Sunday, August 30, 2015

Is There Anything on the Other Hand?

How many Episcopalians does it change a light bulb these days? As many as it takes to form the committee to decide between CFLs and LEDs.

The story from Mark this Sunday, in which the subject of food and dish washing before meals (as prescribed by tradition) is raised, is a terrible temptation to give a Change sermon. After all, it uses the word "traditions"; what more is needed? Well, to start with, the rest of the passage. Once again the RCL reading leaves out a substantial portion of the text, so that of twenty-two verses the congregation hears but thirteen of them. And it isn't as though there is an intervening story or parable in this; they simply cut out first Jesus' condemnation of the pharisees' hypocrisy, and second his statement that what one eats cannot defile. The sense of it is plain, all put together.

But it doesn't have a lot to do with tradition in the church, and especially not within the typical Episcopal parish. This is particularly obvious when talked about in the context of the typical tradition (which is to say, story) of tradition (which is to say, custom) in the Episcopal Church. That tale is that we are fixated on the past, and doggedly resist changing anything. So what is that past? Let's start with the current Book of Common Prayer, proposed in 1976 and ratified in 1979. These are printed as two different editions, but as far as the text is concerned, the constitutions and canons dictate that the text of the book itself be identical between the two, because any changes to the book itself requires two GCs to pass. The only difference between the two is the word "proposed" on the title page and that the certification page has different text and has a copyright notice in the 1976 book.

I was sixteen when the proposed book came out, midway through high school. People born that year are approaching forty, so that except for a few retrograde parishes (and the various Anglo-Catholics) these relative youngsters have never had the opportunity to experience the "old" prayer book. It would not at all surprise me that very few Episcopalians my age remember doing the 1928 rite week in and week out; 1979 has in many places become the de facto "old prayer book" since Enriching Our Worship came out in 1997. And while I've heard of struggles in which altar guilds supposedly nailed altars to the wall and otherwise impeded the March of Liturgical Progress, I regard them as strictly legendary. Episcopal priests perhaps do not enjoy the same absolute freedom to apply the wrecking ball to the furnishings that Roman priests apparently do, but I have yet to come upon a parish where the transition to 1979 Rite II wasn't accomplished with all due haste. And the transition to a post-1979 liturgy is in very many already accomplished, so that if a 1976 book survives in a pew somewhere (which I doubt, considering the condition of my copy) it's because so many parishes use a liturgy from a leaflet which is more or less that of 1979, but might come from EoW or from who knows exactly where.

And it comes down to this, anyway: what goes on in the liturgy these days is a contest between traditions. The differences between EoW and all previous BCPs trace back to notions which were current in academia back when I was in college, if not somewhat earlier. They are barely younger than the BCP, and they come from a mixture of radical theological and secular ideas and movements. "Change" comes down to picking which tradition to follow, an issue to which scripture speaks. "Tradition" is used in a lot of senses in the New Testament, as it covers the transmission of stories and teachings of all sorts. The difference is that when you look at these in the large there is a consistent distinction between good and bad tradition: the latter to be shunned, the former to be clung to.

There's a better than even chance that any preacher my age or older who talks about tradition is going to mention Fiddler on the Roof. But mark well Tevye's three monologues when asked to yield on his daughter's desired marriages: twice he does yield, but on the third time, he states, "there's nothing on the other hand!" Scripture forbids his daughter's marriage to Chava's goyisch suitor, and thus Teyve refuses to consent.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Prayer Book Revision: Why Bother?

Few in the pews are aware that General Convention has activated the prayer book and hymnal revision machinery, which means that we could be stuck with a new proposed book six years from now. Really, everybody who knows it's coming(Matt Marino for one) knows what this is about: completing the triumph of modernist and radfem revisionism. Oh, I assume the new book is likely to leave enough in it so that the moderates and traditionalists can talk themselves into believing that they can still have an orthodox liturgy (my bet would be that they keep Rite I almost unaltered), but the long term intent is clearly to deny parishioners the use of orthodox, "sexist" language. Oh, the program is described in the usual progressive coded language, but anyone who has been following this isn't deceived. All one has to do is look at Enriching Our Worship and the more recent proposed supplements.

As for the hymnal, the survey data is out there that revision is largely unwanted, and especially so by the young. The hymnal definitely has its problems, largely brought on in the last revision: too much musicology, not enough material suited to the typical congregation. But again, nobody seriously thinks that this is what will be addressed. The purpose again will be social engineering, with a dollop of pandering to the young with "contemporary" style— where "contemporary" will continue to mean "in the style of Catholic guitar music of the 1970s that was written by people who are now retirement age."

But then, why wait? If you live in a big coastal diocese, it may already be hard to find a parish where the letter of the prayer book is followed. Your chances of getting stuck with EoW are pretty high, and a high profile city parish (especially one that advertizes its inclusiveness) may largely be done with "Father" altogether.

And this Sunday, for the second time in a month, the supply priest mucked with the words of the institution narrative, editing Jesus' word as recorded by Matthew and Mark. I have no idea where the Catholic translators of the Novus Ordo got the idea to translate pro multis as "for all" but you know, it wasn't from the Greek. This is one of the places I have to draw the line: if liturgy quotes scripture, it has to quote scripture, not "fix" it because it supposedly offends someone. So for the first time, in my own parish, I stayed behind at communion. choosing instead to catch up on some praying, on my knees (a posture little loved by progressives, in my experience).

There is some hope that, if revision be held up long enough, sufficient old-time modernists and radfems and other relics of my college years will have aged out of control of the process to where a new generation can belie those fogies' claims about "What Youth Want". But I don't see it. At my age, as a layman, I'm now reduced to having little recourse other than to look for priests who can say the words right, and abandoning parishes when they are staffed with priests who won't say the words right. I cannot count on bishops keeping their clerics in line. Indeed, it seems that the bishops are worse than the priests; one need only look at thirty years of bad House of Bishops votes. The whole thing replies upon the average parishioner not understanding what is at stake, until they eventually discover that the church that they remember is gone, replaced with the celebration of the community in which all difficulties of religion are diluted to homeopathy.

What is a layman to do? Well, I am almost in despair. After all, I am lay, and a man: more damning, I am the father of children, and White and (mostly) Anglo-Saxon, and middle-aged. I thus have no actual privilege of race or gender or sexuality or age to use as political leverage. Yet I write, and pray.

As the book yet says: "Pray for the church."