Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Widening Gyre

Maybe it's just this curmudgeon, but after perusing five blog posts this morning, I get the sense that things may be coming apart more than they are coming together. Echoes of Yeats's The Second Coming ran through my mind as I read through the following -- they are in no particular order:

First, as to coming together: the Rev. Dan Martins blogged about his recent return to Nashotah House for Alumni Day and Commencement. Despite recent signs of the center failing to hold in the Anglican Communion, Father Dan took heart from the sight of many clergy in different factions being united in celebrating their common Nashotah heritage. (I, too, have been lucky to visit there, and to have been given a tour of its peaceful and uncommonly beautiful grounds by its very gracious dean.) Father Dan is moved to ask: "What if they gave a schism and nobody came?"

Next, as to coming apart: Father Randall Foster of Bedford, Texas had put up a post questioning the implications of the recent news that AMiA was returning to a Missionary Partner status with ACNA. The post had drawn 29 comments as of this morning, and they make for engrossing, if somewhat disturbing, reading. If nothing else, they demonstrate the difficult uphill path to bringing us together in a way that will allow the center to hold.

Then, as to "coming together" in an Episcopalian sense, we have this item from ENS: Dr. Bonnie Anderson, president of ECUSA's House of Deputies, has written the June 6 ENS Weekly bulletin insert, and has taken as her text Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, ch. 12, vv. 4-7. She first makes the point that an unusual amount of change in episcopal leadership is underway in ECUSA over the next several months:
During May through August, seven bishops have been or will be ordained and consecrated in the Episcopal Church, two more bishops will be elected, and the consent process for three bishops will be underway. Two other consent processes, shortly to be underway, have not begun as of this writing. Thus, in the next few months, the church no doubt will publicly affirm changes in the ministries of 14 people.
Dr. Anderson then uses the occasion to sketch out the "traditional" view of the Church's episcopal hierarchy:
It has become fairly commonplace in the Episcopal Church to think of the ministries of laity, priests, deacons and bishops in a hierarchical way. A visual description of the hierarchy might be indicated by a pyramid, with the order having the smallest number of members — bishops — at the top. The clergy — both priests and deacons — fill the hierarchical pyramid as it widens.

The laity support the pyramid as the numerically largest base. . . .
Then she springs her pitch: this customary view is "erroneous"; the true hierarchy, you see, is in the form of a circle:
This model implies a certain erroneous order of importance and power in God's church. We are "hierarchical" in the way human communities inevitably are. But, true to our teaching, tradition and polity as God's Episcopal Church, laity, bishops, priests and deacons are called to live their daily ministries in a way that can be visually described as a circle where God's gifts and God's vulnerable servanthood mark and guide each of our lives and our ministries. . . .
But there is no hierarchy in a circle; all points on the circumference are equidistant from the center, which presumably is Jesus Christ. And so Dr. Anderson has to edit Paul's text a bit, and make it more "relevant" to the innate egalitarianism of Episcopalians today. She writes (with emphasis I have added):
As we are reminded by St. Paul, in a practice of equal exchange and honor, we draw upon the unique charism of each individual, whether God calls us as lay, diaconal, presbyteral or episcopal.

Each gift brought to the service of Christ is important, and God's call to each person is equally worthy to be affirmed, used and supported by God's church.
Notice that this places the emphasis on the equality of each person's gift in the eyes of the Church. St. Paul, however, is not concerned with the tenets of egalitarianism. What he emphasizes is not only that all the gifts are very different, and of a varying degree, but that they all have a common source, which is God:

12:4 Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. 12:5 And there are different ministries, but the same Lord. 12:6 And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. . . .
Next, Paul goes on to draw his famous analogy between members of the Church and the members of the body -- which again are not all equal:

12:12 For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body – though many – are one body, so too is Christ. 12:13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. . . . 12:20 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor in turn can the head say to the foot, “I do not need you.” 12:21 So now there are many members, but one body. 12:22 On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential, 12:23 and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our unpresentable members are clothed with dignity, 12:24 but our presentable members do not need this. Instead, God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, 12:25 so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another.
Dr. Anderson concludes her message: "In Jesus the hierarchy becomes a circle, rooted in him and open to all Christians." (Notice the lower-case "him", and the absence of His defining title [meaning "Messiah," "Anointed One"] -- which, if you follow the link to the downloads of the bulletin itself, remain the same in the printed version. Apparently our Lord is just the human root, or hub, of a human wheel, and there is no hierarchy either of clergy, or of gifts or callings -- all are of equal merit in the eyes of the Church.)

Fourth, reflecting both aspects -- coming together and coming apart -- we have this pastoral letter to his congregation by a minister who is trying to remain true to the faith once received while keeping his flock within the ecclesial structure of ECUSA. In the letter, Fr. Rob Eaton explains just how he has managed to sustain his balancing act to date, and at the same time points to an unknown, and more precarious future:
St. John’s may be solitary and isolated in our diocese if only on the matter of the biblical teaching of sex, sexuality, and marriage, but at least we have a bishop with which we can maintain fellowship. It is not that Bishop Jerry Lamb doesn’t support the gay agenda within the Church, because he does. But he has publicly stated – and at this point in deference to St. John’s since there seems to be no other clergy or congregational opposition – that he will not ordain anyone in an openly homosexual relationship, nor allow for the blessing of same-sex unions while he is our bishop. His rationalization for that stance is that he understands the nature of a bishop of “provisional authority” to not be one who makes such fellowship-altering policies and decisions. In his words, that will have to wait until the diocese elects their own bishop. Well, then, despite our unquestionable differences with him and others in positions of power in the diocese which have caused us much unnecessary grief, we give thanks to God for that rationalization on his part.

We will have to deal with our relationship with the bishop anew if and when a new bishop is elected for our diocese who has no such reservations.
Finally, last but certainly not least, and in the same vein, the Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner has published a long reflection on the current state of the Anglican Communion over at the website of the ACI. In the piece, which strikes a remarkable balance between melancholy and optimism, Father Radner echoes on the global scale what Father Eaton has described on the parochial scale: congregations are increasingly being left to their own devices to find their way through a broken world, without the benefit of strong leadership at the top.

I am not certain, but I sense that all of these five not-so-easy pieces are aspects of a common thread. As I indicated at the outset, for me that thread was expressed very succinctly in The Second Coming, by William Butler Yeats:

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


  1. Fr. Randall Foster is at St. Vincent's Cathedral, Bedford, Texas, not Beaumont. I *think* he's the school chaplain.

  2. My goodness Alan! There's some strong feelings over at Tex Anglican. I agree with the different ethos of AMiA and ACNA and the fear AMiA has of ACNA being simply an orthodox remix of TEC but I do wonder how much of Chuck Murphy's legendary large ego is part of it all?

    As for Bonnie Anderson, I would refrain from giving her the title Dr. She is a real doctor like Col. Sanders of KFC fame is a real Col. It's merely an honorific. She has a DD from some liberal college or seminary because she is President of the HOD. I sure hope the lawyers in Virgina and the other litigation read her comments about hierarchy. They don't seem to square with the view being expressed by the TEC lawyers in the litigation!

  3. Bonnie Anderson should try her leadership concepts out in ordinary life, say like leading a group of blindfolded children through the woods. If all want to lead at the same time, how is that going to work out? If a singled, sighted person is allowed to lead, how does that work out? The answers are obvious, and she would know that, but she would not want to admit that.

    To admit that someone was given sight, in this case, spiritual sight, would be to acknowledge inequality, something the egalitarian simply cannot do. Thus the laying on of hands in making a bishop in TEC no longer asks for the gifts of the holy spirit (spiritual insight), but simply that God declare this person to be a Bishop, whatever that now means with no uniqueness attached to it.

  4. Is not this what one should expect when dealing with a body (TEC™Putting the "fun" in dysfunctional!©) that has, for at least two years, been engaged in "making it up as they go along?"

    They are merrily dancing their way headlong into the cesspit of progressivism, the belief that human history is one of progress, which is to some degree, and in some matters (scientific, e.g.), true, and that we (actually, they) are somehow so much smarter (more intelligent, etc.) than our ancestors (demonstrably false, in matters spiritual, economic, political, legal, or in other words, matters both non-quantitative and non-deterministic).

    This is neither more nor less than the reenactment of the Original Sin in the garden—thinking that they can be like God, knowing good from evil, and strutting forth enthusiastically in the confidence that they can better order the world by means of their own rational design.

    Welcome to their Brave New World. It isn't as if we hadn't seen this coming, is it?

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer