May 24, 2013
May 22, 2013
I have long observed that the church serves itself and the world poorly when it fails to take adequate account of what is in its effort to demand what it thinks must or should be. As I observed in a comment on an earlier post, this is one peril when a magisterium rests on its authoritative laurels, lacks a built-in corrective mechanism, and chooses to ignore correction from without. The result is punctuated equilibrium, with damage, rather than slow and steady development.
The image that popped into my head is that of Ulysses chained to the mast, while his crew has its ears stuffed with wax. He hears the siren song but is unable to move, the crew does not hear it, but nor does it hear his commands to obey him, to set him free.
How much better when the church's leaders listen to the findings of those who are not necessarily a part of it, in the humility to accept that Wisdom sometimes builds her house in strange neighborhoods, and that the heavens tell of God's glory even when the church stops listening or mishears.
Thank you, Nicolaus and Johannes for gazing up, and sharing what you saw and conceived.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
sketch icon, 2013.
May 16, 2013
Hare followed in the Spirit of Saint Gregory's outreach to the native peoples of England, in respecting and incorporating aspects of their culture in harmony with the Gospel. Would that all missionaries, and all Christians, were so gracious, and grace-filled, in respecting the lives and experience of those with whom they seek better to understand our limitless and generous God.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
The leaders of the Roman Church in England have issued another alert to legislators about the possible dangers of marriage equality. They worry that "Marriage will become an institution in which openness to children, and with it the responsibility on fathers and mothers to remain together to care for children born into their family, is no longer central to society’s understanding of marriage..."
Of course, this notion has never been true universally. "Openness to children" (whatever that means to an infertile couple, whose marriage is allowed even in the Roman Church, I can not grasp) and upbringing by their biological parents has been, in many cultures, one aspect or a possible outcome, or even expectation, of marriage. But it is not universal, nor has it always even been "central."
In particular, the Church of England has recognized that this "use" or "purpose" of marriage is only one among a number, explicitly since 1549, by directing that the prayer for procreation “shall be omitted” when the woman is beyond the age of childbearing.
It is a basic principle of logic that things that must be omitted in some circumstances cannot be central, and that things which are not present in all instances of an entity cannot be essential to that entity. The procreation and rearing of children are phenomena which can and do take place apart from marriage, and marriage can take place absent either. Do they need someone to draw a Venn diagram? Or is it merely the Roman tendency to try to force a desired form onto a reality that is far more spacious than they want to allow? I would argue that it is not even "best" in the abstract that children should be raised by their own parents. It all depends on the particular case, and in the case of bad parents foster care is to be preferred.
I will let pass here any extended reference to how poorly this Roman position reflects on the sacred history, with its rich imagery of adoption and foster-parenthood. But the absence of such references seem to me to indicate a particular blind spot, or a phenomenon in which marriage as they understand it has become like the apple in Maigritte's portrait of the man who can see nothing else, nor even understand it to be an apple, but as a green wall obstructing all knowledge of anything else.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
May 13, 2013
A California court has rendered a decision in the remaining property dispute concerning congregations (or parts thereof) who had chosen to depart the Episcopal Church. At issue in this case, rather different from most others, is a letter from the bishop of the diocese written in 1991 telling the congregation they could buy some property that would not fall under the prevailing canonical “trust” of the diocese or the general church. The judge has found that the bishop did not have the authority to waive the canons, which state that all real property is held in trust; and moreover that the bylaws of the congregation also declared that all property they hold is held in trust. This renders the letter and the “gentlemen’s agreement” a nullity. This only came to a head, of course, when the congregation chose to depart the church.
Some have wrongly seen this decision as creating a whole new requirement for the sale of church property, even alleging that all church property transactions might have to come under national approval of some sort. This is a mistaken view for several reasons:
First, the decision of the court involving the supposed waiver of a trust, is distinct from the attempted alienation of property (dealt with as a consequence, since it was the alleged waiver that the congregation thought permitted the alienation.) As the trust requirement is canonical, it cannot be waived by any authority other than the national church through an amendment of the canon itself, or perhaps by legislation clarifying the meaning of the canon (as the General Convention is the authorized interpreter of the canons, through its actions.)
Second, the canons do provide for the alienation of property, which does not require national approval. All that is required for a parish to alienate property is the approval of the bishop and standing committee. This is true for parishes that remain within the Episcopal Church and any which choose to depart — in a few cases amicable settlements have been reached by which congregations leaving TEC have been able to retain their property upon reaching an agreed settlement with the diocese. Parishes cannot simply walk away in possession of property they held in trust.
Third, and this is the most important principle: parishes may well hold title to their property but they do not own it free and clear — and this was true long before the enactment of the so-called "Dennis Canon" — as attested by the other long-standing canonical regulations that restrict the sale of church property, and require diocesan approval (of bishop and standing committee) for such sale. Church property is not allodial, but feudal — its disposition is not entirely in the hands of those who hold title because of other legal restrictions. This is actually true of most property even outside of the church, where zoning laws and eminent domain and other state and local regulations restrict what one can do with one's property.
So those who were claiming that this court decision opens a can of worms for all church property ownership have wildly missed the point.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Postscript and update:
I am flattered that the venerable Anglican Curmudgeon has taken note of my musings. I fear he has mistook me in small part (which I attribute to my hasty comments at Thinking Anglicans more than to my effort here). Suffice it to say he and I have continued some discussion at his well-worth-visiting blog. I posted a couple of comments there the gist of which I will share here, as I think it helps to offer some additional clarity to my view of the situation, edited slightly for this different context.
As I see it, the main issue involves the distinction between the trust itself and the alienation of property.
I have to agree with the finding of the court that the bishop exceeded his authority in attempting to waive the trust. There is no suggestion that a bishop acting alone, or even in concert with the Standing Committee, could waive the trust established in the canon (acknowledging that some feel the canon itself is irregular and overreaching, it is nonetheless “on the books” and the courts appear in general to defer to it as consistent with what Jones v. Wolf mused might be one appropriate way to flag the existence of such a trust in explicit language.)
Let me add that I do not think any duplicity was involved in the action of the bishop or his canon to the ordinary, and it is a matter of some concern that succeeding bishops, and others, have chosen not to honor that commitment, even if it was inappropriately made. It seems to me that both sides in that agreement were poorly advised as to the state of the law at the time, both ecclesiastical and civil. It would more likely have been advisable for the parish leaders to undertake the establishment of a separate not-for-profit corporation to obtain the property and then to have leased the property to the parish for its use, none of which would have required the consent of the bishop, though an episcopal nod would have been seemly. This would have improved on the gentleman's agreement and provided legal protection.
The issue of the alienation or sale of property is distinct from the existence of the trust. I believe that the current court decision, even if upheld on appeal, should not concern any parish so long as it remains part of the Episcopal Church. That seems to me to be the plain reading of Canon I.7.4. (The "Dennis Canon.") I read "otherwise" in this canon not in reference to the trust (for the Church and Diocese thereof) but in reference to the normal property rights enjoyed by the parish restricted only by the immediately preceding section of the Canon (I.7.3) which describes the procedure and the requirements for encumbrance or alienation.
So my point is that the bishop and standing committee cannot waive the trust, but they can permit the sale or long-term lease of property so long as the parish is part of the Episcopal Church. (Which is the case for the vast majority of congregations.)
Furthermore, I do not see how this decision would apply to property transactions for parishes that remain part of the Episcopal Church -- or, indeed, who would have standing to challenge such a legitimately permitted and canonically correct sale if the Bishop and standing committee, and the vestry of the parish, have approved it – or even who would care to do so.
Matters are different for parishes that choose to leave the Episcopal Church. I am aware that national leadership have attempted to forbid amicable and fair-value settlements to departing congregations in a few cases; and very likely look askance at sales for a mere token; but I imagine that the urge to challenge even the latter in court will depend on the willingness to meet the legal costs, and I for one would hope that urging reasonable settlements would prevail.
Further conversation with A Curmudgeon was very helpful and directs me to what I think is the difficulty I have with his position. This devolves to two points.
The attempted waiver on the acquisition of the property was really an attempt to waive responsibilities de futuro (pardon my mixing marriage law with real estate... just that my head is rather involved in work on the former at present), in other words, proactively to hold property free from the trust in the case of some future alienation. The court found that the trust relationship cannot be so dissolved, either in the future or the present. As I suggest, there were other possible ways to structure this, but a bishop cannot essentially authorize a sale of property (a parish doesn't yet own) in the future, or apply the dead hand to require a successor so to do -- and the St Com approval is also needed in any case. In the present, however, a Bp and SC can authorize an encumbrance (sale or lease) -- not "waive the trust." Which brings me to my second point.
Mr. Haley is interpreting the encumbrance of property in I.7.3 as a waiver of the trust in I.7.4. But it is not a waiver of the trust, since the value of the property remains for the use of the church. It is a transaction within the trust, not an escape from or waiver of it. It was the attempted waiver de futuro -- essentially to allow a parish allodial title to their property -- that the court found to be a nullity. Parishes do not hold their property free and clear.
I.7.3 was on the books long before I.7.4 was a glint in Walter's (or Blackmun's) eye. The trust element was, as various courts have stated it, implicit, in part because of the long-standing limitations on the encumbrance of property to the extent that a higher authority (Bp and SC) had to approve sales or long-term leases.
I do not see this as a case of special pleading, but an across the board requirement. Parishes are not able "to deal freely with their properties" even within TEC. They must have Bp and SC approval for any encumbrance. In NY this is written into the Not-or-Profit Religious Corporations statute as well (predating Dennis), so we need approval of the Supreme Court as well!
May 12, 2013
Loving God, we bless your Name for Frances Perkins, who lived out her belief that the special vocation of the laity is to conduct the secular affairs of society that all may be maintained in health and decency. Help us, following her example, to contend tirelessly for justice and for the protection of all in need, that we may be faithful followers of Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Frances Perkins was the first woman cabinet secretary (Secretary of Labor 1933-1945), an Episcopalian, a tireless worker for workers and a major participant in FDR’s “New Deal” — and isn’t it nice to recall that NRA once stood for something else!
God bless her witness and her fortitude.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
sketch icon of Perkins with workers of the Civilian Conservation Corps
May 9, 2013
Give thanks for the witness and ministry of this protector and bishop of the Moravian church tradition, hymnodist and ecumenist.
Members on our Head depending,
lights reflecting him, our Sun,
brethren—his commands attending,
we in him, our Lord, are one.
(Moravian Book of Worship 1995: 673)
icon sketch on black laid stock, May 2013
May 6, 2013
Harriet Starr Cannon is the founder of the Community of Saint Mary, a religious community of The Episcopal Church that among other things notably bore witness during the Yellow Fever epidemic in Memphis. Mother Harriet was an indomitable presence, and I hope I captured some of that in this quick sketch icon. I have to admit that perhaps this shows the influence of having been a fervent follower and fan of Call the Midwife, but the connections are not misplaced, since the ministries of Nonnatus House would not have been unrecognizable to Mother Harriet, and Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris) shares the strong quality of (and a slight resemblance to, at least as I see it) Mother Harriet.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
May 3, 2013
The first few chapters of Genesis do not indicate God’s restrictive plan for the sexual conduct of humanity. They have nothing to say about marriage other than to offer an explanation as to why it is that at least some men and women are attracted to each other, and to describe their union as indissoluble. The former is explicit in the text itself, and we have the latter on the very highest authority.
The first few chapters of Genesis consist of contradictory and inconsistent creation accounts cast in the language and culture of their times. They do not describe either history or nature with any degree of accuracy whatsoever. Does this mean I deny their divine inspiration as the opening chapters of the written word of God? By no means! However, the chief divine inspiration — it is pure genius — is in providing two facially contradictory accounts of the same events side-by-side precisely in order to prevent us from taking them literally — even if we did not already know that they were not literally true on the basis of other evidence, historical and scientific. Even absent history and science no one should ever have made that error, for the witnesses do not just not agree, they contradict. (This is not the place to critique the peculiar credence that Scripture can contain no contradictions. Suffice it to say that belief derives from some source hungry for certainty and unable to deal with complex reality and ambiguity.)
To press these accounts into literal applications, as some have done to place limits upon later developments and better understandings, is as false and pointless as taking the visions of Ezekiel or the parables of Jesus as if they were historical accounts rather than exemplary and inspired teaching. That the primeval human was split to form the sexes is a fabulous construct meant to explain attraction between the sexes. It will not stand as “fact” though it has its own “truth.” But it did not happen that way, and the one who told the tale knew that very well, leaving unanswered the obvious problems such as where Cain’s wife came from. He simply wasn’t bothered, as the goal was primarily geared to answer a single question — why do men and women leave their homes to start their own families. Aristophanes did the same thing in Plato’s Symposium, though more broadly acknowledging the range of human emotional and sexual connection as his culture understood it; but there is no reason to think he intended it as natural history any more than the author of Genesis did his mythological tale.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
May 1, 2013
The surest sign that things have changed is when people insist they haven't or they can't.
Whenever I hear someone claim that the "definition" is what is important, I quickly remind myself that on the contrary it is what is defined that is important -- and that words change their meanings as the world they describe changes. Few things have changed as much as "marriage."
Thus it is interesting to note that some in the Roman Catholic Church are aware that a new wind is blowing, and things are changing. The fact that some in the RCC now seem to be able to tolerate "civil unions" but hold firm at the word "marriage" indicate that this is the final phase of the logomachia, and the wind of the Spirit, which sometimes must — perhaps always does — start with the world instead of the church, is blowing the change that will turn a settled and intolerant world upside down.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
April 29, 2013
Gracious God, we bless your Name for the vision and witness of Sarah Hale, whose advocacy for the ministry of women helped to support the deaconess movement. Make us grateful for your many blessings, that we may come closer to Christ in our own families; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (f.d. April 30) accomplished many things in her long life, though her short children's poem, "Mary's Lamb," is likely better known than her many other ventures, including long editorship of Godey's Ladies' Book, her advocacy for women's education and role in founding Vassar, and her lobbying for the creation of a national holiday for Thanksgiving. She was a tough New Hampshire woman with an indomitable spirit.
The image is a quick icon in watercolor pencil, a technique I am much enjoying exploring of late.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
April 25, 2013
A Roman Catholic priest and professor has launched another assault on marriage equality. Fr Rhonheimer claims that marriage equality actually imposes a burden upon, or discriminates against mixed-sex marriages.
Conferring legal equality to same-sex unions signifies to publicly establish, in the law system, the principle of dissociation of sexuality and procreation... Besides containing an erroneous moral message, it actually means to objectively discriminate against married people, who intentionally have engaged in a union ordered towards the task of the transmission of human life, accepting all the burdens and responsibilities of this task.As is so often the case with arguments from the procreationist side of the reality divide, this fails to recognize that the "burdens and responsibilities" of procreation do not fall upon all mixed sex couples, however "ordered" their union might be. Moreover, all citizens bear some of the burden of supporting other people's children. So even the unmarried, dare I mention even the celibate, or those married but without children, share in the burdens and responsibilities placed upon them by those who do bear children — some of whom actually become wards of the state because of the inadequacies or misfortunes of their biological parents. So if anything, those who procreate discriminate against those who don't.
If anything is "erroneous" it is Father Rhonheimer.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
April 21, 2013
April 20 2013 • St John’s Tuckahoe
for the Rev. Kristin Kopren’s Institution
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine... +
We are gathered here today to celebrate and recognize a ministry that is already under way. My classmate and colleague Kristin has been ministering here at Saint John’s for a while now, so today’s celebration has to seen as a continuation rather than an inauguration. And this is good, as it reminds us that ministry is not a one-shot deal, but a work for the long term.
It is also a reminder that the inauguration of a ministry, like ordination itself, does not instantly equip a priest with all of the skills and talents that will be called upon for ministry — would that it did! Those skills and talents have to be developed over the years, and that process begins even before entering into the concentrated work in seminary, and continues in ministry afterwards. I am happy to have shared three years with Kristin in the hothouse seed-bed of the General Theological Seminary, as well as numerous breakfasts at the local diner with other classmates as we debriefed from our class in systematic theology. I know that all of us learned a great deal while in seminary, though less about plumbing and boilers and masonry work than we would be called upon to employ! I have long thought that the General Ordination Examination ought to include at least one question such as: “A Vestry meeting has just adjourned, when the Senior Warden informs you that the cistern on the commode in the women’s lavatory won’t stop running, even though she has jiggled the lever three times. In an essay of at least 500 words, discuss this incident in relation to the canonical duties of clergy and lay leaders respectively, in relation to the portrayal of the priestly office in the Epistle to the Hebrews, particularly as to calling the plumber.”
Graduation and ordination do not suddenly equip a minister with all that will be needed to carry out that ministry. One learns a great deal in relatively short order — not only the harsh realities of building maintenance, but the challenges of pastoral care. It is not only a plentiful harvest into which the Lord sends these laborers, but one that will require some very hard and intensive work, the proper tools, and above all cooperation and support from many co-workers, including the bishop, the other clergy, and most importantly the leaders and members of the parish — who are far from harassed and helpless, nor to be regarded as sheep, but as members of the body that builds itself up in cooperative and loving work. And it is through this process of loving one another and working together that all will hope to grow into the full stature of Christ, to full maturity, no longer children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine.
+ + +
I cannot help but note, however, that there is some tension between Saint Paul’s urging the Ephesians to get with the program and grow up, and that powerful story of the young Samuel in our first reading. For in that account it is not the mature, indeed the decrepit, Eli who hears and understands the voice of God. It is the child, the child who hears and responds to the Lord each time he is called, and by his persistence finally gets old Eli to understand, as a former president once said, “that the torch has been passed to a new generation.”
This moving passage should remind us, the Epistle to the Ephesians notwithstanding, that the Scripture often testifies to the consistent favor God shows to, and the responsibility God places upon, the younger as opposed to the elder: from Cain and Abel, through Esau and Jacob, to David the youngest of Jesse’s passel of sons, to John the Baptist and his cousin Jesus— he who put the message in no uncertain terms when he reminded us that any who wish to come to the kingdom of heaven must do so as a child, and as John’s Gospel has it, as one born again, from above.
I will echo Nicodemus and ask, How does one grow to maturity while maintaining the childlike attitude of those born anew? I need perhaps not note the difference between being childish and being childlike. The important thing seems to be maintaining the child’s openness to possibilities even as one grows to maturity. We can take old Eli as a sad example of what happens when one forsakes childlike delight in what is always new, for false and self-satisfied maturity, the complacency of having arrived. While tolerating the wickedness of his sons who cheat the people of their sacrifices, Eli has grown physically blind and fat, and spiritually hard of hearing. The word of God was rare in those days — not for want of God speaking, but for want of ears to hear. How many times has the Lord’s voice spoken in the stillness of the night and Eli has ignored it, dismissing it, as others would later do when God spoke in distant thunder: Eli, Eli, why have you forsaken me?
No, we who minister — and that includes all of us, not just the clergy, deacon, priest or bishop, not even just the members of the vestry — but each and every member of the body of the church in this place, and every place, called and empowered to be knit together into a fabric that will endure the blusters of the age of anxiety, and the hard winds of tragedy, loss, and pain — the stresses which all of us must from time to time endure, but which we endure because we are united — knit together — rather than scattered and alone.
And what is more, my friends, I say to you that we will endure those hard times best if we approach them with the trust and open-mindedness of a child. With open minds and hearts and ears we will be able to hear the voice of God because we have abandoned any preconceptions or prejudices about who is an appropriate bearer of God’s message, have set aside any expectations that the message must conform to our own devices and desires rather than to the challenges with which God wishes to help us to grow into the likeness of Christ.
For growing into maturity is in fact the work of childhood; it is what childhood is for. It is growth that, by the grace of God, continues, rather than ending with some ratification, some arrival at a destination, some graduation, even some institution. Eli no longer heard the voice of God precisely because he stopped, thinking that as high priest he had arrived. Samuel knew better, even in his innocence, and was ready to respond each of the three times God called, with the same eagerness, present and accounted for, and ready to serve, to get up and go where God would send him, and to do as God asked. And so may it be for us. We are all pilgrims, my friends — and child pilgrims at that.
And so my prayer for Kristin, and for all of you here, and for all of God’s people in every place where we gather, is that all of us may preserve and foster the intensity, earnestness, innocence, and openness of children. This will help us always to be truthful and fair with each other. No one detects falsehood in others or unfairness in a situation as effectively as a child — and who can face the eyes of a child full of that judgment, “You have let me down” or the sentence that rings as solemnly as that of a high court justice: “But that’s not fair.”
This will also help us to listen to one another, with the open ears of a young Samuel — to listen for the strains of God’s truth even in the midst of sometimes confusing or even contradictory dialogue, or amidst the crackle and rumble of the world’s blowhards trying to sell us their bill of goods.
And this will help us to focus our work — for who are as intense and focused as children when doing something they really care about. Where else do you see the tips of tiny tongues emerging from the sides of the mouths, but where the crayon glides across the page, and the image takes form under the intense attention and the skillful hand of the master-craft-child, ready proudly to be exhibited upon the wall or the refrigerator?
With all of this God is well pleased, the God who, as we forget to our peril, came among us as a child, and called the children to him — not only those who are children by the count of an actuary, but the children who are young in heart and newborn from above, and in the spirit, with open ears and busy hands to hear God’s word and then to do the work of God. This place, this, God’s factory, where the fabric of God’s kingdom is knit and woven together, this is the only place in which child labor is not only allowed but mandatory. No one can do the work of God in the kingdom of God but as a child, and with the maturity of children, the maturity that grows because it knows it has not arrived.
May all of us be blessed with the childlikeness that shows the true maturity of Christ, celebrating the gifts and building up the body of the church, for the good and the salvation of the world for which Christ came among us as a child, grew to maturity and faced his death and burial, but rose triumphant over all the limitations of the grave — the place were all things stop — but where death itself was defeated and cast down. Christ did that work, and he is working still, through you who love and serve in his name and in his strength. Alleluia, Christ is risen; the Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.