Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Sunday, February 25, 2007

That's Good Soup!

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence--as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-- to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
--Isaiah 64:1-3

Luke 4: 1-10

One thing to note about these temptations: they are all temptations to power. "Turn this stone into bread," the devil says. I know you are hungry. Use your power to show what you can do. The temptation is to eat; and the temptation is to be powerful.

Jesus turns it away with a word from scripture; from Deuteronomy, the restatement of the law after the Exile, the statement of identity, as Walter Brueggeman identifies it. The same book which gives us the central liturgy of identity and remembering, more poignant because it appears after the Exile and the Return: "A wandering Aramean was my father..." So the devil tries again: worship me, he says, and the world is yours. It is mine to give, and the power over it all I give to you. And again, Jesus answers with Deuteronomy: "You are to pay homage to the Lord your God, and you are to revere him alone." There is no God but God, and no power but powerlessness. Worshipping God is not a stepping stone to power. It does not make us masters of the universe. It still leaves us in the wilderness, famished after forty days, and only the devil for company. God-forsaken indeed, or so it would seem to us. Jesus knows better.

Finally the devil takes him to the pinnacle of the Temple and now the devil proves he can cite scripture to his own purpose, and the Psalms no less! Jump off, he says, because "it is written, 'To his heavenly messengers he will give order about you, to protect you,' and 'with their hands they will catch you, so you don't even stub your toe on a stone.'" This, of course, is precisely what the zealots say, the fundamentalists today: every word of scripture is true, literally true, and it can be trusted! So what is wrong now?

It is still a temptation to power, and for the third time, Jesus answers from Deuteronomy: "' You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.' " The devil has nothing but temptations to power; having exhausted those, he is defeated for the time being, and leaves Jesus alone. "Then," says Matthew, "the devil leaves him, and heavenly messengers arrive out of nowhere and look after him."

St. Bonaventure said that after the long fast of our Lord in the desert, when the angels came to minister to him, they first went to the Blessed Mother to see what she had on her stove, and got the soup she had prepared and transported it to our Lord, who relished it the more because his mother had prepared it. Of course.
--Dorothy Day

Good Night, and Good Luck

1. This just might do nobody any good. At the end of this discourse a few people may accuse this reporter of fouling his own comfortable nest, and your organization may be accused of having given hospitality to heretical and even dangerous thoughts. But the elaborate structure of networks, advertising agencies and sponsors will not be shaken or altered. It is my desire, if not my duty, to try to talk to you journeymen with some candor about what is happening to radio and television.

2. I have no technical advice or counsel to offer those of you who labor in this vineyard that produces words and pictures. You will forgive me for not telling you that instruments with which you work are miraculous, that your responsibility is unprecedented or that your aspirations are frequently frustrated. It is not necessary to remind you that the fact that your voice is amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other does not confer upon you greater wisdom or understanding than you possessed when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other. All of these things you know.

3. You should also know at the outset that, in the manner of witnesses before Congressional committees, I appear here voluntarily -- by invitation -- that I am an employee of the Columbia Broadcasting System, that I am neither an officer nor a director of that corporation and that these remarks are of a "do-it-yourself" nature. If what I have to say is irresponsible, then I alone am responsible for the saying of it. Seeking neither approbation from my employers, nor new sponsors, nor acclaim from the critics of radio and television, I cannot well be disappointed. Believing that potentially the commercial system of broadcasting as practiced in this country is the best and freest yet devised, I have decided to express my concern about what I believe to be happening to radio and television. These instruments have been good to me beyond my due. There exists in my mind no reasonable grounds for personal complaint. I have no feud, either with my employers, any sponsors, or with the professional critics of radio and television. But I am seized with an abiding fear regarding what these two instruments are doing to our society, our culture and our heritage.

4. Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about 50 or 100 years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. I invite your attention to the television schedules of all networks between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m., Eastern Time. Here you will find only fleeting and spasmodic reference to the fact that this nation is in mortal danger. There are, it is true, occasional informative programs presented in that intellectual ghetto on Sunday afternoons. But during the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live. If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: LOOK NOW, PAY LATER.

5. For surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must be faced if we are to survive. I mean the word survive literally. If there were to be a competition in indifference, or perhaps in insulation from reality, then Nero and his fiddle, Chamberlain and his umbrella, could not find a place on an early afternoon sustaining show. If Hollywood were to run out of Indians, the program schedules would be mangled beyond all recognition. Then some courageous soul with a small budget might be able to do a documentary telling what, in fact, we have done -- and are still doing -- to the Indians in this country. But that would be unpleasant. And we must at all costs shield the sensitive citizens from anything that is unpleasant.

6. I am entirely persuaded that the American public is more reasonable, restrained and more mature than most of our industry's program planners believe. Their fear of controversy is not warranted by the evidence. I have reason to know, as do many of you, that when the evidence on a controversial subject is fairly and calmly presented, the public recognizes it for what it is -- an effort to illuminate rather than to agitate.

30. It may be that the present system, with no modifications and no experiments, can survive. Perhaps the money-making machine has some kind of built-in perpetual motion, but I do not think so. To a very considerable extent the media of mass communications in a given country reflect the political, economic and social climate in which they flourish. That is the reason ours differ from the British and French, or the Russian and Chinese. We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.

31. I do not advocate that we turn television into a 27-inch wailing wall, where longhairs constantly moan about the state of our culture and our defense. But I would just like to see it reflect occasionally the hard, unyielding realities of the world in which we live. I would like to see it done inside the existing framework, and I would like to see the doing of it redound to the credit of those who finance and program it. Measure the results by Nielsen, Trendex or Silex -- it doesn't matter. The main thing is to try. The responsibility can be easily placed, in spite of all the mouthings about giving the public what it wants. It rests on big business, and on big television, and it rests at the top. Responsibility is not something that can be assigned or delegated. And it promises its own reward: good business and good television.

32. Perhaps no one will do anything about it. I have ventured to outline it against a background of criticism that may have been too harsh only because I could think of nothing better. Someone once said -- I think it was Max Eastman -- that "that publisher serves his advertiser best who best serves his readers." I cannot believe that radio and television, or the corporation that finance the programs, are serving well or truly their viewers or listeners, or themselves.

33. I began by saying that our history will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge, and retribution will not limp in catching up with us.

34. We are to a large extent an imitative society. If one or two or three corporations would undertake to devote just a small fraction of their advertising appropriation along the lines that I have suggested, the procedure would grow by contagion; the economic burden would be bearable, and there might ensue a most exciting adventure -- exposure to ideas and the bringing of reality into the homes of the nation.

35. To those who say people wouldn't look; they wouldn't be interested; they're too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter's opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost.

36. This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.
Edward R. Murrow, October 15, 1958.

Sundays are not Fast-Days

They said to him, 'The disciples of John are always fasting and offering prayers, and so are those of the Pharisees, but yours just eat and drink.' And Jesus said to them, 'You can't make the groom's friends fast as long as the groom is present, can you? But the days will come when the groom is taken away from them, and then they will fast, in those days.'
--Luke 5:33-35, SV

"Even before the introduction of Lent it had been customary to fast before Easter: one day, two days, even a week. But even when Lent was generally accepted, not all of its forty days [from the First Sunday of Lent until Holy Thursday] were at first regarded as fast days. In Rome toward the end of the fourth century a fast of three weeks was usual; and even when people began to fast on all the other days of Lent they still made an exception of the Sundays. Because Lent contains six Sundays, there thus remained thirty-four fast days leading up to the ancient paschal triduum. But if Good Friday and HOly Saturday (were also fast days) were counted as well, that made thirty-six days in all--just one tenth of a year. In this fashion, as was observed with a certain satisfaction (for example, by John Cassian and Gregory the Great), one paid a tithe of the year to God.

"But since the seventh century considerable importance began to be attached to the idea that in Lent there ought to be the full number of forty fast-days. It became necessary, therefore, to take in four days from the preceding week; and thus Ash Wednesday came to be the beginning of Lent."

Josef Jungmann

Fear and Trembling

In connection with the death of others, the salvation of self.

The Rev. Canon Francisco de Assis Silva (Provincial Secretary - The Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil), via the MadPriest:

At a recent presentation elaborated by the Rev. Dr. Carlos Calvani, of which I had the honor of presenting in Berkeley, before an audience of American Episcopalians, I reaffirmed that the Anglican Communion needed to re-discover the authentic meaning of communion and get over the illusion that the rationality embedded in certain "consensual textual instruments" could be the warranty of unity of this part of the Church of Christ.

Even having told that to an audience that was very heterogeneous (theologically speaking), their reaction was of a complete empathy with the pre-supposition that a communion is made of feelings in much more a horizontal rather than a vertical dimension of truths built by reason.

Sadly, this dichotomy ended up winning at the Primates' meeting, in Dar-es-Salaam, last week. Their final document simply submits an important part of the Anglican Communion to a scrutiny that reminds me of the famous papal edicts of the Middle Ages, against those who would dare to think differently. The "liberals", as they are commonly called, have a fixed date to formally apologize for their pastoral excesses.

Normally I use this space here for political and everyday analysis. Rarely I use it for expressing specifically theological opinions. However, I would have the freedom of expressing, at the beginning of the liturgical Lenten time, my deep sadness for such a huge step back in a process I would call the hermeneutical journey of the Church. I affirm peremptorily here the exclusive personality of my opinion, detached from any institutional role I represent. It is the opinion of a theologian who insists on believing that the Gospel is made of inclusion and caressing of all people.

Instead of being concerned with the issues that really disqualify our world, such as poverty, war, aggressions to the environment, among so many urgent ones, they keep spending words and money being concerned about their peers who have advanced in the comprehension that people who have a sexual orientation that is different from heterosexuality are equal before God and are also equal in their beloved God's service.

And this is just because the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada have decided to advance with respect to the way with which homosexuals are treated among their jurisdictions.

An uncertain future is before the Anglican Communion. And it is sad to realize that the climate of confrontation now comes to ecclesiastical discipline, which means power and a not very adequate use of it for maintaining the "neurosis of the discursive correction of the faith".

As I have commented somewhere else, the communion is broken. The fact that some conservatives refuse to take part of the Eucharistic table with their equals is an irreversible symptom that the Anglican Communion is agonizing.

Unfortunately, some of the primates - fundamentalists and sexists -have twisted the Church's agenda: from serving the world to a negative focus on sexuality. The world expects much more from the Church than value judgments or correct dogmatic formulas. This is part of the Age of Reason, that has shown to be innocuous as a tool for struggling with the real dilemmas of mankind!

Deconstruction wants to raise a hand here, and question the legitimacy of the metaphors of "horizontal v. vertical," the presumption that the "heart" reaches "out" while the "head" reaches "up". One, of course, is the direction of the Other; the latter is the presumed direction of God.

There are many ways to critique this view.

This is an old and well-worn dichotomy, one usually conducted in Platonic/Hellenestic terms, and more recently informed by the 17th century Pietist movement, itself a response to the insisistence on a hierarchy of reason, which always indicates a superiority of position; a superiority, all theologians should point out, that has no warrant in the basileia tou theou as it was first announced. There the first are to be last and the last first, and he who would be ruler of all must be servant of all. At one time the Kings of England themselves understood this, and on Good Friday would wash the feet of beggars and give them gifts, to honor the Christ of Matthew's parable. But like the sacrament that wasn't from John's gospel, that act required too much humility, and didn't last long. Today I know of it perpetuated only among Episcopal priests, and it makes the people recieving it uncomfortable. Pietism reintroduced us to widespread notions of humility, long afer we had asserted our superiority over the medieval society we labeled, in our own ignorance, the "Dark Ages." But soon even piety itself became a hallmark of superiority. The bird of Eliot's poem was right: 'Humankind cannot bear very much humility.' "

But there are subtler arguments than this available.

The "hermeneutical journey of the church" is never a journey upward; it is only a journey outward, a journey beyond the boundaries of self. The problem with an appeal to a hierarchy of truths is that some claim greater access to that hierarchy than others, and so claim a position of privilege and power.

Archbishop Akinola:

African Anglican bishops yesterday warned of a split among faithful unless the mother church stopped embracing homosexuality by September 30.

Led by Nigeria's Archbishop Peter Akinola and Kenya's Benjamin Nzimbi, the bishops said if Canterbury "does not come back to us by September 30, we will decide whether they will continue being with us or not."

"Let us know if they will have stopped celebrating same sex marriages and ordaining homosexuals," Bishop Akinola who is the chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (Capa) said during the launch of an HIV /Aids prevention plan at Panafric Hotel.
Canon David Anderson, President of American Anglican Council:

‘We are pleased. The American Anglican Council is pleased. We feel the communique is a workable document. It takes some of the slack out of the previous approach of TEC. It puts in place realistic demands and deadlines for compliance. It provides options for those in TEC that are in impaired relationships and allows border crossings, although lamentable, to continue until the situation in TEC is resolved. It gives a special status to both CANA and Amia. Even if the situation is resolved, CANA and Amia would have the option if they wished to negotiate in or not.

“It makes it so clear that Gene Robinson is unacceptable in his capacity as Bishop that he is going to have to go. He could either go gracefully and resign or he’s going to have to be removed. Otherwise, TEC cannot meet the demands of the communique.
These are not voices seeking a horizontal dimension but a vertical one, and one established on truths built by reason. But "Hang it all, Robert Browning, there can be but one Sordello!/But Sordello, and my Sordello?" How are these claims to be reconciled? Whose hierachy or reason, whose vertical dimension of truth, is to prevail?

"Demands." "Deadlines." Curious terms for a theological discussion. Consider the latter word alone: a dead line, a demarcation that indicates a boundary which cannot be transgressed, crossed (can death by crossed? by the man on the cross? and what of the double-cross? These are questions deconstruction longs to pursue, if it can be said to have longing at all), violated, stepped over; because it is the line that ends life, and begins death. And what is death? The negation, the cessation, the boundary and end, of life. So a deadline is an ultimatum. But from a God who shows the valley of dry bones to Ezekiel? From a God who raises Lazarus from the tomb, Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, to prove the ultimate power of powerlessness? What is a deadline except an exertion of power? And does power come from God, or powerlessness? Even the creation of the world is not an act of power. God speaks. Light is. God speaks. Earth is. God speaks. Animals are, plants are, rain is. God speaks. What exertion of power is that? It is the ultimate exertion: the power of powerlessness. God does not need power to be the Creator; neither does God need power to be the Redeemer. Why, then, do we seek after power? When, then do we declare deadlines, when God never declares one, never announces Israel dead and lost and beyond redemption, never declares death the ultimate finish and leaves it at that, waiting for humankind to do the impossible, to redeem itself after death, to raise itself from the dead. Shall these bones live? Not by the breath of humanity, pronouncing deadlines. As the Preacher said: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity and striving after emptiness. Of the making of deadlines there is no end, and the making of demands is an emptiness."

Hierarchies lead us this way:

Instead of being concerned with the issues that really disqualify our world, such as poverty, war, aggressions to the environment, among so many urgent ones, they keep spending words and money being concerned about their peers who have advanced in the comprehension that people who have a sexual orientation that is different from heterosexuality are equal before God and are also equal in their beloved God's service.
They lead us to regard ourselves with respect to our peers, and to show no regard for the others. We spend our time concerned with our peers, ignoring our brother starving outside our door. We know that; but we don't have to leave it as a glittering generality:

"Nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty"--a category that includes individuals making less than $5,080 a year, and families of four bringing in less than $9,903 a year. That number, by the way, has been growing rapidly since 2000.
Meanwhile we worry about who our bishops might be having sex with. We worry about what's in our closet, and who's in our closet, and ignore our sister in the streets with a hungry baby. Nigeria has terrible problems with poverty. Someone ask Archbishop Akinola why he's so obsessed with Bishops in America. Could it be because this is one area where he thinks he can exert his power?

This issue is all about us, and those we know, and what they think, and whether they think as we do. It is Hellenism and the integrity of the community, and it has nothing at all to do with Christianity. Says Creon: "Once an enemy, never a friend,/not even after death." This is the making of deadlines and demands; and it is not Christianity. This is the plaintive cry that comes too late: "Lord, when did we see you?" As always, the answer is: when did you look?

It comes back to the question: is your salvation in your hands, or in the hands of the Wholly Other? Do you work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, or sure in the knowledge that you know right, and God's mind, and the greatest surety is the integrity of the community? Deconstruction puts its hand down again. It will answer later. For now, simple Christian theology has the floor.

And in this vision he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, and to my mind's eye it was as round as any ball. I looked at it and thought, "What can this be?" And the answer came to me, "It is all that is made." I wondered how it could last, for it was so small that I thought it might suddenly disappear. And the answer to my mind was, "It lasts and will last forever because God loves it; and in the same way everything exists through the love of God." In this little thing I saw three attributes: that first is that God made it, the second is that he loves it, the third is that God cares for it. But what does that mean to me? Truly, the maker, the lover, the carer; for until I become one substance with him, I can never have love, rest, nor true bliss; that is to say, until I am so bound to him that there may be no created thing between my God and me. And who shall do this deed? Truly, himself, by his mercy and his grace, for he has made me and blessedly restored me to that end.
--Julian of Norwich

Concerning the Death of Others

AP Poll
WASHINGTON — Americans are keenly aware of how many U.S. forces have lost their lives in Iraq, according to a new AP-Ipsos poll. But they woefully underestimate the number of Iraqi civilians who have been killed.

When the poll was conducted earlier this month, a little more than 3,100 U.S. troops had been killed. The midpoint estimate among those polled was right on target, at about 3,000.

Far from a vague statistic, the death toll is painfully real for many Americans. Seventeen percent in the poll know someone who has been killed or wounded in Iraq. And among adults under 35, those closest to the ages of those deployed, 27 percent know someone who has been killed or wounded.

For Daniel Herman, a lawyer in New Castle, Pa., a co-worker's nephew is the human face of the dead.

The number of Iraqis killed, however, is much harder to pin down, and that uncertainty is perhaps reflected in Americans' tendency to lowball the Iraqi death toll by tens of thousands.

Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated at more than 54,000 and could be much higher; some unofficial estimates range into the hundreds of thousands. The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq reports more than 34,000 deaths in 2006 alone.

Among those polled for the AP survey, however, the median estimate of Iraqi deaths was 9,890. The median is the point at which half the estimates were higher and half lower.

Christopher Gelpi, a Duke University political scientist who tracks public opinion on war casualties, said a better understanding of the Iraqi death toll probably wouldn't change already negative public attitudes toward the war much. People in democracies generally don't shy away from inflicting civilian casualties, he said, and they may be even more tolerant of them in situations such as Iraq, where many of the civilian deaths are caused by other Iraqis.

"You have to look at who's doing the killing," said Neal Crawford, a restaurant manager in Suttons Bay, Mich., who guessed that about 10,000 Iraqis had been killed. "If these people are dying because a roadside bomb goes off or if there's an insurgent attack in a marketplace, it's an unfortunate circumstance of war _ people die."

Gelpi said that while Americans may not view Iraqi deaths through the same prism as American losses, they may use the Iraqi death toll to gauge progress, or lack thereof, on the U.S. effort to promote a stable, secure democracy in Iraq.

To many, he said, "the fact that so many are being killed is an indication that we're not succeeding."
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
But therein lies the rub - that in Iraq today, insecurity has made it almost inhumanly difficult to conduct proper research on the harms and benefits of war. Indeed, what both media and pundits seem to never highlight as a deeply troubling anomaly is that, were it not for the work of a few courageous researchers such as the Hopkins/Mustansiriya University team, or the painstaking work of concerned members of the citizenry such as the Iraqi Body Count project, quantifying the effects of the U.S.-led intervention on human health would largely be a matter of divination.

Twenty-four hours later, the Lancet study is fast disappearing off the news headlines. Dismissing and, worse, ignoring this and other alarming findings simply because "they sound wrong" is no way to move forward - if they can't be proven wrong (or partly wrong) on scientific grounds, they must certainly stand, until better evidence emerges.

....

Indeed, coalition powers should, in the interest of public accountability and the very success of their mission in Iraq, promote and facilitate more accurate and transparent monitoring of all humanitarian law violations, and of the true effects of violence on Iraqi civilian health.
"The Lancet study estimated deaths of Iraqi civilians to be over 100,000....This is much lower [higher] than Iraq Body Count, but then, they are basing their numbers on reports, not on the kind of data gathering that the Lancet study was able to perform."

O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with hurricanes of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it – for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

Mark Twain, The War Prayer

Besides considerations as to the possible transfers and promotions likely to result from Ivan Ilych's death, the mere fact of the death of a near acquaintance aroused, as usual, in all who heard of it the complacent feeling that, "it is he who is dead and not I."

Each one thought or felt, "Well, he's dead but I'm alive!"
Tolstoy, "The Death of Ivan Ilyich"

Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday after Ash Wednesday 2007

I shall always be able to stand on my own two feet even when they are planted on the hardest soil of the harshest reality. And my acceptance is not indifference or helplessness. I feel deep moral indignation at a regime that treats human beings in such a way. But events have become too overwhelming and too demonic to be stemmed with personal resentment and bitterness. These responses strike me as being utterly childish and unequal to the fateful course of events.

People often get worked up when I say it doesn't really matter whether I go or somebody else does, the main thing is that so many thousands have to go. It is not as if I want to fall into the arms of destruction with a resigned smile-far from it. I am only bowing to the inevitable and even as I do so I am sustained by the certain knowledge that ultimately they can¬not rob us of anything that matters. But I don't think I would feel happy if I were exempted from what so many others have to suffer. They keep tell ing me that someone I ike me has a duty to go into hiding, because I have so many things to do in life, so much to give. But I know that whatever I may have to give to others, I can give it no matter where I am, here in the circle of my friends or over there, in a concentration camp. And it is sheer arrogance to think oneself too good to share the fate of the masses.

And if God should feel that I still have a great deal to do, well then, I shall do it after I have suffered what all the others have to suffer. And whether or not I am a valuable human being will only become clear from my behavior in more arduous circumstances. And if I should not survive, how I die will show me who I really am.

Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum, 1941-1943, tr. Arno Pomerans. New York: Pantheon. 1983.

WHEN I'M WORKING as an artist-in-residence at parochial schools, I like to read the psalms out loud to inspire the students, who are usually not aware that the snippets they sing at Mass are among the greatest poems in the world. But I have found that when I have asked children to write their own psalms, their poems often have an emotional directness that is similar to that of the biblical psalter. They know what it's like to be small in a world designed for big people, to feel lost and abandoned. Children are frequently astonished to discover that the psalmists so freely express the more unacceptable emotions, sadness and even anger, even anger at God, and that all of this is in the Bible that they hear read in church on Sunday morning.

Children who are picked on by their big brothers and sisters can be remarkably adept when it comes to writing cursing psalms, and I believe that the writing process offers them a safe haven in which to work duough their desires for vengeance in a healthy way. Once a little boy wrote a poem called "The Monster Who Was Sorry." He began by admitting that he hates it when his father yells at him: his response in the poem is to throw his sister down the stairs, and then to wreck his room, and finally to wreck the whole town. The poem concludes: "Then I sit in my messy house and say to myself, 'I shouldn't have done all that.'''

"My messy house" says it all: with more honesty than most adults could have mustered, the boy made a metaphor for himself that admitted the depth of his age and also gave him a way out. If that boy had been a novice in the fourth century monastic desert, his elders might have told him that he was well on the way toward repentance, not such a monster after all, but only human. If the house is messy, they might have said, why not clean it up, why not make it into a place where God might wish to dwell?

--Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace. New York: Riverhead. 1999.

THE LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was very sorry to have made humankind on the earth, and was grieved to the heart. So the LORD said, "I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created--people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them."

But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.

--Genesis 6:5-8

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Closed for Lent

No, seriously. Made the decision tonight during the Ash Wednesday service. It's Lent. I'm out.

Expect occasional postings of prayers and scriptures, nothing more. And I emphasize occasional.

And no dissing the Virgin Mary while I'm gone! I mean it!

I will be watching.


Well, all right, I'll leave you this; but just because I like it:

Taken from comments at First Draft on Ash Wednesday, 2007.

"It is important to see that the main point of any spiritual practice is to step out of the bureaucracy of ego. This means stepping out of ego's constant desire for a higher, more spiritual, more transcendental version of knowledge, religion, virtue, judgment, comfort or whatever it is that a particular ego is seeking. One must step out of spiritual materialism. If we do not step out of spiritual materialism, if we in fact practice it, then we may eventually find ourselves possessed of a huge collection of spiritual paths. We may feel these spiritual collections to be very precious. We have studied so much. We may have studied Western philosophy or Oriental philosophy, practiced yoga or perhaps studied under dozens of great masters. We have achieved and we have learned. We believe that we have accumulated a hoard of knowledge. And yet, having gone through all this, there is still something to give up. It is extremely mysterious! How could this happen? Impossible! But unfortunately it is so. Our vast collections of knowledge and experience are just part of ego's display, part of the grandiose quality of ego. We display them to the world and, in so doing, reassure ourselves that we exist, safe and secure, as spiritual" people.

But we have simply created a shop, an antique shop. We could be specializing in oriental antiques or medieval Christian antiques or antiques from some other civilization or time, but we are, nonetheless, running a shop."

-Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Cutting through Spiritual Materialism

Greetings from the Blogosphere

I had something really tedious and tendentious brewing (you may yet not escape it!), and something else that sounds alot like a primer on metaphysics (be afraid! be very afraid!) when I went browsing through the referrals at Sitemeter and discovered...well, say "hello" to Raspberry Rabbit:

Will our friends at Inclusive Church be pissed? I'm damned sure they will be pissed. Tough darts. Every interview with the likes of Chris Sugden spewing his Puritan bile was immediately followed by an interview with somebody on the other end of the stick whose right to speak for the whole Church was equally in no way well founded. The workers and the peasants may not be terribly organized but the cadre needs to be accountable. Those who consider themselves the vanguard need to take the rest of us poor sods into the equation. Nothing good can emerge from things we might do on a Saturday afternoon at the chancel steps that couldn't be written up in the parish magazine. If the events of the last few days force that discussion - well it's probably been long overdue.

What about the other burden? That placed upon those who were looking forward with great glee to the explusion of TEC from the Anglican Communion and the public flaying of its Presiding Bishop. Well, they didn't get that. What had they wanted? It's a small world. People talk and share notes. They wanted what, in a UK context, Chris Sugden was stupid enough to put on paper before he had any real support for it. They wanted their own rabbit runs for mission apart from the rest of us. They wanted to build independent charismatic churches with along the lines of Saddleback Church but with Anglican signage. They wanted a covenant which included mention of infallible and authoritative Scriptures including the bits that Paul never wrote - a covenant which would exclude anybody who believed in a Word which was not necessarily identifiable with the written text. They wanted those within to be able to troop solemnly into a room once a year and sign this or that statement on the primacy of the Bible in all matters of ethics and daily life. They wanted their own bucket - their own envelope called 'church' wherein they had control and could call the shots. They wanted to be named TEC's replacement. They wanted their own house of bishops - they wanted a route to ordain their own candidates. They wanted to be able to pull in candidates exclusively from the Trinity Episcopal School of Ministry or Moore College in Australia or Oak Hill in the UK or whatever other madrassa they chose to add to the list. They wanted something which was from bottom to top its own organization. They wanted most of us out.

What they got was jack shit. The suggestion they got from the Primates was for a temporary measure of a primatial vicar who will work with the Peeb and a clear intention on the part of the Primates to move together those things which have fallen apart. They got fellowship with ordinary Episcopalians. Doubtless the wrangling has only begun. They all ran off whispering to send emails. They went into conclaves. It's not over by any stretch of the imagination and it is not in their interests to make the Primates' suggestions bear fruit. In the long run it may prove to be in yours.
Any wonder I put everything else on hold? And for even more of the "Wish I'd Said That!:"
For those of you following the discussions at the Primates' meeting in Dar Es Salaam the final communique with an appended schedule is now available. On very first glance I'd have traded some of the good news of the last few days for some better news here.

On the other hand - one does tend to become partisan in the midst of a dispute. There are no doubt some subtleties both in the present documents and in the past unpleasantness which need to be pondered.
I may just retire.

"Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope"

Well, that last part's blown now!

Ash Wednesday 2007

I didn't grow up in a liturgical tradition. In fact, my vague memory is that communion was an infrequent affair. I suspect, though my memory betrays me, that it was only celebrated in my Presbyterian church, in good Reformed tradition, once every three months or so. The "high holy days" I recall were Christmas Eve (ironically, now that I think of it), Maundy Thursday (of course; and appropriately), and maybe Easter Sunday (though I'm not sure about that). I think the other day was supposed to be Pentecost, but I don't recall hearing much about Pentecost, or Lent, or even the Easter season, in my youth in that church. Perhaps, as I say, my memory betrays me, because I have only the vaguest memory of Advent, either, and that usually started with "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" on the first Sunday after Thanksgiving (very American, in other words) and meant Christmas carols until Christmas Eve (never church on Sunday; I'm sure that was too Papist for our Reformed traditions). So I never really learned anything about Ash Wednesday until I came across Eliot's poem. Which is why I always connect it with the day, even now.

I first received ashes in seminary, ironically. I think it's because the seminary was historically Evangelical (not in the sense that word is bandied about today), which meant Lutheran in practice, and besides, St. Louis is such a Roman Catholic city that the Baptists stand out because they don't have a smudge on their heads today. If the Catholics in my hometown (one of the few in East Texas with a Catholic church), or the Episcopalians, got ashes, I either never noticed, or they wiped it off quickly. Again, perhaps it's simply my faulty memory.

So I am still coming slowly to the practice and observance of Lent, and still doing it more through Eliot's words than through habit and custom. I have the former; I don't have the latter. And I will try, again, to keep Lent; and will probably do a poor job of it. But tonight I will receive the ashes, and make my confession, and take another stab at penitence. It's a new year, and yet another beginning.

I

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again

Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And I pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do hot hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

(VI)

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.


--T.S. Eliot, "Ash Wednesday," The Complete Poems and Plays 1909-1950 (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1971), pp. 60-61, 67)


MEMENTO, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.
Remember, human, that you are dust, and to dust you will return
--Genesis 3:19

HEAR my prayer, O Lord;
let my cry come to you.
Do not hide your face from me
in the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
answer me speedily in the day when I call.
My days pass away like smoke,
and my bones burn like a furnace.
My heart is stricken and withered like grass;
I am too wasted to eat my bread.
Because of my loud groaning
my bones cling to my skin.
I am like an owl of the wilderness,
like a little owl of the waste places.
I lie awake;
I am like a lonely bird on the housetop.
All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who deride me use my name for a curse.
For I eat ashes like bread,
and mingle tears with my drink,
because of your indignation and anger;
for you have lifted me up and thrown me aside.
My days are like an evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.
But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever;
your name endures to all generations.
You will rise up and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to favor it;
the appointed time has come.
For your servants hold its stones dear,
and have pity on its dust.

--Psalm 102:1-14

I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals. For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.

--Ecclesiastes 3:18-20

THE cross, with which the ashes are traced upon us, is the sign of Christ's victory over death. The words "Remember that thou art dust and that to dust thou shall return" are not to be taken as the quasi-form of a kind of "sacrament of death" (as if such a thing were possible). It might be good stoicism to receive a mere reminder of our condemnation to die, but it is not Christianity.

--Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1965

ASHES, ashes, all fall down. How could I have forgotten? Didn't I see the heavens wiped shut just yesterday, on the road walking? Didn't I fall from the dark of the stars to these senselit and noisome days? The great ridged granite millstone of time is illusion, for only the good is real; the great ridged granite millstone of space is illusion, for God is spirit and worlds his flimsiest dreams: but the illusions are almost perfect, are apparently perfect for generations on end, and the pain is also, and undeniably, real. The pain within the mill-stones' pitiless turning is real, for our love for each other-for the world and all the products of extension-is real, vaulting, insofar as it is love, beyond the plane of the stones' sickening churn and arcing to the realm of spirit bare. And you can get caught holding one end of a love, when your father drops, and your mother; when a land is lost, or a time, and your friend blotted out, gone, your brother's body spoiled, and cold, your infant dead, and you dying: you reel out love's long line alone, stripped like a live wire loosing its sparks to a cloud, like a live wire loosed in space to longing and grief everlasting.

--Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm, HarperCollins, 1977.

IN some monastic communities, monks go up to receive the ashes barefoot. Going barefoot is a joyous thing. It is good to feel the floor or the earth under your feet. It is good when the whole church is silent, filled with the hush of people walking without shoes. One wonders why we wear such things as shoes anyway. Prayer is so much more meaningful without them. It would be good to take them off in church all the time. But perhaps this might appear quixotic to those who have forgotten such very elementary satisfactions. Someone might catch cold at the mere thought of it.

--Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

God Bless the Child

My first pass at this got ridiculously long, and was rather ridiculously knee-jerk, too (even as I kept revising it). The more I review this, the less bothered I am by it. In part because this is what churches do (i.e., "threaten 'consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion.' " It is all about boundaries, after all.) In part I'm relaxing my stridency because these documents clearly identify a problem which will not clearly be resolved. Some churches sincerely despise homosexuals, and in fact think they should be treated as criminals. Some churches sincerely accept homosexuals as children of God.

What you gonna do with folks like that?

Ekklesia has yet another take on this (each one is valuable, in its way), which is a bit more help:

The Episcopal Church was faced with further criticism (demanded by the majority in the Global South) for the actions of its constituent parts in blessing gay partnerships, and told to express further regret for the impact of this at all levels. But in the small print there was also acknowledgment of “proper constitutional autonomy”, recognition of the need for further work on principles for interpreting scripture, disapproval for those taking unauthorised oversight measures, and a call to end legal action over property disputes.
Calls because, as I said, the Primates don't really have any power of enforcement, especially over Archbishops. The draft Covenant doesn't change that situation, and clearly, if it did, it wouldn't have even a prayer of acceptance by the Communion ("them that's got shall get, them that's not shall lose, so the Bible says, and it still is news...."). Do you honestly think we're going to make Bishops subject to oversight authority? Nor should we, of course. I agree with the Mad Priest; this is a matter of ecclesiology, not legislation.

Again, Ekklesia seems to have a good view of the matter:

What will seem to many a convoluted and exhaustive process is aimed by its proponents at re-building trust and consensus in a badly fractured church. “Confidence-building rather than confrontation” was how one observer described it to Ekklesia. Less charitable commentators are talking about “ongoing squabbles rather than schism”.
Which is the best we can hope for in these situations. Putting together the scant evidence I have, i think there is a discernable pattern here. Somewhere (perhaps in the NYT interview with PB Schori) I read that the meetings of the Primates are only about 30 years old. This may, or may not, at least roughly correspond to the beginning of attempts, or even the actual decision, to ordain women in TEC. If there is even a casual connection there, then this is just more of the iceberg we are seeing; and these tensions are inevitable as either God does a new thing, or the center of gravity of Christianity shifts to the "Global South."

Oh, and if you still think I'm exaggerating the effect of PB Schori's gender, I found this in my archives. And then there's this, on the subjects of theology, ecclesiology, women, homsexuals, and "building up the church." I'd dig up some more, if I could just stumble across the right keywords.

The Large Print Giveth, and the Small Print Taketh Away

I realize I'm talking to pretty much an empty, or just disinterested, room, and that the real conversation is going on at Father Jake's (to whom I keep linking this week), but he has the issues neatly bundled and comments are such a narrow forum for discussion.

Besides, it's my blog, and I can do what I want with it.

So start with this post. As I mentioned over there, this is an interesting circumlocution:

...Those who have intervened believe it would be inappropriate to bring an end to interventions until there is change in The Episcopal Church...
Why are we asking the burglar what they think about committing the burglary? Turns out it isn't quite as simple as that, but that was my first reaction. If that's the direction the Primates want to go, if they have decided that TEC is "apostate" and therefore "outlaw," meaning we've already put ourselves beyond the bounds of the law and therefore what happens to us now is our own lookout (the old meaning of the term, in other words), then what "law" do they truly enforce? Under the practice and tradition of the Anglican Communion the answer is "none," of course. The Primates have only been meeting for the past 30 years, and then only as a collegial matter. As the Communique itself says:

The Primates’ Meeting, presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, assembles for mutual support and counsel, monitors global developments and works in full collaboration in doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters that have Communion-wide implications
But now they want to eat their cake and have it, too. "Full collaboration" soon comes to mean "Do it our way, or get out! Oh, and leave behind those rich American churches which don't like what their polity has produced. We still need those." How very convenient. That, at least, was my reading on first pass. As I read further, I calmed down. This is a very mixed bag, indeed.

Ruth Gledhill noted in her blog yesterday that:

It is obviously interesting to note that the administration of the Anglican Communion Office depends on funds from TEC. Balancing the books without TEC would not be possible. It is equally likely that Rowan Williams respects her, and that many of the Primates wanted to make a particular gesture of support after the opposition that has been expressed to her. A source close to what's happening in Dar es tells me that things will be "very rough" this afternoon.
It's worth stopping to note right here that everyone has their take on this, and that there are two documents coming out of this meeting. One is the Communique, which Father Jake discusses. The other, and the subject of Gledhill's current post, is the draft Covenant. Gledhill finds the latter to be an altogether good thing, and her comments seem to consider it a "triumph of American Diplomacy" and a sign the American church will:

Sign agreement; go home and break agreement; deny that you ever broke agreement; issue an insincere pseudo-apology and go right on breaking agreement.
Meanwhile, over at Fr. Jakes, comments wonder if it's true that PB Schori was "crying" as she signed the Primates' communique. Gledhill indicates the "liberal blogs" love the covenant, yet when I read this in her summary of it:

The section on biblically derived moral values (para 3.1) uphold and act in continuity and consistency with the catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition, biblically derived moral values ;

The references to biblical texts together with the use of responsible scholarship for interpretation (see para 3.3): ensure that biblical texts are handled faithfully, respectfully, comprehensively and coherently, primarily through the teaching and initiative of bishops and synods, and building on our best scholarship, believing that scriptural revelation must continue to illuminate, challenge and transform cultures, structures and ways of thinking;
I can't help but think of the origin of American Fundamentalism, a reaction to the 19th century German Biblical scholarship which has become the bedrock of all modern Biblical studies (except for the fundamentalists). I know I'm jumping a bit wide with that, since the Communique says:

We agreed to proceed with a worldwide study of hermeneutics (the methods of interpreting scripture). The primates have joined the Joint Standing Committee in asking the Anglican Communion Office to develop options for carrying the study forward following the Lambeth Conference in 2008. A report will be presented to the Joint Standing Committee next year.
But much of the discussion about the ordination of gays and lesbians, and of "gay marriages," is based on biblical scholarship. So it is interesting to note that "our best scholarship" must "continue to illuminate, challenge and transform cultures, structures, and ways of thinking," but the traditions of the church, themselves products of "cultures, structures, and ways of thinking," seems to stand outside of that illumination and challenge, because the latter are "biblically derived moral values and the vision of humanity received by and developed in the communion of member Churches." Again, a curious circumlocution, one that doesn't stand up to the slightest examination. After all, there is no mention of women becoming priests in the Bible, is there? And if you follow that link you will find some words which I consider to be true wisdom, not just the conventional kind that's easier to accept:

"He doesn't always give us what we want. God gives us what we need," [Father John H. Shumaker, of St. Matthews Episcopal Church in San Andreas] said. "Maybe he's saying we need to deal with this."
As I say below, there are still those in TEC who can't accept that the PB is a woman. And women are, apparently, the problem Gledhill has with PB Schori, too; not her gender, but her reliance on Julian of Norwich. PB Schori's reference to God as "mother" caused quite a stir in the conservative Episcopal blogs, and elsewhere. But it is a metaphor countenanced both by tradition (Julian was hardly the first in the medieval church to use it) and Scripture (where God is considered as both father and mother, and Wisdom, which comes from God, is clearly female; "Sophia" in the Hebrew Scriptures becomes the "Logos" in John's Gospel, and when Jesus weeps over Jerusalem he longs to gather them as a hen gathers her chicks. A handful of references, but the point is God has never been exclusively "male," and in fact representing God as a human father would have been blasphemy for the Hebrews.). Which is simply to say "scriptural revelation must continue to illuminate, challenge and transform cultures, structures and ways of thinking," and our interpretation of scripture and of scriptural revelation. Which gets us almost to deconstruction, at least according to some New Testament scholars. I want to try to come back to that point.

Getting back to the two documents themselves, figuring out exactly what happened will depend, for the moment, on who you ask, and on which document you read. The Covenant clearly sets up to make the Primates the "last word" on matters Anglican, so the two documents need to be read together. Still, you don't need a weatherman to see which way the wind is blowing:

The Windsor Report identified two threats to our common life: first, certain developments in the life and ministry of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada which challenged the standard of teaching on human sexuality articulated in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10; and second, interventions in the life of those Provinces which arose as reactions to the urgent pastoral needs that certain primates perceived. The Windsor Report did not see a “moral equivalence” between these events, since the cross-boundary interventions arose from a deep concern for the welfare of Anglicans in the face of innovation. Nevertheless both innovation and intervention are central factors placing strains on our common life. The Windsor Report recognised this (TWR Section D) and invited the Instruments of Communion [1] to call for a moratorium of such actions
That is from the Communique, and it clearly puts the emphasis on "tradition" and against "innovation." As Fr. Jakes points out, the "marginalized" here are the conservatives, not the gays and lesbians. An interesting use of "victimhood" indeed. Damn those minorities, how dare they persecute us!

27. A further complication is that a number of dioceses or their bishops have indicated, for a variety of reasons, that they are unable in conscience to accept the primacy of the Presiding Bishop in The Episcopal Church, and have requested the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates to consider making provision for some sort of alternative primatial ministry. At the same time we recognise that the Presiding Bishop has been duly elected in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, which must be respected.
Not least of which "reasons" remains that the Presiding Bishop is a woman. Persecution piled upon persecution! No wonder Akinola refused to take communion with her. But here's the problem: the Primates really don't have any authority, and they know it:

34. Those who have intervened believe it would be inappropriate to bring an end to interventions until there is change in The Episcopal Church. Many in the House of Bishops are unlikely to commit themselves to further requests for clarity from the Primates unless they believe that actions that they perceive to undermine the polity of The Episcopal Church will be brought to an end. Through our discussions, the primates have become convinced that pastoral strategies are required to address these three urgent needs simultaneously.
I would say pastoral strategies are required to address all of the needs of the church. But that's usually what's going on in a church anyway, so that would really be stating the obvious, wouldn't it?

There are many views on what has happened, and what will happen. This is all to fresh to have settled into accepted history yet. Here is the explanation from Church Times:

In the mean time, the Episcopal Church in the US has to accept a new body, a "pastoral council" set up by the Primates, in agreement with the Presiding Bishop, to provide oversight for conservative congregations, many of whom have already allied themselves to overseas provinces, notably Nigeria and Uganda.

The relationship that this new body, and the congregations under it, will have with the Episcopal Church is unclear, but at its head will be a "primatial vicar", a suggestion first made by the Presiding Bishop, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, in November last year. This suggests that what the Primates call a "pastoral scheme" will operate essentially as a separate province. Such an arrangement has been resisted in England as a solution to disagreements about women bishops.

Whether it works in the US will depend in large part on whether the secessionist organisations, notably AMiA and CANA, decide to join, and thus dismantle their foreign oversight. Both organisations have consecrated bishops without the approval of the Episcopal Church, and the Primates involved have given no pledge that they will do so.
Given the language I quoted above, it's not at all clear the Primates have even asked AMiA and CANA to do anything, and even if they did, clearly any idea of cooperation was rejected in favor of continuing to insist on doctrinal purity; and, of course, the ability to plunder the rich American congregations. A burglar's got to make a living, too.

Still more interesting stuff here:

Anglican Primates, meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, are to ask all 38 provinces to unite under a new Anglican Covenant published in draft form today. US and Canadian dioceses that have introduced same-sex blessings for gay couples are also to escape discipline.

The Covenant is a four-page document which summarises Anglican doctrine and makes clear that provinces that overstep the mark in future will be excluded until they “re-establish their covenant relationship”.

Far from being expelled from the meeting, as some conservative archbishops had demanded, the Communion’s first woman Primate, US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, was elected onto the influential Standing Committee of the Primates’ Meeting.

That puts Bishop Jefferts Schori at the heart of the Anglican Church’s policy-making body and places her in pole position at the right hand of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, the Church’s “focus for unity”.

Although the Covenant makes provision for the first time in the 400-year history of Anglicanism for disciplining provinces that step out of line, its wording throughout is so general as to make a problem for which discipline is deemed necessary to be almost impossible to define.

Under the Covenant, where provinces breach its doctrine, they will be deemed to “have relinquished for themselves the force and meaning of the Covenant’s purpose, and a process of restoration and renewal will be required to re-establish their covenant relationship with other member churches.”
I suppose this is why the "liberals" are "happy." Interestingly, the Primates seem to feel they wield greatest authority (or will, under the Covenant) over matters of doctrine. Actually controlling what Archbishops do, however, they know is beyond their power (as they have no real police power, nor even the power of excommunication). What is said from the pulpit, then, or done in the worship space, they will control (this applies, of course, directly to priests, who always find themselves between one temporal power and another). But what they cannot apply their power to (such as it is) is poaching on the territory of another diocese. In ambiguity there is both escape from responsibility, or real power, depending on how one wishes to wield it. "Classical Anglicanism," after all, is in the eye of the beholder.

The design group noted in its introduction that there had been "a wide range of support for the concept of covenant in the life of the Communion, and although in the papers submitted there was a great deal of concern about the nature of any covenant that might be put forward for adoption, very few of the respondents objected to the concept of covenant per se, but rather saw the covenant as a moment of opportunity within the life of the Communion."

According to the group, all the members spoke of "the value and importance of the continued life of the Anglican Communion as an instrument through which the Gospel could be proclaimed and God's mission carried forward. There was a real desire to see the interdependent life of the Communion strengthened by a covenant which would articulate our common foundations, and set out principles by which our life of Communion in Christ could be strengthened and nurtured."
But interdependent life based on what we say, and not what we do (except for the priests; we'll always make sure we control what they do). That's some catch, that Catch-22.*

*on the other hand, this is simply part of the "fallen state" of humanity. "Dese are de conditions dat prevail!" All you can do about it is muddle through. My short term reaction is shock and a bit of despair. My long term reaction is: "Eh! What did you expect? Back to pursuing pastoral strategies which, after all, is what the church is all about.

Monday, February 19, 2007

But Communion, and my Communion?

Two items, via Father Jake:

1) Looks like the merger of the Anglican Communion and the Church of Rome isn't going to happen without a very serious schism that leaves the Primates behind:

So far from being excluded from the Primates' Meeting in Dar es Salaam, I can break the news that TEC Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has been elected onto the all-important policy-making Standing Committee. 'Next thing you know, Benedict will be reversing Apostolicae Curae,' said one observer. There will be much speculation about how this came about. (Schori's election that is.) It is obviously interesting to note that the administration of the Anglican Communion Office depends on funds from TEC. Balancing the books without TEC would not be possible. It is equally likely that Rowan Williams respects her, and that many of the Primates wanted to make a particular gesture of support after the opposition that has been expressed to her.
(This is Gledhill's blog, so she's entitled to be as snarky as she wants. She also provides links to other blogs which are "picking up on the story." By which she means, linking to her blog. So all of this may be as accurate as the other Times story du jour (which is already being repudiated as an exaggeration of something that's been underway for 35 years, but doesn't resemble what the Times article reported, at all).

2) The Primates are reportedly deciding on language which will give them some authority to decide these issues, rather than leave them washing up at the feet of the Archbishop of Canterbury, or sloshing around among Archbishops who think they get to speak for the Communion. Father Jake has the language in question. My first reaction to it was: "This is fairly sound ecclesiology," if only because it sounds quite familiar to me. "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, diversity; in all things, charity." As I've mentioned before (even though some have corrected the minutiae of my historical knowledge!), the Evangelical German Church in this country came out of Prussia, formed by the King of Prussia when he forced the Reformed and Lutheran churches to reconcile over their doctrines of communion (a reconciliation that wasn't effected in most of the rest of Protestantism until the next century, or about 500 years after the Reformation.) The statement, so far as I can trace it down (not that I have been diligent in my efforts) seems to come out of that effort. It is certainly an excellent statement of ecclesiology in one sentence. And it seems to be the guiding principle of the Primates of the Anglican Communion.

Evidence of the patient working of the Spirit abounds.

Lowered Expectations

NPR reported this morning in headlines (so no linkee) that there had been another bombing in Iraq, killing 18 and wounding 60. This is either so new, or so common, I don't find anything at this hour about it on CNN.com or nytimes.com (so, again, no linkee, sorry). Yesterday morning in headling Anne Garrels reported on NPR that violence was down in Iraq, a reduction attributed to the American troop "surge" by officials. That, of course, didn't last long. By yesterday afternoon the NYT was reporting:

One day after Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki called the first days of the security crackdown in this capital city a “dazzling success,” two car bombs tore through a crowded market here today and killed at least 60 people.

The attack occurred only minutes after American soldiers passed through the area on patrol, underscoring the difficult nature of trying to quell violence on the bloody streets of Baghdad, where car bombs have been an almost daily occurrence and suicide attacks directed at civilians are so common that many of the markets have been closed to vehicle traffic in recent days.

The blasts today occurred in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of New Baghdad, devastating an open-air market, setting dozens of cars ablaze, and causing the partial collapse of a two-story building that housed several electronics stores.

The street was littered with charred televisions, satellite dishes and small generators. Shattered blue tiles and glass and blood were trampled over as survivors of the attack tried to rush more than 131 wounded people to the hospital. Iraqis wrapped the dead in rugs and blankets and whatever else they could find.
All of this is old news by now, and not really surprising, anyway. Both Anne Garrels and the NYT article noted that Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., commanding general of Multi-National Division Baghdad and the First Cavalry Division said: "the recent respite in violence was probably related to the militants’ need to figure out what the new strategy entailed. 'They are watching us carefully,' he said." No, what was interesting was what the NYT article included from Bush's last press conference:

President Bush has acknowledged that the attacks of suicide bombers will be difficult to stop. He said the immediate goal of his new security plan for Baghdad was to establish “relative peace.”

“I say relative peace, because if it’s like zero car bombings, it never will happen that way,” Mr. Bush told reporters at a news conference last week.
Now, of course, the news is that Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid has called the invasion of Iraq a worse foreign policy blunder than the Vietnam war. Which can be legitimately considered shocking amid the faint hearts of Beltway pundits, I suppose; most of the rest of the country has already drawn that conclusion. What was interesting was the White House response, which wasn't that Sen. Reid was failing to "support the troops" (an ugly charge that's grown more hypocritical lately), but that, according to Tony Snow:

"In point of fact, it was important to get Saddam Hussein out of power," Snow told "Late Edition."
Oh, yeah, and don't forget that funding issue:

[Snow said:] "What I would say to members of Congress is: Calm down and take a look at what's going on, and ask yourself a simple question: If you support the troops, would you deny them the reinforcements they think are necessary to complete the mission?"'

Snow cited surveys that showed a majority of Americans do not want Congress to cut the purse strings for the war.
At least three issues, there, if not more, and none of them have anything to do with one another. But when all else fails, obfuscate, move the goal posts (again), and deny reality.

How low can they go? I mean, really? Someone should have asked Mr. Snow if the Iraqis thought a certain level of car bombings was an acceptable price to be rid of Saddam Hussein. Seems to me they have a say in this, after all. Or would that just return us to the meme that the Iraqis are showing insufficient gratitude for our gift of freedom?

I'll retire to Bedlam....

Update: This may be the attack I heard about this morning, or this may be yet another attack. In either case, it's getting harder and harder to determine what the point of the US military presence is. Clearly the people with the bombs think more troops=more targets.

So Much Depends on Tanzania

This may be pure nonsense:

Radical proposals to reunite Anglicans with the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of the Pope are to be published this year, The Times has learnt.

The proposals have been agreed by senior bishops of both churches.

In a 42-page statement prepared by an international commission of both churches, Anglicans and Roman Catholics are urged to explore how they might reunite under the Pope.

The statement, leaked to The Times, is being considered by the Vatican, where Catholic bishops are preparing a formal response.
I would guess that "radical" here, as in "completely insane and will never happen," (as opposed to coming from the radix, or root) is the right adjective to use. Given the polity of the Anglican Communion, this will go down like the attempts of American congregations and dioceses seeking "Alternative Primatial Oversight" (what the insiders to this tussle call "AlPO"; the reference to dog food not being accidental, I'm sure). It is, in other words, beyond silly, but it will sell a few more newspapers. What struck me, though, in the article, was how easily the truth slips out. There is, of course, all the hot and bothered speculation about "schism". In the NYT interview with PB Schori, it was noted that only 45 American churches, out of 7400, have tried to affiliate with overseas dioceses. I roughly calculate that as something less than 1%. (via Father Jake). So "schism" seems wildly overstated here. What's really going on, of course, is the seeking after power:

The 36 primates at the gathering will be aware that the Pope, while still a cardinal, sent a message of support to the orthodox wing of the Episcopal Church of the US as it struggled to cope with the fallout after the ordination of the gay bishop Gene Robinson.

Were this week’s discussions to lead to a split between liberals and conservatives, many of the former objections in Rome to a reunion with Anglican conservatives would disappear. Many of those Anglicans who object most strongly to gay ordination also oppose the ordination of women priests.
This article, too, misunderstands the Anglican Communion as badly as some African Archbishops and American churches do.

On Friday, Archbishop Akinola and six other archbishops refused to celebrate the Holy Eucharist with Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of 2.3 million members of the Episcopal Church, the American branch of the Anglican Communion. To celebrate communion with Bishop Jefferts Schori, who supports gay clergy and church blessings of same-sex unions, “would be a violation of Scriptural teaching and the traditional Anglican understanding,” said a statement on the Nigerian church Web site.
This, frankly, is simply childish behavior (I will let others speak to "the traditional Anglican understanding"). If I refused to take communion with, or offer communion to, everyone I thought was a sinner or continuing in their sin, or was "in violation of Scriptural teaching," I'd be dining alone and serving no one. I have served communion to people who were actively undermining my ministry, and offered healing to people who openly despised me. It's the nature of ministry. The article goes on to note that Arcbhishop Akinola wasn't present for Archbishop Williams' sermon, either, which included this wisdom:

“There was a great saint who said God was evident when bishops are silent,” the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, told hundreds who packed a 173-year-old stone cathedral. “There is one thing a bishop should say to another bishop; that I am a great sinner and Christ is a great savior.”
What is the real nature of the communion?

Reuters reported that at least one archbishop, Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda, refused to share Holy Communion at the Sunday service. Asked who participated, Mr. [James]Rosenthal [spokesman for the Anglican Communion] said, “We didn’t check.”
All the rest of us in the Anglican Communion can do is pray for Archbishop Akinola, and Presiding Bishop Schori, and the Church in Nigeria, the Church in America, and the Church catholic and universal. And not check up on anybody.

It's the only way to be sure.

Update: the Times article is nonsense. And better things are coming out of the Primates meeting (ironically, if the Times is to be believed).

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Where Angels Fear to Tread

Here's the problem with doing the right thing for the wrong reasons:

“If the public had enough experience with the vaccine and had enough knowledge about H.P.V., the question about whether to get the vaccine or give it to their daughters wouldn’t be an issue,” Dr. Bocchini said.
But it is; it is because Gov. Rick Perry has ordered that all 6th grade girls in Texas get inoculated with Gardasil, at $400 a person for three shots. Which is already prompting criticism, of course:

One activist who frequently criticizes pharmaceutical companies, Vera Hassner Sharav, and a co-author suggested that the H.P.V. vaccine stood for a campaign to “Help Pay for Vioxx” losses. Vioxx, the painkiller taken off the market in 2004 because it was linked to cardiovascular problems, was also made by Merck.
Hard to disagree, frankly, since Gov. Perry's former chief of staff is now a lobbyist for Merck. And the Texas Legislature has several bills several bills pending, all aimed at overturning the Governor's order. Legislatures don't like executives who get high-handed. The Texas Lege is not the U.S. Congress, and Perry isn't President Shrub. Even those who think Perry did the right thing for the wrong reasons may be disappointed by the set-back this will produce. If the Lege overrides Perry's order (as is likely), it may be several years before Gardasil, or any similar vaccine, gains legislative acceptance.

Which, of course, is the real problem.

This is why:

Typically new vaccines, like the one for chicken pox in the mid-1990’s, have been rolled out gradually in this country, with public health officials endorsing mandatory use only after several years of experience have shown the new products to be generally safe and effective.
Is Gardasil 100% effective and efficacious? Or even as effective and efficacious as the Salk vaccine I took in a sugar cube? I accepted that vaccine because my parents accepted it, and they accepted it because they were convinced it was helpful; not because the Texas Governor owed a huge favor to a major campaign donor. As the NYT article notes:

If the public had enough experience with the vaccine and had enough knowledge about H.P.V., the question about whether to get the vaccine or give it to their daughters wouldn’t be an issue,” Dr. Bocchini said.
So pardon my cynicism but, follow the money:

Analysts see a potential $5 billion a year market for H.P.V. vaccines, and some say that Merck is intent on inoculating as many girls as possible before the introduction of Glaxo’s product, which could become available this year.
Is my daughter's health included in that? Because here are the numbers:

Gardasil protects against two strains of H.P.V. that cause about 70 percent of the cases of cervical cancer as well as two other strains that cause genital warts. In approving the vaccine last June, the Food and Drug Administration said that in the United States each year there were an average of 9,710 new cases of cervical cancer and 3,700 deaths attributed to it.

The disease’s toll is higher in other parts of the world than it is in the United States, where most women get routine Pap smears to detect early precancerous changes in the cervix. Worldwide, cervical cancer is the second-most-common cancer in women. It causes more than 470,000 new cases and 233,000 deaths each year, according to the F.D.A.
But where are the numbers for the side effects of this vaccine, or even it's efficacy? And back to that problem of coverage and acceptance:

Dr. Carol Baker, a professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said that two other vaccines for adolescents that were approved in recent years — against meningitis and whooping cough — have not yet been mandated in Texas. “To mandate just one, in my view, is a little odd,” she said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is not advocating mandatory Gardasil vaccination, either. One source of opposition from pediatricians is cost. Buying enough H.P.V. vaccine for 100 girls would require a practice to lay out nearly $40,000 in advance. Many doctors say that the insurance reimbursement for giving the vaccine is not adequate to compensate them for administering it.

Dr. Bocchini of the American Academy of Pediatrics also said too much of the Gardasil focus was being placed on 11- and 12-year-olds, when legislatures should be focusing on trying to obtain funding to vaccinate girls and women in the 13-to-26 age group, many of whom are not covered by the federal vaccine programs aimed at children.

“A number of people are just not going to be able to get this vaccine,” he said.
And here's why:

Paul Purcell, the business administrator for Step Pediatrics in The Woodlands, said many doctors will be lucky to break even. The vaccine, Gardasil, costs $120 a dose and requires three doses to be effective. Most insurance reimbursements top out at $126 a dose, he said.

"Six bucks is not going to cover it," Purcell said.

Like any business, doctors have overhead — from office leases to photocopying. Step Pediatrics serves more than 5,000 patients and has three doctors, one nurse practitioner and 11 other employees, including Purcell.

Purcell estimated that just filing on a patient's insurance probably costs his office about $8 in administrative expenses.

...

As patients, we tend to forget that doctors' offices, like hospitals, are businesses. They provide an important service, but they also exist to make money. Even if it clears $6 a dose, that business is generating a rather paltry 5 percent return on HPV vaccinations.

Doctors can, of course, charge more for administering Gardasil, and some are, but that leaves patients to bear the rest of the cost under the mandate.

In some cases, patients may not be able to pay.

That's part of the reason that the Texas Medical Association has come out against the governor's mandate that the HPV vaccine be given to all girls entering the sixth grade in 2008.
Perry, you see, has more in common with Shrub than is generally acknowledged. He can order everyone to get the vaccination. He can't authorize the public funds (of which there really aren't any, in Texas) to pay for it.

Gotcha!

The governor's mandate also meddles in the free market. Merck, the vaccine's manufacturer, would know that the drug was required for Texas schoolgirls in Texas, giving the company no incentive to offer the price breaks to doctors that often come with new products.

"That really eliminates my bargaining power," Purcell said.
And that's not all!

Parents, of course, could still choose to have their daughters vaccinated. Purcell said his office has had a lot of interest from parents of patients since the vaccine came to market last summer.

A lot of parents, though, decide against it when they see the price, he said. Because of the reimbursement issue, his office has stopped filing on insurance for Gardasil, leaving it up to the patients to seek reimbursement from their insurers.

Gynecologist Fred Ernest said he offers the vaccine but may discontinue it because of the poor reimbursement rate from insurers.

"The cost to do business continues to climb," he said. "There's going to have to be a give somewhere."

Ernest said his financial concerns, though, are outweighed by medical ones.

"I personally feel that there should have been long-term studies and it should have been left up to the parent" whether to vaccinate, he said. "I just don't think there's enough data out there to make a mandatory ruling on this."
There really is no such thing as a free lunch.

My groats worth of wit

I'm rapidly becoming allergic to these discussions, not entirely for the reasons Pastor Dan enumerates (full frontal disclosure: I am not dissing Pastor Dan by possibly disagreeing with him, or even slightly separating from him, in what follows. Clear?), even though I am tired of people in left blogistan who see theocrats under every bed.

I don't know Randall Balmer's work, but I'm willing to give it my open attention, even as I consider that I knew more than a few seminary professors who were quite wise in their field, and quite foolish outside of it. Like the mid-western professor who'd been a pastor long enough to return to seminary, where he had a fine scholar. But he told me how he thought the "mega-church" model, which he was just then becoming aware of, might be a sign of a "New Reformation."

My old friend from childhood and fellow minister and I got a good laugh out of that, as we'd grown up in the Bible Belt, which could teach mega-church pastors a thing or two about whipping up enthusiasm among the faithful. New? Yeah, as new as the First Great Awakening. Balmer may be in his field, for all I know; all I'm saying is, I'll judge his work, not his credentials. But judge his work fairly. And since I don't know anything about it, I'll remain silent on it. Others can judge, but I'll remain neutral.

Chris Hedges' work I do know, and the fact that he's been to seminary just reminds me of the stories he tells of his experiences, and how badly burned he so clearly was by it. I've read his last two books, and I'm skeptical about this third one that's just come out. I don't think Chris sees things all that clearly; indeed, I think he has some serious issues, and his judgment on matters of theocracy is suspect, at best.

Kevin Phillips' book always looked good to me, and I respect his judgment, so again I'll remain fair and neutral. It may be he fears too much what is now, it seems to me, not going to happen. Indeed, one must remember in this field that books on "current affairs" often get planned 18-24 months in advance, and by the time they hit the shelves they are either "just-in-time" (if they're lucky) or already last week's fish wrap. Several books came out in the fall touting the "genius" of George Bush and his "courageous" determination in Iraq. Oops. They were all a bit behind the power curve, probably considered in 2003-04 in order to catch the zeitgeist that by 2006 had already blown over. You'll note those books sank beneath the public's wisdom like a stone.

Does all this mean I'm trying to start an argument with Pastor Dan again? Heaven forbid ! (No, really!) I'm just pointing out the painfully cramped nature of "discussion" in the blogosphere. There are, in other words, nuances to these things that never get properly aired. Sure, some of:

My blogospheric colleagues are often at some pains to point out that criticism of particular religious beliefs or strands of practice does not equate to a generalized hatred or disdain for religion itself.
But then there are always the people who don't see what is right in front of them. One of my recent posts prompted this response, for example:

It's unfortunate that most of your piece seems to dance around the issue and express your ambivalence about the general topic, yet the one point where you actually specify WHAT WAS WRONG, all you do is declare "hands off the Virgin Mary!"

This is something Sam Harris has talked about -- the double standard that religion has in our society. Religious people want religious ideas to enjoy a special status as untouchable, undiscussable, un-mockable notions. You can mock race, creed, size, sex, age and sexual orientation, and you're considered "cutting edge" if you do it right -- but religion is permanently taboo?

The story of the Virgin Mary is beloved and held as holy by many people. That is a fact of society. But maybe religious people OUGHT to get used to being mocked for their religious beliefs.

Maybe if the 19 hijackers weren't treated with respect for their religious beliefs by their neighbors and family, they would've become doctors and lawyers, instead.

You see, if you mock somebody for believing something that's patently true, you're a fool. If you mock a belief that is ONLY held because of tradition and brainwashing, you're doing a sensible thing.

Religion gets respect because it's a social convention, not because religion inherently deserves respect. Otherwise, we'd all be forced to respect Bush's belief that he's been right all along in Iraq... since he clearly believes it.

It's amazing to me how many people can't even remove the scales from their eyes long enough to see that beliefs don't deserve respect just because you believe them. In every other area of life -- history, science, car repair -- we require evidence before accepting a claim. But in religion, being fervent is good enough.

Maybe you should ask yourself, "Why does it bother me when someone mocks a character in an ancient story?" Would you be offended if I mocked Agamemnon, or Grendel?
I'm hard pressed to find where I ever said "hands off the Virgin Mary" or declared religious belief free from critique in an open marketplace of ideas. Of course, don't get me started on Sam Harris, but that's another story. Nor have I ever said that "being fervent is good enough" for anything (except perhaps romantic love). But, as Paul Simon said: "A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest." In the end, I agree with Pastor Dan:

But the point is that we're not talking about the churchgoing folks next door, and I think we all know that. We're talking about highly politicized, highly partisan operatives whose actions have raised legitimate concerns. As it happens, they like to hide behind the church folks next door, but they're not the sweet folks who like to sing "This Is My Father's World" and put on a chicken barbeque in the summer. And if religion is completely out-of-bounds in our critical discourse, we're not going to be able to discuss some very real, very problemmatic people.
No, we aren't talking about the people next door, we're talking about a very small group of power-seekers who once again find their reach has exceeded their grasp. Anyone remember the specter of Pat Robertson reaching for the brass ring of the Presidency? The money Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker seem to be able to literally vacuum out of people's pockets? The 900 foot tall Jesus who commanded Oral Roberts to build a hospital Tulsa didn't want, and how effective Roberts was at getting Tulsa to pay for it later? (Hint: not at all effective.) Does somebody really imagine this is the first time theocracy has reared its ugly head in America? Does nobody remember Prohibition, and what fueled that Constitutional mistake?

The short answer, for me, is that we've been here before, and rejected theocracy before. For 40 years the GOP, lead by those disappointed in the failure of Goldwater against LBJ, fomented disgust with the federal government to the point the people of this country almost believed them. But then Newt Gingrich shut down that government, and suddenly people missed it. Then 9/11 happened, and suddenly the Federal Government was the only one that could adequately respond (and it failed to). Later there was a little thing called Hurricane Katrina. And in the meantime Ted Haggard thought he was the President's Pastor, or at least a Very Influential Parson; and James Dobson had delusions of grandeur, and the basso continuo of Rush Limbaugh spread the anti-government poison to all sectors of working class America for over 2 decades. And you know what?

It didn't work. It was rejected in November, and it will go on being rejected. Even the churchgoers who are supposed to be such willing shills of the Bush Administration, have turned against it. For Bush and the GOP and the theocrats, it's all over but the crying.

But try having that discussion in left blogistan. It's not that we can't; it's just that we have to set the terms of the discussion first. And I respectfully (oh, so respectfully) submit those terms are not fixed on authority, or past history, or even credentials, but solely on the soundness of data and information relied on. Which makes it hard; darned hard indeed, to have a discussion, until we've all done quite a bit of reading, and considering, and reasoning, maybe even reasoning together. So maybe we could just start by accepting there are lots of points of view, and all of them deserve due consideration until some have been weighed and found wanting, and others have been sifted to separate wheat from chaff, and still others have been left behind because they're just flat-out stupid and beneath consideration. Can we do that? Can we reason together before we take sides and settle on judgments?

I hope so. I doubt it, though, because the blogosphere just doesn't lend itself to that kind of discussion (the kind, by the way, I'm sure Pastor Dan wants, too. Let the reader understand!). Maybe it should; but the way it's shaping up now, it just doesn't, and I'm not sure it ever will.