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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Immensity, No Longer Cloistered

A joyful Christmas to Egg readers. Here's our gift, a little Nativity sonnet from John Donne's sequence La Corona:

Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves his welbelov'd imprisonment,
There he hath made himself to his intent
Weak enough, now into our world to come;
But Oh, for thee, for him, hath th'Inne no roome?
Yet lay him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars, and wisemen will travel to prevent
Th'effect of Herod's jealous general doom;
Seest thou, my Soul, with thy faith's eyes, how he
Which fills all place, yet none holds him, doth lie?
Was not his pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss him, and with him into Egypt goe,
With his kind mother, who partakes thy woe.

Off to work!

Dept. of Terrible Ideas: Batcave Edition

This is a bit off the Egg's usual beat, but we can't help ourselves.  DC Comics is planning to kill off Batman, and we're ticked.

Okay, maybe not kill, exactly.  Despite the title of a recent series, "Batman RIP", they've been a bit cagey about the actual fate of the Caped Crusader.  But it does appear that Bruce Wayne will be removed from the scene, and replaced by his onetime protege, Dick Grayson.  So there will be a Batman running around Gotham, because -- after all -- the franchise is huge.  Just not the Batman.  Whether the original is dead, crippled, comatose, or in another dimension remains to be seen.

Now, let's put this in the context of other superhero deaths.  Generally speaking, these guys don't die easily or stay dead for long.  At one time or another, many of the biggies have been declared dead, and sometimes replaced:  Captain Marvel, Marvel Girl, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Supergirl, the Flash,  Robin, even Superman.  The absolute track record must belong to Captain America's WWII sidekick, Bucky Barnes, who was dead from 1962 (or, in comics-time, 1945) until just recently, when he returned to replace Cap (who is himself currently dead).

Why kill them off?  Two reasons, which should theoretically go together:  to sell more comics, and to tell better stories.   It must be hard for writers, trying to find new things to do with characters who are fifty or sixty years old, and were never intended to possess much depth.  This problem, and this solution, date at least to the day Conan Doyle pushed Sherlock Holmes over the Reichenbach Falls.  And we sympathize, really we do.  Captain America, in particular, must have brutalized his various creative teams:  Steve Rogers was nothing but a steel jaw and blue eyes, a cipher devoid of personality.  We've been reading the series since 1969, and even we don't miss the big lunk.  

Yet the fact is that, among dead superheroes, very few stay dead.  Holmes certainly didn't.  Nor did any of the others we have mentioned so far, except Captain Marvel (who came back, recently, but turned out to be a Skrull. C'est la vie deuxieme.)  And why?  because, whatever their weaknesses, most of these originals have a certain character which makes them feel right in the complex narrative worlds of comics continuity.  So while DC has something like five major characters it has tried to call "Green Lantern," only daredevil fighter jock Hal Jordan has ever actually been convincing.

Not to mention a fan base.  Comic fans are a little crazy, and never give up rooting for the return of their favorites.  (Exhibit A:  Ferro Lad.) Oh, and Batman fans, being an especially vindictive crowd, never stop rooting for the return-to-death of the characters they don't like.  (Exhibit B:  Jason Todd).

All of which brings us to Batman.  On one hand, killing Bruce Wayne is a gutsy move, editorially speaking.  It opens up the possibility of some truly interesting stories, about the effect of his death on the people around him:  friends, enemies, rivals.  But there are two obstacles to this:
  • Grant Morrison, the writer assigned to the task, is not up to it.  Although full of interesting ideas, including a passion for Silver Age in-jokes, his scripts are almost incomprehensible.  As narrative -- as stories -- they just don't flow.  Not to mention the second, and bigger issue:
  • They've already tried this.  Anybody remember "Knightfall," an exceptionally bad storyline in which Batman was crippled by an enemy, and replaced by an even bigger lunatic than himself?  Well, we do.  And wish we didn't.  A new round of the same thing may be less awful, but it can only be a new round of the same thing -- with all the vitality that implies.
And, let's be clear.  Bruce Wayne is not Steve Rogers.  He isn't even Clark Kent.  Of all the still-functioning Golden Age heroes, he is by far the one who has aged best as a character, growing up into an era in which comics characters are allowed to have personalities, even psychologies.  Indeed, as filtered through the grim 1980s, he probably has more psychology than any other big-name superhero:  the childhood trauma, the Daddy issues, the obsessive-control-freak business, the trouble forming friendships, the self-defeating attraction to bad girls, the living in a cave thing.  No way in heck are they done telling stories about this character, and no way in heck are there better ones to tell about Dick Grayson.

So Batman will not rest in peace.  They'll "kill" him, and then eventually bring him back. The only questions are how long it will take, and how much damage will be done to the franchise while we wait.  

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Most Useful Site on the Net?

S. Aurelii Augustini Omnia Opera, natch.  The complete works of Augustine -- easily the most important theologian after Paul -- in the original Latin.  (They also have translations, if you like Italian better).

We've been using the site for four-five years now, and find it extremely useful.  Let's say you have decided -- true story! -- that one of your friends has stumbled into the heresy of Jovinian.  So there you are, cruising through the NPNF edition of De bono coniugali, and you think, "Wait.  Would a 4th-century African really have talked that way about sex?"  Well, thanks to The Most Useful Site, you can check the original in seconds, see that in fact he did say it exactly that way, and feel foolish for ever doubting the perpetual modernity of St. Augustine.

People, this is a wonderful time to be alive.  Even if the jet-packs have been taking a while.

Dept. of No Surprise: Tension in Canterbury Palace

An unnamed senior aide to Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury has been sacked for calling the Bishop of Rochester "an asshole."  In writing, no less.

Whether true or not, it was surely heartfelt.  And awfully impolitic.

These are tough times for the CofE and its daughter churches, so we won't pretend to be shocked by a bit of internecine namecalling.  Plus, we've read the Starbridge novels, so we know what it's like in those Gothic pressure-cookers.  Nor are we Lutherans, with our blunt Teutonic manners, strangers to the gruff insult.

But still, gentlemen.  A crisis is no time to lose your composure.

Flame-Broiled Boyfriend?

Tip o' the birretta to Fr. G. Hussein Thomas, for pointing out the most curious Christmas gift of the season:  Burger King's new meat-scented cologne.

"Flame" is a bargain at four bucks per tube.  For a press report, click up top.  If you want some of that delicious-smelling stuff right this moment (or simply have too much time on your hands) check out the official website.  

Is this the low-church answer to the Pope's Cologne?  Or just an occasional alternative -- wear one for Mass, and another to parish cookout?  Or is it a none-too-subtle way for some burly guy to break off his relationship with a pasty-faced vegetarian hippie?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Father Christmas is Real -- and He's Mean!

Tip o' the biretta to Father W.E.B. for this one:

One Rebecca Hancock, a divorced Floridian, entered into a series of conversations with her pastor regarding her new boyfriend.  Her pastor advised her strongly to stop having sex with the said boyfriend, because -- after all -- they weren't married.  She didn't follow his advice, and in fact decided to leave his congregation, although her children remain as members.

Nonetheless, the pastor, whose name is -- we kid thee not -- Scott Christmas, saw fit to convene a group of church "elders," who wrote Hancock a letter explaining further admonishing her and warning that, should she continue in the relationship, they would publicly announce her sin to the congregation during worship on Jan. 4th.  With her children in the pews.

Where shall we go with this?  There are so many things to say!

The whole business may strike irreligious readers as plain nasty, and while they may have a case, the truth is that pastor and "elders" are trying to follow the discipline described by Jesus in Matthew 18: 15-17, of admonition in private, then before "two or three" witnesses, and finally before the church, followed -- if not by repentance -- by excommunication.  

Virtually all church discipline processes, including those outlined in most Lutheran congregational constitutions, follow this pattern.  In their letter, the elders pointedly cite the relevant  Scriptures to explain what they are doing.  we might go further and add that, in the early Church, many penitential matters were handled publicly, as witnessed by those tearful services described  in Sozomen's Ecclesiastical History, at 7:15 in the NPNF edition.

So is Father Christmas right on target?  Is he taking a firm but Biblical stand against fornication, which seems strange only to a society with no moral compass?

Err, maybe.  But let's consider some of the other factors in play.  First, there is a dramatic difference between the penitential discipline of the early Christian centuries and that which emerged subsequently.  Public discipline was gradually replaced by private discipline -- sacramental penance, for example.  In fact, it seems likely, from the extant sources, that even in Sozomen's time, public discipline was used specifically for sins which were already public.

In other words, it wasn't a priest's job to spill the beans, even in the old days.  And for most of Christian history, it has been explicitly clear that a priest is obliged to respect the confidentiality of certain conversations with the faithful.  Seal of the confessional, guys.

At a more subtle level, there is also the matter of hermeneutics.  The discipline of Matthew 18 is expressly for use "if thy brother shall trespass against thee."  It is a method by which the community may adjudicate disputes among the faithful -- not a penitential discipline.  So if Hancock's sin is not against Scott Christmas personally, it is hard to imagine how he could justify using the passage this way.

And, to be plainly legalistic, we wonder how many "elders" he spoke to, since they didn't sign their names.  Two or three?  Because if he spoke to more than that, it would seem to us that he had gone well beyond the Lord's injunction, and we would suspect (as we do suspect) that Christmas is being vindictive here, for personal reasons known only to himself.

(And, to carry our legalism perhaps a mite far, we are skeptical about these "elders."  In our opinion, the term as used in Scripture clearly refers to the clergy -- the presbuteroi, or priests.  Calling your lay leaders "elders" is a mistake, albeit a widespread one, and we think that it further calls into question this business of telling them what people say in private.)

On top of all this, she resigned her membership.  This, it seems to us, relieves the pastor and his church of any responsibility toward her.  But it leaves them with a significant responsibility toward her children, whom they propose to humiliate.

So, all told, we don't think highly of Scott Christmas and the people of Grace Community Church in Jacksonville, Florida.  They strike us as unpleasant Pharisees who demonstrate little understanding of either the Scriptures or the traditions of pastoral care in Christian communities.  

As for Ms. Hancock, we are a little bemused by her Pyrrhic victory.  Rather than allow her children to be humiliated in worship before the congregation, she went to the press, allowing them to be humiliated  before the whole Internet.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Avery Dulles, RIP

In a sense, he was not our kind of Roman Catholic.  By which we mean nothing more that that he was beloved of people who tire us, particularly, the neo-cons.  We have never recovered from an essay in First Things, years ago, in which he spelled out a Catholic rationale for capital punishment.  It was well-written, but struck us as letting down the side.  

Still, Dulles impresses.  Child of privilege and an immense heritage of government service; raised Presbyterian, converted by turns to agnosticism, theism and Catholicism;  52 years a priest, and seven years a cardinal (but never eligible to vote in conclave, and never a bishop); author of many books and articles; dissertation advisor to a dear friend.

Our whining aside, the world gained much from the presence of Avery Dulles, and is impoverished by his absence.  The Church gained much, and may continue to do so, since after all converts always pray loudest in the heavenly choir.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The "Gay Church" Paradox

Put simply:  as mainstream churches become more accepting, the churches founded specifically to serve gay Christians are tanking.  

Such, at least, is the hypothesis put forward in a Southern California newspaper article, linked above.  In fairness, the article gives no evidence of being based upon an extensive survey of the the churches affected.  Looks more like a couple of telephone calls, a brief one to a local MCC pastor, and a longer one to the founder and Archbishop of a micro-denomination called the Ecumenical Catholic Church.

And these calls turn up one particular oddity.

The ECC bishop, Mark Shirilau, is pictured in his mitre and carrying a crozier, but says that he actually worships in an Episcopal parish.  This is just as well, since the ECC has declined from its 1995 high of 2000 members to 500, spread over 20 parishes, many of which gather infrequently.  The MCC pastor, the Rev. Nori Kieran-Meredith, says that "she is a practicing Catholic."

We're not sure what to make of this.  Perhaps the reporter didn't get the quotes right, or know enough to follow up on these curious remarks.  But it easy to see why small start-up religious movements are going to suffer when their leaders actually prefer to worship somewhere else.

Girlie-Mag UPDATE

One of the faithful (blogging at  babyrunaround) makes an excellent point:

The most interesting thing about the display is not in its blasphemy but in how boring it is. Playboy Mexico decided to take a subject that is scared to a lot of people and made the pictorial spread incredibly dull. They felt that by being lame, the outcry would be kept to a minimum. I’m sorry, but as the saying go[es], go big or go home.

Our only further comment is a pastoral one:  So you looked, hm?

Science: Islam Ready to Inherit Wind

This chart, shamelessly cribbed from 3quarksdaily (which we assume cribbed it from the subscription-only content at Science), gives us a pretty fair glimpse at the shape of things to come, culture-wars-wise.

Author Salman Hameed argues:

the next major battle over evolution is likely to take place in the Muslim world .... Relatively poor education standards, in combination with frequent misinformation about evolutionary ideas, make the Muslim world a fertile ground for rejection of the theory. In addition, there already exists a growing and highly influential Islamic creationist movement. 

We can scarcely wait.   It has been such a joy to watch the anti-intellectual Christianists undermine American science-education these past few years, and how much more fun will it be when, say, the Taliban gets in on the same act? 

Monday, December 15, 2008

NYT: "Bad Times Draw Bigger Crowds to Churches"

Dear Egg,

A Times article notes a recession-related surge in attendance at "evangelical" churches all over the country.  Real deal, or much ado?

Mother Cathy in Missouri

Dearest Mother C.,

First, let us gloat for a moment:  it was 60 degrees Fahrenheit in Queens today.  Our friends at the Weather Channel say the Show-Me State is showing you something like 13 degrees right now. How's that move working out?  Hmm?

On the other hand, as the state and city turn their pockets inside out and threaten massive cuts to every single program, as our only remaining industry -- Wall Street -- becomes a global laughingstock,  and as Albany politics revert to the decades-long corrupt stalemate, it looks as though a metaphorical Ice Age is hitting New York.  We'd happily trade Armageddon for some cold weather.

According to a piece of longstanding folk wisdom, these should be boom times for churches.  For many years, we have heard elderly members talk about how the Depression filled the nave, and mutter darkly that economic collapse could be the solution to our dying congregations.  The Times article says this idea "has always lived in the lore of evangelism," and it certainly lives in the received wisdom of the pews.

But we have always suspected that it was a bit of bushwah, and our own recent research -- a detailed reading of assembly minutes for the United Lutheran Synod of New York and New England, 1929-1935, undertaken last summer -- has confirmed this suspicion.  Far from being a boom time for the 400 or so churches of that synod, the Depression was --  surprise! -- a catastrophe.   The rapid growth that they had been experiencing slowed dramatically (although they did continue to grow).  But mission starts, which had averaged 1-2 congregations per annum, declined to zero; churches with heavy building debt closed; benevolence giving shriveled; and a stunningly large number of pastors found themselves unemployable, because no church could pay a salary.  One of our own predecessors, serving a 2000+ member parish in a then-prosperous part of the Bronx, experienced a series of nervous breakdowns during these years. 

So we were relieved to see the article's disclaimer, that although people say the Depression was good for churches, "historians of religion do not buy it."  We sure don't.

Still, the article -- by Paul Vitello -- identifies this apparent gap between perception and reality, and then proposes an interesting neither/nor bridge.  To wit, a recent study by an economist at texas State which looks at church attendance during recessions since 1968, and sees that while mainline churches declined in these hard times (as they have been for decades), evangelical churches grew by as much as 50%.  

So somebody does benefit from economic hardship.  (Which might explain why Republican governments always seem intent on increasing the number of poor people).  Or, to put it more charitably, somebody does have a theological perspective that gives the suffering masses what they need.  And apparently, it ain't us.  

(To Vitello's credit, by the way, he makes a point of defining "evangelical churches." This will relieve readers tired of hearing Mormons and Pentecostals called "evangelical" by reporters who don't know what they're talking about. Lamentably, his definition is weak: "a term generally applied to churches that stress the literal authority of Scripture and the importance of personal conversion ....'" Sigh. On the other hand, that may be all that is left of the (English) Evangelical tradition, as anti-intellectualism crushes its once-proud concern for doctrinal matters like vicarious substitutionary Atonement.)

This is frustrating for mainline churches, which in the article expressly includes Roman Catholicism, since we take a perhaps-unwholesome pride in our concern for the poor.  The Papist social service network is by far America's largest, followed by the Lutheran one.  

But it's not about concern for the poor.  It's about building congregations, and this is something that "Evangelicals" do better, especially (it seems) when the Dow tanks.  And yes, the Egg has a theory.

Here in New York, as you well know, our synod has an a comically self-defeating commitment to starting and supporting congregations made up almost entirely of poor people, especially if they are also recent immigrants.  And all this is backed up by theology -- decades of social statements, public displays of solidarity, and some often-remarkable private charity.  (In fairness, we note that this was not the custom during the Depression era; it seems to have grown out of the 1960s and 70s, as urban decay and liberal guilt became dominant factors in mainline church life).

"Evangelicals," in contrast (and massively excepting the Salvation Army), seem to keep the poor at arm's length.  They visit them on mission trips, funnel often astonishing amounts of money toward them, but don't try to build congregations around them.  (Think of Dickens' Mrs Jellyby, the "telescopic" evangelist.)  They build their congregations among the prosperous suburbanites who have money to give.  And so, when the Times goes looking for churches that are growing, it finds them in prosperous suburbs, suddenly hit by calamity -- like "a Long Island hamlet of yacht clubs and hedge fund managers." 

Our point?  The people in the article aren't poor.  They're just not as rich as they thought they were, or were going to become.  The economic downturn scares them, and hurts them, but odds are they will still come out of it well-to-do.  And it is the "Evangelical" churches which have made a point of creating environments to which well-dressed people with good teeth will turn when they are frightened, and find a word of comfort, and possibly remain when their fear passes.  Meanwhile, the mainstream churches have specialized in environments in which poverty is fetishized.  

Set aside the theological pros and cons, and consider this purely as a matter of psychology.  A modestly wealthy couple, terrified by losing so much wealth, stumbles into St. Dismas-by-the-Railroad with its Gothic clutter and the toothless recovering meth addict doing a wave in the front pew, and hears a sermon preoccupied by the far more excruciating poverty of, say, Africa.  Even when no accusatory finger is pointed, or intended, one may be imagined; and even if not, the couple may simply not be frightened off by the images of genuine poverty.  This, after all, is what they lie in their mahogany four-poster at night dreading.

But if they drive over to The Warehouse, a spic-and-span industrial facility with the same recessed lighting and blue carpeting they used to have at their office, and sit beside people who look just like their former colleagues, and hear a sermon that takes seriously their fear instead of somebody else's problems, who could blame them for sticking around?  

Heck, we've convinced ourselves with this argument.  Tomorrow, first thing, we ditch the chasubles, the worn-out volumes of Gustavo Gutierrez, and the toothless guy.  Then we drive over to The Warehouse and look for work.  Want to come?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Burglar Trapped by Ghost

A Malaysian burglar broke into  a house and was still there when the owners returned, three days later.  They found him hungry, dehydrated and claiming that each time he tried to leave, a "supernatural being" pushed him to the floor.

Click above for a link to Malaysia's Star.  Then click here for the AP version, which is one of the most astonishingly poor pieces of journalism we have ever seen.  It mentions the paper it is stealing the story from, and the name of a police official, but neglects to name either the burglar or the country in which he burgled, nor any other detail of the incident, thus leaving most readers to assume a complete hoax.  Which may yet be the case.

Department of No Surprise: Girlie-Magazine Edition

This just in:  Playboy exercises poor taste, lacks discretion.

The Mexican edition of America's oldest continuing softcore publication, excepting we suppose Redbook, has apologized to anybody who will accept its lame apology for a cover showing a naked girl wrapped in a shawl standing in front of some stained glass, with the caption "Te adoremos, Maria."  Better yet, the issue hit the stands just before the celebration of the Virgin of Guadelupe, Mexico's patron saint.

The official apology included this priceless disclaimer: "While Playboy Mexico never meant for the cover or images to offend anyone, we recognize that it has created offense." Genius, huh?  

We suppose there is, technically, a difference between intending offense and doing something that you know will cause offense, even though your real intention is just to sell skin magazines.  But, still, who thought that mocking the beloved icon of the world's largest religious community was going to be a good idea? 

Those dummies had just better be glad that Christians aren't Muslims.  Can you imagine the outcry?  The burning of naked women, or at least pictures thereof (depending upon how radical the group doing the burning was)?     

Merry Christmas. We're All Going to Die.

Blasted back to the Stone Age, it would seem, by our own Air Force and its incompetent handling of nuclear materials.  As Wired's Danger Room reminds us:

Last fall, the 5th Bomb Wing lost track of six nuclear warheads. Then, in March, the service discovered that it had inadvertently shipped four Minuteman nuclear warhead nosecone fuses to Taiwan, thinking they were helicopter batteries. By June, Defense Secretary Robert Gates had sacked the top civilian and military leaders of the Air Force. A total of 15 officers (including six generals) were disciplined, over the mishaps.

Then came this news:

In May, the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base flunked its [Nuclear Surety Inspection, or NSI] test, when security personnel couldn't be bothered to stop playing videogames on their cellphones. Six months later, Malmstrom Air Force Base's the 341st Missile Wing, had problems with its weapons storage area and its personnel reliability program, which prevented the unit from passing its exam.

And now this:

The 90th Missile Wing, operating out of F.E. Warren Air Force Base, is still in the midst of its ... NSI. But already, the wing has failed the test of its readiness to handle atomic arms, a source close to the test tells Danger Room. Problems with the "personal reliability program," which ensures that only the most highly-qualified, highly-trained individuals are working anywhere near a nuclear arsenal, doomed the wing's chances.

If it were the CIA screwing up its most basic functions, legislators -- most of them Republican Senators in 2004 -- would be calling to disband it completely, and switch its functions to some other agency. Sadly, the agency they would probably call upon is the military, which creates a sort of conundrum here.  When the military is the only part of the government that you like, and one branch of that military continues to screw up on a massive scale, what do you do?

So who's going to be the first one to say it?  We need to re-create the Army Air Corps.

Friday, December 12, 2008

For Every [Stupid] Thing, There is a Season

As we mentioned below, the newsmags often take this opportunity -- the one we call Advent -- to print silly stories about how traditional Christianity has it all wrong.  Whether "it" is the date, the place, or the virginity.  Another beloved trope is reporting the dumb-ass things that ministers do and say, to not-so-subtly hint that we are all about as dumb as the dumbest guy around.

The locus classicus, of course, is the cretin who chooses his Easter Sunday sermon to declare that the Resurrection is a myth/legend/fairy-tale/metaphor, etc.  Somebody, somewhere, does that every single spring, and somehow the press always finds out who and where.  

But Christmas has its customary follies, too.  A few years back, we blogged about a British vicar traumatized his grade-schoolers with an impassioned sermon on the evil myth 0f Santa Claus.  Lately, the Telegraph has some more on the follies of British vicars who, if the story is to be credited, have launched an island-wide campaign to ruin Christmas carols:

Enduring favourites such as Hark the Herald Angels Sing and God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen are being altered by clergy to make them more "modern and inclusive" ... a Church of England vicar banned his congregation from singing O Little Town of Bethlehem because he believed its words do not reflect the suffering endured by modern residents of Jesus's birthplace.

Another clergyman has rewritten the Twelve Days of Christmas to include Aids victims, drug addicts and hoodies.  ... [in Hark the Herald Angels Sing] the line "Glory to the newborn King" has been replaced by "Glory to the Christ child, bring".

And the most seemingly American rewrite, all about sex and race:

Churchgoers at one carol service will not be allowed to sing the words "all in white" during Once in Royal David's City in case they appear racist, while another cleric has removed the word "virgin" from God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.

Well, sure.  There's a self-righteous baboon born every minute, and one ordained every couple of days.  But some of these stories smack of urban-legend material, and in any case we ought to point out to readers that this sort of text-butchering began decades ago, and that we suspect the tide is already cresting, as the Boomers pass their peak.  

For example, Evangelical Lutheran Worship -- despite its mutilation of the Psalter, against which we never tire of inveighing -- actually restored a number of hymns to their original versions, or more nearly so than LBW.  This very morning, organizing a funeral service, we compared ELW's "Glories of Your Name are Spoken" to LBW's "Glorious Things of You are Spoken."  (Of course, for the price of a "thee," they could have sold us their cow, but they chose otherwise.  It will be a slow process, bringing back the words that poets actually wrote -- but the President-elect promises us that change is coming.)

We might also take this opportunity to remind readers that sometimes tinkering with hymns -- up to and including rewriting them -- can yield wonderful results.  People always say that "A Mighty Fortress" is "based on" Ps. 46, which even a quick read shows is overstatement.  But at a conference many years ago, which happened to occur on Reformation Day, we were tickled pink when our Papist hosts proffered a devotional service which included "A Mighty Fortress," or rather a new and quite nice metrical paraphrase of Ps. 46, which we sang to the beloved Lutheran tune.

Or, in a far more obscure example, consider "Nearer My God to Thee."  This hymn was popular about a hundred years ago -- remember the doomed Titanic bandsmen! -- but despite a casual Biblical allusion, it is as theologically vague as you would expect from a Unitarian like the one who wrote it.  So the Lutheran theologian Henry Eyster Jacobs wrote an entirely new hymn, in the same meter, that goes like this:

Nearer, my God, to thee!  Nearer to thee!
Through Word and sacrament Thou com'st to me.
Thy grace is ever near, Thy Spirit here, 
Drawing to Thee!

There's more like this -- the preexistent Word makes an appearance, as do the Incarnation, Atonement, life of sanctification and Beatific Vision.  It's a much better hymn that the original.  It never caught on, but we're holding out for the right Sunday to reintroduce it in our own little slice of Heaven.

Detroit Bailout Dies in Senate

Old news by now, but it has made us think a little bit.

We are by no means certain that we liked the plan ourselves.  Bankruptcy seems like a more reasonable way to go as the Big Three restructure, which is a polite word for "implode."  But that said, the means by which the plan failed are revealing, since they were purely political.  Despite support from  Republican White House, the plan was killed by Republican senators, apparently disappointed because they could not wrestle the concessions they wanted from labor unions.

They actually filibustered.  Mr Smith went to Washington expressly to kill the unions

We will freely grant that labor unions can be a pain in the neck -- if you are management.  After all, they exist for the purpose of making your labor more expensive.  (Also safer and better trained, something else management has a long history of resisting.)  

But look at it from another perspective:  unions have been the building block of the American middle class.  They allow industrial workers to earn a remotely-equitable share of the profit created by their own work.  No less significant, they help non-industrial workers whose particular jobs, while perhaps important to the overall function of the economy, tend to be massively undervalued -- we are thinking, for example, of schoolteachers.  These are people who, a century ago, rarely had much hope of owning homes or, as they became available, automobiles.  

So the Republican bias against unions has had an unintended result:  it has decimated the middle class, which -- as even non-economists can see at a glance -- has diminished terribly in recent years.  And when you cut down the middle-class, you cut down the consumer base for a lot of industrial products.  Such as cars.

Republicans sometimes take pride in being a party of big ideas.  It seems they are so deeply committed to the idea of union-busting that the GOP is willing to kill what's left of US manufacturing, and the US middle class, if that's what it takes to keep from doing a deal with Big Labor.  Great idea.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


We've been scanning the Papist internet tonight, and come across a few tidbits.  

Our favorite by far is from Zadok the Roman.  He tells of a 106-year old American nun, residing in Rome, who voted in the last election.  Her last vote was for Eisenhower; this time, Obama.

And elsewhere:
  • The Egg's takeout on the SAPUSAC got a favorable mention from the splendid St. Superman.  Back atcha.
  • The Daily Peep is a labor of love.  Heck, its blogroll alone is a treat.  Not to mention the masthead.  
  • The Congregation for Divine Worship has a new prefect, replacing Arinze:  Antonio Cardinal Llovera, a pleasingly short Spaniard, comically partial to the cappa magna (picture up top).  As to his theological style, Observatrix calls him "Ratzingerito."
  • The Biblia Clerus site which we have not yet had time to explore, appears to be a nerd's paradise created by the Congregation for the Clergy -- lectionary texts and ancient commentaries, magisterial documents, the Codes of Canon Law, Latin and Eastern.
  • Damon Linker's Theocons is under twelve bucks at Amazon.  Merry Christmas!

Department of No Surprise: G.A.S. Edition

A couple of years back, John Bryson Chane, Episcopal Bishop of Washington, drew our attention to the fact that Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria didn't merely want to prevent gay people from getting married or serving as priests, but also wanted to deprive them of such basic civil rights as freedom of speech and assembly.

Now, Chane has written a letter blasting the proposed SAPUSAC and its leaders, Robert Duncan and Martyn Minns.  No real surprises, but we thought we'd mention it, mostly as a way to remind people of what a thug Akinola is.

Christianist Plot to Sell More Blasphemous Poetry

From the Guardian:

Christian activists are due to stage a protest outside the Welsh Assembly tomorrow over Patrick Jones's poetry collection Darkness Is Where the Stars Are, which they describe as "ugly, indecent and blasphemous". 

Seems Jones is scheduled to read some of his poems aloud in an Assembly building.  The activists object to the whole book, which includes "poems dealing with issues including domestic violence against men, war, religion and the environment," as well as atheism, female genitalia, and Dan Brown-inspired sex between Jesus and Mary Magdalene

Oh, they also object to the fact that the poems "hardly rhyme" and "rarely scan."  Well, that's enough for us; tar and feather the bastard.

But let's be reasonable here.  Have you ever heard of Patrick Jones?  Of course not.  And why?  Because he is a poet.  Poets, in our time, are essentially obscure figures, whose books typically sell not in the thousands but in the hundreds, most of those from the trunk of the poet's own car.  The exceptions -- William Stafford, Billy Collins, Charles Bukowski -- are few, and uninspiring.  Not only have living poets ceased to be major public figures, they are not even major literary figures.  (Parenthetically, we ask -- and not for the first time -- ou sont les Ezra Pounds d'antan?)

Except, of course, that now you have heard of Mr. Jones the poet.  So have a lot of Welsh poetry-lovers, who would not previously have attended his reading, but will now, in search of some street theater.  And when they cross a picket line, and when the reading is disrupted by belligerent "Christian" thugs, some people may buy his book not for love of the art, but as a form of counter-protest.  Why, some Egg readers may want to pick it up from Amazon UK for the same reason.

In other words, the protesters have granted him a modest measure of fame, and sold a few more of his apparently-blasphemous books.  

Which leads us to cry "Conspiracy."  Oh, call us cynics if you will, but we are always asking Cui bono?  And here's what we suspect:  Mr. Jones, or better yet his publisher, made a deal with these protesters.  Obscure Welsh Christianist organization meets obscure Welsh poet, and suddenly both are international causes celebres, at least for a day.  Everybody wins.

Except, of course, those of us who prefer poetry that does rhyme.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Jesus Has a New Birthday!

June 17, according to some astronomers.  In 2 BC.  Apparently, that's when they figure Venus and Jupiter lined up to create an oversized "star" pointing toward Bethlehem.  

Sigh.  Every year, about this time, the news magazines run some story along these lines, just as every spring they sell a few copies with a cover story on the Jesus Seminar or Bishop Spong, proposing that he couldn't really have risen from the dead.  (Never mind the obvious question, about whether this celestial conjunction adequately describes what, to our reading, looks less like giant star and more like a bit of astrological divination.)  Trite media efforts to demean the Christian holy days are as much a part of  the season as gluhwein and popcorn balls, we suppose.  And in that spirit, let's give them the reaction they are hoping for:

Oh, no! This means the end of Christianity as we know it.  The Age of Faith is going to be washed away like ... I dunno ... sand-castles at Dover Beach.

Because, hey, it's all about the astronomy.

Satan to Read "Paradise Lost" on Radio 4

Well, no.  But that's the spoof headline from a British site, and the second-funniest thing we have seen today, as the world celebrates John Milton's 400th birthday.

Granted, most of the planet will celebrate with a yawn.  We awoke this morning to hear a Milton expert interviewed on the BBC, explaining that even though just a generation or two back, Milton's works were a public-school staple, today they barely appear in British university curricula.  As he explained it, reading even the prose, much less the epics, requires a grounding both in Scripture and in the Classics which has simply vanished.  

To this we would add that reading Milton requires a kind of patience -- with complex ideas and complex grammar -- which began disappearing the day radio was invented, and which has finally been killed by Twitter, the crystal meth of media.

Still, the day's commemorative articles are interesting.   Everybody has their own take:
  • An Irish paper reminds us that, despite his support for Cromwell, Milton (along with Batman, seriously) is a critical figure in modern struggles for intellectual and political liberty.    
  • The Guardian compares him, tediously and tendentiously, to Shakespeare.  
  • A big-time Hollywood director is working on a Paradise Lost movie.  
  • Forbes argues that Milton's genius was only possible because of inherited wealth.
Oh, and the first-funniest remark on Milton that we have seen today?  Adam Gopnik, in this week's New Yorker, mentions in passing that "nobody ever wished Paradise Lost were longer."  Amen to that, brother.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Ooooh. Pretty Bibles.

Father Anonymous is a sucker for pretty things in general (evidence:  Mother A.) and pretty books in particular (evidence:  top shelf, living room bookcase, west side).  Oh, and he is also a sucker for the Holy Bible (evidence:  vocation).

So you can imagine how happily he greeted a tip from the shadowy internet figure known only as "Stynxno," which led him to J. Mark Bertrand's Bible Design & Binding blog.  It features thoughtful reviews and clear photos of many, many different editions of the Bible, as well as (occasionally) breviaries and other sacred books.  The emphasis is on visual and tactile matters -- layout, paper, binding materials, how flat a volume opens -- rather than the usual business of championing one translation over another.

It's the sort of thing you can easily waste a lunch-hour salivating over.  And for some Egg readers, it may also prove to be a Christmas shopping guide.

Woman Gives Birth at 70

And yes, we do mean 70 years.

India is truly the land of miracles, including the miracle of IVF and blastocyst culture.  Although Abraham and Sarah (the ones from Genesis) have still got Balo Ram and Rajo Devi beat, the gap is closing.

(And here we thought childrearing in one's early-to-mid 40s was a little tough.  And yes, we have thought that fairly often lately.)

Poverty Makes You Stupid

That is  the most inflammatory possible way to put it.  Sorry to be insensitive, but we wanted your attention.  This matters.

A new study confirms years of data showing that the effects of poverty -- malnutrition, stress, toxins in the environment -- don't merely limit how much children learn, but seem to affect their brains in ways that keep them from learning.  Specifically, the new study

... finds that certain brain functions of some low-income 9- and 10-year-olds pale in comparison with those of wealthy children and that the difference is almost equivalent to the damage from a stroke.

"It is a similar pattern to what's seen in patients with strokes that have led to lesions in their prefrontal cortex," which controls higher-order thinking and problem solving, says lead researcher Mark Kishiyama, a cognitive psychologist at UC-Berkeley.

There are public-policy ramifications to this research that may not be immediately obvious.  Remember that America's primary export, for many years now, has been intellectual property:  patents, designs, software, entertainment.  We don't make our money selling things that a semi-literate assembly line worker can build by hand; we make our money on creativity and the management of ideas.

Therefore, as fewer citizens are capable of high-level, creative thinking, our society will become less prosperous.  And remember that, in recent years, the middle class has shriveled, meaning that while some wealthy children are raised in superlatively healthy and stimulating environments, many more are now raised in environments in which their brains are susceptible to damage than in the past several generations.  

So how do we plan for the future, if we want  -- or need -- a creative, problem-solving workforce?  Bailing out our troubled industries may serve a short-term social good, and funding education properly is certainly a solid long-term investment.  But even better schools will not be much help if most of the the kids they teach have already had the equivalent of a stroke.  Logically, then, before we fund industry or even education, we should do a better job of keeping children out of poverty.

All of which simply adds secular clothing to an idea that is, for Christians, a fundamental moral conviction: People should not be poor, and the goodness of a nation is measured by its ability to diminish poverty.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Bishop Paul, RIP

One sad notice which we neglected in our November wrap-up is the unexpected death of Bishop Julius Danaraj Paul, head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malaysia.  

Bishop Paul was in Guatemala last month for a meeting, and afterward took a typical tourist boat-trip on Lake Atitlan.  His boat was overcrowded and a storm blew up on the usually placid lake.  Although Bishop Paul drowned on Nov. 23, there was trouble repatriating his body, which should arrive in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

Anglicans Ordain First Female Priest

In Ghana, we mean.  They've got them in other countries already.  Her name is Hannah Dwomoh, and we pray for the success of her ministry.

Latin Gender

What, you think we mean Ciceronian nouns?  Sed contra!

The Times has recently run two stories about transgender activities in the (more or less) Latin world, which we spotlight for our readers who are interested in such things:

1.  About the Oaxacan muxe, who from boyhood on feel called to dress and socialize as women.  To our untutored eyes, this seems like a neat parallel to the native American "two-spirits," people whom anthropologists call by the unintentionally pejorative name of berdaches.  (Pejorative, arguably, because it is derived from a Persian word for a gay man, and brings with it some foreign cultural baggage.)  Muxes are pretty well accepted socially, and are credited with "special intellectual and artistic gifts."  (A Spanish-language article online renctly points out that muxes 'really are a third sex in Zapotec culture," and that they continue to use masculine articles grammatically  -- los muxes, not las.

2.  And this is our favorite, about some very professional jewel thieves in Paris, who last week stole $100 million in gems from Harry Winston.  They were men, but some of them dressed as women because  -- according to the gendarmes -- store employees are more likely to open their doors to women.  At least that's what they tell themselves when they're done gussying up.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Poor, Poor Man

It was an Anglican church in the "Prayer Book Catholic" tradition, and his parents were Nonconformists, but the young Rowan [Williams] asked them to take him back there.

This biographical tidbit is from a Telegraph review of  Rupert Shortt's new book, Rowan's Rule.  It sounds modestly interesting, although we confess that life is far too short for us to consider actually reading it.  (And, only weeks before Christmas, we mean the review).

Two other bits we liked, as we skimmed along:  Williams' academic mentor says that despite his many gifts, Williams has a tendency to "substitute reverie for hard analysis."  We had guessed as much.  And the remark by a former Bishop of Oxford, who told Williams that "God has given you all the gifts and, as your punishment, he has made you Archbishop of Canterbury."  We had guessed that, too.

OJ in the Slam

So, unlike Claus von Bulow, this wife-killer-unless-you-believe-the acquittal is going to do hard time, albeit for the lesser crime of stealing Topps trading cards or something.  And unless the appeal works out.  Which it won't, since he's guilty as sin.

Sunny von Bulow is Dead

So Claus is finally a murderer, at least unless you believe his two acquittals were legit.  Which they may well be -- but doesn't he always seem guilty to you?

Shinseki to Cabinet

This may be Obama's most interesting choice so far:  fellow Hawaiian Eric Shinseki, a retired general, to be the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs.

Shinseki is a career soldier who lost half a foot to a Vietnamese landmine.  Prior to the Iraq invasion, he was best known as a champion of transformation in Army planning centered around intensively-trained "Stryker" brigades.  This, along with personality issues, put him at odds with Donald Rumsfeld, whose own vision of Army transformation was about lower troop levels and greater reliance on high technology.  

After the invasion, Shinseki has been best known (outside the military) for his testimony before Congress that the troop levels required to pacify Iraq would be far higher than those planned on by Rumsfeld's team.  For this he was derided by such military geniuses as Paul Wolfowitz (who found it "hard to imagine" and "outlandish" that more soldiers would be required to hold Iraq than to take it).  

Obviously, he was right and they were wrong, which is easy to imagine, since Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz are incompetent fools who in a rightly-ordered world would never have advanced beyond branch manager at a modest Midwest retail bank.  If, indeed, Rumsfeld got that far with his limited social skills and inability to take responsibility.  But we digress.

Anyhoo, Shinseki knows the Army at its uppermost levels, and he has demonstrated his concern for soldiers.  Given the scandalous mismanagement of the VA under Bush, we fully expect him to run a tighter and more humane ship, even if America's changing circumstances require him to do it on the cheap.

Pity the Boomers

As their golden years begin to tarnish.  Such, at least, is the suggestion of Michael Schaffer in Obit.  (Yes, you read that right:  Obit, the online magazine of death).  After all, he says, they 

... played by the rules, doing what financial advisors suggested while planning for a retirement that is fast approaching: investing the 401(k) to grow over time; buying property to build up equity with every monthly payment. Today, that wisely diversified 401(k) has fallen by a third and the 75 percent of that house that a 55-year-old boomer might own has shrunk by a similar figure.

True enough, and we are concerned. 

On the inevitable other hand, let's remember that the present crisis, like much of the America in which we live these days, was manufactured by the Boomers. At one level, it has been Boomers who have helmed our government and major corporations for years now -- Clinton, Bush, Bill Gates; the Detroit 3 CEOs all born between 1948-1957; Lehman's Richard Fuld, etc. An another, and far more powerful level, it has been the Boomers as a cohort, with their relentless self-obsession, who have driven the course of our markets, our pop culture, our politics and -- in no small measure -- our religious institutions since the 1950s.  

As Schaffer points out, Boomers were the force behind both the Students for a Democratic Society and the religious right of twenty years later.  To a greater extent than anybody wants to recognize, the much-lamented polarization of US politics in recent years has been the result of Boomers playing out their generational psychodrama in public.   As the SDS's Port Huron statement said,  Boomers were the first generation of Americans “bred in at least modest comfort” in the “wealthiest and strongest country in the world.”   The argument between the left and the right was over what use to make of America's wealth and strength.  Schaffer goes on to observe that

... [n]either side [of the polarized Boomer political spectrum] spent a great deal of time contemplating a future where the wealth and the strength themselves were threatened. Getting used to that involves the same cycles of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance as getting used to a death.

Well, sure.  But it is frustrating to those of us who did spend time contemplating such things, and who were dismissed as alarmists, pessimists or depressives.  Decades ago, both the Greatest and X Generations began pointing out, in various ways, that the Boomers were screwing up the world.    The critiques were different, to be sure.  The older folks correctly identified the problems of self-indulgence, contempt for tradition, and consumerism.  The younger ones didn't mind those as much, but objected to the dilettantism combined, paradoxically, with a commitment to identity politics.  (The Boomer changes identities every few years, and then begins fighting for the rights and privileges of that identity; the elders never changed, and the juniors don't care).

So yes, we are sad about the pre-retirement set losing its nest egg.  And we are close enough in age to have the same worry for ourselves.  But pardon us if we consider some of this to be, in a phrase the Boomers will remember from those miserable 1960s they never shut up about, "the chickens coming home to roost."

Religious Violence in Nigeria

... has been simmering since 2001, but is on a recent, and troubling, upswing.  The population is 50% Muslim and 40% Christian.  From Time:

Ibrahim Saleh Hassan did not get angry as he watched his home looted and burned down by an angry mob, or when he when he found out later that all 31 vehicles at his car dealership had been torched. His anger finally did come when he realized that his seven year-old son had seen the mob kill the family's four dogs before the child's eyes. Hassan now wonders what will become of their once peaceful, ethnically and religiously mixed city. "My fear is that they will put us behind walls and segregate us like in Beirut and other places," Hassan said.

The article, by Will Connors, goes on to suggest that, although facts are sparse, it appears very strongly that thugs are being paid and armed by political partisans in a deliberate effort to stir up religious hatred.  Welcome to the 21st century -- we will see a lot more of this before we are done.

Two thoughts on the situation.  First, anybody who does not own Philip Jenkins' The Next Christendom ought to consider buying a copy.  While deeply flawed (as by an apparent lack of any firsthand research), it is a useful guide to emerging demographics of religious conflict, especially in Africa and Asia.  Second, for the dissident Episcopal "bishops" supported by Nigerian Abp. Akinola:  is this really the kind of religious milieu you want to emulate?  We're just asking.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Speaking of Afghanistan ...

Here's a tidbit that we missed a few months back, and which shows just how earnest the US effort there has really been.

Back in March, the Times reported that a $300 million government contract for ammunition, intended to supply the Afghan army, had been awarded to a company headed by a 22-year-old, assisted by a licensed masseur.  

They told the government that they would ship some Hungarian bullets.  We have no idea how reliable Hungarian ammunition is, but it doesn't really matter, because what they actually delivered were cases and cases of Chinese ammo manufactured in 1966.  For those who don't know, bullets go bad on the shelf, gradually losing their accuracy and power.  In other words, the stuff was junk.

Read the article; it's long, but disturbing.  The seller, one Efraim Diveroli, is a girlfriend-abusing thug.  But beyond that, the government specs were also responsible:  because the ammo was "foreign and nonstandard," meaning that it fits the universally used AK-47 instead of the US M-16, no age limits or testing requirements were included in the contract, even though the Chinese, Russia and and NATO all have such limits and requirements for this stuff.

Just one more minor scandal of the Bush years.  How much longer until January 20th?

Warning: Obama May Actually try to WIN War on Terror

And it may not make life easy for Hamid Karzai.

Such, at least, is the Economist's hopeful prediction.  Obama has already spoken about sending more troops to Afghanistan and taking aim at the Islamist refuges in Pakistan; his nominee for State has done likewise, and  (in the mag's view) is likely to appoint as special envoy her old pal Richard Holbrooke, who appears to be of similar mind, and to actually have a strategy.  A diplomatic strategy, mind you, which involves working with regional powers, rather than simply funneling money and weapons into Afghnaistan and hoping for the best.

Oh, and Biden got so ticked at the Afghani president one time, he left the room in a huff.

All told, it looks like the days of photo-ops and easy money may be drawing to a close, and Mr. Karzai may actually be asked to govern for a while.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Oh, Bother. Anglicanism Still a Mess.

We had hoped they would clear things up while we were on our autumn break.

Instead, however, the PECUSA malcontents have signaled their intention to create a second Anglican province in North America, despite contrary guidelines issued by the Communion.  One hears various names bandied about -- the Common Cause Partnership, the Anglican Mission in America, North American Anglican Province -- all with their various initials, each no doubt signifying something distinctive to the group choosing it.  We couldn't really care less, and assume that within a few years the dust will settle, and there will be two Anglican churches in these parts, by whatever name.

So what will they look like?  Well, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA will no doubt look much the way it does today, a comical convocation of pompous old duffers, theological radicals seeking what validation they can find in the lovely titles and customs of Anglicanism (archdeacon, anyone?), and regular mainline Prots of a modestly high church inclination.  Doctrinally, it will make no pretense to uniformity, but will range from a very moderate Calvinism to a sort of irritating leftism that wants to occasionally call the Trinity "Mother, Sister, Lover."  In most parishes, worship will be the 1979 Prayer Book, variously adapted to local custom and accompanied by a sermon no better than it should be.  The same parish's extraliturgical life will include both modest good works and certain self-contented snobbery.

And by the way, none of this meant to be insulting.  We genuinely like Episcopalians.  It's just that they are fairly predictable, and unlikely to be changed by the secession.

What about the body we'll call the SAPUSAC, or Schismatic Anglican Province in the USA and Canada?  That's a more interesting question.

1.  It will be small.  According to a couple of news reports (like the one linked above), the as-yet-unofficial new province claims to represent 100,000 Anglicans in two nations.  That's not a large number, roughly 4% of the Episcopal Church.  There are roughly as many members reported by, say, the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church in the US.  On the other hand, it is not a negligible number, either; the Church of the Brethren is only about 1/3 larger.  (We've never actually known any of the Brethren, but people do keep talking about them.)  

But let's also face facts:  as an avowedly "conservative" body, it will appeal to the disaffected masses searching for something that sounds familiar in a strange and threatening world -- that is, Ron Paul voters.  As defections multiply and converts trickle in, the SAP will (ahem) rise.  So after ten years, let's guess maybe a million people -- which puts them well past the Baha'i, and into the territory of the Jehovah's Witnesses.  (If that's true, then the 2.5 million-member PECUSA will probably shrink commensurately; it will remain the larger body in 2018, but perhaps not by very much).

2.  Will it be liturgically traditionalist?  Hard to say.  The provisional canons, posted on the CCP website (which is, humorously, called "Anglicans United"), declare that the 1662 BCP is the doctrinal norm, but that a task force will work on a provincial prayer book, but that the books presently in use -- overwhelmingly, the 1979 BCP with a few 1928-ers thrown in -- remain authorized.  

This suggests something that we find modestly noteworthy.  The SAP is seeking conformity in doctrine but not in worship.  Unremarkable among, say, Lutherans -- but a direct challenge to the underlying principle of the Elizabethan Settlement.  (Well, a little less direct, since they still base their doctrine upon some prayer book, even if it isn't the one they use).

Also, we find the language of the provisional canons suspicious in places. "Dioceses, cluster or network" is a catchall term for judicatories -- why? Bishops ordain deacons and presbyters, not priests -- why? Oh, we realize that they're just words (and we Lutherans generate unchurchly terminology at a terrifying rate) but cluster and presbyter do make us wonder which low-church parties are being appeased in order to get this house built.

3.  Will it be doctrinally conservative?  Depends upon your definition of "conservative."  We do not doubt that on most matters, it will be -- this is an excellent opportunity for pastors exhausted by the John Shelby Spongs of the world to stand up plainly for things like the literal Resurrection, original sin, and maybe even vicarious substitutionary atonement.  (Good for them, we say.)  It will obviously not be a place in which gay people feel especially welcome, save the inevitable few who actually prefer lives either of celibacy or covert trysting.  (Less good, we think.)  

But, speaking of original sin, the SAP will someday need to confront the fact that it has been conceived in a doctrinal iniquity, and bears the mark of Cain.  We have heard, over and over, the pious whining about "we didn't leave our church, it left us," and how this is a legitimate effort to prevent schism within the worldwide Communion.  We are not convinced.  The truth, both legal and historical, is that parishes and dioceses formed by missionaries of the Episcopal Church are withdrawing from that church.  It's called schism.  

Furthermore, they have been aided in this effort by foreign bishops, overstepping their traditional boundaries to appoint American "missionary bishops" -- fine, if one is speaking of missionaries to a land in which one's church has no presence. But in this case, the practice has led to a violation of the ancient rule "one city, one bishop." As Fr. John Meyendorff points out, no rule has been affirmed with greater firmness by tradition, not mention church councils. The creation of overlapping judicatories is an especially nasty piece of ecclesiological mischief, and does much to undermine any subsequent claim to doctrinal "conservatism."

4.  It will have a stained-glass ceiling.  The provisional canons specify that bishops shall be male, although gender-neutral language is used for priests.  The Church of England ordained women some years ago, and is still struggling over the question of whether women can serve as bishops.  Obviously, that same struggle has gone one behind the scenes at SAP.  To us, the idea of a divided priesthood, in which some priests may become bishops and others may not, seems absurd on its face, but we recognize that there is precedent.  The Orthodox will only enthrone celibates -- which, if you're going to discriminate, strikes us as both more practical and no less Biblical.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Bloodsucking Fiends for Jesus

It will be Halloween in Advent at St. George's Episcopal Church, in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania.

Apparently, the church is trying out a "Goth Liturgy" on Saturdays in December, in an effort to reach the puffy-shirts-mascara-and-corsets crowd.  Serving as we do (ahem) a landmark church built in the American Neo-Gothic style and possessing an organ well-suited to Saint-Saens, we considered something similar a couple of years back, and still find the idea intriguing.  Frankly, the service described by the Times-Leader story (linked above) sounds pretty familiar:

The church is dimly light, lined with candles and full of the aroma of burning incense. Gregorian chants from the 12th century and faith-based music from techno bands such as Depeche Mode and Love Spirals Downward played softly during the hymn segments.

The servers were dressed in black robes and the guest celebrant ... was clothed in a flowing white robe

We look poorly upon recorded music, and our servers wear surplices over those "black robes," but otherwise, not much of a stretch from our Easter Vigil.

The story fails on several counts, principally by failing to interview many of the worshipers.  We'd like very much to know who they were, and what they believed.  (When we proposed a Goth Liturgy of our own, one church leader snapped, "Well, they're all Satanists anyway."  But surely not.)  

It also makes lame effort to talk about church history, and seems to confuse the modern-day Goths -- basically kids with a vampire-movie aesthetic -- and the historic Goths, those robust Germanic tribesmen of the Arian persuasion who sacked Rome in 410, thus indirectly forcing generations of theology students to buy The City of God and leave it on their shelves half-read.  (Brother Krauser no doubt excepted).  

Furthermore, we have grave doubts about the custom of targeting specific demographics with a customized church service.  It reminds us of the now-comical "Folk Masses" and "Contemporary Services" of yore, in which the Greatest Generation, seeing their Boomer kids wander away from church, swallowed their pride and began pandering, only to see the same kids walk faster in the same direction, while gradually dumbing down much of American Christianity in order to please the remnant.  (And, yet again, we bless God for GenX).

Still, it sounds like a pleasant way to pass the winter evenings, and we can't help envying the good folks in Nanticoke a little.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

So. Did We Miss Anything?

November was a busy month here at the Egg.  While on break from blogging, Father Anonymous used the time to write a 54,000-word novel.  Not a good novel, he hastens to add; not even an especially funny one, when compared to last year's laugh riot about the dark underbelly of Gilligan's Island.

A few readers have asked what the said novel was about, and we had no answer -- it hadn't been written yet.  Now it has, and we still don't know, although in the last few pages the girl asks the guy about the main themes in his life, and he answers, "Violence, pain, vengeance."  She then adds "Redemption," and that probably sums it up.  Oh, and movie monsters from the golden age of Hollywood.  And Dick Cheney coming to a bad end.

But thirty days without blogging!  Good heavens!  Has anything happened in the worlds of religion, sex or politics of which we ought to be aware?  Let's check in:
  • The Lutheran bishops are going to be tested for HIV.  It's about solidarity with Africa, and we support them. Still, caught us off guard. 
  • The ELCA's Church Council decided to lower the bar for changes to its policy on gay clergy -- good for justice, bad for church unity.  And while we do like justice, we are also deeply partial to unity.
  • Also of Lutheran interest, a synod treasurer is going to jail for embezzlement; a seminary is "restructuring" as it runs out of money, and so is the official publishing house.  Oops all around.
  • The Mormons stood up for "traditional marriage," and can't figure out why people think that's funny.  And we don't mean "ha-ha" funny.  Well, that too.
  • A Baptist church sign asked a Catholic church sign some droll questions about the "formerly extraordinaire" Mass versus the "avuncular."  Just play along.
  • Benedict XVI wore the most awesome mitre ever.
  • Some guy flew over a canyon with his jet pack, proving that it is finally A.D. 2000.  Finally!
  • Pirates are everywhere, and yet it's not as much fun as we had hoped.  They attacked a passenger ship Tuesday.
  • Veep-for-now Cheney and disgraced ex-AG Gonzales were finally indicted, although not for any of their real crimes.  A judge tossed it today -- but on procedural grounds.
  • GW Bush said he'd "like to be ... known as somebody who liberated 50 million people and helped achieve peace."  Father A., for the record, would like to remembered as a towering giant of a man, who never screwed up a schedule or lost his temper.
  • Monsters attacked one of our favorite cities, which we insist on calling Bombay for sentimental reasons.  They were almost certainly trained and supported by elements within Pakistan.  One more time:  India is the world's largest democracy, but Pakistan is our invaluable ally in the war on terror, which must be nursed and coddled and above all not invaded no matter who is living in its caves.  Maybe if you keep saying  the words, they sound more reasonable, but we aren't there yet.
  • The economy kept tanking, no matter what anybody did.  No links here; there's really not much else in the papers.
So that's it.  November according to the Egg.  Except, and forgive us if we're rambling, but we were sure there was one other thing.  What was it?  Oh, yes:

America elected a new president.  Who immediately started hiring his erstwhile opponents.  We don't mind Clinton for state, but please tell us we won't get Palin at Interior.