Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Looking Hard at the Progressive Platform

The Consultation is a consortium of thirteen unofficial (that is, not created or funded by General Convention, Executive Council, or 815) advocacy groups within the Episcopal Church. They go into overdrive every three years as General Convention approaches, making common strategic cause for the advancement of positions widely known as “progressive.”

A few days ago, The Consultation released its platform for 2009. You can find the whole thing here. Some of those with whom I habitually consort cybernetically, folks who for the most part would not be identified by themselves or others as “progressives,” have been exchanging ideas about what our “platform” might be … if we indeed had a platform, to say nothing of a clear idea of how we understand “we.”

In due course—very shortly, I suspect—we may share some bullet points of our own. In the meantime, and by way of contextualizing what follows, some of The Consultation’s platform planks deserve to be—what’s the word for it these days?—fisked.

1. Continue the Reformation of the Church.
• Equip all the baptized for their ministry in the world and for their share in the governance and mission of the Church at every level of its life.
• Remove all canonical obstacles to exercising the full baptismal ministry in the whole life of the Church.

I don’t think anyone would argue that the Church isn’t perpetually in need of reformation, and it seems plausible enough that every baptized Christian ought to be exercising the gifts for ministry that are conferred in the paschal sacraments. But the devil, as they say, is in the details. What do they mean by “share in the governance” and “every level of its life” and “full baptismal ministry”? Should the nine-year olds whose birthdays I blessed a couple of Sundays ago be allowed seat and voice on the vestry? Should a dyslexic be elected clerk? Obviously not. Discernment is called for in determining which of “the baptized” are appropriately invited to serve in which ministries. Of course, one person’s “discernment” is another person’s “discrimination,” and therein lies the bone of contention buried in The Consultation’s platform.

Conform the canons to the baptismal theology of the Book of Common Prayer.

The organizations represented in The Consultation apparently see something implicit in the 1979 Prayer Book rite of baptism that they understand as validating and energizing their commitment to “progressive” causes, something that is both intrinsically good and uniquely distinctive; it’s something we have in TEC that other Anglican provinces and other non-Anglican churches lack. Moreover, they discern an incongruity between this ostensible “baptismal theology” and the present canons of TEC. Completely apart from the merits of these claims, one might plausibly ask, When it comes to the foundational sign of Christian identity, is uniqueness necessarily such a good thing? Is this not the one area in which we should most proactively eschew distinctiveness and embrace commonality with other churches? We are, after all, talking about the sacrament by which one becomes a Christian, not merely an Episcopalian. To claim uniqueness for our “baptismal theology” turns us into a cult, not a church. Beyond that, it smacks of the worst sort of triumphalism. Perhaps, in our “non-progressive” bullet points, we should affirm that the baptismal theology of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is neither more nor less than that of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church of the creeds, and not in any particular conflict with canon law.

2. Maintain the historic principle of the autonomy of Provinces in the Anglican Communion.

• Reaffirm that our covenant is given by God in baptism.
• Celebrate the unique character of the polity of the Episcopal Church.
• Express our solidarity with the Anglican Church of Canada in their rejection of any Anglican Covenant.

Well, there you have it: An overt swipe at the developing Anglican Covenant, which General Convention will almost certainly have the opportunity to act on, though there is considerable doubt that it will do so. Again, no one I know argues for the abrogation of provincial autonomy. But the events of the last five years in Anglicanland have raised legitimate and pressing questions as to its nature. We can pretty much blame this on the internet, I think. The world is exponentially smaller than it was twenty years ago, and the shrinkage continues apace. What Anglican leaders do and say in Harare and Perth has an immediate impact on the lives of Anglicans in Vancouver and Brasilia. And vice versa. So where are the appropriate limits on autonomy? It has been suggested—helpfully so, in my opinion—that communion is the fundamental limit on autonomy. The Consultation apparently doesn’t see it that way.

As for the “unique character and polity of the Episcopal Church,” this is admittedly much less problematic than having a unique baptismal theology. But the subtext here is directed toward other Anglican provinces in general—and, it must be said, the Archbishop of Canterbury in particular—who, The Consultation perceives, chronically don’t “get” they way things are done in the Episcopal Church; specifically, the democratic synodal processes that involve laity on an equal footing with priests and bishops. In reality, the rest of the Communion “gets” TEC just fine; they just think we’ve royally fouled our own next … upwind of theirs. And can we get beyond our smugness about being democratic? I’ve got no particular quarrel with democracy, but in church governance, throwing dice is proven to work just as well as taking votes. And the Holy Spirit probably thinks it's a little less stressful that way.

3. Invest in economic justice and eliminate poverty.

I’ll spare you the bullet points on this one. In brief, they advocate U.S. government participation in the MDGs to the tune of 0.7% of the federal budget (somebody want to do the math on that?), fully socialized healthcare, and an end to immigration enforcement raids. So…the Episcopal Church doing all this is going to eliminate poverty? How nice. Who knew the answer was so simple?

4. Repent and make reparation for slavery.

The Episcopal Church does indeed have some dirty laundry in this area. Many church buildings still in use were built by slave labor, and some of the endowment funds of dioceses and parishes in older sections of the country can be traced to wealth originally accumulated by means of “involuntary servitude.” Some form of accounting for this history is probably not out of order. But the principal energy behind calls for reparations rests on the premise that there are identifiable people in this country today—more than 150 years after slavery was abolished—who have been demonstrably and measurably harmed by the practice. This is by no means a self-evident starting point. There are those who want to make such a case, but it is extremely tenuous, particularly when balanced against the human and material resources that would be diverted away from other mission priorities in order to make this possible.

5. Dismantle racism and oppression.

Again, I don’t know anyone who’s going to argue in favor of racism, so this one appears to be a slam dunk. But it’s not. The bullet points call for mandatory “anti-racism training” at the seminary and diocesan levels. The notion that one can be “trained” to oppose racism is inherently preposterous. It smacks of Soviet-era “re-education camps.” Moreover, the working definition of racism in such settings defies common sense. Rather than willful (or even negligent) discrimination on the basis of race, rather than active (or even passive) discrimination on the basis of race—i.e. the sorts of practices that the civil rights movement in the ‘60s struggled against—anti-racism “trainers” now define racism as “the exercise of unearned white privilege.” That’s simply a recipe for the perpetuation of identity politics and a culture of victimization. The second bullet point calls for “inclusive representation at all levels of Church leadership”? So what are we talking about? Quotas? Reserved spots on General Convention committees for designated minorities? The mind boggles at trying to reconcile this with the vision of Christian identity articulated in Ephesians 4, among other places. St Paul (or the pseudo-Pauline author) would weep over this platform plank.

6. End the culture of violence.

This one is a very broad brush. Let’s see, who are the officially sanctioned victim groups here? We’ve got women, children, “sexual and gender minorities,” victims of human trafficking, and the “Palestinian people.” Conspicuous by their absence? Israelis, targets of suicide bombers, and (last, and in this case very much least) children in utero, the single most-vulnerable class of human beings in the world.

7. Build a culture of peace.

Who can argue with that? I certainly would not. But what about this bullet point: “Add peace, justice, and nonviolence studies to the curricula of all Episcopal schools, colleges, and seminaries.” Presumably, this would include the parochial school in Louisiana where I used to teach, the diocesan-owned high school my children attended there, undergrads at the University of the South (those same children’s alma mater), and all the seminaries. The seminaries, I can assure you, are already stretched to the max trying to satisfy all their various constituencies during the three years they have a student. This is where the good truly become the enemy of the necessary. Such a mandate would send seminary deans speeding toward the medicine cabinet by way of the liquor cabinet.

8. Embrace the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments.

• Affirm that all orders of ministry are open to all the Baptized who are otherwise qualified.
• Urge clergy to refuse to function as civil magistrates in marriage and to re-affirm their authority to bless all faithful relationships.

I actually haven’t got a problem with the first bullet point, interpreted literally just as it stands. I bet my friends at The Consultation, however, would have a different spin on “otherwise qualified” than I would! And I actually haven’t got a problem in principle with the first part of the second bullet point. As long ago as 1980, I supported a resolution in the convention of the Diocese of Oregon that called for clergy to disengage from being agents of the state. (It was successfully tabled by the local “Marryin’ Sam” rector.) Of course, what’s at stake here for The Consultation is permission to bless same-sex unions (or “marriages”, as the case may be), which, ipso facto, betrays a callous disregard for the rest of the Anglican Communion. In fact, any resolution to this effect would be in violation of TEC’s own constitution, the preamble of which makes Anglican identity the governing rubric for everything that follows.

9. Save the earth from environmental catastrophe.

Here we have mandatory energy audits and conservation measures in “all Episcopal Church facilities and programs.” It isn’t clear whether this means only those facilities and programs under the direct control of General Convention, or extends to every last diocesan summer camp chapel and latrine. They also want us to only buy electric power from renewable sources. Nice idea. I’ve tried to do the same. There isn’t always a choice, however. Then there’s more stuff about the EPA Superfund and the Kyoto Accords, as if the secular world gives a gnat’s posterior what the Episcopal Church thinks about such things. (We are the quintessential roaring mouse.)

10. Urge renewed attention to domestic HIV/AIDS.

This is pretty much a no-brainer. I’m tired, so I’ll only deal with their last bullet point on this one: “Support bills requiring states to provide Medicaid coverage to all persons who are HIV-positive.” Do they really mean “all”? What about those who are already adequately insured? If there are indeed states that discriminate against indigent patients because they have HIV, paying at a different level than they would for one who has, say, diabetes, then I could support this call. But if they’re simply trying to use HIV/AIDS as a wedge on behalf of their earlier-stated goal of single-payer healthcare, then this is a Trojan (I’m sorry, the pun is not intended) horse.

Stay tuned for some “non-progressive” platform planks.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Internet as Borg: Threat & Promise

In two iterations of the Star Trek franchise, a collective entity known as the Borg figures prominently in several plot lines. The Borg is seen as a threat to individual freedom because it endeavors relentlessly to assimilate individual organisms into its complex network, thus subjecting them to a hive mentality. Among the Star Trek cognoscenti, the Borg has become a metaphor for any impetus toward coercive collectivization.

I reflect on this metaphor often, and, I must confess, ambivalently.

I have been an internet denizen since early 1996, when I bought a new Macintosh that came loaded with Apple’s (now defunct) eWorld browser and e-mail software. (My college daughter had been using a rudimentary form of e-mail called Broadcast, limited to college campuses, but in which the internet culture of anonymity via screen names had already taken root, for a year or two before that.) That was, of course, on a dial-up connection with a by-the-minute pricing structure. Logging on to “check e-mail” was something of an event. Nonetheless, I got my first taste of the potential for forming community that is completely internet-based, participating actively in messages boards that got ever more sophisticated in the way topic threads could be organized and accessed.

Three years later my parish had its own website, ultra-primitive by today’s standards but reasonably handsome at the time. A couple of years after that, I made the move, both at home and in the office, to always-on DSL. In 2005, or thereabouts, it was on to a wireless router, first at home and then at church, now using a laptop in both places. We updated our parish website about the same time. A parishioner told me about Google, and my life has never been the same since. I have long since reached the point where I will sooner “google” a piece of information (even looking up a Bible verse!) than walk across a room to pull a book of the shelf. And I remarked to a parishioner just yesterday that I no longer check my e-mail; my e-mail checks me!

It was largely because of my internet presence via a listserv that I got appointed to a high-profile committee at the 2006 General Convention, which was also my introduction to blogging, as I made a nightly post on my deputation’s blog. And I quickly learned thereby how what you post in cyberspace can come back to bite you quickly and mercilessly, as a witness at a committee hearing quoted my words (out of context, of course) in front of a gallery of about 1,000 persons.

In September of that year I began my own blog, and continued to make comments on others. It occurred to me this morning, as I was drying off from my shower, that I have in all likelihood reached the point that the list of people who are familiar with my name and my general views is longer than the list of those with whose names and views I am familiar. That’s a convoluted way of saying that I am a net exporter of information and influence. The surplus balance may not be all that large, but it is, I’m sure, a surplus. And it would never have been possible without the internet.

Some seven months ago, I joined Facebook. I resisted for a long time, and was skeptical at first. It took me a while to grasp—shall we say—the “Zen” of the medium. It has given a whole new meaning to the word “friend” (to say nothing of turning “friend” and “favorite” into verbs, a development against which my inner linguistic purist still rebels). I have come to value it as an easy way to maintain relationships with people in different overlapping universes—extended family that I actually see on relatively rare occasions, people from my past who are no longer physically proximate but whom I don’t want to totally lose contact with, people who do live close by and whom I do see regularly but may not have the chance to just chit-chat with, and people whom I have never actually met except in cyberspace, but with whom I share something in common. It is, as they say, a “social network,” and now I get it.

Over the last several months, the parish office has become much more web-dependent. Our calendars, internal e-mail, and membership database software are all now web-based. (Consequently, when the DSL goes down, productivity grinds to a halt.) Organizing, promoting, and keeping track of our growing small-group ministry is facilitated by a web-based application. The April edition of our newsletter will be delivered to the majority of our households via the internet, with a few hard copies going out to households that are not online.

I pay my bills online and file taxes online. I make travel arrangements online and do a substantial amount of internet purchasing online. My personal organization software still lives on my hard drive (Outlook with a Franklin-Covey add-on), but I have little doubt that five years from now I will be using a web-based application for that as well.

And I am not alone in any of this. To many of those who are reading this post, I am probably something of the technological Neanderthal.

But in our growing dependence on the internet, are we slowly being assimilated into the Borg? (Remember, “Resistance is futile.”) And, if so, is this a bad thing? This morning, courtesy of a Facebook friend who I have never met in person, I ran across an incredibly provocative video. I encourage you to watch it.

I’m sure there are important elements of what this man is saying that I’m not grasping owing to my poor math education in high school, and all the ensuing implications of that tragedy. But at a mostly intuitive level, it rocks my world. He’s talking about applying cyber-linking protocols not only to formatted, interpreted information, which is what web pages are, but to actual raw data—uncooked, unprocessed, unfiltered. This would, of course, require a massive amount of cooperation from millions of individuals, institutions, and (most importantly) governments.

There will be great resistance to this, and we will find out, I suppose, whether resistance is indeed futile. Many will be wary that he’s talking about their own medical chart and bank statements being suddenly accessible to strangers on the internet. I don’t think that’s what he’s talking about, but let’s just play with that idea for a moment. The main reason I don’t want the general public to be able to see my personal medical and financial information is the high probability that somebody will be inclined to abuse that information by causing me harm in some way. It could be a crook out to con me, or an insurance company selecting me out of its risk pool, or a government agency pressuring me to behave or not behave in a certain way.

Yet, that threat only works if there’s an imbalance of information, if they know something about me and I don’t know the corresponding or equivalent information about them. But in a (still quite hypothetical) world where all data are linked and universally accessible, such informational disparities would be more difficult to arrange. I don’t want the occasional nightmare where I am naked in public to ever come true. I might not like it any better if everybody suddenly turned up naked one day, but it would be an entirely different—and less threatening—scenario than if I’m the only one. It would have issues of its own, but informational disparity would not be one of them!

This vision of linked and universally accessible data is nothing but the fruition of the democratization of information that the linking of documents has already accomplished. And this is, on the whole, a good thing. Political spin, on any level, is a whole lot more difficult now than it was a decade ago. Why? Because there’s an army of bloggers out there who are not on anybody’s payroll that will waste no time pointing out when the Emperor is naked. Wholesale fraud can still be perpetrated, but not easily. There are too many sentinels who have the information to recognize phony credentials when they see them and cry, “Halt! Who goes there?” In my own micro-universe of Anglicanism, this has already been proven time and time again, much to the chagrin of both 815 and the Anglican Communion office.

In Star Trek, the Borg is indeed a menacing entity. It robs people of free will. It de-humanizes them (or whatever the equivalent is for non-human species.) As a steward of the Christian faith, I cannot fail to resist any “evil powers … which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” To the extent that the internet, and the very real worldwide web that connects people cybernetically, even people who don’t own or use a personal computer, dehumanizes people or somehow robs them of their dignity, the Christian community must cry “Foul!” But to the extent that it enables us to build and maintain connections between human beings that mediate life and love and truth, to say nothing of transparency and accountability; to the extent that it is a counter-force to the atomization to which we are so prone, a force that builds community and fosters mutual responsibility and interdependence, we cannot receive it as anything but a gift from the hand of a good and gracious God.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On the Demise of Evangelicalism

“The Coming Evangelical Collapse”—such is the provocative title of an op-ed that appeared in Tuesday’s edition of the Christian Science Monitor. The author is Michael Spencer, a Southern Baptist pastor in Kentucky, who blogs here.

Here’s a teaser:

We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.

This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline.

For Spencer’s assessment to be totally coherent, one should probably insert “American” before “Evangelical,” and understand “Evangelical” in a refined sense as referring to a post-WWII religious-cultural-intellectual movement that was a sort of “cleaned up” Fundamentalism. This is to distinguish it from both Evangelicalism broadly-conceived, which can properly refer to any ecclesial entity or tradition with roots in the Reformation, and also—for purposes of this blog, at any rate—from the Evangelical stream of Anglicanism, though there are overlaps all around. Billy Graham, Fuller Seminary, and Christianity Today were some of its early signature institutions. (Full disclosure: This is the milieu in which I was formed before my early twenties.)

In the ‘70s and ‘80s (i.e. when I began thinking of Evangelicals as “them” rather than “us”), leaders like Jerry Falwell and James Dobson led what we might call “second generation neo-evangelicalism” into the arena of secular politics, overlaying an identifier that the media took to calling the “Religious Right.” More recently, a third generation of leaders typified by Rick Warren have made tentative moves toward de-linking American Evangelicalism from automatic association with conservative politics, not abandoning the “culture wars,” but opening up to a bit more political diversity within the Evangelical fold.

From where I sit . . . well, where is it, exactly, that I sit? That’s a bit of a complex question that deserves more than a casual answer.

First, I sit in a place where I think I “get” Evangelicals, even though I don’t identify myself as one. I was raised in that culture, and even though the culture has changed—quite a lot in some ways (particularly musical!)—I know its vocabulary and its intellectual architecture. And I can affirm many points of commonality between my own Anglo-Catholicism and Evangelicalism, not the least of which is a devotion to Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God whose death and resurrection provides the basis for our reconciliation with God. So while I may be a critic at times, I’m a sympathetic critic.

Second, I occupy a seat in a denomination that is dying. The Episcopal Church is dying. It will be pulled down in the same vortex that swallows Evangelicalism. But the eventual autopsies will reveal, I believe, rather different causes of death. Different, but strangely similar as well. Both will die because they implicated themselves too closely with the political Zeitgeist—the Episcopal Church with the Left, Evangelicalism with the Right. Though diametrically opposed on some concrete issues, they drink the same Kool-Aid, which causes them to sacrifice the Best on the altar of the merely Good. So I read Spencer’s prognostications with an awareness that, while I may not be on the same roller coaster, I’m on one very much like it, and the ride is going to be just as rough.

Third, I sit in the Catholic section of the Christian tent. You can argue with me if you want to about whether the Episcopal Church retains a meaningful fragment of whatever substantive Catholic identity inheres in Anglicanism generically; I’m aware of all the arguments. But from an operational standpoint, as far as my day-to-day religious practice is concerned, personally and pastorally, I’m a Catholic. My week is anchored in the Eucharist on Sundays and Holy Days. My days are rooted in the Daily Office. I venerate icons, statues, and relics. I invoke the saints and pray for the dead. I pray the Angelus and the Rosary regularly. I make my confessions regularly and encourage others to do the same. I love Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. My years—the last 35 or so, at any rate—revolve around the incarnational, paschal, and ferial cycles.

So, from where I sit … from all three of those places … here’s what most got my attention in Spencer’s article:

Two of the beneficiaries will be the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions. Evangelicals have been entering these churches in recent decades and that trend will continue, with more efforts aimed at the "conversion" of Evangelicals to the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

You see, I am always, in the “background” (as we would speak of a computer), trying to craft an ecclesial survival strategy for the post-nuclear (I speak metaphorically) era. And so I see in this prediction by Spencer a potential life raft—or the mirage of a life raft, at least. As a Catholic with an Anglican brand name (aka “denomination”), I’m already used to confecting gourmet fare from the crumbs I’m able to catch from the table of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. That’s a skill I’ve already honed. Could it be that I will be able to employ that skill even after the Episcopal Church effectively (if not quite formally) collapses? Can I and others keep the ember glowing by being “Catholic enough,” and profiting from the Evangelical-to-Catholic migration that Spencer predicts? Or will it be impossible to remain immune to the “toxic assets” that are weighing TEC down?

Only time will tell.

I am neither alarmed nor discouraged by Spencer’s apocalyptic vision. Come what may, the gates of Hell will not prevail against Christ’s Church. The gospel will remain good news. Between the fourth and seventh centuries, Christianity’s center of gravity moved from the eastern Mediterranean to western Europe. The rise of militant Islam sealed the deal, completely eliminating Christianity from places that had been Christian bastions for centuries. There’s no reason the same can’t happen to Europe and North America; indeed, it’s difficult to deny that the process is more than half complete. Some might call it Divine Judgment. I won’t take that notion on here, but it’s worth pondering. In any case, though, the Spirit will blow in other places. I hear it’s windy in Africa.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Come Up Higher

Sometimes a blog comment deserves a post of its own. This one on the post just upstream from Allison Elaine:

Sanction: to ratify, approve
Sanction: to reprimand, penalize

Some Anglican churches have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to sanction their own actions and to sanction the actions of other Anglican churches. It is unclear if he will do so.

There! All recent Anglican history in one swell foop!

Brilliant (in the American sense, not the British one). Utterly brilliant.

Friday, March 06, 2009

This Language I Love

I am a professed amateur philologist, in the literal sense of both words. Who else would delight in owning the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary?

So I pass on this item which I found while perusing the "Humor" category of my saved emails in Outlook. I know not who the author is.

This is worth a few minutes of your time.  It will help you understand why English is difficult to learn. Is it?   Or is it not? This little treatise on the lovely language we share is only for the brave. It was passed on by a linguist, original author unknown. Peruse at your leisure, English lovers, but be sure to read aloud. 

Reasons why the English language is so hard to learn:

         1)    The bandage was wound around the wound.

         2)    The farm was used to produce produce.

         3)    The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

         4)    We must polish the Polish furniture.

         5)    He'd be able to lead if he would get the lead out.

         6)    The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert. [Triple whammy!]

         7)    Since there is no time like the present,he thought it was time to present the present.

         8)    A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

         9)    When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

         10)    I did not object to the object.

         11)    The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

         12)    There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

         13)    They were too close to the door to close it.

         14)    The buck does funny things when the does are present.

         15)    A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

         16)    To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

         17)    The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

         18)    After a number of injections my jaw got number.

         19)    Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

         20)    I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

         21)    How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Let's face it, English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England nor French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. 

We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth beeth? One goose, 2 geese . So one moose, 2 meese or one mouse, 2 mices? one index 2 indices?

Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend. If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? 

Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which an alarm goes off by going on. English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is  why, when the stars are out, they are visible.

PS. - Why doesn't "Buick" rhyme with "quick".....huh, WHY ?


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

An Aftershock in the Making

I have long taken to heart C.S. Lewis' observation in his classic Mere Christianity that affirming the Christian faith does not mean automatically dis-affirming everything that all other religions teach. Other religions, in fact, may contain significant elements of truth, and may even have insights into truth that Christians would do well to pay attention to. I have also long admired the witness of Thomas Merton, who died visiting Asia in order to further explore connections between the spiritual practices of Buddhist monasticism and those of his own Cistercian Benedictine tradition. Indeed, I have visited Trappist monks who rise in the middle of the night to sing the office of Vigils and then spend an hour in Zen meditation, seeing this as neither threat to nor compromise with their robust practice of Christianity.

So, as the news has emerged over the past few weeks that the (Episcopal) Diocese of Northern Michigan has discerned Kevin Thew Forrester as its next bishop, I have attempted to avoid rushing to judgment. You see, Father Thew Forrester, in addition to being an Episcopal priest and rector of St Paul's Church in Marquette, Michigan, is also a practicing Buddhist, and has received "lay ordination" in Buddhism, which includes taking a Buddhist name. There are those who contend, after all, that Buddhism is more a philosophy and a set of spiritual practices than it is a religion in the sense that Christianity is a religion. Hence, there is no inherent contradiction between the two; one can practice Christianity in a Buddhist "style."

Although I have seen some credible refutations of this position, I would, all things being equal, be willing to give Fr Thew Forrester the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he is up to nothing more sinister than were those Zen-meditating Trappist monks I visited in Oregon back in the 1980s. Unfortunately, all things are not equal. A credible source reports, confirming what was already anecdotally known, that, as rector of his current parish, he has engaged in numerous violations of TEC's constitution and canons in the exercise of liturgical leadership, casting aside not only the letter of the law--the texts and rubrics of the Prayer Book--but its spirit as well--the underlying theology of the gospel itself. He is clearly preaching "another gospel," one that bears little resemblance to classical Christianity in any form, let alone an Anglican one.

If this were happening a few weeks later, the confirmation of Fr Thew Forrester's election would come before General Convention, as did Gene Robinson's in 2003. As it is, it will be the Bishops unconvened and the Standing Committees who will bear that responsibility. Even so, however, I believe this situation has the potential to amount to a serious aftershock to the 2003 Robinson earthquake. If the election is confirmed and the consecration proceeds, it will be another signal to the rest of the Anglican Communion that, as far as the Episcopal Church is concerned, the privileges of autonomy trump the responsibilities of communion every time. It will be yet more grist for the mills of those who squander no opportunity to portray TEC as deranged substantially and not merely accidentally. It will make it that much more difficult for General Convention to respond in any affirming way to whatever version of the Anglican Covenant is revealed in Jamaica in May.

On the other hand, if Bishops and Standing Committees summon the fortitude to nip this one in the bud, the effect could be salutary indeed. Dare one hope?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Beware of the Grinding Wheels

The wheels of Anglican political machinations grind exceedingly slowly. They haven’t caught up with the internet age, and clearly don’t seem to care. The risk, of course, is that events will pass them by, and they will be rendered irrelevant, the effect of their grinding moot. The “progressive” end of the spectrum found the theological baseline enunciated by Lambeth I.10 in 1998, and the attendant listening process therein called for, too slow-moving for their liking, and forced the issue with the actions of General Convention 2003. Their opposite numbers on the “orthodox” end found the organic response of the Communion to the events of 2003 way too glacial, and have been about creating “facts on the ground” in myriad ways ever since.

But here’s the thing about those Anglican wheels: To the same extent that they grind slowly, they grind surely. They grind inexorably.

Practically before the lights were turned off on the General Convention of 2006, with its, at best, ambiguous response to the entreaties of the rest of the Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury weighed in with a pastoral letter to the bishops, clergy, and faithful of the Anglican Communion entitled, The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today. In that letter, Dr Williams made it clear that he had no intention of either initiating or abetting any effort to impose external “discipline” on the Episcopal Church (or the Anglican Church of Canada). One may fault him for not doing so if one is thusly inclined, but he is not culpable of inconsistency.

This is not to say, however, that the Archbishop is heedless of the misconduct of the North American holders of the Anglican franchise; indeed, quite the contrary. But his approach has ever been one of fostering the creation of the conditions under which the Americans would be the ones to “discipline themselves out” of full membership in the worldwide Anglican Communion. Challenge & Hope actually laid out an endgame scenario under which this would take place, with its two-tiered structure of “full membership” and “associate membership” in the WWAC, with the latter unmistakably envisioned as a state akin to “Anglican emeritus,” without seat, voice, or vote in the councils of the Communion.

Nothing that has transpired since Challenge & Hope—particularly and especially the words and deeds of Dr Williams—can be understood properly apart from its relationship to that document. This includes the communiqué from the Primates’ Meeting in Tanzania in February 2007, the statement from the House of Bishops in New Orleans in September of that year, Rowan’s presidential addresses at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the report of the Windsor Continuation Group, and the communiqué from last month’s Primates’ Meeting in Alexandria, Egypt.

The latest piece of the puzzle to fall into place was announced by Lambeth Palace today. In fulfillment of one of the key recommendations in the report from the Windsor Continuation Group, the Archbishop has named the members of an initial team of “pastoral visitors” whose job it is to safeguard the interests of besieged “orthodox” minorities in dioceses and provinces dominated by “progressives.” Provinces like the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. In May, the Anglican Consultative Council will convene and presumably be invited to lend its imprimatur to the arrangement and up the ante by establishing a Pastoral Forum along the lines envisioned by the Windsor Continuation Group to the Lambeth Conference last summer, which recommendations seem to be widely endorsed in the final published compilation of reports from the conference’s indaba groups.

Reaction to today’s news has been utterly predictable, with indignant consternation from the left (“See what’s ahead of us if we don’t nip it in the bud right now?”), and derisive yawns from the right (“Uh…Rowan…the horses left the barn a long time ago. Don’t worry about the door now”). Sometimes when you’re taking fire from both sides it means you’re occupying an completely untenable position. Is Rowan short a few credit hours in Rabbi Friedman Triangulation Prevention Training? Or, making both ends of a conflicted relationship angry can mean that you’re doing something exactly right, and that you shouldn’t be discouraged by the shrapnel flying all around your head.

My bet is on the latter scenario.

The next click of the gears will be heard in May, when the Anglican Consultative Council next convenes, in Jamaica. In addition to creating the Pastoral Forum, they will have a look at the next (and final?) draft of the evolving Anglican Covenant, which will not be perfect, but will, I wager, move us unambiguously in the direction of formally recognizing that communion is, in fact, the natural limit of autonomy for the 38 Anglican provinces. After the ACC meeting, all eyes will then turn to Anaheim, where both houses of General Convention will be gaveled to order on July 6th.  It’s impossible to tell from this far out exactly what action or inaction General Convention will take that will move TEC in the direction of “second tier” membership in the WWAC. It may not even be all that clear when the convention is over.

But it will not remain a mystery for long. Because while the wheels do grind slowly, they also grind surely. Rowan Williams may go down in history as a lot of things. But a fool isn’t one of them.

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