Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Wandering in the Kraalspace

This post made the rounds among right-wing blogs recently; it included this tasty tidbit which I thought I'd share:

The sterile evil that now controls the Episcopal Church will never willingly allow Christian belief to remain unmolested. Conservatives who think that they can negotiate some sort of truce, or even a ghetto existence within the larger, demon-possessed church, are deluding themselves. As C.S. Lewis wrote, the sort of "agreement" these people come up with consists of saying "Oh, you can believe what you want, as long as you do it alone," and then they mutter under their breath, "and we'll see to it that you're NEVER alone." It's in their nature to try to eradicate every voice that answers their lies with the truth, because they rightly sense that it is the only way that they can survive.

The post, you might agree, is typical of where the church is right now: different sides consigning the Others to Hell-bound demon possession. I'd wager there is not much love for errant Episcopal lefties in Kraalspace's post; it is not just that one can dig up such strident hyperbole with ease, but rather, this is our witness to the world, how the world sees we love one another. I'm put in mind again of Nietzsche's On the Genaeology of Morals; I'll quote just a choice bit:

In my view, Dante was grossly in error when, with an ingenuity inspiring terror, he set that inscription over the gateway into his hell: “Eternal love also created me.” Over the gateway into the Christian paradise and its “eternal blessedness” it would, in any event, be more fitting to let the inscription stand “Eternal hate also created me” — provided it’s all right to set a truth over the gateway to a lie! For what is the bliss of that paradise? . . . Perhaps we might have guessed that already, but it is better for it to be expressly described for us by an authority we cannot underestimate in such matters, Thomas Aquinas, the great teacher and saint: “In the kingdom of heaven” he says as gently as a lamb, “the blessed will see the punishment of the damned, so that they will derive all the more pleasure from their heavenly bliss.”

Or do you want to hear that message in a stronger tone, something from the mouth of a triumphant father of the church, who warns his Christians against the cruel sensuality of the public spectacles. But why? “Faith, in fact, offers much more to us,” he says (in de Spectaculis, c. 29 ff), “something much stronger. Thanks to the redemption, very different joys are ours to command; in place of the athletes, we have our martyrs. If we want blood, well, we have the blood of Christ . . . But what awaits us on the day of his coming again, his triumph!” — and now he takes off, the rapturous visionary:

“However there are other spectacles — that last eternal day of judgment, ignored by nations, derided by them, when the accumulation of the years and all the many things which they produced will be burned in a single fire. What a broad spectacle then appears! How I will be lost in admiration! How I will laugh! How I will rejoice! I will be full of exaltation then as I see so many great kings who by public report were accepted into heaven groaning in the deepest darkness with Jove himself and alongside those very men who testified on their behalf! They will include governors of provinces who persecuted the name of our Lord burning in flames more fierce that those with which they proudly raged against the Christians!

What to say of a Christianity whose obedience is constituted in part by the anticipation of such a "blessedness"? Something has gone wrong, and it is not just a matter of the Anglican Communion's koinonia going off the rails, but rather another manifestation among Christians of a by-now predictible failure. Tertullan, Aquinas, me, you: it is not as if one can say simply "Whoops! My bad, I got it wrong; maybe the Others are not among the Hell-bound demon-possessed, literally."

Consider this opuscule as an alternative to the polemics you'll find here and at Kraalspace: Frank C. Strasburger's Why the Anglican Communion Matters, which seems to me one of the very best things written recently about why we should strive to remain part of the Anglican Communion. But more on that in another post.

Pace the strained analogy to Hindu myth, the post alludes to Luke 11:17:
But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. (KJV)

Point taken, but what "kingdom" here below is wholly given over to Christ? I would not presume to be any better off than the Apostle Paul, who wrote in Romans 7:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.

It is sad to say, but the Church here below shall ever be a divided kingdom filled with members each of whom is a little divided kingdom, and there is no other Church. To put it bluntly: here below we shall not find that final peace we crave, but only civil war. The fact that the Episcopal Church is divided in numerous ways is...well, it is just what one would expect. It is divided between conservatives and liberals, between Xs and Ys, which is to say between sinners of varying stripes and spots. What's new?

That is a bit too blunt, of course; Paul's plaintive tone looks forward to the Pax of the Eschaton, and in the meantime to a via crucis, a continual entrance into repentance and incremental--if even that--movement toward conversion here below.

I take it Kraalspace, thinking a sterile evil drives a demon-possessed Episcopal Church, thinks Episcopalians are not on the via crucis. How she helps herself to that vicious conclusion I do not know. The point is, she might say, not merely that Episocpalians are divided like everyone else, and that their denomination is divided, but that there is no devotion to the way of the Holy Cross, to repentance and conversion: their experience of pauline division is sterile that way, contrary to Paul'a admonitions.

That could only be true if the sacraments of the Episcopal Church were invalid, if all the Baptisms in the strong name of the Holy Trinity, if all the Eucharists, Ordinations, acts of Penance, last Rites, and so on were not at all genuine signs of grace, but were entirely worthless.
After all, repentance is a part of all of these sacraments.

To deny that our sacraments are signs of grace is to deny that the Holy Spirit works through them--that is what I take Kraalspace to imply. Not the Holy Spirit, but demons; surely Kraalspace does not really mean it:

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. (Mark 3)

Again (Matt 12):
All the crowds were amazed and said, ‘Can this be the Son of David?’ But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, that this fellow casts out the demons.’ He knew what they were thinking and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered.

That is dangerous territory for anyone--me and you included--to wander through; it would be better "to err on the side of caution" when throwing sacraments into question:

‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’ (Mark 3)

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matt. 12)

Who can say whether the Other will repent? We can't know; so far as we can tell it's open and it is not our place to put on the God pants and decide who's damned and who is not. Therein is a vision of where we can head if we really wish: an Anglican Communion descended into utter blasphemy, doing Nietzsche one better by anticipating not just obstinate pagans--this not being bad enough for our jaded tastes--but even other Christians burning and screaming endlessly in Hell.

Somehow, nevertheless, there is a possible--even accessible--future where Episcopalians and Kraalspace, et al are in real communion, one written, as it were, in the heart (Jer. 31). That future seems worth working for.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Case of Pastor Sean Allen

A bit of local news: Sean Allen, the Baptist Pastor of a rather large congregation right down the road from where I'm typing this in DeLand removed the church's flag along with the national flag from the sanctuary.

As a result, he received at least three death threats, including one in his home mailbox; he's now on extended leave. Note, he did not order the national flag removed from church grounds altogether.

In my opinion, Pastor Allen is 110% right on this; the nation's flag should be outside the congregation's sanctuary: a no-brainer.

If you have a moment, please consider making some intercession on his and his congregation's behalf.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Bit from Pastor Wright

...a Youtube link to part of one of his sermons...The center seemed to be his bit on Malachi 3:6:

Where governments change, God does not change. God is the same yesterday, today and forever more. That’s what his name I Am means. He does not change.
God was against slavery on yesterday, and God, who does not change, is still against slavery today. God was a God of love yesterday, and God who does not change, is still a God of love today. God was a God of justice on yesterday, and God who does not change, is still a God of justice today. God does not change.

The climax at the end of the selection recounts Amos 1-2, & esp. the turn in 2:6-8 to Israel. It's interesting to see that the old trope retains such raw, explosive power.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Moving into a Bifurcated Society

An interesting link from Elizabeth Warren, Harvard Law, arguing that the middle class is vanishing away.

She's a very good, very clear lecturer.

Why is her thesis relevant? Well consider, for instance, one of her factoids: children this year, in fact since the late '90s, are morelikely to live in a household undergoing foreclosure than undergoing divorce. Is there a point to devloping an intentional pastoral response at the parish, diocesan, or provincial level? Is there any even implicitly relevant part of our liturgy?

I think there are many obviously relevant points of contact. To take just one example: dispute over what constitutes a genuine marriage is at least the occasion behind the current turmoil in the Anglican Communion. Behind the vitriol is a worry--among other worries--that marriage is weak and getting weaker, that the weakening of marriage weakens families and tends to damage their members, and that tolerating civil or ecclesial gay unions would add to a permissive social current, further weakening marriage: a downward spiral. At least that is one of the worries--I don't wish to take issue with it here, though I think the concern is misplaced.

Pace the question of whether there is some valid worry there, ask: which vectors contribute most to social chaos and the enervation of marriages and families? It seems to me we should be able to agree that economic stress and chaos do more damage than tolerating gay unions, and a communion genuinely concerned with marriage and the family should be able to manage a proper, proportional response.

Friday, May 02, 2008

A Reading of the PB's Easter Message

That is always a danger, perhaps, of confusing the Kerygma, the Gospel proclamation, with the moral response the Gospel requires--which may well vary in particulars as the vices besetting the hearers of the Word vary.

For the PB, it seems Evangelism essentially includes moral appeal along with the proclamation of the Gospel. I'm speculating, but her basic idea might be that the Spirit operates with prevenient grace outside the bounds of the church to prepare potential disciples to respond to their Lord's voice.

They are prepared in many cases by a graced sense of conviction of sin not yet fully or clearly articulated. The Gospel tagged with a call to repent--delivered in preaching or proclamation by example appealing through mimesis--articulates the previously dim moral sense of being vicious, bringing it to clarity: at that very moment one is ready to begin conversion--the seed is sown.

She is betting--it seems to me--that our special sins, the grotesque distortions we are particularly prone to, have to do primarily with Gluttony: materialistic excess in hedonistic consumption that ends up abusing creation in defiance of divine will.

We already dimly know we consume too much, we waste too much, we take more than our fair share, we are emotionally addicted to materialistic pleasures and therein conceive ultimate happiness...and we already in a dim sense know better, and in a dim way know we are courting ultimate ruin in mortal sin.

To hear a clear call to repent from these sins of Gluttony in the name of Jesus is to know the Shepherd's voice as authentic, and to be positioned for an authentic response. Her proclamtion in the letter is patterned, so far as I can see, after an evangelical on the left. Her messages' critics, if I am right, may be caught up in actively resisting her call to repent. Witness their talk about her Easter message as if it were only concerned with cow flatulence.

I'm not kidding. Here is a partial list:

Midwest Conservative Journal
Hills of the North
VirtueOnline (see the comments)
Daily Camera--see Kendall Harmon quoted in the body

But ask yourself, why are cow farts a problem? Might it be because we are Gluttons--we can't help but connect our high standard of living to high consumption of beef, for example? A rather earthy fact the PB might well be onto and which her critics miss. But a timely fact as well: people are starvingto death for lack, in part, of the resources we spend on ourselves, growing fat cows for our fat selves.

Indeed, if you read her critics, going on about bovine flatulence, as in effect justifying our pluriform practices of Gluttony in spite of themselves and without really knowing what they are doing--ironically enough given Dean Turner's theme--as if her critique were some catastrophe, as if Vegetarianism or even a reduction of meat consumption were literally unthinkable, their "critique" of her Easter message appears, I dare say, in a rather new light.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Just an accident? Or a conscious shift to the ad hominem style?

An observer to our Anglican unpleasantness might well have thought--since around the last HoB meeting in New Orleans--that the various Separatist factions had "overplayed their hands," fracturing among themselves along various lines, losing wider sympathy in the Communion and in our modest province with repeated border-crossing, squandering the prima facie good-will initiatives of Rowan Williams, pursuing the Realignment Agenda at the expense of the Windsor Process, presenting a chaotic spectacle while trying to drag out dioceses, etc.

All that remained was a long, cold burn-out: the sickening vision of expensive court cases going on and on, more finger-pointing and mean-spirited, hyperbolic accusations of apostasy, attempts by very unhappy right-wing radicals to poach congregations, more creative alphabet soup from Asia, Africa, South America, and the UK, etc etc. More of the same, getting more and more boring, more and more tedious.

But now maybe the venomous ad hominem attacks on PB Schori by Dean Turner and the memo now circulating the HoB--aimed at bringing Schori to trial--herald something new, something rather more exotic, something needed to ratchet excitement back up among the jaded Colosseum crowd of the right-wing echo-chamber, hungry for more blood sport.

It seems Bishop Robinson is still Rowan Williams' favorite scapegoat. When the cohesion of the Anglican Communion is at risk, and it falls on Rowan to say something, you can count on him shifting attention to Bishop Robinson being made to pay as an object of blame somewhere in the speech or document. So it comes as no surprise to see Williams trot out the scapegoat mechanism again. Of course, trading in sacrificial gestures can be dangerous--people given over to literalism might get caught up and take that type of thing too seriously; so it is reassuring (I'm being sarcastic) to hear from Williams that literal sacrifices of active gays are not called for; symbolic sacrifices are quite enough. This sort of thing passes for episcopal ministry--no wonder he has to go out and make a case for the mere relevance of the church: golly, don't mention ethical relevance to Dean Turner: who knows what he'd say next? Anyhow, the problem of relevance is rooted pretty close to home; his text does not show much awareness of the bitter irony. Is laughter appropriate?

How many times can Robinson get scapegoated before the scapegoating loses the desired cathartic effect? It doesn't turn the head and catch the ear like it used to, perhaps. A new scapegoat is needed; certainly the right needs a more attractive lamb. This is where PB Schori comes in.

If she doesn't start looking out, they'll make damn sure she gets...a shearing.

Make no mistake: for Wingers of all persuasions pushing this crap, millions of dollars in assets are involved on top of millions already throne in, careers are on the line, an awful lot of face is at stake given the rather dark means employed--without a shouting throng in the Colisseum willing to pony up for these hucksters, it will all dribble down the toilet, circling the tidy bowl with exquisite slowness at ten year, supersized Lambeth-style intervals.

What better sacrifice, what better scapegoat than PB Schori? And in a year where Senator Clinton has a high profile too, it seems to me the prospect of leading her to the Altar must promise the right wing quite a strong measure of cathartic release from strife, anxiety, infighting. Surely, and this is the true measure of its effect, the right wing, having failed to unite around Christ, can at least unite around Schori.

Maybe it is so; I could well be wrong. It could be intentional right now, or it might still just be coincidence, something taking shape, a new message, a new promise of unity, a new hope for the disaffected, a new focus and context for old Scripture:

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.

Do you, dear reader, really think Dean Turner and the rest of the throng will relent--much less repent or apologize--when they read this from PB Schori? In her Pentecost letter she seems to go out of her way to reassure anxious conservatives. That is the right thing for her to do. Even so, I can't help, suspecting Turner's "black is white, white is black" style as indicative of what's typical, to fear the worst.

Turner's Ad hominem

It is quite shocking to see Turner--a seminary dean!--stoop to tendentious criticism ad hominem. I do not think the charges against her stick, and I have no idea what psyhcological tic moved Turner to such excremental effusions. It's as if the ACI has become an ideological, partisan mouthpiece like the American Enterprise Institute or the National Review at exactly the time it is supposed to be working with the interests of teh whole Anglican Communion in mind.

Perhaps his writing is "a sign of the times," a sign of the church dividing into factions, a sign of its members left and right taking on merely institutional personae in an effort to extend and centralize power in the name of their particular version of the Tower of Babel. Who knows? It's difficult to resist responding in kind to Turner--very difficult--but it is worthwhile to resist the degeneration of our common life into internicine strife, strife that Turner's piece seems to invite.

With that ideal in mind, one point from Turner might merit further comment: his criticism of her easter message, which you can review here. Turner's criticism seems a nearly perfect instance of the ecclesial division between the growing low-church, left-wing evangelicals and other factions. He writes,

If, in this instance, she did not know what she was saying, then one must conclude that she does not understand the central tenets of Christian belief, namely, the meaning of Christ's death and resurrection. If, however, she does understand what she is saying, she is suggesting a novelty that forces one to ask if her version of Christian belief is in fact recognizable as what Christians through the ages have believed and professed.

Notice please what I've underlined--a false dichotomy along the lines of "Either you are with me or against me," and a mortally dangerous one for Turner to take, as his employment of it panders to the reader's pride, inviting the reader to try and take up a position he or she should never take up in order to stand in judgement on the Presiding Bishop.

I assume Christian tradition is nearly unanimous in proclaiming that the Resurrection of our Savior is a mystery of faith that is impossible for us to intellectually comprehend in this life here below--and in some quarters, the beatific vision is taken to include an ongoing process of growing comprehension of such mysteries in the face-to-face presence of God: a vision for the next life, not for this life. I'd wager nobody understands what is said when the Resurrection is proclaimed--there is always much that is not understood, and probably some that is wrong.

But the fact we lack understanding does not mean we understand nothing about the Resurrection--and in particulcar our ignorance does not preclude us from referring to the event in proclamation, in preaching, in liturgy and prayer, in pastoral letters. That is why Turner's dichotomy is false: the fact one does not understand the Resurrection obviously does not mean one fails to understand anything about it. His extremism panders to the readers' pride, indulging hubris--can any reader, can Turner himself, be any but at best marginally better off than the Presiding Bishop? And--ironically--could readers really be even marginally better off and indulge in Turner's type of condemnation without inconsistency, inasmuch as he must--absurdly--insist the miracle can be comprehended by us in this life?

He goes on to say that the Presiding Bishop's Easter message is inconsistent with orthodoxy:

If, however, she does understand what she is saying, she is suggesting a novelty that forces one to ask if her version of Christian belief is in fact recognizable as what Christians through the ages have believed and professed.

I am speechless at Turner; he goes on to quote the PB, who wrote:

How can you enact the new life we know in Jesus the Christ? In other words, how can you be the sacrament, the outward and visible sign, of the grace that you know in the resurrected Christ? How can your living let others live more abundantly?

And one might have though that would have been enough for her message to be "in fact recognizable"--what is novel about procaliming the Resurrection? What is novel about living the new life we have in Jesus? What is novel about making our lives a sign of God's presence--and Jesus' presence in particular--in the world? What is novel about seeing Christian life as a life of service? About knowing grace in the Resurrection? It seems whatever the Presiding Bishop has to say will be viciously interpreted by such critics as Turner.

For instance, what seems to unhinge him is the thought that being an Easter people obligates us to live responsibly in God's creation. He writes:

This means for her that each member "consider how your daily living can be an act of greater life for other creatures." This one can do by living in a way that allows others to live more abundantly. Indeed, it is by living in this way that one fulfills the promise of TEC's baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of one's fellow creatures. Concretely, a commitment such as this means paying attention to "the food we eat, the energy we use, and the goods and foods we buy, the ways in which we travel."I note only that the significance of the resurrection of Christ is here presented in entirely moral terms.

He reads her message in the worst light he can manage, as if she were reducing the Easter message to environmentalism--that's why he uses the term "means" instead of something like "implies"--rather than saying, more reasonably it seems to me, that she sees living with a commitment to ecological resposibility as an entailment or implication of the Easter message. He seems completely blind to the disitinction--and that blindness is essential to his carping.

That is, once you replace his term "means" with "implies" you will see the Presiding Bishop is right, obviously right. On Scriptural grounds alone we are justified in taking ourselves to have moral obligations to our environment. It is not ours; we are its stewards, standing with God or in God's place--thus it seems at the beginning on the Bible, in Genesis, and at the very end, in the Book of Revelation when creation is ultimately renewed, and between, where nature is pictured as sharing in our fallen condition and finally renewed in the working out of Providence, groaning for redemption in the meantime.

But Turner bizzarely ignores Scripture, and even seems to flatter himself into believing the Doctors and Fathers of the Church share his apparent, perhaps merely occasional, ignorance. That's hard to believe, of course; he must know Scripture and tradition better than he lets on here: he simply must, right? How convenient for him, and how inconvenient for the church which must correct such distorted readings of Holy Scripture and Church history, which must try to undo the damage he does by inciting scandal and division.

However, I'd bet Turner is not alone in his criticism. What is at stake, it seems to me, is style--we've seen precious little of substance floating through Turner's piece, but what comes through is a clear, set-in-concrete difference of style.

In particular, Turner and his sympathizers seem dead set against finding any implications for environmentalist critique in the Easter message or Kerygma, whereas the Presiding Bishop and her sympathizers seem dead set in favor of finding such implications. There is a real question here about whether one of these camps is right; I think it's a no-brainer: PB Schori is right on Scripture alone, and even more obviously when one considers Scripture in conjunction what we know from science and philosophy.

Indeed, as you may know, the Episcopal Church has already set out a Catechism on creation, endorsed by Schori and even Kendall Harmon: true; they agreed on something. It's here; to see the endorsements one must look at the back cover, which can be seen if you order the text here--about $5.