Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On Sin & Blessability, etc.

Yesterday was a more-active-than-usual day for me on the HoB/D, and it seems worthwhile to share my own contributions to a thread about the perrennial bugaboo of sexuality:

To address xxx's question: (If a same-sex couple from your diocese came to Connecticut and got legally married, could either person (or both) then return home and serve at the altar in your diocese?)

Not being the bishop of my diocese (for which legions give thanks), I cannot give a definitive answer.

Were I the bishop, I don't know that their partnered status prior to their brief Connecticut sojourn would have prevented them from serving at the altar (in either a licensed or non-licensed lay capacity) in the first place. So whatever took place in CT would not change that. That's just my personal view. I realize it may be a little more "progressive" than the policy of the Diocese of Dallas. But before you pop the champagne cork: Again, were I the bishop, either status would yield a presumptive negative answer to any question of discernment for ordination. Nor would there be any question of celebrating or blessing whatever may have taken place in CT. The point is, while I support extending the sort of legal "rights and privileges" of marriage to any two consenting adults who might want them, I continue to hold the presently unpopular (on this listserv, at any rate) view that marriage inherently is something, and is not simply a social construct that can be whatever a societal consensus might support, and that that "thing" that marriage is precludes the use of the word to denote a relationship between two persons of the same sex, as much as such relationships might look or feel or work like or otherwise resemble marriage, and even as much as any given such relationship might display the attributes of Christian marriage as well or better than any given actual marriage. Not everything that quacks and waddles is a duck. 

Someone asked me to elaborate, and this was my reply:

This is an attempt to respond to xxx's question upstream. I do so with trepidation, aware that this listserv has a low flash point, and my best attempt at "cool" communication will no doubt be offensive to some. Nonetheless, I will take the risk, because the question as hand is important.

When I mention "attributes of Christian marriage", I am thinking of the "Dearly beloved..." speech in the Prayer Book. And in the context of relationships that (I would contend) are not marriage exhibiting these characteristics, I'm thinking specifically of "mutual joy" and "help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity." I am certainly in no position to deny the testimony of those partners in same-sex relationships that they experience these things in their relationships. And I rejoice in that. "Mutual joy" and "help and comfort" are good things, blessings that I would wish on everyone. As to whether the presence of such qualities is a presumptive sign of the overt presence of the Holy Spirit, I do not consider myself qualified to say, and I am terminally suspicious of anyone who claims to be so qualified. 

I understand that this might strike some as either incoherent or inconsistent (or both!). I'm tentative about this, but the sum of my experience and reflection has brought me to a place where, at present, I can acknowledge the presence of goodness and health even in the larger context of sin and disease. For instance, the fact that an adulterous affair is "inherently sinful" (probably no argument from anyone in the room on that, I suspect) does not negate the reality that it can mediate joy and life to those who participate in it. Distorted joy and life, no doubt, but joy and life nonetheless. But recognizing the presence of good things (joy and life) in the midst of a bad thing (an adulterous affair) does not make the bad thing good--i.e. does not therefore make it merit a blessing.

Now, as to "inherently sinful"-- Yes, if pressed (which is to say, this isn't the first thing I would say on the subject), my understanding of the Christian moral tradition and enduring consensus is that sexual activity outside the context of marriage between one man and one woman is "inherently sinful." Many of our problems in discourse arise, however, when "sinful" is automatically equated with "overtly and fully evil," such that two teenagers getting carried away after prom is equated with genocide (at a visceral level, at any rate). I have found it helpful to keep coming back to the Greek root of sin as harmartia--literally, falling short of the mark. An arrow can be aimed in the right direction, but fall short. My intuitive hunch is that a merciful God is pleased when our arrows are aimed in the right direction even when they fall short. He encourages us and says, "Good try. Keep it up. You'll get there." But he does not unqualifiedly bless our efforts as if we had hit the target. And neither can we bless our own efforts that don't hit the target, even if they are aimed in the right direction.

And why do I insist that sexual relationships outside of (heterosexual) marriage fall short of the target? This brings us back around to the "Dearly beloved..." speech. In addition to the characteristic of marriage that I already mentioned above, the Prayer Book rite talks about "the bond and covenant of marriage [that] was established by God in creation," a relationship that "signifies to us the union between Christ and his Church." The allusion to "creation" removes marriage from the category of a merely human social institution that human society is at liberty to reconfigure at will. The imagery borrowed from Ephesians 5 is nothing other than a "boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy loses girl, boy rescues girl" narrative. (It's not for no reason that the Church has always been referenced by feminine pronouns.) Indeed, the entire meta-narrative of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is speckled with nuptial imagery as a metaphor for the divine-human relationship. 

Finally, there is the procreative purpose of marriage: "...for the procreation of children, and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord." Procreation is certainly not the sole purpose of either marriage in particular or sexual relations in general. There are childless marriages and there is non-procreative sex. But we delude ourselves (IMO), and do so at our collective peril, if we think we can totally isolate marriage and sex from procreation. Intercourse in marriage "looks like" an act that has the potential to create a child--it is a sign of fruitfulness--even when there are obvious reasons that any given act will not do so, and even when measures are taken to ensure that it will not do so. It is a reminder that neither sex nor marriage are "all about" the participants. They are sign-laden channels of connection with the mysterious tapestry of God's re-weaving of the torn fabric of creation. When we think anything less of them, we get into trouble.

I don't expect to persuade anyone of anything by all of this, but I thought xxx's questions deserved a thoughtful response.
- Show quoted text -

Christ the (Only?) Way

The exclusivist claims of Christianity are a subject of ongoing debate both within the Church and outside it. When President Ford was buried from the National Cathedral a while back and the traditional funeral gospel reading from John 14 omitted the concluding phrase, "No one comes to the Father but by me," that omission did not go unnoticed either by those who were inclined to applaud it or by those who were scandalized by it. The recent deposition of an Episcopal priest who also professed Islam, and the bishop-elect who also walks the way of Zen Buddhism, have kept the issue on center stage.

With Good Shepherd Sunday coming up, I ran across this from the late Anglican New Testament scholar Reginald Fuller in his homiletical notes on John 10:11-18 for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (from Preaching the Lectionary, 1984). It speaks to the question cogently:

(Referring to Article XXVII of the Church of England, Of Obtaining Salvation Only by the Name of Christ) In modern words, this article condemns the view  that it is good to have a religion but it doesn't matter which one. The biblical exclusiveness that underlies the mission of the Church can be linked with ... the parable of the sheep and the shepherd: "I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd." Perhaps, too, the "wolves" against which the good shepherd defends his flock are those broad-minded Christians today who hold that salvation is through any religion, not through Christ alone. This is exclusive claim is made because only Christ has been raised from the dead. Only he has passed through death to our final destiny, and therefore we can attain our final salvation only through him.

Monday, April 27, 2009


I didn't make this up. It's from here.

And there's no such word as "coronated." No wonder newspapers are losing circulation.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

I know, but...

Results in the consent process for the election of Kevin Thew Forrester as Bishop of Northern Michigan are beginning appear at a stepped-up pace. This one raised my pulse and took my breath away. 

But the standing committee of the Diocese of San Joaquin has decided to approve the election of the Rev. Kevin G. Thew Forrester. Among those present for the April 18 vote, the vote was unanimous, according to the standing committee’s Cindy Smith.“We reviewed various articles and opinions by different people and we weighed those and we felt that we wanted to give our consent” after giving the issue “careful consideration,” Smith said.

Of course, I know it's the faux Diocese of San Joaquin that is making this announcement. I'm well aware of that cognitively. But at a visceral level, I can barely keep my composure while merely reading the words. Especially in the light of so many certifiably "progressive" bishops and Standing Committees already having registed in the Nay column, this is just further proof that the detritus left behind in the wake of the (lamentable) departure of the real diocese is not just a group of "mere" Episcopalians, but ... well, I probably shouldn't write what I'm thinking.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Resolution on the Anglican Covenant

I am pleased to have been able to submit the following resolution to the General Convention office this afternoon. Co-sponsors are Dr Christopher Wells, also of Northern Indiana, and the Revd Bruce Robison of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

TITLE: Provisional Acceptance of the Anglican Covenant

Resolved, the House of _____________ concurring, that this 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church make a provisional commitment to abide by the terms of the Anglican Covenant proposed in the most recent text of the Covenant Design Group (the “Cambridge-Ridley” draft); and be it further

Resolved, that the text of the proposed covenant be commended to the various dioceses of this church for study and comment during the coming triennium; and be it further

Resolved, that the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies appoint a Special Task Force to determine what constitutional and/or canonical measures may be necessary in order to make a permanent commitment to the Covenant; and be it further

Resolved, that this Special Task Force prepare a report to the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church that includes draft legislation that could be considered should the convention decide to make a permanent commitment to the Covenant.

The 75th General Convention passed resolution A166, which supports the participation of the Episcopal Church in the development of an Anglican Covenant. Since then, the Covenant Design Group has produced several drafts, culminating in what the members of the CDG believe is the final product of their work, the Cambridge-Ridley Draft.

The 75th General Convention also passed resolution A159, which affirms not only our commitment to interdependence in the Anglican Communion, but a desire to live in “the highest degree of communion possible.” The same convention also passed resolution A160, which offers an apology that “our failure to accord sufficient importance to the impact of our actions on our
church and other parts of the Communion” has “strained the bonds of affection” between the provinces of the Communion.

Since 2006, these strains have only grown more severe. Given our share in their creation, and in keeping with our long-held ecumenical position that for the greater good of the larger Church’s unity, “this Church is ready in the spirit of love and humility to forego all preferences of her own,” and as a sign of good faith toward our sisters and brothers across the Communion, it seems appropriate that we voluntarily and temporarily agree to order our life according to the terms of the Cambridge-Ridley Draft until such time as we can ascertain the level of its acceptance by other churches, and consider more fully the nature of our identity as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion of churches.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Calling All Software Engineers

This has been a more-significant-than-average day in the Anglican blogsphere. But the honest-to-God truth is that I haven't got anything to say about it that hasn't already been said, either by me or someone else. Go here for the details if you tend to hang out under a rock.

So, instead of engaging in redundant punditry, I'm going to indulge in a technology rant. 

Some background: Roughly fifteen years ago I graduated from pocket calendars and crude to-do lists scribbled on scratch paper to what was then called the Franklin Planner. My version was contained in a large seven-ring leather binder. It was quite handsome and I was very fond of it. There was a page for every day, with room for appointments, notes, and a task list that was governed by some fairly sophisticated principles for establishing priorities. My life was all but literally in that binder, and the loss of it would have constituted a major trauma.

In mid-2001, I acquired my first laptop computer and a PDA (yes, a Palm Pilot), and made the leap to paperless planning. By this time, Franklin had merged with Stephen Covey's operation (he of Seven Habits fame), and I purchased their software that more or less emulated the functionality of the leather binder that I then discarded. But my laptop came loaded with Microsoft Outlook, which I found very attractive, the only downside being that Outlook's task management tools are not amenable to the Franklin process to which I had become accustomed (addicted?). So I was shortly thereafter delighted to discover that Franklin Covey had developed add-on software that attaches itself to Outlook and delivers familiar Franklin Covey tooks in an Outlook environment. I was sold.

For the most part, this worked very well for me. The only glitch was that the marriage between the two was randomly unstable and they would stop talking to one another. This could always be fixed, but it involved a phone call to FC tech support and those experiences are never fun. 

Then, about a year and half ago, I moved to an office with a network governed by a Microsoft Exchange Server, and my life has never been the same. The pissing contests between Outlook and FC became more frequent and more difficult to solve. Every time there was a crash, I told myself that there must be a betteer way ... an Outlook-free way ... a Microsoft-free way. Once I downloaded a free trial of FC's stand alone planning software. The only thing I didn't like about it was the lack of an integrated email client (I was at that time not on friendly terms with Gmail's user interface), but I downloaded Thunderbird and loved it to death. But the big monkey wrench was that FC's software would not sync with the particular kind of Palm Treo (running Windows Mobile, ironically) smartphone that I have. Once again, reluctantly back to Outlook wit the FC add-on.

So ... when I fired up the present laptop (a seven month-old Dell Studio) on Easter Tuesday after being away from it for about 36 hours, Outlook would not launch. There was a corrupt file with the extension .ost--these have to do with the process of syncing with the MS Exchange Server so I can use Outlook when I'm not connected to the office network. I won't even go into the arcane turbidity of the Inbox Repair Tool and its minion of demons. It took two visits from our (Microsoft-certified) IT consultant (we pay a retainer for a certain number of hours, which we've almost used up for the year) to just locate the damn thing in Windows Explorer. Once found, it was easily expunged. Problem solved. Outlook is back up and, for the moment, on good terms with Franklin Covey.

But in the meantime I have spent an inordinate amount of time once again investigating alternatives. It rather amazes me that there doesn't seem to be one--nothing, at least, that replicates the range of functionality that my present arrangement provides ... when it's all working. So here's what I'd like to see. Somebody else will have to do the heavy lifting, because I don't know a line of code from a clothes line. But I'm willing to pay for a licensed copy of an application that will have the following features:

  • A calendar with a "look and feel" that is comparable to Outlook's, with an ability to color-code events in several different ways. (I like to show Sundays and feast days in their proper liturgical colors, quickly see occasions that take me out of town, and appointments that are purely personal.)
  • Task management tools that are more than just a re-arrangeable To-Do list. Like in Outlook, I need to be able to assign both start dates and due dates. I'm not married to Franklin Covey's precise prioritizing features, but there needs to be someting comparable that allows me to break big tasks down into smaller ones, rank them precisely by relative importance, and then move them around using "drag & drop" to various start dates on a calendar. And while I'm at it, the ability to link a task to a particular document file would be very cool.
  • An integrated email client would be nice, but I have to say that gmail's interface is growing on me. I especially like the way it groups messages into "conversations," and I love its search abilities. So these features would need to be built in to any email client.
  • The ability to import my Outlook database would be critically important. 
  • I am not in principle opposed to a web-based application (Franklin Covey has one, but its interface is too drab and hard to read to excite me), but there would need to be some way to work offline in some limited way during those inevitable times when the internet connection fails or is too slow.
  • I haven't yet thought through the handheld piece of this puzzle. I'm not currently paying for a data plan on my phone, so I rely on the ability to sync between laptop and PDA. But once I figure out which wireless company has a decent signal in my house (Verizon doesn't), I'll probably be ready to spring for a data plan.
So have at it, all you geeks. Let me know when yoo've got something to beta-test.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Notes Toward a Comprehensive Theory of Church Music

One of these days—not in my lifetime, perhaps, but eventually—sex and gender will cease to be the chief presenting issues in ecclesiastical wrangling. But there will always be music to argue about. Even today, a few fortunate congregations are untouched by the sexuality wars that rage above them. But virtually none can escape some degree of tension and ferment over what music should be used in the practice of corporate worship, who should perform it, and how it should be performed.

Music has been integrally associated with Christian worship from earliest times. And it has always generated tension. St Augustine experienced this tension within his own soul:

Thus I float between the peril of pleasure and an approved profitable custom: inclined to more (though herein I pronounce no irrevocable opinion) to allow of the old usage of singing in the Church; that so by the delight taken in at the ear, the weaker minds be roused up into some feeling of devotion. And yet again, so oft as it befalls me to be more moved with the voice than with the ditty, I confess myself to have grievously offended; at which time I wish rather not to have heard the music. (From Confessions)

One dimension of this tension concerns the delicate dance between liturgy qua liturgy, and music qua music. Liturgy is dependent on music (even though many western Christians regularly participate in “low Mass”—a celebration of the Eucharist sans music—this is a generic anomaly, and would wither without a connection to its normative template, the Sung Mass). But music is a veritable “force of nature,” and will always seek to take the lead position in the dance if it is allowed to.

Consequently, we see a cyclic pattern in history: Liturgical music, which begins as simple chant or song, very much “owned” by the assembly and its presider, grows little by little more complex, to the point where it becomes a high art form with a life of its own, reserved for skilled specialists, who perform while the main body of the assembly is mute. The music might also become so lengthy that it eclipses the texts and actions of the liturgy, and requires such logistical infrastructure (e.g. an orchestra) that it comes to dominate the liturgical space. 

When this happens, the liturgy eventually strikes back, and there is draconian reform. In the late 16th century, Pope Marcellus floated the idea of banning polyphony (singing in harmony) in church, reverting to pure chant. The composer Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina responded with his Missa Papae Marcelli (now considered a choral classic), intended to demonstrate that polyphony need not outshine the liturgical action. In that same era, at the back end of the Reformation, the emerging Protestant liturgical traditions all featured a musical idiom that was simpler and more participatory than anything in the Roman church. In England, we can see this in John Merbecke’s setting of the Prayer Book texts for Holy Communion (a setting still in widespread use), according to the principle of one syllable per note, and for every note a syllable. We can even see the tension expressed in the works of a single composer: William Byrd’s settings of Latin texts are fully contrapuntal (independent voice lines not always singing the same syllable at the same time) while his settings of the Prayer Book service are largely homophonic (hymn-like, a succession of chords in which all the voice parts sing the same words at the same time). Much later, in1903, Pope Pius X once again attempted to reform and simplify the music of the Latin Rite in his Motu Proprio on Sacred Music, this time in reaction to the mammoth choral and orchestral Masses and Requiems of composers like Verdi and Berlioz.

In the early 21st century, this ongoing dynamic of gradually increasing musical complication leading to reactive simplifying reform still looms over our various liturgical landscapes. But we are usually too close to the ground to put our experience into this larger context. Rather, at the moment, we tend to draw battle lines in the “worship wars” pitting various classical traditions (represented by organs, hymnals, and SATB choirs singing from anthem folios) against the “contemporary” stream (represented by texts projected on screens and “Praise Bands” singing from lead sheets). It may be tempting, but is too facile, to equate the “classical” strain with the tendency toward complication and “professionalization” of church music, and the “contemporary” strain with the reformist impulse. Reality is not so simple. There are multiple examples of liturgical music in the classical tradition that is accessible, sturdy, and meant to be sung by a congregation without formal musical training. There are also plenty of instances of “praise and worship” music that is clearly more at home on the lips of the rehearsed “Praise Team” members than on those of the general congregation.

Actually, before we can begin to fruitfully sort out the issues relative to musical style, we need to tame the beast that is Music itself—i.e. the medium that will never stop trying to become the message. We need to face the dilemma articulated by Bishop Augustine so long ago. And in order to do so, we (meaning all who are entrusted with liturgical leadership) need to screw up our collective courage and embrace a sort of Prime Directive (in the Star Trek sense of that term), which might be something like: Let the Liturgy be the Liturgy.  This is to say, music (like tradition), is a wonderful servant but a horrible master.

The Eucharistic liturgy of the Church, both East and West, has a discernible shape, rhythm, and flow. Dom Gregory Dix may be in a sort of scholarly Purgatory at the moment, but we nonetheless all owe him a debt of gratitude for helping us see this shape, rhythm, and flow more clearly. This is the infrastructure through which the liturgy accomplishes its work—doxologically, catechetically, homiletically, sacramentally, and eschatologically. Anything we bring to the liturgy by way of adornment, enhancement, contextualization, vestments, ceremonial, music—whatever—anything we bring to the liturgy must serve the liturgy’s own ends and not introduce some other agenda. The duty of liturgical music, in particular, is to serve these ends by revealing, clarifying, and highlighting the liturgy’s inherent shape, rhythm, and flow.

As soon as music calls attention to itself, to the extent that liturgical song—be it “folk art” or “refined art”—says, “Hey, look at me!” it immediately becomes an alien and an interloper. When that happens, the liturgy has been hijacked and turned into a flatbed truck. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s of the last century, the Eucharist was often hijacked to carry the freight of social protest, with spontaneous Masses being celebrated in front of government buildings and defense plants.  But musicians of all stripes are probably the worst offenders here. I can recall a conversation with another church musician more than thirty years ago where we looked at the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass as little more than a vehicle on which we could load as many jewels of the Anglican choral tradition (which, just for the record, I believe is magnificent) as possible. More recently, I have had similar conversations with “contemporary” musicians who simply want to load different freight on the same truck. Both sorts of musician ask all kinds of important questions, like “What would most please the congregation (or celebrant, or bishop, or visiting dignitary)?”, “What will keep the choir/praise band happy?”, and “What can we do well with the resources at our disposal?” These are all good questions—even necessary. They’re just not the “one thing needful.” Unfortunately, the most important question in planning liturgical music is the one that too often never gets asked: “What music will best serve the needs of this particular celebration on this particular day with this particular congregation at this particular point in the service?” The question pastoral musicians (one bit of contemporary Roman Catholic parlance that I find quite helpful) need to be asking of the liturgy is not, “How can you help me accomplish my pastoral goals?” but “How can I best serve you today?”

But even after we’ve parked the flatbed truck for a long rest in the liturgical garage, there’s still another substantial issue to deal with before we can presume to calm the worship wars, and this is equally true for those on both sides of the battlefield. I’m talking about the fact that we invariably ask people to sing in church (except at those anomalous Low Masses), but church is increasingly the only place where that request is made. I think it is arguable that there is presently no vibrant (or even living) American folk music (in the sense of a genre and repertoire in which most people can readily participate) tradition. We are culturally bereft. Think about it: In movies from fifty and sixty years ago—I’m not talking about musicals, but straight dramas and comedies—it was not implausible for there to be a scene of spontaneous singing (often with someone playing the piano, also a dying skill). Aside from stylistic conventions, such a scene would be literally incredible in a film set in today’s culture.

It's not that music isn’t important to people—quite the contrary; witness the explosion of iPod sales in the last decade, and the growing dependence on having “my music” available 24/7. But “my music” is something I passively receive, and not something I’m likely to get together with friends and attempt to spontaneously replicate. And if I’m at all inclined to do so, it’s probably with the assistance of karaoke equipment. We may even be at the point where recorded music has become the norm and live performance the aberration—not only in bars but at weddings and funerals. (The culprits are probably legion; my candidate is the steady erosion of music education in the public schools.)

So, while in the relatively recent past, singing in church was a speciation of an activity in which people were likely to also participate in other contexts, it is now a thing-unto-itself, and an increasingly alien thing at that. This realization not only complicates the job of a pastoral musician; it is a potential game-changer in the worship wars because it suggests that both sides are fighting a losing battle. Those attached to the classical tradition (a company in which I can readily number myself) already know that. When I go to an orchestra concert, the proportion of gray heads to youth is about as alarming as it is in the typical Episcopal congregation on a Sunday morning. And when I bring up the rear of the procession into and out of a Sunday sung liturgy, the tendency to not even crack a hymnal—let along attempt to sing—is inversely proportional to advancement in years. But this doesn’t mean that those attached to the “contemporary” idiom (which my pastoral obligations have required me to make some peace with over the last twenty years) can claim victory. Just because someone won’t sing “Love divine, all loves excelling” doesn’t mean they’re going to respond full-throatedly to “Shout to the Lord.” In fact, my intuitive hunch is that singers are singers despite the genre (though most have their preferences one way or the other) and non-singers are non-singers despite the genre. And the problem is that the non-singers have overtaken the singers, in whatever style. So it seems to be in the best interests of the AGO and the AAM to declare a truce with CCLI and their guitar-toting devotees and work on getting people to sing…period. Then they can go back to fighting over what they sing.

Or maybe not. Here my thoughts are more tentative, more speculative. My suspicion is that there in fact needs to be another reform movement in liturgical music, a movement that is populist in that it effectively calls the plebs dei to “own” its participation in the liturgy—musically and in every other way. But it must not merely be a reform that panders to popular taste, because popular taste is presently wedded to passivity and artificiality, which is to say that it is poorly-equipped to generate music that serves the needs of the liturgy, that reveals its inherent shape, rhythm, and flow. Rather, the work before us is more fundamental, more seminal. With the exponentially-increasing de-christianization of western culture, perhaps the Church is called to cultivate (once again?) a musical idiom that is distinctly ecclesiastical (rather than an unreflective emulation of prevailing secular styles, whether “high art” classical or “folk art” popular), accessible (both technically and affectively) to those gathered for worship, and, most importantly, a style that takes a following role rather than a leading role in its dance with the liturgical action.

What will such music sound like? We can only imagine. Let the imagining begin.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Post-Modern Creed

There needs to be more British humor in my life. Of course, the funniest things are usually the truest. This video absolutely nails my intuitive impression of our culture's ideological center of gravity with respect to Christianity.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

GC Resolution Heads-Up

This is the season when we will be seeing more and more drafts of resolutions that will be presented to this summer's triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church. The text that follows has been made available to me by a member of convention who wishes to remain anonymous at this time. 

The Episcopal Church and Single-Ply Compliance

Resolved, the House of _________ concurring, That this 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church urge every parish and Church institution to commit itself to the use of single-ply toilet paper in all restrooms and outhouses; and be it further

Resolved, That every diocese of this Church appoint a Toilet Paper Compliance Officer to monitor adherence to this single-ply policy throughout the diocese; and be it further


Resolved, That the Parochial Report submitted by every congregation of this Church include a check-box to indicate single-ply compliance; and be it further

Resolved, That training in Anti-Two-Ply be required of all persons in ordained and lay leadership in this Church; and be it further

Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music be directed to draft an Earth Day liturgy, to be submitted to the 77th General Convention, which will include prayer for faithfulness to our commitment to single-ply compliance.



The New York Times reported on February 26, 2009, that two-ply toilet paper is environmentally hazardous.  The Times states:

The national obsession with soft paper has driven the growth of brands like Cottonelle Ultra, Quilted United Northern Ultra and Charmin Ultra – which in 2008 alone increased its sales by 40 percent in some markets, according to Information Resources, Inc., a marketing research firm.  But fluffiness comes at a price:  millions of trees harvested in North America and in Latin American countries, including some percentage of trees from rare old-growth forests in Canada.  Although toilet tissue can be made at similar cost from recycled material, it is the fiber taken from standing trees that help give it that plush feel, and most large manufacturers rely on them.. . . . The country’s soft-tissue habit – call it the Charmin effect – has not escaped the notice of environmentalists, who are increasingly making toilet tissue manufacturers the targets of campaigns.  Greenpeace on Monday for the first time issued a national guide for American consumers that rates toilet tissue brands on their environmental soundness.

The Episcopal Church has made the Millennium Development Goals its first mission priority.  Among those Goals is an important focus on environmental sustainability.  It would be tragic if our Church, committed as we are to peace and justice, were to fail in the matter of toilet paper.  Our Baptismal Covenant implies a single-ply policy:  since we “respect the dignity of every human being,” we must protect the environment in which those human beings live – and must see to it that human beings, in dealing with their most basic needs, do so in an environmentally appropriate way.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Sacrum Triduum

In the spring of 1971, as a sophomore in college, I made my first visit to San Francisco. A friend of mine and I drove up from Santa Barbara on a Friday morning and crashed at some hippie pad (I'm not making this up!) somewhere near the line between Santa Clara and San Mateo counties on the peninsula. We made our way into the city the next day and somehow obtained access to the temporarily-vacated dorm room of another friend who was doing an "urban semester." As I woke up on Sunday morning, it eventually dawned on me: "Hey, it's Easter." But I didn't entertain the thought very long. I was in San Francisco, and there was stuff to do!

Only two years later, I was well into my discovery of liturgical time. I was spending Sunday mornings in a Lutheran congregation but sought out an Episcopal parish on Good Friday afternoon, where I encountered the then-ubiquitous Three Hours of meditations on the Seven Last Words of Christ, interspersed with readings, hymns and prayers.

It was not until 1979 that I tapped into the Mother Lode, however. By then I was living (with a wife, two kids, and a third on the way) in Salem, Oregon. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer was still only "proposed," awaiting its second reading in the General Convention to come that summer; it was still very much the "new" Prayer Book. And we had a new young priest who had learned his liturgy at General Seminary only recently and was keen to make it all happen in the first parish where he was "in charge."

I was blown away.

It was my first experience with Maundy Thursday foot-washing, stripping of the altar, procession to the Altar of Repose, and the all-night vigil there. (Beginning then, and for the next 15 years, I always signed up for the 3:30 to 4:30 AM slot.) The next day was my first experience of the Solemn Collects (with long enough silence after the biddings to actually get some praying done) and the Veneration of the Cross--I'm talking about every individual in the congregation coming up and spending quality time at the foot of a literal "old rugged cross" while we sang nearly every hymn in the "Passiontide" section of the Hymnal 1940. Then we had a real Easter Vigil, beginning at 10 PM, with the five Old Testament prophecies that are narrative in nature (Creation, Flood, Sacrifice, Exodus, Dry Bones), some baptisms, and all heaven breaking loose when the lights came on. I cried real tears during "Jesus Christ is Risen Today," and I am so not a crier. Then we had a party, with lots of food and drink and dancing, and it was dawn before the Parish Hall cleared out. (Being a musician, I had to be awake and attentive for the decidedly lower-key Easter morning liturgy, but I had enough adrenalin in me to get the job done.)

When I graduated from seminary in 1989 and went to my first parish as a curate, my kids--who were then 13, 10, and 9--were flabbergasted to find that some people actually go to church on Easter morning; they had never heard of such a thing!

So I guess this is my thirty-first Triduum, my twentieth as a priest. I would be lying if I said it's still as intense for me as it was those first few years. It's become--dare I say it?--kind of routine. Not boring, not by a long shot. But routine. I'm too old to get up in the middle of the night and drive down to the church to sit and pray and doze off for an hour. And it's certainly work, work that challenges my "see the forest, not the trees" natural wiring. At one level, I'm disappointed every year by the number of parishioners I don't see in church. It feels like a personal failure that I am unable to somehow "get through to them" how important this is, how vital this is, how everything we do as a church community drinks from this well, and how much they are depriving themselves of by not being there. From the occasional asking around among colleagues that I do, I know I'm not alone in this experience of pastoral frustration.

When noon on Easter Sunday rolls around, I will be barely alive. But it's always that "good kind of tired." You see, every year, I can think of at least one person for whom my efforts are "making it happen" the way that young (now not so young) new vicar did for me in 1979. And when I look at the Triduum through that set of eyes, the routine fades away and the work feels like play again.

Thank-you, Jesus.

Bishop Little re Northern Michigan

I believe this is worth sharing in its entirety, and I add my own 'Amen' to the Bishop's analysis.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Many of you have asked me about the election of the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester as Bishop of Northern Michigan, and in particular about whether I gave consent for his consecration. I did not; nor did the Standing Committee, which had its own in-depth conversation on this important matter.

Several issues have been raised concerning Fr. Thew Forrester in the months since his election. First, he has undergone “lay ordination” in the Zen Buddhist tradition. Is this simply an acknowledgement that he engages in meditation practices with Buddhist roots? Or does it indicate a more dangerous mingling of Christian and Buddhist teaching, a hazardous syncretism? I do not have a clear answer to that question, though his articulation of the Christian faith seems to blend spiritual categories in a disquieting way. Second, the election process in the Diocese of Northern Michigan, while not uncanonical, gives the appearance of a closed system. The nominating committee presented only one candidate to the electing convention, and thus the election seems like the ratification of a decision already made. Third, the website of Fr. Thew Forrester’s parish – St. Paul’s, Marquette – indicates that he has written his own Eucharistic prayers and even made significant modifications to the baptismal liturgy. The Book of Common Prayer, on the other hand, is part of the constitution of the Church; its use is not optional, and clergy are not free to modify its texts. The Prayer Book is our doctrinal anchor, rooted in Scripture and summarizing the essential teachings of the Christian faith. Fourth, Fr. Thew Forrester’s sermons – also posted on the parish website – indicate a disturbing weakness in his understanding (and embrace) of basic Christian doctrines: the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the atoning work of Christ on the cross. As I’ve pondered Fr. Thew Forrester’s election, this is the most troubling dimension of all, and in the end it is what led me to withhold consent.

In the Christian Church, bishops are not “private citizens”. They are called “to be one with the apostles in proclaiming Christ’s resurrection and interpreting the Gospel, and to testify to Christ’s sovereignty as Lord of lords and King of kings . . . [and] to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church” (BCP, p. 517). These are solemn obligations, and inherent to the ministry of bishop in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. St. Paul himself lays this charge upon his successor, Timothy: “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us” (2 Timothy 1:13-14).

A bishop’s teaching ministry must never be idiosyncratic. We have no message other than the one that has been given to us. The task of bishops is to pass on that message as faithfully as we can; to proclaim Jesus Christ – crucified, risen, coming again; clearly and winsomely to present his person and his work; and to offer the world a Gospel that challenges, heals, and restores us to a relationship with the Father. With the information I have at hand, I am not convinced that Fr. Thew Forrester would be able to discharge this essential obligation of episcopal office.

I cast my No vote without joy; indeed, with sorrow in my heart. If the Church denies consent for Fr. Thew Forrester to be consecrated as Bishop of Northern Michigan, it will be a tragic development for the diocese, and for Fr. Thew Forrester himself. He is, from all reports, a beloved and respected priest, passionate about ministry and committed to his people. Please join me in praying for him, and for the diocese, that in the midst of a most difficult time Jesus will be experienced more and more deeply, and ultimately his kingdom extended and his people with encouraged. With all blessings I am

Yours in Christ,

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

A Word to the 76th General Convention

My most recent posting (I know, not very recent!) intimated at the articulation of a General Convention agenda arising from a communion-oriented perspective (not in response to, but certainly in contrast to, the platform from The Consultation that I subjected to some analysis in that post.

Though I have been silent in this venue, I have been, along with many others, hard at work helping craft a "Word to the 76th General Convention" from Covenant, an emerging coalition of lay and clergy leaders in the Episcopal Church who are committed to a robust Anglican Communion, preferably with a renewed Episcopal Church as a vital constituent part thereof. 

I am very happy to share here the fruit of our labor, which is also available here.

Executive Summary:
  • Evangelism is central to the life of the Church’s mission.
  • Our Baptismal Covenant calls us to live lives leading to holiness, justice, and peace.
  • The rite of Holy Baptism in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer contains no theology unique to the Episcopal Church.
  •  Baptism before Communion is the best way to be faithful to our Baptismal Covenant as we engage in evangelism, and reflects an ecumenical consensus we cannot ignore.
  • The Episcopal Church’s full communion with the See of Canterbury and its full and active participation in the other Instruments of Communion, as well as in the life of the whole Anglican Communion, are essential elements of our identity.
  • The actions already taken by General Convention that demonstrate the Episcopal Church’s good faith intention to remain in full communion with the Anglican Communion are to be affirmed.
  • Schism undermines the Gospel; what divides the Church is not of Christ.
  • Unilateral actions undermine justice, even when such actions are intended to establish it.
  • The Anglican Covenant is the only viable path at present for maintaining communion and should be adopted by the Episcopal Church.
  • General Convention should not speak with one voice on public policy or other issues when that voice is merely that of the majority, and not reflective of genuine consensus.
  • General Convention needs to keep in mind that schism among Anglicans damages the witness of all involved, and thus should focus on building mutual respect leading to reconciliation.
  • Youth and young adults are necessary to the growth of the church and should be a top priority over the next Triennium.
  • Bishops and other leaders need to pursue constructive and charitable relationships with those who are currently estranged from the Episcopal Church, particularly since we must be mindful of the legacy we will pass on to the next generation.
  • Making a commitment to remaining lovingly engaged in worship and service with all members of this church, even amid our conflicts, is an essential feature of what it means to love each other as Christ loves us.

Reconciliation in Communion:

A Word to the 76th General Convention 

of the Episcopal Church

An initiative of Covenant


Holy Week 2009


We, the undersigned laity and clergy of the Episcopal Church, offer the following as a testament to our concern for the life and witness of our church and its membership in the Anglican Communion.  The God-given bonds of affection that unite us to one another are based in the prior unity of love that is God’s own Trinitarian life; for this reason, our corporate life should continually strive to be an icon of this same love.  At the present moment, we are particularly mindful that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself” (II Cor. 5:19), and that because of this we have been given a “ministry of reconciliation” (II Cor. 5:18). It is our prayer that the Holy Spirit will give the Episcopal Church a renewed awareness that at the heart of our common mission lies the ministry of reconciliation, which endeavors “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (BCP Catechism, p. 855).


To that end, we


  • Affirm that evangelism lies at the heart of the Church’s mission, understanding evangelism to subsist in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which calls all people to repent from sin, to be united in the Body of Christ through baptism, and to be continually discipled in the communion of the Church.
  • Affirm that the vows and promises of Holy Baptism, articulated in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, are a call for all Christians to live lives that lead to holiness, justice, and peace for all.
  • Affirm that the rite of Holy Baptism in our Prayer Book stands in continuity with the received faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church of the creeds, and articulates no theology that is unique to the Episcopal Church, but only makes explicit that which is common to all Christians for whom the catholic and apostolic faith as expressed in the creeds is normative.
  • Affirm that in continuity with our Baptismal Covenant, all who desire to participate in the Lord’s Supper are called first to Baptism, which is the sacrament of new birth through which all are welcomed into the full sacramental life of the Church. 
  • Affirm that the self-understanding and mission of the Episcopal Church have become inextricably anchored to its relationship of full communion with the See of Canterbury, its active participation in the Instruments of Communion, and its formal and informal partnerships throughout the Anglican Communion.  This is reflected in our liturgical patterns, and the continued allocation of funds for the Anglican Communion. 
  • Affirm those actions already taken by General Convention that demonstrate the Episcopal Church’s good faith intention to remain in full communion with all provinces of the Anglican Communion.
  • Reject the way of schism as undermining the very Gospel it seeks to uphold.  That which divides the Church cannot be said to be of Christ.
  • Reject the way of unilateralism and self-sufficiency as undermining the very justice it seeks to establish.
  • Support the emerging Anglican Covenant because it is, at present, the only available concrete means of maintaining the unity and witness of the Anglican Communion.  We encourage its adoption by the Episcopal Church, and further encourage that this adoption be understood by all Anglicans to be an outward and visible sign of our commitment to maintain and deepen the bonds of affection that we already have with our fellow Anglicans.
  • Encourage the Bishops and Deputies to engage in the work of reconciliation by not making pronouncements on public policy and other issues where there is no theological or moral consensus among Episcopalians, and to focus instead on those things that bring us together, rather than those that drive us apart.
  • Remind the Bishops and Deputies that a growing number of Episcopalians now live in situations where schism among Anglicans has become an unavoidable daily reality that damages the witness of all involved.  This makes the imperative of mutual respect, which is necessary for reconciliation, all the more urgent.
  • Encourage the Bishops and Deputies to take with the utmost seriousness the recently released report by the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church.  In particular, we request that “youth and young adults” be returned to our list of top priorities for the next Triennium.  We fear that a church that places little emphasis on the young is a church that risks placing little emphasis upon its own future.
  • Encourage the leadership of the church, particularly the Bishops, to pursue constructive and charitable relationships with those that are currently estranged from the Episcopal Church, remembering that our quarrels and divisions will become burdens borne principally by future generations.
  • Affirm our commitment to remaining lovingly engaged, in worship and service, with all members of this church, even amid our conflicts.


In closing, we humbly and earnestly ask those within and beyond the provincial borders of the Episcopal Church to seek the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, as we seek to embody the unity we have been given by virtue of our baptism into the Body of Christ.