Monday, August 31, 2009

Damn, We Love the Marine Corps

Father Anonymous may himself be a typical clergy peacenik, but he can't help but love the USMC. From Wired:

Since the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. military has built a series of titanic bases, where troops can get Pizza Hut delivered, sip an iced mochaccino, surf the web wirelessly or enter salsa dancing competitions. In my limited experience, these places are greenhouses of ennui and existential angst; the comforts of home only make the residents more despondent.

At Echo company’s compound, the only air conditioning is for the computers in the operations center. The shower is a bucket. The toilets consist of a few sandbags and a wooden box, positioned over a hole. And when the Marines here leave the base on patrol, it’s a virtual guarantee that they’ll encounter Taliban trying to kill them. In 57 days here, Echo has received enemy fire on 44 of them. Which, strangely, suits the Marines here just fine.

Damn right it does. the article goes on to say a little more about who these guys are:

Just about everyone here enlisted after 9/11. They didn’t join to get college money, or to learn some profession they’d take into the civilian world. They signed up with the United States Marine Corps to go to war. “This is all I wanted to do for a long time,” [a lieutenant] adds.

Look, somebody has to do this stuff, at least sometimes. And there's nobody we'd rather have doing it for us.

Disney Buys Marvel

The Walt Disney Company is in the midst of purchasing Marvel Comics and its 5000 characters, including Spider-Man, Captain America and Millie the Model. Not to mention some very un-Disney characters, like the Punisher, Norman Osborn and Venom.

The deal still has to pass antitrust muster, but we hardly think that will pose a problem. The brands are disturbingly different. Our biggest fear is that Disney will do for the Marvel Universe what it did for the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault and Joseph Jacobs -- i.e., suck the life out of them, and leave behind soulless, saccharine-covered shells. (Come to think of it, they did this for Times Square as well).

Still, the team-ups will be good. Mickey/Cap is sort of obvious. Likewise the inevitable Donald-Howard smackdown. But howzabout Man-Thing meets That Darn Cat?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Classy Guy

Andrew Breitbart is a member of the Chattering Classes, in the "Vicious Right-Wing Attack Dog" division. He is also a twit.

He demonstrated both these things with a recent series of Twitter tweets celebrating -- not observing, but celebrating -- the death of Ted Kennedy. Per ThinkProgress, linked above:

[When] news broke that Sen. Ted Kennedy had passed away after serving in the U.S. Senate for nearly 50 years. Soon after, conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart began a sustained assault on Kennedy’s memory, tweeting “Rest in Chappaquiddick.”

Over the course of the next three hours, Breitbartunapologetically attacked Kennedy, calling him a “villain,” “a big ass motherf@#$er,” a “duplicitous bastard” and a “prick.” “I’ll shut my mouth for Carter. That’s just politics. Kennedy was a special pile of human excrement,” wrote Breitbart in one tweet.

There's more where that came from. Class act, huh?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"How Firm a Foundation"

One of the projects we have always wanted our Beloved Godfather (perhaps in collaboration with our Beloved Godson) to undertake is the compilation of what we call "The Reference Hymnal." We imagine a collection of hymns, or at least of hymn lyrics, in their original forms with chief popular variants indicated.

This isn't easy. Which English verses of A Mighty Fortress are "chief variants," for example? And what about such hymns as Conditor alme siderum? The 7th-c. Latin original was almost completely re-written a thousand years later, as part of Urban VIII's breviary reform. Is it now one hymn with translations and variants, or two?

Still, for most hymns the idea is fairly straightforward, and might be useful to worship leaders and preachers who wanted to explore ideas which have been excised from the common hymnal versions. (Likely not to include the fervent hope, expressed in Faith of our Fathers, that England would return to papistry. But who knows what a preacher may need?).

Here, by way of f'rinstance, are the words to How Firm a Foundation, which not coincidentally we will sing come Sunday. Red indicates stanzas absent from LBW and ELW, and [brackets] indicate textual alterations.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word! [ELW: "in Christ Jesus, the Word"]
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled? [ELW, LBW: "Who unto the Savior"]

In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid; [ELW, LBW: "your God," "give you aid"]
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand [ELW, LBW: "help you," "cause you"]
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie, [ELW, LBW: "your pathways"]
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply; [ELW, LBW: "your supply"]
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design [ELW, LBW: "hurt youu"]
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine. [ELW, LBW: "your dross," "your gold"]

Even down to old age all My people shall prove [ELW, LBW: "Throughout all their lifetime, my people']
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

In this case, the emendations are modest -- a house style that prefers you to thee, and an alteration of l.4 to avoid the awkwardness of "you, who." One might argue, profitably, over whether ELW's decision to identify the Word by name for people who may not get it is either useful interpretation or offensive dumbing-down.

As for avoiding mention of old age, well, blame a culture which worships youth and considers "old" to be a slur. And there's a sermon right there.

But the excised verses may be more interesting. The omitted second stanza rebukes the Prosperity Gospel up front. And the concluding thought of the fourth stanza -- that God will "sanctify to [us our] deepest distress" -- is actually alien to a lot of Protestants these days, especially liberal ones, despite the clear Protestantism of the hymn. (Not to mention its liberal appeal: sung at the funerals of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson). Food for thought.

One Deaconesss Number

Relevant to the discussion below, we're looking for comparative data on deaconesses. And please do look at Sister Cheryl's website, which supports her book, In the Footsteps of Phoebe. It's linked above. (We'll overlook the anti-ELCA snark that greets the reader up front).

As of April 2008, the ELCA's Deaconess Community claimed 76 rostered women, "ranging in age from 27 to 91." It's down to 72 now, according to a more recent press release.

As for the LC-MS, a Concordia Seminary article from 2004 claims that there "are about 100" deaconesses serving. (Curiously, and perhaps tellingly, the article proposes deaconesses as a remedy for an apparent shortage of LC-MS clergy). The website of Concordia University, Chicago, gives these numbers, which we assume to be reasonably current:

There are 172 Commissioned-Deaconesses on the LCMS Roster. Of those:
111 are Active
19 are on Candidate status
17 are on Non-Candidate status
25 are Emeritus

None of this is decisive, both because it is vague and because it doesn't give data for comparison prior to the ordination of women by the LCA and ALC. All of which is further complicated by the different history of deaconesses in the various church bodies. But it does, in a preliminary way, suggest that, per capita, a denomination which does not ordain women does have significantly more consecrated female lay workers than one which does ordain women. So perhaps Morgan is onto something.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Women Beware Women

Tip o' the biretta to our favorite former librarian for this one. (And of course to Thomas Middleton).

Episcopal Life has an opinion piece by Alda Marsh Morgan, who describes herself as "a theologically-educated lay woman and a former lay church worker," regarding the 35th anniversary of the [DFMS of the] PECUSA's first ordinations of women. She suggests that perhaps all the observances need not be celebratory, and argues that in fact the ordination of women may have done some damage:

There were few of my church worker colleagues who wished to be ordained, once it became possible, not because they didn't approve of women priests, but because we felt secure in our own vocation as theologically educated lay professionals. What we found offensive was the complete lack of respect for our own work and vocation on the part of the women who sought ordination and were committed to their own vocations as ordained ministers. Moreover, once ordination became available for women, most of us were no longer able to work in the church. The church's clericalism saw to that.

Many of us felt pushed aside, unappreciated, and -- to bring it all home -- we had to scramble to find jobs in other sectors or had to fight to find paid work in the church and other ways to continue to express our own vocational calls in ministry. More than a few left the church altogether and even more were embittered or close to despair.

This is strong stuff, and Morgan bravely owns her own sour grapes. But does she have a point? Our first instinct is to say yes. We've heard the complaint before, although never articulated so clearly. Our librarian friend has experienced some of this herself, and so have some of her Facebook friends. And it is certainly true that, among Lutherans, the number of deaconesses -- theologically educated, consecrated, professional church workers -- has plummeted in the years since women were first ordained.

But on the other hand, we Lutherans have a control on the experiment which the Episcopalians lack: the LC-MS. It has never ordained women, nor even been seriously tempted. Women in the LC-MS have been given to know, with increasing stridency over the years, that the roles available to them in the church's work are sharply defined and delineated. Among these, of course, is that of deaconess.

So -- has the the deaconess community of the LC-MS flourished while that of the ELCA has floundered? Has it declined modestly, as other professional roles have opened to women? or has it tanked along with the ELCA community? We genuinely don't know the relevant numbers. (For those who may have access to them, these would be the number of deaconesses per church member in each of the LC-MS, ALC and LCA circa 1970, and the same numbers for some recent year in the two remaining church bodies. We can count the AELC out because it was so small, and because that's practically the Egg's house policy anyway).

Any researchers out there?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Rigorism and the Culture of Hypocrisy

So. The ELCA has decided -- by a modest majority -- that it will pursue liturgical and canonical means to bless romantic unions between people of the same sex. It will, by the same token, now permit congregations and synods that so choose to call and roster people living in such unions.

This was a difficult decision, painful for many on either side of the question. A friend who supported the ELCA's decision strongly, and who was present at the assembly, circulated notes which said, in part:

We have moved into a very different place as a church. There are people looking lost, crying. The church they love and have faithfully served their whole lives is changing into something they do not recognize. There is no glory to be had because of their loss, no comfort to be gained from their discomfort. Their pain is real and, probably, growing.

... It pains me that as we [move] closer to my full inclusion in the church that others grow in their feelings of exclusion. I lived with those feelings since I came out to myself at the age of 14. Those feelings will envelope you, feeling like a soaked, heavy quilt hanging on your constantly, its weight never becoming lighter.

This is worth remembering.

But here's another thing worth remembering: this change in the church's policy may seem greater than it is. You could argue, as we often have, that the church's practice will change little, and for the better. After all, we have always ordained gay people. We have also ordained straight people who are not married. And while in both cases we did ask them to live in celibacy, it is surely no secret that, over the years, many have neglected to do so.

(Incidentally, the same expectations apply to laypeople, and always have. Nobody ever talks about this, because it has been a long time since the ELCA or any of its predecessor churches was minded to censure laypeople for these things.)

Anyway, the fact of this neglect doesn't make it right, to be sure; we pastors often neglect to do tother things the church expressly expects of us -- remain sober, refrain from gluttony or wrath, remain married for life, even find time for recreation and self-care. These are grave things. But it is worth remembering that effective and holy ministry has been conducted by people who have not lived up to the church's expectations.

Here's what has happened, though, over the years. The church has been torn between two impulses, each of them praiseworthy: to accept people as they are, without judgment; and to maintain its traditional rules of behavior. Historians sometimes call them the tendencies toward laxism and rirorism. Now, those aren't easy impulses to balance, and never have been. In some apostolic communities, soldiers and judges were excluded from church membership; until quite recently -- some of our own lifetimes -- a divorced pastor was certain to lose his call and likely to be defrocked.

(Reading the canons of the various ecumenical councils is a fascinating experience, if one stops looking at Christology and starts looking only at the repeated calls for "reform" of morals in general and clerical morals in particular. It is as though nobody ever lived quite the way they were called to. But of course, the details of "the way they were called to" have changed significantly through the years.)

Among Lutherans (even the LC-MS, if imperceptibly), the balance has gradually shifted toward acceptance without judgment at the expense of rules. But many Christian communities have decisively chosen the alternative path, declaring any number of behaviors immoral and therefore unacceptable among the faithful. There are, of course, Bible-based arguments which exclude not only divorce but also tattoos, church organs, women who don't wear hats, and lots of other things that many of us -- but not all -- find unexceptionable.

Rigorism is a very attractive public posture for a church. People really do love rules, and they want their church to have and display the highest ethical standard. This is a great and proven way to attract new recruits, many of whom will hold themselves to this high standard, at least until they don't anymore. And even then, they'll keep up appearances.

Here's what rigorism does: it creates a culture of hypocrisy. There are dozens of easy examples. (As a former Baptist we know likes to remark, the difference between a liberal Baptist and a conservative Baptist is that the liberal will make eye contact when you meet at the liquor store.) But the example of gay Lutheran pastors is worth noting. For generations, their church has said one thing and done another, often in ways that are astonishingly overt.
  • In the 1930s and 40s, our synod elected -- repeatedly -- a bishop who had lived with another man since about 1900. This fellow was identified in the press as the bishop's "friend" and even "physician," but this was just euphemism. They lived together, with one interruption, for their entire adult lives. It was about as public as such a relationship could have been, but there is no evidence that anybody ever ... said anything about it.
  • Many, many leaders of the catholic-revival movement have been what an old ELCA document called "homosexual in their self-understanding," whether or not they remained celibate. (Some surely did, others certainly did not). One thinks of Newman, his bones intermixed with those of Fr. Ambrose St. John; or one thinks of the homophobic slur implicit in the snarky expression "chancel prancer." Come on: Did you really think that, beneath the liturgical and ecclesiastical battles of the last 175 years, there wasn't an element of gay-versus-antigay jousting? Of course there was.
Now, this was barely hypocrisy. It was more like a sort of truce, between the rigorist and laxist positions, not quite "don't ask, don't tell," but one in which other matters were sometimes used as substitutes for a frank discussion of sexual behavior and its moral consequences. We suspect that many people in many churches wish that the clock could be turned back, and this truce could be restored.

But it can't, and here's why. The public discourse regarding sexuality has changed dramatically over the past half-century. Divorce no longer requires "residency" at a Nevada dude ranch; cohabitation scandalizes barely anybody; and we all know that Spencer Tracy was married, but not to Katherine Hepburn. We are more frank now, often to an embarrassing degree. (And let's be clear: this is excess frankness is not an unalloyed joy for anybody).

What this means in parish practice is that, for example, a pastor who lived for thirty years with the same man, traveling together from one rectory to another, would have a much more difficult time passing that fellow off as his physician. People would simply assume, and act accordingly -- giving the couple a choice between admission (even if tacit) and deceit.

Indeed, the very possibility of celibacy seems not to enter the minds of the faithful any longer. Some years ago, when an unmarried colleague moved in with her fiance, a parishioner disclosed his very understandable difficulty with this obvious pastoral misstep. But when we suggested that perhaps they were managing to cohabit chastely, said parishioner could not even consider the possibility. Or consider a gay pastor, whom we know to have been celibate, and who was discovered by a church member, browsing in the wrong aisle of a local porn shop. (Another obvious misstep, but pity the poor guy, who was really struggling to maintain his celibacy). Within days, the pastor was on his way to joblessness.

In a society like ours, there really isn't much of a closet left to hide in.

So this is where the hypocrisy comes in. For example: A gay colleague recently sent us a clipping from his hometown newspaper, including an interview with his hometown pastor, a friend and mentor. Our friend has been "out" to his old pastor for decades, but has nonetheless been welcome in the parish, even preaching and presiding when he's in town. In the article, the hometown pastor is quoted, often, decrying the ELCA's new position in florid terms, which he swears is a church-dividing anathema to his congregation. But if you look closely at the accompanying photograph, of a beautiful church in the midst of worship, there is a gay man holding the Eucharistic bread over the altar.

This is the sort of thing that has become common in recent years, and which we consider a sort of well-intentioned but ultimately soul-destroying hypocrisy. A rigorist theory joined to a laxist practice seems sort of charming, doesn't it? But in fact, it undermines both. The hometown pastor has knowingly invited to preside at his parish table someone he believes ought to be subject to ecclesiastical discipline; surely this is (by his own lights) an abuse of his parishioners, if not an insult to God. Meanwhile, his public comments on the subject are hurtful to the colleague who has loved him and trusted in his goodwill. In his effort to be personally kind and doctrinally faithful, he has fallen into an ethical trap, which threatens his integrity on every side.

The ELCA has not, despite its critics, broken faith with a long and well-reasoned tradition of Christian moral theology. At least not this month. It has taken steps to make its canons accord with its practice, so that people can speak frankly about their own lives and loves. It has obviated the old and tiresome game of pretending not to know what one does know, of deceiving oneself and others -- or of pretending to be deceived when one really isn't. In that sense, the questions that have been decided, at least ad interim, are less about sexual ethics than about the ethics of truth and lies.

Friday, August 21, 2009

If You're Preaching on Sunday ...

... consider the "De-baptism" phenomenon.

Atheists have begun "de-baptizing" themselves. Sometimes this involves buying a certificate that they can hang on the wall; sometimes it involves having a guy in robes point a blow-dryer at you to dry off any remnant of the water.

One wonders why atheists, having abandoned religion, still need its customs and ceremonies, even if only in the form of mockery. Oh no -- one doesn't wonder, does one? One knows.

Anyway, it might be an angle to approach the followers of Jesus in John 6 who just can't hack it, and turn away. (After five slow weeks of John 6, we suspect that many of the faithful will be a bit squirmy in the pews themselves).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Barney Speaks, Uhh, Frankly

Conservative activists have been turning out at town hall meetings, casting ever-more-ludicrous aspersions upon the president and his call for health-care reform. To our horror, they actually seem to be gaining some traction, proving that PT Barnum was right about the birth-rate of suckers.

In this precious clip, one woman (possibly a Larouche plant) asks Barney Frank why he is supporting Obama's "Hitler-like policies." Because, yes, providing health care for poor people is a lot like exterminating Jews, Gypsies and gays. And the Bay State's favorite gay Jew treats her with exactly the respect she deserves. Enjoy:

"Like arguing with a dining room table." The guy's our new hero.

Back to School: Anxious Parents' Edition

Honestly, we've never made much of US News and World Report's college rankings. Apart from selling magazines, they exist primarily to torture anxious parents of the striving class. Nobody else can, or should, take them too seriously.

Case in point: our own alma mater is currently tied for 11th place among liberal arts colleges. Eleventh? It's an outrage. Why, the school we're tied with isn't even on the East Coast. (Our safety school, incidentally, came in 14th among national universities. Which is just as silly, since that would place it behind schools in the Midwest and South. We aren't having any of that nonsense, thanks!)

Looking for church-related colleges on the list can be a somewhat dispiriting adventure. It's easy enough with "national universities." Emory, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt, tied for 18th place, jump out and smack you on the face. But small colleges? Many of the best were begun by church bodies, but have since renounced the relationship (Wesleyan University, for example, isn't really Wesleyan at all). Many others have tenuous relationships to their churches. Bard (37th), shockingly, retains its Episcopal affiliation. We grew up nearby, have had friends who graduated and even worked there, and have even graced the campus with our own collegiate inebriety -- and nobody ever said a word on the subject. (On the other hand, Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, seems pretty frankly Jesuit -- and Wheaton, at 56th, is as as protestant as the day is long. Or more so.)

So what is a church-related small college? And how good can they be? These are practically metaphysical questions, but they are the kind that parents and students may be inclined to ask.

Anyway, let's skip the metaphysics and get to the part Egg readers really care about: Lutheran colleges. We didn't read all that closely, so apologies if we missed somebody, but the answer seems to be St. Olaf at 47th place, followed by Gettysburg at 49th. St John's, Collegeville and Drew University -- respectively, Benedictine and Methodist -- are tied with Muhlenberg for 71st. Others follow. And all of these, by the way, are ranked higher than some better-known schools, including Virginia Military Institute and even Bennington. (Not to mention higher than some schools with good reps among conservative Christians, like Westmont and Calvin).

As for the Concordia system that the LCMS and its disjecta membrae continue to brag about ... well, we couldn't find them in our search. But maybe we just didn't go far enough down the list.

Omarosa Goes to Seminary

We've actually never heard of this woman, but apparently she's famous as a result of her appearances on a reality show. Before that, she worked for Al Gore. (Tip o' the biretta to Babyrunaround for this.)

Anyway, Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, a celebrity in the classic sense of being celebrated less for one's achievements than for one's existence, has enrolled at a Methodist seminary in Ohio, where she is reported to be studying for a "Doctor of Ministry" degree.

Nothing remarkable there. Or almost nothing. Father Anonymous has many friends and colleagues who hold this degree. It's pretty common ... among ministers. And that's the thing, y'see.

The D. Min. is a "clinical" degree, meaning that it is intended as a form of advanced study for practitioners. Gordon-Conwell describes theirs as "is the highest professional degree for men and women already successfully engaged in ministry." It is not a Ph.D., intended for those who are going to teach. (Hardened cynics say that it is a fluff degree, intended to burnish the resumes of ministers too lazy to pursue a real doctorate. We disagree, but see their point.)

Meanwhile, Stallworth-Manigault has a BA in Broadcast Journalism and an MA in Communications. Apart from being a celebrity, she works as a political consultant. (And shows a lot of belly button while doing it. We're so glad Carville didn't think of this.)

So. What part of her life's experience thus far constitutes "successful engagement in ministry"? We aren't quite sure.

Speaking of Lutherans ...

... did you know they're doing something this week? Besides living in the world's most expensive cities?

The ELCA is holding its biennial Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis. Among the many subjects to be debated and decided upon are SEX the election of a vice-president SEX Methodists SEX malaria and HIV SEX the budget SEX and some other stuff nobody is really paying attention to.

Owing to the timely intervention of an Adirondack vacation, we have not been following the events thus far. Owing to high blood pressure and a propensity for yelling at the computer when it says things we don't like, we probably won't follow the live feed these next few days. Fortunately, we have friends who do this sort of thing for us.

Pastor Joelle's blog, linked above, carries an outstanding description of the first day's antics. She describes some parliamentary wrangling over whether passage of a particular proposal SEX would require a simple majority or a supermajority. She ably describes the intellectual pros and visceral cons of requiring a supermajority, but then goes on to say the things that really matter, and which all Lutherans will need to remember this week:

This is going to be a divisive decision, regardless of how it goes or how it is passed. A super majority is not going to make the losing side happy.

And I'm tired of hearing all this angst about the "angry people in the pews" who are going to take their marbles and go home if we decide to recognize God's call to gay people in committed relationships. (Actually we are not even voting to do that – we are voting to be willing to abide in the same church with those who do and those who don't).

What about the people who have left already because of the way we do things now? What about all the congregations who have been excluded from full participation in the ELCA because they like their gay non-celibate pastor very much and are quietly without any whining just going about the work of God, many of them even sending financial support to the mission of the ELCA? Are they less important?

The delegation from our own synod, while as serious as a heart attack regarding the issues, takes another approach to reporting the day's affairs:

We encourage our readers to follow both sources -- Pastor Joelle and Convivium New York -- as their authoritative guide to SEX the ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

Lutherans Live the Life of Luxury

Yes, we know: when you think high-end living, Lutherans aren't the religious community that jumps to mind. (Hello, Episcopalians). In the popular imagination, including our own, Lutherans are modest people living modest lives. Think of little old ladies in homes with pine panelling, pressed-glass candy bowls, and a collection of figurines that look almost like Hummel and are really just as good.

Oh yeah? Well, suck it, popular imagination. Because a study by the United Bank of Switzerland reveals that the most expensive cities in the world are Oslo and Copenhagen -- cities as full of Lutherans as any on earth. Second and third place in the expensive-city sweepstakes go to Zurich and Geneva, the historic bastions of Calvinism. Rome, for those who lean that way, was Number 17 -- after both Helsinki and Stockholm.

As for New York -- well, we were a bit miffed to see that old Gotham came in sixth. But then we looked at the top of the chart, and saw that each city was assigned a number greater or less than 100 -- which was New York. get it? We're the yardstick by which other expensive cities are measured.

Nothing Funny Here

If we make a joke, some readers will accuse us of a divisive touch-down dance, which is not our intention here at all. Other readers will accuse us of beating a dead horse, which may actually come closer to the mark. But in fact, we think that there is something worth noting in this terrible, terrible story from Australia.

Here's the gist:

Wilfred Edward Dennis is on trial for a series of sexual assaults against a minor, said to have taken place in the 1970s, when he was a priest of the Anglican Church.

After a recent extortion demand by the victim, Dennis called his bishop, who asked him if there had been other instances. "Oh, yes," Dennis is said to have answered. As many as 41.

Now, the main point here -- assuming the story to be true -- is that Dennis is a dirtbag, who should never have been admitted to holy orders, who has done incalculable damage to the lives of many boys, and who should now spend the remainder of his life in prison. (In most prisons, we are given to understand, it is likely to be a brief remainder.)

But here's another factoid which we are afraid may not get sufficient play:

Dennis is not, nor has he been for some time, a priest of the Anglican Church, which with 3.7 million members is the second-largest religious community in Australia, and a significant force in that nation's public life. He is a priest of the Anglican Catholic Church, which is part of the "Continuing Anglican" movement. It has 25 Australian congregations, is not part of the Anglican Communion, and its principal raison d'etre is opposition to the ordination of women.

In other words, a schismatic. And you know how the Egg loves schismatics.

For the sake of clarity, we point out that, when Dennis committed these crimes, he was apparently still part of the mainstream church. Nor, by any means, do we mean to suggest that there is some necessary relationship between schismatic church groups and sexual misconduct. Not a necessary, one-thing-leads-to-another, relationship.

But there is a relationship. We have spent a lot of time reflecting on James Nestingen's claim that, in the ELCA's early years, the tiny cohort of AELC pastors accounted for a disproportionately large number of misconduct cases. (To be honest, we'd like to see some hard numbers on this, but doubt that any will ever be made public.) In our own synod, several shocking misconduct cases have been resolved, extra legis, by schism -- when, rather than accept his guilt and take his punishment, a pastor joins the ranks of a micro-denomination, usually taking his congregation along as dowry.

There are, we suspect, at least two different elements in this relationship between schismatics and misconduct.

First, a full-sized modern denomination typically has some safeguards in place to identify and remove miscreants. Psychological testing for seminarians, "boundaries workshops" for the clergy, and accountability and discipline through a church hierarchy which has become accustomed to covering its own tail in legal matters. While the effectiveness of these safeguards may vary, and it is well-known that they sometimes break down altogether (thank you, Cardinal Law), they do exist. And for that very reason, these are less hospitable environments than the tiny church bodies created by and for the disaffected.

Second, offenders (whether actual or potential) are not stupid. They may well lack impulse control, but they do not lack intellect. They know where they are most likely to get away with the things they do, and they gravitate toward such places. Our biggest concern is that the faithful often fail to see this. If Pastor Bob says that the Orthodox Five-Points Church of the Westminster Confession is just as good as the PCUSA -- better, even, because it doesn't have gays, women or those damned intrusive presbyteries -- they believe him, because he's their pastor. He knows, even if they don't, that he has led the flock into a gently permissive pasture, in which delicate questions go unasked.

And add to these elements a third, which is less direct but arguably more potent: invincible self-righteousness. This was, and remains, the Missouri Synod's principal export; it was the mother's milk on which those AELC babes had sucked their whole lives, supported by a series of univocal institutions, and unchallenged by the example of other Lutheran bodies, from which they were largely protected. They entered the AELC and later the ELCA convinced of their utter superiority -- intellectual, moral and otherwise -- to those around them.

One finds the same flaw, writ in miniature, among the other schismatics. Wilfred Dennis left a church of the Anglican Communion because he felt that he and his friends possessed a higher truth than the many millions of their brethren, acting prayerfully and in union with one another; likewise Marcel Lefebvre and the Roman Communion, and so forth and so on. One almost wants to scream: Seriously? And a guy who molested 41 children thought he had the moral high ground?

So, we'll say it again: Schism is an ugly thing, and schismatics take on some of that ugliness. It may sometimes be inevitable, even necessary, but that does not make it good in itself, or in any way praiseworthy. And let the faithful beware, because when they and their congregations line up with these people, "it is as if someone fled from a lion and was met by a bear."

Thursday, August 06, 2009

If You Like Gregorian Chant ...

... and we know you do, consider clicking around the site, linked above. They have dowloadable scores and MP3 files, available for free. The resources are conveniently arranged to folow the church calendar.

Also check out this experiment, which allows you to read and listen at the same time. We couldn't find it on YouTube yet, so this is stolen from New Liturgical Movement:

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Plugging for Another Blog

Among its many current delights, GetReligion offers these bits of overlooked news:
  1. Amidst all the other turmoil, Episcopalians have settled upon a second reason to prevent somebody from becoming a bishop. Even if elected by his diocese, the national church refuses to admit a priest who is also an ordained Buddhist (whatever, exactly, that means). Can one blame it?
  2. Methodists. Have you ever noticed that there are a lot of them, but they don't get much attention? If you added the ELCA and the PECUSA together, you could still throw in the UCC just for laughs before adding it up to match the American membership of the UMC. GR describes some recent wrangling over polity, behind which inevitably is wrangling over sex, and asks a serious question: Why doesn't the press give these people more attention?

Monday, August 03, 2009

"The Curate's Egg"

Some months ago, Father Anonymous sat with two clerical friends at a swell New York City restaurant, and listened as these gentlemen attempted to order complicated cocktails of some sort -- ginger martinis, maybe? -- from a series of waiters who alternately recommended the drink and doubted that its ingredients were in stock. In the end, they settled for second best -- "Sapphire martini with double vermouth and and a twist, straight up in a chilled stem glass," or something equally longwinded.

By the time their beverages had been ordered, confected and delivered, Father A. had finished his Amstel (which he had ordered in two Heminwayesque syllables: "Beer, please." He still glows when recollecting that isolated moment of uncharacteristic brevity).

The point to this anecdote is simply to mention that your obdt. svt. is a less-than-sophisticated drinker. Once upon a time, like most college boys, he cultivated a taste for whiskey (Macallan 25, if somebody else was buying), but that was long ago and far away. We toothless old men like our milk warm and and our bedtimes early.

What was our point again? Oh, yes. We were reading a Weekly Standard article, which made several countercultural arguments regarding cocktails.

First, that the Frank and Dino knew squat about drinking:

"[T]he best cocktails were not the product of the 1950s when the Rat Pack set the standard, but the 1920s when piano bars and hot jazz ruled and people changed their clothes for the evening. Our most elegant cocktails were part of the great modern revolution in design and had the same sleek lines as that era's airplanes and motorcars. The drink names of this era celebrate just what the plane, train, and liner meant to travel and horizons--the Aviation, the Bijou, the Metropolitan, and the Sidecar; the Havana, the Bombay, the Honolulu. And these drinks were wondrous balances of fresh ingredients. During the "Swingers" era of the 1990s, what you could get were very large Martinis that were often just chilled gin--six ounces or more in a single glass.

Second, that water is not the enemy:

"diluting the alcohol is much of the point of the cocktail. Do not underestimate the value of water in cocktails. It is what separates us from our less-civilized forebears who began the consumption of distilled spirits. The meeting of water with alcohol and flavorings civilizes the mix, allowing the spirit's rich flavors to prosper and diminishing the harsh bite of the liquor--which is after all something of an industrial byproduct. The key to making cocktails in large batches and ahead of time is to pour in water before chilling the mixture in a pitcher. It is a difficult moment, I acknowledge: a plunge into the unknown accompanied by a sense of impending disaster. But have faith and you will be rewarded."

Both points well taken. And the Sazerac was held up for special praise, which warms our absinthe-bitter heart. What caught us off guard, however, was an unfamiliar expression. The article suggested that today's syrupy messes are generally "a curate's egg of ingredients." Heavens, thought we. Have bartenders been stealing provender from the lesser clergy?

Turns out, at least according to Wikipedia, that this delightful expression means "something partly good and partly bad, so that the whole is spoiled." It comes from a Punch cartoon. At a la-de-da breakfast, a bishop says, "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr. Jones." To which the wretched-looking curate replies humbly, "Oh, no, my lord. I assure you that parts of it are excellent."

It's funny, in an 1895 sort of way. But it's also useful. After all, how many things, despite some good ingredients, are spoiled by their bad ones? Anglican conservatives surely argue thus about the [FDMS of the] PECUSA. We ourselves have often thought as much of those people in St. Louis.

On the other hand, one doesn't want to go too far with all this. People, and the communities people build, aren't really much like eggs. The bits of icky rottenness simply don't diminish the goodness of the good bits. How else could anyone stand to live in New York City? Or, for that matter, anyplace else?

Somebody Finally Asks the Question

Michael Hiltzik, in the LA Times, asks: "What's so great about private health insurance?"

He begins:

Throughout the heroic struggle in Congress to provide a "public option" in health insurance, one question never seems to get answered: Why are we so intent on protecting the private option? ...

The [insurance] firms take billions of dollars out of the U.S. healthcare wallet as profits, while imposing enormous administrative costs on doctors, hospitals, employers and patients. They've introduced complexity into the system at every level. Your doctor has to fight them to get approval for the treatment he or she thinks is best for you. Your hospital has to fight them for approval for every day you're laid up. Then they have to fight them to get their bills paid, and you do too.

When Orphrey Bandings Go to the Dark Side

There's a blog devoted to bad vestments. It's very small, and they have royally pissed off our friend Pastor Joelle, so they lose points for that as a matter of principle. It seems to be run by snide Anglican conservatives (redundancy alert!) who condescend to all the usual things. More points lost. And a few of the "ugly vestments" are really quite nice, in a modern sort of way. So there's that.

But still. It's a cute idea for a blog.

Why Do People -- Ahem -- "Get Saved"?

While wasting precious time on Facebook this afternoon, Father A. came across a brief form of this advertisement:

I realize this sounds a little cynical but really… who do you know who ever got saved because of an altruistic motive? Okay, time's up.

If then people only get saved because they have a need, a want, some problem, or some fear, then you should show them, right in your ad, how you and your church can help them get what they want.

I’m not talking about the prosperity gospel here. I am talking about better marriages, stronger kids, closer relationships, fellowship with God, a sense of meaning and purpose – things like that! Your Church most likely does that for people all the time. Let the people who are reading your ads know this and more people will respond to your message.

Um. Well. We suppose that this may reflect a certain kind of voluntarist religiosity popular in America, in which one decides for oneself to be saved, and makes that decision based upon a sober cost/benefits analysis. And we suppose that advertising the supposed benefits makes sense. (Although, in all frankness, there was a time when advertising the probably costs worked just as well -- "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die," etc.) That these benefits are classed as "altruistic" is a little odd, but let it pass for now.

And we further suppose that those of different theological persuasions might have different answers to the question. A Calvinist might respond that [some] people are saved because a sovereign God has willed it from eternity, and a Methodist that people are saved by grace, but can only appreciate it as they grow in holiness. An Unitarian might look puzzled and murmur, "Saved? From what?"

For the record, it seems to us that there is only one right answer to the question of why people get saved: Because the incarnate God suffered and died for their sake, only to rise three days later in victory. As to why they are able to believe it -- to receive the gift by faith -- we can offer no answer except another act of divine grace. (And incidentally, the only motive involved here is thoroughly altruistic -- and belongs to God.)

But of course the sort of people who place ads like this are really not asking about God's saving power; they are asking about an act of human will. What they really want to answer, then, is this: Why do people come to church? And that's a pretty good question. We doubt, however, that slick copywriting has much to do with it.