Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Archbishop in New York

January 28, 2010

The Archbishop of Canterbury was in New York last week for some work related to the Anglican Observer at the United Nations and to serve as a major presenter on economic issues for the Trinity Institute. I was present for some of the early part of the week. The Trustees of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale were led through a strategic review process by Barbara Wheeler of Auburn Seminary. While the realities of reductions in the value of endowments and our requirement that our budgets be balanced provide the usual level of angst and challenge, it seems that among institutions of theology, Berkeley and Yale divinity Schools together are among the strongest and best positioned on the landscape. One day we met at the Tutu Center of the General Theological Seminary in Chelsea and heard from Dean Ewing that they have made great strides in stabilizing their financial situation through the development of the Tutu Center as a hotel and conference site as well as the development of condominiums and shops in the library buildings through the mechanism of a land lease. (This continues to be an interesting model for us at All Saints’ but for the fact that there is still a lot of ‘available’ land in midtown.)

The Berkeley Board sponsored a dinner in support of the Anglican Observer’s office. Over the years a number of clergy and now some of the laity involved in supporting that office have had Berkeley connections. Rowan Williams was the speaker. I had attended the last such dinner about ten years ago or whenever Dr. Williams was newish in his position, and he has come along way in finding the right balance of how to say something of substance in an engaging way after a dinner.

Among other things, he spoke of relationship, and how relationship is not best handled as a juridical matter. I wasn’t sure I had heard correctly as I had shared from the pulpit on the previous Sunday my concern that the last section of the proposed Anglican Covenant was exactly that: a juridical or disciplinary way to handle anxiety in relationship. Others heard the same thing that I did. While he was addressing international relationships that make for justice in the world, he must have realized the connection with what he was saying and tensions in the Communion. His preferred process for dealing with those tensions is currently all about stopping The Episcopal Church moving forward with the confirmation of the election of Mary Glasspool as a Suffragan Bishop for Los Angeles. The fourth section of the proposed Covenant outlines the discipline and consequence for provinces of the church who act in ways of which others do not approve. However much he wishes that this was not ‘juridical’, and however much he recognizes that juridical solutions to tension in relationship are not the way to go, he must also recognize that is exactly what he is proposing and exactly how the fourth section will be used in the name of ‘unity’, however much handwringing and expressions of regret go along with it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Creation in Wisdom Literature

January 25, 2010

David H. Kelsey is the Luther A. Weigle Professor of Theology Emeritus at Yale Divinity School. Last year he published a book in two volumes that represents something of a ‘Life Work’. It is a systematic, densely argued, “theological anthropology” called Eccentric Existence (WJK, 2009). He intersperses theological reflection with the inevitable methodological justification. (These days most serious theological books seem to have 100 pages of methodology for every 10 pages of theology.) The book is slow going but worth it with nuggets on every page.

I have just enjoyed a section (Chapter 4A) arguing that a good basis for a theology of creation is found in Wisdom Literature (Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes,--many would include Psalms in the list as well.). He points out that while creation theology is implicit except for Proverbs 8:21-32 and Job, and while it is interested more in God’s providential governance of the world, it is a theology that is entirely governed by the logic of God’s creative activity. This is in contrast to the stories of Genesis 1-3 or sections of Isaiah that tend to be governed by stories of reconciliation or the end of history. In Wisdom creation is our “proximate context but our ultimate context as creatures is the active creativity of God.” (Vol. 1 p. 162) He concludes the section by asking again how we shall characterize the triune Creator’s active relating to creation. His answer is a kind of dense shorthand that has been developed in the preceding chapter. “As a free relating that in attentive delight constitutes creatures in being, each and all—as delighting in each and all, a delighting in which Gods commits Godself to creation and its well-being in orderly proximate contexts. This is the ultimate context in to which we are born: God’s hospitable generosity, creatively relating, to us, free of creatures in creating and attentively delighting in them in their otherness to God, self-committed to that which is created.”

What I like and respond to in this is a kind of givenness that does not reduce creation or our purpose in life to one story in particular. We are not defined as fundamentally fallen sinners in need of some kind of redemption. While that may be true, the Wisdom theology of creation neither requires nor limits us to that story. Kelsey has written a difficult book but rich.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Private Member’s Motion

January 20, 2010

Ms. Lorna Ashworth is a member of the General Synod of the Church of England who has proposed a Private Member’s motion “That this Synod express the desire that the Church of England be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America”. She has published a background paper filled with misinformation, and the Secretary General of the Communion has published a background note that appears to be supportive of the motion but is predictably ‘careful’. Simon Samiento has reported on Thinking Anglicans that the House of Bishops has both prepared and amendment and not seen fit to contact the Houses of Bishops of the three Anglican Churches of North America (Mexico, Canada and the US with some former missionary dioceses including Haiti among others). Unless someone mounts a campaign to put a stop to this, observers from many perspectives seem to think it will pass. However many agenda there are at play here, we must not forget that the ‘offense’ behind all this maneuvering is the full recognition and inclusion of gay and lesbian people as such in the life of the church, without hedging, playing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’, making noises about pastoral care while declining to support our brothers and sisters as children of God etc. etc. It is all hate and fear and power dressed up in reasoned clothing. The marginalization of The Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion is likely to continue under the leadership of the current Archbishop of Canterbury whether this motion passes or not. I pray that our friends in the C of E will make some noise.

General David Petraeus

January 20, 2010

I had the privilege of being a guest of the Atlanta Press Club to hear General Petraeus speak in a largely q and a format. He made no new policy statements and said nothing previously unreported. He addressed how our forces are doing in relation to Al Qaida, recognizing that there are a number of other extremist groups in the picture as well. He was mostly positive about our progress but acknowledged that such progress is not a straight line to victory. He addressed the ethics of the use of drones and was, at the same time, very clear about how our current engagements are “manpower intensive”. He referred to the importance of LPCs or ‘Leather Personnel Carriers’, viz. ‘boots on the ground’. He praised American allies quoting Winston Churchill’s famous adage that ‘the only thing worse than having allies is not having allies.’ He was positive without being effusive about the review process that led President Obama to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan. He addressed the need for troops to be living with the forces they are training and the people they are protecting, recognizing that any such action is a long term exercise in building trust and not a simple ‘military-only’ operation.

It is this last area that most interests me in that I am skeptical that a force that can be characterized as ‘invaders’ (however much there is a consequent government in place who wants us to stay) will ever be a ‘trusted partner’.

The General was quite wordy as a consequence of his broad and deep grasp of his subject matter and an intuitive sense of how so much of what he said was interconnected. He made all the right nods to our troops and to political realities. On the whole I came away with the sense that given we are engaging in military conflict in many parts of the world, mostly in the Central Command of over twenty countries under General Petraeus, that we are in good, thoughtful and sensible hands.

Monday, January 18, 2010


January 18, 2010

It is hard to know what to say about Haiti, except that compassion requires response in some way shape or form. At All Saints’ we are encouraging donations through Episcopal Relief and Development. You can access this through the front page of our website or here.

I was struck by David Brooks recent article in the New York Times claiming that the issue in Haiti is poverty rather than simple natural disaster. He compared the 67 deaths of an earthquake of equal severity on the Richter scale in San Francisco in 1989 with the thousands upon thousands of the Haiti disaster concluding that the difference was poverty rather than anything else. In the US we could afford buildings that had steel rods in the concrete and cinderblock. In Haiti that was not standard. I am not going the route of some who like to blame the victims for their distress. At the same time we do not seem to know how to assist such places in economic development. The neighboring Dominican Republic appears to be in much better shape by any measurement. How can widespread corruption in Haiti not be one factor in the difference? Money by itself is not the answer. If that were the case then all the money sent home by Haitians living in the US and all the aid over the years would have made some sort of difference to the system. Surely change must come from within or possibly from people well and truly embedded, trusted partners in and for the long haul.

Haiti is the largest diocese of The Episcopal Church in terms of numbers of people. Why can we not serve as such trusted partners? What would make the difference?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Serenity Prayer Redux

January 17, 2010

On July 24, 2008 I posted a piece on the authorship of the Serenity Prayer in which the distinguished Yale law Librarian Fred R. Shapiro questioned the common attribution of the Serenity Prayer to Reinhold Niebuhr. This is especially important in light of the fact that he is also editor of the Yale Book of Quotations. A subsequent conversation on the internet led someone to a 1936 Christian Student Newsletter attributing an almost identical prayer to Niebuhr. Shapiro, while not fully persuaded, altered his view and alerted the New York Times which had published his original findings. They eventually put a teaser on the front page and buried the kind-of, sort-of retraction (which is why I probably did not see it.)

Shapiro has set the record straight in the Yale Alumni Magazine (January/February 2010 p.58) and said “I will list the Serenity Prayer under Niebuhr’s name in the next edition of the Yale Book of Quotations.”

It’s still a great prayer. Just setting the record straight.
Violent Days

January 17, 2010

Wolf Hall, the Man-Booker prize winning novel of last year by Hilary Mantel, tells the story of Thomas Cromwell during Henry VIII’s first divorce and refusal to be subject to the Pope. One of the effects reading the book had on me was that I started taking violence for granted. Life was not cheap exactly, but death by illness, childbirth or execution was a close reality for most people of the day.

The reality of violence is confirmed again and again in Reformation history. Anyone who wanted to play a role (or who found themselves playing a role) in the affairs of state was vulnerable to imprisonment or burning at the stake depending on the whims of the day. Hilary Mantel, does a wonderful job with the bizarre footnote to history of the tale of the ‘Maid of Kent’, a strange and disturbed woman who seemed determined to ensure her own death at some level. The story is also told in MacCulloch’s biography of Thomas Cranmer and we get a sense of how he was constantly maneuvering between his own instincts to compassion and the demands of his position as he sought to satisfy Henry’s desires while keeping faith with both traditional religion and the winds of reform which enlivened him.

Cranmer was to die under Mary’s counter-reformation, the story of which has been told in Eamon Duffy’s Fires of Faith: Catholic England Under Mary Tudor (Yale, 2009). Duffy argues, in effect, that Mary’s policy of burning reformers who would not recant was carefully managed to turn the behavior of the English back to traditional and Catholic religion, and further that it was working in the way it was meant to. Duffy is a revisionist historian in that he ahs reminded us of the coherence that many found in traditional religion including praying to the saints, the appreciation of relics and so on, --all targets of the reformers—were deeply engrained in the life and rhythms of most English. He captured this beautifully with his story of a parish priest in Morebath, Devon called Sir Christopher Trychay. The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village (Yale, 2001) won the Hawthornden Prize in 2002 and is the story of a parish priest who resisted the changes sought be one monarch after another as practices that were art one point illegal and the next moment encouraged by the powers that were affected his village. I am not as excited by the underlying argument that people really loves their traditional religion. My intuition is that like most English even today, just getting on with life is what is important and the winds of theological fashion are not terribly interesting unless they can make news or otherwise have some real effect on our life. Duffy is fascinating in The Stripping of the Atlars (Yale, 1999) about what can be learned from wills of the day. The decline in leaving money for masses to be prayed for the dead was more a loss of confidence than loss of desire on the part of the rich it seems.

All in all these were bloody and brutal days. I’m glad that we don’t have recourse to such sanctions in the debates of today.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Clerical Beards

January 14, 2010

I was talking about beards with a friend recently and shared that I had one for most of my allegedly adult life until 1993. I told him that I had always sworn that I would shave it off when I was old enough to be taken seriously without it. Without missing a beat, he told me that I had better hurry and grow it back. To go bearded or not is of no real consequence today but Diarmaid MacCulloch in his encyclopedic biography of Thomas Cranmer (Yale, 1996) shares that clerical beards were areal statement during the English Reformation. Early portraits of Cranmer show him clean-shaven in what some saw as the ‘traditional’ style. With the death of Henry VIII, Cranmer began to grow his beard and grow it long in the style of the evangelicals or the reformers. Later Bishop Hooper would make it a condition of his accepting the See of Gloucester that he not have to shave off his long beard. It was a party statement rather as a Roman collar is for some clerics today, or a blue cassock in days gone by.

As I think about it I suppose there is still some sense in which a beard might suggest something of the ‘counter–culture’ about the man who sports one. What the work of Eamon Duffy makes clear in his recasting of the way in which we tell the story of the English Reformation is that there is no really straight line from Rome to Reform and that much of what we know has the ‘spin’ of history along with it rather in the way in which Kings and Chronicles cover much the same ground from differing perspectives or the Deuteronomist differs with traditional views about the establishment of the Monarchy for Israel. Some of our current Anglican conflicts are a continuing consequence of English willingness to ‘muddle through’ rather than determine decisively whether to be Catholic or Reformed. Much of the battle in North America about who are the true bearers of the Anglican ‘brand’ is being fought as a public relations issue with theology as the excuse. I wonder which side should be sporting the beards.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Reformation and Covenant

January 12, 2010

I’ve started using the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion as the starting point for a series of talks in our GIFT (Growing In Faith Together) program. One thought that has persisted as I have been reading in preparation for that series is that Anglican statements or formularies were offered as needed as is the case with the six articles, the ten articles, the Bishops’ Book, the forty two articles and so on. They were doctrinal statements designed to articulate the beliefs of the English Church as they navigated between the twin shoals of Reform, both Lutheran and Swiss, on one hand and the Papacy and the Romish beleifs and claims to power with the traditional religious practice which supported it. At best these formularies were intended to be as inclusive of as many English Christians as possible. In this sense the proposed Anglican Covenant could be seen as one more effort, called for by the tensions of the times, to articulate some common understandings and be a basis for some kind of discipline well within Anglican Tradition and History.

The problems I have with it are not the effort or the idea that the proposed ‘agreement’ is not ‘Anglican’. First, it does not address the tensions in belief but is more juridical about how to deal with those tensions. In this sense it is set to function more as English law did during the reformation rather than as the Articles of Religion functioned. Certainly there were various laws that enforced a kind of discipline around the articles. All clergy were obligated to subscribe to them, for example. But while the articles were a basis for ecclesiastic discipline, they were not the means of that discipline. The Covenant is trying to address serious issues of belief about homosexuality on one hand. (Is it sinful practice by definition? Or is there such a thing as homosexual orientation that is fundamental and to be accepted as such?) On the other hand there are questions about the role and purpose of scripture within Anglicanism and whether such novelties as the idea that there is such a thing as a homosexual person (rather than a person committing immoral acts) are ‘contrary to the plain meaning of scripture’. The Articles would have addressed such thorny issues. The Covenant tries to find a way to stay together without taking such issues head on.

And that is my second objection to the current proposals. They are, without addressing the underlying issues trying to rule such discussions ‘out of order’ without really addressing the cultural, intellectual and imaginative worlds that are inhabited in differing ways in differing places throughout Anglicanism. (A non binding vote by Bishops all gathered in one place as the basis for what is becoming something that seems to have the level of Anglican Doctrine seems to be a pretty flimsy basis for either persuasive conversation or a move toward a more doctrine centered discipline for a communion that is increasingly referred to as a ‘Church’ in semi official pronouncements. That, in effect, is trying to offer a specifically English legal solution to an international and relational problem.

Friday, January 8, 2010

House Church

January 8, 2010

Lisa Miller writes in Newsweek (January 11, 2010 p.31) about research by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life saying that 7% of Americans “attend worship in someone’s home”. While it is clear that there is no single model that constitutes a ‘house church’ or that leads people to say that they “worship on someone’s home” 7% of Americans represent a significant move away from institutional religion. One of the experts Ms. Miller consults is Robert Putnam of the Harvard Kennedy School. He sees this in terms of the smart marketing of religion in a world where ‘one size fits all’ has no appeal.

I’m of two minds about this trend. On one hand it makes perfect sense to me. I have been wondering whether the national decline across denominations and theologies in Sunday or weekend ‘average Sunday attendance (ASA) is more permanent than temporary and whether a variety of worshipping communities within a parish might not be more clearly important in the future than it has been up until now. This is an extension of ‘small or covenant group ministries in which those covenant groups become more self consciously ‘church’ for their participants. It is within such a vision that I could live with the currently controversial idea of ‘lay presidency of at the Eucharist’. Regular or even occasional Sunday worship would become more a ‘gathering of the clans’ within a parish or perhaps region (rather in the way that multi parish ‘benefices’ in England will offer worship for the whole benefice in one service on an occasional basis.)

What makes me less enthusiastic however is the idea that such churches can easily become closed and comfortable, attracting only the like-minded and so achieving a measure of unity over against others. As much as I dislike and even resist the idea of the ‘Anglican Covenant’ as it is currently being proposed, I am not necessarily against the idea of some clarity of understanding as to how we might negotiate changes in religious practice and the power structures that go along with particular sets of practice without the bloodshed (metaphorical or otherwise) of the English Reformation. I’m not opposed to coming to some kind of ‘settlement’ that includes as many people as possible. I resist the current proposals because they have come about in response to TEC consecrating on openly gay bishop living with a partner, and are designed (whatever anyone claims) to ensure some kind of future for Anglicanism in which the possibility of recognizing gay and lesbian people as full member so the church (which means recognizing the reality of the idea of ‘orientation’) is ruled out as the price of unity. Current proposals are an attempt (which may well succeed) to re-write the rules after the fact and to try and get the toothpaste back in the tube. I am not opposed in principle to some ways in which groups small (house churches) or large (independent provinces of the Anglican Communion) commit to living by some common standards.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Reform and Renewal

January 5, 2010

A book club selection called Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, winner of the 2009 Man-Booker Prize, has sent me back to reading histories of the English Reformation. Over Christmas I have taken in Diarmaid MacCulloch’s masterful biography of Thomas Cranmer, and Eamon Duffy’s paradigm shifting work called Stripping of the Altars, along with his ‘follow up’ books, The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village and Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor.

All of these offerings could be described as ‘revisionist’ in one way or another. Mantel makes a hero of Thomas Cromwell over against the ‘man for all seasons’, Thomas More, as Henry VIII sought his first divorce in hopes of a male heir. MacCulloch offers a positive assessment of Cranmer, sometimes criticized for expedience over principle, casting him more as (to use the terminology currently in vogue but not in the book) an ‘ethical pragmatist’. Duffy shows that the religion of Catholic England was quite vibrant and remained so throughout the period of reformation is spite of the reformers and then Marian, and then Elizabethan changes in policy.

I’ll have more to say about these books in future posts but for now, I am struck by how fundamentally messy was the English Reformation and how the same tensions and issues of power and control seem to be afflicting Anglicans today. I plan to use the Thirty Nine Articles as an expression of the Elizabethan Settlement and as the basis for some wide ranging reflections on Reform and Renewal in GIFT presentations through the spring.