Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Well, I Thought I Was Done

There seems to be no end of things to comment about in the CWOB/communing the unbaptized exchanges. For instance, over on the Episcopal Cafe we have Jeffrey Shy asking rhetorically, Is it Communion Without or Communion Before Baptism?. Well, since the focus really is on us, that's why I prefer to refer to "communing the unbaptized". Nobody should be taking communion before they are baptized, and people who are preparing to be baptized surely can understand, if they are taught, the need to wait. The movement is surely more about countenancing "communion for people who have no intention of being baptized", and at that point the matter becomes less their lack of receptiveness and more the proponents' lack of respect for the sacrament. But then, here we have a policy suggestion from an admitted "non-theist", so really the question ought to be, "what is it with the institutions of the church that we hand them over to people who cannot even get to the end of the first line of any of the creeds without crossing their fingers?"

This is how incoherent liberal theology can get. It was one thing twenty years ago when one was likely to be buried in a lot of supposedly post-theological Tillichian or whatever jargon; it didn't mean anything substantive when pressed, but at least the semblance of intellectual persuasion was maintained. Now, the best they can come up with is the largely aesthetic standard of "radical hospitality", and while I have expressed my opinion on that before, and before that, I'm not the only one who sees the vacuity of the phrase. Over at Sublunary Sublime the author asks, "what exactly about this message is supposed to be radical?" and goes on to say:

It’s not difficult to see that the CWOB movement is straining toward relevancy, and is increasingly taking its cues from the advertising industry. So, by breaking with the status quo, in this case, 2,000 years of ecclesial tradition or the “canonically-driven,” they think they are doing something progressive; and in so doing, they are only giving the people what they want. But what if the message of the status quo is to break away from the status quo? What if the message of the status quo is collapsing difference, mixing all forms of life into one homologous consumer package? If they really wanted to be radical, wouldn’t the message be: you can’t purchase spirituality on the cheap?
But, no, "radical" isn't speaking to the culture, except to say, "see how we aren't like those other (stodgy, mean-spirited, parental) Christians". Well, yeah, except that to the spiritual-but-not-religious upper-middle hipster/sub/urban inquirer which seems to be our preferred clientele, this translates to assurance that we don't expect anything from them. It's not a challenging message; it's certainly anything but a call for them to rise out of their religious indifference or dilettancy. "You can believe in therapeutic moral deism, be a pagan or a satanist or an atheist, or not believe in anything at all, and still commune with us": that's our stirring rejoinder to the call of the world.

An actually radical message these days would sound more like, "abandon your false gods and philosophies, repent of your sins, believe and be baptized, and then join with us in communion with your savior." That is theology of the prayer book, and the theology of the church from the days of the apostles. Gritting our teeth and sticking with the tradition of the church as we received it: that is what is now radical. Instead we have what Bryan Owen accurately describes as "an assault on the church":

The current assaults on the orthodox understanding of Baptism take direct aim at what it means to be united with Christ in his death and resurrection, to be reborn into God's family the Church, to receive forgiveness of our sins and new life in the Holy Spirit. And by extension, an assault on the Church's understanding of the inward and spiritual grace received in Baptism is an assault on the Church itself. Such assaults entail a revision of the biblical narrative of Creation-Fall-Redemption that excises the Fall from the story. They jettison the understanding of sacraments as sure and certain means by which we receive the grace needed to heal our profound brokenness. And in the process, the very meaning of the term "Church" gets redefined. No longer is the Church "the mystical body" of Christ and a "wonderful and sacred mystery" that elicits our awe-filled, humble obedience and transcends our capacity to comprehend and control (BCP, pp. 339, 515). Instead, the Church becomes just another merely human institution that can be manipulated and tinkered with as we see fit. Lacking any transcendent dimension, the Church is just about us: our preferences, our agendas, and the wills to power that have the majority votes to satisfy those preferences and enact those agendas.
And such a church is not worth belonging to, except perhaps to gratify one's taste for choral singing and empty ceremonial in a spiritual space, though I note that as theological traditions lose their grip, so to do those of the liturgy, and one may be subjected to clown masses or liturgical pep rallies or Giant Liturgical Puppets of Doom.

Once, we held a very high view of the church and her sacraments. It is time to take back the church from those who have forsaken this. Otherwise, we will be left with naught but Gothic revival tombs of faith, sold off one by one to real estate developers or Muslims or indeed anyone except for those refugee Anglicans who bailed out in time. And if it takes a purge of the clerisy to get rid of the apostates and theological slackers: well, it's a radical idea in this church, but something must be done.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

So It Comes to This

Alerted by Robert Hendrickson, I have put myself through reading Eastern Oregon's justification for communing the unbaptized (which ca be reached from this page). And, well, it's hard to respond to it, starting right from its abject failure to address the traditional defense of reserving communion to the baptized. Let us start with the first few sentences invoking the spirit of the 1979 BCP, which are of a kind with all those American Catholics appealing to the spirit of Vatican II to defend their various liturgical outrages. The truth, as Hendrickson points out, is that the 1979 book does not in any way contemplate Eastern Oregon's proposal, but instead goes the opposite direction. The 1979 theory is the traditional view with the sacramentality turned all the way up: we are a people made sacramentally through baptism, and fed sacramentally through the Eucharist. The celebrant says, "the gifts of God for the People of God", and it is plain in the baptismal rite that the water of baptism is how we are incorporated into that people.

And after that, it is a foregone conclusion that they are not going to step up to explaining away what Paul says on the subject. Instead, all I can make out of their rather vague and theologically buzz-phrased statement is that, while it's not just "a simple statement about hospitality", what makes it not "simple" is that somehow the isolation of Eastern Oregon means we do not need to go to the bother of baptizing people.

And about that, I may make two observations. A hundred or so years ago, the situation was hardly better. My wife is from Great Falls, and if Oregon presents transport and population density problems, Montana is in every way worse. And I have seen the tiny font that Bishop Tuttle used as he organized the church in the state and others in the west. It is a tiny cup, barely suitable for the immersion of baby mice, but I dare say multitudes were baptized from it. Surely it is no harder for a priest to get around the diocese today.

But more to the point, baptism is not in any way limited by the supply of priests! If it be so important to get visitors up to the table, then perhaps the altar guild could provide the ushers with a cup of water and cards with the baptismal formula on them, so that the unwashed (as it were) could come to the table, made new in Christ and ready to feast. But in any case a parish or mission need not wait for the priest to make his circuit for baptisms that cannot wait.

At least, I think this addresses their argument. The whole thing is only two pages long, and at that is padded with the filler of modern theological jargon, so that they say they are "intentional" and "empowering" and so forth, when it is not clear that they could articulate their intention or where power is to be had, much less what constitutes hospitality. Tony Clavier sets forth a succinct statement on baptism, and I can understand it and defend it, and I read Eastern Oregon's statement, and it is incoherent. The message I get from it is that if one sprinkles in the right theological magic words, then one's practices are justified, even if those words in what is not so much a thread of argument as a ball of word fluff.

So this is what passes for the theology that would overturn one of the Church's oldest rules. I think the resolution will be defeated, because while we are perhaps woefully ill-educated, there are probably enough priests left who remember at least this small part of their seminary educations. But the vote will be far closer than it ought be, because, it appears, this sorry excuse for a rationale has pwoer over far too many in this church.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Rebellious Generation in Charge

Over at Driving Like Jehu we have the suggestion that the urge towards communing the unbaptized arises out of an instant gratification culture. I don't think this is the case. Discussion shows a lack of people who aren't baptized banging at the door; in general they take the requirement of membership before participation as reasonable. No, the impetus here comes especially from the clerisy, who object to the notion of even the barest semblance of turning anyone away.

It's pitifully easy to unpack this, especially when I hear the magic phrase "prophetic voice". Our boomer-dominated hierarchy is still living in the late 1960s and still protesting against the Establishment, refusing to accept that, within the church, they are the establishment now. And, well, they tend to have maturity issues, one might say, about authority. So they are willing to use it against people who rebel against them, but they are reluctant to act like parents.

This reluctance means that discipline ends up being for enemies, not friends; it is reduced to a political tactic. As a church we find it very hard these days to teach personal purity; we indulge ourselves, and we indulge the rest of the world too. You are unlikely to hear a sermon against fornication in an Episcopal parish, and the notion that one ought to observe particular rules goes equally unstated. Every case is exceptional, and we grant ourselves limitless leeway. Meanwhile there will be a list of political resolutions at General Convention whose form and content will be drearily familiar to anyone who ever rubbed up against the college protest subculture.

Thus it is hard for our clerics to tell anyone No. That people should be baptized, that they should be in love and charity with their neighbors, that they should be confessed of their sins (witness the growing practice of omitting the confession of sin for large portions of the year) ceases to be requisite for participation in communion, because that wouldn't be inclusive, which is another way of saying, We Can't Say No. And we go on from there to edit out "the Jesus of Revelation" in favor of a mythical nonjudgemental "Jesus of the gospels" as though there were not plenty of parables in which Jesus preaches the peril of being judged.

And the solution is simple: it's time to grow up, time to admit that our desires are not to be catered to and that are sins are a problem, time to step up to defending the church as our predecessors expected us to.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Communing the Unbaptized: One Last Observation

Jared Cramer joins the army of those objecting to communing the unbaptized, and in large part I endorse what he says about the bad arguments in favor of the heretical practice. But there's one thing to be added. We're talking here about one of the oldest canons of the church--not our church, THE church-- which they wish to overturn. It isn't as though there is no great weight of theology behind this, because, of course, there is. Any of us who have rebuked the innovation can explain what is wrong with it in a couple of sentences. But somehow, all of this is utterly irrelevant, and the proponents of the error can make an end run around fifteen hundred years of Christian theology. Or to put it more technically, this is the worst kind of progressivist restorationism, the liberal equivalent to the Jehovah's Witnesses. And there is no way of doing theology that is more in conflict with Anglican principles.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Do Nothing, the Musical

Robert Hendrickson has alerted us to the publication of the hymnal revision survey results. And as he notes, one of the results that jumps out right away is that among the laity, almost 50% of those under 30 actively oppose revision. But this needs to be seen in context of a general lay resistance to revision, and the lack of active support for same. Looking at the age group populations again (Table 4 in the report), no age group shows more that 28% support for revision; the lowest expression of opposition is among the 40 year olds, of who "only" 44% are against revision.

I don't feel the need to go over the lay statistics in detail, except to note that the only groups where there is something approaching balance between opposition and support is in the black and native American subgroups. Most other lay results are unsurprising, though there is a strong positive correlation between parish size and opposition that one might not have expected. The clergy results, however, have some very surprising results. Working age clergy tend to favor revision, except for the under thirty set, who not only have some of the strongest opposition, but who are also the least neutral by far: 8% as compared with around 25% for most subgroups. There is a strong difference between the sexes here, with female clergy showing near 50% support (as opposed to the men, who lean towards opposition). Black and Latino clergy also show quite strong support for revision, the latter quite in contrast to the Latino laity.

The music directors patterns are odd: the biggest opposition is shown by those in their 30s, the most support by those in their 40s. They are more supportive of revision, but not to the degree of the clergy. Things get interesting again, however, in the usage statistics. Here there is a hidden problem in that the question was asked of the laity, who are probably unaware that there are almost always some hymns which organists prefer to play out of the 1940 hymnal, so usage of that is probably understated. Nevertheless the picture is clear that the 1982 hymnal remains the standard, with some supplemental use of LEVAS and WL&P (the "black" and "contemporary" books respectively). The survey of utility similarly comes out in favor of 1982; the survey analysis also notes that the clergy are much more negative about 1940 than the laity are.

I'm not sure how to interpret the stylistic results, because it's not entirely clear what the categories mean. Nonetheless, it is clear that most people want a "traditional" service, and most people get it too. One of the surprises here is the preference for sung psalms, which are also more common than I would have guessed. Again, the clergy come off as the most change-minded, and not surprisingly, they are the ones who like chant the most.

One quite surprising result is found in Table 50, where across the board there is a very strong preference expressed for singing as opposed to listening. Every group showed at least a 55% positive response. Another sign of our lack of "what's happening now" is the extremely strong preference for a physical hymnal in the form of a book.

And there's quite a bit more, of greater or lesser interest (for example, there is an extremely pressing need to come up with something for Province IX, where the existing Spanish language supplement is greatly disliked and is little used). However, after saying, "well, we need to think about changing anyway", the report admits the obvious: the support for revision among the laity simply isn't there. And it's also clear, as Hendrickson points out, that the conventional clerical view, that we need to change everything to get the young people into the church, is not borne out by the data.

Finally, I would personally observe that the liturgical output of the SCLM, as we see it in the blue book, does not give me a good feeling about how they would handle hymnal revision. On the contrary, it shows that they have tin ears, not to mention their propensity towards questionable theological novelties. It's best that we stick with what we have, and fortunately it looks as though, on this issue at least, the evidence is in favor of stability.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Do Nothing!

Permit me to be the next one to join the bandwagon behind Jason Ballard's cry for General Convention to do nothing. I can hardly do otherwise given how much of what Ballard says in support of this call to inaction. And besides, if you've been reading my comments on the various liturgical proposals being presented, you'll know that three of the four I categorically object to, and the fourth I have lots of issues with.

It's one thing for the national church to pass self-gratifying resolutions supporting this or that progressive political cause. These resolutions don't help the church, it seems to me, because the people who might join us for our politics are already members. They annoy a lot of the membership, either because of their contrary political commitments, or because there are a few of out there who don't have those sorts of commitments in the first place. But messing with the religion itself: that's terribly destructive. What needs to happen is that the people who have differences with fundamental tenets need to resolve them either by being instructed by the church, or by going elsewhere and cresting their own institutions. (And if they feel they have to take buildings with them, then let them.) The current practice of co-opting church institutions to teach against against it ought not to be tolerated.

And really, constant reconsideration of basic stuff needs to end. It creates a climate in which heresy becomes the norm and orthodoxy is at best tolerated as an aberration, and is in practice actively discouraged. It's too often the case that someone who exerts the first prerogative of orthodox tradition, objection to change, is told that any objection to change is to be dismissed, that change itself is virtuous. In every other context, this is nonsense: some change is good, and some change is bad, and the good should be embraced, and judgement should be based on the merits, not on simply some need for unspecified change. It's really all about power: priests and rectors have power to dictate arbitrary change, and laypeople can do naught but complain. And complaining laymen are dismissed as stick-in-the-muds or fuddy-duddies or fundamentalist troglodytes. In a functional church, social structures within the clerisy, and failing that church discipline serve to rein in untoward change. These plainly do not function in the Episcopal Church, and indeed, church structures are seen as ways to amplify the urge to arbitrary change. So it's best that these structures do nothing at all then that they keep at it.

So I echo the call: General Convention should pass a sane budget, not the one that has been proposed, ratify a few episcopal elections if necessary, and then should go home.

Friday, May 04, 2012

More Liturgical Fish in a Barrel: and I Brought a Shotgun

Bill Dilworth suggested I should make some comments on "Daily Prayer for All Seasons", another product of the SCLM to be put before General Convention this year. Well, heck, how could I resist? Never has so much that is bad in the outpourings of our liturgical overlords been distilled into such a concentrated essence.

For those of you who didn't make it all the way to page 352 of the Blue Book: this thing is is something of a combination of scriptural meditation and office, as if Forward Day by Day were folded directly into the "Daily Devotions" section of the BCP. Well, OK, on one level it's hard to object to this on principle, though I don't know that I would want something written once for the ages. And it's not really my cup of tea, at that; I'm more of a "grind through the office lectionary" kind of guy. That said, however, everything I complained about in "Liturgical Materials Honoring God in Creation" is just as bad here, and there's more to boot.

Let's start with the second entry, for prime in the Advent season. It begins with a versicle and response ostensibly repeating Isaiah 40:5:

God’s bright glory will shine,
and everyone will see it.
OK, right from the top: this isn't what the verse says. The correct NRSV text is this: "Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken." The italicized portion has been omitted entirely, and the leftist problem word "LORD", which those who stayed awake long enough in the higher quality sort of Sunday school will recognize as a placeholder for God's name, has been dropped. OK, so where did this come from? Shouldn't this come from the RSV, as the BCP directs? Well, perhaps the NCC's campaign to suppress the RSV is likely to prevent us from reprinting it, At any rate, however, the text admits that this comes from The Message, Eugene Peterson's extremely free paraphrase; and he can be quoted saying that he is uncomfortable with its use as a liturgical text. Peterson and I do not see eye to eye on a whole raft of issues, but at the very least I think the bible words that we repeat should be the actual words of a genuine translation!

I cannot similarly criticize the translation of the hymn, for it is new to the 1982 hymnal, and with the cost of the hymnal companion the source doesn't come readily to hand. And at least when we get to the scripture reading, the true NRSV text is used. (A question to the SCLM, by the way: does the NCC know what you're up to? Are they going to license the NRSV for this?) The meditation sentence by one Sam Portaro is innocuous enough, at first glance. But then we get a highly egregious "affirmation", a word which in itself gives a discomforting note of psychobabble. What it is, in fact, is a substitute for the Apostle's Creed. This I have big problems with, just on principle: if we cannot say the creeds as the rest of the church says them, then we are in schism. But never fear, the urge for a precious moment finally bursts forth here:

We believe in God, Creator of all:
The two-legged, the four-legged,
the winged ones, and those that crawl upon the earth
and swim in the waters.
I am moved to flip back to "Honoring God in Creation" and cry out, "but what about the prokaryotes?" And what about heaven? Sorry, guys, but this is just glurge, and as I don't have a need for the stuff (and indeed would avoid it if I could), I wouldn't give up Christian unity for the opportunity to indulge in that vice.

And there's more of that in the prayers, but I would rather advance to terce, where we get a little womynist love in the form of a "hymn" from Julian of Norwich. Dame Julian is an official Cool Saint of the Modern Churchtm, so one cannot get away with complaining about some fairly out-there imagery. But the surprise in this service is hidden in the scripture reading, which curiously claims to skip over a verse in Isaiah 11. Really, one has to be immediately suspicious when a passage of a mere four verses has to omit one of them, but looking up the missing verse shows that half of it does in fact appear in the printed reading. What is omitted is the following sentence: "His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD." And I have to assume that the sentence was omitted because someone on the SCLM found it theologically offensive. Well, it's time for them to get over that, a read scripture as it is given to us rather than editing out the bits they don't like.

But as far as that editing goes, they top themselves in sext, where they have the gall to redact the Virgin Mary's words in the name of feminist correctness. Now, I have to suspect that of those people who actually do the hours, 93.42% of them have a Pavlovian reaction to the word "magnificat", and start off saying or singing "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior." The other 6.58% are the hardheads who memorized Rite II, and it is they who will be tripped up the worst in this exercise, because while the first line is the same, the second is not. Recall the scriptural context: Mary is speaking to Elizabeth, and therefore she refers to God in the third person from beginning to end. And since, therefore, five of the eight verses begin with the word "he", our liturgical overlords have recast this as a hymn addressed to God, so that all those offensive pronouns can be replaced by "you". And heaven forbid we should speak of a promise made to Mary's fathers. So we have yet another case where we can't say what scripture says.

And so, on it goes. I skip ahead to sext for Epiphany, where Christopher Wordsworth's text must be altered, that God may not in man be manifest. At the prayers for none we have one of those modalist things. The "confession" supplied for vespers is a mealy-mouthed thing against which words of the actual BCP stand in stark relief. As far as Lent is concerned, it appears that the only sin of which we might be convicted is inadequate social justice; personal purity and piety make no appearance. Things get a little better in holy week, if only because, perhaps, they dare not erase the cross. But I don't feel the need to go beyond there; it is bad enough thus far.

I do not think that anyone will actually use this for daily prayer. The people who do that will use the daily devotional rites we already have in the BCP, or the hours from some Anglo-Catholic rites, because they will want to work through the office lectionary. If approved, I think this would see use perhaps on seasonal retreats. And I do not think that the unwary should thus be lured into using works which tamper with scripture so, and never mind the abominable taste in the writing. Why in the heck can't we use the texts everyone else uses? Why can't we say the Magnificat and the Creed as others do? Why can't we confess our sins as sins? Look, the problem with the offices as we have them isn't anything in them; it's that we have a culture of not doing them, due to time or whatever. Making them more elaborate isn't going to get people to do them, and using them as yet another conduit for SCLM's wimpy theology is dishonest. If SCLM has time to waste on this stuff, then we can do without them. Everything they touch turns not to lead, but to arsenic. It's time to disband them and live with what we have for another thirty years or so.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Interlude on the Titanic

The new liberal trope for fixing the Episcopal Church is, it appears, some sort of reorganization, especially directed at General Convention. Now, on one level I will be the first to complain: anyone who recollects the course of conventions over the past decade or so can see that they have not covered themselves in administrative glory. But I would also think that the problem here is far less in the actual organization, and almost entirely what they are being asked to do. And you can work this out by looking at what the two extreme parties think about the structural problems. The problem progressives see is that current structures get in the way of the changes they want to make; the traditionalists see that the current structures enable those changes, because the progressives take advantage of the inability of the houses to consider the issues intelligently in order to advance the progressive program through outrage escalation.

As it happens, the traditionalists are more in the right here. Well, the progressives are correct in observing that the current structures slow them down, but that's because that's the intent of the canons. And they need not only to be slowed down, but stopped, which is extremely difficult the way the polity functions now. Kendal Harmon made a long address concerning our polity problems, and I would agree with most of what he says. The organs which are supposed to keep discipline in the church don't work, because they are to a large extent used to drive out traditionalists who resist the innovations; but the innovators are not disciplined for stepping outside the canons, and indeed tend to be lauded after the fact (see under "Philadelphia, 1974"). GC has to deal with facts on the ground delivered by disobedient priests and bishops and dioceses, which are then backed up by resolutions proposing huge theological changes.

These resolutions are a big part of the problem. It is impossible for GC to function when it has to deal with a major theological issue every meeting; and this year, we have a whole raft of them: Eastern Oregon's proposal to legitimize communing the unbaptized, the approval of same-sex unions, and all the deviancies hidden in the SCLM's proposed liturgies. These have been talked about at great length, but I cannot imagine that there's going to be much effective talking going on at GC, because the venue is not conducive to intelligent contemplation by those whose minds are not already made up. People will line up at the mike, and the ritual statements will be made, and the press of other business (especially the budgetary disaster, which I can only hope will prevent some of these matters from coming up at all) will close off "debate". And there will be votes, by orders, and the votes will be closer than they ought to be, so that communing the unbaptized will likely fail, but with significant support; and some of SCLM's concoctions will get through (because too many people don't have time to consider them and their objectors seriously), and some will fail but again with far too much support; and same-sex unions will pass in part because of the concerted effort to drive away its detractors. And I will guess that every one of the issues which failed will be raised again in three years, and the progressive heretics will see gains because more traditionalists and even orthodox liberals will throw in the towel when defeat of innovations this time doesn't result in any discipline against those who continue to violate the canons and abuse liturgical texts.

And meanwhile, the elephant will sit in Research and Statistics, ignored. Susan Snook and Phil Snyder have, I think, some serious theological differences, but they agree on the one big thing: the progressives do not care that they are destroying the church at a rate of 3% a year. And it's conspicuously obvious that the thing that is destroying it is precisely that the progressives largely do not care about religion, or at least not the Christian religion as it was delivered to them. The purpose of the church, to them, is to put its (now enfeebled) powers behind endorsing the lifestyle dilettancy of the white upper middle class. So we engage in pointless (because with less than two million members whom the church surely cannot mobilize to the polls) political advocacy, and approve of our interesting sexual arrangements, and wink at our predilection towards spiritual adventurism (religion to us is like food: the serving platter for our Epicurean and cosmopolitan indulgences), and fulminate harmlessly at the economic 1% (when we are largely to be found in the 5% or so). And it is all so very much the lotion for our back-patting and the hot springs for the spa of our self-regard. That anyone else might look to us for RELIGION doesn't seem to matter, so it's hardly surprising that people don't bother to join us when they can get all of this for free. Well, free of church services, and our friends in the SCLM seem so determined to make what happens on Sunday morning a heel of self-righteous correctness bound together with abominable prose that its no wonder people are sticking their fingers in their ears.

And the running of all this disfunction: well, it gets a pass in the proposed budget, which Snooks computes as allocating 44% of the national church budget to administration, including running a $1.25M deficit. Mission and education together constitute less than 2.5% of the budget! And let us not forget, a large chunk of that 44% is dedicated to shameful lawsuits against the schismatics, ostensibly in the name of fiduciary responsibility, as though there was anything responsible about the way this budget was produced. If nothing else, her proposal to take a big bite out of the admin budget makes all the sense in the world; but we need to keep going from there. If there must be Eucharists at GC, then instead of the usual self-celebratory circuses, let them put on sackcloth, and recite the litany, repent, and return to their true business: the increase of true religion in the world.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Vogonic Mass

"The very worst poetry of all perished along with its creator, Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Sussex, in the destruction of the planet Earth." From The Hithchiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Perhaps she worked on the Standing Committee for Liturgy and Music of the Episcopal Church.

For all the complaints about Holy Women, Holy Men, the blue book for General Convention is out, and we see even more of the fruits of SCLM's labors, set before the church for ratification. And as I try to force myself to read through it, a competition mounts in my head between my repugnance at the language, my anger at the dubious theology, and my annoyance that we have to waste our time over this at all. I mean, it's bad enough that we have to suffer through a kalendar revision to commemorate a bunch of non-Christians, badly, when most of the parishes which bother with so complete a list are never ever going to to use this, and when the message is that you don't need to be a Christian to be a Christian. It's bad enough that we have to even consider communing the unbaptized (though this heresy, at least, cannot be laid at the door to SCLM's meeting rooms). No, besides the ill-conceived rite for same-sex blessings, we are given two more dumps of liturgical stuff. First, we have "Liturgical Materials Honor God in Creation and Various Rites and Prayers for Animals", which, besides setting forth a rite for the St. Francis Day blessings, has a slew of other material: litanies, prayers, and a Rogation procession. The latter has prayers various stations along the way, including the local landfill or transfer station if it be on the route. As seems to be the case for all material issuing forth from their word processors, the notion that one could use so conventional a form as "through Jesus Christ our Lord" seems to have been utterly abandoned, so that indeed it seems that they must spend a great deal of time devising alternative titles and honorifics. There are, inevitably, lapses into modalism, as well as travels further afield. For instance, we have this paganism-flavored litany:

On your earth, as it changes, Creator, have mercy.

On the soil, that it may be built up and be fruitful, Creator, have mercy.

On the minerals below the earth that nourish life, Creator, have mercy.

On your volcanoes and lava flows, Creator, have mercy.

...and on it goes, on and on, and there is a another after that. In the Hitchhiker's Guide it is said that "the president of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council, survived [an Azgothan poetry reading] by gnawing one of his own legs off." I might do the same if forced to stand through this, or at least cast aside a candy bar wrapper in protest of this pollution of my ears.

After that, we have a loooong series of meditations disguised as an annual cycle of daily prayer. And again, there is the same preciousness, the same aversion to the old scripturally-based forms, and the same venturing out into questionable theological territory. Don't the Forward Movement people take care of this for us? Why does SCLM have to write such drivel? Why can't they write anything baldly orthodox?

And why do they have to write anything at all? Look, almost none of this is going to get used, even by the many parishes that have St. Francis Day services. Perhaps some of it will be used on Earth Day observances (I forget whether HWHM adds the latter to our Kalendar). And none of it should be used, as offensive as it is to both theology and the art of writing English. But really, I have to think that it doesn't matter that any of it gets used: the point is to make a lot of people feel good about having directed SCLM to write it in the first place, and for the writers to think well of themselves for their progressive liturgical politics. Meanwhile, the church declines, three percent a year, and I cannot conceive of how these rites and prayers will have the slightest effect in reversing the decline. And after that in the pipes, we have hymnal revision coming up, and I expect that they will make a hash of that as well, as though we really need to put parishes through the expense of buying yet another set of expensive books to put in the pews.

It's time for SCLM to take a vacation. A long vacation. Say, a decade or two, or the forty years prescribed for the Israelites in the wilderness. Nothing they are doing is going to get more people in the pews, and indeed they seem to be largely trying to drive away anyone with, well, orthodox views on how prayers and rites should be conducted. And if they want to do something for the environment, well, cutting out the three hundred and thirteen pages they take up in the blue book, multiplied by the number of delegates and bishops, would be an excellent starting gesture.