Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Rick Perry Is Not a Serious Athlete

In 2010, Texas governor Rick Perry was out jogging. His Labrador was jogging along beside him, and they were both confronted by an aggressive coyote. So the governor pulled out a Ruger .380 and shot the coyote. When asked later about his "heartless" slaughter of "innocent animals," he is reported to have said, "Don't go after my dog."

This story bears some analysis.

First, the obvious question: Why did the guy have a Ruger .380 with him when he was out running?

According to this CNN profile, Perry "often carries a gun on the [jogging] trails because of snakes and other wildlife." Like so many things in the world of politics, this makes sense until you think about it.

We at the Egg were not always city rats, much less sedentary bloggers living in Mom's basement and surviving on Chee-Tos. On the contrary, we used to spend a lot of time in the woods. Woods full of wildlife, including snakes and bears. Our experience was that most animals were happy to stay out of our way, if we were making enough noise so that they could hear us coming. Snakes, a common enough trail hazard, would strike only when threatened. In practice, this means that you had to stumble over them. And by definition, if you have stumbled over them, you didn't see them. In which case, they bit you before you could blow them away like Dirty Harry. So a gun was a lot less helpful than the ability to watch your step.

We're sure that, to a certain kind of voter, the idea of a politician cautious enough to watch his step seems unattractive, smacking of cowardice. We, however, are impressed by circumspection and discretion -- just the sort of personality traits that might have spared our nation from Iraq (or even Viet Nam). A pity Perry seems to lack them.

For the record, Perry's gun is a small automatic, weighing in at under 10 ounces. We'd smirk and call it a lady's gun, but honestly, it was designed for concealed carry by the police. The governor does have a license. An earlier version was recalled for safety reasons -- it tended to go off unexpectedly. (Which fact alone makes it something no sane person would tuck into his waistband, least of all when trail running.) After the Perry incident, the manufacturer released a commemorative Coyote Special Edition. Classy, right?

So, okay. Ten ounces is small for a gun gun. But for a runner's toy, it's huge. The other day, we heard a couple of heavy-duty athletes (one of them a professional) talking about running, and they were debating whether they could stand the extra weight and balance problems associated with carrying an iPod Nano. Which weighs an ounce or two, if that.

From all of which we conclude that Gov. Perry is not all that serious about running.

If he were, he would find places to run that don't seem to require the presence of a big old lump of steel strapped to the gubernatorial waist. Say what you will about Bush Jr., he was at least serious about fitness, which he pursued with more practical equipment: mountain bikes, running shoes. Perry, on the other hand, sounds to us like the kind of guy who goes on a weekend backpacking trip with a giant black-painted Rambo survival knife on his belt, when he really needs a Victorinox Spartan tucked into his pocket.

Or maybe this: Rick Perry is like the burly gentleman we saw in the airport the other day, wearing his (branded) 9.11 Tactical shirt and pants with hidden ammo pockets and quick-draw vents, as if to advertise that he was a Big Tough Undercover Cop. (Not the sort of thing one normally advertises, by the way). We mentioned this to a battle-hardened narcotics investigator and SWAT member, who rolled his eyes and said "The guy's a dope. When I get on a plane, I look like an accountant."

So Rick Perry strikes us as, at the very least, a less-than-serious-athlete. And more likely a wannabee.

Of course, there's more.

This guy thinks the coyote shooting is an illustration of why Perry can and will win the presidential election: because Perry has "core convictions" and sees the world "in very simple terms." These, of course, are precisely the things that one could also say of George W. Bush. And, lest anybody ever forget, it was Bush's convictions (even when they contrasted with facts) and Bush's ability to reduce the world to (unrealistically) simple terms -- both combined with the desperate need of a pampered preppie to feel as tough as his father, the bomber pilot turned Cold War spymaster -- which led to the disastrous Iraq adventure. The thought of another president who prefers his own convictions to empirical evidence ought to be terrifying to all of us, and especially to traditional conservatives -- who value, or used to value, things like circumspection and discretion.

On another note entirely, he CNN profile also talks about Perry's famous 2009 hint that Texas might secede from the United States of America. We aren't to take this seriously, says a Perry defender named Bill Murchison, who tells us that "the governor was. Being. Funny."

This would be more convincing if it came from anybody -- anybody -- except Bill Murchison, who as regular readers know is a neo-Confederate, with connections to an organization that actively promotes the secession of the entire South. That's like having Nikita Kruschev drop by the courtroom to explain that the Rosenbergs are innocent. With friends like these, you need new friends.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

On the Road Again

Years ago, in seminary, some of our classmates used to talk about their plans for Afterward. These usually struck us as specious, and we suspect that some of them gave God a good chuckle too. But we had a couple of neighbors, guys with whom we didn't see eye to eye and who (to be honest) struck us as sort of shallow. And then one time, at Cheap Beer Night or some other wholesome student activity, one of them said something that struck a note we never expected, but to which we instantly responded. "My plans?" he rolled his head. "Find a church. Preach. Die."

In a few hours, the Family Anonymous climbs into a big silver bird to begin a sure-to-be-gawrshawful flight from Transylvania to Pennsylvania. Via Munich and DC. It wouldn't be that bad, except that we'll be doing it on zero sleep, with a four-year-old in tow. (And of course, the two layovers put our checked baggage in peril.)

Beyond that, though, we are having some strange emotions about the trip. We explored them a little over at the parish soapbox. The bottom line is that when people say, "Oh, you're going home," we don't know how to answer. Home? What does that mean?

Father A. has been a vagrant for most of his adult life. Although he has lived, for the most part, in and around New York City, that sounds more stable than it has really been. We've long since lost count of our various homes -- a dozen, maybe, since 1985. Probably more. Ordination has barely slowed the pace; Fr. A and the Missus have, between them, lived or served parishes in all of our synod's four quadrants, and most of its many conferences. Not to mention Central Europe.

We're not alone in this. Some pastors are called to a church after seminary, and stay there until they retire. Honestly, that was our plan as well. But a lot of us (and the proportion has likely grown over the past half-century) move around like circus people. It can be exciting -- a fresh charge of adrenaline each time -- but it can also get exhausting.

We knew an Episcopal priest who owned a cabin in the Adirondacks. It was a modest little place, five miles in on a dirt road, unreachable in winter without skis and a great deal of stamina. It is not likely that she and her husband ever spent more than a few weeks there at one time. But, as they explained it to us, this cabin was important to them, because -- wherever else they went -- it meant that they had a place they could go home to.

As far as we can tell, they sold it about three years back.

All of which is our way of saying that the adrenaline thing is getting old. In about two years, we'll rotate out of our present unusual post. And after that, we're thinking we'd like to settle down for the duration -- which, given the current state of our pension plan, means until about 75.

It's not too late for us to find a church, preach and die. Ideally, over a longish period of time, with an extended spell as Pastor Emeritus tucked in there. But you get the idea.

Do It In French

People prepare for long trips in different way. At this moment, Mother Anonymous is packing and organizing and arranging and looking forward to seeing her friends. Being already packed and having no friends, Father A. is working on the infernal breviary and intermittently googling terms like "Ernst Robert Curtius."

The latter activity just brought up this clever paragraph, from a 2008 post by one Micha, then apparently a graduate student at Berkeley, describing his lessons learned thus far:

Critics of literature gather, particularly in the highly-professionalised American academy, into one of three clubs: the aesthetic, the historical, and the political.
The politicians are by far the worst; they reigned from the sixties to the early nineties, but are still around because they unionised. The only enquiry they seem to pose and understand is the ethical one: Should we be reading this text? Consider: studying and/or reading a work is a tacit stamp of approval. Are social injustices are represented in or by this work? Should we bequeath it to our children? Does it represent the world as it is, and, if it does, does it represent the world as we think it should be? It goes without saying that “quality,” “standards,” and the “canon” refer here to a long-standing posthumous conspiracy by white male Europeans to oppress everyone else. Harold Bloom, who has shouted himself almost hoarse at this “School of Resentment”, lands a solid blow: “the idea that you benefit the insulted and injured by reading someone of their own origins rather than reading Shakespeare is one of the oddest illusions ever promoted by or in our schools.”
And finally: when in doubt, obfuscate. History shows that you will be given the benefit of the doubt as long as you do it in French.
That last bit has been on target for about a thousand years now, but it still works.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pot and Kettle

Anthony Weiner is stepping down. By now, perhaps, he has already done it. We're glad, of course; as we've already said, he won't be able to function in office right now, and in any case his first priority must be to care for his wife and unborn child.

Let us take a moment to point out that David Vitter is still serving in the US Senate. Vitter did not, so far as we know, stand in front of a TV camera and lie to his constituents. The fact is that, when the news of his involvement with a DC prostitution ring first went public, Vitter 'fessed up pretty promptly. This is what Weiner should have done. It would not likely have made his marital situation any more congenial, but might have salvaged his legislative career.

On the other hand, let's also remember that, while Vitter may not have lied outright, telephone records suggest that he was making dates with his prostitute friends during a House roll-call vote. Or maybe they just reached his answering service, because he couldn't be swayed from his public duties.

Either way, we wish it were either a little harder or a little easier for public officials to be destroyed by scandal.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

St. Anthony is Missing

According to his reputation, St. Anthony of Padua can assist the faithful in recovering lost objects. Ironically, California worshipers are now trying to recover a relic of St. Anthony himself, which has been taken from a glass case at a church named for him.

The Times has a report here. Briefly, the parish pastor put the relic on display recently, assuring people that
... St. Anthony could do more than help them find their lost car keys and wallet. “He can restore your faith in God, your trust in the system, in yourself,” he said to them.
Well, okay. We have mixed feelings about relics and reliquaries. Make no mistake: we've stared at hundreds over the years, often while muttering a prayer or two. Knuckles, hands, vials of blood, undisclosed body parts interred below an altar. Honestly, we've stared and prayed on four continents, and no doubt earned a few indulgences while doing so.

Or rather, we would have earned those indulgences, were not intention one of the critical factors. Because, as the bishop said after he kissed the chorus girl, we didn't mean anything by it. If you visit a lot of churches, and say a lot of prayers, you will eventually find yourself praying around relics. That doesn't necessarily mean that you are placing your hope in the knuckles of the saints when it might better be placed Elsewhere.

Still, we have to say for the record that stealing relics from a church is an exceptionally stupid crime. A few pieces of bone or scraps of cloth have precious little value except to the community to which they are actually precious. So if one's motive is monetary, it is unlikely that the stolen goods will turn much profit. And if one has another motive -- say, the desire to own the relic for devotional purposes -- one surely comes a-cropper over the fact that ownership entails the violation of numerous among the Ten Commandments. Not to mention the California Criminal Code.

We are touched by Fr. Magana's ability to find, or anyway imagine, a silver lining. Speaking to the reporter, he said:
“I think this is divine providence asking us, ‘Where is your faith?’ Is it on the relic or is on God alone?”
Good sentiment. Of course, he could have started there, but never mind our cavilling. We're Lutheran.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rodeo Clown Update

There are signs that the Rodeo Clown phase of the 2012 presidential campaign is winding down. The candidates who have been feinting in the direction of a run, with no realistic hope of being elected, are beginning to disappear.

Trump and his bad hair are off the front pages, and not even registering in the polls. Gingrich's team defected last week, en masse -- an expression which, lamentably, doesn't mean "during the Sunday service." Apparently, Newt is a lazy campaigner who takes orders from his (current) wife, rather than his paid handlers.

Sarah Palin is not a serious candidate but may well run simply because she doesn't know what else to do just now. But even she has had a high-profile defection this week.

(In related news, Michele Bachmann, a rodeo clown if ever there was one, has announced her soon-to-be-irrelevant campaign. Heard a woman on MSNBC call Bachmann a winner in the NH debate "because she didn't embarrass herself." Is that really what winning looks like these days? We no longer hold our public figures to the standards of, say, Lincoln and Douglas, but come on. Fr. A. has not yet peed in his pants while preaching, but they aren't going to make him pope because of it.)

In the next few months, the credible candidates will begin to emerge. It's too early to say just who they are and how seriously to take any one of them. Romney appears to be the front-runner, and people are still talking about Pawlenty.

But the Team Gingrich defection apparently opened a door to Texas governor (and sometime secessionist) Rick Perry. After the disaster that was 2000-2008, you might not think that another Republican governor of Texas would be elected again for a long, long time. But then, we never expected a re-election in 2004, so what do we know?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sweet, Petite, Discreet ...

Over the last few months, we have looked at dozens, and possibly hundreds, of Latin hymns (and English translations) used in various forms of the Daily Office. Customarily, they all end with a Trinitarian doxology. This has been tacked on to the oldest hymns, but is part and parcel of the rest. It's all very pious and Nicene and whatnot, but at the moment it's driving us nuts.

The doxologies are each slightly different, but, frankly, there are only so many ways to accomplish the task. The form itself forbids much creativity regarding either words or meter. And so they usually refer to the Third Person of the Trinity as either Spiritus or Paracletus. This leaves English translators three principal choices -- Spirit, Ghost or Paraclete.

No doubt for reasons of prosody, the third is chosen very, very often. Mind you, Ghost is an easy word to rhyme, and Advocate could surely be used to good effect. But over and over, it is Paraclete. And in a shockingly large number of instances, translators seem to have only one rhyme in mind:
... be glory as is ever meet
To Thee with the Paracelete.
Or some small variation on that. It gets ... monotonous.

At this point, we are desperate to stumble across somebody who rhymes Paraclete with beat, defeat, cheat, neat, cleat, feet, feat, seat, Crete, complete, or even DEET.

Are Hymns Over?

Here at the Egg, our Dept. of Historical Hymnology has been working overtime lately. Perhaps you've noticed. (One commenter, apparently not interested in the reforms of Urban VIII, took time to write the word "boring" twice, the second time in capitals. We're guessing he's more about the sex and the politics, a frankly understandable preference). It will all be over soon, when that @#$%& breviary project wraps up.

But we're beginning to wonder whether it's already all over -- and by "it," we mean all of hymnody. Or at least hymnody as we know it.

A while back, we were talking to a Charismatic minister, who didn't really understand our worship style -- and no wonder, given the great gulf fixed between our churches. We were talking about vestments and Eucharistic prayers, all of which got a blank look from him; and after a while he said, "So you're old-fashioned. That means, what, you still use hymns?"

Still, mind you. That's the key word.

Today, we were talking to a far more worldly fellow, who has a working knowledge of the worship styles most commonly encountered in both Europe and the Americas. We weren't talking about worship at all, until, illustrating some other point entirely, he said, "Your church has something for everybody. You know, a band for the young people, hymns for the old people."

Or maybe he didn't mention the band; we don't even remember anymore. All we remember is this: Hymns for the old people.

Like many readers, Father A. was raised with hymns. Being neither a musical child nor a notably devout one, he spent fairly little of his childhood church time singing or praying; but he spent a great deal of it flipping through the Service Book and Hymnal to see what was inside. At about the age of eight, he concluded that anything worth singing had the name of either John Mason Neale or Catherine Winkworth attached to it. Even today, he'll stand by that judgment with only the slightest qualification. This locates your humble correspondent quite easily within a certain liturgical period: the Romantic Revival of the mid-19th century. And indeed, his preferences and convictions in many matters, from hymnody to dogmatics, are those of just that period: Historical and confessional, both with a touch of the antiquarian. Not coincidentally, therefore, many of his favorite hymns are written in Long Meter -- the iambic tetrameter which represents in English the meter of the Ambrosian office hymns.

We don't know all that much about hymns or music, but we do know two important things:

First, that over the past half-century, many churches have abandoned the conventional stanzaic (or strophic) hymn in favor of other musical forms. Praise choruses and Taize songs, with their simple melodies and repetitious texts, can be learned in moments by many congregations. This makes them extremely appealing, and sometimes for good reasons. Songs that are more complicated, either musically or verbally, may be better relegated to the choir.

And second, that stanzaic hymnody is something of an aberration to begin with. It formed no part of the earliest Christian worship, and developed only from the fourth century. Even then, it was long excluded from the Eucharistic service. For that matter, most singing of any kind was done by the schola cantorum; until the Reformation, most people were neither required nor desired to sing even the liturgical responses. Even today, there is a certain sort of Roman Catholic who turns up his nose at the undignified use of such "Protestant" devices as congregational singing of hymns or much else in the Mass.

Hymns have certainly changed over the centuries. The 25-stanza processional hymns of Prudentius (or of the German Reformation) have little practical use today. Modern hymn-writers rarely attempt to draw together as many disparate Biblical and theological images as their predecessors did; they tend to focus upon a single idea, and ring changes upon it for three or for stanzas. But we are not talking about changes in the style of hymns, so much as about whether they are used at all.

If our friends are right -- if hymns are an old-fashioned form, now smelling of Polident and Ben-Gay -- then maybe the past five centuries have been a phase, which is now coming to its natural conclusion. And maybe that's not so bad.

Mind you, people will not suddenly forget Vexilla Regis Prodeunt or How Great Thou Art. There will always be a place for the very greatest hymns. But that place may be gradually restricted, and the second and third tiers (from, say, "Stand Up for Jesus" to "You Satisfy the Hungry Heart") will disappear from all but the library books.

This isn't an entirely bad thing. We will be delivered at last from "loud boiling test tubes" and the works of Marty Haugen. But it isn't an entirely good thing, either. Thousands of pages of thoughtful religious poetry, set to tunes that can be sung and therefore memorized without much trouble, will be lost. And that will be sad.

Maybe none of this will happen. It is certainly hard for a Lutheran to imagine life without hymns. Here in Romania, the hymn-boards of the German and Hungarian churches typically list six or eight hymns to be sung in a Sunday service. But then, with their black robes and extremely limited lay participation, they are willfully preserving a liturgical style which seems dated and even inadequate to those of us conditioned by the 20th century's so-called Liturgical Movement.

Our own services, lately, have been adjusted for a culture in which English is a foreign language, and lean heavily on canticles which do not change from week to week. Where the local Lutherans sing six their variable hymns, we sing two -- and over the summer, it will be reduced to one. So perhaps, for the first time in our lives, we are somehow on the liturgical cutting edge.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Some Light On Rand Paul

Apart from the Nicene "light from light" formula, we never used to spend much time thinking about light. Thanks to aging eyes, this has begun to change. Our little rectory is lit with a patchwork of incandescent, CF, LED and halogen, each depending upon its particular use. (Also sunlight, especially in the kitchen and lamentably not near our desk).

Of course, we have long known that incandescent bulbs are on their way out. Our last parish had virtually eliminated them before we arrived. When you are as reflexively cheap as a typical church council, the longevity of the compact fluorescents is very attractive. When some of your sockets are sixty feet in the air, reachable only by a brave man on a shaky ladder, that appeal is greatly amplified.

What we did not know is that the battle to save tungsten-filament incandescent bulbs is a minor part of the Tea Party platform. Apparently, new government efficiency rules, when they take effect, will make the cheap and cheery, but fragile and short-lived Edison bulb a thing of the past. And you know how the Tea Party feels about gummint rules.

So, according to an article by Andrew Rice in the Times Magazine, a former RPI prof named Howard Brandston
... has become the Paul Revere of the movement to save the light bulb, giving speeches to industry conferences and a Tea Party rally in front of the White House.
Ah. This will be useful for Sarah Palin, who is still working on her list of things that Paul Revere ket the redcoats from taking away. Brandston, for his part, has begun to stockpile lightbulbs, to use on his upstate farm. We gather that he will give up his tungsten filament only when they pry it from his cold, dead fingers.

Far more disturbing, however, is the use made of the lightbulb controversy by GOP princeling Rand Paul. When Florida senator Jeff Bingaman convened a senate hearing, on the new rules,
[t]wo Republicans, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Jim Risch of Idaho, used the occasion to denounce free-market infringement. Paul pressed Kathleen Hogan, a D.O.E. official, to say whether she was pro-choice before going off into a long disquisition on liberty.
“I find it really appalling and hypocritical . . . that you favor a woman’s right to an abortion but you don’t favor a woman or a man’s right to choose what kind of light bulb,” Paul said. “I really find it troubling, this busybody nature.”
Wait. First you made a public official share her views on something as delicate and personal as abortion at a conference on lightbulbs, and then you complain about busybodies?! Are you nuts?

For the sake of driving up our clickthroughs, not to mention a foolish consistency, we will pause here to mention that our mother once dated libertarian icon Ron Paul. This makes Republican busybody Rand our almost-coulda-been brother. Yet if it comes right down to a fight in the schoolyard, we don't see ourselves sticking up for him. Quite the reverse. Guy looks in a girl's bookbag like that, he has it coming.

Mrs. Weiner Is With Child

Surely you've noticed that, while the Weinergate scandal has captured so much attention, we at the Egg have had little to say. Why, we haven't so much as alluded to the now-customary schoolboy puns. (Oops.) The reason is that although the story has no lack of sex and politics, we kept hoping for some religion.

Well, here's a sort of side-angle. See, one of the things that members of the clergy are called to do is talk to couples who intend to be married, about both the spiritual and the practical considerations of the blessed estate. The nature of this conversation isn't uniform. Father A. carries on a fairly informal series of chats about sex, money and Jesus. His beautiful spouse, on the other hand, leads people through a computer-assisted boot camp called Prepare + Enrich. The Roman Catholic "Pre-Cana" courses are so rigorous that some otherwise faithful Papist couples have been known to seek out a Lutheran wedding simply to avoid it (which request is customarily denied, with a curt "After your parish pastor signs off on it.").

Well, the officiant at Weiner's wedding was Bill Clinton. We're guessing there wasn't a lot of premarital counseling.

We learned this from the same ABC News article which told us that Weiner and his wife, Huma Abedin, are expecting their first child. Abedin is an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Both women are in Africa right now, which is probably just as well. Abedin doesn't need the cameras in her face, and Weiner doesn't deserve even the most passive show of support. Let him swing.

In case it isn't obvious, Weiner has serious problems, both personally and and professionally. As any number of wise people (okay, Larry King, yesterday on NPR) have already said, he could have averted the worst of it with one fast, frank and contrite press conference. Instead, he bluffed and lied until his credibility was in tatters. Weiner is useless in his current position, and we doubt that he has much future in electoral politics. What concerns us now is the future of his family.

The Chicago Sun-Times quotes an unnamed friends as saying that Abedin will not desert her husband, and we hope that's true. But we also hope that he will get some heavy-duty psychotherapy, and find a low-profile job in the private sector. Dude needs to get his priorities straight. Since Abedin is Muslim and Weiner is (at least culturally) Jewish, it is not likely that they will start going to church together. But if they need some belated premarital conversation, we're available. Seriously.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

A Seminex alumnus was just elected bishop of the ELCA's Central/Southern Illinois Synod. We wish only the best for Bishop-Elect S. John Roth, whom we have never met and about whom we know nothing, and will say nothing else on the matter.

In other news, we will make an appointment with our dentist in the morning. Some teeth seem to be broken.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

When Arm-Twisting Turns Evil

For the record, our tongue was in our cheek when we suggested, yesterday, that we would have enjoyed watching the Archbishop of Canterbury make somebody cry. A display of resolution is one thing; cruelty is another.

Speaking of Anglicans, gay people, arm-twisting and cruelty, we have the case of Nolbert Kunonga, the deposed and excommunicated bishop of Harare. Kunonga is a close ally of Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF, which means that he has enough political support to continue posing as an Anglican bishop, to muster a gang of supporters, and even to win a few legal judgments regarding property. Of course, being an ally of Mugabe also means that he is closely connected to a network of violent thugs, who will use any means at all, including murder, to achieve their ends. And in fact, Kunonga has been accused for many years of orchestrating violent crimes.

Among these is the rape, mutilation and strangulation of an octogenarian lay minister named Jessica Mandeya, as well as a series of death threats threats and home invasions directed toward other Anglicans who will not accept his authority.

To these accusations, Kunonga gives a chilling response:

“You must have a very good reason to kill people,” he said. “Being a political scientist, I know who to eliminate if I wanted to physically, and to make it effective. I’m a strategist.”

Mr. Kunonga added, “If I want to pick on people to kill, [the recognized bishop, Chad] Gandiya would not survive here.” As for allegations that he and his men were involved in Mrs. Mandeya’s killing, Mr. Kunonga retorted, “What would an illiterate 89-year-old woman do to me to deserve death or assassination?”

Brrr. This is from Celia Duggan's recent article in the Times. Between the lines, it seems to say "I admit nothing, but when I do kill people, I'm very good at it."

There is a sex angle here, too, although to our eyes it seems strained:

Mr. Kunonga often echoes Mr. Mugabe’s favorite themes, including the president’s loathing for homosexuality. This issue provided Mr. Kunonga’s rationale for withdrawing from the mainline Anglican church in 2007.

He claimed homosexual priests and congregants had gained influence in the church, though mainline church leaders here, as a matter of policy, do not conduct same-sex marriages or ordain gay priests. Bishops in the mainline church saw Mr. Kunonga’s move as a power grab.

So, let us get this right. Kunonga -- rather like poor Colin Coward, not to mention Tailgunner Joe of yore -- has a list of gay priests. And so, even though the church in Zimbabwe doesn't take a particularly soft official line on homosexuality, he used this to justify schism at the least and, well, murder at the worst? (If he didn't like the church's policy, weren't there some committee members he could have reduced to tears?)

Frankly, we're going to call bushwah on this gay thing. African Christianity in general is not especially hospitable to gay people; the divide seems to be between those who hate them and those who want to kill them. We expect that Kunonga is using "gay priests" as a bogey-man, so that, to a certain kind of socially conservative foreigner, he can look like "one of those Southern Cone Anglicans you hear about," when he's really more like Hermann Goering.

Like many less frankly evil political figures in other countries, Kunonga hopes to rally sympathy for himself personally, by making people think that he is their ally against the Great Lavender Satan. This would be merely callous and cynical if it were not, in context, also homicidal.

Over at GetReligion, Terry Mattingly complained about the Times article, but did himself no credit in the process. He proposed that the article was short on certain key details, which is true -- all newspaper articles are short of some details. We ourselves would like very much to know more about the church polity details, which are pretty complicated. When an Anglican diocese withdraws, as Harare did under Kunonga, the whole province apparently needs to be reconstituted. Did that happen here? Or did Kunonga's deposition moot that requirement? All of this is likely to bear on the church-property cases brought into Zimbabwe's civil courts.

But Terry, as he so often does, thinks that the important details are doctrinal -- what does Kunonga believe that Chad Gandiya does not? That seems beside the point to us, but okay. Our real concern is the way Terry went about posing the problem.

First, he points out that Kunonga has a degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, the Methodist school where Rosemary Radford Ruether teaches, Ruether being "an articulate Catholic feminist who is on the far left edge of the Vatican’s most fiery critics." (It helps to know that the use and abuse of the word "evangelical" is a regular GR theme. It also helps to know that many seminaries manage to employ professors with sharply divergent theological and social views, so that the presence of, say, Mark [Lewis] Taylor at Princeton doesn't mean that Bruce McCormack is either a Schliermacher fan or a Communist).

Then he poses two possibilities:
I think it’s possible that many if not most readers would do the following math — “evangelical” seminary plus opposition to homosexuality means that this rebellious bishop, who may or may not have blood on his hands, is another one of those crazy African Anglicans on the right that the Times has told us so much about.
Possible, although it seems like a stretch. It seems like more dots than most readers are likely to connect, especially wrongly. But then he asks ....
... is there another scenario? After all, this brilliant anti-colonialist political scientist with a doctorate from a high-quality liberal campus (who is fighting the conservative Anglican bishops on his conservative continent) may be something completely different. Might be be rather complex, some twisted combination of liberal beliefs and totalitarian tactics?

Do we know that for sure?

No, we don’t. Again let me say: No. We. Do. Not. Know.

You see, we don’t have enough information.

You see what he did there? First, he accused the Times of dropping dark hints, which we don't think it actually did, and then he dropped some dark hints of his own. Which we think he did on purpose. Kind of cheesy.

Now, Terry Mattingly didn't just declare that Nolbert Kunonga is a classic American liberal Christian, steeped in the doctrines of feminism and liberationism, and that it is just these liberal theological ideas which have led him to rebel against a traditionalist African church body. He didn't just attempt to blame Rosemary Radford Ruether for the death of Jennifer Mandeya.

But he didn't exactly not do it, either. He certainly provided a superficially plausible scenario, by which the sort of ill-informed and knee-jerkingly biased reader he imagines hissing at the word "evangelical" might begin to argue that liberals are all Stalinists. Let us repeat that: He. Did. Not. Say. It. But you can bet that somebody else will.

Anyhoo, our real point here is that Kunonga is a creep of the first order. The very fact that we at the Egg are whining about one of our favorite bloggers is a sign of how effectively his "blame the gays" strategy works to provide him with protective cover in the West. And the longer he keeps us thinking that the problems in the Zimbabwean church are about our favorite Western controversy, the longer he keeps us from looking closely at his own all-too-typically African moral turpitude.

Monday, June 06, 2011

And West Is West

A long way back, we had some fun at the expense of an imaginary colleague whom we called "Eastern Guy." You remember: the Lutheran pastor with an office full of mass-production icons, and who "who, when faced with an unpalatable theological proposition, takes refuge behind a pious murmur to the effect that 'I don't know how the East would feel about that.' " Even though Eastern Guy is, at some level, us ourselves and many of our dearest friends, we said that we had a hard time taking him seriously.

Well, Robert Taft has a hard time taking Eastern Guy seriously, too. For those who aren't familiar with his works, Taft is a Jesuit, a student of worship and perhaps the greatest Western expert on Eastern liturgics. His book on the development of the Daily Office remains one of the most impressive works of liturgical scholarship we have ever read.

Searching Google for something else, we stumbled upon this undated (and typo-ridden) essay by Taft, called "Eastern Presuppositions" and Western Liturgical Renewal. We won't try to summarize it -- it's an easy but thought-provoking read, and well worth your time.

But Taft, with the easy style of a heavyweight champion sparring with a stockbroker, takes to task Eastern Guy's customary assumptions about the world of Orthodox worship -- that it is older and therefore more "authentic" than Catholic worship, and that it somehow provides a window into primitive Christianity which is obscured in the West. As Taft demonstrates, this is Romantic fluff -- and, worse, Orientalist fluff, in the sinister sense that Edward Said has forever given that word.

Here are our favorite remarks:

Though I am an academic Orientalist who loves the Christian east and has dedicated his entire scholarly life to the study of its traditions with the express aim of understanding them sympathetically and fostering and preserving them, I am not one of those romantics who considers the east--for heaven only knows what imagined reasons--to possess some sort of traditional superiority, a deeper spirituality, a more ancient and traditional monasticism, a more faithfully apostolic liturgy.


Eastern Christianity finds itself in a profound crisis from which it has not yet found the means to extricate itself, and even more preoccupying is the refusal of so many to recognize this situation, or their attempts to distract attention from it by lashing out, with a chauvinistic xenophobia altogether too traditional in Russian and Balkan history, against enemies, real or imagined, who

are presumed culpable for whatever is wrong. Eastern Christianity has not yet learned to face modernity, a lesson learned in the west only with great pain and many failures. [Which Taft goes on to list.]

and above all this, which attacks the misunderstanding most frequently adverted, both by the Orthodox and by others with less excuse for not knowing better:

Far from being a bastion of immovable tradition,

preserving intact the liturgy of apostolic times, the east was the main source of change, responsible for practically every single liturgical innovation from Jesus until the Islamic conquests, which stifled this remarkable creativity.

Mind you, the article isn't the least bit hostile toward Orthodox or Byzantine Christianity; quite the reverse. We have known scholars whose chosen speciality was a subject or author whom they detested, and whom they devoted their lives to undermining; taft isn't like that. He says he loves the East, and he clearly means it. But he loves it as it is, not as he imagines it might be. And isn't that how we all want to be loved?

Anglican Arm-Twisting

Apparently, there are rumored to be some straight priests left in the Church of England. As we have said before, this surprises us. Oh, we believe it -- statistically, it stands to reason. But we're shallow, and the fact flies in the face of the caricature.

All of which makes us shake our head wearily when the CofE (like so many other Cs) waxes anxious about the presence of gay people on its clergy roster, and even -- dites-nous que non! -- among its bishops. For whatever reason, the muckety-mucks do feel compelled to put on a brave face, and treat the matter as though it were subject to some doubt or question.

From all of which comes the latest bit of sad farce. It seems that the Rev. Colin Slee, late Dean of Southwark, released an "anguished and devastating memorandum" to the press, shortly before his death from pancreatic cancer. We can't find the memorandum itself, but the Guardian describes its contents. Slee's anguish was caused by his church's playacting over sexuality in general, and in particular by the bad behavior of Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, and John Sentamu, Archbishop of York.

It seems that in the summer of 2010, a new bishop was required for Southwark, in south London. Among the candidates put forth by the Crown Nominating Committee was Jeffrey John, who is gay, and in a long-term relationship with another cleric, but who is also celibate. (Scoffers beware: It's not as unlikely as it sounds. These things happen.) Another candidate was the Rev. Nicholas Holtham, since made Bishop of Salisbury, who is straight, but whose wife is divorced from another man.

There were two other candidates, whom Slee found to have far less impressive credentials than John and Holtham. (Christopher Chessun is the fellow who wound up in the chair; we know nothing about his credentials, or whether he was one of the two candidates Slee mentioned.)

If Slee is a reliable witness, both Canterbury and York came loaded for bear, determined to sink the candidacies of the better-qualified men, on the grounds of the gay thing and the divorced-wife thing. And they played hardball:

The document reveals shouting matches and arm-twisting by the archbishops to keep out the diocese's preferred choices as bishop ....

Slee described Williams shouting and losing his temper in last year's Southwark meeting, which left several members of the crown nomination committee, responsible for the selection of bishops, in tears.
To be honest, we'd like to have seen that. After his public whipping by Rome when the Ordinariate was announced, we'd like to see Williams fight for something. Even something we disagree with.

And then, just to make thing perfect, there's this:
Slee also in effect charges the church with hypocrisy, stating that there are several gay bishops "who have been less than candid about their domestic arrangements and who, in a conspiracy of silence, have been appointed to senior positions". The memo warns: "This situation cannot endure. Exposure of the reality would be nuclear."
Nuclear indeed. Gay people! In church! Seriously, though, what he means is that publicly outing the gay bishops would have a devastating and destabilizing effect on an already shaken church, and he's surely right.

At which point, enter Colin Coward, a CoE priest and very public supporter of just openly gaying the church. Commenting on the Slee memo, he says
I could name a number of bishops who are gay, including several appointed in the last 12 months. I’m sitting here this morning wondering whether I should, knowing that to do so is not in accord with my Christian ethos.
And now, of course, there's a little section of the blogosphere urging him to reconsider his ethos. The sharks smell blood in the water. We are troubled by the McCarthyesque tone of Coward's claim -- "I have in my hand a list..," etc. But we suspect he may not be bluffing.

Still, we hope he won't reconsider. Outing is a bad policy, and often one that is especially cruel to people you didn't out (ask Mrs. McGreevey). Yes, cowardice and hypocrisy are also bad policies, but as our old Gammer used to say, two wrongs don't make the bloody nose go away.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Do You Like Your Bank?

We don't. Despite generally good relations with branch employees, we don't recall ever really liking a bank. Soliciting your business, they are the most ingratiating of suitors; once they have it, you are lucky to get a cold and distant spouse, and not an outright abuser.

Case in point: A Florida couple who paid cash for their home, and never took out a mortgage. Despite this, bank of America began foreclosure proceedings. The court found this ridiculous, and demanded that the bank pay the couples' legal fees.

Which the bank, being a sleazy bunch of creeps, didn't do.

Until, five months later, the couple's attorney showed up at the bank branch with some moving trucks. And some marshals. And a warrant, authorizing him to seize furniture, computers, filing cabinets and ... cash. From a bank.

Bank of America paid up within the hour.

Gawker has the story here. And we have learned a couple of important lessons: (1) hide your cash in the mattress; and (2) if you're in trouble with the Bank of America, call Todd Allen, attorney-at-law.

Smart Guys, Cheap Shots

On the subject of praising Caesar, comes now a fascinating and ultimately contemptible review of Garry Wills' autobiography, by Michael McDonald in The New Criterion.

We have not read Wills all that carefully over the years, but we have enjoyed and benefited from his books on Pius IX, leadership, Lincoln, and especially Augustine. We were introduced to Wills in college, when his critical book on the Kennedy brothers -- and their "imprisonment" -- was serialized in the Atlantic. It said things we had already begun to suspect, but which nobody in our circle ever said out loud: that maybe Jack and Bobby were less saints than rascals. In that sense, Garry Wills helped to initiate our own break from the doctrinaire liberalism of our social set.

So it comes as something of a surprise to us to learn that Wills is, and had been well before his Kennedy book, a doctrinaire liberal of the first order, a friend of all the scalawags whose very names raise the hackles of New Criterion readers: Jesse Jackson! I.F. Stone! Nancy Pelosi's brother! Why, the man even spent a night in jail in the 1960s, which practically makes him a Black Panther. (NB: Everybody spent a night in jail in the 1960s. It was like growing sideburns in the 70s, or doing leveraged buyouts in the 80s.)

Before all this, though, Wills had been part of the National Review crowd, a friend and collaborator of William F. Buckley. One gets the sense that his departure for pinker fields was a betrayal by which McDonald was and remains outraged. After a lengthy break, Buckley and Wills were able to restore their friendship; McDonald is not so forgiving.

From this animus springs the review. Much of it is a useful guide to Wills's life and work, written with an attempt at Buckleyesque drollery. The National Review used to run a feature devoted to "Wills watching," a record of the betrayer's most prodigious missteps, and McDonald claims to have continued the practice long after the original columnist was sacked for stepping out of line in his own (anti-Semitic) way. And so McDonnell's review, as much of the man as the book, is a coda to the Review's lengthy revenge.

Most of its considerable length is a sour-pussed but basically straightforward look at Wills, with a focus on his defection from the True Faith and his descent into such apostasy as protesting the Viet Nam war and publishing essays in the New York Review of Books. It's worth reading, especially if you don't already know most of the facts. And then, about four-fifths through, McDonald goes utterly off the rails:
Wills’s embrace of liberalism is further revealed in his enthusiasms; “The country is full of people who stood a little taller in their youth because of Jesse Jackson [and his chant ‘I am—somebody!’].” One doubts that Jackson has read many books, but Wills’s disdain for those who read little is nowhere evident here.
Wait, what? One doubts that Jesse Jackson has read many books? Based upon what, precisely, does one express this scurrilous doubt? One's long acquaintance? A brief interview? A guess? One has a duty to say. And then:
Wills also praises [Studs] Terkel for his ability to “size up phonies or ideologues, the greedy and selfish politicians.” Perhaps Terkel had such a talent, though he was only too happy to provide a blurb for the memoirs of the former Weatherman William “I don’t regret setting bombs” Ayers. (“As sensitive and gifted a chronicler,” Terkel piously proclaimed, “as he is a teacher.”)
Again, what? Is McDonald truly suggesting that, because Studs Terkel once blurbed a book by Bill Ayers, Garry Wills is a poor judge of character? Bad enough, but in fact we think he is hinting that Wills is, or is as good as, a Commie-loving domestic terrorist.

But Jackson, Terkel and Ayers are small potatoes. McDonald saves his real guilt-by-association slam for last. Yes, friends, it turns out that a bright and well-read liberal journalist is friendly with our bright, well-read Secretary of State:
“I came to know [Hillary Clinton] fairly well and to like her a lot," [Wills writes]. "She has a wonderful sense of humor. . . . She is a sincere practitioner of religion. And she was also humble.”
Upon which McDonald comments:
Someone good at sizing up phonies might note that Hillary could speak self-righteously of “the politics of meaning,” while also making a quick $100,000 in cattle futures. She also didn’t hesitate to back Dick Morris’s (sleazily unprincipled, if ultimately successful) triangulation strategy, with the goal of securing a second term for her husband.
Surely, there is no reason to point out that Secretary Clinton's efforts to support her husband's re-election have little bearing upon Garry Wills as writer, a thinker or even a judge of character. But by this point, the review has long since ceased to be about Wills's autobiography, or his judgment, or even about Wills at all in any meaningful way. It has become a laundry list of knee-jerk rightist tropes.

What's happening here? McDonald seems like a bright guy. In addition to his law degree and his years of conservative activism, he also holds a degree in literature, and has written fairly prolifically about it -- especially for a guy with a day job. So why does he turn a tart but thoughtful book review into a bit of mudslinging and Pavlovian rambling worthy of Fox News or Michele Bachman? We can't imagine. But we hope that he will apologize to Wills the next time they meet.

Friday, June 03, 2011

"To Hand the Bible Over to the Devil"

Fr. Hunwicke -- who, if we understand correctly, is at the moment better addressed as Mr. Hunwicke -- seems far more eccentric than he really is. After a first glance at his blog, linked to your right, some readers may be tempted to move along quickly without returning. We encourage you to stick around. There is wisdom to be had, even when you disagree.

And, make no mistake, we disagree with Mr. Hunwicke. He is one of the Anglo-Catholics who have now Romanized via the Ordinariate of Etc. No matter how many explanations of such a thing we read, it remains unfathomable to us. To jump the Tiber may well be a matter of conscience; to do so while imagining that one somehow remains an Anglican, or preserves the Anglican patrimony, is delusional. We could keep going, but, honestly, we do come to praise Caesar.

The thing is, you see, that Hunwicke is both smart and funny, attributes which together constitute the core of good blog. He is a student (and teacher) both of classics and of worship, and his comments on both are worth the price of admission. But, unlike more than a few of our friends among the clever-and-high-church set, he is not merely an antiquarian. He still reads. And then, although it isn't his main purpose to do so, he thinks, and writes, in conversation with a good deal of contemporary theology.

All this leads to some of the funny bits, such as a recent half-hearted encomium for Catherine Pickstock's On Writing:
Pickstock's book is not often found to be easy going. She has a donnish weakness for neologisms and an assumption that any potential reader will be happy to work hard to understand her sometimes contorted jargon means. But her book deserves to be rescued from its ... frankly, not entirely undeserved ... obscurity, for several reasons.
Disagree with his point though we do, days later we still chuckle over the idea of bothering to rescue something from not-undeserved obscurity. Maybe that's the Anglican patrimony.

Apart from the chuckles, though, Mr. Hunwicke is often and powerfully on target. We don't say this merely because, a few weeks after our own smack upside Urban VIII's head over those breviary "reforms," Hunwicke jumped onboard, with vastly more erudition. We say it because of gems like the one he posted today.

His post has the chuckle-making title "Eviscerated: Can the Ordinariate Put New Guts into the Western Church." Our immediate answer was No, and we'll stick by that. With a header like that, we expected a bit of self-serving twaddle, which is what we would have gotten from plenty of blogs. Still, we gave the guy a shot, and by gum he gave us something in return: another reflection on the damage done by "reforms" of the breviary, in this case under Paul VI.

To some readers, it may sound hopelessly twee, but it's not. This is the sort of thing that really matters, because it touches on the way Scripture is read -- the very meaning of the sacred books, and therefore the shape of our life together. Paul VI's breviary omits the scary verses of Psalm 58 (Break their teeth, O God, and so forth). The LBW omits the entire psalm, and likely for the same reason: the "difficulties" that such passages create, hermeneutically and psychologically. Nice Christians, after all, don't go around asking God to break people's teeth.

Hunwicke fires a blast of patristic typology across the bow of this shallow liturgical thinking, and rightly so. And then comes this priceless remark (ellipses original):
Of course vast swathes of Scripture provide enormous difficulties ... are in fact not so much unusable as potentially positively poisonous ... IF we do not trace out the richly complex patterns of intertextuality which formed the basis of their apprehension before the dark shadow of the 'Enlightenment' fell upon the study of Scripture; if, in other words, we do not use them in the Tradition. Reducing Scriptural semiotics to the naked Historicism of the 'Enlightenment' is to hand the Bible over to the Devil. I think I very probably mean that literally.
And that is why it's worth reading.