Wednesday, September 24, 2008

back in the day ...

... the team that had the best record in the National League was deemed to have "won the pennant," and had a dugout reserved for them at the World Series. 

I'm just sayin'.

In these days of revisionist heresy in baseball (night games, designated hitters, interleague play ... what's next? aluminum bats?), things are more complicated and just being the best for 162 games isn't good enough. You've got to get lucky (let's face it, in post-season play, that's pretty much what it comes down to) seven more times, and then be still playing baseball when the aroma of Thanksgiving turkey is practically in the air.

On that one, just follow the money.

But it seemed inappropriate not to at least observe publicly (as public as this blog is, at any rate) that the Chicago National League Ball Club of 2008 has accomplished what none of their predecessors managed to do for the previous 62 seasons--put up the best record in the National League. 

Whatever happens next week (and I still remain fully optimistic), you can't take that one away.

Eamus Catuli.

Monday, September 22, 2008

On the Art of Abandoning Hope

I try to hold charity as a default disposition. I try to assume the best about people, and to give every possible benefit of the doubt. I am not inherently suspicious, nor am I easily offended personally (it can be done, but you have to really want to). I try to be irenic and empathetic in my discourse, particularly my public discourse (I do have some unguarded moments among close friends), and particularly when I am engaging those with whom I have strong disagreements. I live up to these ideals with varying degrees of success, something that probably comes as no surprise to you if you are a regular reader of this irregular blog. However, trusted feedback from multiple sources over a sustained length of time tells me that I succeed more often than I fail.

I mention all this in an attempt to set the context for some reflections on what transpired last week in the House of Bishops, and then on the larger Anglican scene. It is probably a good thing (for my soul's health, that is) that I was away from home and without constant internet access when the news broke about the deposition (once again, canonically flawed) of the Bishop of Pittsburgh. Since getting back home on Friday, I've been able to absorb both the news itself and bits and pieces of analysis and commentary. There is little of either that is very surprising—save, perhaps, for the fact that there were indeed 35 bishops who voted No, some prominent "progressives" among them. And even though the raw vote seems overwhelming (87-35-5), when you limit the statistical pool to Bishops Diocesan (i.e. excluding Suffragans, Coadjutors, Assistants, and retired), only a slight majority voted to depose Bishop Duncan. What this disparity means I am not prepared to say, but it is certainly worthy of note.

Anyway, the deed is done—for all practical purposes, at any rate, Bishop Duncan having decamped to the Southern Cone within hours of the vote, and two-thirds or so of his diocese poised to follow him there in a matter of weeks. This makes me angry and sad, on numerous levels.

First, I am dismayed that Bishop Duncan has taken several actions that he has. Now, I should say, I count myself generally among his admirers. I don't know him well, but I've met him and spent time around him on several occasions. I find him humble and prayerful and, frankly, suffused with an inner joy that transcends the rigors to which his vocation of leadership subjects him. In "normal" circumstances, I would be proud to have him as my bishop. But, in the midst of the fray, he has seemed to abet rhetoric that, while intended to galvanize his "base" (to borrow a term from secular political discourse), has also galvanized the opposition by crossing the line into inflammatory polemical hyperbole. I refer particularly to the Choose This Day DVD that received wide circulation some years ago, but which many Episcopalians who consider themselves creedally orthodox, even right-of-center, found wounding and offensive, making it counter-productive to the larger cause that all "reasserters" share. And, speaking of that cause, and as I have made clear numerous times, I lament the decision to which Bishop Duncan has led his diocese. I greatly empathize with the reasons behind it, but believe it does more harm than good in the larger project of stabilizing worldwide Anglicanism in its proper theological and ecclesiological roots.

But the bulk of my sadness and anger is reserved for the Presiding Bishop and those who have attempted to buttress her course of action. No, I'm not a lawyer and I've never played one on TV. But I do read and write English with a modicum of fluency. I know what lots of words mean. I can diagram sentences. And I can spot ambiguity from a mile away. There is nothing ambiguous about Canon IV.9. That the HOB's lawyer-bishops cast aside common sense in order to "find" ambiguity that they could then resolve in favor of the Presiding Bishop's desires is to their shame. So … shame on them. As a result of their work, the best hermeneutical tool for understanding the polity and discipline of the Episcopal Church these days is, alas, Alice in Wonderland, where words mean only what those in power say they mean.

I am also sad and angry—well, mystified might be a more accurate term—at the tunnel vision of the HOB majority. It is actually doing harm to their own cause. Before they took on the Duncan matter, our bishops took some time to bask in the afterglow of the Lambeth Conference, wherein they made lots of new friends and reached deeper levels of mutual understanding with their episcopal peers from other provinces. So it is incredible to me that they cannot see how their action in deposing Bishop Duncan is likely to be interpreted abroad as a pre-emptive purge of an annoying colleague, convicting a man for what he thinks and plans rather than for what he has done (shades of the film Minority Report), yet another example of TEC's "progressive" juggernaut steamrolling all opposition. Even a lowly parish priest in a backwater small town such as myself knows the truth of the maxim "Perception is reality." How can our purple-shirted friends be so clueless?

The rapidity with which the verities—the "old eternal rocks" (per St Patrick)—of the American financial system have vaporized over the past week seems an apt parallel—in a condensed, fast-forward sort of way—to the ongoing meltdown of everything we only recently took for granted about the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. It is slowly but surely sinking in to this Anglo-Catholic's brain that the Episcopal Church may well not survive. Oh, there will doubtless be an institutional entity by that name long after my bones have assumed the ambient temperature of the surrounding earth. But it will no longer be that which I and many others believed we were embracing when we joined up—that is, a local (national) manifestation of the historic diversity of Anglicanism: grounded in Catholic faith and order, renewed by evangelical fervor, and, yes, maintaining an intellectual capaciousness that allows fuzziness where clarity is not essential. The trajectory of my church is one of growing insularity and isolation—indeed, isolationism, driven by a notion of justice that is so overwrought as to be no longer recognizably linked to the Christian moral virtue of the same name.

Moreover, it must be admitted, Anglicanism itself may not survive. That's a terrifying prospect for me, because I believe myself to have an "Anglican soul," if there can be said to be such a thing. Rome has its attractions, and if I had my 'druthers I would die in communion with the See of Peter without having renounced my Anglican identity. But if Anglicanism were to simply implode as a viable option for one who wants to be a Catholic Christian, I would be truly bereft. I do remain hopeful on this front, but it is good to face reality, and develop the skill of not making an idol of anything, even something as fine and life-giving as the Anglican tradition.

Of this much I am fairly certain: The picture will get darker and more confusing for orthodox Anglicans in the U.S. before it gets lighter and clearer. I can't even in all honesty bring myself to say something encouraging like "This is the darkness just before dawn." The truth is, things can, in fact, get a lot darker than they are now. We can pretty much count on that happening. It is a time for letting go of expectations, not with pollyannish nostrums that a deus ex machina will rescue us, but with a willingness to be conformed to the shape of the cross. A passage from a meditation by the late James Griffiss, priest and seminary professor, seems apt here:

How easy it is for us to be deceived about hope. What we want to believe is that God will work out everything for our good in the end. The way may be difficult; things may get bad at times, but in the end all will be well. And sometimes, indeed, it does happen that way, and we are deceived all the more. We even try to do it with Jesus himself. We interpret his death according to our own understanding and our own idols: God made it alright for him, so he will make it alright for us. And so we avoid the cross and what it says, for it is not too difficult to turn the cross into that which puts God to the test. "I am your son, your chosen one, surely you are not going to abandon me now." We can imagine that Jesus might have said that, might perhaps have thought it, because we have said it so many times ourselves. ... The cross frees us from that temptation, and it is our only hope. ... The cross frees us from the sin of testing, because Jesus died there; it is the end. Nothing is left, nothing on which he or we can depend except the cross, and the cross offers us nothing, not even itself. It offers only the God who led Jesus there and who leads us there to be crucified with him. (From A Silent Path to God.)

Hope that is a Christian virtue is hope that has been smelted in the crucible of the cross. And before we can embrace such true hope, we must renounce the idol of false hope.

In the meantime, how shall we then live? (Here I speak from my own position as a pastor and priest, hoping that what I say can be "translated" by those in other vocations.) Of this much I am equally certain: I am surrounded by people—people in my parish and people in the larger community—who are ravenous for good news in the midst of their fragmented lives, thirsty for the water of life, eager to both receive and give witness to the love and mercy of God in Christ. They are, at most, only marginally interested in the intricacies of ecclesial politics that appear so prominently on my computer screen, and, with occasional exceptions, it is possible to minister to their needs without involving them in those matters. My ordination vows as a priest include "tak[ing my] share in the councils of the Church." I intend to be faithful to that vow, and I see this haphazard blog as part of that effort. But I will also, God being my helper, never lose sight of my calling, equally part of my ordination vows, to be a living and authentic icon of Christ the Good Shepherd to all those who are and will be entrusted to my care.

Kyrie eleison.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Between Trips

I'm home now for the weekend, having returned yesterday from North Carolina for a meeting of the Brazil Bi-Lateral Committee and leaving Monday (driving, no less) for the greater Newark, NJ area for the annual gathering of a society of Anglican clergy to which I belong. 

About 49 years and one month ago, when I was about to turn eight years old, I was vacationing with my family as we visited relatives in the Houston suburb of Alvin. While there, we drove down to Galveston for a day at the beach, my first experience of the ocean at an age when I was able to form memories. I can clearly recall being impressed by my father diving into the surf. There are several other memories that stick with me from that late summer of 1959, but none moreso than sleeping on a cot upstairs in a fire station in Alvin during the night on which Hurricane Debra made landfall. The next day there were trees down all over the neighborhood, which an eight-year old boy, in typical fashion, thinks is pretty cool. The middle-aged man knows there's nothing "cool" about hurricanes (having endured Andrew in Baton Rouge in 1993). My heart is with those who suffer in the wake of Ike and Gustav and Hanna.

My time in North Carolina was quite interesting. It was a part of the country I had never visited before, and I always enjoy being near the sea. I will probably not say much about the substance of the Brazil Bi-Lateral Committe's work in this forum. It's difficult--well, impossible, actually--to be both an objective reporter and an honest evaluator of work in which one is involved personally. Suffice it to say that I was delighted to meet the "movers and shakers" of Brazilian Anglicanism, to make new friends, and to hear of the exciting missionary challenges that they face.

While I was away, something very bizarre happened to me. My g-mail account was maliciously hacked, and a Nigerian fund-raising scam (or what appeared to be such, at any rate) sent out, not to everyone in my address book, but just to some, and thereafter as a reply to any incoming mail. After a long bit of investigation, with help from people who are technically much savvier than I am, it seems crystal clear that this was no mere "phishing" expedition. It was not done robotically. Somebody targeted me specifically, discovered my password, and basically took over my g-mail account, changing some key settings. I have since taken it back (with a new and better-quality password, you can believe), but it is unnerving, to say the least, to think that someone a) could and b) would do such a thing.

The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church meets in Salt Lake City this week. The Presiding Bishop's office today released materials confirming that her plan is to put the question of deposing the Bishop of Pittsburgh before the House, using (abusing, actually) the canon designed for cases when a bishop leaves TEC for another faith community not in communion with "this church." This is not the place to rehash all the details. I have nothing original to contribute. But it bears noting yet again that the fact that she would even attempt such a thing, to say nothing of the fact that she will probably get away with it, is just one more corroboration that it is raw political power, and not the rule of law, that drives events in the Episcopal Church. She is covering herself, and all Episcopalians, with shame.

In the midst of all the silliness, it is a tremendous blessing to have the down-to-earthiness of parish ministry. Somebody has to care about all the crap that I care about, and it has fallen on me, among many others, to do so. It's important. But the good people whom I attempt to serve as a pastor have things to care about that are at the same time much more mundane and much more sublime than these other things. It is for my own soul's health, to say the very least, that I try to stand with them in putting flesh on the bones of gospel witness in Kosciusko County, Indiana.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Still Here

My blogging persona has been largely AWOL of late, owing to the demands of my day job (people getting sick and/or dying, beginning of parish program year, getting ready for some traveling, etc.) and real life in general (maintaining family relationships, getting stuff done around the house, etc.). This is better, I suppose, than not having anything to say. I've had plenty to say, just no time in which to say it! So, thanks to RSS feeds, the dozen or so people who look at this blog will know when I'm back in the groove. These things are cyclical. 

To all Cubs fans: I sincerely apologize for even posting what I did. I take full responsibility for the losing streak, and while I'm at it, for the ugly end to Sunday's game. Mea maxima culpa. I didn't mean for them to take me literally about "losing out." They specialize in trying to give a me stroke anyway. 

For those who follow the Anglican Soap Opera: Do, if you have not already, see the latest from the Anglican Communion Institute. I once planned to go to law school, but didn't, so I can't make any savvy comments. But it is, in any case, of major interest.

Tomorrow I head off to a conference center on the North Carolina coast, from which I return on Friday. It seems I am actually a member of the Brazil Bi-Lateral Committee (one bishop, two priests, one layperson, and an 815 handler--oops, staff officer), which is supposed to monitor and foster the covenanted relationship between the Episcopal Church and its Brazilian Anglican counterpart. We are meeting with our opposite numbers (same type of representation) from the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil. I've been seriously cramming on conversational Portuguese, in the hope that, since I actually am Brazilian, I'll be able to speak better Portuguese than any of my American colleagues. We'll see. 

So wish me boa viagem.