Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

When not immediately engaged in the "frank exchange of views" that characterizes the Anglican blogsphere these days, I do manage to reflect from time to time on what might be the meta-issues--i.e. not sex, and not integrity of the Anglican Communion. I still haven't identified the elusive Alpha Issue--an ideological Rosetta Stone that can unlock how anyone in particular will come down on a whole array of questions if you know their position on just one or two. It's fun work, though, and in my copious spare time, I shall keep on trying.

In the meanwhile, I interview an occasional suspect. One such candidate is a document known as the Millennium Development Goals. (Look here to see what they are.) General Convention has pretty much adopted them in toto as the sine qua non of the Church's missionary imperative. But over on the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv today, here comes the Very Revd Benjamin Shambaugh, dean of the cathedral church for the Diocese of Maine, responding to a thread on the success of non-denominational mega-churches:

Perhaps the success of the evangelical churches is related not to their moral strictness but to clarity about their product: A relationship with Jesus Christ.

Somehow we have forgotten that the baptismal covenant begins with the creed, not the five questions that follow. At the risk of sounding like a heretic, the MDGs and the radical inclusion and the incredible outreach to the poor of many of our congregations are not the mission of the church. Rather they are signs of it.

Unfortunately, we have not done a good job of saying why we do these things and making the connection back to -- and helping people connect to -- Jesus. Rather than being jealous or spiteful of other's success, we need, in deference to Star Trek, to remember our prime directive. If it is just helping others, I would put my support behind heifer project, habitat for humanity or United Way. These are good things but the church has so much more to offer, if we would only let people know...

(I quote with the permission of the author.)

Now, to my knowledge, Ben Shambaugh doesn't have a reputation as an ideologue of either stripe, which means that he is hardly a card-carrying "conservative" or "evangelical." So what he writes is especially significant. And he is entirely correct. The MDG's are good and worthwhile in an of themselves. I don't know any responsible Christian who could say otherwise. But they are not the mission of the Church.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Watching the Irish Not Smiling

I have never been a particular fan of college football (or pro football, for that matter--baseball is my bag). During the five years I lived in Baton Rouge (1989-1994) I attended two LSU games. Both times the Tigers got their clock cleaned, and they had five fully dismal seasons during my Louisiana sojourn. By that measure, the future does not look too bright for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, because, deo volente, I'm planning on being in the area for quite some time, along with my awesome powers to jinx athletic teams, both those to whom I have a passionate attachment (just ask the Cubs), and those in whom I merely have a passing interest (the Cleveland Indians of recently blessed memory).

At any rate, one of the rites of passage for a new naturalized Hoosier is to experience Notre Dame football, so the Dragonfly and I were pleased to accept an invitation from a friend and his wife to attend last Saturday's contest between the Irish and the University of Southern California Trojans. The friend is a USC alum, so even though he lives in South Bend and controls four season tickets for Notre Dame home games, he was there in his "cardinal and gold" regalia. I attempted to be studiously neutral in my attire, and once in the stands (bleachers, actually, with seat number markings devised in an era when Americans were generally of substantially less girth than is the average today), I decided to root for whichever team had possession of the ball.

During the second quarter, however, I was forced to abandon that strategy, as Notre Dame never kept possession for very long, and their punter was given quite a few more chances to shine than a punter normally hopes for from one game, and his foot is probably still under ice. Late in the fourth quarter, trailing 38-0, the Irish offense (playing, no doubt, against the third-string Trojan defense) finally managed to string some first downs together and produce something resembling a scoring threat. Dragonfly earnestly cheered for Notre Dame, on behalf of "all the players' Moms." But with five seconds left on the clock, the quarterback threw the ball right at at member of the SC defense, and he was obliged to intercept it.

The detail in the experience that will long make me crack a smile, however, is the T-shirt I saw on a Notre Dame coed at one of the tailgate parties we crossed on our way into the stadium: "Catholics have no use for Trojans."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Sudden Burst of Fresh Air

This just in...from Lambeth Palace. I suppose there is a possibility it is not authentic, but I've now seen it (in the last ten minutes) from two different sources, and I'm going to assume its veracity. It is a letter from His Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to the Bishop of Central Florida, John Howe, in whose diocese a handful of cardinal rectors have recently made clear their desire to move away from the Episcopal Church to the care of an offshore jurisdiction. Dr Williams offers his condolences to Bishop Howe, and speaks pointedly to both ends of the spectrum in American Anglicanism, and does so using the same language. Talk about "economy of means!"

Here's the first kicker:

...without forestalling what the Primates might say, I would repeat what I've said several times before - that any Diocese compliant with Windsor remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in The Episcopal Church. The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such. Those who are rushing into separatist solutions are, I think, weakening that basic conviction of Catholic theology and in a sense treating the provincial structure of The Episcopal Church as if it were the most important thing.

And then he drives it home with this:

I should feel a great deal happier, I must say, if those who are most eloquent for a traditionalist view in the United States showed a fuller understanding of the need to regard the Bishop and the Diocese as the primary locus of ecclesial identity rather than the abstract reality of the 'national church'.

Now, the immediate objects of his remarks are the incipient separatists in Central Florida. (My former confrères in San Joaquin should also take serious note.) But his point about Catholic ecclesiology--that the diocese and bishop constitute the fundamental unit of the Church, is, I promise you, going to waken the sleeping hornets in the "progressive" General Convention supremacist camp--those who assert the "unitary" character of the Episcopal Church in distinction to any "free association of dioceses" theory.

This may be the clearest word that Rowan Williams has yet offered in this whole saga since he assumed office. I welcome it. It doesn't provide wiggle room to either extreme. It invites them to own their positions honestly, and consider the realistic consequences of those positions. What a breath of fresh air.

New Hometown Pride

During the thirteen years we lived in Stockton, California (population about 325,000), one of the amenities Dearest Dragonfly and I grew to enjoy was the local music scene. We held season tickets to the Stockton Symphony, attended programs of the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music, supported the Stockton Opera Association productions, and, of course, we both, in our own way, were "key players" in the development of the St John's Chamber Orchestra festival.

Consequently, when we were called to our new home of Warsaw, Indiana (population about 15,000), we took it for granted that we would have to get a periodic fix of live music by traveling either to Fort Wayne (38 miles SE), South Bend (50 miles NW), or Chicago (120 miles NW).

Not necessarily so! While we do hope to avail ourselves of opportunities in those venues, we have, to our astonishment, learned that there is a great deal to keep up culturally occupied right here in the Warsaw-Winona Lake area. The most recent such discovery came this past Friday night at the season opening concert of the Symphony of the Lakes. Yes, you read that correctly, a community of 15,000 (OK, a county population base of some 70,000--but still) able to put a full philharmonic complement of strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion on it own hometown stage (Grace College's Rodeheaver Auditorium, named for storied evangelist Billy Sunday's song leader, Homer Rodeheaver--do look at this link; the guy is a larger-than-life character).

A number of the musicians were no doubt "ringers" from some of the aforementioned larger cities. And there was a certain roughhewnness to the sound at times (getting a section of even quite good string players to play in tune and precisely together is the bugaboo of all orchestral conductors). Nonetheless, it is a remarkable achievement, and one we never expected to witness a mere ten minute drive from our pastoral pondside home.

Perhaps most remarkable of all, the program was free to the public. There was the usual section of reserved seats for sponsors and patrons, but there was no admission charged to walk-ins at the door. That represents some pretty savvy promotion and financial management. And it was a delightfully family-friendly event, with lots of children present, all of whom were exceptionally well-behaved, even in view of the fact that kazoos were distributed during the intermission!

The theme of the program was "Meet the Instruments." Before the concert, there was an "instrument petting zoo," which was exactly what it sounds like. After an opening number that showcased the entire orchestra (the prelude to Wagner's Die Meistersinger--which I could have conducted myself with barely any rehearsal, so etched is it my brain from high school band days), the brass family was represented by the opening movement of Mozart's 4th horn concerto, but not before a demonstration, using a length of ordinary garden hose, a plastic, funnel, and a trombone mouthpiece, of the french horn's rustic origins. Similarly, before the first movement of the Mozart flute concerto, there was a demonstration involving a six pack of root beer bottles filled with varying levels of water. While the purist in me winces, not at the demonstrations, but at the abridgment of three-movement concertos, I have to admit that, with the shrinking and graying audience for classical music in the U.S., some coloring outside the lines is probably a good thing.

After a percussion-dominated arrangement of Khachaturian's energetic Saber Dance, and the intermission, the program concluded with Bruch's violin concerto (all three movements this time), which was masterfully performed by Albanian-born Winona Lake resident Gert Kumi.

Our jaws are on the ground. Warsaw rocks!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Residual HOB Buckshot

I've already weighed in collaboratively on the work of the House of Bishops last week in New Orleans, and I continue to stand by that analysis. But it seems to be a bone that invites continual gnawing.

I cannot deny that the bishops did not do what I would have wished they would do. I wish they would have said, in effect, "We finally get it that the General Convention exceeded its competence by confirming the New Hampshire election and passing C051 ('within the bounds of our common life') back in 2003, and we have been fully complicit in that inappropriate behavior. We repent, and will do all in our power to influence the next General Convention to abide by the received teaching of the Anglican Communion with respect to human sexuality."

No, I don't see any pigs flying either. That's why I said "wish" rather than "hope."

And neither did they take an action that was very much within their grasp, had they been able to summon the will to hold onto it--to wit: Implementing a proposal floated by one of their own number, Bishop John Howe of Central Florida, and articulated in cyberspace by Dr Ephraim Radner of the Anglican Communion Institute, by which the majority of TEC's bishops would have voluntarily recused themselves from participation in the next Lambeth Conference and erected an infrastructure that would have put actual pressure (as distinguished from protracted nagging) on the Common Cause Partners and their offshore sponsors to cease and desist.

So, the bishops did not do what they should have done (in my opinion) nor what they might have done. Did they therefore fail in their endeavor? No, I do not think they did. I believe that, as a group, they accomplished exactly what was possible--no more and no less--for that precise group to accomplish. They did the best they could, and therefore deserve no censure. They are not bad people, nor are they disingenuous. (OK, one bishop's puzzled look when questioned about same-sex blessings going on in his diocese is a little...ahem...amusing.) Nor are they incompetent. It's just a rather impossible situation.

The Church will have to live with the ramifications of the work our bishops did, along with lots of other ramifications, as this ecclesial crisis continues to unfold. I do wish that all parties to the conflict could "seriously lay to heart the great dangers we are in" by reason of our "unhappy divisions." A lot less rhetorical and political posturing and a lot more willingness to give the benefit of the doubt might not bridge the gap, but would go a long way toward helping us carry this cross with a clear conscience.