Friday, May 29, 2009

Whitsunday, Anyone?

Should any of our clerical readers be casting about for something to say in a Pentecost sermon, we propose re-reading some favorite poems.  

Auden's "Whitsunday in Kirchstetten," which is apparently not available online because of copyright protection, contains the unforgettable tag, "if there when Grace dances, I should dance." 

Dana Gioa's "Pentecost," subtitled "after the death of our son," is as difficult to read as a short poem written in straightforward English can be.  It would take a preacher made of sterner stuff than we to use this homiletically without growing maudlin.  But think of it as a background reading, a reminder of why God's presence in the world matters.

Derek Walcott has a poem -- same title -- that we take to be a meditation upon the sense of foreignness one feels, sometimes, in a land different from one's own.  (Auden covers this more theologically).  Worth a look, especially for the thought that "nor can these tongues of snow / speak for the Holy Ghost."

There are many others, but the one that grabbed our attention (and which will feature in our own Sunday sermon) is George Herbert's "Whitsunday."  It is a plea directed toward the Spirit, to be present in the world now -- and a complaint that God's presence is not now as evident as in the age of miracles:  "Where is that fire which once descended / On thy Apostles?  thou didst then / keep open house ...."

The stanza that really grabbed us this time around, however, is one of three that Herbert wrote and then cut from his final version:

Show yt thy brests can not be dry,
But yt from them joyes purle for ever
Melt into blessings all the sky,
So wee may cease to suck: to praise thee, never.

The general idea of God as a nursing mother was not rare in Herbert's time (nor was it the least bit new).  But this particular image -- the fear of being weaned -- touches us deeply just now.  Perhaps because Baby Anonymous still takes such delight in nursing.

Your Correspondent Is A Bit Concerned

Years ago, fresh out of seminary, Father Anonymous served a congregation with a proud history, a gorgeous Gothic building, a fine worship tradition, a little money tucked away -- and a long trail of bitter conflict.

Things didn't go well.  Fr. A was not the the font of pastoral wisdom he has since become.  He spoke his mind, he tried to fix things -- and, truth be told, he probably made them worse.  The level of conflict in the parish was tragicomically high.  We still remember the week that a communicant attempted to stab an usher during Holy Communion.  yes, that's right  stab with a knife.  In the guts.   We remember even more sadly the response of the Congregation Council, which was not to condemn both men for their gross misbehavior, nor to invite them into a process of public repentance and reconciliation, but rather to choose sides.  Half the Council sided with the stabber, half with the stabbee.

Father Anonymous left soon afterward, despairing of his ability to preach the Gospel in such a way that those who heard him bore good fruit.

The best thing he did, during this unhappy period, was to invite a team of outside consultants to come and work with the congregation, attempting to interpret its history through the lens of Murray Bowen's theory concerning how families (and other groups) operate systemically.  The congregation may not have been ready to learn this stuff, but Fr. A was, and it became the focus of his attention for several years thereafter.

Oh, and he did one other thing of which he is still proud.  On his way out the door, he made it clear, both to his bishop and to the bishop's assistant tasked with filling vacant pulpits, that this congregation was deeply troubled.  "It requires," he said, "an experienced interim pastor, acquainted with parish conflict.  And under no circumstances should a pastor fresh from seminary be sent here.  Under no circumstances."

Within a few months, the bishop's office offered a new pastor to this parish.  She was intelligent, mature, well-trained -- and fresh from seminary.  Three years later, having suffered terrible personal costs, not least the breakup of her marriage, she left.  (She has done very well since then, because she's a damn good pastor.  That's not the point.)  Shortly afterward, the congregation entered the final stages of its long downward spiral, and it now essentially dissolved.  Cost our synod a fortune in legal bills, too.  

They didn't listen, and Fr. A has not forgotten.

In the years since, Fr. A has often remarked that he was working to become the pastor that congregation had originally needed.  He has served several parishes in interim positions, starting with one which had experienced minor conflict, moving to one which had experienced significant long-term conflict, and most recently requesting one from which four consecutive pastors had left amid turmoil.  

This last has been the best of the bunch.  It has the most engaging membership and the best location.  It has -- we may as well say it -- a proud history, a gorgeous Gothic building, a fine worship tradition, a little money tucked away.  And a long trail of bitter conflict.

Naturally, Fr. A believes that this is not a good place for a newly ordained pastor.  Great people, great neighborhood, plenty of reason to expect good things.  But the administrative load is very heavy, complicated by the urgent need to raise about $3.5 million over ten years, and to execute a massive restoration of three buildings.  And although the level of conflict has been very low, even still water has sharks swimming beneath it.  Four consecutive pastors.

Fr. A has made all this clear, in as much detail as he can muster, to the people who make the decisions.  He has given his advice:  Don't send a seminarian.  Beyond that, Fr. A is honor-bound not to interfere with the process.  Now there is nothing left to do but wait and pray.

So now we wait, and see if they are listening yet.

Episcopalians Lower Their Standards ... Again.

Father Alberto Cutie, "Padre Oprah," has been received into the Episcopal Church, and is taking steps toward the priesthood.  This comes after the well-known South Florida radio personality was revealed to be violating his vow of celibacy.

The Roman Catholic archdiocese is understandably ticked off.  It released a statement which said, in part,

Father Cutie's actions have caused grave scandal within the Catholic Church, harmed the Archdiocese of Miami -- especially our priests -- and led to division within the ecumenical community and the community at large.  Today's announcement only deepens those wounds.

There was also a suggestion that ecumenical cooperation would be harmed (although we doubt the truth of this, beyond a few symbolic events which may be canceled).

Now, let's be clear.  We at the Egg don't believe that clerical celibacy is an especially good thing.  Frankly, it sets the bar unnecessarily high, and increases the likelihood of scandals just like this one (or worse).  Marriage exists among Christians, in part, because God does not want us to burn with lust -- it is a means of creating accountability and fidelity while defending against the temptation of promiscuity.   Historically, clerical celibacy was an idea promoted by the West and, repeatedly, opposed by the East.  Even in the West, there was only a fairly short period -- from the eleventh century to the sixteenth -- when the rule was universally accepted.

So Fr. Cutie has broken a rule for which we don't really care.  On the other hand, he has broken the rule  -- violated his vow and, considerably worse, he did not himself take action to deal with it, either by breaking off the relationship or by requesting a return to lay status.  Instead, he waited until he was caught, and created a scandal.

Is this the sort of priest the Episcopal Church wants in its ranks?  We would have thought that they already had enough trouble with disobedient and self-righteous clergy.

We are reminded of another Roman Catholic with a high public profile, who some years ago revealed to the world that he was, in his own self-dramatizing phrase, "a gay American."  He didn't do this immediately after a strangely delayed sexual awakening; he did it when faced with legal threats of sexual harassment from a former paramour -- and after having deceived, for years, his second wife.  Not a first youthful mistake, mind you -- his second wife.

Ex-governor Jim McGreevey was also received into the PECUSA, and is also reported to be taking steps toward ordination.  (There are rumors, for the truth of which we cannot vouch, that his path so far has cleared a bit in comparison to that of other seminary students.  Not made more difficult, as one might expect -- but made easier.)

The fact that both men were guilty of sexual misconduct is relevant here, if only from a legal perspective.  Churches these days are under tremendous scrutiny (ask our insurance broker), and sadly this is a well-deserved scrutiny.  Whether they are prone to diddle the altar boys or the pretty young maidens is beside the point; people who have demonstrated difficulty in maintaining appropriate sexual boundaries expose their churches to an elevated level of risk.  (Not to mention the risk they may pose to the faith of church members).

But beyond that, there are the fundamental questions of character.  Mistakes, once made and confessed, can and must be forgiven.  But it is also fair for a church body to ask whether it wants as clergy people who have demonstrated difficulty in following the most basic rules, and keeping their most fundamental promises.

And it is fair to ask why the Episcopal Church seems to untroubled by these characters. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New Swedish Bishop --And She Likes Girls

The Rev. Eva Brunne was elected yesterday to be the new Bishop of Stockholm.  We congratulate her!

Bishop-elect Brunne will face more than the usual challenges, and more than the usual scrutiny.  Her church is in the process of deciding what position to take on the matter of same-sex marriage, which is already recognized by the civil authority.  The bishop herself lives with another woman, the Rev. Gunilla Linden.  They have a three-year-old son.  According to the French news report linked above, their union "has been blessed by the Church."

There will be questions beyond the strict confines of the Swedish church.  Brunne is the first lesbian known to hold a position of such authority in any church body.  It is hard to know what impact her election will have on her church's ecumenical partners -- or, of particular concern to us, on the Lutheran World Federation.

Pro Multis? Really?

Roman Catholic traditionalists are crowing because the new standards for translation require the Words of Institution to say that the blood of Christ is poured out "for many," rather than -- as has become customary in recent years -- "for all."  The latest news (linked above) is that this becomes mandatory in Hungary this coming Sunday.  According to NLM, linked above, priests have actually been sent little adhesive labels to stick over the "current erroneous translation" in their present missals.

The matter is worth considering.  We ourselves grew up with "the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins."  You know how it is with ritual incantations:  the first learned are deepest rooted, and nothing else will ever sound quite right.  (Which is why, for example, "debts" will never outpace "trespasses.")  So let us confess up front that we are not without bias.

Nonetheless, there are problems with this translation.  Some are easy -- the SBH put initial capitals on "New Testament."  This can't possibly be right; the New Testament is a book, which when Jesus spoke had not yet been compiled.  What the Lord offered in his blood was, rather, a new testament, comparable (albeit vastly superior) to the testaments (or covenants) with Noah and Abraham. The two are connected -- one describes the other -- but they are not identical.  (The counter-argument is that we often capitalize "Word of God" when intending either the Scriptures or the Lord.  That's another mistake, but a harder one to correct).

As for the words "for many," they are indeed an accurate literal translation of "pro multis" in the Editio Typica, and (more significantly) of "hyper pollon" in Mark 14:24.  So it is easy to see why the traditionalists at NLM reveal so much indignation about the "erroneous" translation.

The problem is that translation is a complex art.  Anyone who has ever tried to translate a few simple passages from Scripture has had to choose between literal and idiomatic renderings -- what are sometimes called "formal equivalency" and "dynamic equivalency."  (Using formal equivalence, we would say in French that Dick Cheney is a batarde; but that would really be an aspersion upon his parentage which we are unprepared to support.  What we mean to say is that he is a salaud.)

Kittel, our preferred guide to the complexities of Biblical Greek, argues at some length that polloi in the New Testament is generally used inclusively, and always so with reference to the saving work of Jesus.  For example, in Mark 1:34, Jesus is said to heal "some" of the sick people around him; but both synoptic parallels amend this to read "all" of them, suggesting that this is how the developing tradition understood the Greek word.  The argument proffered by Joachim Jeremias hinges on the connection of the key verses to Isaiah 53:12 (NRSV:  "and he bore the sin of many"), and on the fact that Hebrew, lacking a precise verbal equivalent for "all" (in the sense of each individual; qol works for the totality of a thing), sometimes uses "many" to say "all."

Both translations, it seems to us, have a legitimate case.  Beyond both, of course, lies the fundamental question of for whom, precisely, we be believe that Jesus shed his blood.  All people?  Most people?  A chosen few?  144,000?  This is a difficult place where one wants to shape doctrine according to the text, and yet finds oneself with little choice but to do the reverse.  That said, and despite our nostalgic preference, we have to suggest that the blood of Christ was in fact shed for all people -- even those who reject it, and those (if any) who may not in the event derive any benefit from it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dept. of No Surprise: Scientologist is Crazy, Tells Lies

Since 2006, Congress has been considering (and re-considering) something called by various names, including "the Mother's Act," to provide money for screening, diagnosis and treatment of post-partum depression.  This is a sensible public-health policy initiative.  And a high-profile  religious fanatic is opposing it with a combination of lies and dogma.

Good news:  she's not one of ours.

Kirstie Alley may not be Tom Cruise, but she is a well-known performer (Cheers and Fat Actress) and a well-known follower of mediocre science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard's mediocre effort at creating a new religion, the perversely named Scientology.

Glenn Thrush at Politico reprints a series of tweets that Alley has sent out, which claim that the bill in question would require mothers to accept psychoactive medications, and give them to their children, if a doctor prescribed them.  This appears to be false.  It also includes some loony stuff about "squirting Prozac into the eyes of newborns."  This appears to be nuts.

The real issue, obviously, is that Scientology does not accept the use of psychiatric medications.  This is their right, we suppose, just as Christian Science doesn't care for medication at all, nor Jehovah's Witnessism for blood transfusions.  (Insert crack about Roman Catholicism/"Evangelicalism"and abortion/stem cells/cloning here).  Unlike the Christian Science or Jehovah people, Scientology has a well-worked out strategy of using prominent entertainers to publicize its preferences.

Their legal right, yes indeed.  But isn't there some legal device for holding people accountable for outright lies?  Like, say, laws about libel?

"The Death of Kings"

That's the title of a fascinating, if impressionistic, New Yorker piece on the financial meltdown, by Nick Paumgarten.  Sadly, it's available only to subscribers.  Still, it's full of great stuff, including many thumbnail sketches of people whose lives are so different from our own that we would otherwise  find them unimaginable.

And this.  Regarding collateralized debt obligations, the overpriced assets once widely marketed as securities, Paumgarten recalls a blunt critique:  "You can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit."  And then, reflecting on the fact that government "regulation" depended upon the rating of such securities by rating agencies that were funded by the banks themselves, he says:

It is true:  the peddlers of of the chicken shit paid to have it magically pronounced chicken salad, a conflict of interest that most investors ignored.

Okay, Harold Ross is squirming uncomfortably in his grave.  But it does make the point.

Petraeus Backs Gitmo Closure

Gen. David Petraeus, anointed by the former Republican Congress as Allied Supreme Commander of Everything and Lord of All Our Future Political Aspirations, is personally committed to interrogation techniques consistent with the Geneva Conventions, and with closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Colin Powell is already on record as saying similar things.  So has Wesley Clark.  So did John McCain, before his recent (and typically dishonorable) flip-flop.

Do you see a pattern here?  Actual military officers -- the experts on effective conduct of war -- say torture is bad strategy and Gitmo has long since become counterproductive.  Meanwhile, chickenhawk draft-dodgers like Dick Cheney strut around saying the opposite, with (in Cheney's case) an ever-increasing air of desperation.

Dept. of No Surprise: Lousy Hermenuetics Division

By now, Egg readers are probably aware that Donald Rumsfeld pandered to George W. Bush's religious beliefs as a way of building presidential support for the Iraq invasion, by headlining military intelligence briefings with Biblical quotations.

We are shocked by the depth of Rumsfeld's cynicism, as well as by the apparent shallowness of Bush's understanding of Christianity.  But neither of those is news.

What is news, although by no means a surprise, is that many of the Biblical quotations were taken out of context, in some cases badly enough to reverse their meaning.  The "armor of God" from Ephesians has always been prone to misunderstanding, and it was misunderstood.  And of another verse, Scott Alexander, director of the Catholic-Muslim Studies at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, says: 

As a Christian, I am deeply troubled that a verse such as Isaiah 6:8 -- a verse about a great prophet's call to indict his own people for their infidelity . . . is being presented as a divine call for the U.S. to invade Iraq. 

Well.  This is how fanaticism works:  the dim, misled by the wicked into a corrupt understanding of their Scriptures, commit acts of unnecessary violence.  And nobody ever thinks to consult the experts -- you know, people with special training in the interpretation of difficult ancient texts.  We're embarrassed, both as Americans and as Christians; we're angry; we're bitter.  But we're not surprised.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Okay, it's Saturday.  But we needed a catchy header.

The Rev. Don Armstrong is among the self-described "conservative" or "orthodox" priests who have left the PECUSA to form their own mini-denomination, the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, in which women can be ordained as priests but not bishops and gay people may keep quiet.

He is also, according to a grand jury indictment, a thief.

Armstrong, the long-time pastor of a parish in Colorado Springs, is accused of using church money to pay the college expenses of his two children, including their rent and tuition.  In 2007, an ecclesiastical court found him guilty of financial and pastoral misconduct to the tune of $400,000, and he was "removed from the active ministry."  Coincidentally (ahem), it was also in 2007 that Armstrong joined CANA.

The current indictment accuses him of stealing $291,000 from a trust and, later, from general church funds.

It has been a bad few months for Armstrong, jurisprudentially speaking.  His schismatic congregation had hoped to obtain possession of the $17 million church property, which a judge has now ruled they must turn over to the diocese.

Look, we know it happens in the best of families, yadda-yadda.  But what we're really wondering is why CANA let this guy in.  Do they have some evidence that of the guy's innocence?  Do they simply not care about the Seventh Commandment (or Eighth, by the Prayer Book count)?  Were they perhaps swayed by the prospect of a $17 million church property?

We hate to be Father One-Note, but we are reminded of another schismatic church body, which left its parent denomination with great fanfare, over issues in which politics and theology blended uncertainly.  They too claimed, and not entirely without reason, that "we didn't leave our church; our church left us."  Subsequent experience has suggested that some of the most compelling and apparently gifted of these schismatics were not entirely well-adjusted, emotionally speaking.  We wonder what would happen if CANA's clergy were to take, say, the MMPI en masse.  (Or after Mass, if that were more convenient).

Rubrical Alert UPDATE

Lay readers are invited to skip this next bit, which falls somewhere between "inside baseball" and "liturgical trivia."

After we reminded readers to extinguish their paschal candles on Ascension Day, a rubrically alert reader commented on our "Rubrical Alert," suggesting -- well, declaring -- that in fact we ought not extinguish the candles, but rather move them to the baptismal font where they should be lit until Pentecost.

Our answer was, basically, that the rubrics vary.  The old custom was as we described it; the trend since the 1960s has been toward the practice our reader described.  The Roman rubrics definitely call for leaving it lit (we can find nothing in GIRM, but this is the consistent order of various diocesan newsletters), as do the the rubrics of the Episcopal Church (BCP).  The Lutheran rubrics (LBW) are more conservative, perhaps because they have been updated least recently.  They permit the candle either to be extinguished after the Gospel on Ascension Day or to burn through Pentecost, and then to be moved to the font. (Philip Pfatteicher, perhaps thinking wishfully, says that LBW "leans toward" the older use but "allows" the newer.  And ELW seems to give no direction.)

Any conversation like this is complicated by the different ways that rubrics are understood.  Among Roman Catholics, they have theoretically something like the force of law; among Lutherans, they have scarcely any authority at all.  (And are frequently written in such a namby-pambily permissive fashion that, even if they had any true authority, they would say little).  In the interest of ecumenical amity, we will allow our Anglican readers to tell us themselves how much weight rubrics carry these days.

But let's talk for a moment as if there were no rubrics, only thoughtful choices.  Which practice is best?

Consider the internal logic.  The candle itself, with its five grains of incense, is a reminder of Christ's wounded body -- and thence of his physical presence after the Resurrection.   The custom of extinguishing (or removing) it after the Gospel -- or sometimes after the lesson from Acts -- grows logically from this.  Why do you stand here looking for him, o (ahem) persons of Galilee?  The older practice makes good sense, although it may suffer from a bit of medieval literalism.

The idea of the new practice is to recognize that the Easter season is a full 50 days, and represents the manifestation of the triune God in the world, including the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  It dates to an era in which the meaning of the Easter season was reinterpreted, to throw less emphasis upon the drama of personal repentance than upon that of new life for the world.  (A rethinking of Lent is the most obvious expression of this same urge).  A former tendency to circumscribe the 50 Days was specifically rejected, both by renumbering the Sundays of (not "after") Easter, and by using the Paschal Candle as the symbol of of a unitary 50-day season.  This is a worthy goal, but we wonder whether the Paschal Candle is in fact the best symbol for such a thing.

Here is an article from the Prayer Book Society, recognizing that among Anglicans, the 50-day Paschal Candle has prevailed, but arguing passionately that it ought not.  Fr. Peter Toon makes a number of dubious arguments, boiling down to "tradition is good."  But he ends by making a single very good one,  that the new custom "strengthens the modern tendency to discount the importance of the Ascension and to dilute the reality of the Resurrection of its physical aspects."  That's no small thing, in the modern era.

Lutherans manage to show a remarkable lack of good liturgical sense.  Still, it seems to us (and we are biased) that this is is one that the LBW got right, albeit in the namby-pambiest way possible.  The still-newish custom of leaving the Paschal Candle lit through Pentecost strikes us, upon reflection, as a well-intentioned mistake.  And so we call for a rebellion!  If you are a Papist or an Anglican, dare to defy the rubrics on this one.  If you are Lutheran, do what comes naturally, and take a stand against change.  Aux armes, citoyens

So what do you think, readers?  Are you joining the revolution?  What did you do this year, and why?  What will you do next year?  

Iran Blocks Access to Facebook

The regime is doomed.

Apparently, a reform candidate was better at using Facebook than the status quo candidate.  So the government shut the whole thing down.  This is the sort of stupid thing that repressive governments do when they feel threatened by new technology.  (And, by the way, repressive regimes are always threatened by new technology, especially the kind that lets people communicate with each other).

It may work for now.  Mir Houssein Mousavi may lose the election.  Maybe he would have anyway; who knows?  But the Iranian leadership has just surrendered any plausible claim to openness in its electoral process.  Worse yet (or better, from our perspective) it has done so in a way guaranteed to piss off young people.  (And remember that fully half the Iranian population is under 24 years old, versus less than 6% over 65).

"I Love New York"

That's what's printed on the pink boxer shorts worn by US Army Specialist Zachary Boyd in the now-famous AP photo, snapped during an engagement in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley on May 11.

Boyd is from Texas, but picked the shorts up on a quick tourist visit to the Big Apple.  If he drops by for another visit, we'll happily help him pick out another pair.  Hell, ten pair.

Boyd is stationed at someplace called Firebase Restrepo, which per the AP is "on a steep mountainside where soldiers are on constant lookout for Taliban fighters, [and not] a place for formality: Uniforms have holes in them, and some men wear flea collars because of bugs in their beds ...."

Fighting broke out, and Boyd didn't have time to pull on his ragged, bug-ridden uniform pants.  Why?  Because he was busy defending his position.  Making him just the kind of soldier we want to share barracks with, if we ever need to share barracks.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thrusters to Full ... Engage!

Or as the young folks say now, "Punch it."

Yeah, the Egg staff just played hookie (wait until our executive editor finds out!) to sit in an air-conditioned cinema watching the new Star Trek.  And whooping with delight.

Seriously.  We may have no friends and live in Mom's basement at the age of 40, but we totally lived vicariously through this picture.

"Take my Bishop": Eurotrash Edition

Some lucky Facebook users have already experienced "Take My Bishop, Please," the internet craze that's sweeping the nation.  But now, courtesy of the "Take My Bishop" European bureau, a fortunate few have been sent their own virtual Archbishop of Turku.

What -- you weren't among them?  Feeling left out?  Well, then, you'd better ask your synod assembly to memorialize Churchwide to make "Take My Bishop" an official ELCA commission.  Heaven knows we've supported others that were less entertaining.

UPDATE: "Militia Moll" Not Exclusively Republican Phenom

We at the Egg make no pretense of objectivity.  We're all about sharing our opinions. Welcome to the Internet!  Readers in search of objective reporting would do well to read a newspaper -- and fast, while there are still a few out there.

Still, we want to clarify something about our last post.  While we do indeed believe that, out of power after a calamitous run, the Republican party is an organizational and intellectual trainwreck in which the lunatics have been allowed to run the asylum, we wouldn't want you to think that only Republicans are hypocritical, graft-prone or just plain nuts.

Examples, please?  Well, since you asked:

1.  Hypocrisy.  The recent votes by Congress to deny the Obama Administration the funding it needs to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay are as hypocritical as anything we can recall recently.  Apparently, all the promises of support were just campaign rhetoric -- and with  Democrat in office, the senators and representatives have moved on to the next campaign, for their own re-election.  How else to explain Harry Reid's shameful and stupid remark that "we will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States"?  As if putting them in, say, a federal supermax were somehow equivalent to setting them free with an AK-47 and bus fare.

2.  Graft-proneness.  Blagojevich is the obvious example.  Biut does anybody remember Norman Hsu?  He was finally convicted, a few days ago, of campaign-finance fraud supported by his $60 million Ponzi scheme.

3.  Just plain nuts.  Set aside the campaigns of Nader, Gravel and Kucinich.  They were expensive vanities without a shot in hell, but they were also principled efforts by long-odds candidates with something worth hearing.  But consider this:  while Catherine "OKC Truther" Crabill may be the GOP nominee for a state legislature, everybody knows she will lose to the incumbent. But Cynthia McKinney is almost as crazy -- and she's served six terms in Congress. During that time she accused Al Gore of being racially intolerant (while he had a black campaign manager) as well as environmentally insensitive.  Al Gore, people.  She also accused the US government of knowing that 9/11 was coming but doing nothing.  And somewhere in there she slugged a Capitol Police security officer.

All this said, we still think the Dems are the lesser of two evils.  Marginally.

But if Guantanamo Bay is still a prison in six months, we will change our mind.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Militia Moll" is Latest GOP Electoral Sacrifice

Catherine Crabill will be the 99th District Republican candidate for Virginia's House of Delegates.  Never heard of her?  Hell, we'd never heard of the House of Delegates.  Turns out to be the 100-member lower house of their state legislature.  The 99th is in what's called the "Northern Neck," for those who know the Old Dominion's geography.

This otherwise obscure story is worth mentioning, though, because it illustrates our running hypothesis that Republican party has been reduced to a pack of mad dogs.  The story linked above describes, in spare but somewhat uninformative prose, a contest with the 99th District to keep Crabill off the ballot -- even though "Crabill [was] the only person who had pre-filed for the nomination and therefore the only person eligible for the nomination to run."

The story says that the minority objected to Crabill's "outspoken and assertive Christianity and states rights views." Now that's odd, isn't it?  we'd always heard that Christianity was pretty popular down South.  And "states' rights" is just Dixie slang for "Peculiar Institution and Segregation Forever."  We'd think that would be a winning combination, and not an especially unusual one.

But a little Googling gives a fuller sense of what Crabill actually stands for.  She insists that she has never been a member of a militia, and does not -- exactly -- believe that the US government planned and executed the Oklahoma City bombing.  (But see below.)  On the other hand, she doesn't make any secret of her feeling that the US government a tyrannical force oppressing its own citizens.  

On her own campaign website, she says,  "I am ... deeply committed to the Constitutional protection of our Tenth Amendment State Sovereignty as an over arching concern that I will promote and support throughout my campaign." Sadly, the Tenth Amendment has this season become a codeword for "right to secede from the Union," although the people using it all hasten to swear that they love the United States ... for now.

More worrisome, though, is another page of her site -- remember, this is her own official campaign website -- which features an open letter to her fellow 99th District voters.  In our line of work, we read the occasional crazy letter; it's a genre familiar to every parish pastor:  rambling, disjointed, poorly punctuated, and a strange combination of desperate sincerity and outright snideness, as though the writer believed that no reader was smart enough to appreciate her brilliant ideas, and yet desperate for somebody to help publicize them.  Paragraph breaks are few and far between, while capital letters are favored over italics.

Well, take a look at Crabill's.  Here's the part about Oklahoma City:

As far as the Bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City which happened during this season of other horrific events, I did and do believe that our government was culpable in the OKC bombing. This was not based on a “conspiracy theory” but on the analysis of Brigadier General Benton K. Partin (retired) who resides in Alexandria, Virginia who is an expert in weapons development. General Partin spent his own time and his own money personally visiting the site in OKC and publishing his analysis. From there he hand delivered a copy PERSONALLY to every single member of Congress. Congressman Trafficant was the only one willing to stand with him and call for a press conference to address it. The very next day Trafficant canceled and never spoke to the General again. ... I also don’t believe the official report of who shot JFK, does that scare you? 

So.  This is what the Republicans are up to these days.  God bless the dissident minority -- and God rest the soul of the GOP.

Fr. Lawrence Rosebaugh, RIP

Per the AP, a Milwaukee priest was shot during a robbery in Guatemala on Monday.  

Fr. Lawrence Rosebaugh, 74, had spent 10 years as a missionary in Guatemala, where he ministered to HIV patients. He was scheduled to return to Milwaukee in December, [his superior] said.

This appears (so far) to be a to be a genuine robbery, not the sort of fake-street-crime that is sometimes cover for a Third World assassination.  But years ago, Rosebaugh might have been a candidate for that, too:  

Rosebaugh made international headlines in 1977 when he was jailed in Brazil along with a Mennonite lay worker. The two had been living among the poor of Recife and helping street children by setting up an informal soup kitchen when they were arrested.

When they were released four days later, they complained of being held incommunicado, stripped naked and beaten. They handed a letter detailing their ordeal to U.S. first lady Rosalynn Carter, who was on a goodwill tour of Latin America covered by major U.S. media, and the exposure infuriated Brazil's military dictatorship.

Sounds like a good guy, and a lousy way to go.  The thugs got $125, a cell phone, and some religious ornaments.

Ascension Notes

"In the Transfiguration Jesus enters the cloud of glory. In the ascension, he remains within the cloud."

If you're preaching tomorrow, consider this old editorial from Theology Today.  It's worth a read.

Republicans Chicken Out

The Republican National Committee was all set to request that its Democratic counterparts rename their organization the "Democrat [sic] Socialist Party."  This, we thought, was an excellent idea -- not the renaming, which seems unlikely, so much as the resolution to ask.  After all, it reflects pretty much exactly what the post-Bush GOP has been reduced to:  antiquarian insults intended to stir up shrinking and increasingly shrill base.  

Having proven themselves unable to manage an economy, a disaster or a war -- unable, in short, to actually govern -- they may as well stand on the sidelines heckling, like a crazy old man at a small-town parade.  In other words, they may as well resign themselves to the fact that they are not presently a political party so much as an entertainment provider.  (Come on.  Did you really not see the resemblance between a Newt Gingrich lecture tour and a birthday party hosted by Beppo the Rent-A-Clown?) 

Sadly, however, they lost the courage of their convictions.  At the critical moment, they did not have the courage to throw the cream pie, or spray the seltzer, or whatever.  Instead of proudly calling upon the Dems to re-name themselves, they settled for squeamishly complaining about a supposed "march to socialism."  It's just as stupid, but not half as funny.

Apparently, the Chicken-Hawks were reined in by their chair, Michael Steele -- who himself becomes a more comical figure every time he speaks.  Seems Steel was worried that, if his party went full-tilt into Crazy-Uncle-Harry-land, they might never win another election again.  

He was probably right, but still.  Wouldn't it have been better to go out with a bang?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dept. of No Surprise: Limbaugh "In It For Himself."

Because we had assumed the guy was doing it all pro bono.

The news here, such as it may be, is a diatribe by radio host and right-wing freak show Michael Savage, blasting his various colleagues, including Bill O'Reilly and, especially, Rush Limbaugh.  When Savage was barred from entering the United Kingdom -- where his hate speech is apparently considered a threat to national security -- they didn't come to his aid.  And now they will pay the price!

Per Savage, Limbaugh is 

... the biggest disappointment of all. ... Rush Limbaugh is a fraud. When he was accused of the drug usage, I supported him. But that man is a one-way street. It's all about him. He's in it for nobody but himself.

This is like watching those two skanky stray dogs on our old block in Brooklyn fight.  The mean ones, who were always nipping at your heels as you walked to the subway, and threatening to bite small children.  Their fight was dirty and unpleasant, but you watched anyway, because you actually stood to gain something.  There was the chance they would exterminate each other, and make the neighborhood a safer and more pleasant place to live. 

Alas, Poor Rembert

We haven't had time to blog about the recent re-emergence of Archbishop Weakland and the associated painful memories.  Fortunately, Pastor Joelle has done it for us -- and as usual, said exactly what we would have.

Rubrical Alert!

Tomorrow is Ascension Day.  Don't forget to extinguish your Paschal Candle after reading the Gospel.

Because you are celebrating Mass.  Aren't you?

Wait! It Wasn't All About Real-Estate!

The synod assembly had sex and violence, too.

The sex part was almost perfunctory.  First, we were asked to  call upon the ELCA's Churchwide Assembly to begin steps toward a social statement on "Justice for Women."  It passed without dissent and without comment, except some unnecessary words from the original sponsor.  On one hand, you could say that this reflects a shared understanding that women are treated unjustly, in America as in most of the world.  Good for us!  On the other hand, though, it raises the question of how much need there is for a teaching document.  Shouldn't we just move on to doing things?  (Like putting new energy behind our Domestic Violence Task Force?  I'd swear we had one.)

But of course, women haven't been sexually exciting since the 1970s.  Err, that's not what we meant.  Sorry, honey.  We just meant that, in our recent experience, the real action has been all about the gays.

Going in, we had been offered two motions, which -- when you cut through the parliamentary language -- presented a simple choice.   First, we could signal our approval of the ELCA's proposed social statement on human sexuality, and ask the church to develop "resources" -- including liturgies -- for recognizing same-sex unions, and rostering pastors living in those unions.  Or else, second, we could do absolutely noting of the kind.

The two motions came from almost comically predictable corners:  one from the Manhattan Ministerium (with at least one certain abstention), another from the ALPB board of directors (or nearly so).  We'll spare you what little suspense there may have been:  the first resolution passed, thus mooting the second. 

We at the Egg are less interested in the resolutions than the debate.  We have attended these shindigs since 1992, and become accustomed to a certain pattern.  A motion is presented, and spoken to eloquently; it is opposed, also eloquently; it is defended, somewhat emotionally; it is attacked, passionately.  Up to this point, it has been a pretty good debate, churchly and even hinting at theology.  

But then things get ugly:  slurs and innuendoes begin to fly.  A fat layman from Long Island tells us that we have betrayed God's Holy Word.  A black woman with a collar wags her finger and accuses us of insensitivity to racial minorities. Some well-intentioned woman in a denim wrap tells a story about her brother dying of AIDS.  Father Haddock tells us that we are all Stalinists.  Faces are red, tempers flare, and many of the next few speakers hyperventilate.

Oh, and in most years there are a series of substitute motions and amendments, including things like "a friendly amendment to strike everything after the word 'resolved.' "  Every vote is tense and ugly, with boos and catcalls.  We spend a lot of time on our feet being counted individually in the beloved "standing serpentine vote."  And then the pro-gay resolution passes, typically by about 70-30.

But this time, the debate was different.  A few of the usual speakers stood up, but they seemed lacking in passion.  Amendments were offered, then voted down with little debate.  We weren't called Stalinists, we didn't hear any heart-wrenching but off-topic anecdotes.  It was as though we went through all the parliamentary motions, but did so at top speed, rushing toward a foregone conclusion.

In seventeen years, Father A. does not believe he has ever seen an assembly so ready to commit itself.  Or so resigned to its fate, depending upon your perspective.

Yes, you say; the sex was finally good.  But what about the violence?  Glad you asked.  Going in, we were presented a resolution calling upon the President and DoJ to prosecute the people who developed the policies permitting (if not encouraging) the torture of prisoners in American custody.  It was a pretty damn good resolution, too, from the Egg's perspective. These are bad people -- yes, David Addington, we mean you -- who have shamed our nation and richly deserve punishment.  

But it may have overreached a bit, in the sense that churches calling for legal prosecution has a kind of Inquisitorial tone.  A substitute motion was offered from the floor (and we confess that, somewhat reluctantly, we helped create this one), declaring our solidarity in Christ with all victims of torture, and including all nations to come clean about torture so that reconciliation could begin.  To some observers, it looked toothless; to others, it looked a little more theologically-informed and a lot likelier to pass.  (Our personal sop-to-conscience was a tacit hope that the process of reconciliation might in some countries, such as ours, include legal action against the architects of torture).

Again, it passed.  But again, as with the matters of sexuality, the process was more interesting than the conclusion.  Because this time, the crazies did come out of the woodwork.  A layman defended waterboarding as "non-hurtful."  A retired military chaplain objected that we were not in solidarity with all victims of torture, which raises an interesting theological point:  Did Christ suffer only for the innocent?  Does the compassion of God -- and therefore of God's Church -- extend only to those who repent, or also to those who continue in sin?  The answers seem cut-and-dried to us at the Egg, but apparently not to our chaplain friend, who was in any event polite enough in his objections to eschew his customary coprological vocabulary.  A number of people attempted to argue that if torture had actually occurred, it was in the past and we had agreed not to do it any longer, and therefore shouldn't ask any questions -- a logic so convoluted and fallacious that it defies calm  analysis.

And then came the golden moment when Father Haddock rose to the mike, and argued that the resolution "attempted to criminalize political activity."  Never mind that, by amendment, we had specifically agreed not to ask for criminal prosecution.  Never mind that torture isn't "political activity," it is, by its nature, a military activity (and under military law, a crime).  Because you know what kind of people criminalize political activity?  Stalinists!  Yes!  There -- he said it.  We were all  bunch of Stalinists.

Never mind that Stalin organized torture on a mass scale, and was never made to answer for his crimes precisely because he commanded a political system that lacked the will to accuse its own leaders, and that this was just the opposite.  He'd said it, and we could go home satisfied, feeling that we had shown our voting members a good time as promised.

Anyway, the resolution passed as amended.  It must have seemed close, because there was a standing serpentine vote -- and thank heaven, because it doesn't really feel like a synod assembly without one.  But it wasn't really all that close -- something like 60/40.  Still, the debate had been exciting.

All of which leads us to the interesting suspicion that sex isn't really sexy anymore.  It may be that the arguments over homosexuality (like those over women which preceded them) have become so routinized, on their way becoming so nearly obviated by generational changes in the cultural discourse, that they have lost their capacity to inspire true wackiness.  Oh, there are still deep disagreements, and there will surely be lasting divisions, and to be sure there will always be work yet undone -- America still hasn't ratified the ERA, either.  But it may be that we have passed the stage at which the arguments are florid and theatrical, and at which their eventual outcome is in serious question.  (Just as we have passed the point at which Ronald Reagan could threaten that an equal rights amendment would require unisex toilets.)

So what does get the institutional juices flowing?  Apparently, crimes of violence committed by the government in its prosecution of a foolhardy war.   So is violence the new sex?  Or is sowing division among the churches just one more way in which Mr. Bush's war is analogous to Mr. Johnson's?

Monday, May 18, 2009

And So It Ended ...

... with  whimper, not with a bang.

Our synod assembled on schedule, and ended with admirable promptness, late last week.  Even by the somewhat modest standards of church meetings (which on their best days are not as stimulating to the adrenaline as, say, a cricket match) this one was rather tame.  

We are altogether pleased by this fact.

The disruption which we had anticipated might come from a minister of another denomination, who has made it his business to interfere in our affairs, never materialized.  Rumor has it that he intended to make a scene early on, by challenging the agenda (a tactic attempted, memorably but unsuccessfully, by one of his cohorts years back).  

Instead, the fellow fell asleep.  Honest to gosh.  We've seen the picture (which for some reason, whether legal or technical, we can't paste for your amusement), and can swear to it.  There he is, chin to chest, clearly sleeping right through the proceedings.  Obviously, "his" new "parish" has chosen its "pastor" wisely.  They must be so proud.

We did meet the guy, briefly, late in the proceedings:  a shabbily-dressed fellow with unkempt hair and a comic-opera moustache.  Think Harry Mudd after three weeks in Bowery flophouse.  We even shared the Peace with him, before glancing down at his hand-lettered nametag, when the hotel ballroom was briefly converted into a cathedral.  

And then, as our eyes wandered, we saw something unique in our experience of ecclesiastical events:  thick-necked men in bland suits standing in pairs by the different doorways, nodding to each other and gazing a little too intensely back at anybody who happened to make eye contact.

"Whaddaya know," whispered Father Anonymous to one of his delegates, the mysterious Internet figure known as Stynxno.  "Security guards at a church meeting.  Wish we'd had those when I was in the Bronx."

We kept watching them (and they us, with an unnerving steadiness of gaze).  When Harry Mudd rose to shamble about the room, their eyes darted after him.  When he left the room, they disappeared, and when he returned, so did they.  We rather hope they didn't follow him too closely during bathroom breaks, or deter him from filling his blazer pockets with hard candies from the display tables set up to advertise summer camps and old-folks homes.  And since he's obviously narcoleptic, we hope they didn't interrupt any naps he may have snatched on the comfy chairs.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Jesse Ventura: "If I Waterboarded Cheney, He'd Confess to Murder"

We don't believe you, Jesse.  Prove it.


USA Today Asks The Wrong Question

Their headline question:  "Does it Matter More if a Priest Cheats With a Man or a Woman?"

The brief opinion piece meanders a bit, dredges up Rembert Weakland and mentions natural law, then declines to offer an actual opinion, instead opening the question to reader comments.

There are various opinions, tending toward "breaking your vow is breaking your vow."  And then one "American1942," gets is exactly right:  The big issue isn't whether the priest has sex with a man or a woman.  The big issue is whether the priest has sex with somebody in his parish.

Duh.  That's the real ethical breach, and that is where souls and their relationship to Christ are truly endangered.  Understanding as much probably explains the comparative tolerance extended to vow-violating priests in some countries, especially the Latin ones.  Our question is why the dopes at USA Today didn't start a discussion about that.

Probably because it's USA Today.  Ugh.

Camp Liberty Shooting UPDATE

Yesterday, CNN reported (and the Egg passed on) the story that a US soldier in Iraq had gone a shooting spree, and ended by killing himself.

Turns out that was wrong.  The military now tells Reuters (linked above) that they have arrested Sgt. John Russell for killing five US soldiers and wounding others.

Per the Times
The dead included two officers on the staff at the clinic — one each from the Army and the Navy — as well as three enlisted soldiers who were at the clinic. ...

Sergeant Russell’s superior officers had taken his weapon from him and referred him to counseling sometime over the past week, presumably because of concern over his mental state, [Maj. Gen. David Perkins] said. Somehow, he got a new weapon, which he used to go to the clinic and open fire, he said.

The episode has sparked military investigations into both the circumstances of this attack, as well as into how mental health services are being given for soldiers, the general said. Sergeant Russell was “almost certainly” on his third tour in Iraq, General Perkins said.

This is a very sad story, and we don't want to assign blame to anybody -- except, of course, the killer.  And Donald Rumsfeld, who sold America (and America's gullible then-president) on the myth of a cheap, fast war, which has since required soldiers to serve extended and repeated tours.

But we do have to say, gently and with all due respect, to the superior officers who quite rightly took Russell's weapon away from him:  You do realize you're in the Army, right?  In a heavily fortified camp, inside a war-torn country?  It's not like a guy can't find a gun.

Is Tintin Gay?

Silliest idea we've ever heard, because it presupposes Tintin having sex.

Still.  In a  review of the Adventures of Tintin:  Collector's Gift Set, Michael Taube discusses some "off-the-wall rumors" spread by columnist and former MP Matthew Parris: 

A callow, androgynous blonde-quiffed [sic] youth in funny trousers and a scarf moving into the country mansion of his best friend, a middle-aged sailor? A sweet-faced lad devoted to a fluffy white toy terrier, whose other closest pals are an inseparable couple of detectives in bowler hats, and whose only serious female friend is an opera diva. .  .  . And you're telling me Tintin isn't gay?

And as to why Tintin never aged, "he was probably moisturizing."

Whatever.  Of considerably more importance to us that Tintin's putative sexual preference, or Taube's own red-herring question, "Why don't Americans like Tintin," is the book itself.  A complete Tintin collection?  For $150 list, and under a c-note on Amazon?  Awesome.

Except for one thing:  this boxed set is in the new reduced-size format, 9x6 or thereabouts.  Which, for one of the most elegantly illustrated comic strips of all time, is practically an act of violence.  (Especially given how many of its fans have entered the age of reading glasses).

The Tintin strips most of us grew up with were printed in a generous 12x9 format -- almost art-book sized.  Easier for a boy's fat little fingers or a dad's weakening eyes, and frankly the least we can do to honor Herge's firm, deceptively simple line.  

So come on, publishers.  Give Tintin what he deserves.  And we don't mean nookie.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Farrah Fawcett is Dying

It sounds like just another tabloid intrusion into some poor actress's private life, and maybe it is.  But it is also a generational milestone, not quite the way the death of Elvis was for our parents, but in the same family of milestones.  And it makes us very sad.

If you were never a boy in the 1970s, we can't explain to you what Farrah meant.  And if you were, we don't have to.

"You Know I Love Tall Women, Right?"

That's what President Obama is reported to have said to basketball pro Lisa Leslie.

Great minds, as they say, think alike.  To prove it, you need only consult the Anonymous Family wedding album.

Although, in fairness, it isn't so much that Mother A. is tall, as that your humble correspondent isn't.

Ah. And So It Begins.

Our synod is assembling later this week, and for  while we thought it might be a moderately pleasant couple of days.  No bishop to elect this year.  The only resolutions we had heard about concerned torture (we're agin' it) and sex (well, okay, the debates are never pleasant, but as we've said before, they do have -- ahem -- a comfortingly predictable rhythm).  

But today's mail brings a delicately worded missive from our bishop, to the effect that

[s]ome members of a former congregation of the Metropolitan New York Synod and pastors who are not on the roster of Ordained Ministers of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have indicated that they intend to participate in our assembly.  This may present some awkwardness in our gatherings ....

"Some awkwardness," indeed.

Sadly, this is no great surprise, at least to close watchers of synodical events.  The case of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Brooklyn has been a thorn in our collective flesh for years, and just lately seems to have caused an infection.  

Briefly, the story goes like this:  typical declining urban congregation can no longer manage its own affairs; is divided into warring camps; one camp requests synodical administration; opposite camp tries to keep this from happening.  For those unfamiliar with urban churches in decline, the level of obstruction may seem shocking.  Pastors sent by the synod to lead worship have been locked out of the building; the self-proclaimed council president moved into the rectory, began paying herself a salary and put a mortgage on the church.  Meanwhile, the building has partially collapsed, and will almost certainly have to be demolished in any case.  Trust us when we say, from long and bitter personal experience, that this is all par for the course.

There have been legal proceedings, all decided in the synod's favor, but the losing side still refuses to hand over the books and records.  And they have been looking for a victory in the court of public opinion instead, by going to the media. There was a sloppy and ill-informed article in the Daily News, and better one (linked above) in a Brooklyn paper.  Check out the "Comments" section, in which locals demonstrate a surprisingly clear-headed picture of what's going on.

There are a lot of issues, legal as well as theological, and we really don't have the space to work them all out here.  At the heart of all this is a terrible truth, which is that the congregation is dead.  Both sides hope only to sell the property.  If the majority faction, and the synod, win out, the profits will support ELCA mission in New York.  If the minority faction wins, the profits will support one woman and her family, as well as the people she hires to do her bidding.

So, since that's the case, let's put some personal details on the table -- stuff that the bishop's letter (okay, his lawyer's letter) tactfully omits.  

The woman behind all this is Muriel Tillinghast, a veteran civil rights activist.  She was also Ralph Nader's New York State running mate in 1996.  Sounds good, right?  Sadly, it is a much-observed fact that the radicals of yesteryear have had three subsequent career tracks:  neoconservatism (like Tillinghast's fellow-SNCCer Richard John Neuhaus); polite leftism (like Obama's much-abused colleague Bill Ayers); and a descent into irrelevance, punctuated by addled efforts to reclaim a former glory, however dubious (like Timothy Leary).  We suspect strongly that Tillinghast has made a jump from the second category to the third.

Assisting her, however, are two "Lutheran pastors" whose involvement in the matter concerns us deeply.  One is George Muenich, who has recently left the ELCA and is now convincing his own small Brooklyn congregation to do likewise.  The other is Norman David, who left the ELCA years ago, and serves a congregation in Massachusetts.  Both men are interfering in the affairs of a congregation to which they have no call, and indeed of a church body in which they have resigned membership.  At the very least, this raises serious canonical issues -- and therefore, legal ones.  Clearly, their self-assigned role is to help Tillinghast do what they themselves have already mastered -- foment schism.  We suspect strongly that they hope to make some money off an eventual real-estate deal, but it is completely possible that both men are simply in it for "pure" motives -- meaning pure self-aggrandizement.

Do we even need to mention that both men have AELC roots?  No, because faithful Egg readers are already aware of our observation that, because the Missouri Synod was created in schism, it has always taught a theology which seeks to justify breaking fellowship (based, we suspect, on a congregationalist misreading of AC7); and that in the AELC, this theology was further distorted by a team of narcissists with keen political skills and lamentable overconfidence in their own parochial education.  So no surprise there.

The question is how to handle these buffoons and their latest effort at self-promoting street theater.  ("Latest," because two of them tried to disrupt a smaller meeting recently).  Here are some possibilities:

1.  Let Them Talk.  A dear but idealistic friend suggests that, despite their utter lack of standing, they should be given some time to present their case at the assembly.  It is, after all, our highest deliberative body, empowered to make decisions which take precedence over those of the bishop or synod council.  

In a more perfect world, we would agree.  But it is our observation that synod assemblies routinely fail to deliberate effectively, for several reasons.  First, because they are not entirely transparent.  Claiming a desire to avoid "micro-managing," as well as low morale, staffers have habitually kept certain kinds of  information to themselves.  The result is that, of 500 people gathered in a room, no more than 75 are likely to know much at all about this case, and only 15 or 20 will have ben fully briefed.

The unfortunate result -- demonstrated over and over in previous years -- is that assemblies, lacking facts, are therefore swayed by emotional appeals, especially when made my silver-tongued orators.  Hence, every discussion of gay people turns into an exchange of anecdotes, and no election of a bishop involves a close look at candidates' track records.

2.  Kick Them Out.  None of the people likely to show up urging a discussion of this matter has any official standing.  Muriel Tillinhast is the "president" not of a congregation, but of a schismatic faction which is recognized neither by the synod nor by the courts.  Norman David and George Muenich are not ELCA pastors; they have neither voice nor vote.

The problem here is that, if things really do go all street-theater, efforts to exclude them could blow up in the assembly's face.  In a worst-case scenario, there are pictures on the TV news of a lovely old black lady being dragged away in cuffs by the Suffolk County police.  (She wins that round.)  But even failing that, there is the likelihood that well-intentioned but ill-informed members of the synod will be so offended by proceedings they cannot understand that they will fear becoming party to a genuine injustice, and cross over to the dark side of the force.  

Still, politely barring them from the hotel might work.  A few picket signs in the parking lot just make them look like screwballs.

3.  Fight Theater With Theater.  If by some bizarre chain of events, any of these nutjobs does get to a live microphone -- or even a dead one -- we could start singing a hymn, really loudly, and drown them out.  While the obvious choices are A Mighty Fortress and Amazing Grace, because we can all sing them from memory, the Egg has a few other suggestions for synod staff who want to be prepared:

  • The Church's One Foundation goes right to the matter, complaining that we are "by schism s rent asunder, by heresies distress'd."  But could we get to the third verse without a lyric sheet?
  • Once to Every Man and Nation has that precious verse about how the Church proceeds "by the light of burning martyrs."  Father A. will be distributing pitch-impregnated torches, out by the summer-camp display booth. 
  • There's also this long-forgotten breviary hymn:
A sin there was in ancient days, 
The Apostle names its name, 
And marks its nature with dispraise, 
The Church's bane and shame. 
Who formed without her factions new. 
Or nourished feuds within, 
Or scorn upon her rulers threw, 
Were guilty of that sin.

But what's the tune?

4.  Pray for Deliverance, and Call an Exorcist.  This seems like the best route.  And while we don't have a synod exorcist, what good is a full-communion relationship with the Episcopalians if they won't lend us theirs?  Paging Merrily Watkins!

"I Never Drink ... Wine."

In Romania, recently, Father A. was entertained by a colleague, who offered two bottles of local wine, saying, "You have your choice of sweet or very sweet."  

We are amused to read that, at a recent competition, Romanian wines won 46 medals, out of 61 awarded.  Of course, the competition was held in Bucharest.

Suddenly, the search for alternative beverages makes sense.  Which explains palinca.

Quartered With the Hand of War

Yesterday was Mother's Day.  Today, a US soldier at Camp Liberty, in Baghdad, opened fire on other soldiers (nationality unknown, but likely ours as well), wounding three, killing four as well as himself.

(The official press releases doesn't say that the killer was one of ours, but CNN has confirmed that with an unnamed "senior defense official.")

We are reminded that Mother's Day, now a treacly celebration of sentimentality and commercialism, began in part as a "Mother's Day for Peace," promoted by Julia Ward Howe in reaction to the carnage of the Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War.  The idea was that the mother's themselves, instead of staying in bed to eat burned French toast and have orange juice spilled on their sheets, would organize and protest to show that, pace Marc Antony, they do not "but smile when they behold their infants, quartered with the hand of war."

Because of this misbegotten war, at least four more mothers will not see their children again.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Dijon-Gate Scandal Deepens; Executive Clemency Requested

It's an ad, but a timely one.  Those people are quick.

This is and oldie, but a goodie:

Makes us wonder what Hannity ate for lunch.  He's unfreaking believably rich, you know.  makes something like $40 million a year.  We've heard.

Newsflash! Obama Eats Fast Food!

With that physique, we figured the guy must live on sprouts and protein shakes.

But the funny part is that he apparently ordered a cheeseburger with mustard.  This has the talking heads talking -- well, the stupid ones, anyway.  Yes, we mean you Sean Hannity.  And Mark Steyn, and Laura Ingraham, the last of whom is apparently under the impression that grown men still eat ketchup.

In fairness, the president's offense wasn't so much mustard as Dijon mustard.  Our elderly readers will remember a droll advertisement some years back, in which two rich guys in Rolls Royce touring cars stop on a country road, and one of them begs a jar of Grey Poupon from the other.  (And one of them has -- gasp! -- a French accent.)  Hannity is old enough to remember this ad, or at least to have taken away its central message, that Dijon mustard is the condiment of the elite.  And we suppose he's right, if it's still 1979.  

Since then, the stuff has gone downmarket.  They sell it in squeeze bottles now, right next to the mayo.  For the record, we ourselves put a little Dijon on our pastrami sandwich this afternoon.  And it was good.  So good that we did it again, on another sandwich.

But, for those who want to remember the good old days, when using a fancy mustard meant you flew on the Concorde: