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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Three-Card Monte: The Redirected Benevolence Version

Susan Hogan, of whom we had never heard until recently, is now indispensable.  Where the rest of us just shoot off our mouths willy-nilly, her blog, Pretty Good Lutherans, brings actual journalism skills to bear on the church and its life.

She recently directed our attention to the not-yet-final minutes of a Southeastern Synod Council meeting, posted on the web.  Normally, you can't pay us enough to read synod council minutes, but it is cold outside, the nearest bookstore is far away, and its wares are mostly in Romanian.  (Oh, there's some Hungarian too, but we're saying mostly.)

Anyhoo, two related bits caught our attention:

1.  That a few SES congregations are designating their benevolence "for SES salaries and expenses only."  That is, they are saying "don't send our money to that lousy no-good-gay-loving national church."

This creates a conundrum, both ethical and otherwise, for the synod.  Typically, synods give very generously to the national church; in our own, the number is (if we recall correctly; fact-checks are welcome) well over 40% of receipts.  In times like these, that is not an easy commitment to meet.  It reflects a genuine sense that the national church's work is important, and that the synods have a duty to support it.  

So what do you do when your own donors tell you not to share their money?  To violate your own sense of duty?

The SES has apparently decided to keep the money, so that it will -- ahem -- avoid alienating the congregations in question.  It is easy to criticize, but then again, were we (God forbid!) a bishop, we would be working overtime not to give offense these days.

2.  At the same time, synods have been forced to cut back on their giving to the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.  No surprise; in the SES, congregational giving is down a whopping 15% from last year, and the budget shortfall looks to break $150,000.   You have to cut back somewhere, right?

But here's the wrinkle.  Congregations unhappy not only with the national church but also with the synod (which is, after all, an arm of the evil octopus), and which have directed their benevolence giving away from either, have offered to redirect it into the grimly depleted coffers of the seminary.  (Which is, it seems to us, also an arm of the same evil octopus, but then again, we've always thought the benevolence-redirection crowd were prone to curious self-delusion).

And LTSS, though its president Marcus Miller, has refused their money.  

He does not take the moral high road here, at least not in the minutes.  He says that he has refused the money because he doesn't want to alienate the synods.  We aren't sure the synods would have a right to be alienated if he took it; the money was supposed to go to them in the first place, but they were supposed to give it to the seminary. We expect most people would just say, "Whew.  Glad it got there, even if I don't like the path it took."  Of course, public preening over this decision would have been unseemly, not to mention alienating in the extreme to people who had chosen differently.

Either way, we expect you'll agree:  it was a conundrum, wasn't it?

If You're Preaching Tomorrow

... particularly on the Epistle, you might consider this thought:

George Herbert (1593-1633)

Love (III)

              1Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
              2      Guilty of dust and sin.
              3But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
              4      From my first entrance in,
              5Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
              6      If I lack'd anything.

              7"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
              8      Love said, "You shall be he."
              9"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
            10      I cannot look on thee."
            11Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
            12      "Who made the eyes but I?"

            13"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
            14      Go where it doth deserve."
            15"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
            16      "My dear, then I will serve."
            17"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
            18      So I did sit and eat.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

J.D., R.I.P.

Salinger is dead.

We'll say more later, when we aren't posting by phone. We'll be sure to mention the soul- killing domestication of his best book by well-intentioned schoolteachers. We'll also throw in some stunningly obscure references to German literature and the Captain America movie.

But for now, we are fixated on one tantalizing detail in the BBC obit: a giant safe said to contain 15 finished novels.

That is to say, the great majority of the works of a great American writer are about to be read for the first tim ever.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Well, It IS Transylvania, After All

And for the record, people here get really, really tired of casual references to Count You-Know-Who.  First off, the book was written by somebody who had never been here; second, the medieval warlord in question came from Wallachia, on the other side of the southern Carpathians (i.e., not Transylvania at all.  Another country); third, the guy was and remains a national hero for his resistance to the Turks.

And fourth, it makes them look sort of backward and superstititious.  Which is entirely unfair; this is a modern nation, with a cell-phone shop on every corner.  Even the remote Gypsy villages are littered with satellite dishes.  So come on, ditch the snooty Anglo-American prejudice and and cut them some slack.

Of course, it would be easier if the guy who just lost the presidential campaign didn't charge his opponent with hiring a magician to give him the evil eye.  Click above, but here's the gist:

... Mircea Geoana's claim that a "negative energy attack" by a bearded mystic led to his defeat [by Traian Basescu] in the presidential election has become the talk of the nation.

Like most former Soviet nations, Romania is used to rough and tumble politics and accusations of fraud were nothing out of the ordinary .../

But the recent publication of photos showing well-known parapsychologist Aliodor Manolea close to Basescu during the campaign has caused Romanians to wonder whether the president really did put a hex on his rival.

The photos show Mr Manolea, a slightly built, bearded man with a round face and cropped receding hair, walking yards behind Mr Basescu ahead of the debate. The mystic's specialities include deep mind control, clairvoyance and hypnotic trance, according to the Romanian Association of Transpersonal Psychology.

Wait a second.  "Transpersonal Psychology"?  And the winner denies it all, in a way that suggests that the accusations may be true:

Initially, Mr Basescu's office declined to comment on the issue with officials referring enquiries to the Liberal Democratic Party that supported the president. Officials there gave evasive answers – but not outright denials.

But yesterday, the president's spokesman admitted he knew Manolea but insisted the parapschycologist did not take part in campaign staff meetings. "I am not clear what this person was doing next to President Basescu," he said.

Mr Manoela's role in the elections evokes age-old Balkan rituals where the evil eye, witch doctors and other mysterious forces were used to launch mystic energy attacks on opponents and sap hapless victims of their vital strength....

Former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was so terrified of even traditional psychologists he feared were a threat to communism that he abolished psychology departments across the country and banned the word from the official dictionary.

(Unless of course, they were faculties of transpersonal psychology.)  

Now, before we get all high-horsey about politicians casting hexes on each pother, let's just remember the Gipper.  Yes, that's right, Saint Ronnie.  From the 1940s to the 1980s, Ronald and Nancy Reagan consulted a series of high-profile astrologers:  Walter Righter, Jeane Dixon, Joyce Jillson, and finally -- the one who became public -- Joanne Quigley.  (A Vassar girl, we add with a self-mocking smirk.)  Word is that they made important decisions, like negotiating with Gorbachev and the choice of Bush Sr. as Veep, based on astrological advice.

While we don't credit the scurrilous proposal that Righter's death -- on the very day that the Quigley story hit the press -- was arranged by the government, we do know that when Reagan was asked about his history of consulting astrologers and making decisions based on their recommendations, he just plain lied.  

So, should it be true that the president of Romania paid a psychic -- excuse us, transpersonal psychologist -- to suck the vital energy out of his opponent, it need not be viewed as a curious example of Balkan superstition.  On the contrary, it is just as likely to be another case of American cultural imperialism.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Crown Him With Many Stanzas

For about an hour, this afternoon, our plan was to sing Crown Him With Many Crowns.  A bulletin was prepared accordingly.  Then Mother Anonymous came home and informed us, from the pinnacle of musical prowess upon which she sits in this particular rectory, that we were in fact going to sing All Hail the Pow'r of Jesus' Name.  Honestly, we always confuse those songs.

But during our one hour in charge of the Sunday service, we had a moment's curiosity about Crown Him.  The LBW lists two authors, Matthew Bidges and Godfrey Thring.  Both men lived in the later 19th century, although Bridges was some twenty years older.  But did they collaborate?  Or did they, like the oft-cited monkeys at typewriters, somehow compose the same song at the same time?

Neither.  It seems (according to the amateur site linked above, which probably relies on The Gospel in Hymns or the Hymnal 1940 Companion), Bridges was an Anglican who entered the Roman church.  He wrote the hymn in its original form, six verses, and it achieved enough popularity that Thring, an Anglican who actually remained Anglican (somebody had to), felt that the faithful might be misled theologically by singing a Papist anthem.  Accordingly, he wrote his own version of the hymn, in six somewhat -- but only somewhat -- different verses.

Here are both version, for those who can't get enough of such things:

Bridges (1851):
Crown Him with many crowns,
The Lamb upon His throne;
Hark! how the heavenly anthems drowns
All music but its own:
Awake, my soul, and sing
Of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King
Through all eternity.

Crown Him the Virgin’s Son!
The God Incarnate born,—
Whose arm those crimson trophies won
Which now His brow adorn!
Fruit of the mystic Rose
As of that Rose the Stem:
The Root, whence mercy ever flows,—
The Babe of Bethlehem!

Crown Him the Lord of peace!
Whose power a scepter sways,
From pole to pole,—that wars may cease,
Absorbed in prayer and praise:
His reign shall know no end,
And round His pierced feet
Fair flowers of paradise extend
Their fragrance ever sweet.

Crown Him the Lord of love!
Behold His hands and side,—
Rich wounds, yet visible above,
In beauty glorified:
No angel in the sky
Can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye
At mysteries so bright!

Crown Him the Lord of years!
The Potentate of time,—
Creator of the rolling spheres,
Ineffably sublime!
Glassed in a sea of light,
Where everlasting waves
Reflect His throne,—the Infinite!
Who lives,—and loves—and saves.

Crown Him the Lord of heaven!
One with the Father known,—
And the blest Spirit, through Him given
From yonder triune throne!
All hail! Redeemer,—Hail!
For Thou hast died for me;
Thy praise shall never, never fail
Throughout eternity!

Thring (1874):

Crown Him with crowns of gold,
All nations great and small,
Crown Him, ye martyred saints of old,
The Lamb once slain for all;
The Lamb once slain for them
Who bring their praises now,
As jewels for the diadem
That girds His sacred brow.

Crown Him the Son of God
Before the worlds began,
And ye, who tread where He hath trod,
Crown Him the Son of man;
Who every grief hath known
That wrings the human breast,
And takes and bears them for His own,
That all in Him may rest.

Crown Him the Lord of light,
Who o’er a darkened world
In robes of glory infinite
His fiery flag unfurled.
And bore it raised on high,
In heaven-in earth-beneath,
To all the sign of victory
O’er Satan, sin, and death.

Crown Him the Lord of life
Who triumphed o’er the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife
For those He came to save;
His glories now we sing
Who died, and rose on high.
Who died, eternal life to bring
And lives that death may die.

Crown Him of lords the Lord,
Who over all doth reign
Who once on earth, the incarnate Word,
For ransomed sinners slain,
Now lives in realms of light,
Where saints with angels sing
Their songs before Him day and night,
Their God, Redeemer, King.

Crown Him the Lord of heaven,
Enthroned in worlds above;
Crown Him the King, to whom is given
The wondrous name of Love,
Crown Him with many crowns,
As thrones before Him fall.
Crown Him, ye kings, with many crowns,
For He is King of all.

For our money, Bridges was the better poet, but only by a hair.  His images are a bit more solid, and his vocabulary a bit more wealthy.  On the other hand, he omits the Resurrection, a significant hole which Thring fills in quite beautifully.

What amuses us is that the "Papist theology" in the original version is, unless we are missing something, not especially Papist.  Anglicans (except perhaps Bp Spong) certainly don't deny the virginity of Mary.  We suspect that the most objectionable image is the idea of that Christ's "power a scepter sways."  It just sounds so, well, Erastian.  But was this ever a serious problem for the Established Church in its glory days?

In any case, note the the Lutheran Book of Worship uses the Bridges version, with these significant alterations:  (a) Stanza 6 is omitted; (b) stanza 3 is moved to the next-to-last place; (c) Thring's stanza 4 follows Bridges's stanza 4 ["Lord of life"].  And, most significantly,  (d) Bridges' stanzas 5 and 6 are combined into one.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship omits the stanza about Lord of Peace, but is otherwise the same.  The Service Book and Hymnal also used five stanzas, including the hybrid final one.  But it omitted the one about Virgin's Son.  

For the life of us, we can't see how the various hymnal editors, when faced with such an abundance of such similar material, make these decisions.  But when our dream is realized, and some musically-inclined former English major sits down to compile a reference hymnal, worship leaders can make their own decisions, selecting from all twelves stanzas, according to the images they choose to highlight in a particular service.  Or -- heck, why not? -- sing 'em all.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haiti, Cherie

The earthquake in Haiti is too terrible to contemplate, much less discuss in a silly preacher's silly blog.  If you have not already given money to Lutheran World Relief, do it now.  You can come back here afterward.

No, we have nothing to say about the earthquake, or the stupefying death toll, or even the seminarian son of a Lutheran bishop who was killed there.  But we have to talk about Haiti, so we'll talk about something else entirely.

It was, I think, autumn of 1986.  I was about 18 months out of college; I had already done the customary quick tour of Italy, Spain and France, and worked as long as I could stand at my first "grown-up" job, tapping out Morse for the Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company.  I had as yet no sense of a vocation, religious or otherwise, but I had its first stirrings:  the little animal inside, biting and scratching to make me stop what I was doing and look around for something -- anything -- else.

So I gave up a cozy apartment by the Gowanus Canal, ditched my paltry few possessions, and bought a plane ticket for Port-au-Prince.  There was no do-gooderism involved here, mind you; I wasn't traveling with a school or an NGO or anything like that.  All I wanted was a warm place to spend the winter.  And I figured Haiti would be cheap.  After all, they were in the middle of a revolution.

After four months or rioting, Baby Doc had skipped town in January.  Since then, there had been chaos, as would-be tyrants seized and lost power, one after another.  The people, poor and oppressed as they had always been, were poorer and more oppressed than ever. 

I spent a month in Haiti, and another month in the Dominican Republic.  There are more stories than I could possibly tell here.  Some are funny, some frightening, many smack of Graham Greene or Joseph Conrad.  Some of my favorites are just gross:  A stream of goat piss, pouring down from the roof of a van, into the lap of the guy next to me.  The man underneath me in an open boat, where we were piled up like cordwood for an illegal border crossing, who vomited a seemingly ceaseless stream of yellowish fluid, and the woman on top of me, who looked down reflectively for a few moments and declared, "Bananas."

But here's one I think about a lot.  There was a fellow named Georges, about my own age, who showed me around the capitol occasionally, in exchange for hot-dogs and 7-Up at a little place near the Champs de Mars.  I realized dimly then, and realize more acutely now, that this tiny green-tiled diner, like something from the American 1940s, probably offered a level of luxury, not to say nutrition, that Georges could never hope for without somebody like me.

One day, after I had been there a week or less, we went to the Pantheon, a grandly-named museum, unremarkable except for air-conditioning and the anchor from one of Columbus's ships.  As we emerged into the miserable, swampy heat, we heard the sound of horns blaring, and then saw cars and trucks streaming out of the city center, followed by hundreds of people on foot.  All around us, the shutters of the shops were slammed shut and padlocked.

Georges grabbed one of the people running out of town, and spoke to him quickly in Kreyol.  Then the other man yanked himself free, and kept running.  George took me by the wrist, and began running straight into the crowd.

"So," I said, hurrying along.  "What's up?"

"He says there will be a manifestation -- a protest. He is running away because he says it will be dangerous.  He says there will be hitting and shooting.  But I say that's OK, I will be hitting and shooting back."

"Oh.  I -- uh -- I see."

"Wait," said Georges, barely hesitating.  "I forget, this is not your country.  I can take you back, back to your guest-house.  You want that?"

"Well," I said, "I don't know.  I kind of want to see what's happening ...."

"Then come on!  You will see what is happening, all right."

So in we plunged, swimming against the tide of smarter people, until after a while we found the buzzing swarm of protesters, and merged into them.  It was a big crowd -- press estimates ranged as high as 200,000, and I have heard (although this is probably untrue) that it was the largest protest in Haitian history.  For hours that day, we marched through the otherwise empty streets of Port-au-Prince, making our way slowly in a great curve back toward the are from which I had come -- the area near the Palais Nationale.

Oh, and there were cops -- in blue uniforms, marching and driving white pick-up trucks.  At one point, I was pressed tightly against the bumper of a truck, looking up at an officer wearing mirrored glasses and pointing a shotgun at my head.

"He wants to shoot us," Georges explained excitedly, adding, "And I hope he does!  I hope he does shoot.  Because then, after the first shot, the rest of the crowd will climb all over him, tear him to pieces."

"Ah," I said.  "Yes."  I didn't feel that I needed to point out the downside of this strategy, at least for the two of us.  

Later, a few of George's friends stuck a tape recorder into my face, as if they were journalists or historians.  I tried to sound like a freedom-loving American in support of a noble cause, but the truth is that I was a bit vague as to the cause at hand.  I gathered that the general momentarily in charge -- Namphy, perhaps, or maybe Joseph; who knows? -- was a dog.  But the more immediate object of the protest was the disappearance of Charlot Jacquelin, a reading teacher.  It seems that in the part of the world where "to disappear" is a passive verb (one does not disappear, but rather is disappeared), teaching people to read is a form of political activism.

"The government says they don't know where he is," Georges explained grimly.  "So we say, 'Give him to us alive, then.'"  And indeed we did -- signs all through the crowd read "Ban Nou Chalot Vivan," and we periodically raised a chant in the same words.

At last, we arrived at the wrought-iron gates of the Palais, the residence of the dictator du jour.  It was a big White-House style building, with a broad manicured lawn and a radar antenna sweeping back and forth on the roof.  I stood one one side of the gate, and on the other stood a team of soldiers in khaki uniforms, holding Uzis, or some other submachine gun.  I had seen guns like this before, but this was the first time one had ever been pointed at me.

From the crowd, somebody brought out the bicolor, the traditional red-and-blue Haitian flag.  ("It is the French flag, with the white part torn out," a guidebook had helpfully explained.)  This flag had been suppressed by the Duvaliers, but now it was back.  Ours was a large specimen, perhaps twenty feet on its long side, and protesters grabbed the corners and waved it up and down, while the rest of us danced underneath it.

I danced underneath it.

And here is the point to all  this.  The people in that crowd wanted, and deserved, a better country.  Their nation was the poorest in the hemisphere, and surely the most chronically ill-governed; the Duvaliers are in some ways a bright spot, a beacon of stability in Haiti's godawful history of coups and countercoups.  But they were dictators, and a popular uprising had driven them away; for a moment, it must have looked -- to Haitians, at least -- as though the country's fortunes were about to change.  It must have looked as though this was the beginning of a new and better time for their country.

One or two of the protesters started to climb the iron fence; I watched the soldiers with machine pistols swing their arms casually upward.  But they didn't shoot.  Even that small reprieve must have looked like a signal of hope.

It wasn't.  In all the years since, I have occasionally met travelers from Haiti -- most recently last summer, in Chicago -- and I ask them what they have seen.  Occasionally, somebody tries to put a pretty face on things -- "Signs of improvement," they say gingerly -- but usually they just shake their heads and say, "Worse than ever."  Of course, that was all before last Tuesday.

I wonder about the people I knew in those days -- Georges, and Chantal the waitress whom I later discovered leading a voodoo ceremony, and Charlie who took me to my first cockfight, and the small cluster of nearly deranged expatriates who still lived there then, apparently because they had no place else to go.  But mostly I wonder about the nation itself, and whether it is possible to go forever as it has gone so long.  And what will happen if it is. or if it is not.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lesbian Ants and Seafaring, Makeup-Wearing Cavemen

It's been a big week in science, and we at the Egg are happy to note a few highlights.

First off, we know that our header has you asking, "How does he even know about my dad's sister Gertrude? Nobody in the family ever talked about it, except that one New Year's when Uncle Charlie had too much egg nog."  

But, sadly, the header is just a tease -- one more pathetic bid to attract more traffic off the search engines.  In fact, the ants in question, called Mycocephorus smithii, are exclusively female, but their reproduction is asexual.  This is less titillating, to be sure, but still fascinating.  Think about it:  a species without any males at all.  We think immediately, as you do to, of some justly overlooked 50s movies.  But then we get serious, and, remembering the dubious claims of mid-70s feminism, await word on whether these ants engage in warfare like the other breeds, or live a pacifist existence on their organic farm in Vermont.

As to the cavemen, we're talking first about Homo erectus, who apparently, after leaving Africa, became a long-distance sailor.  This, at least, is the conclusion drawn by some scientists who have discovered hand-axes on the island of Crete.  The tools date to roughly 130,000 years ago and are made (from local materials) in the style associated with H. erectus.  

It's a big story.  Homo erectus is know primarily from digs in Asia, and previous speculation had centered on the use of rafts in Indonesia.  As to Crete, H. sapiens apparently arrived there about 7000 BC.  So this find may well re-write the history of human (or anyway, hominid) development.

In other cavemen-related news, it seems that (as scientists had first suspected in 1985), H. neanderthalensis -- Neantherthal man --  wore body paint as well as jewelry made from carefully selected and decorated seashells.  According to the team that made these discoveries at a dig in Spain, the evidence dates to about 50,000 years ago, or 10,000 years before our own species arrived in Europe.  (And, obviously, a long, long time after the Homo erectus bunch had vacationed on Crete.)

This news doesn't solve the riddle of the Neanderthals' ultimate fate.  Three answers are usually offered, all of which serve to make H. sapiens seem awfully macho:  we killed 'em, we outcompeted 'em, or we -- ahem -- mated with 'em.  Recent budget cuts have eliminated the Egg's Anthropological Opinion department, so we have no idea which, if any, proposition is correct.  

But we are fascinated by the emerging image of an archaic world, including archaic Europe, in which modern human beings were not a revolutionary presence, with big brains, more culture, and better tools.  Instead, we were one of at least three large-bodied, intelligent, tool-using and culture-bearing species, all existing in more or less the same places and more or less the same times.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Grumpy Old Man

While we're on the same subject -- the proposed Anglican Covenant -- we submit for your approval an essay, linked above, by the Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, a well-known Episcopal writer who teaches theology at what Wikpedia calls a "low-church and evangelical" Anglican seminary in Toronto.  (And a tip o' the biretta to Our Beloved Godfather for pointing us toward the piece).

Like much of Radner's writing, it is engaging and clear, and often provoked the Egg review committee to murmurs of assent.  Radner says that he is "is "and remains" a member of the Episcopal Church, which is significant.  We have considerable respect for critics of the (D&FMS of the) PECUSA, or any other church, when they remain in communion despite disagreements on matters of moral theology.  Those we respect least, of course, are the ones who attempt to steal their parishes and property while leaving.  You know who you are, you dirtbags.

This essay certainly is critical.  According to Radner, the Episcopal Church is a decadent relic of its former glory:

[It] is simply no longer the church filled with even the strength of purpose we saw only 10 years ago ....  [E]ven then, it was church that was growing in outreach and faith.  That church, shimmering still with some of the vibrancy of love spent for the Gospel seen 140 years before, even 90 years before, is now gone.  And [it] will not survive in any real continuity with this past and its gifts.

His case goes like this:    (1) The Episcopal Church has lost members, and therefore money, since 2000, endangering (inter alia) its seminaries; (2) it has experienced a "moral unravelling" represented by unpleasant name-calling and expensive lawsuits, and connects to the "rapidly-accelerating habits of despising tradition" and "the notorious matter of sexuality;" and that therefore (3) the Episcopal Church, despite its relative wealth, can no longer offer spiritually credible mission support to the poorer churches of the "developing" world (much of which, as Radner rightly observes, isn't really developing at all).

As we said, murmurs of assent here.  It all sounds so intuitively right, doesn't it?  

The problem is that, upon more sober reflection, the essay itself started to sound suspicious.  It contains signs -- too many signs -- of a rarely-diagnosed condition which the Egg's ecclesiastical maladies board calls "Matthau's Disease."  Named after our second-favorite movie star of all time, the disease afflicts bright, brash, idiosyncratic persons, world-beaters in their youth (think of Matthau in Fail-Safe) by turning them into grumpy old men (think of Matthau in Bad News Bears and everything afterward).  As it progresses, the disease affects the organs of memory and judgment, bathing the recollected past in an artificial glow, and making the present appear comparatively wan.  Most at risk are those who once nourished unrealistically high expectations for themselves and for their world.

In its preterminal phase, Matthau's Disease provokes the patient -- so enraged by the imagined wretchedness of the present -- to lash out rhetorically, especially at younger colleagues.  This typically takes the form of unsubstantiated ad hominen attacks upon an individual or, more easily, an entire class of individuals.  (Readers may recall the sad case of Robert Benne, who shortly before losing the use of his faculties entirely, declared that all "elite ELCA ethical theologians" were guilty of shallowness and captivity to culture, without offering a single instance to substantiate, or even illustrate, his case.)

In Radner's essay, the symptoms are readily apparent.  To begin with, does anybody seriously accept his claim that, as recently as 2000, the PECUSA was "filled with strength of purpose," and "growing in outreach and faith," and that it has declined so rapidly from that position?  Lutherans remember, with considerable embarrassment, the 1991 remark by Walter "Skip" Sundberg, that going to bed with Episcopalians was the ecclesiastical equivalent of necrophilia.  It was rude and foolish, but it is remembered, in part, because it reflected such a widespread perception.

Of course Radner is correct about the loss of membership and money, although that is not remotely unique to the Episcopalians.  The entire mainline, including such supposedly protected conservative elements as the LCMS, is suffering.  Radner mentions the defection of some parishes to AMiA over the past decade, but doesn't consider the possibility that comparative membership and money totals ought properly to include former these former Episcopalians.  

For the sake of perspective, let's remember that the number of parishes in the PECUSA actually peaked in 1915, and the number of communicants in 1970.  So any complaints about numerical decline must properly be directed to the Department of Slowly Dying Protestantism, rather than to the Bureau of Recent Infighting.  (Even adjusted for inflation, receipts are at an all-time high, a seemingly "good" sign which, as Radner suggests, makes the thoughtful wary of disaster to come.)

But it is in the margins of his argument that Radner truly betrays Matthau's Disease.  His most shocking claim is this one:

Episcopalian ministers and scholars generally have received some of the best-resourced educations within the Christian churches;  in their ranks are some of the most lively minds and engaging personalities. ... But they remain among the most intellectually lazy Christians I know, most of whom stopped reading rigorously years ago, prefer arguments based on prejudice, and have contributed virtually nothing to the Anglican and larger Christian theological forum for decades now. 

Really?  For decades?  Pardon us for a sudden case of Sundberg Syndrome, but a quick poll of the Egg's historical theology department suggests that "centuries" might be more appropriate.  Or, since Radner is limiting himself to the American province, "ever."  It sounds harsh to say this, and we beg the forbearance of our many Episcopalian friends.  But the truth, more gently worded, is that the rest of us have never really looked to you for your distinctively intellectual contributions.

On the contrary, we have admired your custodianship of the ecumenical church's history and traditions, specifically as those are embodied in your marvelous liturgical formularies.  We have envied your good taste, both in architecture and in vesture.  We -- and especially we Lutherans -- have marveled at your ability to keep under one roof people with such sharply different convictions.  But for philosophy and theology, we usually look somewhere else.  From the death of Richard Hooker, and certainly from the beginning of the Enlightenment, the burden of theology for its own sake has been carried by the intellectually disciplined and theory-obsessed writers of northern Europe, whence it is now spreading elsewhere.  (Whether and to what degree this is a good thing is another question; perhaps we are just lazy ourselves, but we sometimes wonder whether the Church as a whole is actually improved by Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, Troeltsch, Barth, Rahner, Moltmann et al., or whether they are just decorations on the cake).

Still, assuming that we are wrong in this estimation of Anglican theology through history, it seems to us that Radner has an obligation to spell things out.  If in fact his colleagues are now intellectual lazyboneses, he should be able to point to a time when they clearly were not, and describe the failures by which they came to be.  Absent such a narrative, this simply sounds like "things were better in my day, when men were men and Bishop Pike was an embarrassment."

There's more evidence.  Early on, he tells a delicious anecdote:  

I know a young person who sneered at the faith of an Episcopalian – a more conservative person – who chose to leave TEC for another set of ecclesial structures.  “You would do such a thing”, this young person said to him:  “yours is the generation, after all, who invented no-fault divorce”. 

This is a note-perfect instance of why we cannot take the generation of mildly-conservative Protestant clergymen now in their late 50s to mid-60s all that seriously when they complain about the present condition of the church.  Like any other good Boomers, they want what they themselves asked for:  a church which marries priests, ordains women, worships in modern English, engages with the political realm and speaks frankly about sex.  What they can't bear is that the generations which grew up with these freedoms might regard them differently or consider them stations rather than destinations. 

So unable is Radner to hear this criticism that he dismisses it in an almost unitelligible wave of the hand:   

In fact, in this case, the complaint was less directed at a purported hypocrite, than at what he perceived to be the witness of an impotent God, unable to garner the sacrificial steadiness of His adherents.  

Later, Radner practically shouts the name of his illness in one grammatically troublesome paragraph:

And it is hard for me to say all this – after almost 30 years of ministry, once high hopes, and actual experience for some brief but glorious times, if mixed with struggle, of witness in all of its giving, forgiving, and abundantly receptive modes, bound to persons whose lives once shared are now the fodder of division without quarter.   There are days we weep.

So enchanted is he by his memory of those "high hopes" and "brief but glorious times" that he loses sight of a central (albeit subsidiary) truth of Christian history:  the days are always right for weeping.  After Eden, there has been no Golden Age, but only an endless march of folly (hey, good title for a book!), punctuated now and then by brief victories of justice and decency, and made bearable by the presence of Christ among us, promising an end to life as we know it.  Sunt rerum lacrimae and so forth,.

For all this grumpiness, though, the essay manages to end on a note of hopeful expectation.  Whether his hope -- in a working group and its new covenant -- is reasonably placed, only time will tell.  God has used stranger instruments.

The Anglican Covenant

In a desperate struggle to reconcile their puritanical and latitudinarian wings (both terms used metaphorically, with lower-case initials), the churches of the Anglican Communion are contemplating adoption of a document which would tighten up the terms of their interrelationship.

The main point of the covenant, at least in many eyes, is that is establishes a standing committee to mull over disputes among churches -- and by "disputes," we mean disputes about sex.  And lest this sound like a just another toothless exercise in church bureaucracy, beware these savage fangs:

The Standing Committee may request a Church to defer a controversial action. If a Church declines to defer such action, the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument until the completion of the process set out below.

That's right, baby.  Mess with the Standing Committee, and they just may not let you come to meetings.   

You can read the text, linked above, and decide for yourself whether it is a good thing or a bad one.  We have no opinion; the document strikes as sufficiently mundane, not to mention internal, that offering an opinion from outside would be like commenting on somebody else's choice of socks.  

Sunday, January 03, 2010

UPDATE: 2.4 Million

That's how much master showman Rick Warren brought in with his recent appeal.

And here's a neat bit of megachurch trivia. He announced the good news during a sernon, by parading onstage 24 volunteers, each holding a giant check for one hundred thousand dollars.

When we close our eyes, they are all showgirls in sparkly bathing suits. You think?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

If You Are Preaching Today

Or if you have transferred the Name of Jesus to the following Sunday, consider this from an interesting but garbled essay on names by David Mamet:

Not only are there no atheists in foxholes, there are, I believe, no atheists anywhere. We just call our gods by different names. Indeed, psychotherapy may be nothing more than the attempt to find those names, and so challenge their power.

Obviously, Luther got there first in the Large Catechism.  But the observation is still worthwhile.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Rick Warren Needs YOUR Cash!

And it's urgent.  The guy needs $900,000, and fast.  According to his "News & Views" blog on the Saddleback Church website, he needed it by today -- January 1 -- to keep his church out of the red.  We at the Egg have thought this through, and we think we, along with our readers, should give it to him.

Let's unpack this one a little bit, shall we?  First off, Father Anonymous doesn't want to hear the trashier sort of trash-talk, like the GLBT site that crowed "Warren's fund for hypocrisy is a million dollars short this year."  We are actually touched by how hard Warren has worked to avoid becoming part of the religious right, despite the many temptations that face a man in his position.  He knows that turning the church into a political action committee is a betrayal of the Gospel, and he has tried to live accordingly.  And, despite what some commentary has already suggested, Warren can't just bail the church out from his personal fortune.  According to an interview some years back, he has repaid the Saddleback every cent it ever gave him in salary, and donates 90% of his outside income, living on the remainder.

(That said, we confess that we do have certain reservations about Warren, whom we suspect of what among Lutherans is sometimes politely called "synergism," and among Calvinists "Arminianism."  Most of the world calls it semi-Pelagianism, and it is another betrayal of the Gospel.  However, it is s subtle and debatable one.  Given that the ELCA is now in full communion with the principal Methodist church, perhaps the Gospel has even changed a bit.  We'll look into this some other time.  We also think the Hawaiian shirts are a cliche, but he seems to have retired those.)

What was that?  Right -- back to the 900 large.  Per Warren, his church is pretty well managed, and despite an ugly recession, had managed to stay close to meeting its budget all year.  Of course, every church and charitable institution has been struggling this year.  He says that about 10% of his church members are unemployed, which of course is a fraction of a point below the national average.  So while we're impressed by the management claim, we aren't thrilled by it.

Christmas, unfortunately, hit Saddleback hard.  The holiday services were well-attended, on the order of 10,000 people.  The problem (as readers may recall) is that the following Sunday came two days later, and attendance was about half what it had been on the previous year.  Now, this is not exactly an act of God, at least not one comparable to an earthquake or a flood.  Here in Europe, the first few days of Christmas are still important churchgoing events, but that has not been true in America since the days of Bishop Moore.  (And we mean Clement, not Paul).  Presumably, the top-notch management team at Saddleback owns a calendar, and could see how close the holiday came to a Sunday.  (If not, they have have a terrifying surprise coming in about 11.75 months).

Look, we aren't trying to mock Warren or his church.  Church finances are notoriously tight, and the end of the year is tough on many parishes.  Back in the Bronx, we once made photocopies of our unpaid bills, and posted them on a bulletin board for adoption by members.  (By the way, we got many complaints, but very few adoptions.  We sincerely hope that Warren's middle-class suburbanites fork over the cash more quickly than our desperately poor slum-dwellers did).

So this all sounds reasonable enough, and in fact unremarkable.  Except for a couple of things.

Thing #1:  Waitasecond.  Were they really expecting to rake in a million dollars in one weekend?  Or even -- since they had been sweating a bit already -- half that much?  Because if they were, the rest of us may as well just throw in the towel.  There's no way we can compete with that. Semi-pelagianism and Hawaiian shirts it is, now and forever.

Thing #2:  Nobody seems to know what they were expecting, because -- according to all the news coverage, at least -- Saddleback doesn't make its finances public.  It's a church, not a public trust, so it's under no obligation.  But we would like to point out that every Lutheran church in America, as well, we expect, as every church organized on even remotely comparable lines, has an annual meeting, at which its financial statements are circulated to every member who stuck around long enough to get a copy.  A few copies are usually left in the narthex afterward, slowly wilting as they wait for

Thing #3:  But that's okay, because we can figure it out.  Assuming that Saddleback really did expect something north of half-a-mil last weekend, we can multiply by 52 weekends and guesstimate an annual member giving in the range of $26 million.  Of course that's a bit unrealistic; let's assume they have a summer slump like everybody else, and cut offerings in half for the months of June, July and August.  So that's a piddling $23 million. Even assuming the church has no other sources of income -- real estate, endowment funds, a modest synod mission-support stipend -- they're still doing pretty well.

All of which brings us to Thing #4:  For these people, $900 grand in the red is a 2% deficit.  And even during the boom years, most of the churches Father Anonymous saw up close ran much larger deficits than that.  He himself served as assistant pastor at a parish where the deficit was almost exactly equal to -- you guessed it -- the salary of the assistant pastor.  Nor is this an isolated case; Mother A. had the same experience.  In both cases, we are describing double-digit deficits.

From a Saddleback perspective, this money is chicken-feed.  So here's our proposal:  just give it to them.  The Egg's editorial team and readership, personally, should just did into our pockets and get it done.  They probably won't send a thank-you note, and of course our children will starve and our altars go breadless.  But what the heck.  We'll have helped a colleague in distress, and probably stemmed the tide of public mockery coming his way.

And at least he asked politely.