Saturday, July 31, 2010

Afghanistan

July 31, 2010

Much has been published in recent weeks regarding what our strategy might be in the longest war of American History. Richard Haas, President of the Council on Foreign Relations and former official in the recent Bush administration has made more sense to me than anyone else thus far. Writing in Newsweek (July 26, 2010) he explores various options including ‘staying the course’, immediate withdrawal, ‘reconciliation’, ‘partition’ and ‘decentralization’. Haas sees many potential advantages of this last option which involves the US providing arms and training to local leaders who resist Al Qaida. It works with the Afghani tradition of a weak center and strong periphery and would allow the majority of US troops to return home. He describes this more as a ‘patchwork quilt’ than a partition’. He is not na├»ve about the challenges of any policy but believes that we are closer to achieving the goals of preventing Al Qaida from finding safe haven in Afghanistan and making sure that Afghanistan does not undermine the (relative) stability of Pakistan.

There is clearly a divide among people of both major parties in Washington about how best to proceed that ironically seems to achieve a certain number of potentially bi-partisan alliances.

In the background of all this, we must remember what we are doing to the young men and women who are fighting this war. Sebastian Junger (author of The Perfect Storm) has written War, a compilation of his thoughts and experiences during a sustained number of visits to Afghanistan war zones as an embedded reporter. He is particularly good in reminding us that we cannot view this war or our troops through the lens of Vietnam. In this war our troops are volunteers and, for the most part, proud to be serving their country. At the same time Junger addresses some of what makes war so intense: everything matters to everyone on the most mundane level. Smelly urine points to dehydration and that soldier is likely to fade out in a firefight. An unlaced shoe is a danger to everyone and so on. This kind of community and intensity are part of what makes return to life without war so very challenging. It sounded to me akin to why some practitioners of the twelve steps of AA and its offshoots find that community so much more helpful than church. In AA there is a certain level on which drinking or not is a matter of life or death. Salvation is literal and specific to the task of not drinking alcohol. A real sense of community can develop to the extent that people can look as if they are substituting a kind of ‘addiction’ to AA itself in some extreme cases.

Our solders are not inclined to philosophy or the life of the mind as Junger observes them on the front lines. Every instinct is being honed toward killing and not being killed to the extent that too long without a fight can lead to the creation of violence in the camp itself.

We know that our troops are being asked to serve longer and more frequent foreign tours than at any point in the past. We know that Afghanistan is a quagmire of corruption and we know that every nation and empire that has attempted to subdue it has failed. Mr. Haas gives me hope that there is a sensible way forward that takes seriously our security interests in the region, works with the tides of history in that part of the world rather than attempting to force a new direction and holds hope of bringing many of our young men and women home before we further damage them by making it ever more difficult to re-enter a society that is not living on the front lines of a war minute by minute.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Four Corners of the Sky

July 27, 2010


Michael Malone is a talented man from North Carolina. In addition to being a successful script writer for soap operas, he has produced a number of literary detective novels. He has also written a great ‘Odyssey’ tale called Handling Sin which is one of the best works of fiction I have read in recent years and which sent me back to re-reading the original and watching O Brother with new appreciation. His most recent work is called The Four Corners of the Sky which is variously a mystery about a mostly charming and enigmatic con man and a story of a woman naval pilot trying to discover who she is through discovering more about the mysterious crook who is her father and anything about who her mother might be. For some, the strange characters and constant movement of the book will be a bit much but for me it kept me engaged the whole way through even if a little judicious editing was in order.

The business of who we are and who we ought to be has sent me back to one of the most substantial works of theology to come out in recent years: a work of Christian theological anthropology called Eccentric Existence by
David H. Kelsey. He sees the questions of anthropology being essentially questions around ‘what are we?’, ‘who am I or who are we?’ and ‘How ought we to be?’

What makes anthropology specifically Christian are ‘non-negotiable’ bedrock beliefs we he articulates as being a) God actively relates to human beings to create them; b)to draw them to eschatological consummation; and c) to reconcile them when they are alienated from God.

This is a dense theoretical work of ‘secondary theology’ that I am hoping can shape some new self discovery for me in relation to God in coming months

Monday, July 12, 2010

Current goings-on in the C of E

July 12, 2010


More leaked information from the Crown nominations Committee meant that the attempt to derail serious consideration of Jeffrey John as Bishop of Southwark was successful. Most of the press and blogosphere seems to blame Rowan Williams for another ‘betrayal’. I doubt that is fair as I cannot imagine him supporting John’s candidacy in the current circumstances anyway.

What has happened since then that has led to calls for his resignation is that the Synod of th Church of England meeting in York has defeated his proposal for some kind of compromise on the question of women bishops. In essence the proposal in which he was vociferously supported by the Archbishop of York (and made clear that he hoped that it wouldn’t be seen as a loyalty test) was that male bishops should be able to work alongside women to provide ‘care’ for parishes and people who decline to accept the ministry of women bishops. Given that he appears to have thrown his weight and authority behind getting the compromise passed it is not surprising that it has been seen as a loyalty test. They synod narrowly defeated the proposal.

Now the press is predicting a schism in the C of E as traditionalists who seem to believe in the depths of their being that it is wrong for women to be ordained at all, let alone as bishops, sort out whether to jump ship and take the well traveled road to Rome on the red carpet that Benedict has laid out to help with his bolstering the conservative flavor of his church while dealing with the clergy shortage at the same time.

I think that schism is more likely when institutional unity is made into a false God. This kind of unity appears to come at the expense of relationship-across-difference and is one in which my view of the world is ‘more important than yours even though the tides of opinion in the church are making me a minority’. I continue to hope that Anglicanism can serve as a catholic communion based on that kind of right relationship around the Lord’s Table rather than a purely hierarchical institution.

I am among those who have been disappointed that Archbishop Williams has chosen to try and hold things together by placating conservatives rather than using his full moral authority to teach what we thought he believed and urge all kinds of people with minority views (on an international basis that would include TEC) to stay at the table. Unfortunately what we now call ‘traditionalists’ (even though that is a name I would happily use to describe myself in some definition that was not part of the political spin) have a different vision of church. They appear to want to hold back the kinds of shifts in power that appear tome to be part and parcel of the consequence of gospel. And that drives them into the position of wanting to be part of some kind of purity sect.

I have, until quite recently, held all kinds of minority views within the church and can testify that it is not such a terrible place to be. I hope that Bishops will lead from conviction about something other than unity through placating those with whom they disagree and that traditionalists will set aside their desires to control the vision of world and church which is unfolding and find ways to stay in relationship with their brothers and sisters.

If that were possible then perhaps church gatherings could be about our response to the persecution of Christians around the world, the possibility of right relationship with Muslims and others, and even some kind of contribution to the work of peacemaking in those places where there is war.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Rumors from Southwark

July 7, 2010


There have been a series of articles, blogs and the like, --all officially uncontested—that Dr. Jeffrey John, Dean of St. Albans in the C of E, is to be offered as a nominee to be Bishop of Southwark. Dr. John, you may recall, was forced to withdraw from nomination as (Suffragan) Bishop of Reading because he is partnered and gay while professing celibacy. Apparently the other name rumored to be in the mix is the Rector of St. Martin’s in the Fields in central London who carries his own baggage.

A blog entry by
Colin Coward spells out the issues in terms of a debate between Giles Frazer and Chris Sugden, the Executive Director of Anglican Mainstream. You can read it here.

It will be interesting to see whether it actually happens and if so, how Rowan Williams will cope while he is up to his armpits in trying to have it both ways on the question of whether women can be bishops. It is certainly silly to say that Jeffrey John can be a dean but not a bishop, just as it is silly to say that a woman can be a priest but not a bishop. All the usual players are making the usual threats. “They will know we are Christians by our Love”.

The Sorry Saga of the Proposed Anglican Covenant Continues

July 7, 2010


In recent weeks the Province of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia have accepted the first three parts of the proposed Anglican Covenant and have rejected the fourth section. More recently, the Province of Mexico has approved the proposed Covenant in its entirety. This has won praise from Kenneth Kearon, the Secretary-General of the Communion. Paul Handley, writing for The Guardian has compared the process to “introducing the rules of football 100 years after the start of international tournaments.” The Archbishop of Canterbury has clearly placed his eggs in the Covenant basket opting for some kind of largely mythical ‘institutional unity’ at the expense of gay and lesbian people to such a degree that he found it hard to condemn Ugandan proposals for laws that would enact a death penalty for those found to be gay and punishment for those who concealed them which appeared to be supported by Anglican bishops there.

I’m tired of the whole thing. The Church of England is ‘a church’ governed by internally agreed up on rules and regulations in the form of constitution and canons. So is The Episcopal Church. So are each of the 39 interdependent provinces that make up the Anglican Communion (which itself is not ‘a church’). The Covenant is the beginning of producing something that could serve as a constitution for a kind of international ‘church’ with increasingly centralized power and control in the form of a ‘standing committee’ (which sometimes smells like the old soviet politburo to me). All this appears to me to make us susceptible to the old and ignorant taunt that we are ‘Roman Catholic Lite’. I continue to pray that we will continue to be a communion who model catholicity through staying in relationship through difficult (‘divisive’) controversies. There is no law that will set us free however good some rules may look to some.

I continue to believe it important that we find ways to be in relationship with Christians very different from us in Rio and Kasulu. I think it important that we continue to support such inter-Anglican efforts as providing for an Observer at the United Nations and the work of the Compass Rose Society in spite of the silly games by which Americans are being excluded from ecumenical conversations for proceeding with the consecration of a lesbian woman in Los Angeles, while others who have been deemed to have ‘ignored the moratoria’ are ‘being investigated’. At some point that work will become something less about relationship and more about giving material support to those who do not wish to be in relationship with us apart from whatever money we might provide. If and when such a time comes the current form of the Anglican project will be over. That would be a great loss in my view, but not the end of the world. The truth will still set us free.