Tuesday, December 29, 2009

From Our Crypt to Your Crib

Well, this isn't good for the supposed anonymity of our blog, but -- let's be honest -- that has always been more of a headscarf than a genuine veil. So merry Christmas from the Egg!

The not-so-Anonymi are pictured here at the improvided altar where they have presided these past two Sundays, in the art gallery below the Lutheran church in Cluj. (When you have 8-10 people in worship, the nave of even a modest cathedral is simply overwhelming).

We'll post a bit more concerning Christmas in the near future (here's a preview: thanks a million to Fr. Griffin of Punta Verde).

And by the way -- a bunch of new pictures have been posted to our un-anonymous website, Pietati. Please check them out!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Book Review #2: "The River of Doubt"

After an interview with Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain wrote that "the President is clearly insane, and insanest upon war and its supreme glories."

This opinion was widely shared during TR's lifetime.  Although it not taken seriously now -- remember how both  Republicans and Democrats stumbled over themselves in the last campaign to claim his mantle -- one cannot walk away from reading anything at all about his life without understanding why his opponents might have doubted his sanity, and even wondering whether they were right.

Now, a personal aside.  We ourselves feel a certain deep affection, even kinship, for the Rough Rider.  The Dutch ancestors of his family and ours owned farms only a mile or two distant in Manhattan.  We have lived near to both his birthplace and his Long Island estate.  We are longtime members of the American Museum of Natural History, outside of which is a massive equestrian bronze of TR.  Our chosen vacation spot is in the midst of the Adirondack State Park, which Roosevelt helped create.  For that matter, Baby Anonymous shares a first name with the president.

All that said, we still have our own doubts about his sanity.  Roosevelt was brilliant, his personality virtually a force of nature, as elemental as gravity or magnetism.  But he genuinely did seem to love war, not just the idea but his own limited practice of it.   We have always been troubled by the idea of a wealthy dilettante organizing his own semi-private military unit and leading it into combat, then using his exploits as a springboard into public life.  Never mind that this "combat" was in a war of pure aggression, made palatable to the public only by spurious "evidence" of evil intent on the other side.  (Sound familiar?) 

At the very least, TR seems to us to have suffered from what Gary Wills called, speaking of the Kennedy brothers, as "the imprisonment of toughness."  By this we mean a constant need to demonstrate his own courage and fortitude, both in arduous physical tests and in the tough-guy school of politics.  This is not necessarily a sign of mental impairment, but it does hint at some scary demons below the surface.

Well, Candice Millard's The River of Doubt will do nothing to resolve the question of Roosevelt's sanity, although that question surely lurks beneath the surface of of the story.  But setting aside the question, which Millard touches upon only once, and gently, the story itself is a ripping yarn if ever we have read one.

It goes like this:  Having lost his 1912 third-party presidential bid (during which he was shot in the chest, and proceeded to give a speech wearing his bloody shirt and with a bullet buried five inches in his flesh), Roosevelt fell into one of his periodic slumps.  His customary remedy for these bouts of depression was a physical challenge, and so -- encouraged by some friends -- he signs on for an Amazonian expedition, to run a previously unmapped river in the heart of Brazil.

But, some friends!  Among the key organizers of the expedition is a priest on the faculty at Notre Dame, whose previous experience in South America was very slight indeed.  The priest hires as his quartermaster, responsible for outfitting the expedition, an explorer whose reputation had been ruined by the utter failure of his own single expedition -- to the Arctic. 

The Roosevelt expedition is poorly conceived and wrongly equipped.  It has the wrong food, the wrong boats, the wrong people.  But it also has a few of the right people -- the tough-as-nails explorer Candido Rondon, who has charted more of the Amazon forest than any man alive, losing hundreds of soldiers in the process; George Cherrie, a smart, solid naturalist who wants nothing more than to get home to Vermont.  A bunch of camaradas, essentially enlisted men in the Brazilian army, who at every turn demonstrate unbelievable strength and courage.  (All but one .... )

At the center of it are Roosevelt and his son Kermit.  Kermit is the most introverted of Roosevelt's children, but also the most reckless in his pursuit of danger and glory.  Recently engaged, Kermit doesn't want to be there at all; but he has come along to protect his father.  Does does his father need protection?  This is Teddy Roosevelt, the Colonel, the Bull Moose.  What kind of protection does a man like that need?

Quite a bit, because Roosevelt is hiding an old injury, which threatens his life under the best of circumstances.  And these are the worst of circumstances:  a group of men, fighting their way down savage rapids in unreliable boats, fighting infection and disease, watched by Indians with poison-tipped arrows, racing time as their provisions run out and they are in danger of starvation.  And there is a murderer in their midst.

Yeah, this is a great story, and Millard tells it well.  She has pulled out a ton of information, from archival material to interviews not only with modern-day experts on Amazonian ecology but also with some of the Cinta Larga Indians, who have passed on their own ancestral memories of the expedition.  

Honestly, friends.  We at the Egg read a lot of thrillers and tales of derring-do, but few of them actually thrill us.  This one did, as few books have since we were ten years old.   Poor Mother Anonymous is actually tired of hearing us shriek in horror or delight at the best scenes.  (She threatened to take the book away if we woke her up again).  So if you are feeling a little cooped up underneath the winter snow, or if the daily grind has ground you down, consider this for your midwinter escapist vacation.

And as you read, ask yourself:  Was he brilliant?  Or was he insane?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Holiday Book Review # 1: "DIssolution"

Yes, we know.  These are parlous times; the climate is changing fast, the international economy is in the tank, churches are losing ground in society (and resorting to ever-more-desperate strategies in an effort to cope).  The Episcopalians elected a lesbian bishop and all heck is breaking loose over that way, and we're fairly sure there's a new child-molestation scandal about to pop up in the Roman church.  (We have no evidence; it's just statistically likely).  Time and Newsweek have probably already prepared their usual holiday cover, with Bart Ehrmann asking if there really was a Jesus. Not to mention that both Europe and the East Coast are really, really cold right now.  

And we know that's what Egg readers come here looking to read about.  But what do we have to offer instead of sober analysis and smart-alecky remarks?  Book reviews.  A short series of 'em.  Because this is the time of year that church people need to catch up on their reading.

Never fear; we won't subject our friends and readers to a tedious list of everything we've read lately. Nobody needs an amateur review of Jane Eyre, and if you do, there's always Amazon.  But there area couple of books that might otherwise escape notice, and but may interest regular readers.

So.  Submitted for your approval:  Dissolution, by C.J. Sansom.

Ooooh, one thinks.  Murder mystery, set in a Renaissance monastery, written by an actual historian.  Could it be the next Name of the Rose?  The short answer is No.  This is a straight-up genre piece, with the functional but unadorned prose and workmanlike characterizations that are the norms of the craft.  Published in 2003, it is the first in a series featuring the same detective.  (And yes, it's pretty easy to guess the killer.)

So why mention it?  Here's why:  the history.  The protagonist, Matthew Shardlake, is a lawyer, working for Sir Thomas Cromwell -- the fellow Henry VIII put in charge of dismantling the monasteries and other ecclesiastical institutions, and transferring their massive wealth to the Crown.  The impact of this transfer cannot be overstated; it so enriched the British royals that their nation went, quite suddenly, from a remote backwater to a critical power player in European politics.  Bulgaria to Germany, inside a generation.

What was it like, then, to be a part of this epochal change? What was it like to be a monk, or an abbot, and to see the institutions which had given you power -- but also hope and security -- crumbling?  What was it like to be a zealous young reformer, and to see the way genuine high ideals, including theological ones, can often have a crushing effect upon the lives of people living in a less than ideal world?  Those are the questions that really interest Sansom, far more than who killed whom.  Do we need to mention that such questions are of perennial interest, and especially in these aforementioned parlous times?  He sets out to answer them, and does well, within the limits of his genre and his talent. 

Sansom is a lawyer with a Ph.D. in history, and is surely aware that one recent school of English historians has presented a notably dim view of the Reformation.  Eamon Duffy, in The Stripping of the Altars and Voices of Morebath, has documented the resistance of local parishes and their clergy to the successive waves of "reform" and "restoration," as they attempted to simply continue living, and worshiping, as they always had. He has argued that, far from the tyrannical and soul-killing spiritual wasteland described by Protestant triumphalists, the Church in late-medieval England was in fact a strong, vibrant institution serving the needs of the people across a range of social strata.

Dissolution doesn't offer a partisan evaluation of the Reformation.  On the contrary, it lays out cases in every direction:  some monks are in fact hypocrites and tyrants; others are truly trying to live Godly lives.  There is a genuine need for reform -- and yet that need is also exploited by the high and mighty.  (The book's title is a pun.  It refers both to the "dissolution" of the monasteries and to Shardrake's "disillusion" with his patron, Lord Cromwell).

So.  As a mystery, it's workable -- good for the train or the beach, with eye-comforting large print.  But where Dissolution really comes through is as a painless encouragement to reflection upon the Reformation in particular, and upon the conflict between intentions and results that is part of life in a broken world.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Whew! What a Relief!

Per the Concordia Journal:

We do not sell seminary graduates ....

If nobody else will stand up and take a position, we at the Egg surely will:  Courageously said, gentlemen!  And fie on those yellow cowards at other sems -- they shall remain nameless for so many reasons -- who have taken to selling their graduates, often at a discount or even a loss.  Sadly, white slavers and the like don't pay what one might hope for newly-minted M.Div.s these days.  (Nor do parishes).

Joking aside, the line is from -- and the link points to -- an interesting article in the CJ, called "Stress Test."  (You'll have to scroll a bit to find it).   The main point to the article is no surprise, to be sure.  After a few years in the black, Concordia, St. Louis expects to run a $3 million deficit this year.  Honestly, all one can do is shrug one's shoulders and say "Welcome to the club."  So far as we can tell, every single American institution, right down to the candy shop on the corner, will be a six to twelve zeroes in the red come Christmas.

Still, we admit to a modest surprise here.  We had somehow imagined that conservative schools were insulated from the decline.  Honestly, it seems crazy, but we had just assumed that Richard Mellon Scaife or the LCMS's own Schwan Fund would ride in to the rescue.  (Liberal foundations, of course, don't fund theological education, because they don't see why theologians matter to their various other causes.  Which is another story).  We were apparently, um, wow-we-hate-to-say-it, wrong.

In fact, the article strikes a note sadly familiar to most of the old mainline, by ending the sentence quoted above "... and even if we did, tight placements in recent years show that our declining church is a tight market."

What makes the article interesting is its analysis of how things got bad, at least at this one school.  We won't try to summarize it here, except for the critical point:  Seminary funding patterns have changed dramatically over the years, and the people in the pews rarely know how much.

And of course the LCMS has two seminaries. The ELCA is larger, but not so much larger that it is likely to need eight.  We have already expressed our concern for the school in Chicago, when and if McCormick does pull out.  But how are the others doing?  Does anybody know?

Sarah Palin is a Philosopher

Because who else routinely makes such razor-sharp distinctions between speech and meaning, langue and parole?

Recently, she went on a radio program and declared that the "birther" movement, which claims President Obama's birth certificate is somehow invalid, is "rightfully making {Obama's citizenship] an issue."

However, Palin afterward went onto Facebook "to say that, while she may have said she supports others questioning the president about his citizenship, she herself has not raised such questions."

So.  Let's get this right.  She'll use the mass media to say that the crazy people have a good point, but she isn't actually trying to make that point herself.  Or, to put it another way, she thinks that her voter base should be mollycoddled and pandered to whenever possible, but isn't personally pandering.  Derrida couldn't have sliced it thinner.  Although perhaps Heidegger, the thinking man's Nazi, is a more apt comparison.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Chuck Colson Supports Sharia

A group of religious leaders has released a statement making clear its distaste for gay marriage, abortion and so forth. You can click up top to read it. But let's be clear: This is, to put it mildly, not big news. After all, a group like this releases a statement like this every couple of years. And it wasn't as though we thought Bishop Dolan was going to rush out and start performing same-sex weddings.

There are some things worth mentioning about this particular document, though. In ascending order of significance, there are these:

First, it is called "the Manhattan Declaration." Not that they were trying to provoke anybody by naming their statement after the gayest place in America. It's just that the Gomorrah Marriott was booked that weekend.

Second, the people who signed it form a large group, and many of them are perfectly respectable representatives of major church bodies, especially the Romish and Baptist. But quite a number are oddballs or worse: consider Bob Duncan and Martyn Minns, the Anglican schismatics; Peter Akinola, the Nigerian bishop whose hatred of gay people is such that he has moved to deny them such basic civil rights as freedom of speech and assembly; Jerry Falwell's kid; Dinesh D'Souza (man! Remember that guy? Who knew he was still around?); Watergate conspirator Chuck Colson and Iraq war promoter Michael Novak. (Also, a seminary classmate of Father A.'s, whom we always suspected of being a bit dopey.)

Oh, and another thing about the signatories. Not a single one is identified as a Lutheran. Were we on the board of ALPB, LCMC, CORE or Lutherans for Life -- not to mention a member of the Missouri Synod -- we might be a little offended.

Third, the statement itself is comically long at 4,800 words. (That's about 20 pages, if it were typed and double-spaced). Heavens, people! How self-important are you, to imagine that we have enough time in our lives to actually read something like that? You could have released a document that said, "We don't like gays or want them to have civil rights, we don't like abortion and don't want it to be available" and we could all have said, "Quelle surprise," and it would have had the same impact.

Fourth, it makes a specious claim to a place in the civil rights movement, invoking the name of Martin Luther King and laying out a platform of civil disobedience. This final paragraph is worth mocking in detail:

Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted

suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.

Where to begin with this piece of intellectually dishonest drivel?

First off, it seems that the signatories have forgotten where they live. They imagine a nation in which basic human freedoms, such as religion and free speech, are not guaranteed by law -- Akinola's Nigeria, perhaps. In the United States, there is a significant body of legal discourse devoted to keeping the claims of God separate from those of Caesar. It is, frankly, impossible to imagine any situation in which a member of the clergy (much less Dinesh D'Souza) was "forced" to bless anybody's marriage. The authors surely know this; they are simply resorting to the sort of scare tactics best left to the anonymous emails debunked on Snopes.

What very well may happen, of course, is that certain religious institutions -- hospitals, for example -- may be required to forgo government funding if they don't want to follow the government's rules. Heck, no subjunctive is required; this already happens, left and right. And guess what? Nobody really cares, except for the researchers who don't have access to stem cells and the women who need a different hospital. And maybe hospital administrators, desperate to make their balance sheets add up. This is a serious commitment, a kind of institutional asceticism -- but it ain't exactly Birmingham Jail.

In fact, their claim regarding civil rights depends upon a twisted vision of how rights, including he rights of religious communities, actually work in a secular society. Here's a sample:

No one has a civil right to have a non-marital relationship treated as a marriage. Marriage is an objective reality—a covenantal union of husband and wife—that it is the duty of the law to recognize and support for the sake of justice and the common good. [Blogger's note: Insert here technical query regarding common-law marriages. They are by definition non-covenantal, and yet recognized by law.] If it fails to do so, genuine social harms follow.

First, the religious liberty of those for whom this is a matter of conscience is jeopardized.

Second, the rights of parents are abused as family life and sex education programs in schools are used to teach children that an enlightened understanding recognizes as “marriages” sexual partnerships that many parents believe are intrinsically non-marital and immoral.

Third, the common good of civil society is damaged when the law itself, in its critical pedagogical function, becomes a tool for eroding a sound understanding of marriage on which the flourishing of the marriage culture in any society vitally depends.

You do see the idea here, don't you? The argument boils down to this: (1) marriage is not defined by a legal covenant, but by a divine ordinance which the law is obliged to respect; (2) religious communities have a right to have their convictions incorporated not only into civil law but also into other public institutions, such as schools; (3) the good of society depends -- even absent empirical evidence, which may exist but which they do not present here because they aren't making an empirical argument -- upon the acceptance of their particular religious views.

The implicit assumption of this document is that civil laws must be shaped by divine laws, a traditional position, but one difficult to maintain in a society without an established religion.

The objections are obvious. While D'Souza is a notorious opponent of church/state separation, his Baptist co-signatories are heirs to a long and distinguished history in that department. They have just thrown it out the window.

At a practical level, it is the sort of thinking on display here that gives a foothold to practices that would surely appall the signatories. We are thinking, specifically, the claim of Muslim minorities to be governed by Sharia rather than civil law, or, as those minorities grow in number, to insist that the rest of society be legally required to conform to Islamic standards.

This is neither hyperbole nor reductio ad absurdum. To the degree that religious principles are allowed to shape civil law, above and beyond the private conscience and popular consent of the governed, a society risks the freedom of each religious community from the other.

Or, to put it bluntly, the Manhattan Declaration is Step One toward the outlawing of Mohammand cartoons -- and the legal establishment of polygamy in America.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Lies, Damn Lies and Campaign Biographies

Since the presidential election, we at the Egg have done our best to lay off the team that lost. It seemed unsporting, not to mention redundant, to kick McCain and company while they were down.

The problem with our strategy is Sarah Palin. Clearly intoxicated by the bright lights of national attention, she has made little secret of her thirst for more. Yes, we thought it was weird that her first move was to quit her job -- being the governor of a state is often considered a pretty good base from which to organize politically. But of course, that only works if you are planning to run on a platform which includes actual accomplishments. If you actually believe (as Palin does, and not without reason) that the winning campaign will be composed of sound bites and airbrushing, then the tedious meat-and-potatoes of budgets, legislative deals, and re-election are all a big waste of your comparative youth. Don't get old behind a desk -- get out and attack your enemies!

So she wrote a campaign biography, which is by now one of those tedious ritualistic exercises undertaken by presidential aspirants, about the way lower-level politicos kiss babies and cut ribbons. Nobody really believes anything you write in these books, any more than they believe you love their pwecious or personally paved their road. You just do it so that you'll have something to talk about.

All this being true, a lesser literary figure than Sarah Palin might have stuck to a few heartwarming stories about gutting moose as a child and visiting wounded infantrymen when her handlers set it up in advance. Easy enough, right?

But not our Sarah. No, she has apparently resolved to settle some scores in this biography -- to launch a strike at anybody who might be a publicity problem later. Like, you know, her family.

Click up top for a HuffPo report on Palin's former brother-in-law, Mike Wooten. Her book apparently includes some claims about him, which he in turn claims are actually lies. This would just be a case of he said/she said, except that an ethics panel (consisting overwhelmingly of Republicans) has already investigated the case, and found Palin to be in the wrong. She and her family have spent years attacking this guy and trying to get him fired, for what are clearly personal reasons. But rather than let it drop, she just keeps coming back, requiring more people to shoot her down. Like this:

In Going Rogue, Palin ... cites many charges that were brought against Wooten that were subsequently dismissed. She contends that there were "ten different" citizen complaints field against Wooten--without acknowledging that all of them were filed by members of her family or close friends. ...

In an interview conducted in Alaska this past summer, John Cyr, the former Alaska Public Safety Employees Association Executive Director, confirmed Wooten's charges:

Not one complaint has ever been made about Mike Wooten's professional performance from any member of the public other than the Palin/Heath family and their closest friends. The troopers that I've talked to that have worked with Mike tell me Mike is the kind of guy they'd go through a door with. That he does his work. He's a professional. You know, just no complaints out there about Mike's work.

"It's the product of an ugly divorce and custody battle," Cyr said of the complaints against the State Trooper. "It's nothing more than that."

Perhaps we should admire her persistence, if not her ethics or judgment.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Chicago Massacre

By now, most Egg readers are doubtless aware of the sudden and significant cuts in staff made recently at ELCA headquarters in Chicago.  Forty positions were eliminated -- on top of others, like the archivist, which had already been eliminated in recent months.  This is a significant 

We have few details to share, although the excellent blog Pretty Good Lutherans, linked above, does.  In particular, it posts a partial list of the actual positions which have been cut (although, mercifully, not the people who held them).

Now, PGL seems somewhat upset about the fact that two positions dealing with racism were cut -- one in the PB's office, one in Church and Society.  This, it is suggested, reflects a weakening of the ELCA's commitment to multiculturalism, and a willingness to remain what it is, an overwhelmingly white, English-speaking church body.

First, let's register an objection on principle.  Nobody enjoys layoffs, least of all in the more-or-less friendly environs of a church office, and we assume that the various managers who were forced to make the individual decisions did so with heavy hearts.  Until we hear otherwise, we will assume as a matter of course, and in keeping with the Eighth Commandment, that the decisions don't reflect anybody's desire to restructure the church's commitments, but rather dire necessity and a realistic assessment of what it takes to keep a denominational HQ running.

Clear?  Good.  But, all that said, the list includes six staff positions in the Global Mission unit.  Six.  That's three times as many as two.

For those who don't know, GM is bureaucratic shorthand for the part of the church office which selects, equips and coordinates the foreign missionaries, most of them in Africa but many others in the Middle East, Asia and the Americas, and a few of us -- ahem -- in Europe.  

It's not an especially large team, because, let's face it, the heyday of Anglo-American missionary work is behind us.  Earlier generations were successful in planting national churches all over the world, and those churches no longer need (although some still want) the classic malarial zealot with a Bible in one hand and a suitcase full of cash in the other.  He has been replaced by a much smaller team of experts in things like public health, water resources and accounting.  A very small number of these experts, usually committed to long-term service, is supplemented by a larger number of young, eager volunteers, deployed for comparatively short periods to do more general work.  Fairly few -- your correspondent is an exception -- do classic church-planting and pastoral care.

But that said, even the new smallish team  needs to be recruited, trained, supervised, and coordinated.  Team members need help with everything taxes and visas to medical evacuations and hostage situations.  Companion church officials need somebody to call when there is trouble -- not just the PB or his secretary, but somebody with specific expertise and a command of the details.

So if we accept the logic that the ELCA no longer cares about racism, we must also believe that it is running away, and fast, from its foreign mission work.  Here at the Egg, we don't think that's true.  But we also think that cutting six people from a single department is awfully harsh.  And we hope we don't need help with our taxes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

MIssion Accomplished: Moldovan Style

More than 1000 Moldovans have contracted A1H1, with 90 more reported each day.  In the past two weeks, 24 soldiers have fallen ill.  (We don't know what percentage of the Moldovan army this represents, but we suspect it may be surprisingly high).

But never fear, because help is on the way:

Defense Ministry chief doctor Col. Sergiu Vasislita says about 0.9 ounces (25 grams) of onions and 0.5 ounces (15 grams) of garlic will be added to each soldier's daily diet. That roughly corresponds to a small onion and a couple of garlic cloves.

What was it Groucho said about military intelligence?

On the Subject of Narcissistic Hypocritical Blowhards

(See our own comments to the previous post)

Rudy Giuliani is still thinking about a run for the Senate.  Apparently, polls show that he could beat Kirsten Gillibrand (also know as "Who?") in a race for her seat, but would lose to Andrew Cuomo in a duel for the governorship.

Giuliania, for those who have forgotten, is a thrice-married serial adulterer who publicly humiliated his last wife and whose own children would not support his abortive run for the presidency.  And -- having accidentally dropped the image of abortion -- we may as well mention that he has waffled on this, as he has on various other matters of (homo)sexuality, playing liberal to the hometown crowd and conservative to the national one.

Yes, the same Giuliani who, as mayor of New York, made the brilliant decision to override recommendations from law-enforcement professionals and locate his emergency command post not in an inconspicuous Brooklyn warehouse, but in the World Trade Center -- the only building in America, up to that time, to have been successfully targeted by foreign terrorists.

He also promoted his old pal Bernie Kerik to be the Homeland Security advisor.  You know, Bernie Kerik -- who has since become the first NYC police commissioner ever sent to jail, the one who has since pled guilty on corruption charges which have cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, and will now send him to prison for years.

We're not saying Giuliani is an amoral unprincipled power-mad thug with incredibly poor judgment.  We're just saying -- oh, right.  We are saying those things.

More CORE Lies

Or anyway, fibs.  Or "failures to do quite what they said."

Apparently, when the CORE people elected to wait a year before deciding to forming a new denomination, they didn't really mean wait a year, to see how the ELCA's decision would play out in real life, and perhaps let tempers cool.  They meant decide now, even absent a positive vote to do so, and spend a year actually forming the new denomination.

Perhaps that's not fair.  Strictly speaking, they weren't lying at their convocation; they have simply changed their minds since then:

ELCA had asked members who opposed the change to hold off on taking action, and CORE delegates had agreed to wait a year before taking steps to split from the ELCA. But Ryan Schwarz, chairman of CORE's Vision and Planning Working Group, said congregations had grown impatient.

"When we talked about waiting a year, we never intended to sit around for a year and just contemplate," he said. "We expected to do planning. Now we're also going to be doing the legwork in terms of creating a new church body.

Note the construction:  "we expected to do X; now we're [also] doing Y."  In other words, we're not doing what we said we would; we're doing that and something else.

No big deal, really.  No sane observer could have doubted that CORE would create its own denomination sooner or later.  We point out the change in plans only as a further instance of the unreliability demonstrated by the organization and its leaders during this gestational period -- call it public service for our friends who may be inclined that way.  Caveat emptor, and so forth.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lutheranism's OTHER Greatest Gift to Popular Culture?

(Besides Davy & Goliath, obviously.)

Diana Krall has long been our favorite living jazz vocalist.  And yes, we are well aware that some jazz aficionados (a notoriously cranky and obsessive bunch) argue that "jazz vocalist" is a contradiction in terms.  But they just haven't listened to enough Diana Krall. 

And when the Guardian asks what got her started on the path of musical excellence, she answers:

My family. My dad's mum and dad were coal-miners; they had a piano, and loved music like Fats Waller. Then on my mother's side, there were 10 kids, all Lutherans – so I had the whole Lutheran hymn influence on top of that.

She also takes her kids on tour, and washes their clothes in the sink and gets up early, even after playing a late-night show.  We were deeply in love before we read this brief interview, but now we feel the emotion more powerfully than ever.  Readers may feel fortunate that they cannot see Father Anonymous, mooning about eastern Europe like a lovesick calf, stars in his eyes and a song on his lips, irritating his reverend and dear wife.  (Mostly because of the song, which he can't sing on key to save his own life).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Well. That Explains It, Then

Per the AP, an hour ago:

TAMPA, Fla. — Florida police say a man arrested for repeatedly calling 911 looking for sex claimed it was the only number he could dial after running out of cell phone minutes. Tampa police said 29-year-old Joshua Basso made sexual comments to the 911 dispatcher and asked if he could come to her house. Investigators say she hung up, but he called back four more times.

The Fort Hood Atrocity

We at the Egg, like most other Americans, are still reeling from the horrors of the Fort Hood shooting, in which an Army psychiatrist named Nidal Malik brutally slaughtered 13 people not far from our wife's hometown.

Living abroad, we have been spared the worst of TV's so-called "news" coverage, which no doubt consists, as usual, of a momentary report of the facts, followed by a stage-managed four-minute brawl among talking heads.  We feel no abiding sense of loss.

But we did click through a series of op-ed pieces collected by Arts & Letters Daily.  A series of conservative writers -- David Brooks at the Times; Forbes' Tunku VadajaranDorothy Rabinowitz of the WSJ, and  anti-Islamic polemicist Ibn Warraq -- offer variations on the same argument.  They claim that Americans, who combine a "swaggering" pride in our ability to assimilate immigrants with a knee-jerk political correctness, were quick to point fingers at all the wrong things:  the racist abuse to which Malik had been subjected, the nature of the wars abroad to which he would be deployed, and so forth.  Come on, say the editorialists.  The guy was a radicalized Muslim who shouted "Allahu akbar" as he began firing.  Let's cut the PC nonsense and admit that the Army, like the rest of American society, has been pussyfooting around the question of who our real enemy is.  Or something like that.

Frankly, they have a case.  We have long believed, and said, that it is essential to recognize the religious element in the wars America is fighting.  This includes both the Islamist conviction of the Taliban and al Qaeda and the far-less-commented-upon rise fundamentalist Christianity in the US armed forces.  Ignoring matters of hegemony and petroleum, many combatants on all sides imagine that they are fighting a religious war.   No analysis which ignores this deserves to be taken seriously.

So it is easy to see Malik as a sort of fifth-columnist, because he has made it pretty clear that he wants to be perceived as one.  And religion clearly does play a role in this.

But what role, and how much of one?  It will probably take a while to figure it all out.  While we wait, let's toss the ball around.  The Turkish Muslim Mehmet Ali Agca shot John Paul II.  Was he the leading edge of worldwide jihad, or a just a crazy man?  Lee Harvey Oswald had lived in Russia for nearly three years -- but does that make his various crimes here acts of Soviet aggression, or just more homegrown American violence?  The juries are still out in both cases, but the smart money is on craziness.

More pointedly, what about those Americans who believe that are fighting, on behalf of Christianity, a religious war against the enemies of God?  Does their claim, simply by virtue of having been made, make itself true, and thereby vindicate the warning of the various mullahs that our troops are modern-day Crusaders?  We hope not.

What we're getting at, perhaps inelegantly, is that not every madman is part of a conspiracy -- even when they want to be.  Sometimes they are pawns, sometimes they are wannabees, sometimes they are just plain crazy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New York: It's Rough Town, Withal

The following missive was recently sent by one of our sacerdotal colleagues to another.  Names have been omitted to prevent embarrassment.  Otherwise, res ipse loquitur:

Dear Pastor X,
 A suggested beginning for your sermon Thursday -
 In the beginning was the L--- family and the L--- family was with Pastor X for parish dinners and with Pastor Y for parish dinners; and behold it came to pass the sexton of Pastor X's congregation struck with a chair upon and about the head an esteemed member of Pastor Y's congregation; and following thereupon, the mother of both the striker and strikee joined rank with those of the faithful departed; and therefore be it acknowledged by all pursuant to this notice that Pastor X will offer full and unconditional public apology before the funeral gathering to all offended parties both the quick and the dead within the hold of Pastor Y's charge for all offenses both real and imagined emanating from and pertaining to the premises of Pastor X's congregation perpetrated upon the inhabitants and incumbent members of Pastor Y's congregation.
 Or something like will do just fine.  Looking forward to our 10am Thursday joint funeral efforts.
Pastor Y

The News from Lake Wobegon

So what's up in the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan region, you may ask?  It happens that we know.  These are just some of the headlines in the current edition of the local Forum:
  • Semi hits four cows on Clay County road
  • Valley folks take on region's eating challenges
  • Experts say mild weather to linger
  • ND hospital makes changes after babies switched
  • Lutherans forget divine grace
Well, they all look interesting, don't they?  So let's run 'em down.  Good news is that the semi driver was not injured, although the cows were killed.  The eating challenges in question have nothing (directly) to do with poverty, but rather with the ability of a human being to consume a three pound cheeseburger or a 12-egg omelette.  The babies were switched back in September, and the mistake was discovered within and hour.  Still, it's a scary thing, and the story never actually specifies which procedures have since changed.  For shame, Williston Mercy in Bismarck. The weather does look nice so far, but we're sobered by the national Weather Service fellow, who when asked about spring flooding answered, "Anything at this point is simply literally a guess."

As for the Lutherans, it seems that First and Hope, both in Fargo, have decided to hold back their benevolence from the ELCA.  Readers will surely not be surprised to learn that the reason is, in a word, gays.  No news there.

What did catch us off guard was that we learned it from an open letter to the congregation councils, linked up top, by the Rev. Arthur W. Johnson, a retired pastor and former member of First.  He's pretty unhappy, too.  Specifically, he says

What courage you have exhibited to so strongly condemn another’s behavior and commitments[!] I would like to know if you consulted the faithful members of your congregations who are GLBT and included their judgments in your resolutions and if you invited your congregations to vote.

Since you seem so clear and firm on the issue of homosexuality and your Bible’s condemnation of such, what pronouncement are each of your councils preparing for this month? The Christian Bible makes a goodly list: the rich, divorced, women, slavery, enemies, war, imprisoned, foreigners and of course children (Psalm 137:9) to name only a few topics to cut your moral teeth on.

The letter isn't exactly Ciceronian in its rhetoric.  Johnson's "goodly list" is a kind of tired trope by now, and we aren't sure there is a Bible that isn't the Christian Bible.  And when he says, further on that, that left-handed children were killed in the Middle Ages for being "born sinister," he's just wrong.  But cavils aside, we appreciate Johnson's passion, and his willingness to speak publicly about to what must be painfully divided congregations.

We are struck by the possibility, raised by Johnson, that the decision to hold back benevolence was made by the congregation councils, without a vote by the membership.  Can this possibly be the case?  If so, it seems to us a bit hubristic.  Lutheran polity clearly puts major financial decisions -- not to mention decisions about how a congregation shall be aligned with its denomination -- in the hands of the Congregational Meeting.

We don't know the facts, although First has posted an online statement of its own, um, sexual position, which begins by saying that it was adopted "by the unanimous consent of the 24-person council ... with the unanimous support of the Pastoral Staff."  It adds that "this unity has probably become as important as the statement itself."  Well, probably so, and we don't doubt the results of congregational vote.  But did one occur?  Readers in the know are encouraged to tell us.

So that's the news from you-know-where.  Oh, and Gov. Tim "Hawkeye" Pawlenty shot a buck, but was thereafter unable to find the wounded animal, leaving it to limp and bleed its way through the snowy woods and eventually succumb to predators or die a slow death from infection.  Obviously a candidate for the Dick Cheney Sportmanship Award.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Note the New Links, Left

Observant readers have probably found that the list of links on the left side of this page is rarely updated.  There's a good reason for this, and medieval moral theology gave it a simple name: sloth.

Old Father Anonymous is a lazy, lazy man.  So in four years of blogging, he has changed those links maybe twice.  Even though it's pretty easy.

But today, he has added three new links, and hopes that you'll take a look at them:
  1. The English Ministry of the Lutheran Church in Romania.  Two American pastors descend on Eastern Europe; one of them is good-looking and the other has a cute kid.  
  2. Pietati, the English Ministry's blog, which offers a less formal picture of what's happening in Transylvania;
  3. Pastor Joelle's Skating in the Garden in High Heels Under My Alb.   And man, has she got some sharp words for CORE today. 

In America, This Wouldn't Have Happened

It was a grand ecumenical celebration of the Reformation, in a Transylvanian city.  We drove to the church, stepped out of the car, and saw this sign:  "Blueball Real Estate."

Father A. began to laugh.  When his bishop asked what was so funny, perhaps he should have maintained a tactful silence.  But does that sound like him? 

The bishop roared, and as we entered the vestry, made a point of sharing this new and off-color bit of English slang with the assembled clergy.

A German observed that his language had no corresponding word.  All agreed that Germans are a lucky, lucky nation.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

"For the New Generation of Priests and Laypeople"

Or, alternatively, neither.  Paging PeaceBang and fast!

We happily tip our biretta to Father Rock de Starr for this one.

And although the beautiful Mother A. has declared herself unfit for this fit, she offers a nihil obstat to the Rev. Mother in Missouri.  We ourselves demur, but then fashion is -- let's be gentle, friends -- not our forte.  We give thanks daily that our cassock obviates the need to make difficult sartorial decisions.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Our New Hero


So many of you have forwarded this that posting it here is almost redundant.  But what if, somewhere in America, there is somebody who hasn't seen it?  No!  Such a condition must not stand.  So if you haven't yet, then by all means do:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Speaking of the Finns ...

We've heard, much of our lives, that they kill themselves in awesome numbers, most likely as an effect of months in the cold and dark, supplemented by significant quantities of hard liquor.

And that's probably true.  (Those of you who have heard Father A.'s oft-repeated story about a winter bus trip through Lapland may insert it here.  For the rest of you, the punchline is "Then I have an epiphany. 'The answer is so simple,' I said aloud.  'I'll kill myself!  That will show them all' And I was on the next bus south to Rovaniemi.")  

But the French live in a sunny Mediterranean climate, drinking wine and surrounded by masterpieces of art and culture.  Yet they kill themselves at positively Nordic rates, and their numbers are climbing.  So what gives?

Well, the Economist -- from which we stole this nifty bar graph - has a theory:  It's the economy, stupid.

You see, the French suicides have a largely corporate mise-en-scene (you see what we did there, right?  Actually using French, albeit a French cliche and without the accent which we're too lazy to find?):

A spate of attempted and successful suicides at France Telecom—many of them explicitly prompted by troubles at work—has sparked a national debate about life in the modern corporation. One man stabbed himself in the middle of a meeting (he survived). A woman leapt from a fourth-floor office window after sending a suicidal e-mail to her father: “I have decided to kill myself tonight…I can’t take the new reorganisation.” In all, 24 of the firm’s employees have taken their own lives since early 2008—and this grisly tally follows similar episodes at other pillars of French industry including Renault, Peugeot and EDF.

Holy *#@%.  Glad we work for the Church, where job satisfaction is celestially high.

The main culprit, per the Economist's columnist "Schumpeter," is the recession, which "is destroying jobs at a startling rate."  Then follow the drive to improve productivity -- "Taylorism" -- and finally, one that seems more subtle, and therefore more noteworthy:

[T]he mixed messages that companies send about loyalty and commitment. Many firms—particularly successful ones—demand extraordinary dedication from their employees. (Microsoft, according to an old joke, offers flexitime: “You can work any 18-hour shift that you want.”) Some provide perks that are intended to make the office feel like a second home. But companies also reserve the right to trim their workforce at the first sign of trouble. Most employees understand that their firms do not feel much responsibility to protect jobs. But they nevertheless find it wrenching to leave a post that has consumed so much of their lives.

This, we think, is important.  The ping-pong table in the breakroom, the fully-stocked fridge and even the babysitting service -- among the widely publicized perks of Silicon Valley -- simply do not compensate for the loss of job security.  On the contrary, because they are symbols of the extraordinary dedication demanded by those firms, they quickly become symbols of how employees have sacrificed so much of their lives for an employer which treats them not as human beings but as disposable objects.

Sing Along With Bobby Aro

Our Beloved Godfather must make the Google algorithm wet its pants.  We don't know what search terms he uses, but he does find the darndest stuff.  

Lately, he's gotten us hooked on the music of Bobby Aro.  A native Minnesotan (and we can only assume a Lutheran), Aro is the author of such classic tunes as "Highway No. 7" and "I'm Not Finnish (But My English Teacher Was)."

How to describe this music?  Our first thought was "the bastard child of Sven, Ole and the Limeliters."  The fan site linked above compares him to Bob Dylan, another Rust Belt boy with a musical gift, but that's a bit like comparing Hendrix with the Klezmatics -- hey, they both work creatively with the music of oppressed peoples, but ....  

Anyway.  Click up top and listen.  There are two albums, the latter of which contains a track called "The Moose."  OBG proposes that this is the archetype of all Finnish humor.  We trust his judgment on this, although we ourselves had been sure it was Canto 20 of the Kalevala (you remember, the one about beer).

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bouman: CORE Lies to Members

For many years, Stephen Bouman served as our bishop.  These days, he is the ELCA's Director of Outreach and Mission.  It was in that capacity, more or less, that he attended the CORE wingding, and has published an open letter to the schismatics-in-waiting.

It's a good letter, and we urge you to click the link up top.  It is classic Bouman, in ways that may tickle those of us who know his style:  the eirenic (if perhaps misplaced) assurance that "my heart is with you," the wrenching anecdote about an immigrant, the preoccupation with Isaiah, and the central theme repeated so often you can chant it along with him.  But that theme is both familiar and important, as he asks CORE, over and over, whether they are serious about mission.  

He doesn't just mean building new congregations, but also -- and this is another favorite theme -- about the witness of the church in the public square.  For example:

You seem ready to engage our African and Latino brothers and sisters and their growing outreach in the life of the ELCA. Again I want to ask you, are you serious? Speakers made fun of Bishop Hanson for his call to "public church," but how dare we welcome our immigrant brothers and sisters and ask them to leave their issues and vulnerability in our society at the door? 

All this is good.  What caught us off guard, though, is a note of genuine accusation.  He says that the CORE leaders lied about a matter of policy, and would not let the truth be heard:

During the meeting, ... [it] was said [by two mission pastors] that the ELCA is and will punish mission pastors for their convictions of conscience through withholding of funds for their mission. After these untrue statements were made, people passed the hat for these ministries in order to make up funding that the ELCA would withhold. 

As executive director for the Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission unit of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I want to say as publically and as strongly as possible that exactly the opposite is true. ...

I was not permitted to speak and correct these allegations.

This surprised us, largely because it is unlike Bishop Bouman to point an accusing finger at anybody in a public forum.  But he did it.  And rightly so.

And wow.  They just plain lied.  Then they refused to let the mission director of their own church correct the lies.  Delightful.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Deus Lo Volt?

There is an impossibly stupid Times op-ed piece by Ross Douthat, linked above, which tries to put a Crusading face on the new "personal ordinariate" for Romanizing Anglicans.

Douthat suggests that    

"What’s being interpreted, for now, as an intra-Christian skirmish may eventually be remembered as the first step toward a united Anglican-Catholic front — not against liberalism or atheism, but against Christianity’s most enduring and impressive foe," by which he means Islam.

He doesn't actually explain how this might happen, mind you.  Instead, he (1) asserts that both churches are threatened by the growing confrontation with Islam, both in Europe and in Africa; then (2) asserts that where Rome has chosen confrontation (e.g., the Regensburg speech), Canterbury has chosen appeasement (e.g., Abp Williams surprisingly dumb hint that shariah might work in Britain as an alternate legal system).  From the apposition of these two claims, he seems to conclude -- we say "seems," because there is no real connection --  (3) that Benedict is not so much kicking the Anglicans while they are down, as marshaling his forces against the Turk.

Let's be clear about what Douthat is really doing, rhetorically:  he is trying to paint Benedict as a new John Paul, whose apparent intractability on theological matters is now frequently pointed to (mostly by theocons) as part and parcel of a long-term plan to undermine Communism.  This by itself is a popular historical trope, but bad history.  It seems pretty clear that Communism was brought down by its unsustainable economic policies, which left the USSR too fragile to maintain a security state, etc.  Reagan helped a little, both by forcing the Reds to keep blowing rubles on their military and by giving Gorbachev a partner in the West.  But how many divisions has the Pope, and all that.

Meanwhile, his assumptions about Islam are, if not cartoonish, at least debatable.  Certainly, the world's two largest religions are now in one another's face as they have not been since the Middle Ages.  Philip Jenkins may be a darling of the neocons, but we do not doubt his contention that the next half-century will be tense.  

Still, the idea that Islam threatens Christianity and Christian values, while certainly not entirely false (they are different religions, and it is the nature of different religions to hold different values), is misleading.  The real challenge afoot today is not Islam vs. Christianity, but Islamism (or, per Hitchens, Islamofascism) vs. Western democracy -- the ideas of individual autonomy, human rights, and specifically the sort of freedoms outlined in the first ten amendments to the US Constitution.  And it is worth remembering that, little more than a century ago, many Western thinkers believed that Roman Catholicism was intrinsically incompatible with these values -- and that Pius IX had given them cause to think so.

As to his characterization of the two church bodies, we don't think Douthat is especially well-informed.  Oh, sure, the spirit of Neville Chamberlain is alive in the CofE; but Bp Michael Nazir-Ali serves as a pretty effective Churchill these days, and some people are paying attention.  And has Douthat actually read the Regensburg speech, or the backtracking follow-up statements from the Pope?  To us, he seemed less like Charles Martel and more like an academic deer caught in the political headlights.

Another sign of Douthat's ignorance, or at least a sign that his biases are conditioned by the usual theocon rant, is his characterization of the ecumenical movement:

Spurred by the optimism of the early 1960s, the major denominations of Western Christendom have spent half a century being exquisitely polite to one another, setting aside a history of strife in the name of greater Christian unity.

This ecumenical era has borne real theological fruit, especially on issues that divided Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation. But what began as a daring experiment has decayed into bureaucratized complacency — a dull round of interdenominational statements on global warming and Third World debt, only tenuously connected to the Gospel.

This is, again, a popular trope -- and again, bad history.  In fact, the modern ecumenical movement began (half a century before Vatican II and the "optimism of the early 60s," by the way) with the deliberate effort of Protestant missionaries to coordinate their efforts and approaches, rather than competing.  It expanded into something much greater, a sweeping re-evaluation of the separation between churches, studied both with regard to their faith and order and to their life and work.

Along the way, there were certainly some public statements on subjects which may not have seemed like the work of the church.  We think, for instance, of the call for Sunday School curricula dealing with birth control and sex education, delivered by the Council of Christian Churches in the USA -- back in the 1930s.

But in fact, the more serious products of the ecumenical movement have been just the sort of consolidation that Douthat imagines Benedict to be proposing:  both institutional mergers that created "uniting churches" in India and the Americas, as well as agreements of "full communion" between historically-rooted partner churches (such as the Lutheran-Reformed Leuenberg Agreement in 1973, and many others since then, including the recent agreement between Lutherans and Methodists in the US).  It is such agreements, in which divided churches recognize in one another the elements of a common faith, which have slowly begun to forge a common witness.

Roman Catholic participation has been a tricky thing.  After a long period of utter indifference, came another -- roughly 1964 to 1978 -- during which it seemed to lead the way.  Since then, we have seen some fits and starts, and in fact Roman Catholic ecumenical efforts have often seemed to focus on good works rather than common faith, meaning, for instance, that they offered significant leadership on the very campaign against third-world debt that Douthat derides.  In discussion of doctrinal matters, and in the difficult work of hammering out agreements, Rome has largely ceded leadership to another late-in-the-day entrant in the ecumenical sweepstakes, worldwide Lutheranism.

There is one significant exception to that remark, however, and it is massively significant:  the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, signed by Roman Catholics and Lutherans in 1999, and by Methodists in 2006.  In the realm of faith and order, this may well be the crowning achievement of the ecumenical movement to date, and it is a far cry from the sort of politically correct bureaucratic exercise Douthat imagines.  It is a doctrinal statement, growing out of prolonged encounter between two deeply estranged communities, which identifies the common foundation of their faith and points the way toward a recognition of their unity in Christ.  If you are looking for the base upon which to erect a common Christian witness, both against secularism and against Islam, you will find it in JDDJ -- and not in a ham-handed effort to meddle in Anglican affairs.

Douthat wants readers to believe that the "personal ordinariate" is a bold effort by Pope Benedict XVI to clean up the messy house of Western Christianity, and rescue it from threats inside and out.  He has no evidence to support this, and the claims he makes are false.  If he wants to speak publicly about the complex affairs of the church, he should stop reading First Things and start reading church history.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Our First Contest

So, the Pope is going to establish a uniate order for refugees from Anglicanism, the "personal ordinariate" announced yesterday.  While this may be a new low for ecumenical relations in the modern era, we have to admit that it offers some exciting possibilities for drollery.  With that in mind, we at the Egg announce our first-ever online contest:

Name That Ordinariate!

Look, it's going to need a name.  And our Romish brothers have some great ones, don't they?  Where the rest of us have corporate-sounding departments and units, they have congregations, vicariates, and apostolates.  We have representatives, they have nuncios.  

But it is the names of their religious orders that really knock our socks off.  Some are pointedly quaint:  Benedictine Sisters of the Perpetual Adoration, Canons Regular of the Holy Cross of Coimbra.  These are the names that are endlessly, and tediously, satirized by playwrights who didn't enjoy parochial school.  But other orders possess names that make bold, even (upon reflection) somewhat tendentious claims.  Society of Jesus?  So what does that make the rest of Christianity?  Lovers of the Holy Cross?  Count us in!

So what will they call the new personal ordinariate (for now, here, "the PO," rhymes with Hugh)?  The Pope is a busy man, and doesn't have time to think this sort of thing through.  But we trust that Egg readers will come up with suggestions to help him out.  After all, what are friends for?

Our first thoughts on the subject include:  

Congregation of Romish Anglicans, Worshiping Laud ("admiring Laud" would be more charitable, but would lose the abbreviation which serendipitously describes their locomotion Romeward).

Order of Guy Fawkes, although we would just call them the Fawkesians.  Or "the Gunpowder Boys."  (In fact, their drinking song might include variations on "remember, remember, the fifth of November," with special attention to"treason and plot.")

The Hooker-Haters.  Actually, that's just a nickname for the Society for the Repeal of Article XIX.  It sounds more impressive in Latin.

Confraternity of the Absolute Truth, a name which neatly demonstrates their distance from the Anglican branch of Anglicanism.

Well, these aren't worth much.  But we know you can all do better -- so keep those cards and letters coming!