reading the BCP rites largely to see where they would be deviated from. If I come to an Episcopal Church, and they do not do the liturgy in the book, then they do not recall for me the church into which I was confirmed, but some other construct of theological adventurism.

So I commend all of those who join with us, throughout the church, in reaffirming their baptismal vows. Let us say it together:

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death, and restoring life to those in the tomb!

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Amnesiac Church

Robert Hendrickson's thoughts on General Seminary's changes as the epitome of the loss of church identity struck a chord with me, as they did with many other people. Some years back I wrote of how my first parish was lost to me, but as with Fr. Hendrickson there is an earlier, a scholastic loss. Many, many people have seen the chapel in which I was made an Anglican, for it figured as a prominent set in a well-known movie. It looked then much as it did in my day, although far more brightly lit. Built in the extremely stylized Gothic of the midcentury, it lies buried at the heart of the main school building, dark and perhaps oppressively silent when not in use. Like many Anglican churches of the era it abounds in symbolism, most especially the wooden altarpiece which closes in stages, to be entirely shuttered on Good Friday.

In my day, it was arranged as a classic tripartite church, and between that and my old parish (before its remodelling), I came to understand how the 1979 BCP was tuned to such a space. And because I was interested in art I understood how that form echoed western church forms back into the dark ages. Oh, there were signs even back then of a certain weakness, but by and large Sunday services were conducted with high-and-wide panoply.

But it is all changed. I was a high school student in the mid-1970s, when there was still a certain hesitancy about that money stuff; the only significant building while I was there was the girls dorm, completed just before my arrival. Shortly after I left the 8th and 9th grade boys dorms were torn out and replaced by individual rooms, of which I heartily approved. Then the capital poured in, and now there is no building left untouched, and several altogether new besides. Ironically, the last I was there the only unchanged space were the upper grade student rooms, which seemed to have changed not since my day but for the light bulbs. And much of this I could appreciate too: the gyms, for instance, were quite problematic in the winter; the old boathouse was kept erect by cables. But the chapel.... It suffered improvement too. Anyone can guess what was done: the altar was pulled far forward, and the choir arranged around and behind it. The altarpiece was left, irrelevant, on the back wall. Architecturally this arrangement is less than satisfactory simply because the space overall, massive and immobile, is relentlessly longitudinal and resists being made to accommodate a centralized plan. But more to the point, it signals a change in the way the liturgy is viewed, and with that, a change to the way we look to God...

... because, in the new plan, we do not look to God at all. We look to ourselves, and turn away from transcendence. Communion itself is the most immanent of all rites, for what could be more immanent than holding Jesus' flesh in one's hand, and drinking his blood from the common cup? Jesus looks down upon the performance, over the shoulders of the sopranos, hoc est corpus, hocus-pocus, see how the miracle is performed once again, pay no attention to that Son of God over there, reigning from the cross.

But it isn't just there, and it isn't just the trendy vandalism of sacred space. I was confirmed along with the new prayer book, and my personal volume says "Proposed" in big letters on the title page, because it's a 1976 BCP. I've never in my entire life experienced a 1928 service, and I wasn't exposed to Rite I until I was over 25. Rite II was the service I grew up with in the church. And for years, I would go elsewhere, and Rite II it usually was, except for the occasional Rite I (and missal services a couple of times at Ascension & St. Agnes). And, for all the "mays" and "shoulds" in the prayer book, there was a way that nearly everyone did it. But now, I step into an Episcopal service with the full expectation that liberties will be taken. Commonly if there is a leaflet it will avoid referring to God as "he", which I ignore and say the right words (and if any man quibble with that, the words in the BCP are by definition the Right Words). But now I brace myself for other changes, so that this element or that may be omitted. Leaving out the confession is commonplace now and hardly to be remarked upon, but I've been at Sunday services where the creed or even the Lord's Prayer were not said. And there may be strange readings from non-Christian religious writings, or strange prayers of unsound theology and regrettable English. I have yet to hear the anaphora messed with, but that must be a matter of time and judicious screening of the parish website on my part. Furthermore, stories reach my ear of parishes in which, contrary to canons, homosexual marriage rites are performed sub rosa; communion is offered to pagans and the irreligious so often now, again in violation not only of mere canon but of the plain teaching of St. Paul, that if and when General Convention votes down Eastern Oregon's heretical proposal, one has to doubt that they can take the next step and apply any discipline at all to those who continue to flout the canons. But after all, even being an unbeliever isn't cause for defrocking; only finally losing patience and looking elsewhere for an orthodox bishop is cause for revocation of orders.

Traditionalists once liked to condemn the 1979 book as a diluted, pale version of the 1928. I never found this that convincing, and on some points the 1979 takes a more catholic and dogmatic line (such as in the inclusion of a catechism). But all that is far, far behind us, because however weakened it may be, the rites of 1979 have proven to be far too regressive to see continued use. It is stupid that I should have to be nostalgic for the 1985 and the new hymnal (which has its own egregious emasculations of many texts), but there it is: these days I feel I have to check ahead of time to make sure that I'll get a prayer book service with music from the hymnal.

And then there's the preaching, and the theology of Inclusion, which really means accepting all the sexual quirks of the upper middle class and saying all manner of self-serving pablum about overcoming racism and classism and sexism and a whole lot of other -isms. There are altogether too many Episcopal sermons and incidental writings that might as well start out with the following: "God (remember, you can't say 'Lord' anymore: imperialism, don't you know), I thank you that we are not like other people: traditionalists, patriots, corporate executives, or like this Republican over here." Liberal politics has become a parasite on the church, driving actual religion from the body. The only hard doctrine that matters is fealty to 815 (and to nowhere else: heaven help you if you suggest that Canterbury is owed some more final allegiance, much less the greater tradition of the church.

We can't go on like this, and if we keep trying to have a church that stands for nothing in its theological past, we will end up with no church at all. We pick saints who are not Christian, say prayers which omit the most basic claims taught from the beginning, and join the Body in communion to those who are more likely to follow Bacchus or even Moloch than Jesus. Our "leaders" hate our buildings, our words, our music, and even a lot of their own members. And there's no hope that the more orthodox liberals will act to rein this in, because they sold themselves to the high church Unitarians because they thought the latter would be needed as allies against the troglodytes, as though the Unitarian crowd would ever have done anything else. The worst of it all is that the old liberal notion of the church as a force for social good is completely bankrupt. Nobody takes our moral voice seriously, and nobody should. We are too obviously in hock to the mores of our class.

Is there hope? Well, perhaps, but only if priests who cannot get through the creed without crossing their fingers are defrocked, and bishops who cannot do so are deposed. The prayer book should be left alone for another thirty years, and priests who cannot resist tampering with it should be kept out of parish ministry. Preaching social justice needs to give some ground to preaching basic doctrine and personal virtue. We need to recover the old Anglican virtues of common sense, simple orthodoxy, and sensible solemnity (meaning, we do still need to remember how to laugh at ourselves). If we cannot do these, we will continue to fade away, and we will deserve to do so.