28 July 2014

Time and Changes


I have been told that at any given time, about thirty percent of the parishes in The Episcopal Church are in some aspect of the transition process. The numbers for diocese are a bit different, but none-the-less, a substantial number of bishops retire every year, in part because we tend to elect people in their mid to late 50's. Add the statistic that TENS heard in Atlanta this Summer, that about half of all "mainline" churches will close in the next ten years, and stability is no longer a feature of the church.

I do not know the numbers for other churches. The differences in polity between for instance TEC and the United Methodists make comparisons difficult. All Methodist churches are by definition in transition as their bishops simply re-assign clergy every few years. Permanence, if it is valued by the Methodists, does not come from clergy!

Parishes close in Roman Catholic diocese with disturbing frequency. Here in Chicago, it is a feature of early Summer, that after school has adjourned, the diocese closes schools and churches. Three functions seem to be involved; celibacy, there are simply not enough priests to staff small churches; deferred maintenance, I can recall at least two churches closed because they were no longer safe buildings; and the ever popular money. Again, permenence is not on offer.

This evening, on WCPT, I heard one of their more inciteful hosts (several are,) Norman Goldman talking about the effect accelerating rates of change is having on the American psyche. Mr. Goldman observed that only a few years ago, pot was illegal everywhere in the USA, and no States permited civil unions, let alone marriage equality. Drop back a few more years and de jure segregation was the law of many States.

Yes, the times are as the Dylan song has it, "a changing."

In both the church and the secular world, there are a great many who simply will not accept change. Churches see them in the ongoing argument over women's ministry, and of all things music. If you want to start a fight, consider some new hymns! In political terms, the very idea of an Afro-American president sends some citizens into low earth orbit. The idea that like Mr. Reagan, we might allow some Latin-American, "illegals" to stay is even more incinderary. Even allowing applicants for asylum decent detention pending their hearings sets off some in Texas and Arizona. But then, "humanitarian" down there is, as near as I can tell, an insult.

In both contexts, not only do some radically over-vlue a sense of stability, the worst of them want to set the clock back, or more accurately, the calendar. Politically, Rick Santorum and the Koch brothers want to ban contraception. Religiously, we have the spectre of "Forward in Faith" which actually wants to go backward and remove all women from ordained service. Two faces of the same, reactionary, coin.

Somewhere in my undergraduate hitory studies, I learned of Prince Metternich and the post-Napoleanic period. The diplomats who gathered for the Congress of Vienna set out to reverse the French Revolution, and the impact of modernity on Europe. They failed utterly. In 1848, revolution swept over Europe, and absolute monarchy was doomed. O, it hung on in Poland and Russia for a while, but even there the writing was on the wa.

One might observe that the Congress had as much success as the Council of Trent some centuries earlier. Rome never took over a Europe free of Protestants, or re-captured England, Wales, or Scotland. Monarchy would never take over Europe with absolute power again.

So too the role of women both in the church and the government. The day when a blowhard could insult a decent person and drive her from public life has passed. I do not know if Ms. Fluke will win her election in California, but I hope she will.

I don't know who the next presiding bishop will be. I do know that whomever it is, the church is not backing up on woman's ministries. Nor is it backing up on mariage equality, or "gay bishops." We have learned to live in transition. America may still have a way to go, but we have learned. Yes we face schism, but that is OK: we faced schsim before.

One either leads, follows, or gets run over. We choose not to be run over. The Republicn party seems determined to be under the tires. It is all choices and transition.

22 July 2014

What are we doing?


Early today, I was asked how the "theory of just war" applied in Gaza. That is, I think, the wrong question. The right one is, "How did we get to the point of thinking there can ever be a, "just war?"

OK, yes I know that the ancient thinkers who posited the concept's parameters included St. Augustine. And yes, I am sure he was smarter than I am or can hope to be. Still,re he was working within the limitations of his day, and a limited available scholarship of the Bible. His work, is not infallible. Nor was St. Thomas's later work on the subject.

Both Augustine and Thomas wrote in a time with war fighting technology in a relatively tight range. So for both, the idea of a just war involving armies of roughly similar capacity to do violence was reasonable, as was the idea of a warrior class that clashed on a battle field from which civilians might withdraw.

Today, Western arms include weapons that do not require a presence on the same continent. American drones, controlled in a building in the Midwest, can bomb targets in Afghanistan. In one sense, we can think of this as a good thing, our people are safe. On the other, both theories of "just war" assume warriors who confront each others and avoid civilian casualties. We simply do not do that.

In our world, then, can their be just war? Let us be clear, the USA will not go to war with someone who can match our technology. We after all know what it can do! So I think they answer has to be no.

Israel and Gaza are another case. Israel has one of the most advanced anti-missile systems ever deployed, while Hamas has among the least sophisticated weapon systems in use today. For all practical purposes, what the media refer to as Hamas missiles are large mortars. The sharp gap between Israeli and Gazan casualties shows the impact.

So do I expect either USA or Israel to give up their significant war technology advantages? No, of course not. I do think we need to understand that war has changed. Now, weapons are deployed at ranges that take the soldier well out of the range of personal weapons. Now, weapons destroy not merely a person, but a significant area. Both sides of the current conflicts have such weapons.

So what then of the Islamic or Jihadist side of the Mid-Eastern conflicts and the global terrorism? First, no theory of just war or of Holy Jihad legitimates terrorism. Flying planes into towers, blowing up suicide bombs, and the like are not Islam. They are heresy. Most certainly, they are not just. In Israel and Palestine, the launching of rockets into Israel without anything close to targeting systems capable of identifying military targets is not just, it is not jihad. The horror being visited on Northern Iraq is not jihad, it is not Islam, it is terror and warlordism.

We have killed off the possibility of the just war. And yet, we want to think of ourselves as just. The world, and history, simply do not work that way.

04 July 2014

Happy Birthday America!

Born in the aftermath of the Declaration and War of Independence one might expect TEC would celebrate the 4th. There are indeed prayers for the State, and there are patriotic songs in the Hymnal. But little happens.

The model of relationship between church and state begins with theocracy. Moses ruled in the name of God, consulted with God, announced God's decisions. His governing council enforced the Law of God, received at Sinai. Kings would eventually be chosen by God, anointed by Samuel and other prophets.

The model however clearly distinguishes between the secular authority and the devout. Very early, there is conflict. Saul is replaced by David because as king he disobeyed. David and Nathan forge the arm's length relationship which remains to this day. The state rules, and the church cries "justice" to power.

Nathan is my hero. Consider what he does. He walks into the king's audience chamber, tells the king of an injustice, and when the king reacts by calling for judgement on the perpetrator, calls the king out a as the man. There were almost certainly guards, armed guards, in that space. A single word from the king and Nation is either dead or in custody. Either way he is silenced.

The first Isaiah follows in Nathan's footsteps. He dismisses the alliance with Egypt that the king thinks will protect him from conquest. Be loyal and count on God, not Egyptian chariots is his message, which goes unheeded. The pattern is set. And a good part of it is that prophets are not welcomed by kings.

John and Jesus follow the pattern. John cries for justice when Herod kills to get the wife he wants, and challenges the legitimacy of Herod's marriage. For that he pays the ultimate price. Jesus calls the temple authorities to be just and care for the needy. The response is what we now call the Passion.

In our time the relationship between church and state has been complicated. But for the Episcopal Church, the relationship is one of prophetic distance. We criticize actions and policies that we judge unjust. And as is always the case, we are in the history business.

The history of America is the history of the conquest of First Peoples, the suppression of aliens, especially Chinese coming here to work on our railroads, slavery, and Jim Crow. Yes, it is also the history of our Bill of Rights, blossoming science and technology, and freedom for all with prosperity for many if not all. But we do not like to recall the negative and we must. Humans learn from their errors. And so, the church, quite properly is less inclined to celebrate and more inclined to call us to live the brilliant poetry of the Declaration.

Happy birthday America: may your future be one of justice and freedom. And may we never, ever forget our mistakes, or think we are done. We are and must always be, a work in progress.

27 June 2014

+++Canturbery and Good Disagreement

Recently Archbishop Justin addressed the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast in London. His Grace set out a number of points that have sparked discussion in the blogosphere.

The entire speech is worth reading, and I have linked to it below. This excerpt was of particular interest to me.
The struggle, the achievement, of holding together in good disagreement sets a pattern in which truth is not a club with which to strike others, but a light freely offered for a path of joy and flourishing.

"The poor are not served by a divided church obsessed with inward issues".


From: 'Loving the poor and standing for human dignity - Archbishop on the 21st century global church' including a quote by the archbisop of His Holiness Francis found here


I am reminded of ABp. Welby's predecessor, Dr. Williams speaking of "holy friendship" to a rather less hospitable assembly in Africa. It appears to me that both ideas are flawed in one way: they tend to flow in one direction. That is, among Christians in general, and Anglicans in particular, one party is willing to debate, while the other knows God's intended outcome.

The problem with this gentle progressive idea, holy friendship, and its operating modalities: good disagreement, and holy conversations, is that they are capable of morphing into enforced conformity. That is what happened when a reasonably decent, smart man like Dr. Williams fell into the Covenant trap. He so valued unity, and the idea of conversation (Indaba) that he sought a way to force everyone to the table. The Covenant was born.

Similarly, the sight of ABp. Welby who knows both where England is going, and where the church should go, making more and more repressive moves leads not to the love Paul proclaimed but to the legalism he decried. Instead attempting, vainly I fear, to practice, "good disagreement" he has started a process of witch hunt, and persecution for his legally ordained gay clergy reminiscent of the worst excesses of Senator McCarthy. This drive to legalism even includes that most despicable feature of the McCarthy period: the blacklist.

This is the corrupting influence of the single minded pursuit of unity over diversity. Yes, if those who are diverse engage in holy conversations, the Spirit can heal and grow the believers. But, if unity itself is a goal that stifles conversation, treats any outlier as a heretic, and blacklists priests, then the church has lost its vision. And as Scripture tells us, "without a vision, the people perish."

I think the world would be better if it practiced the Jewish idea of disagreement, in which a discussion of a portion of Torah is much more about process than conclusion. I saw a documentary some years ago that showed ultra-orthodox rabinic students arguing, in pairs, about such a verse. At one point, a pair simply stopped. One of the students had stumped the other who simply did not know where to go -- he had "won." As the camera, (and I) watched, he realized what had happened and why his opponent had stopped. He did not raise his hands in triumph nor let their discussion end. Instead he thought a moment, and told the other student, (paraphrase)You approach Torah from a Hillelian perspective. From that perspective your answer to my point should be ... (end paraphrase.) The other student nodded his thanks, made that point, and they continued to argue.

We can still learn from our Jewish ancestors-in-faith. The discussions in that classroom were intense, loud, but not hostile. Everyone there sought learning, honed debating skills, and challenge. The process, and the learning it brought, were important, not winning. Oh that we could learn that in Christianity, in The Episcopal Church, and in our parishes!

A church focused on itself deserves to fail. It is in mission, loving the people God makes carrying for the poor, the widowed, the oppressed, crying "justice!" to power, reconciling humans to each other, and the world with its creatures in these things, these expensive things, that the church merits success. Without the love that Jesus preached, we are as Paul said. "a clanging gong." Reconciling love is expensive in more than one way. It calls those with much to help those with little, demands our time as well as our pledge (yup!) and demands our attention be not on our position and betterment in the body politic, but rather that we seek the common good.

In short, reconciling love is the exact opposite of selfish, uncaring, and humorless greed. It is precisely what Ayn Rand, and her disciples (cf. Paul Ryan) do not believe in doing. So yes, there is a political dimension, and it too is expensive. One must vote, agitate, and perhaps even protest, seeking the common good.

Reconciling love leads us to forgiveness. Forgiveness too is expensive, and expansive. It is in forgiving that we show that reconciling love. Forgiveness does not require penitence, or confession. I think we often get that requirement wrong. In liturgical churches, the absolution follows the act of confession, be that in private, or in common prayer. But we are called to forgive period.

Reconciling love leads us to the jails and prisons, not to tell the criminals they are beyond consequence. Consequences are the business of courts. Rather we need to show them that God, and we His people, still love them, still yearn for their return to us seeking and finding life and beyond crime. We cannot advance that message selectively. We simply must announce that God, the creator of all things, loves us all, the rest being up to us.

22 May 2014

Where is it written

Bruce Garner who is a member of the Episcopal Church's Executive Committee, ends his frequent posts with a quotation.
"Since when do you have to agree with people just to defend them from injustice?" Lillian Hellman, Writer (1905-1984)
It is a good question. And one that Christians, it seems to me, should study. Jesus did not require agreement, or belief. He healed people whom he knew, but he also healed complete strangers, and some whose subsequent conduct indicates a certain lack of appreciation. He even asked forgiveness for those who took their disagreement to the extreme of judicial murder. The Apostles seem to have gotten that message. Acts 5 describes Peter's healing of completely anonymous persons who merely awaited his passage and sat in his shadow. In our day, the Salvation Army has taken the view that suffering requires a response, not a test of theology. Episcopa services does the same in its disaster relief efforts.

So where is that elusive quote that justifies refusing help to those with whom we disagree? There isn't one. There is the horribly misused, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3) There are a couple of problems with the verse. First this is not a particularly strong translation, other versions in English and the original text are closer to,
"Can two walk together without agreeing to meet?"
The "Holman" translation, which benefits from modern scholarship.

The question is one of a series of impossibilities in a section that are intended to make the point that some things are impossible. The other problem with attempts to limit charity using Amos is that "walking together" is rather different from sharing resources with those in need.

Which leads me to South Sudan. The Episcopal Church of Sudan, does not agree with the North American churches on several points. They recently adopted (rather quietly -- ashamed perhaps?) the so-called Anglican Covenant. Even though the thing makes no sense, and stands rejected by many conservative churches, this all but completely failed effort at slipping a concept of international canon law into the Communion was signed. Their people are starving and they are worried about this? The Covenant is widely thought dead. South Sudan attempted to resuscitate it. Only Archbishop Daniel might know why.

For me, a member of the "No Anglican Covenant Coalition" adopting the Covenant is a big deal. But for most Americans I suspect, there is a larger issue. That is the church's official homophobia. Some years ago the then bishop of Renk, lied to my wife in public, saying that each church, USA and Sudan, should merely not attempt to impose cultural imperatives on each other, that there need then be no issue. Since then, the Sudanese "cultural imperative," homophobia, somehow became doctrine. One the archbishop has used with considerable effort as an attack meme, putting down TEC-USA, and to a lesser degree Anglican Church Canada.

That is a problem. It is a problem because caught in a nasty crossfire, North Sudan on the border, and civil war within, South Sudan desperately needs help. Help that can flow from congregations that have long since decided that their lgbt members are welcome in God's kingdom. Sending help, money principally, and perhaps some staff, to South Sudan makes some of our most progressive members deeply uncomfortable. They see themselves paying people to attack them.

Jesus never said this would be easy! Sending all or part of a fund raiser to South Sudan could be hard for a lesbian Episcopalian. Knowing that the highest levels of the clergy there consider her an agent of evil, makes joy hard. And yet, it may not have been easy for Stephen, or Jesus to ask forgiveness for their murderers.

I know that it is too easy by half for me to call someone else to accept insults not directed to me. While the archbishop attacks the whole TEC, the venom hits lgbt members more directly. These are my friends and colleagues, and I hate what this does to them. None-the-less, they are the targets.

And yet, somehow, we need to return to the question. How do we justify an answer to the question that allows us to let people starve? How do we ignore the suffering and death of an entire nation? Can we preach tolerance if we do not tolerate opinions we do not share? These are opinions that we find deeply offensive and wounding, but can :we not tolerate and discuss?

Rather ordinary people, lay and clergy, who want to worry about things like the roof, or tuning the organ, are confronted by the question. Bishop Jeffery Lee, has called on us, the entire diocese of Chicago, to honor our commitment to ur sister diocese Renk (South Sudan,) and find ways to help. We simply must do this, but oh, for some it is hard.

Tuesday, two of us brought a resolution affirming the bishop's ministry in South Sudan, and affirming our intent to seek funds to contribute directly to his efforts to vestry. We could not ask vestry for cash: we simply do not have any. The parish is in significant financial distress.

But at least we will do what we can. I am proud of our members. The vestry could have ducked, simply ignored the problems, the suffering. We did not do that. We stepped up, and committed our parish. The vote was unanimous. Now the hard part, now we have to do something about it. I pray we will -- quickly.

05 May 2014

Christian? Baptism?

Frequently, indeed most of the time, I re-write a post several times before it appears here. But this is a special case. Somehow, not sure how, I managed to delete a post I thought done. Here then my best effort at re-writing it. This is a bit longer, because I have taken the reactions and subsequent comments of Mrs. Palin into account.

My apologies for this odd moment.
JimB


Recently, Ms. Palin spoke at an NRA convention. The speech and especially one part of it have gone viral. You can find them on YouTube. I am concerned with one particularly offensive comment. She said, "If I were in charge, they would know that water boarding is how we baptize terrorists."

To be fair, the church has failed of its own ideals at times. We call that the, "Inquisition," and "the Crusades." Anti-Christian Muslims to this day call the West, "the crusaders." That is NOT a compliment.

Mrs. Palin, in any case, betrays either disregard for the faith she claims to embrace, or ignorance of it.

As the almost uniformly negative reaction to her speech came rolling in, she has tried to portray herself as a victim of some liberal plot against her free speech rights. One can only assume that as ignorant as she appears of baptism and the faith, she is at least that unaware of the content of the First Amendment. No one I have read has suggested she be be denied her right to speak. I wonder does she not know that blasphemy is not against our law?

Mrs. Palin has done real damage to the perception of the NRA, and it is they that make me wonder. The audience cheered her comment. I hope that there were at least a few Christians who were too stunned and offended to react.

I would think the NRA would want to distance itself from her remarks. But, the silence has been remarkable.

I have to wonder about those in her audience who cheered the sentence. Do they disrespect the sacraments of the church, or do they approve of torture? Either is deeply troubling especially given the silence of the hosts.

13 April 2014

Palms and Treachery

So Jesus has taken to Jerusalem. He first enters in triumph. And then, the single act that brings the Temple authorities down on him like an avalanche. He disrupts and attacks the sacrificial system.

aa In a theocratic state, Israel was actually several in uneasy tension, religious actions have political consequences. Jesus interrupted the flow of sacrifice, and denounced the excesses of those who supplied sacrificial animals and temple currency. That one act of rebellion, combined with his teachings against the Herodians, made him a cadre of enemies. Enemies with power.

Everything flows from this - Jesus took on the political establishment, upset the apple cart, could never be a good member of Justin Welby's Church of England. And as Welby is willing to sacrifice Justice and lgbt members to appease evil, Caiphas was willing to have one man die to placate the Romans "for the people."

Caiaphas at least had an excuse. He was faced with a powerful occupier, and a theocratic polity. Welby has none. If the price of maintaining unity in the church or the communion is injustice, neither merit the cost.


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