May 30, 2009

Thought for 05.30.09

One of the most graceful and grace-filled things about a close examination of and intimate relationship with the Scripture is that we can find implicit ways better to understand some of its explicit language. If this were not so, the Scripture would long ago have been dead to us; while, on the contrary, the Spirit continues to guide and instruct the people of God, to better, and more charitable ways of life.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 28, 2009

A Review of R&H

I'm happy to point to the first review (of which I'm aware) of Reasonable and Holy. You can find it at A Feather Adrift. Sherry says, among other things:

I suspect that it will go down as one of the “classics” in the field, and will be used by countless colleges and universities as a primary text for discussion. I know that it has served me well in deeply enlightening me on the nuances of argument to be made. I have always felt slightly unsatisfied by the arguments so far, and Tobias has given me a real sense of feeling grounded in truth here.

It can serve as well for a text in our various churches when and if we choose to address the issue. And I submit, that we must address it. We are faced with a deep unfairness here. Our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers are enormous assets to our ecclesial life, and we squander their gifts and talents at our peril. It is what Jesus would do I submit. This book helps us get where we need to be, and does so with gentle tenderness.

May 25, 2009

Paul Wessinger RIP

Word came yesterday of the death of Paul Wessinger, priest and monastic of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist. I only met him a couple of times, mostly in the 1980s, but he always seemed to be a gentle man of good humor and thoughtful wisdom. In the photograph below he is seen with BSG founder Richard Thomas Biernacki, and Mother Elizabeth Anne CSJB, in a picture taken in 1980 or '81. (Elizabeth Anne died in 1983.)

Also shown here is a copy of Fr Paul's ordination invitation, which came into my hands some years back when I obtained a priest's scrapbook on eBay. Fr Miller was beginning seminary the year Fr Paul graduated and was ordained. (I know the style in SSJE, as with BSG, is to refer to all members as "Brother" — but it is hard for me to think of this venerable man as anything other than a father in God.) There were a number of photos of the SSJE house in Cambridge, and I passed all of these along to the archivist. But I scanned this image because I thought it was so very poignant. Even more so now.

May he be bound ever more in the eternal love he served so long on earth.



Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 21, 2009

Institutionalized

Once again I'd like to report on some continuing discussion over on the House of Bishops / Deputies list. My correspondent surmised that the burden of proof on the "presenting issue" lies with folks like me, who are seeking a change. I think there's a certain reality to that, but while I agree that those like me who argue for change have a task to accomplish, I see my primary role as offering a defense, and that the real burden of proof is on the prosecution: to prove that condemnation is warranted.

We further went back and forth a bit on the issue of seeing things through other people's eyes, or at least with the other person's worldview. While I'm not sure that is ever completely possible (as we may be seeing with what we wrongly assume to be the other person's lenses) I think it is incumbent upon us all to try as best we can to remove our spectacles, even if we cannot exactly wear each other's, as we look at the scripture and tradition with reasonable minds.

It struck me yesterday that the scripture is to some extent like an old piece of furniture that has received many coats of finish over the years, and we tend to see it primarily in the light of the most recent coating. There are, however, those telltale dings and scratches that reveal there is more to it than first appears, and in some cases even reveal the original wood underneath it all.

The case in point took form in a question about whether I could affirm the language of the Preface to the marriage liturgy, that marriage was "established by God in creation."

When talking about the creation account in Genesis 2, we of course tend to hear it as being about marriage, in part due to Jesus bringing it up in the context of the challenge concerning divorce, and for being reminded of this whenever we officiate at a wedding.

But "marriage" in the days in which Genesis was composed was not the same as marriage even by the time of Jesus (due in large part to the introduction of Greek and Roman concepts and civil regulations), nor are the norms of marriage from Genesis or the first century the same as those by which marriage came to be defined in the patristic, medieval and reformation church(es).

To take two details from those later traditions: the scholastics taught that the sacrament of marriage could only take place between baptized persons, and that it was consummated through sexual intercourse. Looking back to Genesis in this light, this would mean that Adam and Eve were not "married" under the first rubric, nor under the second until after the Fall.

Perhaps more strikingly, moving to the time of Jesus, it means that Mary and Joseph weren't married under either! This just goes to show how difficult it can be simply to say that the bond and covenant of marriage was "established by God in creation." Almost every word requires some bending to fit: what do you mean by "marriage" - "established" - and for that matter, "creation"?

As a matter of fact, I am more comfortable with the older language which said that marriage was "instituted of God in the time of man's innocency." (Generic "man" of course!) But even this phrase is not entirely well-set, nor at all constant, in our tradition. Cranmer creates his rite somewhat in the face of the Lutheran view (of marriage as "a matter of the town hall") in reworking material from German and Sarum texts. But the declaration as it stands in the preface is at odds with the language of the Articles, which defines marriage as "an estate allowed" rather than "instituted" or "established." (Cranmer's dilemma was that he wanted marriage to be "holy" but not a sacrament, except as "so called.")

From an American perspective, it is important to note that Cranmer's language about the "institution" of marriage was itself entirely absent from the American BCP until it crept back in in 1892 -- so it is not a constant element of our own Prayer Book tradition, though it appears in the present prayerbook in what I regard as a less probable form. (I mean, is marriage a "creature" or something human creatures do? I can certainly see sex as intimately connected with creation, but marriage, as an institution, surely must have arisen at some point when human beings became capable of making such commitments, no?)

In any case, to determine what this somewhat lofty phrase means (or what I take it to mean, which may not be what others take it to mean), I would tend to back up a bit and say that I can affirm that Genesis 2 appears to be — not a literal history, which I think few would accept it as, and I doubt the author(s) intended it to be — but a tale of beginnings, explaining why things are the way they are. Why is it than men leave their parents and are joined to their wives? This is, after all, the "moral" that appears explicitly at the end of the chapter. And as we proceed into chapter 3, we find answers to similar questions: Why does childbirth hurt? Why do people do bad things? Why do we die? Why don't snakes have legs?

So I would cast my answer to the question of whether I can affirm the phrase in the preface to the marriage liturgy as, "Yes, with certain understandings of what is being said."

The question we all face today — a question for which the author of Genesis 2-3 provides no answer, and to whom it might likely never have occurred — is, Why is it that some men and some women leave their parents' home not to join with one of the other sex, but rather to cleave to one of the same sex? Aristophanes, living in a Greek culture in which at least one form of homosexuality was approved, and others common if not approved, provided a jocular explanation in his creation story at the drinking party Plato recorded.

But within the Jewish tradition, which took little note of homosexuality (and tended to deny it existed within its own confines) and an early church that saw homosexuality primarily in terms of pederasty, our inherited tradition tended to come up with other answers both literal and figurative: it is plain perversity (they know what is right but deliberately choose to act otherwise) or it is a malady or an illness. Paul appears to have thought it was a delirium induced by idolatry. The Alexandrians (Jewish and Christian) appear to have linked it with the use of cosmetics and the absurdity of grown men shaving their faces.

However, in more recent times, people have been bold to offer yet other explanations, and to take some comfort in the larger lessons of love and self-giving apparent in the teaching of Jesus (and Paul in alternative moments); and also to witness to the lives of people who do not appear to be perverse, disordered, ill, idolatrous, or overly given to cosmetics.

I think further that it fair to say that on this topic there is a range of response in the churches: from condemnation, through dissuasion, toleration, affirmation and celebration. I think The Episcopal Church for the most part is balanced now somewhere between toleration and affirmation. My hope is that the work I have done, both in writing and engaging with those with whom I disagree but whom I respect and share a commitment to the Gospel, may help us through the tensions of the coming days, perhaps to emerge in a better place.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 18, 2009

A Summary

Over at the House of Bishops/Deputies list I was asked to provide a summary of the arguments in favor of a change in church policy on homosexuality. Having just recently published that fairly long (192 pages of 10pt type) book on the topic, I'm somewhat reluctant to try to wrap it up in a short summary. But I think I can state a few "theses" that I develop in the book.

I believe that marriage is not solely about procreation. The two stories of creation offer two models for loving human relationships: the first focused on procreation, the second on companionship (and most importantly, companionship as judged by the companions). The first account emphasizes the likeness of the man and woman to God; the second account their likeness to each other. The first account emphasizes the capacity to bear fruit and to rule the creation; the second the capacity to love and unite, in service to creation. And I think same-sex couples, while not capable of physical procreation between themselves, are capable of fulfilling the most humane aspect of procreation that takes them outside of themselves (the care and nurture of children) and are fully capable of carrying out all of the other creation ordinances.

I believe that the cultures in which the Scriptures were composed had different understandings of the world from our own, particularly on certain central concepts, including sex and sexuality. For instance, the moral world of the Hebrew Scriptures, and to some extent the Gospels and Epistles, shows a marked asymmetry in regard to men and women. To give just two examples, under Jewish law a man could only violate another man's marriage, a woman only her own; and there is no mention of female same-sex behavior in the Torah — or the rest of the Old Testament. (Nor did the rabbis come to regard it as equivalent to male same-sexuality.) So to read and apply the Scripture without taking note of the cultural differences within the Scriptures themselves (where development of moral thinking is often indicated), and between the biblical and apostolic times and now (in which there have been further developments in ethical and moral thinking, as well as in the social and "hard" sciences), is to treat the Scriptures in a way that distorts the truly eternal message they were intended to convey.

I believe the church has made such movement on other issues, coming to accept and even endorse things condemned in Scripture, and to forbid things commanded there. I argue for applying the same "weights and measures" in examining the question of same-sex relationships.

I do not believe these changes have no application to our present concerns: for example, the change in the dietary law was understood by Saint Peter not to be merely about food, but about all that Jews held to be "unclean" about Gentiles, up to and including their persons.

I believe a close and careful reading of the biblical texts (and the tradition both in later Judaisms and Christianity) does not require a wholesale condemnation of all same-sex relationships any more than it requires wholesale approval of all mixed-sex relationships.

I believe that much of the negativity towards same-sex relationships does not derive from Scripture, but from reflections of the patristic era in their conflict with aspects of Hellenism and paganism, and the emergence of a "natural law" tradition that has its own flaws, prejudices and weaknesses. Ethical thought in that tradition relied more on Aristotle than on Jesus, to its detriment.

I believe that the ethic to which Jesus invites us is not about forbidding specific actions, or pursuing abstract virtues, but is about action in a context based on disposition, intent, relationship, and above all the impulse to give of oneself for sake of the other. He emphasizes the "inside" over the "outside" and calls for a morality that is not about external compliance, but a converted heart.

This is a radical condensation of the many issues that inform the discussion which I think has to take place. My book was offered as a contribution to the "listening process" and I invite those interested in hearing what I have come to understand to take a look at it. I have taken pains, as a result of carefully reading the books and essays of those with whom I disagree, to provide some answers to their objections. I have always said that I learn more from talking with people with whom I disagree than with those who agree and do not challenge me.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 15, 2009

Wacky Wisdom of the Ancients

Some time early in the dawn of human culture, people observed that plants grew from seeds. With the rise of agriculture and animal husbandry, they also came to think of procreation as a matter of planting seeds: male animals, and human males, planted their seeds in the fertile soil of the female, where they grew to become appropriately horses or humans. This view prevailed for quite some time, on up into modern times. As late as the 18th century there were still some advocates of the homunculus theory -- that the sperm of animals and humans contained tiny animals or people.

It struck me the other day that giving the name "seed" (zarah, sperma, semen) to the male's contribution to reproduction is actually a mistake. The seeds of a plant are embryos with a bit of starch and protein as a container — the product of the female. The male counterpart to animal "sperm" in plants is not the seed, but the pollen.

Just a thought on how analogies and images can take on a life of their own.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

John Jay

Diplomat, Judge, and Church Leader

May 17, 1829

I
Everliving God, we give thee thanks for the witness and work of John Jay, called by thee to service in his nation and thy Church: We beseech thee to give us a like spirit of devotion to the causes of justice, freedom, and peace, and the wisdom and will to give ourselves in thy service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit, livest and reignest, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

II
Everliving God, we give you thanks for the witness and work of John Jay, whom you called to service in his nation and your Church: Give us a like spirit of devotion to the causes of justice, freedom, and peace, and the wisdom and will to give ourselves in your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Preface of Baptism

Zechariah 8:1-8
The word of the LORD of hosts came to me, saying: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath. Thus says the LORD: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts shall be called the holy mountain. Thus says the LORD of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Thus says the LORD of hosts: Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the LORD of hosts? Thus says the LORD of hosts: I will save my people from the east country and from the west country; and I will bring them to live in Jerusalem. They shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.

Psalm 119:9-16
How shall a young man cleanse his way? *
     By keeping to your words.

With my whole heart I seek you; *
     let me not stray from your commandments.

I treasure your promise in my heart, *
     that I may not sin against you.

Blessed are you, O Lord; *
     instruct me in your statutes.

With my lips will I recite *
     all the judgments of your mouth.

I have taken greater delight in the way of your decrees *
     than in all manner of riches.

I will meditate on your commandments *
     and give attention to your ways.

My delight is in your statutes; *
     I will not forget your word.

Luke 10:25-37
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Biography
John Jay (1745-1829) was a major figure in the early days of American politics, serving on numerous diplomatic missions, and as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He moved New York’s adoption of the Declaration of Independence at a meeting held July 9, 1776, in White Plains.

Jay was not only pivotal in the creation of this nation, and the peaceful settlement of the Revolution, but in the early constitution of the Episcopal Church. He supported Bishop Provoost of New York, and was a close friend of the first Presiding Bishop William White, who was chaplain to the Continental Congress that Jay headed as President. As a deputy to the first General Conventions he influenced the development of the church’s political structure in a way that won the approval of the Church of England, and personally paved the way for Canterbury’s consecration of the post-Seabury generation of bishops. He was also one of the charter members of the Episcopal Church’s first corporate effort: Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, founded in 1821.

Jay was a man of high moral principles, and as the church is called to examine the history of slavery, it is important to note Jay’s early role in ending it, from as early as 1777. He was a founder (in 1785) of the New York State Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves, and the African Free School for their education. Jay was a major voice in the debates that eventually led to the phased abolition of slavery in New York State beginning in 1799, with the passage of an Act he was able to sign as Governor. Years later, in 1854, journalist Horace Greely noted that “no one could take more credit for ending slavery in New York state than Chief Justice Jay.”

It is true that Jay had his faults and was no stranger to controversy. He tangled with Bishop Hobart over the relative merits of denominational versus free Bible societies — and to prove his point was a founding member of the American Bible Society, and for a time served as its President. And unlike the more idealistic abolitionists of the next generation (including his son William), although Jay eventually freed all slaves in his possession, he defended the gradual approach on the pragmatic grounds that liberation without education and skills was of no service to the one set free.

Jay was a graduate of Kings College (now Columbia University), a warden of Trinity Church in Manhattan, and a founding member and senior warden of St Matthew’s, Bedford, New York It is altogether fitting to commemorate the life of this servant of Christ, an exemplar of lay ministry in his tireless work for justice, freedom and peace.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Scripture is from the NRSV, the Paslm from the BCP.

May 12, 2009

Thought for 05.12.09

On Receptionism applied to the World of Ideas

Propositions do not become true because they are widely accepted. If they are true, they are true to start with, and become widely accepted in part because people slowly realize they are true. The pace of uptake varies, and many true things take a very long time to be received, while bad ideas can show astonishing staying power.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Flesh and Spirit

One important factor in the moral development attested in Scripture is the movement from taboo to ethics. The arc of this process is ongoing, and continues to this day. There are still some matters of morality where many seem to be fixed (or fixated) at the taboo level, what I would call the level of the flesh, the external, the physical. I have reflected before about how the prophetic tradition culminating in Jesus appears to turn us from a taboo fixation on "the outside" to look more to the heart and mind, in an ethics of the "inside" of a person. Much of the debate concerning circumcision involved just such a distinction, by means of which a very clear legal requirement was eventually set aside by an understanding of the moral issues at its heart.

Another example of this process is provided in the [BCP] lectionary from last Sunday, in which the Ethiopian eunuch is invited warmly into Christian fellowship; this in spite of the clear injunction in the Law — based, as is the circumcision law, on an objective anatomical reality:

No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. (Deut 23:1)

I have noted elsewhere the significance of the fact that the Ethiopian was reading Isaiah, perhaps because of the hopeful and more inwardly moral teaching espoused by that prophet:

For thus says the LORD: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. (Isa. 56:4-5)

(How timely that the pope just visited Yad va Shem — the very "monument and a name" promised the eunuchs even before the righteous gentiles in the following verses.)

The promise is also developed in the Wisdom literature:

Blessed also is the eunuch whose hands have done no lawless deed, and who has not devised wicked things against the Lord; for special favor will be shown him for his faithfulness, and a place of great delight in the temple of the Lord. (Wis. 3:14)

And of course, Jesus offers this word on the subject:

For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can. (Mat 19:12)

Thus there is movement from the external and verifiable taboo of the Law, concerning a fleshly reality, to the prophetic concern with the rightness of the heart, the internal disposition of the will; and finally an affirmation that something which under the Law restricted entry to the congregation should become a means of participation in the kingdom of heaven. (Though I think Jesus has so spiritualized "eunuch" here that he is not speaking literally: in itself a testament to the capacity for a physical fact to be understood metaphorically and spiritually.)

My point in this is to emphasize once again, as I have in Reasonable and Holy, that a fixation on the external and anatomical at the expense of the internal and spiritual lacks the prophetic grasp of the problems that face us, and the willingness to follow the movement of the Spirit so clearly laid out for us in regard to other moral questions.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 11, 2009

Vanity of Vanities

In response to the Anglican Consultative Council's decision to do further work on the proposed Anglican Covenant prior to submitting it to the Provinces, the Anglican Communion Institute has called for a reversal of that decision, and a continued further movement. (I note in passing that although all three entities in this mix are identified as "Anglican" only the first has any real right to the title. The second is provisional, the last a self-description.)

Perhaps the most strikingly ironic aspect of this is the extent to which the self-styled Anglicans lob their critiques at both the Anglican Consultative Council and the Archbishop of Canterbury -- two of the "Instruments" given positions of authority in the proposed Covenant.

This sums up the vanity of the whole agenda: to urge authority being granted to those whom even those urging it distrust to implement the very authority they urge, and who remonstrate when those authorities do things they do not like. The final paragraph of the ACI document, with its vaguely insurrectional tone, attests to the very lawlessness they deplore.

If lawful and proper action on the covenant is not forthcoming from this meeting of the Council, the only appropriate response is for the Churches of the Communion to begin themselves the process of adopting the Ridley Cambridge Text.

A text which, of course, places [some degree of] authority in the lawful and proper hands of the very people who are saying the text isn't ready for adoption. I should think the only "appropriate response" is to accept what the ACC has decided. That is, at least, rationally consistent. Better than, "Cry 'havoc' and let slip the dogs of war." The ACI appears, more and more to be, not a body interested in order and due process, but a hasty and disobedient group insistent on having their own way.

Vanity of vanities, saith this preacher.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 7, 2009

One Word

An Address to Provincial Synod II
Albany NY • May 7, 2009
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Bishops and Deputies, ladies and gentlemen, I have to admit that when I first heard the theme of the next General Convention was going to be ubuntu, my heart sank a bit. Though a language major in college, and having picked up a few languages since, I have to confess my fluency in languages spoken in Africa is limited to English and French.

I can be glad ubuntu is not one of those African words with a disconcerting click in the middle. That click is represented by an exclamation point, but I prefer my exclamation points at the end of the sentence.

I know I’m not alone in my concerns about pronunciation. Like most Americans, I want to pronounce foreign words correctly. The French, as was observed in My Fair Lady, don’t care what they say in French so long as it is pronounced correctly. When it comes to foreign words and phrases, the French, like the English, don’t really give a hoot and pronounce them as if they were just French or English words, giving us things like Cervantes’ Don Quichotte and Byron’s Don Juan. But we Americans tend to want to pronounce foreign words correctly — at least until we adopt them as names for our cities, like Des Moines Iowa or, even closer, Delhi New York.

+ + +

Of course it’s not the word or its pronunciation, but the concept to which it points, that is important. And it is handy to have a convenient word or phrase in which to pack an ungainly concept. Words standing for concepts is, as Helen Keller learned in her breakthrough moment, the very heart of language itself — that this collection of letters stands for that — ushering her into a new world of meaning, a world from which she had for so long been isolated. And it is no accident that the first word she learned was water.

American English is so thirsty for words that we regularly sip, lap or chug foreign ones, especially when they handily capture a concept. We already have one of the worlds largest vocabularies — accumulated as the English colonial and imperial venture absorbed world languages better than a Sham-Wow — and the American enterprise continued it in the years of our own expansionist escapades. And we haven’t finished, as we continue to adapt or adopt words for concepts for which English doesn’t quite have le mot juste. That being just one example.

We’ve borrowed extensively from the French; I mean, where would we be without savoir and laissez faire? But the Germans have also made their contributions, from Gemütlichkeit to Schadenfreude. All of this in spite of the fact that neither the French nor the Germans are interested in a verbal fair trade agreement — the French Academy keeps other languages at bay; and the Germans prefer their own twelve-syllable word-monster rather than a shorter one on loan!

New Yorkers, of course, also lay claim to more than our fair share of Yiddish: with schmaltz, schmuck, and schmutz; drek, schlock and tchtochke, and the now widely used kibbitz — which has even made its way to the very Episcopalian House of Bishops and Deputies listserv. Oi! Or am I being too down-state?

Well, I know in this group I’m safer with the vocabulary without which the church would be at a loss for words; Latin and Greek words in particular. We can barely worship without speaking in tongues: from the Venite (there’s that English pronunciation again!) and on through the day to close with Phos hilaron, Magnificat and Nunc dimittis — we are hedged about with borrowed language: Kyrie eleison; alleluia, amen!

+ + +

Now, it is also obvious that we haven’t borrowed quite so many words from Africa. It is fitting, however, given the growth of the church on that continent, that we take note and heed those voices, and borrow a well-turned word to learn something new or say something more clearly. For it is a time-tested truth that words do not only convey meaning, but actually help us to think new things — it is no accident that creation itself owes its existence to the Word going forth at the beginning, as the formless deep was given meaning under the creative breath of God. As with Helen Keller, that involved water, too.

So, assuming that how I say ubuntu is close enough, we have this new word to help us think and act in new ways. So what does ubuntu mean? We have a shorthand definition in the theme for General Convention, echoing Jesus in his Last Supper banquet speech: “I in you and you in me.”

A longer definition, as given by Archbishop Tutu, concerns how one cannot truly be oneself without others — being is about relationship. It takes a village not just to raise a child, but to be a person, a city to be a citizen, siblings to be a brother or sister, children to be parents and parents to be children — and the church to be a Christian.

Think of that old figure and ground drawing — you may recall we used it as a logo in the Decade of Evangelism — is it two faces or is it a chalice? It depends on what you see as figure and what you see as ground. Neither is what it is without the other.

This relational understanding of existence is not just about our perception of creation, however. It is a revelation of the Creator, too. For we believe in God who although One is not alone — even within the Godhead there is this community of persons, defined by relationships of begetting or procession.

This same God, at the creation, saw that the human creature was alone — and that it was not good. Creation itself was not complete until that creature had another— an “other” — to relate to, and thus fully to be, both of them, who they really were.

And so, ubuntu means “being in relationship” — a handy new term to remind us what the church — and the world — is about from its beginning. I say “remind” because the concept is not new, is it? It lies at the heart of the biblical Hebrew hesed — the mercy of God, in Jewish mysticism pictured as God’s right arm, the power of God’s outgoing action in the world, the word which Myles Coverdale so beautifully translated by a new English compound word lovingkindness.

In the Christian context, it is what lies behind and within the mystery of agapé — what the Latins called caritas and which in English became charity. That last word lost much of its meaning by shrinking to cover only a subset of loving actions. So our modern translations light on another word, pull out all the stops and assure us that it is “love” which “never ends.” Love is the thing, at base — the essence of relationship. And love is really all you need, as John and Paul have written — Lennon and McCartney, that is.

+ + +

Far more importantly, the other John and Paul long since assured us that love is all we will ultimately have: when at the last the church is swept off its feet by its bridegoom and carried across the threshold of the life of the world to come — into that house with many mansions, a loving Father’s wedding present — and at last we know as we are known, and love as we are loved. What did Paul remind us of? Only three things endure, faith, hope and love — and love is the greatest.

And I will go further, relying on John as well as Paul: when we come at last to the end — when faith is fulfilled, and hope sees what it has so long hoped for, only love will remain — just as at the beginning it was love springing from within the community of God’s very self that first spoke the Word that called all else into being — the Word in the form of God’s own unspeakable name — “Y’hi” — as Being Itself calls out to each created thing, speaking words of wisdom, “Let it Be, Let it Be.” For there is no being without being in relationship, without being in love, without ubuntu.

This is why we become most truly ourselves when we set our selves aside for a time to embrace others, to do to others as we would be done by. There was every reason in the world for Jesus to cast his ethical message in such a relational form, mining the rich soil of his tradition for that precious gold, refined and purified in a simple summary: to love God with your whole being, and your neighbor as yourself. Note those relational words, those ubuntu words, upon which it all hinges: to love God with ourselves and our neighbors as ourselves — the vertical and horizontal relationships neatly echoing the sign of the cross — a sign by which we become who we are when we are marked as Christ’s own forever. That involves water, too.

This is a good message for the church, which is, after all, called in the meantime to be the Body of the Incarnate God at work in the world. One Body formed by one Baptism, nourished with one Bread in One Lord — One, yet not alone, through the peculiar arithmetic of ubuntu, or agapé, or caritas, or love: in which one plus one plus one still equals one — the mathematics of the faith reflecting multiplication rather than addition, as one is raised to the power of infinity by God — and yet is still one.

+ + +

Sadly, rather than multiplication, we have seen more than our fair share of division lately, haven’t we? Of course, there has been division in the church from the beginning, as Paul’s testy correspondence with the Corinthians and Galatians attests — not everybody was happy with the decisions of the council at Jerusalem. Some in those days stood firm on requiring circumcision for Gentile converts; and Paul himself seems not to have been entirely sold on the importance of not eating meat offered to idols — though he counseled the Corinthians to indulge the tender-minded by exercising restraint for a season. Some things, it seems, never change, and perhaps they never will, if we are to be in relationship, that is.

In a way, division is part of the human condition, for without it our original loneliness could not have been healed by relationship — we are, after all, individuals, each of us. And while it takes two to argue, it also takes two to tango — and the choice to fight or to dance is ours to make.

We carry our individuality in our bodies, in our race and our sex, and our social standing, in part inherited, in part carved out through our own struggles. And this has been true from before the days of Jew and Greek, and slave and free, and just after the primal division of our ancient parents, the primordial male and female.

Yet we also know that in relinquishing our focus on these and other distinctions and divisions, in setting them aside for a time, in our encounter with others, we become ironically more truly ourselves — as we relate to others, dancing instead of fighting. Our true likeness is slowly revealed as we become more recognizable as kin beneath it all, more alike in our resemblance to that original likeness, and yet also more truly who we are. Love, made possible through division mended by relationship, ultimately unites us in bonds that surpass mere affection.

In the long run, there is no such thing as a solitary Christian. There is no Christian without the church, no church without Christ, no Christ without God. For as we believe that God is love, there can be no love without relationship. This love divine, all loves excelling, is the ultimate compassion — feeling-with — the love that embraces the other, that gives itself for the life of the other, that becomes itself in losing itself, saving its life in losing it. This is the embodied love of the Incarnation, the love that died on the Cross, the love that rose again from the dead, and in whom we will one day be raised: love that becomes so united with the beloved that the old categories that ruled the world — Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female — are overshadowed by the love which passes all understanding, yet shelters our hearts and minds under the shadow of everlasting wings.

For there is in the end, behind and within ubuntu, caritas, agapé, hesed and all the other words in which we have attempted to capture the divine compassion — one word borrowed in every human tongue, one word that is foreign to us all, and yet comes to our lips as native-born to it — or born again to it, when by water and the Spirit our citizenship in God’s realm is granted. There is one word utterly strange, and yet intimately familiar; divine and human, yet without confusion. It is the Word of God — Jesus, our Savior and our Lord, our ubuntu with God.+


May 6, 2009

Off to Synod

People who live in Manhattan sometimes wrongly refer to The Bronx as "upstate." How far off they are! I am preparing to head off early tomorrow morning for the meeting of the Provincial Synod of Province II, to be held in Albany, NY, a good 125 miles more "upstate" than I am, and there's a great deal more state to go!

Province II of the Episcopal Church includes all of the dioceses in New York and New Jersey, and as a result of some complicated history, Haiti, the Virgin Islands and the Convocation of American Churches in Europe. I look forward to making some new friends and seeing some old ones.

As the newsletter for the Province announced, I am to be the keynote speaker at the Synod banquet on Thursday Evening, addressing the theme of Ubuntu. I'll post my remarks here after I return.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

The Wrong Glue

Several sources report the Archbishop of Canterbury as having said he is looking for a more "cohesive" Anglican Communion.

And right there we have the nub of the problem. Cohesion is the natural process by which the identical molecules of a substance are bound together. It is distinguished from adhesion, in which different particles are held together.

It is an important distinction. The various provinces of the Anglican Communion, although sharing a great deal in common, are not simply identical units stamped from the same mold. Even on this continent, Mexico, the U.S., and Canada have their own distinctive character as churches, and are from from identical in many respects.

+Rowan has spoken time and again of his anguish lest the Anglican Communion be nothing but a federation. He really does appear to want a single unified world-church, made up of more or less interchangeable subunits. In his current remarks, he laments that the Anglican Communion as it was 20 years ago may not survive. That seems to me to be self-evident; but his proposal to move towards a more centrally organized entity than we had 20 years ago is not necessarily any more faithful to the Gospel, and involves as fundamental a transformation (if not more so), as a movement to a less centrally organized entity than we had 20 years ago. The movement towards networks less rigidly structured seems wise in trying times.

As I've noted before, there is a model for a world-church: the Roman Catholics have it down pat. As an entity, the Church of Rome is cohesive, bound by a single central canon law and government, a teaching authority, and all the rest that goes with it. Some four centuries ago the Church of England said No to this model, and set about to be a national church, governed within its own context — not without much pain. This reality brought to the larger church such things as the common cup and the vernacular liturgy — gifts the Church of Rome reluctantly and only finally accepted within living memory — as well as things like a married clergy and ordained women which she has yet to accept. And what has the world-church brought to Christendom in her role as the Sole Western Developer of Doctrine (as Newman saw it)? Papal infallibility, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption.

I hope the ACC, in its meetings this week, will not exchange the Anglican birthright for a "pot of message" — as C. S. Lewis once punned. Let them remember the motto of the Anglican Communion, inscribed around that precious compassrose: The Truth Shall Make You Free. (Emphasis mine.) It is for Freedom and in Truth that we bind ourselves together — in adherence to the Truth of Christ we shall be one, not because we are all the same (for the compass points in all directions), but because He is One, and we are One in Him.

Let Him be our Unity, not some man-made Babel of a Covenant, whose meaning is already shattering into a hundred tongues, and which offers cohesion only as adhesion by coercion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

The Province is the Church

Episcopal Café reports the following answer to the question of just what "Churches" are intended by the proposed Covenant.

In Anglican ecclesiology, there is a creative tension between the understanding of “local Church”, which is that portion of God’s people gathered around their bishop, usually in the form of a territorial diocese, and “Church” as a term or description for a national or regional ecclesial community, which is bound together by a national character, and/or common liturgical life, governance and canon law. Traditionally, Anglicans have asserted the ecclesial character of the national Church as the privileged unit of ecclesiastical life. The Church of England’s very existence was predicated upon such an assumption at the time of the Reformation. Recognised in most cases as “Provinces”, these national or regional Churches are the historical bodies through which the life of the Anglican Communion has been expressed, and they are the primary parties for whom the covenant has been designed. If, however, the canons and constitutions of a Province permit, there is no reason why a diocesan synod should not commit itself to the covenant, thus strengthening its commitment to the interdependent life of the Communion.

Which is more or less what I've been saying for some time. The notion that the diocese is autonomous from the church of which it forms a part makes no sense in an Anglican ecclesiastical framework. The "national church" was the idea from the beginning of the Reformation, on through the creation of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America (because the US was now an independent nation), the creation of the PECCSA (Protestant Episcopal Church of the Confederate States of America) when the southern states believed they had formed a new nation; &c.

Although Roman Catholicism enjoys the concept of a single world-church, Anglicans have tilted more in the direction of Orthodox autocephaly, with our own peculiar twist on things as a communion of autonomous churches bound together with shared history and liturgies springing from a common trunk, with many branches and leaves, and those apparently foresaken bonds of affection. Efforts to squeeze the individual Churches of the Anglican Communioin onto the procrustean bed of international uniformity cut against the grain of our rich tradition — cutting down perhaps our greatest gift to the whole Church of God, in that our provincial structure makes possible selective development in teaching and practice, limited not by some central magisterium, but by the natural process of reception. Thus change is limited in scope until (and unless) it becomes more widely accepted. (As I've said again and again, nothing TEC or the ACoC have done necessitates the Nigerian or Ugandan Churches approval, or their doing the same thing.)

The driving force behing this Covenant is a step away from this manner of thinking. It is a step backwards, and will prove to be an tool for division and fragmentation, rather than an instrument towards unity. Unless we all just sign up and get on with our lives, allowing it to serve its symbolic function with no real power over any of those who sign it.

The fact is, all of our problems began with Lambeth 1998, when it came to imagine itself capable to make doctrinal statements beyond its competence. The fathers of Lambeth ate sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 5, 2009

Book Update

Well, it's good to see that Amazon dot com has changed the ordering buttons on Reasonable and Holy from "Pre-Order" to "Add to Shopping Cart" — but now they also indicate that they are "Temporarily Out of Stock." Which I suppose is a good sign, in that they sold all the ones that they ordered from Church Publishing to fulfill pre-orders.

Also happy to hear that real live copies are available at the bookstore at the Olde Homestead at 815 Second Avenue.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 4, 2009

The Peril of Musical Chairs

The Anglican Consultative Council has managed to engender a tad of controversy just at the beginning, as the Joint Standing Committee have declined to seat a substitute clerical member at the nomination of Archbishop of Uganda Henry Orombi. At issue is the fact that the proposed substitute wears two hats, one Ugandan, and one American. The Rev J P Ashey is both a priest of the Church of Uganda and the COO of the AAC (American Anglican Council). The Archbishop has bristled at the rejection of his substitute:

The appointment of Rev. Philip Ashey to fill a vacancy at the last minute provides the Church of Uganda with a strong voice of a priest in good standing in the Diocese of Ruwenzori. It is also a voice for the almost 100,000 orthodox Anglicans in North America who have been persecuted by TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, who will not be represented by their delegations to ACC-14, and who will not otherwise have voice or seat at the table of the ACC.

It strikes me that Abp Orombi goes too far in this, and lays too many of his cards on the table.

By affirming that Ashey [really] represents an entity as yet not-a-member of the ACC, he demonstrates precisely why Ashey is not entitled to a seat. (Representation on the ACC is only accorded to the listed member bodies that make it up.) Although a priest in good standing in the Church of Uganda, which is such a member body, Ashey has no right to serve as a representative of a group not [yet] entitled to representation.

Had Orombi simply stuck by the authority to appoint a substitute to fill a "casual vacancy" he might have some defense; but by grandstanding and dramatizing the plight of the supposedly persecuted, he (or whoever it was composed this letter) undercuts his own position by revealing what is really at play: a desire to give a place at the table, and a vote in the assembly, to the still inchoate grumbling masses of Americans and Canadians who find fault with the respective churches of which they once were part.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 1, 2009

Farewell, Sister

Sister Elizabeth Mary Burke, SSG, died in her sleep yesterday after a long struggle with a number of health difficulties. She was an early member of the Sisters of Saint Gregory, when it was still being brought to term within the context of the Brotherhood, and hence one of our firstborn. The photograph shows her making her life vows to Bishop Catherine S Roskam, who was visitor to the Sisters at the time of their establishment as an independent community.

Elizabeth Mary — usually known as "EM" — was a woman of great joy. She loved to sing; she loved to laugh — oh, did she love to laugh! I will miss that most of all.

Goodbye, EM. We will one day laugh together once more.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Sister Elizabeth Mary at her first profession.
Just a sample of that laughter,
as Brother Richard Thomas girds her with the cincture,
and Brothers James and Ciarán Anthony and I look on.
Joy never dies.