Friday, March 02, 2007

again...

The sheer mechanics of navigating an overlong comment thread cause me to move my ongoing conversation with Richard (and some of his friends) to first position.

To Mystical Seeker:
As a middle-aged male, making broad generalizations about the sexual satisfaction of women is way above my pay grade. Suffice it to say that I am aware of divergent testimony on the matter you addressed.

To Grandmère Mimi:
I take your point. How 'bout we agree that, as couples age, the libidinal disparity between the partners tends to increase, causing a de facto state of "enforced abstinence" on one of them.

To Charles:
Your prose is plenty elegant, but this is the first time mine has been accused of being post-modern!

To Richard:
First, let me remove any suspicion that I may have implied that you cross your fingers when you say the creed. That thought has never entered my mind.

I agree with you that an extended point-counterpoint exchange over a narrow range of subjects invokes the law of diminishing returns rather quickly. Plus, it just gets boring. I find it both more helpful and more interesting to explore the underlying suppositions that lead us to different pragmatic conclusions on the questions that vex the church we both love.

I'm not sure of all that this might mean, but it seems potentially significant that I tend to speak of "norms and exceptions to the norm" while you favor the language of "majority and minority" (presumably both within the range of "normal"). These two paradigms certainly have their similarities, but they are also importantly different. Why is it that you embrace one and I embrace the other--I'm suspecting, without a lot of conscious intent?

Here's a theory: It seems plausible that you (and many who share your point of view) begin with the pastoral reality that there are gay and lesbian persons who "profess and call themselves Christians," and from there seek to articulate an idealistic construct that supports a robust ministry of inclusion. In the meantime, I (and many who share my point of view) begin with an ideal that we perceive as divinely revealed, and from there seek to find pastoral practices that minister to those whose experience diverges from that ideal, but without sacrificing the ideal. Could this be a speciation of the distinction between the Top-Down and Bottom-Up methods of doing theology?

You have suggested that my position is based on ontology. As far as I know my own mind (which is a significant qualifier!), the distinction I want to make is less ontic than semiotic. It's about the sign value of human relationships--sign values that exist despite the particular qualities of particular relationships that may not literally manifest that sign. I will confess that my view is substantially similar, though not identical, to that of the Roman Catholic Church, in that I would contend that the telos of sexual coupling is ordered toward reproduction. That is the primary sign. There are other benefits, from the unitive to the recreative, but they are ancillary and cannot be divorced from the primary sign. Heterosexual copulation looks like something that can be fecund, even when, in any given relationship, it cannot. But that gets into territory we've already traversed, and I sort of promised not to do that!

15 comments:

Mystical Seeker said...
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kim said...

Amen, Fr. Dan!

R said...

It seems plausible that you (and many who share your point of view) begin with the pastoral reality that there are gay and lesbian persons who "profess and call themselves Christians," and from there seek to articulate an idealistic construct that supports a robust ministry of inclusion. In the meantime, I (and many who share my point of view) begin with an ideal that we perceive as divinely revealed, and from there seek to find pastoral practices that minister to those whose experience diverges from that ideal, but without sacrificing the ideal. Could this be a speciation of the distinction between the Top-Down and Bottom-Up methods of doing theology?

Dan, I think I would agree with this characterization of our differences. Speaking for myself, I am most interested in articulating my faith as "incarnational" -- in a nutshell, what God in Christ reveals in the very tangible lives I most closely engage with and serve. One might posit this as experience, but I see it subsumed in the traditional Anglican category of reason (a la Richard Hooker). This leads me, as well, to recognize and value diversity across the church Catholic, as God is manifested in different cultures and locations in different ways.

Not to imply, of course, that I dismiss revealed truth in the Church Tradition or Scriptures, anymore than I would assume you dismiss the incarnational realities and experiences of Christ in the others you meet in your day to day ministry and life. But only to say that the revealed truth we have received may well be understood and applied in different ways through the way it is incarnate in our different locations.

Nor do I mean to imply that there aren't any universal truths. I believe that there are, but they are few and broad enough to encompass a remarkably wide range of incarnational witness.

So I agree, we may be starting at different points and hence reaching different conclusions.

I think it is clear we disagree about the primary sign of marriage being biological reproduction, while admitting exceptions for a variety of reasons, and hence requiring male-female pairing. It appears I take the meaning of the "be fruitful and multiply" divine directive much more broadly, seeing the primary sign of marriage in the benefits of Christ revealed more in the community through the couple, an incarnational revelation which may or may not involve children (biological or otherwise.)

In addition to the Christological/incarnational basis of marriage I posited earlier, I think I am also attracted to the notion of marriage as vocation or call to serve Christ in another, as that reminds me that I don't "marry" couples. They marry each other. And, as I have been taught, for this reason they are the primary celebrants of the sacrament in the liturgy.

I would like to venture to suggest that, while we have focused here largely on our differences, there is also much we still agree on, and emphasize again that my support of same-sex blessings does not intend to set aside the very best elements of traditional marriage. Some have argued (successfully, in my view) that same-gendered blessings may in fact illumine the very best in heterosexual marriages.

Returning to what you wrote above, would you regard the present arrangement in the Episcopal Church (protests from some of the Primates notwithstanding) of local pastoral provisions for same-sex blessings within the parameters of, as you put it, seeking "to find pastoral practices that minister to those whose experience diverges from that ideal, but without sacrificing the ideal"?

Dan Martins said...

To Richard, with respect to his final question in the above comment:

The "current arrangement"? No. The current arrangement is embodied in C051 from GC '03, which explicitly recognizes public blessings of same-sex unions as "within the bounds of our common life." This gives formal, church-wide recognition to the practice, and that is a "bridge too far" for me.

How about the pre-2003 status? This is a possibility. I think if we had left things there we would not be suffering what we're going through now as a communion. "Progressives" could be blessing unions when permitted by the Ordinary, and "orthdox" could plausibly retort that they (the "progressives," that is) are acting outside the norm. Nobody would have completely what they want, but all would have a leg to stand on.

I believe the public voice of the church, speaking to the world, needs to say, "Same-sex coupling falls short of the only norm on which we have authority from God to invoke God's blessing." I also believe the pastoral voice of the church, spoken quietly and unofficially to persons who find themselves in a category that I would call "exceptional" and Richard would call "a minority," and wish the church's support in maintaining a stable relationship, should be: "We will not judge or condemn the choice you have made, and we will help you look for God's sustaining grace and love, even within your relationship." But it's not marriage, and there should be no prayers or rituals that purport to make it look like marriage, or be "para-marital."

Anonymous said...

"We will not judge or condemn the choice you have made, and we will help you look for God's sustaining grace and love, even within your relationship".

I thought you had affirmed that it what not a "choice"?

Dan Martins said...

Anonymous, I affirmed that orientation is not a choice. Setting up housekeeping is a choice, and that is the "choice" I referred to in the passage from my last comment that you quote. Thank-you for the opportunity to clarify.

R said...

Dan,

Thank you for answering my questions so directly and clearly.

I don't have anything additional to bring to the conversation at this point, but I certainly want to leave the invitation open to you for further discussion either now or at a later date. Your blog or mine. . . :)

I don't think either of us expected to "solve" anything with our engagement here, but I have found it personally helpful to better understand your position and see how it is reflected to some degree in the current conflicts in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. And I am profoundly grateful for the space to attempt to articulate, albeit not all that adeptly, my position as well.

However much I may disagree with you regarding what we discussed here and stand in solidarity with my LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ, I still offer you my continued regard as a fellow Christian on the Way. And I certainly mean never to impugn all that is good, holy, and just in your life and ministry in the midst of God's people.

Please know my prayers are with you, the people of St. John's, and the Diocese of San Joaquin, in the ongoing hope that we may indeed yet find a way to remain in Communion together without sacrificing where we hear God's call to us and our communities.

Your brother in Christ,

Richard

Charles said...

Father Dan,

Even though this conversation may have respectfully fizzled out I would like to first comment on your post and use that to address Richard.

I would like to clarify my own beliefs about semiotics and ontology. When I speak on semiotics I am using as my frame(s) of reference, though they do not all agree, John of St. Thomas, C.S. Peirce, Umberto Eco, Sebeok, et al.. If we end up disagreeing, it will be over the anatomy of semion. A sign has three element, two fundaments, the sign and the signified, and a third, that which founds the relation, an interpretant. I can give a technical account of this basic map of sign, but that is probably best left to another time.

If I hear you correctly, the sign action of man-woman marriage is revealed, to name a few sources, by Paul in Ephesians, and certainly in the Apocalypse. Obviously, these are referring to a reality about marriage, which is also the destination/telos of marriage, a classic "now and not yet" in eschatology. So marriage has at least two semiotic actions: 1) it reveals the existing sacramentum which unites two persons, and 2) describe the destination of marriage which is the eschatological bride and nympios or bridegroom. These semiotic actions though are signifying a distinct ens and a distinct actu; something ontic and something moving (the moral).

Though I disagree with Richard's conclusions, I do see how he want to say that there are many acts of real love that same-sex partners exchange and that these not only are real but also are virtuous. The question for me will be, on an ontological spectrum, are these acts a sign of an abiding sacramentum or of an abiding delphon, brotherly or sisterly love, which we ought not to exclude because a sexual dimension may exist between same-sex partnered persons, namely because Richard has labored to show that marriage is not principally about coitus or the so-called same-sex corollaries.

I would like to move on to more about ontology here, but I have to get on to Stations and Benediction!

in XC,

Charles

R said...
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R said...

Charles,

I am not equipped to argue with you in ontological or semiotic terms, as I am not a systematic theologian and am honestly not anywhere near as well-read as you are in these matters.

I am more adept pastorally (and, to some degree, theologically) in liberation theology, and to some degree in post-modern hermeneutics. I suppose in that sense, I may differ from you in having a post-modern world-view -- in part by virtue of my age and cultural location. Hence systematics rooted in ontological proofs tend to carry less weight for me than more relational, narrative, and contextual (bottom-up, as Dan puts it) theological constructs.

God's peace.

miserable sinner said...

Fr. Dan and Fr. Richard.

Thank you for having a 'big tent' discussion.

It was such a discussion I tried to cajole Fr. Kennedy and Fr. Haller into continuing over at Stand Firm last week.

It may still happen.

May you, Fr. Richard and all the faithful have a holy Lent.

... in all things, charity

Dan Martins said...

Again, my thanks to Richard for this ride. It was a good one. Maybe we'll do it again sometime, eh?

I especially thank Charles for his contributions. (As I was reading about you heading off to Stations and Benediction, I was heading off to just Stations. We did Taize & Benediction on Wednesday; believe it or not, the combination works amazingly well.) Like Richard, the generality of my academic training does not allow me to keep up with your technical expertise in semiotics, of which I am righteously envious.

Charles said...

Father Richard,

I can be opaque at times, even to those who are fluent in scholastic vocabulary. I am 28 years old, so I guess I should probably be more post-modern! The terms that I want to draw, I think, can address more clearly some of our difficulties, and certainly the more narrative, relational, and contextual are a grammar that is considerably fruitful and indeed a treasure in light of the old, dry, and ossified Dominican textbooks in theology.

My philosophical and theological formation were primarily Thomistic, so my tools have an odor of their origin. Since coming into brief contact with the post-modern way (Foucault, Deleuze, et al.), I can really relate to what you say, and can appreciate your perspective. I confess that I have a copy of Gutierrez on my shelf, which I can see from where I sit, but I have never really picked it up. Both our styles of discourse are very important to understanding these critical topics, so I would invite us both and all to cross the rivers of our themes and tools and ask whether these themes are ones that need to inform each other rather than either eschewing an existential/narrative approach or a so-called ontological approach. I think they can both yield real and faithful pictures of life, living, and the world, which we need to synthesize, and not refuse because they do not fit in our themes.

In closing I want to honor the grammar of real love that may and does exist between same-sex couples, and only say that I am not convinced that the GLBT community has fully understood how to express him (love). I would also like to point out that the grammar of love that may and does exist between man-woman couples has since the age of Adam been defective and in need of redemption. I can see that we would disagree as to what each of these situations ought to look like and that the Church is always searching for good maps to show forth in order to make "all" her children holy, and hamartia or missing the mark (the scriptural word for sin) can never undo baptism.

in XC,

Charles
Fort Worth

PS-Father Dan, I wasn't accusing you of anything blameworthy by calling your prose post-modern, just that I can tell you have a better grasp of the vocabulary than I do.

Charles said...

Ooo...Taize and Benediction! We still use the ole' Thomistic hymns at St. Timmy's Fort Worth. Isn't Lent sober and wonderful all at the same time?

Charles

R said...

Charles and Dan,

Taize and Benediction. . .Quite a combination! We have our own Stations here at noon on Fridays. Plenty of Taize around, too, though not at Church of Our Saviour as a full service. . . yet. Lent is becoming a favorite season for me.

Charles, thanks for your kind comment. I only meant that Thomas and the other Scholastics and thoroughgoing systematics are out of my league at present, at least as far as a stage for thoroughgoing discourse. I would be happy, of course, to listen to/read what you have to offer, inwardly digest and all that!

Blessings on you both this Lent.