Sunday, December 24, 2006

Episcopal Trial By Fire

It's not what you think.

A dear friend from seminary let us know -- in a comment on the site -- about the Third Sunday in Advent excitement at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, in San Diego. Somebody tried to torch the place ... wait for it ... during the service.

The apparent arsonist succeeded in destrying the ladies' loo (I believe that's the Anglican word; we Lutherans use something less printable), and doing about $100,000 in damage. But nobody was hurt, and Christmas services will take place as planned.

So what happened here? Oh, it could have been some sort of political protest -- not very effective, because not at all articulate. Or a genuine attempt to commit mass murder, no pun intended.

But the most likely explanation is that a very, very disturbed person was working out some psychological issues that the rest of us will never understand. That person clearly needs help, and lots of it. Which we hope he or she gets from inside the appropriate penal institution.

Meanwhile, keep the people of St. Paul's in your prayers tonight. I will.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Lutheran Church has European Members

There's a news flash.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the world's largest Lutheran body, has "associations" for various ethic communities among its membership -- "African-Americans, American Indians/Alaska Natives, Hispanics, Asians/Pacific Islanders and Arab/Middle Eastern Heritage." And now, at long last, they have approved an association for the other 97 (or so) percent: European Americans.

Oh, we can hear the jokes already. But fair's fair; Father A. is a a proud Euro-American himself, and has long felt a little left out of the limelight. I mean, apart from all the presiding bishops, nearly all the bishops, and the vast majority of pastors and laypeople, the ELCA hardly has anybody like me in it. So I'm happy to have a special-interest group in which to pursue my owhn identity's identity politics.

But there is a serious problem. Because with only one new association, we Finns are going to be tossed in with those insufferably snotty Swedes. Not to mention the Germans with their crypto-Calvinism (and occasional tendency to invade Poland).

Frankly, the whole thing sounds like another plot to keep us down. Hey, Pharaoh -- let my people go!

Religion of Peace, Part ....

... crap, we lost count.

Indonesian religious police raided a hairdresser's shop, because the women weren't wearing head scarves, and the men should have known that Sharia prohibits them from having a woman cut their hair. (The whole Jezebel thing, we suppose).

For crying out loud. When will people -- scratch that, the billion or so perfectly reasonable Muslims in the world -- get so sick of this nonsense that they put their collective foot down and demand a better way? Can you imagine a Christian religious police, in any nation on earth? No -- not since Cromwell. And there was a reason that after him they brought back the Stuarts.

Or, as Benedict XVI said, in one of those wicked quotes of his, "In religion, there is no coercion." And which repressive medieval anti-Islamic polemic did he get that one from again? Oh yeah -- the Quran.

The Sleep of Reason

A San Diego [make that Bakersfield -- see the first comment] man, draped in an American flag, poured gasoline over himself and lit a match. He did so -- get this -- to protest the school district's decision to uyse the terms "Christmas" and "Easter" in describing its vacation schedule. He was wearing a sign that said "[deleted] the religious establishment."

Honestly, people, we at the Egg would just like to point out, yet again, that secular types are as capable of being violent extremists as anybody else.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Give Me Liberty . . . .

Two large and historic Episcopal parishes are leaving PECUSA to join the Church of Nigeria. Truro Church and Falls Church, both in Virginia, have voted to deep-six their ongoing discussions with the denomination, and instead submit themselves to the authority of Peter Akinola, the Nigerian archbishop who has been a loud conservative voice in the Anglican wars over sexuality.

Now consider the irony. George Washington served on the vestry of the Falls Church, and Francis Scott Key later led services there. (Although, nota bene, Key was a lawyer and not a priest.)

In contrast to these two heroes of freedom, Archbishop Akinola has led a movement in his country to criminalize not only homosexual behavior, but any advocacy for the civil or human rights of gay people. He has supported laws that make it illegal to publish editorials or take part in demonstrations supporting these rights. Such is Akinola's contempt for gay people that, rather than hear them argue for their place in society, he would abrogate the freedoms of speech and assembly for which George Washington and others like him were willing to die.

The two parishes may imagine that they are "traditionalist" and "conservative," but then, the advocates of oppression often do.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Anglican Bishop Makes a Fool of Himself

Tom Butler, the Bishop of Southwark, attended a party at the irish Embassy, and turned up the next day, bruised and bloody, missing his briefcase and cellphone. He claims a memory lapse, and assumes he was mugged; the police think otherwise. Witnesses report seeing "a white haired man in a cassock" climb into the back seat of a Mercedes, throw toys around (!) and say "I'm the Bishop of Southwark, it's what I do."

Well, he made a fool of himself. But it's still not as bad as the new Episcopal PB's acilm that Episcopalians are proud to be in decline because it shows how smart and environmentally-conscious they are. And she was apparently sober when she said it ....

Monday, December 04, 2006

Christian Bookshops Drop Quran

SPCK, the UK's oldest chain of Christian booksellers, will no longer sell the Quran or other books it considers "inimical to Christianity."

Behind the story is something interesting: majority interest in the chain has been sold to representatives of an Orthodox agency, the mission of which is to build an Orthodox presence in still-nominally-Latin Britain. Anglicans still hold a minority position on the SPCK board, and voted against the decision to stop carrying "inimical" books.

As a matter of business strategy, the decision makes some sense. Define your brand, and so forth. And on the surface, it seems like a reasonable mission strategy as well. Why should any organization devoted to the "propagation of Christian knowledge" have an interest in propagating knowledge of other faiths?

But that question is not entirely rhetorical. Arguably, at least, Christians may be better-prepared to articulate their faith in a pluralistic society if they have a working knowledge of the other faiths with which it is inevitably to be contrasted. Any decent missionary knows this. So we wonder if the SPCK move, for all its common-sense appeal, does not in fact represent a step away from Christian engagement with non-Christian culture, and toward the sort of circle-the-wagons, last-holy-remnant attitudes which often seem to flourish in declining, ethnocentric churches -- like the Orthodox.

Church of the Lost Ark

Archaeologists working at Shiloh have dug up a very, very old Christian church.

The article linked above may overstate the claim -- if it comes from the late 4th century, this won't come close to the house-church at Dura, for example. By the mid-4th-century, Constantine and his mother had already been on a bit of a church-building spree in the Holy Land. Should this prove to be part of that, it will tell us little or nothing about the most primitive, pre-Constantinian, era of Christian worship. (On the other hand, it will probably be the remains of a well-funded and therefore beautiful building.)

More interesting than the date of this building is its location. Before the construction of the Temple, the Ark of the Covenant was kept at Shiloh. In fact, the team (supported by locals) may keep digging, in hope of finding evidence of the ancient Tabernacle.

So it is kind of cool to know that 4th-century Christians built a church on this Jewish sacred site (as well as the overtly Christian sites connected to COnstantine, such as the Holy Sepulchre). After all the studies are in, we may know a lot more about how they perceived themselves in relationship to the Jewish heritage of Christianity -- and perhaps even in relation to the Law.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Anti-American Racist Freaks Oppose Episcopal Bishop

We've been reading a fair number of slams against the new PECUSA Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schuori. Here at the Egg, we continue to be a little disturbed by her comparatively brief tenure as a priest, and her remarkable lack of parish experience before ascending to the throne.

But that said, these various slams -- many of them made in passing, by writers with other concerns -- have been troubling us. They are often pretty nasty in tone, but short on details.

Several complain that she apparently permitted same-sex unions in her former diocese, but provide no details. Now, for a bishop to "permit" something may mean any of several different things. It might mean that she was gung-ho for the practice, or simply that she lacked the canonical ability, or political clout, to discipline a popular maverick in the ranks of her parish clergy. She really ought to be judged not by an unspecified case or two from years ago, but by what she does in the next few months, as the Episcopal Church wrestles with its internal divisions and with the divisions of the Anglican Communion.

Others among the slamming community, however, don't even have this much ammunition to fire. They just write mean, sneering stuff, the general tone of which seems to be "I don't like her, and you -- my readers -- already know why."

Exhibit A: Bill Murchison. Our beloved godfather recently forwarded us a piece Mr Murchison had written for the Dallas Morning News. It mocked the new bishop's installation sermon, apparently -- one couldn't be sure -- for having a political agenda. The sermon argued that God's peace is made real in the world through care for the poor, and for the environment. Murchison said, essentially, that these were not the Church's business, but the business of politics and government. He accused her of betraying her heritage.

Oh, and he doesn't like Bono. Not sure how that fits into his article, but he mentioned it.

"Hmmn," though the Egg. "How odd." We had always thought that care for the poor was very much the Church's business. And we had also thought that the Church had a duty to promote that concern by speaking to politicians and governors. As to the matter of "heritage," we had thought -- been entirely certain, rather -- that the Anglican churches had been created in the crucible of a complex interrelationship between matters of faith and matters of public policy. (See under: Cranmer, Thomas; Stuart, James I et seq.; Tudor, all of them).

And for the record, we think Bono is a pretty decent guy.

So, having read this article, and finding it strangely free of ideas and just as strangely filled with nasty remarks, we were moved to wonder: "What's with this Murchison guy?" And we Googled his sorry cracker behind. Here's what we learned:

Bill Murchison used to be reporter; he teaches at Baylor, and has a reputation for solidly conservative Episcopalianism. No problem there. (Well, small problem -- he was brought on board by Sloan, a president so bad the faculty demoted him before he could dfestroy their institutional credibility.)

But a few more clicks revealed the remarkable fact that Murchison is part of something called the League of the South. This is a neo-Confederate organization. As in the Confederate States of America. As in the guys who lost the Civil War. The slaveholding, union-busting, Lincoln-assassinating Confederacy. The league is committed to secession from what it calls the American "empire." It's elected president, Michael Hill, advocates not only strict immigration control, but also kicking out "aliens," including Arabs and Jews.

The South will rise again, and my gorge with it.

Basically, these people are to Timothy McVeigh what the Wahabis are to bin Laden: the theoreticians of terror. They don't actually make the bombs; they don't even tell anbody to use the bombs; hell, if pushed, they'll talk about how bad bombs really are -- but they do explain why it might be nice if some bombs exploded. And for the same reason: the bad old American Empire.

So if one of their mouthpices doesn't like the new Anglican primate of the United States, then we say "Rule Brittania."

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Getting Ugly in New York

The New York senate campaign, pitting an obscure ex-mayor of Yonkers against the woman who has the Republican party trembling, has never promised anything more than theatrics. After all, John Spencer can't possibly beat Hillary Clinton, and everybody knows it. Rumors are that his whole candidacy is just a Trojan Horse to get back his old job. In Yonkers.

But theatrics can be entertaining -- in fact, that's their purpose. (At least if we read Aristotle's bit about provoking fear and pity to create catharsis as "entertainment.") So the question is whether Spencer was just playing his part with gusto when he claimed that his opponent had spent millions on plastic surgery, or whether in fact he truly is a mean-spirited sexist. (Not to mention blind. Any decent close-up shows that the incumbent has plenty of hard-earned and un-Botoxed wrinkles).

Spencer's team is spinning wildly (we'd give links, but are experiencing Blogger difficulty), but the best their candidate can come up with by way of an apology is, and the Egg kids you not, "At least I didn't call her a lesbian."

Even if the guy weren't wrong on the issues, even if his experience were even remotely comparable to Clinton's, he would still deserve to lose just for being such a jerk.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Regarding the Pope

In a novel Father A. once read, a newly-elected Pope keeps a cat in his private quarters; he swears his staff to secrecy about it, fearing that if he is known as a cat-fancier, the faithful will deluge him with their kittens.

The Egg has struggled with Pope Benedict's, um, indiscretion at Regensburg. In the context of his speech, the now-infamous quotation from Emperor Manuel Paleologus is clearly a small (and dispensable) point. He is talking about the role of reason in constructing a system of religious belief, which is precisely the sort of thing that Catholic theology should work at. And yes, he takes a moment in passing to drege up some medieval anti-Muslim rhetoric, cited as a not-very-effective testimony to the putative Western heritage of non-coercive apologetics.

The Pope was clearly having a momentary lapse of memory -- he thought he was a college professor, when in fact he is a Pope. Professors are allowed, even encouraged, to provoke their students with tendentious illustrations and sly asides. Popes, as Benedict will not soon forget, are required to exercise superhuman restraint, and neither speak nor write a word that has not been considered with extreme care. Otherwise, he will be deluged with kittens ... or much, much worse.

On the other hand, we continue to be outraged by the Muslim reaction to Benedict's lecture. It displays a level of intolerance, and a disregard for free speech, that are simply unimaginable to the post-Enlightenment West. In extreme cases, the violence and threats of violence suggest that Manuel Palologus -- not the Pope, mind you, but the dead mediaeval emperor he was quoting -- may have had a point.

Raymond Ibrahim, over at Victor Davis Hanson's righty blog, does a great job on this. Click the link, but here are his money quotes:

In the context of the Pope’s speech, the point in evoking this anecdote was twofold: 1) to show how even centuries ago, there was inter-religious dialogue — a good thing to be preserved; and 2) to show that there is no room for violence where faith is concerned. ... Moreover, the Pope made it a point to mention one of the Koran’s most tolerant verses — “There is no compulsion in religion” [Koran 2:256].

Had the Pope really wanted to defame Islam, he could have quoted from the much more numerous “sword-verses” of the Koran, which most Muslim theologians are agreed have abrogated the more tolerant ones: “Fight those of the People of the Book [Christians and Jews] who do not believe in Allah nor the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth [Islam], until they pay tribute with willing submission, and feel themselves utterly subdued” [Koran 9:29]. Or “When the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever you find them — seize them, besiege them, and make ready to ambush them” [Koran 9:5]

Ibrahim goes on to deal with a point that has not been made much by us in the tolerant lefty blogosphere, much less the press, but which is worth considering. Paleologus is right: most of the growth of Islam, in that era, had taken place as the result of military conquest. Growth as the result of trade and migration came only after the initial conquest of Arabia, North Africa, and western Asia. While peaceful growth may be the historic norm for Islam, conquest is the heart of the movement's creation myth.

Christianity is in many ways the reverse. For the first three hundred years, it spread entirely through peaceful, non-coercive preaching, including the willingness of adherents to suffer torture and execution rather than surrender their faith. Converts were, in fact, required to quit jobs such as soldier or judge which might require them to kill another human being. It was only after Constantine that Christianity was even considered compatible with military service. Of course, from that point forward, things began to change, so that well before time of Paleologus (and well afterward) the religion was indeed spread by armies of conquest. So, while conquest and colonization were for a long time the historic norm for Christianity, the heart of the movement's creation myth is preaching and persuasion.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Old Switcheroo

Father A. tries to keep this blog centered on things that everybody cares about -- sex, religion, politics. And maybe a little Latin poetry. But tonight, he's going to go off topic for just a moment, to say one thing:

Watch Battlestar Galactica. Start now.

For those of you whose development was not arrested in adolescence, it's a teevee show, on the Sci-Fi network. About human beings traveling through space, hunted by robots. Sounds goofy, right? And in fact, the original, 1970s Galactica was pretty goofy -- Lorne Greene's lowest ebb, including the Alpo commercials. But the new show is a tense, gutsy drama, with some of the best-developed characters on television.

And these characters have real sex, the kind with with emotions and subtext. They have real politics, the kind with both ideals and compromises. And they have real religion -- the kind with both casual observers and intolerant fanatics.

All this was true last year, too. But this season, things took a wild twist. Without trying to explain a complicated story, let me just say this: All along, it has been possible -- natural -- to think of the story as an allegory for modern geopolitics, in which the human beings are bunch of decent, more-or-less secular people just going about their business, while they are stalked by a shadowy army of inscrutable killers, motivated by incomprehensible convictions about a God the humans don't understand. Pretty much the way the West sees itself in relation to Islamic fanaticism, right?

As of tonight's season premiere, things are suddently reversed. The humans had found a nice safe planet to settle down on, but the robots invaded it. For no special reason. They installed a puppet government, which everybody hates and any decent human being opposes. This government claims it wants peace and freedom, and wonders why the people it is crushing under foot don't greet its soldiers with open arms. Wonders why its human police force is regarded as a bunch of collaborators.

Oh, and the president claims his government doesn't torture, even though one of the main characters had an eyeball plucked out in prison.

So guess what? The robots are shocked when a few humans -- not all, by any means, but a highly motivated few -- begin suicide bombings.

It was an amazing premiere, specifically because, by the end of it, you could feel your guts tighten, as you tried to decide whether you wanted the suicide bombings to go on or not, tried to decide what you would do in the same position, tried to decide what the definition of words like "hero" and "necessary" and even 'war" really were.

Smartest piece of television I've seen in years. Even with robots.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Like Rugs

That's how the Bushies continue to lie, about 9/11, the Iraqi WMDs, and George Tenet. Today's Times (linked above) documents some of the misdirections and partial truths that continue to issue from the lying lips of the President's people.

Per the Times, Woodward's new book, while not perfect in every detail, accurately captures the then-new Administration's lack of concern about pre-attack intelligence, and its continuing effort to blame George Tenet and the CIA for what were in fact its own failures.

My favorite is John Ashcroft's snarky remark that he was never briefed on the impending attack by Tenet, and "I'm surprised he didn't think it was important enough to come by and tell me." Classic half-truth: the CIA head didn't do the briefing perosnally, but Ashcroft was briefed. He was warned, in advance, that terrorists were planning a second attack on New York City. But Ashcroft (who, in all fairness, is clinically insane) was more interested in recording patriotic country songs and draping naked statues with velvet to, I dunno, protect America.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Islam is Religion of Peace

That's what they keep saying. And when the Pope suggested otherwise, by quoting a long-dead Byzantine emperor (who was being held captive by Muslim armies when he wrote), modern-day Muslims got pretty ticked off.

How ticked off are they? Well, they killed a nun in Somalia, they bombed a church in Nablus, they burned the Pope in effigy all over the world. That was for starters.

And more recently, according to CNN, an al Qaeda franchise vowed a war against the "worshippers of the cross":

"We tell the worshipper of the cross (the Pope) that you and the West will be defeated, as is the case in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya," said an Internet statement by the Mujahideen Shura Council, an umbrella group led by Iraq's branch of al Qaeda, according to the Reuters news agency.

"We shall break the cross and spill the wine. ... God will (help) Muslims to conquer Rome. ... God enable us to slit their throats, and make their money and descendants the bounty of the mujahideen," said the statement."

But we figure they must not be serious. After all, jihad is spiritual combat, not real war. And Islam is a religion of peace.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

See, I am Doing a New Thing

Interesting debate growing within evangelical church-growth circles: Should sermons be plagiarized?

An Ohio pastor named Steve Sjogren recently published an article entitled
Don't Be Original -- Be Effective, in which he proposed that rather than write their own sermons, pastors should copy (verbatim) sermons preached at growing megachurches. Choosing originality over effectiveness, Sjogren says, is the sin of pride.

In response, a professor named
Ray Van Neste says that this approaches reduces preaching to a matter of performance, when in truth it is something far more important:

Our people do not need a performance. They need to gather with their brothers and sisters to hear their own pastor, who knows and loves them, and to hear the overflow of his heart resulting from his own wrestling with the text that week.

So, you may ask, what does the Egg think on this? Those of you who recall our furious rampage against college students copying papers from Wikipedia may be surprised to hear that we find Sjogren's idea . . . well, defensible at least.

The title is catchy, and there's a grain of truth in it. Given the choice between originality and effectiveness, who wouldn't choose the latter? You could even argue that we owe it to our congregations. And for the record, most good preachers are students of preaching, perfectly willing to borrow a trope from Chrysostom or Donne, from Wesley or Willimon. Some of them make a big deal about mentioning it, others don't, and the sermon isn't better or worse for their decision.

The devil of course is in the details -- what does it mean to be "effective"? Sjogren seems to take for granted that it means "prone to create larger congregations." There are at least two problems with this idea: (1) many factors other than preaching create large congregations -- favorable demographics, skilled team-building, a clear vision for ministry shared by pastor and parish alike; and (2) "effective" preaching, for many Christians, simply isn't measured by the number of rear ends on the pews. It is measured by eloquence, by faithfulness to the community's confession of faith, and by relevance to the life of the particular group of people assembled in that particular place. By that last measurement, a sermon preached by somebody else, to somebody else, in some other location, will never amount to much.

Effective preaching is also measured, in our experience, by the degree of trust that it inspires -- trust that the preacher is honest, and can be relied upon to speak honestly about the Gospel. Outright plagiarism will sooner or later erode that trust, no less than deception regarding sex or money or any of the other things that pastors get themselves into trouble with.

So, with a heavy heart, we have to conclude that ripping off sermons from better preachers than oneself is really not a good idea. Because people don't want to hear a stranger's take on the Gospel. They want to hear their pastor's. They want -- they need -- to hear the Gospel from the person who baptized their baby, who confirmed their kid, who buried their mom and who may well bury them, too. And if their pastor's sermon isn't really their pastor's sermon -- if it is somebody else's ideas, even words, passing through their pastor's mouth -- then they aren't going to trust their pastor.

And if you do not trust the preacher, how can you trust the Word that is preached?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Priest Leads Mass on 100th Birthday

This is the best news of an otherwise dreary week.

The Pope has set Christian-Muslim relations back by decades. Muslims have set Christian-Muslim relations back by centuries. President Bush is close to declaring himself infallible.

But Father Kingsley Laws, an Anglican priest who officially retired in 1979, celebrated his 100th birthday by saying Mass at his former parish in Somerset. Mind you, he said the service from memory, because his "eyesight is not what it was."

Neither is mine, sir. Neither is mine.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Violent Buddhists

Sounds like an 80s downtown band, doesn't it?

We at the Egg have always marvelled at the public-relations coup which has caused Westerners to think of Buddhists as sinned against without ever sinning, uniquely peace-loving and non-violent in a way that adeherents of the world's other great religions somehow are not.

In fact, Buddhist history is as jam-packed with blood, betrayal and imperial ambition as the histories of Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism. (And don't get us started about those Zoroastrians!) I mean, these are the people who invented kung-fu. In a monastery, for crying out loud. If the Benedictines had invented boxing, all the Franciscan peace activists in the world wouldn't save Christianity's reputation.

So when a group of Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka attacks an orphanage run by the Dutch Reformed church, threatening to burn the staff alive if they don't abandon the place, it so flies in the face of popular mythology that many Westerners simply will not be able to absorb the words. But it happened, according to a recent report (click up top).

In another Sri Lanka story, a peace rally involving Christians, Hindus and Buddhists was turned into a fistfight by a "group of fiery pro-war Buddhist monks."

Maybe Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama should plan an intervention.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Perditum Non Duco

Despite the lighting strike and its associated trauma, despite the neoconservative war against America's religious and philosophical tradition, and despite a whopping case of sciatica, Father A. and his strikingly beautiful consort are endeavoring to get a bit of West and Wewaxation in the Adirondack Mountains. (The photo's not our place, but it gives the general idea).

As is my tradition on these summer vacations, I've been translating some Latin poetry (now you know why I'm so much fun at parties). Here's a morsel that's been making me think: Miser Catulle, desinas ineptire / et quod vides perisse, perditum ducas. Roughly, it means:
"Poor Catullus! Stop being a dope, and give up for lost what you can see is lost."

Catullus, of course, goes on to talk about faithless women and their lip-nibbling. [He was that kind of guy.] On the one hand, this is straightforward worldly wisdom, of the sort that everybody has given to a heartbroken pal in a bar at three A.M. (Or that Jesus gave to his apostles, when he advised them to brush the dust off their sandals). And it sometimes seems, in a world of struggle, that this is just the advice we need:
Stop fretting! Admit defeat; move on to the next challenge.

But honestly, friends, I just can't do it. Not on the big things, anyway -- the future of the Church, or of the Republic; not on matters of war and peace, life and death. Even when it seems that the Flying Monkeys have taken over Washington, that pietist halfwits have taken over the ELCA, that the sheer bigotry is destroying the Anglican Communion and Rome's "defenders" are her greatest enemies -- even then, I can't just walk away and let them have their fun. And so I type, pissing and moaning and doubting it does much good today, but hoping it may do some good tomorrow. As Cicero says, somewhere, Spero meliora: I hope for better days.

[P.S. -- Those of you who enjoy Catullus and his sweet-and-sour approach to life might click on two blogs that have mentioned him lately:
Professor Zero and grammar.police]

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Neocons Hate Protestantism

Only half-true, but snappier than the sort-of-obvious "neocons hate liberal modernity." Still, it does appear that a Roman Catholic neocon cabal, led by Richard John Neuhaus, has been waging a long war of attrition on mainline Protestantism in America. And winning.

This at least is the argument of a fascinating article at Media Transparency, synopsized at
Political Cortex. The article is well-documented, including some especially damning remarks by Damon Linker, the former assistant editor of Neuhaus's on-paper blog, First Things. The idea is that the board of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (which includes Neuhaus, George Weigel, Mary Anne Glendon, and so forth) has spent decades promoting a pitiless critique of mainline Protestant denominations, while leaving Roman Catholic institutions largely uncritiqued. In theory, this is because the mainline Prots (or at least their national bodies) have leaned consistently left, while the church of John Paul II has been a bastion of traditionalism and conservatism.

In other words, at a point in history when Roman/Prot relations are comparatively warm, this bunch of renegades has been running a private war. Call them the Latin Hezbollah. And like the other "Party of God," they have led their formerly-dominant adversaries into a bad spot. Schisms are breaking out all over, especially in the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, often spearheaded by IRD-trained "renewal" groups.

Obviously, this coup d'eglise is part of a larger sociocultural strategy. The issue isn't merely the transient political tendencies of mainline leaders; it is the historic resistance of their theological traditions to authoritarianism and oversimplification. Linker puts it in the strongest possible terms:

The America toward which Richard John Neuhaus wishes to lead us -- [is] an which moral and theological absolutists demonize the country's political institutions and make nonnegotiable public demands under the threat of sacralized revolutionary violence, in which citizens flee from the inner obligations of freedom and long to subordinate themselves to ecclesiastical authority, and in which traditionalist Christianity thoroughly dominates the nation's public life.

All manner of qualifications are in order here.

First, this bunch is really only as Catholic as they feel like being at the moment. The IRD crowd is often (and rightly) criticized by liberal Catholics for misrepresenting official doctrine on social issues -- they never came to terms with JPII's critique of capitalist materialism, for example; they promoted the Iraq war despite the Pope's strong objections. And I will never forget the issue of First Things in which both Avery Cardinal Dulles and Antonin "The Godfather" Scalia were induced to publish articles declaring that opposition to the death penalty really isn't Catholic doctrine, no matter what the Pope says.

Second, let's not pretend that the mainline Prots aren't out of touch, both with solid doctrine and, more often than not, with their own constituencies. Nor should we pretend that they are anything less than ponderous bureaucracies staffed by pastors who washed out of the parish. They are, and would be suffering the consequences regardless of anything a second-rate think tank wrote about them.

And so forth. But all that said, the animus of the IRD crowd toward the forms of religious life that largely shaped the nation they themselves grew up in is undeniable. The Freudian kill-the-father element is most undeniable in Neuhaus himself, a convert from Lutheranism. But then, that's what's "neo" about neoconservatism: it doesn't actually seek to conserve any traditional institutions or values, so much as to undermine the midcentury political consensus. (That "consensus," of course, included bitter political and ideological enemies, all of them -- from Roosevelt to Goldwater! -- now dismissed as "liberal.")
Here's the good news, such as it is: The pendulum is already swinging. These guys have had their heyday -- it was Iraq, more and more evidently a disastrous box-up. They have had their president -- more and more evidently guilty of LBJ's inept warmongering without any of LBJ's high ideals. Rumsfeld actually makes Macnamara look like a man of wisdom and integrity. And America is beginning to sicken of the petty ideologues whose vitriolic psychodrama has been passed off as "conservative intellectualism" for the past generation.

Today's Democrats may be feckless, and the mainline Protestant denominations irredeemable, but mark old Father A's words: there is a new consensus building. And it is, it will be, in the broadest possible sense, a liberal consensus.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Seriously Bad News

Father A.'s church was hit by lightning the other night. No joke -- a serious strike that did serious damage. We'll spend a long time now dealing with insurance people, contractors and the inevitable massive fundraising drive.

There's something about a church hit by lightning, though, that makes you think. Should I have been a Baptist? A Presbyterian? A Satanist? Should I change my politics to something more Erastian? Or are all those low-church types right when they claim that Gothic architecture has outlived its usefulness?

For the moment, my answer to all the above is (as it has always been) a big No, with some Bronx cheer added for good measure. But I do have a newfound respect for the humble lightning rod . . . .

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


A military hearing in Baghdad has revealed the events of March 12 in Mahmudiya, Iraq. It's bad.

Click the link above for an Australian paper's account of the events themselves. It's brutal, sickening stuff. A group of soldiers from the 101st Airborne were on duty at a checkpoint, drinking, playing cards and driking, when -- without provocation of any kind -- they took it upon themselves to dress in black outfits and ski masks, and commit rape and mass murder. Here's the worst of it, slightly edited:

The girl, Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, and her father were standing outside a house. The soldiers allegedly dragged them inside and pushed the man, his wife and younger daughter, 6, into a side room where one soldier stood guard over them.

Another soldier pushed the girl to the floor and tore off her clothes as the first held her down. She held her knees together and struggled as he tried to rape her.

A gun shot came from the side room as the men switched places. More shots were heard from the side room and a soldier emerged with an AK-47. He allegedly said, "They're all dead," before raping the girl and shooting her several times.

Then her body was set alight. They opened the house's propane tank to set it on fire. They burnt their clothes, threw the gun into a canal and, back at the checkpoint, celebrated by grilling chicken wings.

Obviously, these men are dangerous sociopaths. But here's another disturbing thing: the
Fox News report of the same story puts its emphasis on the soldiers' defense, which is, essentially, that they were under stress and expected to die before getting home. Unlike, say, everybody else in Iraq.

I sincerely hope we will not have to listen to months of "pity the poor soldiers" before these monsters are permanently removed from society.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Bush Flunkie Gets Probation

Claude Allen is a Duke-trained lawyer and, until recently, a ranking White House advisor on domestic policy. He has also confessed to shoplifting stuff from department stores and returning it for the refund money.

Where to begin? First off, this is obviously a sick man. His government salary was $161,000, so it's not like he needs the money. (He was stealing from Target, for pity's sake, not from Neiman Marcus.)

But second, the guy's a jerk. Here's a taste of an old article from

In 1984, Allen accused [his employer, Senator Jesse] Helms’ Democratic challenger, then-Governor James Hunt, of having links to "queers," "radical feminists," socialists and unions (Hunt was, in fact, a Bible-quoting right-wing Dem.) And Allen forged his odious reputation as a black capo for the racist right when he continued working for Helms despite the senator’s militant opposition to making Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday.

Lovely man, eh? During a stint at Health & Human Services, he also did his best to make AIDS organizations promote abstinence rather than condoms. But wait, as the Ronco adverts used to say -- there's more!

After he was first arrested, Allen started suggesting to friends and the media that maybe his twin brother was the real culprit. Yes, you heard me. He tried to frame his own brother. Man, that's cold even by the standards of anti-feminist, anti-gay, pro-racist kleptomaniacs. And yet, astonishingly, there's more.

When he confessed today, Allen explained why he had chosen his life of petty crime: He "lost his bearings" because he was working 14-hour days after Hurricane Katrina.

The hurricane made him do it. Poor feller was just working too hard. Happens to all of us. Why, after Holy Week, I often run out and jump a few turnstiles, snatch a purse or two, maybe kill a hobo.

So Claude Allen is (1) demented, and (2) a jerk. But here's the part that really burns my biretta: he got away with it.

Judge Eric "Softy" Johnson gave him 40 hours of community service, $1350 in restitution and fines, and two years probation. But if he doesn't get caught stealing again for two years, his record will be expunged -- the guy may even be able to practice law. It will be as if this were all a bad dream (Which is how I have come to think of the Bush Administration as a whole).

Compare that wrist-slap to the judge who gave a
15-year sentence to each of three New Orleans residents for stealing some booze after the hurricane. I mean, if you want to talk about Katrina-related stress, you really might want to start with people who were caught in the storm.

They're Not Even Pretending Anymore

Interesting piece on the Iraq war by Greg Palast, at Tikkun. His main point is, planning the invasion, that the neocons thought they could privatize the Iraqi oilfields and destroy OPEC's price-fixing power, while Texas-based Big Oil wanted to "enhance" Iraq's place in OPEC, thus assuring high petroleum prices.

(In case you didn't notice, Big Oil won.)

But there's all sorts of curious detail in the report, including this:

Ever since the conviction of Elliott Abrams for perjury before Congress, neither [Paul] Wolfowitz nor the other Bush factotums swear an oath before testifying. If you don’t raise your hand and promise to tell the truth, "so help me, God," you’re off the hook with federal prosecutors. How the Lord will judge that little ploy, we cannot say.

I'd actually noticed this, back when Senator Spector refused to swear in
Alberto Gonzales before hearing the AG's testimony about surveillance of American citizens. But somewhow, I hadn't thought about its implications. And the implications are stunning.

Our leaders no longer swear to tell the truth when giving public testimony, because they don't intend to tell it and don't want to be punished for lying. Let me just repeat the key concept: They don't even bother to pretend they're telling the truth.

Somewhere, George Washington is weeping.

Friday, August 04, 2006

No Good Deed

The ELCA's publishing house, Augsburg-Fortress, is preparing a new "primary worship resource," or as we used to say, hymnal. (Lutherans customarily combine their prayer book and hymnal into a single volume). And there is anxiety in the air regarding Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

Just last week, Father A.'s beloved godfather forwarded an email from Gracia Grindal, of Luther Sem. In it, she raised all sorts of wild alarums about the content of a book she has not yet seen, and knows about only from grapevine reports. Father A. gently pointed out to the beloved g. that Prof. Grindal is a career alarmist, especially prone to nasty remarks about the comparatively high-church traditions of East Coast Lutheranism. Oh, and she's trying to sell her own "alternative" book -- which makes any critique of ELW seem not only premature but crass to the point of cynicism.

In other words, I did my bit to support the team. You know, defending the Church and its organizations from those who scorn and belittle them, including seminary professors. Stuck by my side and all that.

And here's the thanks I get. Augsburg's website (click the link) advertises the book, which won't be published until October. Along with the pew edition, there is also a "Leaders Ritual Edition," which we are assured will "look good in procession or on the communion table or ambo."

Ritual Edition? Communion table? Sigh. The LBW used to call the big book that the presider reads from an "Altar Book." And it referred to the piece of furniture in question as an "altar." So did the SBH which preceded it, and the CSB before that. But apparently, that isn't good enough for the bold new world

Yes, I do remember Gordon Lathrop's seminary lecture on the importance of keeping alive both terms, "table" and "altar," as a way of reminding people that the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving that we offer there is a shared meal, rather than bad mimickry of some pagan rite. And that's fair enough. But still.

Look, there has already been a longstanding compromise within Lutheranism, by which we don't call the big book by its traditional name, a Missal. That's the proper, traditional, medieval word. It's the word Luther would have used: the Mass-book. But of course some Lutheran ears burn like vampires spritzed with Holy Water when they hear the M-word. So, out of concern for the weaker brethren, we've settled for generations on a nice, neutral, mutually-acceptable word: Altar Book.

But now somebody has gone and upset the apple cart. Either they didn't know, or they didn't care. And either possibility bodes ill for ELW.

Junk Mail, Book Division

Along with the usual unwanted credit-card offers, my church mailbag often includes catalogs of cheaply-made plastic toys that we are supposed to buy and then give away to unsuspecting children, who will doubtless choke on them and die. (Or would, if we actually purchased any of this crap.)

In the same spitit, this week's mail included a complimentary copy of a book by Pr David Glesne, of Redeemer Lutheran, Fridley MN. It's called Understanding Homosexuality: Perspectives for the Local Church. The author's tone is mild, at least as compared to some of the screaming crazies out there, but his purpose is not. Glesne uses "science" to rebut the usual "myths of the homosexual agenda." Such "myths" include the proposition that "homosexuals lead happy lives." Needless to say, he is a great advocate of psychotherapeutic efforts to straighten out those who suffer from such unhappiness.

The rest of the book is about what you would expect. Nothing new here. The book is not very scholarly, nor especially well-written, nor in any way original. The author's credentials are unimpressive (a D.Min. and some experience teaching at an unaccredited seminary). It is a more sophisticated version of the ten-page xeroxed mailings I periodically get from Sister Elijah at the Universal Grapevine Covenant of God, proving through an astute juxtaposition of Revelation, Proverbs and Fox News that the End Times are at hand.

Normally, I would just chuck this without a thought. But the book retails for sixteen bucks, and copies seem to have been mailed to every pastor in the ELCA. This raises an obvious question: who footed the bill? To whose largesse do we owe this unwelcome intrusion into our lives? And how do we keep it from happening again?

Pr Glesne's cover letter says that the book is brought to us by "the generosity of a sister ELCA congregation in Colorado." But he doesn't name the parish. So I called Redeemer, Fridley, to ask him, but he's conveniently out of town. I left a message for his secretary, as polite as you please, asking her to call me back with the information.

That was three days ago. I don't think she's gonna call. Which means my "sister congregation in Colorado" has chosen to remain anonymous -- which strikes me as an act of cowardice. (But a reasonable one. I was planning to order them a lot of pizza.)

[Update: A call to the publisher, Kirk House Publishing, doesn't provide a name. But it does offer a fascinating story -- the mystery congregation is apparently defunct, and used the proceeds from the sale of their building to pay for this book. They could -- one might even argue should -- have turned that money over to their synod, to start new churches or endow a seminary scholarship fund. But they preferred to trade their heritage for this potty bit of pottage. How sad.]

Monday, July 31, 2006

Mel's Mouth a Lethal Weapon

At least to his own career.

Mel Gibson gets picked up for drunk driving the other night. Oops, we thought; another public defender of virtue hoist by his own petard. Paging Bill Bennett .... The next morning, Gibson gives forth a remarkably contrite public confession of guilt, which includes an admission of alcoholism and apologies for verbally harrassing the guys who arrested him. Wow, we thought; old Mel really is a stand-up guy.

Then we found out that the verbal harrassment wasn't so much "you blankety-blank coppers" as it was "are you Jewish, officer? And does that make you responsible for all the wars in the world?" Stand-up guy turns into can't-keep-denying it anti-semite. (He also, apparently, threatened to pee in his jail cell. Boy, there's a first.)

And that's about where things stand for most of the country, including
Arianna Huffington, who falls a bit below her usual prose standard in an effort to demonstrate that drunken anti-semites ought not produce TV miniseries on the Holocaust. (Although they probably ought not).

But there is another wrinkle: per Australia's Herald Sun, Mel was photographed cavorting with a bunch of women to whom he was not married. "Cavorting," mind you, not having sex. But still, it makes the picture that much worse. Not a big deal in Hollywood, to be sure. But for a guy whose fan base now includes a lot of very conservative Christians, this may prove to be the biggest problem of all ....

A Reason to Read Wikipedia

Finally! Wikipedia finally has an article on Charles Porterfield Krauth, a key figure in the Evangelical Catholic branch of US Lutheranism. By rights, he should rank with John Williamson Nevin and Edward Bouverie Pusey on the list of 19th-century church reformers -- but weirdly, he is often overlooked, even by his intellectual descendants.

And by the way, he was a thoroughly Anglicized American of German extraction. His name is correctly pronounced "Krawth," not "Kraut."

America Not a Christian Nation

One would have thought that was obvious -- just take a look around. But it's big news to some "evangelicals," including those at Woodland Hills Church, in Maplewood, Minnestota.

According to the Times article linked above, both members and visitors to this midwestern megachurch used to routinely ask the pastor, Gregory Boyd, to blur the church-state line:

Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-
abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary?

To his credit, Boyd turned them down; and in the course of turning them down, preached some sermons on the subject, which are now a book.

Also in the course of turning them down, Boyd managed to lose a thousand members. A thousand. For us pastors of decidedly non-mega churches, that's darned near unimaginable. But the truth is, Woodland Hills has plenty of members, and -- what with all the publicity -- will doubtless soon recoup its losses. More important, they have a pastor who showed some real theological chops, along with solid leadership ability, by taking the hard route and saying things like this:

“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses .... When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”

And don't get this wrong. It's not like the guy has done a David Brock, and turned from a right-wing loudmouth to a left-wing loudmouth. On the contrary; Boyd remains solidly conservative in his social and political views. He just doesn't think it's his job, or his congregation's, to turn the church into a partisan political engine. And apparently, this idea is massively threatening to the thousand or so members who quit, including the ones the Times quotes.

(Think what that means: these are people who believe that their church should be a partisan political engine. They think it should tell people how to vote. They think it should work toward a civil society governed by Christian doctrinal conclusions. They think it should endorse candidates, or come as close as the law allows. These people may not know what Erastianism is, but they sure do like it.)

Now, here's the irony: we in the mainline denominations have spent a generation dealing with mirror image of Boyd's plight. Ever since Viet Nam, there has been a well-documented breach between mostly-liberal pastors and their mostly-conservative congregations. Plenty of pastors get warned in no uncertain terms against "preaching politics from the pulpit," or variations on that idea. More than a few have been run out of town on the proverbial rod because they ignored the warning. And by gum, a lot of us had to admit over the year, those laypeople had a point.

Not that churches should remain silent on political questions -- despite our many failures, we have a pretty good handle on this whole morality business. Nor even that preachers have to studiously avoid current events -- if you are talking about adultery and everybody knows the President is an adulterer, you might point to him as a Terrible Example. Likewise with alcoholism, close-mindedness or warmongering. All I'm saying is that sometimes -- and especially in times like these, with the nation divided into parties as defined by mutual hatred as the rowdiest and most gap-toothed football hooligans in Manchester -- the Church may best be served by preaching the Gospel and letting people make up their own minds about how law, forgiveness and love ought best to be expressed at the polls.

Big words, a reader might object, from a priest whose own blog is all about the intersection of politics, sex and religion. But the truth is that I keep this blog, in large part, as a place to say things that I am exceedingly careful not to say in the pulpit. The congregation I presently serve, St. Gothicus-by-the-Laundromat, was deeply injured by a previous pastor who simply couldn't keep his mouth shut on political matters. Week after week, sermon after sermon, he railed against the critics of an Administration he particularly admired, accusing them of treason, blasphemy and other forms of badness. And week after week, his words fell like a bludgeon on the ears of anybody who did not agree with him.

People are sick of being bludgeoned, at least from the pulpit. Let's save the bludgeoning for vestry meetings and private confession, shall we? In our most public moments, when the Church doors are open and people are coming and going, let's try to stick to the main point: Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, the friend of sinners and the hope of a weary world.

Now -- isn't that evangelical?

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Irish Psalter

Thank heaven for curious bulldozer operators. One of them stopped working to dig a book out of the Irish mud, and discovered at 20-page psalter dating to the Middle Ages.

It was first reported to have been open to Ps. 83, which includes a verse about the destruction of Israel. In view of the raging war between Israel and Lebanon, commentators inevitably found the coincidence spooky.

Turns out that, owing to the vagaries of psalm numbering, it was really open to Ps. 84 -- a much cheerier piece of work. Nonetheless, at least one creative exegete has found a way to relate it to Iraqi WMDs.

Sheer bollywocks, of course. The Egg knows what's going on here. In a year or two, when archaeologists have cleaned the booklet and turned its few pages, they'll discover its true and awesome secret: the hidden location of Dan Brown's credibility.

Beyond Ralph Reed

Good column by Margaret Carlson on evangelicals and politics. She starts with the obvious question -- did Ralph Reed get beat because of Abramaoff, or "was the vote a sign that evangelicals have caught on to the hustle by latter-day Elmer Gantrys who've taken their money and votes and only occasionally their beliefs to Washington"?

But then she makes a good connection, and one that may not be obvious to many secular-press observers. She points out that the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention is Frank Page, an "apolitical pastor" who is

... the opposite of the fiery political preacher, calling himself a ``normal'' pastor in search of ``sweet spirits'' and dedicated to missionary work and help for struggling churches. Not a word about impeaching judges or boycotting Disney for offering benefits to partners of gay employees. ``I believe in the word of God,'' Page said, ``I'm just not mad about it.''

(Okay, kids, Father A. hears the howls: of course we're all mad about the Word, in the way Paul was mad about Jamie. Let's assume Page means he isn't angry about it, okay?)

Her main point is that the SBC elected Page over two far more politically engaged pastors, including the host of 2005's Justice Sunday II, a big Frist-DeLay rantfest. Carlson suggests that all this indicates a mellowing of the Christian Right.

Maybe so. Here's our take: For generations, evangelicals were counseled to remain aloof from politics; for a generation or so now, they have been counseled to involve themselves up to the neck. And at last, to their credit, they are learning what the mainline denominations learned only too late: that too much politicking is a serious danger to churches, because by its nature it will divide them along the lines drawn by secular parties.

Gay Soldiers Can't Speak Arabic

That must be how the US military sees it, because they keep firing their otherwise-qualified Arab linguists for professing (or even possessing quietly) the Love Which [Still] Can't Speak Its Name.

Andrew Sullivan counts 55 of them so far, most recently a closeted sergeant in the 85th Airborne, who was dismissed after being outed by an anonymous email campaign. Add to this the reports of other American citizens, such as missionary kids, raised in the field and so effectively native speakers, who fail the Foreign Service background check because . . . wait for it . . . they used to live abroad. (Or, in other cases and very arguably, because they're Jewish.)

Sullivan is right when he asks, "We aren't really serious about winning this war, are we?"

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Cindy Sheehan Moves to Crawford

Actually, she just bought some property there, apparently to help with her ongoing protest against the Iraq morass.

But, y'know, Father Anonymous was in Crawford, Tex., a summer or two back. Went to Mrs A's high-school reunion, which was held in a converted barn next to the Masons. And honestly, as they say in the local dialect, it waren't half bad.

Crawford itself isn't much -- a gas station with a carboard cutout of its most famous citizen, and a gift shop that advertised "rattlesnake eggs and [other] Bush novelties." But the drive is was glorious, through miles of rich, green farmland. Remember that rich green farmland is hard to find in Texas in the summer. A few miles north of town, the two-lane road crossed a little creek that practically begged for some lazy fishing.

If you were going to live in Texas -- a big "if," to be sure -- Crawford strikes me as just the sort of place you might want to consider. (Actually, long story, I did consider it once, courtesy of a call from the local bishop's assistant). Too bad about the neighbors.

"Bill Clinton is Gay"

At least according to Ann Coulter. Who, needless to say, gets crazier and more desperate with every passing day.

Saturday Night Live's fake Chris Matthews once said to its fake Ann Coulter, "Hey, Lockjaw! Zip it! I can smell your soul rotting from here!" (Sometimes life really should imitate art.)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A Still More Excellent Way

Father A. wrote a snippy little piece the other day on government sponsorship of social ministries. This is a knotty problem. Some people think it's a great idea, others are suspicious -- and we opined that maybe taking money from Uncle Sam inclined churches to focus on the government's priorities, rather than their own.

But good news, people -- there's a better way. Now you can have your church's activities underwritten by Coca-Cola.

Or Kraft Foods, General Mills, the Bank of America, or Clorox.

All of the above are currently putting up cash for T.D. Jakes' Megafest, starting Wednesday in Atlanta. Some have also thrown a few dollars toward Luis Palau. The Billy Graham and Harvest Ministries people haven't taken any corporate support . . . yet.

We have three thoughts on this. First, does it mean interrupting the Sunday sermon for a word from our sponsor? Or just hanging a tasteful banner over the pulpit?

Second, corporate money certainly isn't any more Satanic than government money. I mean, the government brought us nuclear bombs, pre-emptive war and secret prisons; Kraft just makes macaroni and cheese.

Third, though, is this: When Jesus walked the earth, he had no problem spending time with prostitutes and thieves. And apparently, he still doesn't.

More on JDDJ

Cardinal Kasper and LWF General Secretary Ishmael Noko are reported to be "all smiles" regarding Methodist participation in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

Oddly, the Christian Post article treats the whole thing in terms of "reconciliation," "diversity," and "dialogue." All good things, to be sure -- but shouldn't this one really be a straight-up doctrinal matter? The document is written and signed; one now either accepts it or does not. (And the Egg fervently hopes that more Christians will). What is this, the twentieth century?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Methodists Justified?

(And here we thought they were sanctified. Our mistake.)

Amid the Anglican sturm und drang of recent weeks, a major piece of ecumenical news may have gone unnoticed. The World Methodist Council has entered into serious discussions regarding the possibility of signing onto the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, ratified by the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation.

The JDDJ is one of the most potentially important agreements in the history of modern church relations. It articulates a shared set of convictions regarding one of the core doctrines of the Reformation -- thus showing light at the end of the schismatic tunnel. While it doesn't end the separation of the churches, not by a long shot, it helps us to believe that unity is possible.

Methodist participation in JDDJ may pose an interesting challenge to Lutherans -- and perhaps to some highly-placed Romanists as well.

Unlike Lutherans and Roman Catholics, Methodists don't have a clearly-delineated set of doctrines. (After all, they are a breakaway Anglican sect, and clear doctrine really isn't the done thing in Canterbury.) Regarding justification, they generally seem to follow James Harmenzoon, or Arminius, the 17th-century Dutch theologian who created a scandal within European Calvinism by emphasizing the ability of human beings to respond to God's grace. To the arch-Augustinianism of the Reformed, this sounded like works righteousness. Arminianism was declared heretical by the Synod of Dort.

Among Anglicans, a form of Arminianism prospered -- with Laud and his collaborators -- which was sometimes regarded as crypto-Romanizing. That's not entirely accurate, but from the position of traditional Protestantism, it makes sense -- "Rome preaches works, so do the Arminians, they must agree with each other."

Lutherans had already experienced a number of similar controversies, mostly under the historical heading of "synergism," or "working together with God." And, like the Reformed, the Lutherans came down more-or-less solidly against the idea. In both cases, St. Augustine was the theological authority.

Anyhoo -- if JDDJ is broad enough to include an Arminian understanding of justification, some wind may be taken out of the Lutherans sails. We've been patting ourselves on the back for getting Rome to agree with us on the articula stantis et cadentis; now it will be obvious that they never did. Quelle surprise.

More interesting, however, will be the reaction within the Vatican itself. Highly placed theologians -- Cardinal Kasper and the Pope come to mind -- are Germans, with an Augustinian orientation. Will a Methodist understanding of JDDJ be entirely welcome to them? Or will it subtly undermine their own positions with regard to some of their compeers? Odds are, we'll never know -- that sort of gossip rarely gets far outside the sanctuary. But let's keep one ear sharp, just in case.

Can't Get No Relief

Seven religious leaders, including the prominent evangelist T.D. Jakes, are leaving the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund. The details are murky, but -- if you read to the closing grafs of the AP story linked above -- it looks as though the Fund is giving money out with a free hand, possibly to churches that don't even exist:

Initially, [said former UNCF president William H. Gray III], the committee assumed it would make around 500 awards, each for $35,000. But as the applications began trickling in, staff members in New Orleans realized there were far fewer applicants than they had initially assumed. That meant they could increase the award amount, and the board agreed in consultation with the co-chairs of the fund that the grant ceiling would be increased to $100,000, Gray said. They also agreed each of the churches or religious institutions receiving the charity’s money would first be inspected, he said.

Numerous disagreements ensued, but Jakes and Gray said the last straw was the fund’s decision to cut checks to 38 houses of worship, each for $35,000, without first conducting an audit to ensure the churches exist.

Imam Abdelhafiz Bensrieti, another committee member who resigned, said the Washington staff wanted the religious leaders to “rubber stamp” their decisions. “They had their agenda and that’s unacceptable,” he said.

More or less at the same time, the
Fund fired its director, Mary Ann Wyrsch. Can't imagine why.

Now, old Father Anonymous has two reactions. The first is sheer jealousy -- "damn, I woulda liked to get some of that free money." But once the old Adam in me is conquered, if only momentarily, the second reaction sets in: painful familiarity.

See, back in the 70s and 80s, there was a school of urban ministry that labored mightily to attract government money earmarked for inner-city neighborhood redevelopment. Since (in those pre-Bush days) the money couldn't go directly to a parish, churches set up non-profit shell corporations to do their social ministry. This was all quite legal, and in theory it was a pretty good way to stabilize declining neighborhoods. Sometimes, I'm sure, it did not lead to corruption.

However, Father A. experienced the after-effects of this strategy during his early South Bronx ministry, in the 1990s. Here's what he saw: churches crippled by financial dependence on a government dole; churches (and their shell organizations) cynically pursuing the newest trends in government handouts, rather than articulating a consistent vision for mission; and a Sierra-Madre level of brutal infighting between the greedy incompetents who were running both the congregations and their non-profit shells.

My guess? Jakes saw this too, in his 30 years of ministry. And so did Gray. And they warned Wyrsch about the danger, and she blew them off, because she was answering to the current Washington fashion, that overestimates the viability of using "faith-based non-profits" to replace government, and doing so with a minimum -- or less! -- of government supervision.

Jakes is no joker, and Gray is no thief; but I'll bet they were thinking of
Dylan's Watchtower when they turned to each other and said, in effect, "There must be some way out of here ... there's too much confusion, I can't get no relief."

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Outing Cardinal Egan

File this under "ministry suicide": a priest in the New York archdiocese has filed suit, alleging that Cardinal Egan is soft on abusive priests, not because of a generalized "culture of secrecy," but because Cardinal Egan himself is gay, and doesn't want to break up the network.

To his credit, Father Bob Hoatson has apparently done some pretty solid work with abuse victims, as they have begun to come forward. And the Voice article linked above does make it sound as though he has been roughed up a little by the institution he has, inevitably, had to criticize.

But there are a few red flags here, too: Hoatson is, by his own description, a man on a mission -- and men on missions are frequently blinded by their enthusiasm. He also says he's an abuse victim himself, which raises issues about his ability to remain objective when evaluating the stories he must hear. And Hoatson's lawyer has already filed a suit with similar allegations against the Bishop of Albany, who authorized an outside investigation that cleared him. Finally, you have to wonder about people who file a case making dramatic allegations like this, when there is essentially no chance of proving their claims. Even an outsider can guarantee that no credible witnesses will trstify against Egan.

Still, let's assume the worst case: Hoatson is a fanatic, his lawyer is a publicity-hound, nobody testifies, the case falls apart before it ever gets to court. Even if all this is true, it doesn't -- necessarily -- mean that the claims are false. Sometimes you run out into the highway, screaming about the pod people, even though you know that they won't believe you. Not because you think you'll succeed, but because it's your duty as a human being.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Get Your Girl On

New Hummer H3 ad goes like this:

Soccer Mom and son waiting on line; second kid jumps line; Soccer Mom says, "Johnny was next," and line-jumper's mom responds, a la schoolyard bully, "Now my son is next."

So Soccer Mom goes out, buys a big-ass SUV, and drives around smiling and feeling powerful, with little Johnny strapped in beside her. The closing tagline is "Get Your Girl On."

What does this ad tell us? Hmm. That some kids are bullies, and so are their moms -- but we already knew that. That SUVs are bascially chickmobiles -- we knew that, too, ever since Marge Simpson got her Canonero. But mostly, it tells us that we can drop even the pretense that luxury trucks are a hairy-chested he-man thing. Hummer doesn't even bother with that, and why should they? Nobody believed it anyway.

Watching the ad, I wanted nothing more than to run out and buy the smallest, most sensible car I could find -- a Prius, a SmartCar, anything -- just to prove that I wasn't an insecure, bullying, Hummer-driving woman. (Okay, I did allow that a sporty little 60s roadster would do the job -- something in an MG-B or a Karmann Ghia.) I wanted to shout, "I'm a man, dammit -- and I'm secure enough in my mascilinity to drive a small car."

And as for Arnold "Hummer-Enthusiast" Schwarzenegger, we ask: Who's the girly-man now, Arnie?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Click This Link. Just Click It, Okay?

A reader (yay! We have one) sent a very thoughtful note, and a link to her own website. She sews custom-made vestments and paraments. And lemme tell ya, friends, that's a real blessing!

As some of you know, Father Anonymous represents the Lollipop Guild -- which is to say, he's something of a Munchkin. Even CM Almy's "small" chasuble drapes like a bedsheet. I have been known to trip over the ends of my stole now and then. Seriously.

(Which is why I gave up on those darn fringes. They just rip right off when you step on 'em).

So hats off to Lynn at
Ichthys Designs for her elegant -- and largely fringless -- modern liturgical stylings.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Mag Dogs and Englishmen . . .

. . . are getting harder to tell apart.

The infighting of the Anglican Communion becomes more rabid every time we check our email. Egg readers (btw: are there any?) already know that the decade-long struggle over sexuality was not resolved by the Episcopal Church's recent General Convention. Episcopalians had been invited to express regret for elevating Gene Robinson to the episcopate; they declined to do so, and their election of a female presiding bishop was seen in some corners as further provocation of, or at least a snub to, conservatives worldwide.

After the convention, the Archbishop of Canterbury proposed that the Anglican Communion adopt a two-tier structure, in which one tier (read, full members) took the conservative view of homosexuality, and a second (read, Americans and Canadians) took the liberal view. The first tier would be the Communion properly so-called; the second tier would consist of churches with historical connections to Anglicanism, rather like the Methodists. [Which raises a side question: Would Methodists be invited into this club? For that matter, why aren't they already Communion members?]

We'll say it again: Alas, poor Rowan Williams . . . a fellow of infinite jest and most excellent fancy.

The problem, of course, is that it isn't a communion if the members aren't in, well, communion with each other. And at this point, the US/Canada and Global South provinces pretty definitively out of communion. The schism is here, people, in all but name.

The only real question is whether the Church of England can continue to moderate between them, creating the possibility that the schism may eventually be ended -- or whether, as some signs suggest, the C of E will itself be torn apart, into warring camps with overlapping episcopal jurisdictions.

Where's that Elizabeth and her settlement when they need her?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Cult of Chairman W.

Harrowing Independence Day piece by Andrew Sullivan. Read it yourself -- here are some teaser quotes:

I do not believe that this president has ever acknowledged his own responsibility for the atrocities committed by Americans on his watch and under his command. He simply cannot process the fact that his own hand provided the signature that allowed torture to spread like a cancer through the military and CIA. ...

It is, I think, an integral part of his own world view, which is that of a former addict whose life was transformed by a rigid form of fundamentalist Christianity. “[My faith] frees me to enjoy life and not worry what comes next,” he told the reporter Fred Barnes. When you know you have been saved, when you know your motives are pure, when, as Bush so often puts it, your “heart” is a good one, then it follows that you cannot commit evil. Or if you do, it doesn’t attach to you. Somehow, it isn’t yours, even when it is.

In this sense fundamentalist Christianity can enable evil by promoting the lie that some humans have been saved from it. It misses the deeper Christian truth that even good people can do bad things. It forgets that what is noble about America is not that Americans are somehow morally better than anyone else. But that it is a country with a democratic system that helps expose the constancy of human evil, and minimise its power through the rule of law . . .

But here's the thing to which we would draw your attention: a sidebar provided by Religion News Blog, a cult-awareness website. RNB doesn't say who wrote this; it's not Sullivan's style. But it's worth quoting in its entirety:

While George Bush claims to be a Christian, his behavior is not unlike that of a cult leader. He apparently believes he is above the law, expects that people believe his lies (e.g. Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, or insisting the US does not use torture), and punishes those who express dissenting opinions. He preaches and promotes human rights violations (e.g. Guantanamo), all the while claiming that his actions are of great benefit to mankind. He is a warmonger abroad, and a power-grabber at home. No wonder many people currently view the US as a "bigger threat to world peace than Iran's nuclear program."

Least Probable Headline Ever

"Anglican Communion to Restore Nigeria's Glory."

Where to begin? Shall we begin with the concept of "Nigeria's lost glory?" Or go straight to Archbishop Akinola's contempt for both human rights and the position of his communion with regard to those rights? O shall we ... oh, never mind. You get the idea.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Mother Jesus

Episcopal Presiding Bishop-elect Katherine Jefferts Schori has ... brass. Only days after her election, the London Times reports,

Dr Schori signalled her feminist credentials in a sermon that drew on the writings of the 14th-century Julian of Norwich. She said: “Mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation — and you and I are His children. If we’re going to keep on growing into Christ images for the world around us, we’re going to have to give up fear.”

The General Convention has been a parlous affair, its every painful moment reported in the international media, and she in now one of the very few female Anglican primates in a communion that still has great reservations about women priests. You might have thought her sermon would have been something straightforward and unexceptionable, on the order of "Jesus loves me, this I know /For the Bible tells me so." In the ears of many traditionalists, "Mother Jesus" is decidedly exceptionable language.

But should it be?

The Times adds:

Liberals in Britain and America defended her sermon as being in a long tradition of writings by women theologians that use the metaphor of Jesus as mother.

Certainly true -- and Dame Julian is certainly common coin in modern Anglican circles. But the maternal Jesus is not merely the province of female theologians. The same image is used often in medieval writing by men, especially Cistercian monks, and most especially St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard is of such importance to the history of theology that he is sometimes called "the Last of the Fathers." There's a classic essay on how he used "Mother" as a term both for Jesus and for himself as abbot, by
Caroline Walker Bynum.

Nor did the tradition die with Bernard. The same images -- of Jesus and the parish pastor as "Mothers" -- were used repeatedly by John Donne, the Dean of St Paul's and a key figure in conservative, high-church Anglicanism of the 17th century. (There is a chapter on this in my STM thesis, available for publication if anybody is interested . . . ).

I saw Bishop Schori bashed a little (okay, a lot) for using this image on a blog today. Even when somebody pointed out the Biblical use of maternal imagery for God, the blogger just kept going. But I suspect he was a Baptist, and may have lacked a keen sense of tradition. Bishop Schori, as an Anglican, is expected to preach with the whole cloud of witnesses around her -- and in this case, she evidently did.

Alas, Poor Rowan

An English writer cheers the US Episcopal Church for refusing to be intimidated by other Anglican provinces, and -- more pointedly -- portrays the Archbishop of Canterbury as a man who has surrendered his ideals.

This may be an oversimplification. PECUSA is a mess right now, and it is hard to cheer much for a mess. And Archbishop Rowan Williams is attempting a task which seems frankly impossible: to hold both the CofE and the Anglican Communion together.

Still, Michael Hampson makes an interesting case. His brief piece includes some things I did not know, especially the Coelkin case (which is somewhere between Mother Angelica vs. Cardinal Mahoney and Lefebvre vs the Vatican). It is worth reading.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Spinning Clergy

So a couple of ministers make a movie about football. It gets a PG rating, which is about what they expected. Then, so far as we can tell, here's what happens:

The MPAA, which rates films, gives Facing the Giants a PG for "mature themes." These are pretty common in pictures about guys pounding the crap out of each other then getting naked and showering together. (See under: North Dallas Forty, or Cruising.)

But somehow, the religious themes of the movie also come up in conversation. So the producers decide that they got their rating based on religious bias, rather than the aforementioned pounding and showering. And they raise a big stink, and are joined by the usual crowd of thugs and morons, by which we mean the US House of Representatives.

Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., sent an angry letter to the MPAA. "If religion creates a warning for parents and kids and violence and bad language don't, this thing appears to me to be heading in the wrong direction, and I think most Americans would agree," Blunt said.

Can you smell the spin here, people? An indie flick about football is pretty ho-hum stuff; but an indie flick about football that's been censored by the evil ratings bureaucracy and defended by a few stalwart people of faith -- well, heck, that's a cause celebre. (Or would be, if Republicans could read French). It's all a crock, of course. That's not why they got the rating. But wouldn't it be cool if it were? Think of the tickets they'd sell, the church-group DVDs, the Hollywood offers. So even though it isn't true, they must have decided, let's just say it is.

And we'll even find a pet Congressman to go in on the gag. (Blunt knows from spin -- he's married to a tobacco lobbyist. Not Aaron Eckhardt, though.)

Here's the funniest part -- and we don't mean ha-ha-funny:

One of the filmmakers said he'd want to be warned if his children were going to see a film with a pro-Islamic message. "But our country wasn't founded on Islamic values," [said producer-star Alex Kendrick.] "It was founded on Judeo-Christian values."

This defender of free speech actually approves of warning moviegoers about religious content, provided it isn't his religion. Yeah, that's the spirit that made America great, isn't it?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Searching the House

You know the story by now: FBI searches the office of a congressman. Congress raises a stink. Bureau chief and Attorney General threaten to resign if search is ruled illegal.

A couple of interesting thoughts present themselves. One is the studious secrecy of the Bush Administration itself. These people claim "executive privilege" at the drop of a hat, even for such basic details as which industry lobbyists the Veep meets with before making policy. Never mind the outright lies that Scott "Pudgie" McClellan used to tell in his effort to stonewall the Plame investigation. So is it just me, or is there a faint aroma of hypocrisy here?

After all, executive privilege exists so that the President and his team can do their work without coercion from the other branches. Although Article 1, Section 6 of the Constitution doesn't specify that a congressman's chambers shall be off-limits to an Executive Branch investigation, it certainly tends in that direction. It exempts them from prosecution, or even questioning, for things they do on the floor of Congress. As with soveriegn or diplomatic immunity, legislators are freed from certain kinds of scrutiny in order to let them function independently. So you can see why Speaker Hastert and Minority Leader Pelosi, strange bedfellows to be sure, are ticked off at the White House.

But let's give the devil his due. Rep. William Jefferson of Louisian is accused of accepting bribes. Does anybody actually doubt his guilt? I mean, the guy's a congressman. From Louisiana. Of course he took the money. So you can also see why he was under investigation in the first place, and why AG Gonzales and FBI Guy Mueller are ready to quit over this. He probably broke the law, they know it, and they want to put him in jail. Rightly so, if only the search were legal.

And oh my stars and garters, will you look at this. President Bush actually arranged a compromise -- a 45-day period for both sides to cool their jets. While it is a pleasant novelty to type the words "Bush" and "compromise" in the same sentence, let's be honest about this. Washington in general, and the House in particular, are places in which a lot of old grudges remain in play, seemingly without terminus. The two parties are still pissed at each other over Vietnam and Watergate, disasters which predate the birth of the average blogger. The Whitewater investigators spent six years looking into allegations that were already a decade old. The power elites have gotten over Teapot Dome, but only just.

So jets are going to cool in six weeks? We think not. This time-out is probably just a chance for both sides to marshall their forces. And remember, the sides in question aren't Republican versus Democrat. They are Executive versus Legislative -- or, it sometimes seems, autocrat versus .

But here's the silver lining: Gonzales and Mueller threatened to resign if they don't get their own way. So if Bush were a really smart politician, this could be a great opportunity. He could simply insist that the privileges of Congress be respected, and the seized documents be returned -- simultaneously striking a blow for the Constitution and forcing out the single most articulate spokesman for the illegal and immoral practice of torture that has helped to taint his administration's place in history and the good name of the United States.

Win-win, Mister President. Win-freaking-win.