Monday, December 29, 2008

What Santa Brought Me

On the first day of Christmas ... well, a couple of days early, for practical family reasons ... my wife and kids (two of them in absentia) presented me with a gift bag containing a lump of charcoal and an egg dyed green. It did not take me long to deduce that they stood in for a very trendy (and I say that in a positive way) piece of equipment used for grilling and smoking. 

Yum. I so have spring fever.

But on this fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ... a dictionary.

So, as you can see, not just any dictionary. This is the Mother of All Dictionaries (the ones in English, at any rate). It's a twenty volume set, only a small fraction of which I will ever read before I bequeath them to my children, who will undoubtedly squabble over them voraciously.

The first edition was published eighty years ago (hence, the numerals on the graphic). This is the second edition, which came out in 1989. So it is, in some sense, obsolete. But it was obsolete before the ink was dry; such is the fate of any snapshot of a living human language. 

I have long been, in the true sense of both these words (look them up in your OED!), an amateur philologist. So this is an exciting gift. I will leave you with this tidbit from the opening entry, on the letter A:

3. In Abstract reasoning, hypothetical argumentation, Law, etc. A means any one thing or person...
1866 (in Bowen Logic iii, p. 49) Every conceivable thing is either A nor not-A. Of course, A and not-A, taken together, include the universe.

Ponder that!

Friday, December 26, 2008

An Important Conversation

Fellow Northern Indianan, newly-minted PhD, short-term missionary that my parish (modestly) helps support, and incoming editor of The Living Church--and my good friend--Christopher Wells has participated in a quite important dialogue-tiliting-toward debate with the Revd Dr William Franklin of the Anglican Centre in Rome over some of the factors underlying our current Anglican Angst. If you're a true Anglican geek, watch the whole thing (some 47 minutes). Or see the trailer here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

This Is Only A Test

The following Christmas greeting is widely available on the web, and I suspect that most readers of this blog have already seen it, and know the source. But, just in case you haven't, give it a look . . . with both an open heart and an analytical eye. (I have only slightly edited it to remove obvious clues.) What do you think? Is this a fair representation of Christmas or "the Christmas spirit"? Was it written by a Christian? Is it a within the wide bounds of Christian belief? What do you think?

In the Name of God the Compassionate the Merciful.
Upon the anniversary of the birth of Jesus, Son of Mary, the Word of God, the Messenger of mercy, I would like to congratulate the followers of Jesus Christ.

The Almighty created the universe for human brings and created human beings for Himself.

He created every human being with the ability to reach the heights of perfection. He called on man to aim to live a good life in this world and to work to achieve his everlasting life.

On this difficult and challenging journey of man from dust to the divine, He did not leave humanity to its own devices. He chose from those He created the most excellent as His Prophets to guide humanity.

All prophets called for the worship of God, for love and brotherhood, for the establishment of justice and for love in human society. Jesus, the Son of Mary is the standard-bearer of justice, of love for our fellow human beings of the fight against tyranny, discrimination and injustice.

All the problems that have bedevilled humanity throughout the ages came about because of humanity followed an evil path and disregarded the message of the Prophets.

Now as human society faces a myriad of problems and succession of complex crises, the root causes can be found in humanity's rejection of that message, in particular the indifference of some governments and powers towards the teachings of the divine Prophets, especially those of Jesus Christ.

The crises in society, the family, morality, politics, security and the economy which have made life hard for humanity and continue to put great pressure on all nations have come about because the Prophets have been forgotten, the Almighty has been forgotten and some leaders are estranged from God.

If Christ was on earth today undoubtedly he would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers.

If Christ was on earth today undoubtedly he would hoist the banner of justice and love for humanity to oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over.

If Christ was on earth today undoubtedly he would fight against the tyrannical policies of prevailing global economic and political systems, as He did in His lifetime. The solution to today's problems can be found in a return to the call of the divine Prophets. The solution to these crises can be found in following the prophets -- they were sent by the Almighty, for the happiness of humanity.

Today, little by little, the general will of nations is calling for fundamental change. This is now taking place. Demands for change, demands for transformation, demands for a return to human values are fast becoming the foremost demands of nations of the world. The response to this demand must be real and true. The prerequisite to this change is a change in goals, intentions and directions. If tyrannical goals are repackaged in an attractive and deceptive package and imposed on nations again, the people, awakened, will stand up against them.

Fortunately, today as crises and despair multiply, a wave of hope is gathering momentum. Hope for a brighter future, hope for the establishment of justice, hope for real peace, hope for finding virtuous and pious rulers who love the people and want to serve them – and this is what the Almighty has promised.

We believe, Jesus Christ will return and would lead the world to a rightful point; to a world of love, brotherhood and justice. The responsibility of all followers of Christ is to move towards that and to prepare the way for the fulfilment of this divine promise and the arrival of that joyful, shining and wonderful age. I hope that the collective will of nations will unite in the not too distant future and with the grace of the Almighty Lord, that shining age will come to rule the earth.

Once again, I congratulate one and all on the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ and I pray for the New Year to be a year of happiness, prosperity peace and brotherhood for humanity. I wish you every success.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Much Ado About Rick Warren

I have no personal investment in Rick Warren. I only skimmed A Purpose-Driven Life, so I could talk about it semi-intelligently when it was all the rage, but, while I found its contents quite sound and commendable and well-stated, they did not strike me as either original or remarkably profound. And while I cannot help but admire his accomplishments as a pastor and leader, he and I are in some very different places theologically (it's not a liberal-conservative thing, more of a catholic-evangelical thing). 

Which is all to say, I don't have a need to come to Rick Warren's defense. That which threatens him does not necessarily threaten me. And still less does he need me to come to his defense!

Pastor Warren has been in the spotlight over the past few days since the President-elect invited him to deliver the invocation and next month's inaugural ceremonies. Portions of Mr Obama's liberal base were disenchanted with that announcement, the problem being an apparent disconnect between Pastor Warren's views on certain social issues, which are decidedly conservative, and the President-elect's views, which are ... not so conservative.

Now, I don't really have a dog in this hunt. I was not among the jubilant on election night. But, by virtue of being an Episcopalian, I do have a stake in what some of the leading voices in my church are saying about this tempest. Pastor Warren was a visible supporter of Proposition 8 in his home state of California, and this has not set well with the guardians of gay rights orthodoxy in TEC. Some of the participants on the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv (HoBD) have suggested substantial similarity between Pastor Warren's views on homosexuality and those of Fred Phelps. (Click on the link and see for yourself, but I cannot bring myself to reproduce any of his truly vile and hateful screed.) They are incensed that he has used the term "holocaust" in connection with the number of abortions that take place in this country. They have labeled Warren's views extremist and resisted suggestions that he simply represents the mainstream of contemporary American evangelicalism. 

To all this I have to say . . . poppycock. Let's take the "abortion holocaust" issue first. Critics treat it like it's a comparison Rick Warren invented from whole cloth and is the only one using it. Has the Roman Catholic Church suddenly become invisible? As long ago as the ealy 1980s, John Powell, a popular Jesuit with a sort of cult following beyond church circles, published a book with the title Abortion: A Silent Holocaust, and the comparison has been part of Roman Catholic polemic on abortion ever since. My point is not to defend the language--although I think a cogent case can be made for its appositeness--but to point out that it's standard rhetorical fare. It can only be branded as extremist if one is willing to also so consign several tens of millions (at least) Americans. Rick Warren has lots of company on this.

But the bulk of the anti-Warren invective, including that emanating from Episcopalians, concerns his views on the place of same-sex relationships in American society. On the basis of this interview, his critics accuse him of trying to draw a moral equivalnce between committed same-sex relationships and relationships such as incest and pedophilia. This is tabloid jounalism of the worst sort. In fact, one could quite plausibly accuse him of not being hard enough on incest and pedophilia, since all he says is that they should not be labeled as "marriage"! If I were to denounce the suggestion that the definition of "lung" can be stretched to include "part of the digestive tract," does that make me an opponent of "equal rights for lungs"? I hope not! All I would be saying is that lungs should be allowed to be lungs and stomachs should be allowed to be stomachs, without confusing the two.

So, yes, the man has conservative views. But we're clearly not talking about some redneck bigot parroting unreflective prejudices. He supports gay rights on the concrete issues that actually affect lives (e.g. hospital visitation, inheritance). He opposes stretching the definition of marriage in ways it would never have occurred to anyone to stretch it before quite recently. In his opposition, he is neither mean-spirited nor unreasonable, and is not not only part of mainstream evangelicalism but enjoys the company of 52% of the California electorate, across sectarian lines. 

It seems worth adding that, while Rick Warren's views diverge from those that are apparently regnant at this time in the history of the Episcopal Church, they are solidly in the mainstream of global Anglicanism, both historical and contemporary. 

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Church Property Disputes & Common Sense

There's been a temptest raging today over on HoB/D over the amount of money (some $2 million, apparently) that the Episcopal Church has spent so far in legal fees trying to recover property held by congregations (and now dioceses) that have elected to sever their ties with "this church." The original poster opined that it is sinful to spend that kind of money taking other Christians to court. "Why not rather be defrauded?" as St Paul put it to the Corinthians. That poster subsequently got piled on by those putting forth the view that it's a simple matter of thievery (that is, on the part of "leaving" congregations); they're taking property that was intended to manifest the life and work of the Episcopal Church in perpetuity, and they must be resisted by every available means. I finally weighed in as follows:

I find myself dismayed by many aspects of this thread, though I am hard pressed to find anything to say that I have not already said many times, on this listserv and elsewhere. Anyone who thinks that there is one simple moral principle that can be applied like a blanket to cover all the property disputes that arise from the current unpleasantness is just not looking at reality. No two of these situations are exactly alike. The history, the present human dynamics, the financial paper trail, and a host of other factors, all contribute to the moral calculus in each individual case. 

Take, for example, a 150-year old physical plant that was paid for by long-departed donors. Yes, they clearly intended to advance the ministry of the Episcopal Church in their location--the founding documents probably say as much explicitly--so there is *prima facie* a strong presumption in favor of their stated wishes being honored. But it is more than plausible to counter that they would not recognize the Episcopal Church today as the same one they were intending to perpetuate, and not particularly because of any of the currently controverted issues. The mere fact that a set of chasubles fills the sacristy drawers may be enough to cause many of them to retrospectively rethink their largesse if such were possible. One cannot assume that the great-grandparents of today's senior parishioners would have one opinion or the other about "leaving" or "staying" in TEC as it is today. 

So, the repeated mantra of "fiduciary responsibility" wears a little thin. One must turn to other factors to make a prudent and sensible decision. If a majority of the present active congregation is in favor of leaving, but a significant minority is in favor of staying, the latter group should certainly not be turned out into the street--or the VFW hall. IMHO, too little imagination and charity have been exhibited in such situations; the winner-take-all mentality has been destructive. (The Colorado Springs situation seems a case-in-point here.) 

On the other hand, when a congregation is a relatively recent plant and the facilities have been paid for by parishioners who are more or less the present congregation, and the diocese has made no investment beyond the brand name, and there is an overwhelming vote in favor of leaving, it strikes me as beyond inane to take those folks to court. Justice is just a matter of common sense for those with open eyes. 

Then there are the "bite my nose to spite my face" cases where any victory on the part of TEC is pyrrhic because they're left with a church and a steeple but when they open the doors there are no people. Just heating and lawn care bills--and in many cases, a mortgage. Meanwhile, the people that could be worshiping and serving there guessed it...celebrating the Eucharist in the VFW hall on Sunday mornings. That's just idiotic. My former parish is in one of the four departed dioceses. Between my departure and my successor's arrival they eradicated the word "Episcopal" anywhere it was found and replaced it with "Anglican." Sooner or later, Mr Beers will get around to suing them. If he wins, he'll have a very handsome set of buildings dating back to the late 19th century and which are a collective black hole for maintenance dollars. I hope he enjoys watching them fall apart, because my guess is that even the residents of the columbarium will have relocated by then. 

This is a complicated mess. It requires a complicated cleanup. Nostrums about thievery are not helpful.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I'm a Grampa!

Here she is. All 8 lbs. of her. Born a little after 1 PM Central Time today. Ain't she cute?!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Covenant, the ???

If you frequent this corner of cyperspace, chances are you are already aware of this one. I am privileged to have been associated with since its inception some 16 months ago. Last weekend, about half of our 30ish contributors met in Dallas, many of us for the first time. We all came away energized by the calling we discern for our collective self as the history of Anglican Christianity is being made and re-made on a virtually daily basis. We are evolving from "just a blog" to ... what? A "movement"? We as yet see through the glass somewhat darkly, but something significant is brewing.

When I look at the picture of us, I feel out of place, because I was with several of the brightest minds in the Communion (and beyond). I'm especially pleased to have been distinctly over the median age of the group. That bodes well.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

On Doing the Wrong Thing Well

One cannot practice the Christian faith both long and deeply without somehow coming to terms with its paradoxical nature: God is one and God is three, Jesus is divine and Jesus is human, humans bears God's image and humans are fallen sinners, law is good and grace is good, faith and works are both key to salvation, etc. etc. The contradictory pairs keep on coming.

It is somewhat in that spirit that I take on what is by any estimation a big event in the development of Anglican Christianity. Tomorrow, in Wheaton, Illinois (part of the greater territory of my old childhood stomping grounds), representatives of a variety of ecclesial structures populated overwhelmingly by former Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans will assemble and constitute themselves as a church--one with a unified structure, a constitution and canons, liturgical formularies (one presumes), and methods of discipline; in short, all the institutional paraphernalia of a church. In Anglican parlance, they will style themselves a "province." Their undisguised intention is, in time, to effectively replace the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada as the holder of the Anglican "franchise" in North America.

I will not be there, even though I'm only some 150 miles away. I am, for the foreseeable future, an Episcopalian, and this is a decision I have made for reasons that range from the sublime to the mundane, from the principled to the practical. For me, this is the path of obedience. Moreover, I wish they were not doing what they are doing. As one who says the creeds enthusiastically without crossing his fingers and who does not believe any church is at liberty to recast the vision of marriage that "was established by God in creation" (Book of Common Prayer, p. 423), I continue to believe that it was a mistake, both theologically and strategically, for those who will form the new province tomorrow to have left the Episcopal Church. If I were in a position to wave a wand and dictate my will, they would all return.

But among those who gather in Wheaton (or who at least will be represented by those who gather), many are my friends. Per the Psalmist, "we took sweet counsel together, and walked with the throng in the house of God." (55:15) These are people with whom I have labored side by side in a number of contexts for the sake of the gospel. And my own vision of that gospel generally accords much more closely with theirs than it does with the that of the regnant leadership of my own church/province. So I am experiencing what I learned in my Psych 1 course nearly four decades ago to call "cognitive dissonance." I may as well come out with it: Even though in my mind I am persuaded of what I wrote in the above paragraph, there is no small part of my heart that is envious of those who are part of the new province. I won't bother to catalog the reasons for my envy; just stating the fact is sufficiently cathartic. (Aside to MBTI-philes: The fact that I am an INTJ explains why my head trumps my heart in this and just about every other matter.)

So, even though I would have it some other way if I could, the fact remains that I cannot, and that being the case, I find it in my mind (and my heart, truth to tell) to offer a valediction of sorts to the "Council of Wheaton." I have hopes for their project, even while I am not part of it:

  • I hope that will find a way to emphasize the joys and the truths that they are affirming, and minimize any rhetoric about the sorrows and falsehoods they believe themselves to be leaving behind.
  • I hope they will not surrender a commitment to communion with the See of Canterbury as a determinitive mark of Anglican identity.
  • I hope they will not lose sight of the traditional Anglican value of comprehensiveness and diversity within the bounds of creedal orthodoxy.
  • I hope they will maintain a spirit of respect and fraternal love toward those whose call is to maintain a witness within the Episcopal Church.
  • I hope they will open themselves to the notion that those who are mistaken on certain questions of sexual morality are not thereby necessarily heretical and/or apostate, but simply wrong.
  • I hope they will quickly overcome the differences between the divergent ecclesial cultures that have grown up even during the short time that extra-mural North American Anglicans have sought refuge in a number of different ports.
  • I hope they will embrace humility and gentleness of spirit with such abandon that the hearts of any detractors will melt in the face of such resistless love. 
My friends, in the words attributed to Luther, "sin boldly." If you are going to indeed do what you have evidently put your minds to, do it well. If it turns out you are wholly wrong (and the Spirit will make that clear over time), I will personally leave the light on for you here. If it turns out I'm the one who's whistling in the dark, save me a spot.