Sunday, May 31, 2009

Grandfatherly Doting

Charlotte at nearly six months. Taken yesterday. The scraggly beard in the background is mine. A more beautiful little girl I cannot imagine. 

Sorry for the distraction. I'll get back to "serious" stuff in due course.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Quick Read on the Miami Scandal

In my 35 years as an Episcopalian, I have known--and known of--several men who were ordained in the Roman Catholic Church and were later received into the Episcopal Church as priests. In every one of these instances, to my knowledge, Cupid was a major player, to the extent that, without his presence, the move wouldn't have happened. Every one.

Most of these clergy have served with competence, even distinction. A few have been problematic. At least three that I am aware of have "re-swum" the Tiber in the other direction (though, having left and then married, not been offered access to the Pastoral Provision). As one who is himself called to the vocation of marriage, I am unable to work up a high degree of empathy for what it might feel like to embrace a call to celibacy. Consequently, I have tended to have great sympathy and compassion for those who feel themselves called to both ordination and marriage, and glad, for their sakes, to be part of a church that allows them to respond to both vocations.

At one level, yesterday's announcement that Father Alberto Cutie (OK, I know my inability to put an accent on the final letter of his last name only accentuates the snicker quotient of the whole episode) has joined the Episcopal Church is just one more vessel in the familiar stream. (For the record, I am more than amply aware that there is a parallel stream flowing the other direction, though obviously for different reasons; I know my share of voyagers in that one as well.) 

Yet, there is an unsavory aura surrounding the news that I find quite unfortunate, and unsettling. Fr Cutie is a local celebrity in Miami. He is fluently bilingual and was a charismatic media figure on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church in south Florida, particularly among the Cuban-American community. At the press conference held at Trinity Cathedral on the occasion of his reception into TEC by Leo Frade, Bishop of Southeast Florida, he insisted that this was not a quick decision, but the result of a months-long discernment process. 

I have no knowledge, of course, of what is actually in the man's heart and mind. I'm going to assume that he's telling the truth. But he certainly has a PR problem with regard to his credibility. Few will doubt that the timing of his swim up the Thames to Canterbury was influenced, if not determined, by the tabloid photos that appeared barely a couple of weeks ago, showing him amorously involved with the woman who is now his fiance. 

Then there's the matter of the way he left the Roman obedience. It has the character not of a discerned transition, but a sudden defection. His now former bishop is understandably not amused, and has declared the incident a setback to ecumenical relations between the two involved churches. On a local level, at least, this can scarcely be doubted. Sadly, a high emotional level has led to a rhetorical shouting match between the respective bishops. In my opinion--this time not very humble--Bishop Frade has misplayed the hand he was dealt, not very subtly condemning the very notion of a rule of celibacy for clergy, and asserting Anglican practice in this regard as inherently superior. I'm more than happy to be in an ecclesial tradition that allows clerical marriage. But I do not consider myself either qualified or entitled to sit in judgment over another communion that, for reasons their leaders consider compelling, embrace a different discipline. The sort of exchange that has ensued between the two bishops is never salutary.

I wish Fr Cutie well in his new life as a married man, and--fairly soon, one presumes--as a priest in the Episcopal Church. I wish for him what I wish for any celebrity--that he be left alone by the media, both secular and religious. I also hope that both he and his new diocese resist any temptation to exploit this transition as an opportunity for Episcopal "evangelism" among his fan base. It is manifestly not that.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Holy Women, Holy Men

In preparation for tomorrow's meeting of the Northern Indiana deputation to the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, I have just spent a good deal of time examining the report of the Standing Comission on Liturgy and Music. It consumes pp. 185-582 of the "Blue" Book's (it's actually maroon) 807 pages, effectively half of the total. The SCLM's magnum opus this time around is a thorough revision, mandated by convention in 2003, of the volume Lesser Feasts & Fasts, which contains appointed propers (collects, psalms, readings) for the days in the Prayer Book calendar that are designated for "optional observance"--that is, the "black letter" days listed in the calendar in regular typeface (the "red letter" days, non-optional, being indicated by boldface type). The sanctoral calendar, of course (which is to say, the "calendar of saints") is, like the lectionary, not technically part of the Book of Common Prayer (which requires two successive General Conventions to revise), even though bound with it, and has been added to regularly by the last several conventions. (More recent editions of LF&F have added eucharistic propers for ferial weekdays as well as Sundays and Holy Days.)

When the liturgy of the English Church was reconfigured in the 16th century, there was an understandable reaction to the proliferation of saints' days and the observance thereof in medieval society. Only the apostles and evangelists and a handful of others (all found in the New Testament) were spared the editors' scissors. It wasn't until the long run-up to what became the present Prayer Book that the idea of a re-expanded calendar was explored in a concrete way. The first edition of LF&F appeared as a trial use document in 1964, and contained essentially the same observances one can spy in a "vintage" edition of the 1979 BCP. The emphasis was on biblical figures (e.g. Timothy & Titus, Mary & Martha), patristic-era saints recognized by both East and West (e.g Chrysostom, Ignatius of Antioch), medieval saints well-established in western Christianity (e.g. Benedict, Francis), with a particular focus on those who figure in the history of the faith in Britain (e.g. Augustine of Canterbury, Anselm); prominent figures in post-Reformation England (e.g. Lancelot Andrewes, Richard Hooker), and, finally, leading lights in the history of the Episcopal Church (e.g. Samuel Seabury, William White). 

During the '80s and '90s, many complained that the inhabitants of the 1979 calendar were disproportionately male and disporportionately clerical. Subsequent additions have sought systematically to redress this perceived imbalance. Hence, we now observe (or are permitted to observe, at local option) days for the likes of Sojourner Truth, Florence Nightingale (both not male) and C. S. Lewis (not ordained), among many others. 

The proposed volume is no mere revision of Lesser Feasts & Fasts; it is a replacement. In this light, it may be apt that the SCLM proposes dropping the cutomary name and adopting Holy Women, Holy Men (taken from the text of a Latin hymn that appears in H1982 at 238/239). It is a bad news/good news saga. The good news (on balance) is that nobody was dropped from the calendar; some dates have been shifted around, and some who enjoyed their own days now have to share (Hugh of Lincoln and Robert Grosseteste), but everyone made the cut. The bad news is that there are--wait for it and count 'em--112 proposed additions! If you think this leaves very few "open" days in the calendar, you are absolutely correct. There are even a few double-ups, creating "choices" for local communities, so we are told. We are well on our way back toward the status quo ante to which Cranmer and his minions reacted.

There is, as well, some good news in the criteria enunciated by the SCLM for deciding who gets in to this select company. They are worth looking at in their entirety:

Principles of Revision
1. Historicity: Christianity is a radically historical religion, so in almost every instance it is not theological realities or spiritual movements but exemplary witness to the Gospel of Christ in lives actually lived that is commemorated in the Calendar.
2. Christian Discipleship: The death of the saints, precious in God’s sight, is the ultimate witness to the power of the Resurrection. What is being commemorated, therefore, is the completion in death of a particular Christian’s living out of the promises of baptism. Baptism is, therefore, a necessary prerequisite for inclusion in the Calendar.
3. Significance: Those commemorated should have been in their lifetime extraordinary, even heroic servants of God and God’s people for the sake, and after the example, of Jesus Christ. In this way they have testified to the Lordship of Christ over all of history, and continue to inspire us as we carry forward God’s mission in the world.
4. Memorability: The Calendar should include those who, through their devotion to Christ and their joyful and loving participation in the community of the faithful, deserve to be remembered by The Episcopal Church today. However, in order to celebrate the whole history of salvation, it is important also to include those “whose memory may have faded in the shifting fashions of public concern, but whose witness is deemed important to the life and mission of the Church” (Thomas Talley).
5. Range of Inclusion: Particular attention should be paid to Episcopalians and other members of the Anglican Communion. Attention should also be paid to gender and race, to the inclusion of lay people (witnessing in this way to our baptismal understanding of the Church), and to ecumenical representation. In this way the Calendar will reflect the reality of our time: that instant communication and extensive travel are leading to an ever deeper international and ecumenical consciousness among Christian people.
6. Local Observance: Similarly, it should normatively be the case that significant commemoration of a particular person already exists at the local and regional levels before that person is included in the Calendar of the Episcopal Church as a whole.
7. Perspective: It should normatively be the case that a person be included in the Calendar only after two generations or fifty years have elapsed since that person’s death.
8. Levels of Commemoration: Principal Feasts, Sundays and Holy Days have primacy of place in the Church’s liturgical observance. It does not seem appropriate to distinguish between the various other commemorations by regarding some as having either a greater or a lesser claim on our observance of them. Each commemoration should be given equal weight as far as the provision of liturgical propers is concerned (including the listing of three lessons).
9. Combined Commemorations: Not all those included in the Calendar need to be commemorated “in isolation.” Where there are close and natural links between persons to be remembered, a joint commemoration would make excellent sense (e.g., the Reformation martyrs—Latimer and Ridley; bishops of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste and Hugh).

This is, IMHO, a reasonable and well-thought out approach, though I might quibble with a point here or there. It clearly intends (or seems to, at any rate), t0 hold up for honor men and women who are examples of heroic holiness and consecrated living as intentional Christian disciples, examples that are worthy of recognition by the whole church. 

If only they had followed their own guidelines. Alas, they did not. So it's back to "bad news." What we have, in effect, is a roll that includes many people who are merely famous (or, more accurately, people who some think should be famous) based on signal accomplishments during their lives. So we have Copernicus and Kepler, Bach and Handel (along with Byrd and Tallis), John Muir (the naturalist closely associated with Yosemite), Durer (along with Grunwald and Cranach), Harriet Beecher Stowe, Christina Rosetti (the poet), and (for the top prize in implausibility) "William Mayo and Charles Menninger and Their Sons, Pioneers in Medicine". 

This is ... well ... embarrassing. But there's more. We are poised to canonize people who haven't even been raised to that status by the church they were part of in this world, like Pope John XXIII and Pierre Tielhard de Chardin. We are a church on brink of honoring the heroic Christian witness of people who with great intentionality left the church that now endeavors to so honor them, and did so because they felt compelled by their Christian conscience--Elizabeth Ann Seton, John Henry Newman, G. K. Chesterton (to say nothing of Francis Asbury!). And then there are those who never were Episcopalian or Anglican, and because of their evangelical convictions, would probably find it odd to now be asked to "come up higher"--the missionaries William Carey and Adoniram Judson come to mind. 

And are we really now to have a "saint's day" set aside for John Calvin? (What about Oliver Cromwell?) Karl Barth? Walter Rauchenbush? 

Alas, poor old and oft-maligned Charles Stuart, the only person actually canonized by the Church of England, still didn't make the team, despite the earnest prayers of the Society of St Charles, King & Martyr. But welcome back to St George, despite the fact that the Romans cut him loose for being of doubtful historicity. And surely somebody will rejoice that Kierkegaard is now a saint. 

And, despite the SCLM's averred intent to include only baptized persons, one slipped through the net: the Jewish chaplain who went down with his Christian (all non-Anglican) companions on the Dorchester after giving away their life vests. (Lt. Goode is eminently worthy of being remembered and honored, just not perhaps in a Christian calendar of saints.)

I fear we are making utter fools of ourselves, turning the sanctoral calendar into a flatbed truck to carry the freight of our collective neurotic guilt, trying desperately to demonstrate our inclusivity to an ecumenical community that will just chuckle softly as they shake their heads in bemused bewilderment. 

The silver lining is that some real worthies actually did get in: Joan of Arc, St Cecilia, Margery Kempe, Charles Grafton (I Bishop of Fond du Lac), Innocent of Alaska. But why not some of the 19th century London "slum priests": Charles Lowder, Alexander Mackonohie, inter alia--now these were some exemplars of heroic witness and sanctity)?

But I've saved the worst for last. Aside from the obvious deficiencies in the proposed revision to our calendar, there is a Trojan Horse in the mix. Holy Women, Holy Men is being used as a vehicle to promote elements of a radical liturgical language agenda (as has every other publication of the SCLM for most of the last three decades). From earliest times, formal Christian prayer has normatively concluded per dominum Jesum Christum--through Jesus Christ our Lord. Not exclusively, but normatively. More recently, however, the use of the word "Lord" has been deemed suspect because of percieved patriarchal connotations, and there has been a steady pressure to subvert the long-standing norm. Indeed, this is one of the motivating concerns that underlies the entire project known as Enriching Our Worship

Since there are 112 new observance proposed for the calendar, this means that there are 112 new collects that have been written. Of this number, how many include the formua "through Jesus Christ our Lord"? 

Exactly two.

The rest either substitute something like Savior (the most common by far), or Redeemer, or Good Shepherd, or simply nothing (as in "through Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns...). 

This is infinitely more important than any concern about who made the list or who got left off. The fundamental (and earliest) Christian creed consists simply of two Greek words which take three English words to translate: Jesus is Lord. It's not an option, one alternative among many. It's not a metaphor, one image among many. It is a basic Christian confession. If you can't make that confession, full-throatedly and with uncrossed fingers, you can't be a Christian. So there's nothing particularly wrong on this account with any single given collect of the 112 proposed additional observances. It's the trend that is cause for alarm. It bespeaks a church that talks a good talk about its theological moorings in Catholic Christianity, but is in the process of weighing anchor, throwing the rope back on the dock, and drifting out on the tide of distorted perceptions of oppressive language. 

Morever, the SCLM needs to be called on their subversive tactics. For decades now they've just been sneaking in this Trojan Horse under the guise of other agendas--this time the calendar (as well as pastoral rites for issues surrounding pregnancy and childbirth, which I'm not dealing with in this post). People are naturally curious about the "presented" topic, and the "akyrial" (did I just coin a Greek word?) theology in the proposed prayers doesn't register on their screens. It would be much healthier to have the discussion about liturgical language out in the open, as its own topic, rather than just sneak it in covertly. 

Those who have the ability to rake muck, now's the time.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Taking On a New Look

This blog will be three years old in September (that's veritably ancient in "blog years"). As a matter of personal preference when I'm looking at a screen, I will usually opt for a dark background and light characters; hence, the format that you remember if this is not your first visit here. But I've received a fair number of complaints over time from people who use tools other than Blogger's default interface when, for purposes like setting off quoted text, I use colored letters that don't show up so well on light backgrounds. So you might say I'm bowing to popular demand. It's time for a change anyway.

My relative paucity of posting of late is certainly no indicator of a lack of material that I feel moved to comment on. Quite the opposite is, in fact, the case. But I have, as they say, a "day job," and on top of that, a "life." It frustrates me, because blogging is the only thing that comes close to what you could call a hobby for me. 

Anyway, here are some items that are presently gelling in the recesses of my gray matter, and which will doubtless show up in due course:

  • "Holy Women, Holy Men"--the magnum opus of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, available exclusively in a Blue Book near you. What are we about to do to the concept of sainthood? and is there a Trojan Horse in the neighborhood?
  • Are Episcopalians bored with the Book of Common Prayer? Judging from how we actually worship, that's the only conclusion one can come to.
  • Speaking of the BCP, is there a chance that the 1979 eucharistic lectionary may yet have new life breathed back into it? Looking at the clearly not-ready-for-primetime Revised Common Lectionary, one surely hopes so.
  • Is the Anglican Covenant text really destined to be a non-issue in Anaheim in July? (Rumor has it that the plenary sessions of General Convention will actually take place in Fantasyland.)
Let me get to percolatin' on this stuff. I can tell you can't wait.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Deposit of Hope

After a week in Louisiana (at a CREDO II conference), I spent a few hours at home (most of them sleeping), about 90 minutes touching base with my staff in the parish office, then drove about 200 miles northwest to my seminary alma mater, Nashotah House. The occasion was Alumni Day and Commencement, with special festivities among the members of my class (1989), seeing as how it's the twentieth anniversary of our graduation. There were about thirty of us who graduated together, out of which ten showed up for the reunion, four with spouses in tow--actually, not a bad percentage.

It was, on the whole, an energizing and joyful experience. The sheer fun of re-connecting with people with whom we shared a peculiarly intense and formative period of our lives was life-giving. It also reminded us, by contrast, of the dimension of loneliness that is endemic to the pastoral vocation, not for lack of people willing to cheerfully populate our lives, but because we serve those people poorly if we do not maintain the appropriate sorts of boundaries in our relationships with them. It was refreshing to be among peers with whom there is simultaneously the presence of a high degree of mutual empathy and the absence of a need to maintain strong fences.

And this is to say nothing of the transcendent beauty of the seminary grounds; they are luminous in an almost mystical sort of way. One of my "take aways" from the CREDO conference was an awareness of how oriented I am to place, and how nourishing it is to my soul to be able to visit the venues of my various "pasts." In a very concrete way, it keeps the fabric of my life stitched together.

Nashotah House is an interesting place these days, in many ways. I can't think of another institution that has as much of a stake in the unfolding (and eventual outcome) of the Anglican soap opera as Nashotah. It lives right on the fault line. When I matriculated in 1986 as part of a relatively large class (which I don't think has yet been equalled in size), one of us was Moravian, and two of us were Canadian Anglicans. The class two years ahead of us had one member who was African and one from Hong Kong (or was is Taiwan? I forget.). The class two years behind us included a Lutheran. Everyone else was a member of the Episcopal Church. Over the years, the percentage of African students has increased, as has the number of Americans who are members of "extra-mural" Anglican bodies. Still, as recently as a year ago, the clear majority of students and faculty were Episcopalian. But with the departure of the dioceses of Fort Worth, Quincy, and Pittsburgh, the balance may well have shifted.

This was made poignantly clear in the Prayers of the People during the Alumni Day Mass. Every day, the Nashotah community prays aloud by name for about a half dozen of its alumni and benefactors, on a rota determined by alphabetical order. On this particular day, the list included both the Bishop of Fort Worth (Southern Cone), who was present in the congregation, and the rector of one of the parishes that has elected to remain in TEC, and is therefore presently suing said bishop. In what other context than the celebration of the Eucharist could such an anomaly even be countenanced, let alone treated as quite routine? 

Later that day, I was honored to be part of a panel discussion that also included the Suffragan Bishop of Dallas, the Bishop of Fort Worth, and one of his priests (this time one who is accompanying him on the journey to wherever it is they are going). In the audience were some quite "mainstream" Episcopal bishops and clergy, some part of the "realignment," and some who have left Anglicanism altogether and "swum the Tiber." Among the graduating seniors present were some who were being deployed to Episcopal congregations, and some going to extra-mural Anglican parishes. Yet, in spite of these apparent tensions, I have to say, there was a spirit of underlying unity and charity that was, all things considered, quite remarkable. 

The next day, we gathered in the newly-constructed (and quite lovely) Roman Catholic parish church of St Jerome for Commencement and Mass. The liturgy was at the same time solemn and festive, dignified and joyful. One of those in the congregation was a member of the Class of 1999, now a former Episcopal priest and a lay member of that very parish (soon to avail himself of the Pastoral Provision). The preacher, who did a splendid job, was none other than Dr James I. Packer, a scholar and teacher who is in fact an Anglican priest but is more widely known and revered in the wider evangelical world than within Anglicanism. (He's probably still choking on the incense!) Dr Packer also has the distinction of having been recently (and, apparently, without effect) deposed from the ordained ministry by the Bishop of New Westminster (Anglican Church of Canada). Once again, despite cracks in our koinonia that perhaps ought to have utterly dessicated the spirit of the gathering, there was a palpable sense of unity in that eucharistic assembly.

I'm not entirely clear on what any of this means. But I have no intention of surrendering its value as a sign--a sign to me, at least, if to no one else--that there are more chapters to this story, that we know less of it than we think we do, that it's possible for Anglican Christians who have deeply divergent perspectives to be not only civil toward one another, but to outdo on another in showing love, that it is possible, in fact to "walk apart together." I am proud of the larger Nashotah community for allowing itself, even if unwittingly, to be such a hopeful sign.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Mining the Silver Lining

(As it turns out, I've scrounged a bit of free time here at the end of my CREDO conference to rummage through the blogsphere and pull together some quick preliminary thoughts.)

By any account, the outcome of yesterday's debate in the Anglican Consultative Council regarding the Cambridge-Ridley draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant is a setback to those who have held out hope for an organic communion-based resolution to the Anglican turmoil of the last several years. I am personally disheartened by the (close) vote to delay commending the document as a finished product and place the most critical portion of the text--Section IV--in the hands of the one group within the infrastructure of the communion that is most dominated western liberals--the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates' Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council. It is not unreasonable to suspect that they will eviscerate the document and render it substantially toothless. I would hesitate to label this development as "tragic," but it is certainly profoundly sad.

But all is not yet lost, and we must not lose sight of that fact. The ACC resolution on the report of the Windsor Continuation Group is, taken on its face, most encouraging. Rather than merely "receiving" the WCG report, the ACC "affirms" it. Effectively, this makes every word of the WCG report the stated position of the Anglican Consultative Council, which is the closest thing the communion has to a synodical body. 

This is not trifling or petty. The WCG (and now the ACC) has reaffirmed the imperative of maintaining moratoria on the consecration of bishops living in same-sex unions and the celebration of rites of blessing for such unions. Any abrogation of B-033 is specifically named as a potentially problematic development. The Pastoral Forum and Pastoral Visitors plan proposed by the WCG is effectively a framework for the implementation of the recommendations of the Primates in their 2007 Dar es Salaam communique, which has been too-long ignored. The WCG (and, hence, now the ACC) approvingly quotes the Covenant Design Group to the effect that "a covenant without consequences is, by definition, not a covenant at all, but an empty word." 

So, while yesterday was a blow, and there is some wound-licking to be done (my own resolution submitted to General Convention would seem to be now effectively moot), those who are committed to an organic solution based on communion with Canterbury can take valid consolation from this week's events in Jamaica.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Incommunicado (relatively)

Just for the curious, I am "leavin' on a jet plane" very early Monday morning for a conference center in Louisiana, north of New Orleans. This is a CREDO (CREDO II, to be precise) conference--a sort of personal and professional development experience for Episcopal clergy. I'll be gone a week, and while I expect to have wi-fi access, my time available for attention to cyberspace will be severely limited. I realize there are some questions posed in the comment threads of recent posts to which I would ordinarily be given to respond. I cannot do so for a while. Please be patient.