Monday, June 22, 2009

Mixed Feelings

I'm on a brief bit of vacation, and about to head to the airport and NYC until late Thursday night. (Eldest Child lives there.)

Meanwhile, there's this Big Meeting in Bedford, Texas. I can't write a huge amount right now, and may not have that much profound to say anyway. But I just need to go on record that I simultaneously 1) don't think it had to come to this, and am pretty clear about my vocation to remain an Episcopalian; and 2) wish the folks well. They're my friends. I'm happy that they're excited about what they're doing, and hope they heed my repeated hope that we all "walk apart close together."

Off to Gotham.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Postscript on HWHM

My upstream post on the proposed revision of Lesser Feasts & Fasts--styled Holy Women, Holy Men--has generated a fair amount of attention, especially on HoB/D, thanks to a boost from a member of that community. Initially, the comments were nearly unanimously in agreement with my assessment that the work is still immature and definitely not ready for prime time. I found it particularly intresting that these responses cut across the usual ideological lines; it's not just a "conservative" issue.

I will attempt not to repeat the points I made in my earlier post, as I think they still pertain. But one of the commenters hit a bullseye with her observation that the proposed additions represent not so much "holy women and holy men" as "decent people who tried to do good things." Another voice keeps raising the question of Henry Purcell: He was by any stretch an accomplished musician and a pivotal figure in the development of Anglican church music. But was he noted for the strength of his Christian piety or the heroism of his spiritual discipline? Does he have, to use the technical vocabuly of the sanctoral calender biz, a "cult"? If the answer is No, then why is he there, rather than any number of other important English musicians, such as, say, S.S. Wesley, or Stanford, or Parry, or Vaughan Williams or Howells? And this is not so much about who anyone's favortie Anglican composer is; it's about the disconnect between the SCLM's stated criteria for inclusion and many of the names they actually propose for inclusion.

More lately, a couple of SCLM members have weighed in, for which I am grateful. They point out that the wholesale revision of LF&F, as opposed to a continuing gradual tweaking, is a response to the request of General Convention itself in 2003, re-affirmed in 2006. Ah, yes, but it's not that simple. In both those years, the relevant resolutions were A-resolutions, which means the originated from one the bodies that pursues convention's work during the intervening three years. So what we did, in fact, in both cases, was simply ratify the SCLM's own agenda for reform. To say, "We only giving you what you asked for" seems a little disingenuous.

That said, I'm appreciative of the observation that HWHM presumes (and attempts to engender, I would suppose) a fundamental attitudinal change toward the place of any sanctoral calendar in the life of the church, stressing the "optional" in the label "days of optional observance," rather than "we all do all the days." Fine. This gets my attention, and gives me pause. I've always wanted to cherry-pick saints' days anyway. But more of a case needs to be made for this, and the Blue Book report doesn't make that case. In fact, the Blue Book report doesn't make much of any case. It just lays the 112 new ones out there, with a bare minimum of explanation, and no justification to speak of. If we're going to swallow this meal whole, we're going to need some stronger medicine than we've been given to help us digest it. Somebody needs to persuade me not merely that John Henry Newman and Fanny Crosby did some pretty impressive things as part of their Christian discipleship--I already think they're both pretty cool--but that we would not in fact be dishonoring them by including them in our calendar when Newman quite intentionally abandoned the Anglican fellowship and Crosby was in a tradition that would look askance, to say the least, at the very notion of the same. (Pretty clever to include "praising her Savior all the day long" in the collect, but how many Episcopalians even sing "Blessed Assurance"?) I guess what I'm saying is that we need to have the philosophical conversation about what a sanctoral calendar is before we start horse-trading on the particular names ("I'll live with Richard Baxter if you agree to get rid of John Calvin."). I realize the members of the SCLM feel like they've already had that conversation, but the rest of us weren't in the room to overhear. We need some more talkin' to.

Friday, June 12, 2009


The General Convention resolution of which I am a co-sponsor is now officially in the pipeline and has been given the name by which it will be known and referred to for the extent of its lifespan (however long that might be!): D020. It has been assigned to Legislative Committee #8 (World Mission), and the house of initial action is the House of Deputies.

Given the debacle that took place at the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Jamaica last month, one might be tempted to consider the matter somewhat moot. Quite the opposite is in fact the case, I believe.

The text of the resolution, of course, calls for the voluntary and provisional agreement of the Episcopal Church to abide by the terms of the most recent draft of the propsed covenant while we study what impact it may (or may not) have on our Constitution & Canons. If the ACC had actuallly endorsed the covenant and formally commended it, critics of D020 could well argue that its passage would nonetheless be a de facto acceptance on a permanent basis. But given what actually did transpire in Jamaica, that argument gets no traction.

Instead, with that pressure removed, General Convention is free to act in a way that is consistent with the generosity of spirit evinced in 2006 resolutions A159 (Commitment of Interdependence in the Anglican Communion), A160 (Expression of Regret), and A165 (Commitment to Windsor and Listening Process). If we indeed meant what we said in those resolutions, there is no plausible reason not to enact D020 in Anaheim.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Soundings from the Upper Peninsula

There will be no official declaration until next month sometime, but those who follow the matter closely have determined that a sufficient number of Standing Committees (i.e. more than half, which means 56+) have signaled their non-consent to the election of the Revd Kevin Thew Forrester as Bishop of Northern Michigan that the matter is effectively decided in the negative. Votes can always be changed until the 120-day time frame has expired (which, interestingly, will happen during General Convention, though the question will not come under that body's purview), but I haven't encountered any plausible scenarios under which that would take place.

I think it's safe to say that, even while we have seen this verdict emerging inexorably over the last several weeks, it is a development that observers from all ideological vantage points within North American Anglicanism find more than a little bit surprising. On the day the election (or, more accurately, perhaps, "discerned decision") was announced, few would have imagined it. Even when the first headlines about Forrester's "lay ordination" in Buddhism broke, the smart money would have been on eventual consent and consecration, with the usual conservative suspects howling along the path to the cathedral.

At first, it was the bishop-elect's connection to Buddhism that got all the attention. Then there was the unconventional manner in which the election process was carried out that raised a good bit of concern. But if those were the only issues, I think they would be decorating the hall for the post-consecration reception by now. What eventually turned the tide was the widespread realization, obvious for all to see in his own published works, that Father Thew Forrester interprets the fundamental symbols of the Paschal Mystery in ways that rob them of any substance that can be coherently reconciled with what the Church has understood them to mean for the last two millennia. Even thoughtful "progressives" can see that he proclaims "another gospel."

In the world of cyberspace, reaction has been largely muted. From the left, there has certainly been some gnashing of teeth, with cries of "assassination by internet," and dire warnings that future bishop-elect will have to be "vetted like Supreme Court nominees," and that therefore only "safe" candidates who won't do anything to upset the general ecclesiastical equilibrium (as if any such thing even exists) will ever get elected. But this sort of whining has been by way of a solo performance here or there, and never (as far as I can see, at least) a howling ensemble.

But this does not mean that there is open rejoicing on the starboard side of the vessel--well, there's no open rejoicing anywhere that I can tell, actually, but certainly not among what might be called the "hard right" (many or most of whom have already left the Episcopal Church anyway). My hunch is that, privately, there are a bunch of jaws on the floor waiting to be picked up while their owners try to assimilate and make sense of the information that even such dependable liberals as the Bishop and Standing Committee of the Diocese of Los Angeles are lined up in the No column. What could that possibly mean?

No, there is no dancing in the streets with this news, and that is probably as it should be. While I personally concur with the decision reached by a majority of the Standing Committees, Kevin Thew Forrester is by all accounts a gifted leader and the sort of person you would want to have as your friend and neighbor. He's a real human being with real feelings and this has got to hurt big time. His family is also hurting, as are the members of the diocese that chose him.

But if there's no partying, for good reason, there is definitely a huge sigh of relief, and maybe even a little bit of quiet hope. And where this relief and hope exists is among those who, while they stand clearly on one side or the other of the presently-divisive questions centering around sexuality, tend to congregate close enough to the center line that they can maintain relationship with those who are also close to the line, even if on the other side. Their relief and hope are grounded in the possibility that this emerging non-consent means that there are some channels where the mainstream of TEC will still not flow.

That may not at first look like a big deal, but it is. The liberal juggernaut of the last four decades has seemed like it respects no boundaries. So much of what was once unthinkable has become not only permissible but commonplace. The very notion that there is a commonly-respected fence, that it is indeed possible to wander too far afield theologically, is itself a bit of novelty, and feels like refreshing rain on a hot day. One may assert, as I myself would, that the Episcopal Church suffers from a massive case of collective amnesia. But the news from the Standing Committees hints at the possibility--a slim one, perhaps, but a real one nonetheless--that the memory loss is not total, and that a small piece of it has just been recovered. The market, as they say, has "found a bottom."