Monday, March 31, 2008

Keeping the Ball in Play

(Writing while I watch the Cubs' hope opener ... Zambrano looking magnificent so far.)

A poster over on HoB/D inquired of me, in a somewhat hostile tone, why, given that Bishops Schofield and Cox freely admit that they have left the communion of the Episcopal Church, do I (or anyone else) not simply let the matter rest and move on. This is what I wrote in reply:

"I'll tell you why the issue deserves to be kept in the forefront of "this Church"'s attention. It's all about due process, double standards, the appearance of duplicity, and the foundation of trust among members of the Episcopal Church. It is manifestly *not* about the outcome, so it is irrelevant that Bishops Cox and Schofield are not contesting the charge of abandonment. The outcome may be entirely appropriate, but the way that outcome was obtained is seriously (even if unintentionally) flawed, and that is more important than the outcome itself. As we all learned in grade school math, you can get the right answer, but if you can't show that you got there the right way, you don't get credit for solving that problem. It's the same principle that requires a judge to exclude illegally-obtained evidence from a trial, even if the exclusion of that evidence precludes arriving at an obviously proper verdict. Acquitting a guilty person today is a lesser evil than jeopardizing the rights of the innocent person who may stand trial tomorrow. Whatever we say about the church theologically, the instrumental means by which that theology is incarnated is the "glue" of trust and good will among the members of the community. I fear that this glue is being degraded at an exponential rate."

(Now there's a rain delay in the game.)

That same commenter then asked me what I actually hope to accomplish, and do I think I have any hope of success, and, if not, why do I persist? This is what I told him:

"The outcome I am seeking is to raise such an awareness of 815's abuse and misuse of canon law that there will eventually be irresistible pressure to go back and do things right, to wit: 1) Formally declare the deposition votes to have failed for lack of the required majority. The entire Title IV process needs to then be replayed. 2) Formally suspend all actions taken by the illegal convention of the Diocese of San Joaquin on 3/29/08. Request any remaining members of the duly elected Standing Committee, even if that number is only one, to appoint clerics and lay members to fill any vacancies. Then, in the event that Bishop Schofield's resignation is accepted or he is properly deposed, the Standing Committee should then call a special convention to elect an interim bishop and fill any other vacancies that the convention is competent to fill. ... I don't know [where I will be successful]. These are the early days of the effort. [I persist] because the cause of truth is never futile."

It doesn't take a very high IQ to see that the Jefferts Schori-Booth Beers strategy is to just keep silent and wait for the furor to die down and go away. They stand a very good chance of success, but I do not intend to help them.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Repeating Lies Does Not Add Up to Truth

From Episcopal Life's coverage of today's proceedings in San Joaquin:

Jefferts Schori had told the participants earlier that the convention had been called because Bishop John-David Schofield had been deposed or removed from his diocesan seat after having abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church, and because the Standing Committee removed because it took actions "which violated their ability to hold office in this church."

The first count is debatable, since the deposition of Bishop Schofield was canonically flawed--a reality clearly evident to any rational and literate person--and the second count is simply a lie. I hate to make such a bald statement, but there's no way around it. If the Standing Committee took any such disqualifying action, no one has yet named it. Quite the contrary, they took actions which clearly demonstrated their intention to act as the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese.

Tragically, the issue is almost moot--given that 815's abusive actions have driven most of the key players into the arms of either Bishop Venables or another offshore jurisdiction. But not quite: Father Rob Eaton reportedly showed up in Lodi and publicly protested his removal, reminding the convention that he was duly elected and never resigned his seat. Once again, the revolutionaries squandered an opportunity--handed to them veritably on a silver platter--to cloak themselves in some semblance of credibility, and go a long way toward proving their assertions of being in a reconciling mood. They could have seated Fr Eaton and elected only seven others. But wait ... that would actually have made sense.

Now We're Talkin'

My estimation of the Presiding Bishop's handling of certain aspects of her job is amply clear to anyone who reads this blog. I stand by my assessment that the way she has dealt with the difficult situation in San Joaquin, including what she is doing today, in defiance of the canons she is pledged to uphold, exhibits ineptitude at best and has the appearance of duplicity. (I reserve judgment on whether that appearance is a chimera or a reality.)

Nonetheless, since I took her to task a couple of weeks ago for reluctance (inability?) to speak of the verities of our ostensibly common faith in language that makes me--and many other Episcopalians--feel like we're actually in the same church with her, it is incumbent upon me to acknowledge when I hear such language, and encourage her to speak that way more often. What she is quoted as saying today to those gathered in Lodi, CA comes under that category:

1) Jesus is Lord. In the same sense that Jesus is Lord, and not Caesar, remember that no one else -- not any hierarch, not any ecclesiastical official, not any one of you, is Lord. We belong to God, whom we know in Jesus, and there is no other place we find the ground of our identity

2) We are all made in the image of God. Even when we can't see that image of God immediately, we are challenged to keep searching for it, especially in those who may call us enemy. There is pain and hurt here to be reconciled, and searching for the image of God in those we have offended and who have offended us is a central part of our reconciling vocation.

I can relate to these words. Others can too. I wish this were not the first time I have heard her speak this way, but I hope it's not the last.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Perfect Storm Brewing

There are storms and then there are monster storms--the sort that spring from an unlikely confluence of an array of separate unpredictable events. And the effect can be devastating. If you're an Anglican or have an interest in things Anglican, you may have thought you were traveling on rough seas already. (I've been one for 34 years, and I have yet to see conditions I would describe as placid.) But hold on. We ain't seen nuthin' yet.

What are the ingredients of this Perfect Storm? I'm not going to look for origins back at the dawn of creation itself, though Sin could certainly be named as a primary--and primal--element in the recipe. No, I think we can locate the first flap of the proverbial butterfly wing about 45o years ago, in the Elizabethan Settlement. In her desire to win and hold the loyalty of as many of her subjects as possible by allowing for a modest degree of elasticity in religious belief and practice, the Queen sowed the seeds of that distinctive quality of Anglicanism that is both its glory and its shame--on a good day, our much-vaunted comprehensiveness; on other days, enervating ambiguity of thought and expression.

Turning now to the Law of Unintended Consequences, we might find the next plank on our scaffold (yes, I'm mixing metaphors--deal with it) at the time of the American Revolution, when our colonist forebears acquired a fierce penchant for the appearance of democratic egalitarianism (actual reality is never as simple as appearances) in their political life, and imported those predilections into ecclesial life when they wrote the constitution and first canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America--appropriately enough, in 1789, the same year which produced the U.S. Constitution. Democratic procedures are not necessarily alien or inimical to Christianity, but they are not particularly native either. And the same goes for egalitarianism; the mainstream of the Christian tradition has tended to embrace hierarchy rather than eschew it. So what we have is an Episcopal Church infected with the virus of Americanism, and therefore unable to delineate between its Christian and Catholic identity and its American identity.

The next ingredient--another unintended consequence--is the culture of clubbishness (or, to put a more positive spin on it, collegiality) in the House of Bishops, not so much nowadays necessarily, but in the 1960s when the Bishop of California, James Pike, brought scandal upon the church by publicly disavowing--or seeming to do so, at least, which is probably worse--central doctrines of the Christian faith, such as the Trinity, among others. He was a charming and magnetic person, and had a vibrant ministry in New York before being elected to the episcopate. The people whose job it was to rein him in and impose discipline were his friends. They liked him. So they cut him slack, and lots of it. The failure of the House of Bishops to subject Bishop Pike to canonical discipline was seen as a sign that Episcopalians don't really believe all that much. That isn't true, of course, but the perception was created, and it's a failure that haunts us to this day.

Now comes the incessant tug-of-war over homosexuality, contested on one level or another at every General Convention since 1979. This reflects, of course, a parallel level of stress in dealing with the same issue in secular society, but magnified for Episcopalians because--and I'm going out on a speculative limb here--whatever the percentage of those who identify as gay or lesbian in the general population, that percentage is magnified among Episcopalians. It's everyone's issue, but for some reason it's more ours than it is others'. This conflict, of course, reached an Omega Point of sorts in 2003 when General Convention consented to the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, and his consecration the following November.

On deck for recognition at this point is the arrival of the post-colonial era in international Anglicanism. Sometime between the 1988 and 1998 Lambeth Conferences, Anglican churches in what is now called the Global South came of age. Collectively, they came to represent the vast majority of the world's Anglicans. For the first time, the collective face of Anglicanism is non-white, and to a large degree non-English speaking. And it is also quite conservative theologically. For the first time, at Lambeth 1998, the Global South took its full place at the table and flexed its muscles. This is a shock that the First World provinces in the U.K. and North America (and their de facto colonial clients in parts of Central and South America) have barely begun to absorb.

And then, in the mid-1990s leading to the turn of the century, the world suddenly got a lot smaller, and it became virtually impossible for large organizations to control the flow of information to their stakeholders. The internet changed everything. Absolutely everything. The importance of this technological development for the way Anglican Christians and churches relate to one another cannot be overstated. The speed with which events have unfolded can be traced directly to the internet. Expectations have permanently changed. Transparency in church politics has increased exponentially, and so has the capacity for demagoguery.

So far, this is the recipe for some pretty significantly troubled waters, but not yet a cataclysmic storm. For that, we need to factor in a chain of events that can only be described as bizarre, and has gotten more so on nearly a daily basis.

Since 2003, the capacity of the aggrieved minority party in the Episcopal Church to maintain its loyalty to the institution in the face of an unending onslaught of insults to its theological integrity reached a breaking point, and this impatience has spread abroad. The legendary Anglican ability to just "muddle through" whatever problems it encountered and still maintain visible institutional unity finally foundered. (The internet was a big factor in this.) There has been a rebellion against majoritarian tyranny, and now we have the alphabet soup of offshore Anglican jurisdictions establishing beachheads in what had been thought to be the exclusive territory of the Episcopal Church. And at an international level, the provinces that have, by the lights of the Episcopalian establishment, "invaded" our territory, are largely boycotting this summer's Lambeth Conference, raising the specter of the actual dissolution of the worldwide Anglican Communion itself into Canterburian and non-Canterburian elements.

Bringing it home now to current events: In December of 2007, the convention of the Diocese of San Joaquin voted to remove any constitutional link between itself and the Episcopal Church and affiliate instead with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, which, in a less controverted era, was intended to cover only Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Peru. It was not, however, a clean break. Some seven of the diocese's 47 congregations clearly elected--with no particular surprises here--to remain connected to TEC and therefore sever their relationship with Bishop Schofield and the departing/departed convention. Significant minorities within about as many again additional parishes and missions formed congregations in exile (since the secessionists kept control of the real estate) and established a handful of new plants. Four other parishes--three of them among the largest in the diocese--entered periods of discernment as far as their future was concerned.

However, as is now well-documented--on this blog and elsewhere--the four clerical members of the Standing Committee, and two of the lay members, almost immediately following the December convention, signaled their intention to not follow the majority to the Southern Cone. They did so by consenting to the election of a bishop by a diocese of the Episcopal Church, and transmitting that consent through normal channels. In mid-January, the President of the Standing Committee spoke on the phone with the Presiding Bishop and informed her that a majority of committee's members did not intend to join in the secession, and wished to continue to operate under the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. A day after this phone conversation, Bishop Schofield, in effect, recognized this reality and effectively "fired" these six individuals, and reconstituted the Standing Committee of the Southern Cone Diocese of San Joaquin from the remaining two lay members. But for reasons at this point known only to her, the Presiding Bishop refused to recognize the loyalty of the six, despite clear knowledge of their intention to follow the canons, and publicly declared her judgment that there were in fact no continuing members of the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. This was the first of three canonically questionable moves on her part that cast a shadow over the entire project of rebuilding the ministry of TEC in the central valley of California.

The second such canonically questionable (and this is a charitable description) move took place barely two weeks ago at the meeting of the House of Bishops. The question before the house was the canonical deposition of two bishops--Schofield of San Joaquin and Cox, retired Assistant of Oklahoma. In the case of Bishop Cox, the entire process (under the so-called "abandonment of communion" canon, which calls for summary judgment without trial) was botched, as he was never inhibited and the Presiding Bishop held the "indictment" (from the Title IV Review Committee) back when she was canonically required to have presented it to last September's meeting of the HOB. But in the case of both bishops, the deposition failed on a technicality, though this was not noticed at the time. Within it couple of days, however, outside sources pointed out that the required number of votes to depose needs to be not just a majority of a quorum, but a majority of the "whole number" entitled to vote. As I write, at least one member of the HOB has demanded that this irregularity be investigated, and we can be sure the dust is far from settling.

Now the final ingredient in the Perfect Storm recipe--the one that will act as a catalyst, joining with the others to ignite a cataclysm in the Anglican world. In less than two days' time, the Presiding Bishop is intending to call to order a special convention of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin in the city of Lodi. While it is arguably her duty to facilitate the reconfiguration and reinvigoration of TEC's ministry in that area, the way she has gone about doing so seems to ignore, if not flout, the very Constitution and Canons of the Church she serves. This is where the canonical cloud over the deposition of Bishop Schofield becomes extremely relevant. Only in the absence of a bishop can the Presiding Bishop step in to a situation, and then only under strictly limited circumstances. But there is plausible doubt whether Bishop Schofield has in fact been properly deposed, and this calls into question any action that the special convention on Saturday will take. Of course, Bishop Schofield has no desire to be the Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin, and he has in fact submitted his resignation to the Presiding Bishop. The problem is, neither she nor the House of Bishops bothered to accept that resignation! So, do we indeed have a vacancy in the office of Bishop of San Joaquin? Practically, we do. But technically, we do not. And with as much at stake as there is in these times, with the level of trust in our leadership eroding at every turn, this is one occasion when it is imperative to be excruciatingly correct technically, to bend over backwards to avoid even the whiff of an impression of the subversion of due process.

But wait...there's more! The "unrecognized" Standing Committee--that is, the duly and canonically elected Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin--made it clear to the Presiding Bishop on several occasions that, in the event of Bishop Schofield's lawful deposition, they stood ready to perform their duty and become the Ecclesiastical Authority of the diocese, cooperating with her office as appropriate under the constitution and canons. As recently as two weeks ago, they expected to shortly be called to act in accordance with the polity of "this Church." But because of the technical glitch, they cannot recognize the See of San Joaquin as vacant, and are therefore unable to lawfully step in.

So what we will have Saturday is a Perfect Storm--an institution going rogue on itself, ignoring its own polity, its own rules . . . just because it can. The harm that this will do to the commonweal of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion is untellable. If we can't trust ourselves to live by our own laws, if the ends are seen as justifying the means, if a mistake in the past is used as a justifying precedent for repeating the same mistake, then the confidence of the minority that the protections afforded them under our polity will indeed be effective evaporates like morning mist under the desert sun. We are left to be drowned by the tyranny of the majority. If that is the offering we must make, then so be it. No such costly oblation will, in the redemptive economy of God, go wasted. But on the Last Day, I do not anticipate being envious of whose who, buoyed by a perception of power made invincible by righteousness, are in these days the instruments of such an unholy wrath.

Someone Needs an Editor

Most of us regularly receive internet spam of the sort that purports to be the welcome news that the recipient is due a large sum of money, which will be made available upon the provision of certain personal financial information to facilitate the transfer of funds. It's all a scam, of course, and I rarely even give such messages a second look. But this one takes a prize for poor use of the English language. Some of these crooks could really use some help. Do you suppose they would pay for a competent editor?

My Friend

We wish to inform you that your overdue payment $1.5Million has be scheduled for payment to you through certified ATM Card which you will be only required to proceed to any ATM Cash Point to withdraw $10,000 per day till your complete payment fund are completed.

This development was as result of new payment policy revolution of 2008 carried out by the World Financial Body in collaboration with World Bank Audit unit and United Nations Policy maker unit under world bank new year payment constitution. This effort is to help the international monetary fund restrict and monitor every international transaction to avoid money laundering activities and will help us to fight against fraudulent activities from scam experts.

Furthermore you are advice to reconfirm you billing address include your full names and direct contact telephone number to the OCEANIC Bank of Benin Republic for the issuance of certified ATM Credit Card meant for your payment.
Contact information is as follows:


TELE/FAX 00229 97280821
NAME: Mrs Chi Chi

NB: note that you can only withdraw just $10,000.00 per day at the minimum of $300 per withdrawal till your fund is completed.Please do not reply to this E-mail contact the Bank immediately with the necessary information required from you so that they will commence on the proceedings.

Yours faithfully,
Mr Paul

Information Department

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Day Off Diary

If you can generate any empathy for what excites a rail travel geek, read on. If not, you may want to skim...or skip it entirely.

It is my custom, as an exercise in wanton self-indulgence, to take two entire days off in the week following Easter. Alas, a scheduled Vestry meeting means I have to get back under the yoke this evening, a few hours early. But yesterday I did continue a hallowed habit of making a post-Easter day trip by rail to the nearest large urban area--in this case, Chicago--not so much for the purpose of accomplishing anything in particular at the destination itself, but for the experience of getting there, and getting around there, and getting home, all with a minimum of automobile travel.

In my previous incarnation as a Californian, I lived within walking distance (a mile and a fraction) of two train stations, so I was able to have a 100% car-free day. One year I took the Altamont Commuter Express from Stockton to San Jose, walking around downtown San Jose for a while, then boarded the local light rail system and rode it Mountain View, where I caught a ride on CalTrain to downtown San Francisco, where I rode the MUNI subway-cum-streetcar to Ocean Beach and back, and after nosing around the Union Square area for a while, hopped on a BART train to Richmond, where I transferred to Amtrak back to Stockton, and walked home--all in the space of just over twelve hours.

I am told that there was a day--many decades ago--when the South Shore Electric had a spur down from South Bend to Winona Lake, right next door to Warsaw. And as recently as ten or fifteen years ago, Warsaw was a stop on an Amtrak route. In these latter days, however, I had to drive some 55 miles to the terminus of the South Shore Electric, which is now located at South Bend Regional Airport. (This lacks the romance of an old downtown depot, but it's very convenient from a parking standpoint.) Due to some poor planning, compensated for by some fast driving, I caught the 8:55 departure (the last one of the morning) with maybe a second or two to spare; the train was moving before I found a seat.

It was also more crowded than I would have imagined. A few within eyeshot had large bags, indicating that they were perhaps traveling to Chicago to catch a plane, or maybe another train. In my immediate vicinity were several high school-age young people--animated but considerately muted in the volume of their conversation. Much of the route west of South Bend goes through wooded areas, which even in their yet-wintry nakedness (spring is arriving in more fits than starts this year), obscure a view of anything but themselves. Coming into Michigan City, however, the tracks travel down the middle of a downtown street, with autos passing on either side, for a mile or two before returning to dedicated right-of-way.

The closer we got to Chicago, the more the demographics of boarding passengers changed pleasure to business. At the downtown Gary stop, the car I was in--and, one assumes, the rest of the train--was filled to capacity, and there were even a couple of standers. I know the South Shore line has had its financial problems over the years, and I know fares ($7.75 each way from South Bend) probably don't cover operating expenses, but there is certainly ample enough demand for the service.

When we reached the Hyde Park-University of Chicago station, there was a significant exodus, including the teens in my area, who were--I would guess--on a school field trip to the Museum of Science & Industry. We pulled into Millennium Station (literally underneath Millennium Park, right at the corner of Michigan and Randolph) at about five minutes past the scheduled arrival time of 10:38--about a two-hour-and-forty-five minute ride. (Before you question my math, know that we crossed from the Eastern to the Central time zone somewhere in northwest Indiana.)

I emerged onto street level hungry, but also cognizant that I was carrying an annoyingly heavy back pack filled with guitar accouterments that my son had asked that I deliver to him--although he and his wife are staying in the city at present, he is busy painting my mother's apartment in the northwest suburb of Palatine. So I hoofed it over to the METRA station--a distance of about seven blocks west down Randolph--except that I strayed a couple of blocks north, not remembering precisely where the station was located, and had to retrace my steps. Hey--part of what I had hoped would happen was the need for some aerobically-challenging walking, so it was serendipitous. I wanted to check the schedule before stopping to eat, since commuter trains in the middle of the day run at fairly sparse intervals, and I didn't want to "just miss" one. Sure enough, there was an 11:30 AM departure--just 15 minutes away--on the line that goes through Palatine, so I bought a one-way ticket ($4.75) and got on board, satisfying my hunger with one of the food bars I had in my coat pocket.

The ride from downtown Chicago to Palatine consumes the better part of an hour, and offers a rather fascinating evolution of view from "gritty" urban (tracks invariably travel through the unseemly "backyards" of businesses and home) to inner ring suburbs to more affluent outer ring suburbs, most with impressive condominium developments clustered around the METRA stations.

It's only about half a mile from the Palatine depot to my mothers apartment (in one of those impressive condominium developments), but Jordan was out and about, so he picked me up and drove me over. After looking over his painting progress, he and I and my mother went out to lunch. Then, while he got back to work, he lent me his car so I could pick up a few somewhat rare grocery and household items from Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, retail establishments that we will never be seeing set up shop in a place like Warsaw (even though, as small communities go, we have a disproportionate number of people who would actually shop in such stores). Ironically, my back pack ended up almost as heavy with these items as it was with Jordan's guitar stuff!

So then I caught the 3:25 METRA train from Palatine back toward the city, only I got off at the Irving Park station, and walked a few yards to the CTA Blue Line train. At that point, the tracks run down the median of the Kennedy Expressway (I-90/94), but soon drop underground and become a subway. I only rode for two stops (costing me $2.00--the least cost-efficient leg of my journey), emerging at the Logan Square station. The Dragonfly and I are just in the process of purchasing a condo in that neighborhood, serving the dual purpose of giving us a place to invest the modest nest egg from the sale of our home in California, and providing a place for Jordan and Angela to live (they will rent from us) during their indeterminate-length Chicago sojourn. I walked about three long blocks the wrong way down Milwaukee Avenue before realizing my error and turning around to head back past the station to North Kimball. The neighborhood was apparently once heavily Norwegian (which I infer from two old churches I encountered), but is now heavily Hispanic, though it seems quite healthy and stable. We're hoping for some modest and slow gentrification--of a sort that will not do undue violence to an already vibrant social fabric in the community.

Back to the Blue Line station now, charging a new fare card with $4.00 this time (doing a better job of thinking ahead). After Logan Square, the route surfaces and become the celebrated Chicago "L"--i.e. tracks elevated above street level. I have always enjoyed the milli-second glimpses the L affords into second and third-story windows of apartments and businesses--a veritable series of flash insights into the complexity and diversity of urban life.

I got off the L once again at the Damen Avenue stop, where the neighborhoods of Wicker Park and Bucktown converge (or overlap, depending on who you talk to). Bucktown is, to be sure, already gentrified, with very tony shops and restaurants lining its thoroughfares. I walked north on Damen about five or six blocks to say Hi to Angela, my daugter-in-law, who is employed in one of those tony shops. More aerobically-challenging walking. I knew I had to make a 7:15 South Shore departure back at Millennium Station, and it was now a little past five. So I elected not to try and find the Brazilian market on Western Avenue near Armitage and pick up some of my favorite snacks from the southern hemisphere. Instead, I ambled back down Damen to the L stop. Just as I reached the three-way intersection where Damen and Milwaukee and North Avenue come together, I heard a female voice shouting "Dan!" It was my niece Michelle, who was in a car with her husband (they live in the neighborhood), who had just picked her up from work. As they waited at a long red light, I had time to brief them on my day.

The Blue Line becomes a subway once again as it approaches downtown, paralleling Dearborn Street. I exited at the Washington Street stop, but on to Randolph, just two blocks from Millennium Station. It was only about 5:45, I had some time to kill, and I was hungry. I first went and bought my ticket for the return trip on the South Shore, then walked around the Loop seeing what might interest me food-wise. I finally settled on a Popeye's fried chicken place--a decidedly low-brow choice, I guess, but they offer a particular flavor I can't simply get whenever I want it at home, so it was at least exotic, and I enjoyed it. (It was the Country Fried Steak special, with spicy gravy, "dirty rice" and a biscuit. They were out of plastic knives, so the man behind the counter had to scrounge an actual knife from the kitchen and lend it to me--after washing it, of course.) I took off my coat to sit and eat, and discovered, to my chagrin, that my super-charged walking had resulted in a perspiration-soaked shirt--not a very attractive sight, I'm sure!

About twenty yards from the entrance to Millennium Station, I was accosted by a young man who said he was penniless, and trying to scrounge fare to South Bend. "I'm homeless as of today." I wasn't in clericals, of course, but in my line of work I go into an auto-pilot mode in such situations--part compassionate and part extremely skeptical. The two parts compromised and I gave him the five one-dollar bills I had in my wallet. If I were assured that he was telling the truth, I would have taken him to the ticket window and bought him the ticket. But I've been scammed more than once by stories much more convincing than his. It's hard to know what to do in such situations. I don't think that well on my feet, and hindsight is always 20/20.

South Shore doesn't allow boarding until twenty minutes before departure, so I was in plenty of time. There are some benches just a the head of the platforms. It's open to the air, but covered, and sheltered from the wind, so even though the air was chilly, it was not uncomfortable to sit there. A group of about six or seven teenage girls was waiting there, along with an indeterminate number of pigeons, who kept flying uncomfortably close to the girls, as if they enjoyed unnerving them. Wherever the girls moved, the pigeons found them. It was amusing.

Also amusing is the social dynamic of politely jockeying for position while waiting to board a train. For a while, everyone confined themselves to the waiting area. But then one person walked right past us and down the platform. She couldn't board, of course, but she was there. A minute or so later, another arrival did the same thing. It wasn't but a few moments before everyone (I was pretty much in the lead) migrated to the platform, distributed more or less evenly at the doors to each of the cars, even though it was the better part of ten minutes before the doors opened.

It was dark on the way home. There wasn't anything to distract me out the windows, and I quickly finished the USA Today I'd bought in Palatine. The train was packed by the time we picked up more passengers at the Van Buren Street stop, but it pretty much cleared out before we left Illinois. Whatever one can say about the seats on the South Shore Electric, they are not made for comfortable sleeping.

It was 10:46 when we arrived in South Bend--a slightly quicker trip (remember the time zone) than it was westbound. It was right at midnight when I pulled into my driveway at the Warsaw Rectory. On the whole, a day well spent, for which I am most grateful.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Triumph, Easter Joy

The Easter altar at St Anne's, Warsaw, Indiana:

The Deacon giving the Dismissal at the conclusion of the Easter morning Mass, and the beginning of the dismissal procession:

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Hell Harrowed

The principal liturgies of the Paschal Triduum are quite demanding, especially for those whose responsibility it is to help "produce" them. So I have always rather appreciated the opportunity to gather with members of the Altar Guild, who have serious work to do on the morning of Holy Saturday, for the brief (and largely neglected) Liturgy of the Word appointed for this day. In place of an original homily, I always read them (and myself) this anonymous sermon from somewhere in the Patristic era. In these few hours of pregnant expectation, it helps put me in "in the mood."

Something strange is happening--there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast with terror and cried out to everyone: "My Lord be with you all." Christ answered him: "And with your spirit." He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: "Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light."

I am your God who for you sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise up, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake, I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on a cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me had sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed my cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

(From the sadly out of print The Prayer Book Office, compiled and edited by Howard Galley.)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

The Altar of St Anne's Church--Warsaw, Indiana

The Altar of Repose, St Anne's Church--Chapel of St Mary the Virgin

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Maundy Thursday Meditation

Cross-posted from Covenant.

The most recent issue of National Geographic includes a cover story concerning animal intelligence, and how many animals are smarter than scientists have traditionally given them credit for. Some say that animals even have feelings and emotions of the same sort that human beings experience. The logical end of this line of thinking is that we should not only not be using animals for scientific research and experimentation, but that we should also not be using them for food, or for labor, or as residents of a zoo, or even as pets—unless, presumably, they sign a release saying it’s okay.

I don’t know. There may be a certain plausibility in all this, but I remain, I’m afraid, an enthusiastic carnivore. I love to eat meat, and I like it fixed all different ways, from barbecued steak to lamb shish kabob to stir-fried pork tenderloin to trout almondine. My mouth waters just writing about it. But, as far as I’m concerned, meat starts out in a refrigerated case in a supermarket, packed in a styrofoam tray and wrapped in plastic. There’s a part of me, of course, that knows that the my favortie boneless pork chops were not always boneless, and that those bones, along with the pork chops, recently belonged to a real live snorting mud-wallowing pig—a pig that, at a certain age, could very probably have been described as “cute”, a pig that, if actually able to contemplate its vocation to be wrapped in ranch dressing and cornflake crumbs, would have vociferously declined the honor. In order for me to enjoy my pork chop dinner, a surprised and squealing pig was grabbed by the throat against its will. One time, when I was eleven years old, I witnessed the slaughter of a chicken. It didn’t make me like fried chicken any less, but it did make me grateful for supermarkets and styrofoam trays and plastic wrap. I much prefer encountering my fresh meat in that form, rather than looking it in the eye as I reach for its neck.

Now, I realize that these gruesome facts of life drive some people to become vegetarians. I may not wish to join them, but neither do I wish to ridicule them or question their sincerity. Nor do I totally lack empathy with their position. I’m just not very overly fond of vegetables. But, I wonder… if we’re really going to sharpen the points of our moral pencils: is not the natural purpose of an apple to protect the seeds that are necessary for the propagation of more apple trees? And is not the natural purpose of a grain of wheat to fall into the ground and soak up rain water and sprout and grow into another wheat plant? Are we not violently interrupting the natural order and rhythm of life when we snatch a bunch of grapes off a vine before it ripens and falls on its own? Are we not violently interrupting the natural order and rhythm of life when we take a steel blade to a stalk of corn? The fact is, even vegetable matter is grabbed by the throat and killed—well in advance of its natural life span.

Those who retreat into vegetarianism for ethical reasons soon discover the meaning of the proverb, “you can run but you can’t hide.” The inescapable bottom line of human existence is that, in order for us to live, something else has to die. The life of one living being is sustained only by the death of another. And it’s not even death with dignity. The steer in the slaughterhouse has its head clubbed and its throat slit unceremoniously in a few seconds. It really is rather humiliating. A few grapes make it to silver bowls in the middle of tables with their natural beauty intact, but most are crushed —in some cultures still, beneath human feet—until the juice is separated from the pulp. We may romanticize the pastoral joys of stomping grapes, but there’s nothing romantic about it from the grape’s perspective. It’s humiliating.

When the people of Israel groaned under the yoke of slavery in Egypt, the Lord heard their cry of distress and called Moses to lead them out of bondage into the freedom of the Promised Land. On the night before their departure, they were instructed—each household—to take an unblemished lamb—not a fully-grown ornery old sheep with gray wool, but a young lamb, with fleece as white as snow—they were commanded to look this cute little lamb in the eye and grab it by the throat and kill it. Then they were to take its blood and smear it over the doorways of their homes, so that when the angel of death visited Egypt to slay every firstborn creature in the land, it would “pass over” the homes which displayed the blood of the paschal lamb. And so we receive the name of the Church’s solemn three-day observance that begins today: Passover. The life of Moses’ own firstborn brother, Aaron, depended on a cute little lamb being gripped around the neck and humiliated, both in the moments before its death and in what was done to it afterward.

The original Passover, of course, is a foreshadowing of the Christian Passover, and in the Christian Passover, the paschal lamb is Jesus the Messiah, the very Son of the Living God. First he is humiliated. But, unlike the grape crushed in a vat or a grain of wheat ground at the mill, or a steer whose throat is slit in a slaughterhouse, Jesus is the active agent in his humiliation. He who was in the likeness of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. Servanthood was not forced on him; he voluntarily took it. He almost had to force his disciples to allow him to serve them. “Take off your shoes; I am going to wash your feet!” One of the linchpins of the church’s liturgy on this day is the re-enactment of this action wherein the Lord of all accepted the humiliation of becoming the servant of all.

In the same upper room where he washed his disciples’ feet, Jesus foreshadowed his ultimate humiliation: his arrest, torture, and death on the cross. Only in his body being broken and his blood being poured out, and then only in their eating his flesh and drinking his blood, could their lives be sustained against the onslaught of evil and death. Judas Iscariot looked Jesus in the eye and Pontius Pilate grabbed him by the throat and Christians gather today at a table at which their victim is our main course. Perfectly-formed communion wafers and California wine administered from a silver chalice function like styrofoam and plastic wrap—they seek to insulate us from the violent origins of today’s menu—but in the depths of our hearts we know that the meal which sustains our lives this day, while served from an altar between two candlesticks, originated on a cross between two thieves.

From the upper room where Jesus presided at the Passover meal, re-interpreted as participation in his own body and blood, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, and from there he was arrested, tried, and condemned. Before he was nailed to the cross, he was stripped of his garments. In most artistic representations of the crucifixion, Jesus is depicted wearing a loincloth of sorts. In reality, it is more likely that he was stark naked. The shame and humiliation of that sort of exposure was considered an integral part of the punishment of crucifixion. It was never intended as death with dignity. When we strip the altar and the surrounding area as we adjourn this first part of the Triduum tonight, it will be in specific remembrance of this aspect of Jesus’ humiliating death.

In order for me to enjoy eating meat, I manage to repress my awareness of just how that meat finds its way to my plate. But the liturgy of Maundy Thursday will not allow me to repress my awareness of how I participate and share in the life of Jesus, the son of God. His body and blood are part of my body and blood, enabling and sustaining my relationship with the source of my being. The main course—the only course—at today’s banquet is also the host. He allowed himself to be grabbed around the neck and led like a lamb to the slaughter.

“What wondrous love is this, O my soul … that caused the Lord of bliss … to lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul.”

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Inwardly Digesting the Presiding Bishop's Easter Message

I'll admit my prejudice up front, so as to spare anyone the effort of accusing me of such in response to this post: I am not disposed to have a favorable opinion of the job performance of Bishop Jefferts Schori. I've only met her perfunctorily on a couple of occasions, so I can't really say that I know her personally. But we were both "hatched" by the Diocese of Oregon, so we have some common acquaintances, and as a priest in San Joaquin while she was Bishop of neighboring Nevada, I was an indirect party to some of her "official acts" that helped form an impression. Based on those experiences, when she was elected Presiding Bishop, I was more than a little bit disappointed.

Nonetheless, I do try to be optimistic. I really do. I keep telling myself that maybe I haven't read enough of her published works, or listened to enough of her interviews. Maybe there's a key somewhere that would help me "translate" her public pronouncements on the gospel of Christ, the theology of the Church, and the shared life of the Christian community into something that would strike a chord with my own understanding of those subjects. We're both Episcopalians, after all, both Anglicans. We're both members of "this Church." There must be some small measure of common ground we can stand on. Why does it feel like she's speaking a foreign language? Surely I must not be trying hard enough!

So when I saw that her 2008 Easter Message had been published, I was briefly hopeful. Maybe this would be it, I thought to myself. Maybe she will proclaim the Paschal Mystery in some way that will make me want to exclaim, "Amen!"

My hope was short-lived. Here is what she said:

Your Easter celebration undoubtedly has included lots of physical signs of new life -- eggs, flowers, new green growth. As the Easter season continues, consider how your daily living can be an act of greater life for other creatures. How can you enact the new life we know in Jesus the Christ? In other words, how can you be the sacrament, the outward and visible sign, of the grace that you know in the resurrected Christ? How can your living let others live more abundantly?

The Judaeo-Christian tradition has been famously blamed for much of the current environmental crisis, particularly for our misreading of Genesis 1:28 as a charge to "fill the earth and subdue it." Our forebears were so eager to distinguish their faith from the surrounding Canaanite religion and its concern for fertility that some of them worked overtime to separate us from an awareness of "the hand of God in the world about us," especially in a reverence for creation. How can we love God if we do not love what God has made?

We base much of our approach to loving God and our neighbors in this world on our baptismal covenant. Yet our latest prayer book was written just a bit too early to include caring for creation among those explicit baptismal promises. I would invite you to explore those promises a bit more deeply -- where and how do they imply caring for the rest of creation?

We are beginning to be aware of the ways in which our lack of concern for the rest of creation results in death and destruction for our neighbors. We cannot love our neighbors unless we care for the creation that supports all our earthly lives. We are not respecting the dignity of our fellow creatures if our sewage or garbage fouls their living space. When atmospheric warming, due in part to the methane output of the millions of cows we raise each year to produce hamburger, begins to slowly drown the island homes of our neighbors in the South Pacific, are we truly sharing good news?

The food we eat, the energy we use, the goods and foods we buy, the ways in which we travel, are all opportunities -- choices and decisions -- to be for others, both human and other. Our Christian commitment is for this -- that we might live that more abundant life, and that we might do it in a way that is for the whole world.

Abundant blessings this Easter, and may those blessings abound through the coming days and years.

What makes it so frustrating to read and digest and try to comment on this and others of her statements is that there's nothing particularly untrue about what she says. Who can argue that environmental pollution and human-induced (or human-enhanced, at any rate) global warming are good things? Who has any desire to drive Pacific Islanders out of their homes?! What's not to like about trying to become a better sacramental sign of new life in Christ?

So it isn't so much what she says that I find troublesome. It's what she fails to say. It's the apparent reduction of the good news of Easter to "let's eat less hamburger so we don't make our 'neighbors' who live on islands homeless"--or, for that matter, the reduction of the good news of Easter to any moral exhortation, no matter how good and worthy it may be.

The truth of the Paschal Mystery is infinitely more bracing, infinitely more penetrating, infinitely more challenging, and infinitely more satisfying to the universal hunger of the human heart than any hortatory moralizing. The truth of the Paschal Mystery is about blood and guts and sweat and tears and passion; it's about the death of the innocent bringing life to the guilty (and if you so much as ate a baby carrot with your lunchtime salad today, you participated in that reality). It's about ancient curses and ancient promises and waiting in a dark tomb for the New Fire to be lit. It's about getting naked and being reborn in the amniotic fluid of the font, the womb of the Church, and it's about eating flesh and drinking blood and taking possession of the life of the one whose flesh you eat and whose blood you drink.

This is strong medicine for the radical alienation and suffering that afflict the human race. What we have been offered by our Primate and Chief Pastor, on the other hand, is very thin gruel indeed for a world that is starving for meaning, purpose, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, community, and hope--hope in this world and hope in the world to come.

Many voices have shouted that Katharine Jefferts Schori is a heretic. I do not for a moment believe that. The pronouncements of heretics have substance. They have appeal. They have enough truth to be tantalizing--indeed, they very often embody almost the complete fullness of truth, save for one important detail (the proverbial iota). Nope, Katharine Jefferts Schori is no heretic.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


...just a bit. Temporarily, I hope.

I'm very sad tonight. My former bishop, in whose diocese I joyfully served for 13 years, and whose overall theological and moral vision I share, has been deposed--in the popular parlance of non-Episcopalians, "defrocked"--by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church.

It was no surprise, of course. Every sentient being who was paying attention saw it coming. But to have it actually happen--to know it as an accomplished fact rather than merely a future certainty--is still emotionally draining.

I expect I will have more to say--more of an analytical nature--later, in due course, for this is no insignificant milestone in the ever-unfolding Anglican soap opera. Tonight, after granting the fact that it has very little concrete impact on Bishop Schofield's day-to-day life at this point (and he is still a bishop, just no longer a bishop of TEC), I'll simply say that there is ample blame to go around for this sorry turn. Yes, he brought it on himself (by behavior I cannot condone) and, yes, he was "done to" by corrupt forces and less than honorable means.

But mostly, tonight, I'm just emoting. This is truly a tragedy of veritably Shakespearean proportions.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Perceiving Reality

I've never had aspirations for this blog being a comment magnet, so it is worthy of some note that my post from three days ago has attracted what looks to be a record number of comments. Many (most?--I'm too lazy to count) of them engage the substance of the post in some way. But some four commenters--two from the "left" and two from the "right"--have gotten involved in a pointed and passionate exchange over the character of the polemical ambiance here in Anglicanland these days.

I certainly don't have pollyannish views on the the possibility of any near-term rapprochement between the contending factions. But I do remain interested in lowering the emotional temperature whenever that might be possible. Maybe it's my INTJ wiring, but conflict--like revenge--strikes me as a dish best served cold. To the extent that we can get past our feelings (which those who know me will tell you I'm not overly-fond of anyway), we can more clearly see the substance of what actually divides us. We may not actually be able to do anything about it when we see it, but not seeing it will guarantee what we will not be able to do anything about it.

If two decades of pastoral experience have taught me anything, it's that the expression "perception is reality" is ... well ... true. Frustratingly, maddeningly, and invariably true. I don't like it that it's true, but so far getting in touch with those feelings has not made it any less true. Before I can deal with the substance of anyone's problem--particularly when it's a problem with me!--I have to make every possible effort to understand and empathize with their perceived reality. I may not believe what they perceive to be accurate, but their perception nonetheless forms the starting point of the conversation. Sometimes--with some careful listening, patience, good luck, and occasional divine intervention--I can be with them as they open themselves to the possibility of perceiving the same set of objective facts in another way, even, perhaps, beginning to empathize with my perception.

It seems to me that what most gets in the way of the ability to empathize is the tendency on all sides to paint the opposition with a very broad brush. The way conservatives do this is to hang the institutional label of the Episcopal Church on every misdeed that any liberal has committed. All the detestable enormities of "revisionism" thereby become monolithic. It's an impressive list. Who can work up very much empathy for an institution that subverts the sacrament of marriage, rejects the authority of Holy Scripture, denies the divinity of Christ and his atoning work, allows Druids and Muslims to serve as priests, believes there are already enough Christians in the world, welcomes unbelievers and pagans to Holy Communion, and confuses the gospel with the Millennium Development Goals?

The problem is, "the Episcopal Church" doesn't do any of those things. Some--many, perhaps; including people in positions of high leadership--do some of them, and that is a serious problem. But nobody, to my knowledge, does all of them. And none of them represent the official teaching or practice of the Episcopal Church.

Liberals, of course, have their own version of the broad brush. They have, at various times, portrayed their opponents as misogynists, homophobes, mindless fundamentalists, neo-Puritans, Anglo-Baptist interlopers, and--my personal favorite--Nazis, all of whom get together at night while the good-hearted politically naive liberals are sound asleep to swear allegiance to the Chapman Memo and plot to steal the Episcopal Church from itself. What decent person in his or her right mind would want to hang out with that crowd?

Once again, the problem is that we're dealing sweeping generalizations. That any or all of the labels (except "Nazi," no doubt) has at one time or another been true of an Episcopalian/Anglican conservative is invoked by many as license to spray paint the whole list of labels on to anyone who dares to resist what is widely perceived as the majority view in TEC.

Of course, merely by describing these phenomena, I have to an extent indulged in them! So I will plead with anyone who will listen: Let's put the broad brushes away. Conservatives would do well to quit automatically unchurching anyone who holds "reappraiser" views, not just because it really pisses them off, but because it's just wrong to do. Somebody can hold a mistaken view on the sexuality questions without being lumped together with John Spong and Markus Borg--or Katharine Jefferts Schori, for that matter. Liberals would do well to quit assuming anyone who holds "reasserter" views does so out of either ignorance, selfishness, or mere power-hungry churlishness. A person can hold a traditional view of sexual morality without being lumped together with Pat Robertson and Fred Phelps.

Both sides in this mess clearly feel beaten up and misunderstood by the other. There is abundant opportunity for empathy. But lest it be thought that I'm just turning into a ball of cotton candy, I will observe that empathizing is not just a charitable thing to do, it's a strategically smart thing to do. I am regularly astonished at how few on either side of the divide seem to understand this. Somehow it's more appealing--no doubt because it's more gratifying in the short term--to hang on to our broad brushes, responding to our opponents with sweeping generalizations and rhetorical flourishes, scoring easy PR points with our homeys by lobbing polemical hand grenades across enemy lines. That's a surefire formula for a World War I-style stalemate. Whichever side is the first to successfully get inside their opponents' collective head, to learn to think what they think and feel what they feel, to learn what motivates them from the inside, will be the first to emerge from the foulness of the trench.

Such a move may lead to final victory. Then again, in God's mercy, it may lead to reconciliation--reconciliation of a sort that none of us can presently envision or imagine.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Not Guilty

I have been accused here of blocking access to this blog from a particular person. Be it known to all that I have never done so, and, in fact, do not even know how to do so were I so inclined.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

How Non-Jurors Get Made

In 1688, in a (relatively) bloodless coup, the British parliament ousted King James II for his Roman proclivities, imported a Dutch prince, William of Orange, and installed him as King William III. Several bishops, along with a few hundred clergy and laity, while not particularly supportive of James, believed themselves morally bound by an oath of loyalty to him, and refused to take such an oath to William. For exercising the courage of their convictions, the bishops were deprived of their sees and their livings and many were reduced to poverty. This group became known as Non-Jurors. For a time, they were a sort of diminutive "shadow" Church of England, and the bishops even consecrated successors to themselves. After about a century, it was all rendered moot by the death of the Stuart pretender.

From a safe distance now, the Non-Jurors are often held up as models of courageous integrity. They agreed that it was a good thing for the realm to be rid of James, and that William and Mary would make splendid regents. They just didn't think William should be made monarch. That little principled stand was a career-ender for them. Unemployment and loss of status were no more attractive or tolerable in the seventeenth century than today.

There's a new group of Non-Jurors in the process of formation even as I write. They are former clergy and laity of the Diocese of San Joaquin. Their principled stand places them between the "rock" of their former bishop, whom they have loved and served loyally, but whom they cannot in good conscience follow to the Province of the Southern Cone, and the "hard place" of the non-canonical rump "remaining" Diocese of San Joaquin, which they cannot in good conscience join because it represents the raw exercise of naked illicit power by the Presiding Bishop, and because to do so would compromise their oath of loyalty to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.

In a letter written on her official letterhead and made public two days ago, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori announced that she will call to order a special convention of the Diocese of San Joaquin at St John the Baptist Church in Lodi on Saturday in Easter Week. (Sidebar: St John's, Lodi carries a debt of around $2 million the last I heard, and the note is co-signed by Bishop Schofield. Interesting.) The agenda for the convention includes the election of a "Provisional Bishop" and a new Standing Committee. I've already been around the block on this, so I won't belabor the point except to point out yet again: There already is a Standing Committee, duly elected under the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. Anyone who is complicit in the election of a new Standing Committee at the special convention is acting in defiance of the Constitution and Canons, and is appropriately subject to ecclesiastical discipline. Yeah, I know. Never gonna happen. But it needs to be said.

One Non-Juror-in-training is a priest of the diocese (not a member of the Standing Committee) who has actually given me permission to use his name, though I cannot at this moment bring myself to do it. He has written the following letter to Bishop John Howe of Central Florida:

Dear Bishop Howe,
I am writing to you [in your capacity] as the spokesman for “Communion Partners. Today I received a letter of invitation to a “special convention” called by our Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori. I’m attaching a copy of this letter for you. In the first full paragraph, the letter states, “There being at this time no Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, or any qualified members of the Standing Committee of that Diocese, I, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, in consultation with the Steering Committee of faithful Episcopalians of that Diocese, hereby give notice that at 9:00 a.m. PST on Saturday, March 29,2008, at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lodi, California, I shall call to order a Special Meeting of the Convention of that Diocese. This is a travesty of justice in which due process has not been afforded to the rightful, sitting members of the present Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. I am deeply troubled by the above mentioned actions by our Presiding Bishop, which displays unprecedented authority; authority which is not rightfully hers. With no regard for due process, let alone the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, I submit to you Right Reverend Sir, that Bishop Schori is treading on extremely dangerous ground. What she is attempting to do could have terrible repercussions on the rest of the Episcopal Church. I am pleading with you to speak to the other Communion Partners, and Windsor Bishops to lodge a protest at the upcoming House of Bishops meeting against the actions of Bishop Schori in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. Thank you very much for your prayerful consideration!

Faithfully in Christ,

[name withheld by DHM+]

This is a guy who wants to "remain Episcopal" but for whom there is no room in "Remain Episcopal" because he cannot cooperate with the patent charade that 815 is producing with that organization's cooperation. He has taken an oath of loyalty to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, which are being ignored by the Presiding Bishop and which will be grossly violated on March 29th.

Just today, the following text was circulated as an email message to selected (read here "Remain Episcopal") clergy and laity in San Joaquin. It comes from the Revd Mark Hall of St Anne's in Stockton, who has been one of the on-the-ground leaders of 815 loyalists in the wake of last December's unfortunate vote by the diocesan convention:

Dear Friends,
The nominating committee has spoken to our bishop designee and has concurred with PB Katherine's recommendation. He will be visiting the diocese just after the House of Bishop's meeting, arriving on March 13. We will have two pre-convention meetings with him and to discuss the upcoming Special Convention. We are encouraging everyone to attend these meetings, including those who may be observers at the Special Convention.

Meeting at Christ the King, Riverbank on the evening of March 13, at 6:30 PM.
Meeting at Holy Family, 1135 East Alluvial, Fresno on the evening of March 14 at 6:30 PM.

We will be meeting the Bishop nominee
Reviewing the work of the Nominating Committee
Considering the Resolutions
Going over the requirements to certify delegates and clergy as voting members
Looking at the budget
Answering questions.

If you have any additional requirements or needs for these meetings, please respond. Also, we need circulation of this information to as many as possible. I will be attempting to contact all the delegations and observers as I can, but our communication system is not up to par, but we are getting there.

Mark Hall

So, Bishop Schofield hasn't even been deposed yet, and there's already a "Bishop nominee." The addressee header in the email includes one Jerry Lamb, so it seems safe to speculate that the retired Bishop of Northern California is poised to step in.

It's difficult to know what to say about a horrendous situation about which one is powerless to actually do anything. This was a preventable tragedy. It didn't have to happen. It has been misplayed by the "departing" Diocese of San Joaquin (i.e. there was no compelling reason for them to depart) and it has been misplayed by the Presiding Bishop and her operatives (i.e. by refusing to work with all the elements that were left in the wake of the departers). Lord, have mercy. What a mess. I'm going to have a drink and go to bed.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The House of Bishops Convenes

It's been said that Anglicans have a high view of episcopacy and a low view of bishops. As the bishops of the Episcopal Church wing their way to Camp Allen (some 60 miles northwest of Houston) for their regular semi-annual meeting, Episcopalians of all theological stripes have ample reason to invoke that ironic aphorism.

I am not privy to the meeting's agenda, but it seems safe to assume that they will consider certain key items:

The bishops will vote on whether to depose the Bishop of San Joaquin, concurring with the report of the Title IV Review Committee that he has abandoned the discipline of the Episcopal Church. It is impossible to imagine a plausible scenario under which they will not do so, and by a wide margin. The issue is largely moot anyway, because Bishop Schofield will be the first to agree that he is no longer under the discipline of General Convention, its constitution, or its canons. But deposition is such an ugly and vindictive path to follow. Why not just send him peacefully to the Southern Cone, forswear litigation, and be about the work of building up a new Episcopal diocese in the San Joaquin Valley? Canon law has pretty much been thrown to the winds there anyway, primarily by the Presiding Bishop. But I've pretty well already said my piece on that.

The bishops will be briefed on and discuss the latest attempt to cross-breed some elements of DEPO with some elements of the Primatial Vicar plan with some elements of the Primates' Dar es Salaam plan of a year ago. This is important, but not terribly so. The reason it's pretty much a yawner is that, while it may help to hold what's left of Anglicanism together for a while longer, it does nothing to heal the fissures that have appeared in the last several months, nor does it seem able to impede the momentum toward final schism. A bolder stroke is needed to neutralize GAFCON.

The bishops will consider ongoing developments in the process that may lead to the adoption of an Anglican Covenant. Most of them don't like it in concept, let alone in execution, so it's difficult to see anything momentous happening on this front.

So there isn't the same level of suspense as there was last September at the New Orleans meeting. Probably the biggest issue that won't get talked about is just what the role and authority of bishops--either individually or collectively--is in "this church." Many these days are fond of pointing out that TEC is "episcopally led but synodically governed." Such admonitions are largely in response to the rest of the Anglican world addressing a series of requests over the last five years to the House of Bishops, with the implied assumption that they are capable of speaking officially for the Episcopal Church. Even the bishops themselves seem to take umbrage at such an implication.

But to make too sharp a distinction between leadership and governance seems to me a bit overwrought, and in a peculiarly American sort of way. Was there a House of Deputies at Nicea or Chalcedon? I don't hold bishops in any higher degree of awe than the next person, especially as the House of Bishops is largely populated by people my own age or younger! But I am still pretty keen on episcopacy, and don't see any problem with letting bishops govern as well as lead. There is a role for synods, but it shouldn't have anything to do with teaching or declaring doctrine.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

I never intentionally “go dark” in the blogsphere. When this site is dormant for several days, it’s invariably because real life has intervened. Like most bloggers, I do have a real life, and blogging is not it. The responsibilities (and joys) of parish and family life have consumed my spare time and energy for about the last ten days.

But even while quiet, I continue to at least read the headlines in Anglican cyberspace and reflect on my place in all of it. At the risk of indulging in narcissism, this includes pondering my own perception of how others perceive me in the Anglican blog world. It’s no secret that I number myself—and am numbered by others—on the conservative side of the spectrum. But for the most part, I sense that I’m also perceived as an irenic conservative—one who can talk to those who hold other viewpoints without getting all in a twist.

Many other conservatives, I have come to realize, appreciate me for standing in that very place. Of course, there are some on my own side of the Great Chasm who think I’m a little squishy on some issues, and that I’m vulnerable to selling out to the enemy, or—worse still—being co-opted by them. And there are some across the canyon from me who think my amiable demeanor is just a smokescreen, and that there’s really no difference between me and the whole misogynistic and homophobic lot whom they love to hate.

But then there are a few Worthy Opponents (yes, I’m shamelessly lifting that label from Stand Firm) who consider me and others like me still deserving of being engaged in good faith. So when one of them writes something that absolutely makes sense, warming the depths of my orthodox soul, and doing so at some potential risk to their reputation among their own teammates, that persons deserves some kudos, both for courage and for the substance of the remarks themselves.

Over on the infamous HoB/D listserv, there has been an illuminating chain of threads over sacramental theology and practice. (In the back of my mind, I’m simmering an extended essay in response to some of the issues raised there.) During the last couple of days, the subject of biblical interpretation came up with respect to baptismal practice and baptismal liturgy. A couple of commenters got into a small spat over when certain New Testament texts may have been written and when and by whom, with the implication that the answer to those questions is critical to resolving the baptismal issues.

Then, charging over the hill like the cavalry, Sarah Dylan Breuer came to the rescue with these entirely apposite remarks (which I quote with her permission):

I am able to say, as a certified scholar of historical Jesus studies and as an Anglican, that canon is canon. This is one of the reasons that 'red letter' editions of bibles that render the reported words of Jesus in a different color font set my teeth on edge. Why should Jesus' actions (e.g., his death on a Roman cross) be less worthy of highlighting than his words? Why should Paul's interpretation of Jesus' message and what it means for Christian communities be less authoritative or more authoritative (and I've encountered people who have come from both sides of that spectrum -- from supposed "historical Jesus" enthusiasts who completely ignore that Paul's letters are the earliest canonical witnesses we've got to Christian teaching and praxis to historical enthusiasts who suggest that the gospels are less authoritative because they were written later than Paul's letters)?

So yeah, I'm a progressive, with as many cards as one needs to say "I'm a progressive" and as many bruises as it usually takes to say so as well, and I'm a certified biblical scholar besides (Ph.D. dissertation -- from the History department at U.C.L.A. -- will be filed this year, so help me God). And I'm happy to say as a historian that theology and Christian praxis ought not be left to historians. The entire canon of scripture has been judged by the church catholic to be an authoritative source for Christian teaching, and as much as I might be tempted to say that the church ought to await breathlessly the next set of papers from my colleagues and I about historical Jesus or Pauline studies, I have to say that relying on historians to determine what within the canon of scripture should be authoritative for Christians is not a good use of time and energy. The basis for determining any 'canon within the canon' or any other fundamental principle for the Church's biblical interpretation is theological more than historical.

I could not have said it better myself. Dylan squarely hits the nail on the head on the question of how the notion of scriptural authority is misunderstood and misused nowadays, particularly by those with “reappraiser” proclivities. She also hints at the dark secret of how Liberals and Evangelicals meet and shake hands on the back side of the barn, both with their own (somewhat different) sub-orthodox “red letter” Bibles.

Dylan isn’t lying when she says she’s a card-carrying Progressive. Her life is implicated with that cause. It’s not a cause I can support. But she and any of her colleagues who are similarly inclined are Progressives I can talk to, because we can at least begin with a common vocabulary that is authentically grounded in traditional Christianity. We may not end up in the same place, but we can at least begin together, and that strikes me as something worth doing.