Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"The Epitome of Love"

Our friend Father Nedward, when he is not hot-tubbing with beautiful ladies, has long waged a battle to reclaim canon law for the Lutheran church.

He is not exactly alone in this effort.  We ourselves have a longstanding interest in the systematic application of Biblical and historical norms to the rules governing church life.  So do many of our friends and colleagues, not to mention all ELCA secretaries to date.  It is Fr. N.'s particular charism -- or burden, perhaps -- to insist upon actually calling this body of norms by its proper name, canon law.  As Ray Schulze pointed out to us many years ago, Lutherans in America have an abiding aversion to the word "law," in almost any way it can be used.  Preface it with "canon" and they are likely to collapse into agonized screams of "No popery!"

This is (as Nedward observed recently) ironic, given the prominent role that Kirchenrecht plays in the life of European churches.  It is nonethless true.  He says that two out of three American church historians surveyed, when asked about canon law after the Reformation, simply objected that Luther had burned the Roman code, and refused to discuss the subject any further.  A third historian, to his great credit, observed that Luther may have burned the code, but that he also found it helpful to keep a copy at his bedside when he actually had to administer church affairs.

In fact, the relationship of the early Evangelical movement to the corpus of canon law is absolutely fascinating.  We recently stumbled across a brilliant study of the subject by John Witte Jr.  Here is the abstract:
Why would Luther in 1520 burn the canon law books but in 1530 write a commendatory preface to a canon law textbook for use at his own University of Wittenberg? Why would German magistrates ban the study and use of canon law texts in the 1520s, only to import canon lawyers and transplant canon law rules in the 1530s and thereafter? Why would neophyte Lutheran jurists be content to rely on the Bible and custom in their early writings, only to turn with greater regularity to canon law authorities later in their careers? 
"Inertia" is part of the answer. Prior to the Reformation, the canon law had ruled effectively and efficiently in Germany for centuries.  ... Most of the jurists and theologians who had joined the Reformation cause were trained in the canon law .... In the heady days of revolutionary defiance of Pope and Emperor in the 1520, it was easy for Protestant neophytes to be swept up in the radical cause of eradicating the canon law and establishing a new evangelical order. When this revolutionary plan proved unworkable, however, theologians and jurists invariably returned to the canon law that they knew. ... 
"Innovation" is also part of the answer. This evangelical transplantation of the canon law was based on the strength of considerable theological and jurisprudential ingenuity. Theologians after 1530 offered an innovative theory of the church, grounded in the evangelical theory of the two kingdoms. The invisible church of the heavenly kingdom, they argued, might well be able to survive on the Scripture alone, free from the accretions of the canon law. But the visible church of the earthly kingdom, filled with both sinners and saints, required both biblical and canonical rules and procedures to be governed properly. ...
The article, which you can download here, is a model of scholarly detail, filled with illustrative details.  We learned a lot from it.

One thing Witte does not mention, because it would have taken him far from his actual subject, is the antinominan movement within formative Lutheranism.  Led by John Agricola, some of the early Evangelicals argued that no law -- not even God's -- applied those who had been regenerated by baptism and whose spirits had been converted.  Although soundly defeated in its own time, the antinomian impulse continues to crop up among modern Lutherans, especially those with a little, but not too much, theological training.

Antinomian Lutherans take the Law/Gospel dynamic to an absurd extreme.  So determined are they not to terrify or be terrified by the unfulfillable demands of God's Law that they reject it altogether, or declare that it is of interest only to Jews and heathen.  Although this was not likely a factor in the rejection of canon law in the 1520s or its restoration (as a civil function) in the 1530s, we do suspect that it helps explain the very weak and even scattershot governance which prevails in the ELCA.

But in fact, as the early Lutheran jurists understood, canon law is an important, valuable and even a beautiful thing.  Nicolaus Everardus called it "the epitome of the law of love" and "the mother of justice."  It is a remedy for arbitrary decisions and the tyranny of pastors, bishops and other church authorities.  Churches talk about justice, but without sound and systematically-applied guidelines for discipline they are often hard-pressed to provide it.  In a church plagued by chronic struggles over authority, in which members and congregations in conflict rarely find any meaningful path to reconciliation, canon law can offer tools of great value -- not because it is a law, but because it is a law of love.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Peshawar Martyrs

Sunday morning, Mass was just ending at All Saints Church in Peshawar -- of Anglican origin, and now a parish of the [Anglican/Methodist] Church of Pakistan.  The six hundred or so people there were leaving, as people do after worship.  Many were headed for the yard, where free food was to be distributed.

That's when the suicide bombers struck.

At last report (Times, BBC), 75 were dead and at least a hundred more were wounded.  More than half were women and children.  The Taliban has unembarrassedly accepted responsibility.

Look.  We realize that this was, in all likelihood, an effort to sabotage the government's efforts to make peace with these bloodthirsty sons of bitches the Taliban.  We realize that peace is objectively a good thing, to be pursued even in the face of terrible provocation.  We realize that the attacks on religious minorities in Pakistan do not represent an authentic form of Islam.  We are especially grateful for Prime Minister Sharif's clear statement that:
 “The terrorists have no religion, and targeting innocent people is against the teachings of Islam and all religions.” ...
At this point, it is hardly news that this sort of murderous violence is to Islam as protecting child molesters is to Christianity -- a vile perversion of the faith which has nonetheless taken root among some of its loudest exponents.

We are also grateful that
[t]he Pakistan Ulema Council, the largest clerical body, also condemned the blast, saying that the council was “standing with our Christian brothers in this tragedy.”
But still.  Add this to the al Qaeda-inspired horror in Nairobi, and it is very difficult, sometimes, to keep from giving them what they want -- to fall back into the medieval mindset, so inflamed by irrational religious hatred that it can be easily manipulated in the interests of geopolitics.

(The bombers had the gall to claim that they murdered their countrymen -- and women -- in retaliation for American drone strikes.  Please note the rhetorical sleight of hand  They want to imagine that our distinctly secular and pluralistic nation is somehow "Christian", so that all Christians are magically "American," and therefore legitimate targets.)

It is is difficult to keep from falling into their trap, and hating their (supposed) religion rather than merely hating them for themselves, but we will.  Maybe, when we cool down, we will even find a way to stop hating them at all.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Anglicans Pick Female Bishop ... in Ireland

As you know, the Church of England ordains women to the priesthood, but not, thus far, to the episcopate.  It's a testy situation among some of their faithful, who seem not grasp the concept of "in for a penny, in for a pound."

Their recalcitrance may get a little harder to maintain now that the [Anglican] Churches of Wales and Ireland have signaled that female bishops are jake with them, and that the C of I has has actually elected one to the post.

The Rev. Pat Storey of Derry will become the new Bishop of Meath and Kildare.  According to the Guardian, she is 53, was ordained in 1997, has two grown children and is married to a priest.

We extend our deepest condolences to the Bishop-Elect Storey and her family.

Party Down

Playboy Magazine has long managed to be "adult" in the sense of "pornographic" without being the least bit "adult" in the sense of "not juvenile."  From its lousy cartoons and it lame jokes to the leering double-entendres that accompany its photographs of women young enough to be your daughter, it has long been a monthly reminder to American men of just what it was like to be a horny pre-teen.

Or, uh, so we've heard.

Then, yesterday, it seemed that Playboy had turned over a new leaf, and started treating sex as a grown-up thing, to be engaged in thoughtfully and with mutual respect by the people involved.  Even if they were drunken frat boys.

Specifically, Playboy's annual list of Top Ten Party Schools -- or something like it -- was published on the web, with a truly touching preface:

 Over the years, it has been brought to our attention that some of our long-standing party picks have a not-so-toast-worthy, rape-ridden side to their campus life. 
Somewhere in the countless hours we spent tallying up co-eds and scoring beer pong, we lost track of the most essential element of the Playboy lifestyle: sexual pleasure. Rape is kryptonite to sexual pleasure. The two cannot co-exist. For our revised party guide to live up to our founder’s vision, we had to put a new criterion on top. Namely, consent. 
In other words… A good college party is all about everyone having a good time. Consent is all about everyone having a good time. Rape is only a good time if you’re a rapist. And fuck those people.

A couple of great paragraphs, and we wish that the real editors of the real Playboy had written them. We also wish they'd come up with the prudent list of "commandments" for mutually respectful collegiate nookie that follow.

The site is a hoax -- or anyway, a parody -- put together by FORCE, which is committed to "upsetting the rape culture."  Apparently, they also came up with a lot of fake press coverage, too, and planted it all over the web.  Very impressive work.

Parenthetically, let us pause to ask:  What kind of horrible world do we live in where groups like that are necessary?  Where there is an identifiable "rape culture"?  Lord, have mercy.

Anyway, we applaud FORCE for doing such a fine job of this.

Rumor of the Day

This rumor has recently reached us.  It is unsubstantiated, and we hope it is false; therefore, we present it blind-item style.

Professor A was for many years the systematic theology instructor at Seminary B.  In that capacity, he helped to form a generation of Lutheran pastors, most of them (in our experience) very fine indeed.  He has since retired, but remains a formidable presence in Lutheran theology.

His former post is now held by Professor C, who is far less of a household name.  it is reported that Prof. C. so dislikes Prof. A -- whether personally or theologically we are not told -- that his works are not taught at Seminary B, and indeed his name is not mentioned by students seeking a respectable grade.  And so a remarkable legacy is squandered.

Can this be true?  Perhaps not.  But just for fun, we invite our readers to try filling in the blanks.

The Post-Authoritarian Pope

If you listen to the news, you have surely wondered just why Pope Francis insists on picking fights with the traditionalist wing of his church.  Don't judge the gays!  Give women a voice!  Skip the ermine cape!  It is a miracle, one mutters half in jest, that the guy has not yet gone the way of John Paul I.

Quite a bit of what is being reported this week now has its origin in a single source, an interview in the Jesuit magazine America, conducted by Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J.  The interview is long, but well worth reading in its entirety.  The image of the Pope that emerges is better balanced, although not much less charming, than the caricature in the headlines.

As you might expect from one Jesuit talking to another, there is a lot of inside baseball.  One of the Pope's great heroes is a guy named Peter Faber, a companion of Loyola; he makes many offhand references to the Jesuit Constitution, the Institutes, and things like that.  These are the ordinary background of life in a particular order, like Lutherans talking about Samuel Simon Schmucker or the Smalcald Articles.  To outsiders, of course, it means a lot of googling.

But there are parts of the interview which have not yet attracted much attention, but ought to.  In particular, Francis talks about his own leadership style, and how it has changed through the years.

He became a Jesuit provincial at the remarkably young age of 36,   Here is how he describes himself in those days:

That was crazy. I had to deal with difficult situations, and I made my decisions abruptly and by myself.  ...
My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative. I lived a time of great interior crisis when I was in Cordova. To be sure, I have never been like Blessed Imelda [a goody-goody], but I have never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.

This is quite a contrast to the Pope we have seen recently, with his emphasis upon episcopal collegiality and the authority of regional bishops' conferences.  Nor, these days, is anybody accusing Francis of ultraconservatism.  (And that's an understatement).  The implication is that he has learned from his mistakes, and in fact been transformed by what he has learned.  This is an impressive quality, if genuine.

One image from the interview that has already attracted a lot of attention sis "the Church as a field hospital."  It is a brilliant and compelling picture, which deserves to be considered in context:

“I see clearly,” the pope continues, “that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up."

It is immediately after this, though -- and in this context -- that he says something rather complicated, but worth hearing.  First comes the part that we love to hear:
“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all." 
Then the part that we don't, really, but which he needs to say:
"The confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them really takes responsibility for the person. The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin’ or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds."
This last remark helps to explain his recent defense of the Church's teaching on abortion, which has no doubt disappointed some of his most starry-eyed admirers on the left.  (Those, that is, who somehow imagine that the Pope is not Catholic).  Neither rigorism nor laxity, according to Francis, is a genuine proclamation of the Gospel.

Anyway, it's a great read, and we recomend it highly.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Broken Symbols

Recently, Fr. A. has been leading a parish study group through The Use of the Means of Grace, the ELCA's 1994 statement on sacramental practices.  It is, so far as we know, the only statement of its kind to have been adopted by the churchwide assembly, and therefore it enjoys a unique level of authority in matters of Lutheran worship. (Fact checkers?  Are we mistaken in this?)

We spent quite a bit of time on "Application 7a," which says:
The use of ELCA-approved lectionaries serves the unity of the Church, the hearing of the breadth of the Scriptures, and the evangelical meaning of the church year.  The Revised Common Lectionary and the lectionaries in the Lutheran Book of Worship make three readings and a psalm available for every Sunday and festival.
Discussing these words with our class, we observed, somewhat wistfully, that the proposition that lectionaries serve Christian unity was true only insofar as the same lectionaries were used.  The ELCA's authorized and widely-sued worship books actually offer quite a number of lectionary choices.  The Sunday lectionaries of LBW and ELW are only a little different, but the use of the semi-continuous Old Testament series can increase that difference.  The daily lectionaries presented in the two books are entirely different.  This divides, on one hand, all those who pray the Daily Office using the 2-year lectionary in LBW, ALPB's For All the Saints, or the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, from those who pray it using the ELW's 3-year daily lectionary.  The present lectionary arrangement is a very fragile sign of unity, if it is a sign at all.

Of course, the old one-year lectionary still has its enthusiasts, although they seem to be principally Missourian.  As always, they demand "unity" on their own backward-looking terms.

And, as we observed to our class, the geniuses at "Luther" Seminary have also spent quite a bit of time promoting their Narrative Lectionary.  This is a four-year cycle of readings for the "green" season, which attempts to sketch out the arc of the Biblical narrative, beginning to end, in nine months.  It is aimed at a culture which no longer grasps that arc naturally from childhood.

The Narrative Lectionary is not an intrinsically bad idea.  As pedagogy, it is just fine, even admirable.  As liturgical theology, it is, obviously, a disaster.  If the use of a common lectionary serves as a sign and symbol of unity, then the introduction of a radically different one seeks to shatter that symbol, and supplant it with one which means something else entirely.

Frankly, it just like Luther Sem --the faculty of which led the fight against full communion with the Episcopal Church -- to find a new way to weaken the fragile unity of the English-speaking Church.  At a time when preachers in Lutheran, Anglican, Reformed, Methodist and Roman congregations are likely to preach on the same texts from week to week -- thus achieving a remarkable degree of formal unity -- our friends in St Paul have struck a blow for division and disunity.  That they have done it in the name of "cultural relevance," or even that they have done it with innocent intentions, is beside the point.  They have attacked a symbol of the 20th-century Church's greatest achievement, the move toward reconciliation.

And symbols matter.  They do not merely indicate, they also participate in the reality toward which they point.  Just this morning, we learned that one of our old Bible study groups has ceased to meet.  One group of pastors uses the RCL, while another has adopted the Narrative Lectionary.  They are still friends and neighbors, but their week-to-week unity has been broken.

Thanks, "Luther."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Good Times

Photographer extraordinaire Mark Christianson has created some beautiful pictures for Augsburg-Fortress, which is using them in a series of new books on worship.

Add this to Pastor Joelle's new call to ministry and ... well, these are good times for friends of the Egg.

Learn more about Mark's photos at his blog, or about the books at Augsburg-Fortress.

Noo Yawk 4evah

In last night's Democratic primaries, the people of New York City gave Anthony Wiener the metaphorical finger.  The disappointed candidate responded in kind, except without the "metaphorical" part.

As reported at Gawker (and all over Twitter, and a million other places on the web), Wiener's campaign -- a train wreck from the beginning -- concluded with the kind of explosion that makes moviegoers groan "Now the f/x people are just showing off."

Wiener got about 4% of the vote.  His wife wasn't at the party, and his long thank-you speech pointedly omitted mention of her.  (Interpretation:  Divorce imminent.) Entrapment-queen-cum-porn-star Sydney Leathers, however, did show up, inspiring Weiner to make a mad dash through a McDonalds to avoid meeting her.

A classy night up to that point, but Weiner wasn't done yet. 

As his limo pulled away, he not only gave the middle finger to a reporter, he managed to be photographed doing so.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

"The Tragedy of Richard Dawkins"

That's a phrase used by Martin Robbins at the New Statesman site.  His title may explain more:  "Atheism is maturing, and it will leave Richard Dawkins behind."

Specifically, Robbins accuses Dawkins of using his widely-read Twitter feed to promulgate a lot of "vaguely racist bigotry," of the kind that you used to hear only when visiting your aged grandparents.  (That's Robbins' image.)  He points to a couple of insipid tweets about Muslims, whose failure to win Nobel Prizes is apparently, according to Dawkins, a reflection of their belief in God.

As Robbins sees it, Dawkins is an old New Atheist headed toward inevitable conflict with the newer New Atheists.  He says:
Dawkins remains a powerful force in atheism for the time being. Increasingly though, his public output resembles that of a man desperately grasping for attention and relevance in a maturing community. A community more interested in the positive expression of humanism and secularism than in watching a rich and privileged man punching down at people denied his opportunities in life. 
Honestly, you know what this makes Dawkins sound like?  The Jerry Falwell school of Christian preacher -- the sort that rose to fame on a wave of resentment among the faithful, and can only retain power by stirring up more resentment.  It's not just preachers, of course, who do this sort of thing; it is all reactionaries.

That said, we hope that Robbins is correctly predicting the path that modern atheism will take.  We have certainly read about people calling for a move in the direction of "positive expression of humanism and secularism," but the evidence of our own eyes suggests that they are still vastly outnumbered by vulgar, intolerant white men more interested in running down their perceived opponents, and harassing their handful of female associates than much else.  At this stage of its development, the atheist movement strikes us as something like the Rand Paul school of libertarianism.  In which case, Dawkins remains a suitable figurehead.

But perhaps Robbins is correct.  We certainly hope so.  Spero meliora, as Cicero says.