Monday, August 24, 2009

Love in a Time of Impasse

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is the latest to make news in the sexuality wars, and I am quite happy to let them have the limelight for a while. It was a little eerie to follow the story, as they were meeting at the Minneapolis Convention Center, where General Convention pulled the switch on Anglicanland's ongoing roller-coaster ride in 2003. I was there then, so I could picture the environment in my mind's eye. It is also eerie to read first reports of how the ELCA's decision is playing among those Lutherans who dissent from the majority position of their Churchwide Assembly. The refrains are all too familiar.

We are at an impasse. At certain levels, of course, the majority has spoken clearly and, as they say, "elections have consequences." But if we either zoom in or zoom out from either the Churhwide Assembly or the General Convention, the picture is murkier. One of the "consequences" of General Convention's "election" looks increasingly likely to be some degree of marginalization for the Episcopal Church in the councils of Anglicanism--the Archbishop's two-tier/two-track scenario--and an attendant effort by the minority within TEC to remain in Tier/Track One even while the church as a whole is consigned to Tier/Track Two. These consquences may strike many as abstract, far-removed and slow-moving. But they are quite real, and their effects at the level of "here and now" are already being felt. Communities of Christians--Episcopalians--who have an investment in one another--a history together, networks of deep friendships, shared joys and sorrows, godparents to one another's children--find themselves riven, on opposite sides of the Great Divide. They don't have the luxury, in any sense--nor, frankly, the desire, the stomach for it--of going separate ways. Yet, convictions are held very deeply, and whatever capacity there may once have been for pretending that the differences don't exist is evaporating very quickly.

To complicate matters even further, there is another dimension of disagreement that cuts obliquely and jaggedly across the scene. Is the Issue at Hand--i.e. the place of same-sex relationships in the discipline and sacramental life of the Church--an appropriate "ditch" in which to "die"? This is not a liberal-conservative split, but a question that divides liberals from liberals and conservatives from conservatives. We have seen this so far most clearly and painfully among conservatives ("reasserters," to use Kendall Harmon's helpful taxonomy). The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is filled with reasserters who answer the "ditch" question in the affirmative; anyone who advocates for anything other than heterosexual marriage as an acceptable ethical context for sexual activity has stepped out of bounds, and there is no imperative to remain in communion with such people. The Communion Partners (bishops and rectors) represent those reasserters who do not believe it is necessarily a church-dividng issue, and who thus seek to stay in relationship (albeit a differentiated one) with the Episcopal Church, fully within the structure of its constitution and canons.

But the self-styled "progressives" ("reappraisers" in Harmon's parlance), are not immune from this dimension of the conflict. There are those within dioceses and/or parishes that tilt in a reasserter direction who are immensely troubled, and who wonder whether they are providing "aid and comfort to the enemy"--cooperating with the purveyors of injustice and bigotry--by their mere continued presence and participation in ministry and mission. Some have withdrawn altogether; others have pulled back from positions of leadership. Still other reppraisers who are at odds with their parochial and diocesan contexts have found themselves able to "suck it up and soldier on," believing that there is still more that unites us than there is that divides us.

Of course, both reasserters who remain in TEC and reappraisers who remain in cooperative relationships with reasserting leaders do so at the cost of some credibility among those with whom they are in fundamental agreement on The Issue.

So we are at an impasse. How then shall we live?

I suppose I have to acknowledge at the outset that any answers I might propose to this question are addressed only to those on either side of the Great Divide who have decided that it is neither necessary nor desirable to unchurch (or unchurch themselves from) those with whom they disagree. I'm not going to argue that prior question here. I'm speaking to that set of Episcopalians who want to keep the bridges in good repair even in the midst of our profound disagreements over issues that skirt perilously close to the boundary between adiaphora ("matter indifferent") and core doctrine.

No one likes to be at an impasse. But the first step in the direction of getting us out of this undesirable place is counterintuitive, and that is to accept it; indeed, to make friends with it, to learn to see this time of tension as a channel of grace. This means, of course, laying aside any expectation of persuading "them" to accept "our" correct point of view. Reappraisers tend to assume that time and momentum are on their side, and that if they're just patient, reasserters will quit reasserting what is demonstrably false and "come around" in due course. This attitude is, as a British diplomat might say, "unhelpful." But so any corresponding expectation among reasserters that any honest and thorough appraisal of scriptural and theological evidence can only lead to a conclusion that affirms the traditional understanding of sexual morality, and that we should therefore drop the question entirely. So I'm not suggesting that we should stop the converssation about sexuality; quite the opposite, we should keep talking. But "progress in negotiations" should not be an implicit condition for continued sacramental and ecclesial communion.

Thinking at the same time more tactically and more spiritually (ascetically?), I’m increasingly aware of our need to cultivate the habit of mutual generosity. This means, among other things, bending over backwards to give one another the benefit of the doubt as to motives and intentions, to resolve to jump to the best possible conclusion about another’s words and actions, rather than the worst. It means forgiving our brother or sister, not seven times, but, per Jesus, seventy times seven. It means learning to ask ourselves what in our “opponent’s” position we can learn from? How are they are gift to the whole? How are we all richer and more blessed because they and their views are among us? How are we challenged and called to stretch?

The key to this attitude of generosity is that it is indeed mutual—reciprocal, working both ways. It can’t just be something that we expect “them” to do. Times of conflict can turn into great opportunities for growth—indeed, times of blessing—if we can abandon a Win-Lose mentality. For what it’s worth, I am persuaded that, generations from now, neither “side” in the present conflict over sexuality will be proven “right.” Rather, I suspect that both sides will have been shown to be wrong. What our descendants will recognize as “right” will probably be something we are not now imagining. If we are who we say we are as the Church of Jesus Christ, and if the Gospel is what we believe it to be, we will persevere in humble generosity in anticipation of that day.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

If I Were a Software Engineer

Twenty years ago I was still getting settled into my new digs as curate and school chaplain at St Luke's, Baton Rouge. I had a computer at home, the one that had gotten me through seminary. (It was an original IMB PC, with dual 5.25" floppy drives. WordPerfect was the only software I ever ran.) If I needed to use a computer while on church premises, I had to make nice with the office staff and use one of theirs when they were away for something. My personal organizational tools consisted of a Rolodex, a pocket liturgical calendar, a small desk calendar (I "synced" the two manually), and a pad of sheets labeled "Dumb things I gotta do," or some such. The internet was still at least five years away from being on the common persons's horizon.

Some four years later, by then in my second cure, a small parish across town from St Luke's, I stepped up to the Franklin Planner, a marvelously integrated personal management system contained in one very solemn-looking ("Monarch" size) black leather seven-ring binder. Carrying that thing around (and feeling like I would need to open a vein should I ever lose it), I impressed even myself.

That held me for about the next eight years, but I eventually went paperless, all of a sudden, in 2001, with the purchase of my first laptop, which, when asked nicely, talked to my Palm Pilot PDA. And I have never looked back. As much as I loved my Franklin Planner, moving beyond it was a good decision for me.

So that's how I became addicted to Microsoft Outlook. It came automatically loaded on my Dell Inspiron laptop (running Windows 2000). For a while I used Franklin's (by that time Franklin Covey) proprietary software, but soon acquired F-C's Plan Plus for Outlook, an add-on that brings a more robust functionality to the process of task planning. (It does other things as well, but that's pretty much what I wanted it for.) This arrangement served me quite well for a number of years, and despite occasional techno-glitches with a succession of devices that succeeded the Palm Pilot, I was relatively techno-happy.

Then, two years ago, I moved to my present venue, where they had (and indeed still have) a fancy arrangement known as a Microsoft Exchange Server. Danger, Will Robinson: Unless you're part of a large organization that has an in-house IT staff, don't ever get a Microsoft Exchange Server. It's like the Borg: It will assimilate you. Resistance is futile. Outlook suddenly stopped playing nice with PlanPlus, even though I purchased and installed a series of upgrades, thinking, "Maybe they've finally worked out the bugs." Data would evaporate from my hard drive, only to turn up later somewhere on the server--or not, sometimes. Syncing became a nightmare of caprice, never working the same way twice. I almost bought a Mac--that's how bad it got!

Now, I am pleased to say, I am a recovering Outlook addict, with nearly two months of Outlook sobriety behind me. It's getting easier every day. Naturally, you are intensely curious as to how I actually have a life without Microsoft Outlook (and, for that matter, Microsoft Exchange). Well, here's how:

I've gone to Google Calendar for my calendar needs. In fact, the whole office has. Nobody uses Outlook. It's easy, it's free, and it does the job. Plus, I can access it on any computer in the world with an internet connection.

I made friends with Gmail's user interface. I've had a Gmail account for quite some time, but always found their interface a little off-putting, preferring to download my messages into client software ... like Outlook. (I had a brief flirtation with Thunderbird, but the Borg sucked me back in.) But a little tenacity has paid off, and Gmail's highly functional (and always improving) interface has won me over. I now prefer it to any client software that I've seen.

I exported my Outlook contacts into Gmail's contacts. Very easily done, and all my contact information is a click away from my inbox.

For task management, I signed up for a Nozbe account. It costs me $14/month, but I could chop that by 75% with a two-year commitment, and I expect I will do so very soon. Nozbe is based on the Getting Things Done method of task management. I should probably actually read the book, but a series of very helpful training videos takes the pressure off needing to do so. Nozbe has an iGoogle version that I have conveniently embedded on my iGoogle home page (which I use on the desktop computer at home).

I signed up for an account (free) with Evernote, and downloaded their desktop software. Evernote replaces the Notes function in Outlook, but is a great deal more robust in its features. I have only yet begun to explore its capabilities, and expect to be using it much more than I even am at present.

I bought an iPhone. Best technological decision I have ever made. It has been a quantum leap in the experience of personal management. I used to dread the thought of receiving email on my phone, since I have a difficult time managing one inbox, let alone two. But the syncing is seamless and in real time. When I "manage" my inbox in one place, it's taken care of in the other. The same goes, of course, for contacts and calendar. Nozbe and Evernote both have iPhone apps, so I'm able to capture ideas and tasks right when they come to me, literally anyplace except the shower (which is still a problem, since a lot of ideas come to me in the shower!).

So what do I miss about Outlook? Three things, really:
1) Outlook is pretty. The Office 2007 version, running on Vista, is really quite visually attractive. Google, for all its imaginative functionality, still hasn't come up with anything quite so aestheticallyt appealing.
2) Outlook's calendar features are almost infinitely flexible and adaptable. I miss being able to schedule a repeating task or event in virtually any way I can imagine, and being able to color-code different categories of events. I hope both Google and Nozbe begin to catch up in these areas.
3) Outlook is integrated. I admit, that appeals to me perhaps more in concept than in actual execution, but it's something I miss.

So ... if I were a software engineer, I would be going after the Holy Grail of personal management: An integrated one-stop application that is stunningly beautiful, feature-rich and customizable, with seamless syncing between its resident app, its web-based mirror, and its iPhone app--the best of all possible worlds. OK, all you wonks, get to work!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Detestable Enormities?

In this era of Anglican fissiparation--something really quite unprecedented since Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy in 1534--the temptation to articulate some sort of Anglican taxonomy is almost irresistable. Communion Conservatives, Federal Conservatives, Institutional Liberals, Ideological Liberals, WWAC, ACNA, AMiA, CANA, TAC, CP--no wonder the secular media are so confused. We need a scorecard by which to tell the players.

Of course, it is tempting to wax nostalgic about a simpler era when all we had to keep track of was High & Crazy, Low & Lazy, and Broad & Hazy. There were some fuzzy borders between these three Anglican world views, and a fair amount of breadth within them, but there seemed to be certain assumptions and pre-suppositions about each that we could take as axiomatic.

When I embraced Anglicanism (and the Episcopal Church) some 35 years ago, I entered, so to speak, through the High & Crazy door. This no doubt affected my ecumenical outlook, particularly in the direction of Rome and the Eastern Rite churches. They were our "Catholic cousins"--you know, the old "branch theory" ecclesiology from the halcyon years of Victorian Anglo-Catholicism. The Church of Rome was our Mother. The Reformation may have been necesssary, but it was a necessary evil. Any schism is evil. And in England, of course, it was as much (or more) a political event as a religious one. Since the Catholic Revival of the 19th century, and in the light of Vatican II, there is more and more convergence between Anglicanism and Rome, and with a little more patient endurance, we can look forward to organic reconciliation.

So went the narrative, at any rate. Sadly, it appears to have been a high water mark in ecumenical relations that will probably not be equalled in my lifetime. As I monitor cyber-traffic, in fact (which I do a fair amount of, though I know there are those who process much more), I am disturbed to notice a resurgence of anti-Roman polemic among some Episcopalians. It doesn't come from the traditional source, however, which would be the Low & Lazy contingent (i.e. Evangelicals). No, this time it emanates from our Broad & Hazy friends (aka "progressives").

Most recently, Episcopalian anti-Roman bile seems to be in reaction to reports like this one, which calls attention to the subtle but unmistakable Romeward ecumenical gestures that are present in the Archbishop of Canterbury's post-General Convention reflections. I can't help but notice the irony in listening to Episcopalian liberals wrap themselves in the rhetoric of the Reformation as they protest (thus making them, generically, "protestants") what they perceive as Archbishop Rowan's inappropriate fawning toward the Holy See. Invariably, it isn't long before they bring up the sexual abuse scandals that have made headlines over the last decade, as if that anomalous dysfunction can negate everything else that the Roman Catholic Church is and stands for. One expects the next General Convention to entertain a resolution that the petition "From the Bishop of Rome and all his detestable enormities, Good Lord deliver us" be restored to the Great Litany!


I have often said that I am a Christian by call, a Catholic by conviction, an Anglican by preference, and an Episcopalian for the sake of expediency. That is to say, in terms of the subject at hand, that I choose to be an Anglican because I believe myself to have, if there is such a thing, an "Anglican soul." The temperament, the ethos, the spiritual tradition of Anglicanism seems to me to have the best prospect, over time, of making me holy and fitting me for Heaven. And since I am "Anglican by preference," I can't actually be some other kind of Christian, including a Roman Catholic Christian.

But I have nothing against Roman Catholicism. I do not believe it to be a false religion, something to be eschewed or avoided. I hold that Church in the highest regard, and am a huge admirer of the present Pope and his predecessor. I have not exhaustively read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but I cannot imagine that there is anything of substance in it that I could not wrap my mind and heart around if it were necessary for me to do so. Although I don't expect to see it happen, nothing would give me greater joy than to be part of some body of canonical (that is to say, Canterburian) Anglicans that is sacramentally reconciled with the Holy See before I die.

Moreover, I would contend that my own position is not on the margins of Anglican thought, practice, and ecclesiology, but, rather, squarely in the mainstream. The kind of Rome-bashing that is going on in some quarters of the Episcopal Church is inherently un-Anglican in character, and not worthy of those who purvey it. Beyond making awfully strange bedfellows of American TEC liberals and Sydney-style evangelicals, it's just a smokescreen for the trenchant refusal of the General Convention majority to understand autonomy as having meaning only in the context of accountability-in-communion. It's much too Catholic a notion for them.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Political Challenge of Catholic Anglicanism

On the Sunday evening that fell during General Convention, it was my privilege to serve as a panelist in a roundtable discussion sponsored by The Living Church. The subject was The Promise of Catholic Anglicanism. What follows is not a transcript of what I said on that occasion, but a fleshed out version of the notes from which I spoke.

I’ve been asked to bring some remarks on the theme of this event—The Promise of Catholic Anglicanism—by putting it in a very specific context—the context of politics. I should say that my wife regularly scolds me for using any form of the word “politics” in a churchly context, for idealistic reasons I would suspect are fairly obvious. But she’s not here, so I am at some liberty if you all promise not to tell!

Here we are, at a convention, an organism given shape—indeed, given life—by Rules of Order, resolutions, caucuses, shifting alliances between interest groups and their proxies, and, of course, votes. General Convention is an inescapably political animal, a manifestation of the polis—the laos—assembled and purpose-driven, with everything that the word implies: appealing, unsavory, or indifferent. When I was on a tour of the Holy Land earlier this year, our Israeli tour guide reminded us that “politics” (along with “police”) comes from the same Greek stem as “polite.” So I can affirm that the most robust political activity within the church can—and indeed must—be unfailingly polite.

It may help give my comments some perspective if I allow myself to be briefly autobiographical. I embraced the Episcopal Church some 35 years ago specifically to become an Anglican, and I embraced Anglicanism specifically in order to become a Catholic, and I embraced Catholicism specifically in order to find rest—intellectually and spiritually—in the glorious given-ness of the Christian revelation. You see, I was raised in a Christian tradition where I was expected to develop “my” theology of this or that, or whatever. I attended a Christian college that, in many ways reinforced this notion. I can remember an exchange of letters with a church friend from high school days in which the subject of eucharistic theology came up, and he wrote, “I just haven’t worked out my theology of Communion yet.” Well, neither had I. And while that remark—and the fact that I found it perfectly plausible—strikes me as strange now, it didn’t then. Indeed, sometimes it felt like I would need to write my own Summa before I could give a coherent account my faith to a stranger on a bus.

What I didn’t realize when I was in college is that “given-ness” is a deeply Catholic notion. The content of the faith is not what “I” conclude based on my painstaking research and spiritual discernment, but we “we” have been given. The phrase “faith once delivered” may be overworked and abused, but it makes the needful point. And the “we” that has been “given” the faith is ultimately something much larger than the Episcopal Church and much larger than the worldwide Anglican Communion. It is something kata holos—“according to the entirety”, i.e. Catholic.

The opposite of “Catholic,” then, is not “Protestant” or “Evangelical”, but anything that is not “of the whole” or “of the entirety”—that is, anything that is merely “sectarian” or “denominational.” I know we’re about to adopt a “denominational health plan” at this convention, but I get very nervous when that term is used of the Episcopal Church, because it denotes something fundamentally un-Catholic, and it would be tragic for us to think of ourselves in such terms.

So the urgent political task (I might suggest) of Catholic Anglicanism is to resist those forces that narrow and constrain the focus of our ecclesial sense of identity, in which the “we” to which we are accountable becomes nothing larger than … this convention! This raises some quite highly-charged questions—political questions. For instance, it raises the question whether the Episcopal Church is a unitary organism or a voluntary confederation of dioceses. Unfortunately, the secular courts are being forced into deciding this question for us, but regardless of what they decide, the theological issue remains on the table. It raises the question of what the preamble to our constitution, wherein our identity as a church is constitutionally linked to something larger, actually means. And it raises the question of the evolving character of the relations between provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the emerging Covenant document that has been on all our minds.

This is a daunting political agenda, because the center-of-gravity in our common mindset has already slid, I’m afraid, quite far in the direction of sectarian denominationalism. We see a grasping at autonomy and the denial of any accountability beyond the concurred actions of the two houses of this convention. We see a tendency to evade accountability through appeals to “our polity”, with the subtext that our polity is not only “ours,” but inherently superior to that of our sister churches. We see an almost obsessive attachment to certain aspects of our baptismal liturgy in such a way that not only rips them out of context in reference to the rest of our own Prayer Book, but also in reference to the Catholic tradition to which we owe our identity. And this, in turn, leads to an idiosyncratic notion of “baptismal ecclesiology” that is cultured in isolation from the larger tradition, and therefore grows more sectarian and denominational (and therefore less Catholic) with every iteration.

I suspect I’ve now already stirred up enough angry hornets, so I’ll quit!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

An Age of Irony

It's six days now since returning to green Indiana after three-and-a-half weeks on the mostly brown west coast. The fact that I am back to blogging means that I have pretty much resurfaced; the infrastructure of my life (I am a creature of routine if there ever was one) is back up and running. At a macro level, I am immeasurably blessed and grateful; I love my life. At a micro level, things are ... well ... interesting.

One of the tidbits of reality that was impressed on me at the recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church is how many lives my "ministry of the word" touches--whether at this venue, or over on Covenant, or on the General Convention listserv (the venerable, and often toxic, "HoB/D"). The number of people who sought me out to thank me for what I do in cyberspace was both surprising and amazing.

My day job, of course, is as a parish priest; I'm rector of an extraordinarily well-resourced (in every way) congregation in small-town middle America. For the most part, my day-to-day pastoral and administrative duties don't intersect much with my life in cyberspace, which, for better or worse, is dominated by the conflicted state of ecclesiastical politics in the Anglican world. In fact, I probably tilt in the direction of shielding my flock from the unsavoriness of church politics and the issues that drive it. The everyday joys and sorrows that I share with my parishioners are, in a sense, much more "real" than the subtleties of the Windsor Process, the balance between the Instruments of Unity, and the tortuous legislative machinations of General Convention.

At times, however--and this is one of them--the planets are aligned such that my worlds collide. And I am thereby learning a great deal about the embedded ironies in our church-political and pastoral landscapes.

All during convention--during my short-lived and ill-fated candidacy for Executive Council, and again as it became clear that I would be, very visibly and vocally, on the losing side of the two major controversial votes--a steady stream of people from the "majority party" approached me and, with great sincerity which I have no doubt was genuine, assured me of their personal esteem for me, that they are grateful for my presence in the Episcopal Church, and that my (minority) voice is one that they value, and that needs to continue to be heard. One evening, after a two-martini dinner rendered my demeanor a trifle less guarded than is my wont, I responded to the effect that, "Yes, I would love to be your token conservative." (That was the evening of the day that C056, the second hammer-blow, was concurred by the House of Deputies.)

But before I got too deep into the pity party, a friend reminded me of the larger perspective--namely, that what is the undisputed minority view on matters of sexual ethics within the Episcopal Church is manifestly the majority view in the larger Anglican Communion, to say nothing of the wider Christian world. So I immediately began to turn the tables on my "progressive" friends, wasting no opportunity to remind them how glad I am I that they're part of the Anglican Communion, how important it is that the majority hear their voice, and how much I hope "we" can find a way for "them" to remain with "us." I got to be magnanimous in victory, and discovered that it felt a whole lot better than being gracious in defeat.

Then (after a vacation interval) I came home. I came home to a parish community that includes the full range of views on contrverted questions--both reactive and reflective, in both directions. This was the case long before my arrival on the scene two years ago, and, from the moment I met them, I have always been impressed by these people for the very reason that the first Christians impressed the pagan world around them: "See how they love one another." Some of the strongest friendships in the parish are across the Great Divide. Somehow we have heretofore managed to live our lives and do ministry and look beyond the divisive issues. It isn't like we've had zero casualties. We've taken some hits, losing a handful of households off our right flank and probably losing the same number off our left flank by simply never gaining them in the first place. But, I am grateful to say, there has been a core that is committed to maintaining unity in the midst of diversity.

That committed core is being put to the test in the wake of the Anaheim convention, and I am veritably bathing in irony as I attempt to shepherd them through it. Some (at least) of my "progressives" (some quite key people in the life of the parish) are on the "winning" side of General Convention, but, I suspect (still haven't debriefed them completely), are feeling deprived of savoring their victory because both their rector and their bishop opposed the big decisions of the convention, and there is no foreseeable prospect of any same-sex unions being publicly recognized and blessed either in the parish or the diocese.

And the irony is this: I find words on the tip of my tongue that are effectively the same as the affirmations my "progressive" friends sent my direction in Anaheim, which, while authentic, I found distinctly off-putting. I see parishioners who are "winners" when TEC is the universe under consideration, but "losers" when that universe is the diocese or parish or worldwide communion, and I (as a local and communion-wide "winner" but provincial "loser") want to tell them how much I value them and their contribution to our mission and ministry (which I do from the bottom of my heart), but I grope and struggle for a way to say as much that doesn't just sound patronizing, because I know all too well what it feels like to hear those words from a position of powerlessness, to feel profoundly victimized.

I am also challenged by the rather more numerous conservative "wing" of my congregation. Part of my response, I think, is to make them aware of the levels of irony that are in play. In the near term, they can take some relief that they have a sympathetic rector and bishop. But they're smart enough to realize that rectors and bishops come and go, so there's only limited comfort I can offer. I also need to gently lead them away from their most reptilian instincts, and help them affirm that we will be a community that welcomes everyone to participate fully in our life together, even as we respect appropriate boundaries on those things to which we will presume to invoke God's blessing.

If, a couple of generations from now, when the remains of the Baby Boomers are inhabiting columbaria across the land, in God's mercy these present wars have become the proverbial "thing of the past," one "take away" I hope our descendants might enjoy is some skill in dealing with their own experience of irony, from whencever it might arise. Knowing how to behave in both victory and defeat, especially when they come at the same time, does not exactly come naturally. I hope somebody profits from our experience.