The Moment

The Moment
[Photo by Michelle Agins]

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Where Do We Go From Here?



Right, we're seeing some changes here at Anglocat Central.

To begin with, the original impetus of this blog--a cranky, opinionated effort to rally behind the Episcopal Church in a tim elf schism--is now pretty much outdated. Severance has come, I think, roughly to the extent that it's going to. The fire has died down.

Then I chronicled my journey to ordination. Early musings on theological subjects gave way over time to sermons and meditations on the things I was learning, and the people I learned from.

My first novel, Phineas at Bay, took up a lot of space on the blog. It was fun to share the experience of writing, revising and publishing.

But the far in 2016, I have had much less to say than in prior years. Some of it has been a loss of political and/or controversial interest. Some of it has been getting to know people on the other side of the theological gulf from me, and meeting them in our common areas, not our differences. I'm less interested in scoring points and winning arguments than I once was.

I think I may need to decide whether the blog should continue, and if so, in what form.

So, after 9 years, I'm taking a summer off, to reflect, and to see if there is something new to write about in this form that I have so long enjoyed.

I'll report back after Labor Day.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Funeral, Not a Rally



In the face of all the jockeying for position,
the pharisees' sneer,
the showy regrets of those who wonder at their own role--in all this noise, the vital thread is lost.

It is not a a chance to climb, nor the Reichstag fire, nor yet again a Kulturkampf.

Our love of the gun enabled it, but even that our culture of death is not the thread.

Dismiss all this sound and fury, and there is this:

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old

Amanda Alvear, 25 years old

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old

Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old

Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old

Cory James Connell, 21 years old

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old

Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old

Frank Hernandez, 27 years old

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old

Kimberly Morris, 37 years old

Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old

Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old

Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old

Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old.

That is all.

The rest is silence.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Orlando and the Dangerous Luxury of Hatred

I have so little to say about Orlando. I can't even try to tackle it on a systemic basis. I have only stray thoughts, and here is the only one that seems top have any teeth right now.

It's always a risk to get out head of the consensus of evidence, but this report from TPM raised some interesting questions:
A new thread in the story of Orlando gunman Omar Mateen. According to multiple patrons of Pulse, the gay club that was the scene of the massacre, Mateen was in fact a regular at the club and also maintained a profile on at least one gay dating app. The reporting, by the LA Times and the Orlando Sentinel is not clear on whether Mateen had sex with other men or whether he was somehow casing the establishment in preparation for his attack. But at least two parts of the story suggests there was more going on than just preparing for the attack.

Kevin West, a regular at Pulse, told the LA Times he had been messaging with Mateen on and off for a year on the gay dating app Jack'd. He says he never met Mateen in person until the night of the attacks. Also, one Pulse regular interviewed by the Sentinel said Mateen had been a regular at the club "for years."
By an odd coincidence, I finally got around to watching the Scottish movie Filth (2013) (from Irvine Welsh's novel of the same title). It's a terribly dark movie--it begins as wryly funny, becomes shockingly, terribly funny, and then turns tragic, as the protagonist's life is laid waste by his own escalating disorder, all stemming from self-hatred, self-hatred that runs unchecked and untreated, and leads him to reject every off-ramp and head straight for self-destruction.

When I returned to my computer after watching the film, and saw the TPM story about Mateen, I thought not only of him through the movies' lens, but of so many who hate. We humans hate what threatens us, in our subjective perception. Which, all too often, means that we hate that which reflects the part of ourselves we can't accept--the "shadow side,"that is, any part of ourselves that conflicts with our idealized self-image.

When those of any faith stoke hostility to our GLBT brothers and sisters, that abuse of religion to legitimize hate sets up an unbearable tension between the actual self and the "acceptable self" to one's community. Mateen's father, though remorseful toward those his son killed, also expressed anti-gay religious views. If Mateen's sexuality was confused, his father's own strictures could have played a part in setting up just such a tension.

The dangers of hating the sin while allowing oneself to try to love the sinner.

Perhaps we should just all accept that hatred of any kind is a dangerous indulgence, one we cannot afford.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Clinging to the Wreckage

The Investigative Grand Jury Report regarding the Diocese of Altoona-Johnson, released on March 2016, unearthed yet another series of sexual abuse cases covered up by the Catholic Church's hierarchy, reminiscent of that found to have occurred on the Diocese of Philadelphia, as detailed in a 2011 Grand Jury report. Unsurprisingly, the state legislature is considering abrogating the criminal statute of limitation and extending the civil statute of limitations.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia, led by Archbishop Charles Caput, has responded with the expected level of penitence, the t is to say, none at all; rather, Caput has led his clergy in a scorched earth PR blitz including ostracizing Catholic legislators who have voted for the legislation:
Ken Gavin, a spokesman for Chaput, confirmed that archdiocesan pastors this weekend in "many instances" shared with worshipers how certain lawmakers had voted on the bill.

"The bill is public and the voting records are public," Gavin said in an email Wednesday. "There's nothing wrong with sharing that information. Obviously, parishioners are very concerned about this legislation. For those constituents to contact elected officials to voice such concern is a very normal thing."

The push from the pews was not new or unexpected from Chaput. He used the same approach as bishop of Denver to help defeat a similar bill a decade ago. Other dioceses subsequently replicated the approach when statute of limitations reform took hold in their state capitals.

But some on the receiving end said they believed the effort went beyond simply educating the congregation.

Still, Rep. James R. Santora, another Delaware County Republican, said even stalwart church supporters like him were finding themselves under attack and unhappy about it.

"I believe everyone that voted for the bill is being targeted," he said, including himself in that list but declining to say how he had been targeted.

To Santora, the naming of lawmakers inside churches and in parish bulletins smacked of "electioneering." He questioned the propriety of the church telling worshipers, as he saw it, that they were not worthy of votes come November.
I'm not going to get into the legalities of this. Not really what I care about tonight. What I cannot believe is the same old playbook, the same old rationalization, and, most of all, the same old sense of their own rectitude, even against unassailable evidence, flaunted by the clergy.

As a deacon, I meet many clergy from many denominations, and have been enriched by those encounters, including those with many wonderful Roman Catholic clergy. But a devotion to an ages-old system of clericalism threatens to engulf all the good they do--and yet they cling to it, seemingly unconscious of the fact that they do so.

Monday, June 6, 2016

John Oliver, Public Benefactor



The above video is wonderful for two reasons.

First, John Oliver is forgiving the medical debt--$14.9 million worth--of 9,000 people. Yes, the statute of limitations has expired (which is why Oliver's newly formed debt-buying corporation was able to acquire it for $60,000), but, as the debt buyers caught on camera in the video reveal, people pay even when they're told in written disclaimers that the debt is unenforceable, because the letters don't effectively communicate that the debts are unenforceable.

So, that's a mitzvah for 9,000 people right there.

Second, because the video, aired on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, allows Oliver to deliver a highly effective primer on the unsavory debt buying industry. As The NYT explains:
Like spinach concealed in the brownie mix, the deliciously entertaining scene masquerades as TV dessert, but it has real nutritional (or, in this case, informational) value: Mr. Oliver wanted to illustrate how easy it is for companies to buy debt and try to collect from consumers, whether those consumers are still legally liable for the debt or not. The segment also showed footage of panelists at a debt-buying trade conference saying that most consumers didn’t understand disclaimers on their debt notices, which affords them some legal rights.

News as entertainment is a continuing theme on the show. Whether Mr. Oliver is explaining the history of Donald J. Trump’s family by leading a campaign to change Mr. Trump’s surname to Drumpf or starting his own house of worship to better explain how tax-exempt megachurches work, “Last Week Tonight” is continuing to perfect the art of explaining by doing.

On the latest episode, Mr. Oliver said buying the debt was “absolutely terrifying, because it means if I wanted to, I could legally have CARP take possession of that list and have employees start calling people, turning their lives upside down over medical debt they no longer had to pay.”

“There would be absolutely nothing wrong with that except for the fact that absolutely everything is wrong with that,” he said.
This is an issue the Times has done some good reporting on, here, here, and here.

Let me just add that my own piece in the Anglican Theological Review dealt with the harms inflicted by usury, and the surprising normalization within Christianity of those harms by erasing the prohibition against usury, the subject of at least 15 biblical prohibitions. The catastrophic damage caused by shady and outright debt collection practices is nothing short of appalling.

So good for John Oliver, helping out 9,000 people who might have been fleeced without his aid.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Walking the Way: Charles Gore, Liberal Anglo-Catholicism and Social Justice

[My talk this morning at Grace Church was not a sermon, so these bullet-pointed notes don't accurately reflect what I in fact said. Some subjects I compressed, some I expanded, some I deleted. Still, it's a pretty good précis of what I was prepared to cover, if not how it actually turned out. Many thanks to Grace Church and especially Nicholas Birns for having me to speak.]

1. We live in an era where the disputes within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion worldwide have led to a series of confrontations—lawsuits between parishes and dioceses, between dioceses and the national Episcopal Church,--and between provinces of the Communion over who’s is, who’s out; who’s orthodox, who’s not.

2. These disputes often turn on what is the “Faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude1:3)—or, more prosaically, what is “real” Christian teaching. But what is real Christian teaching? In Anglicanism, we look to three hallmarks—Cripture, tradition, and reason. In the disputes that have riven the Anglican Communion, we have often posited these conflicts as whether traditional interpretations should prevail over those guided by reason—reason as informed by increased scientific data and understanding. We have too often assumed that “tradition” is univocal, and supports retaining older understandings of scripture against new data.

3. But I’d like to posit a broader understanding of tradition, and to remind you of the Anglican tradition of changing our practice and our understanding of orthodoxy to incorporate the best understanding of new data.

4. To do that, I’d like to offer you the example of a “traitor to his class” even more overt than Franklin Roosevelt, Charles Gore (1853-1932), the nephew of one Earl (4th Arran) and the grandson of another (4th Bessborough) who was first Bishop of Worcester (1902-1905), Birmingham (1905-1911) and then of Oxford (1911-1919).

5. In an age where the nobility clung to its privileges—that last era where those privileges were unquestioned, Charles Gore was a scholar who reconciled Darwin and Genesis in an era where these were thought to be in deadly opposition, who became a supporter of the trades union movement while a student at Oxford, and a bishop who preached the importance of Christian socialism.

6. As a clergyman, Gore affiliated himself with the Oxford Movement, the original, conservative impetus of which was dying out after John Henry Newman, its greatest leader in the first generation, converted to Roman Catholicism. Newman’s old friends became more reactionary after his departure, and the young, charismatic Gore was named the first principal of Pusey House, an educational and religious institution intended to carry on the work of the Oxford Movement. Gore did so, but in a new, liberalized spirit, embracing science, political reform and, most of all, a fundamental commitment to what he called the Way—an approach that integrated Christian belief, including belief in the equality of all human beings and their fundamental dignity as children of God, from which stemmed his unswerving belief in the importance of each individual soul following its own light, in understanding the Gospel as not threatened by scientific understanding, and in the importance of social justice, labor unions.

7. That sounds, to modern ears, not very much. But in England in Gore’s youth, trade unions (let alone combinations of industrial workers were of dubious legality; under the 1825 Combination Act, a criminal combination in restraint of trade collective bargaining was defined so as to exclude combinations, whether of employers or of employed for the fixing of wages and hours. Unions could not hold property, or even enforce their agreements without possibly falling afoul of the Act. After a series of judicial decisions which contradicted each other in the strictness with which the 1825 Act was construed, a royal commission on trade societies was appointed in 1869. The Trade Union Act of 1871 legislatively overruled these decisions, but was combined with a Criminal Law Amendment Act which had the effect of “”under the specious guise of protecting public rights prohibited all incidents of effective combination.” In 1875 this act was repealed, and the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act finally legalized peaceful picketing and laid down that a combination of persons concerned in a trade dispute might lawfully do any act which was not punishable if committed by one person acting alone. he Employers and Workmen Act 1875 modified the old Master and Servant Law so that employers too could be sued for breach of contract. The 1874 Factory Act set a ten-hour limit on the working day - the unions were campaigning for eight. Even through the 1880s and 90s and into the first decade of the 20th Century, industrial Unionism was extremely controversial, as strikes by matchgirls (1888) and gas workers and dock workers (1889) brought led employers to increasingly harsh tactics, including in 1900 when the Taff Vale Railway Co. successfully sued the Amalgamated Soc’y of Railway Servants for economic losses caused by a strike—which bid fair to cripple the union movement in the UK altogether, until the decisions’ legislative repeal in the Trade Disputes Act of 1906.


8. It was in this period of tumult that Gore first came out as an advocate for the rights of labor. In 1889, heh helped to found the Christian Social Union (he was one of the two Vice-Presidents), dedicated to promoting the view that Christian principles as applied to the political and economic organization of society demanded reform along trade-unionist and moderate socialist lines. His political views aroused public protest.


9. If you’ve read Bernard Shaw’s play Candida, the Rev. James Mavor Morrell owes many of his attitudes to Gore, and much of his personality to his more flamboyant friend Henry Scott Holland, who helped him launch the Second Oxford Movement as it has come to be called, with the publication of Lux Mundi: A Series of Studies in the Religion of the Incarnation in 1889. Lux Mundi consists of a series of essays about various aspects of Christian theology by various members of Gore’s spiritual circle, but while each essay reflects the style and thought of the individual author, the authors’ “unity of conviction has enabled us freely to offer and accept mutual criticism and suggestion; so that, without each of us professing such responsibility for work other than his own, as would have involved undue interference with individual method, we do desire this volume to be the expression of a common mind and a common hope.”

10. In Lux Mundi, the two most controversial essays were Gore’s own exploration of the kenotic theory of the Incarnation—his view, now widely accepted in Anglican and even Catholic theology, that the earthly Jesus did not have the omniscience and omnipotence of God, that in being fully human, Christ emptied himself of those attributes of divinity, and Henry Scott Holland’s embrace in his essay on Faith of what he called “the wonders of Evolution” and of scientific inquiry in general. But not far behind these two essays were Robert Lawrence Ottley’s (principal of Cuddleston (theological) College) essay on Christian Ethics. His general theme was unobjectionable”[t]o Christianity, . . . each individual personality is an end in itself. Each has a right to moral education; each was called into being . . . that it might fulfill good works prepared specially for it, and correspond with its own separate ideal.”
11. But then in his Appendix on Christian Duty Ottley becomes distressingly specific:
To reason rightly on social problems, we must ever have regard to personality. For ethical purposes the abstract terms Capital, Labour, Production, Wealth, etc., must be replaced by personal terms, Employer, Employee, Producer, Man of Wealth, etc. Our problem is how to supersede the technical and legal relation by the personal. It is thus a matter of Christian concern (to suggest mere examples) that workers should attain to the possibility of free self -development : healthy conditions of work, the enjoyment of domestic life, security of maintenance, perhaps permanence of contract, opportunities of recreation and culture, every thing, in fact, which will give them fair chance of healthful and worthy human life. Christianity can be content with nothing short of this. On the other hand duties call for notice. Modern capitalists form a class whose responsibilities it is difficult adequately to measure. The general principle, however, is easily repeated : that it is the duty of the wealthy, or those who employ workers, to respect the personality of their employees, to treat them not as machines, but as men. Thomas Carlyle well describes the aim that should guide this influential class : 'to be a noble master among noble workers, the first ambition : to be a rich master, only the second.' Industrial development indeed brings into prominence many questions of duty and right, which can be solved only by deeper apprehension of the Christian standpoint : and of ' morality as an industrial force: ' for the ties which bind men in the relation of brotherhood and sonhood are the noblest and strongest
12. In Gore’s own writings, his love of sacramental religion and orthodoxy in questions of dogma is not inconsistent from but rather strengthens his fervent opposition to the abuses of the disadvantaged; he also championed the obligation of each soul to find truth for herself or himself.

13. In the wake of the World War I, the faith of many in organized religion was shaken, not unlike in our own time. The Victorian paradigm, in which humankind was on an ever-ascending journey toward perfection—so typical that John Galsworthy’s “Man of Property” could quote Coue’s slogan, “every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better”—was shattered. So in his late 60s, he could begin, and complete in his early 70s, his three volume work The Reconstruction of Belief, a sustained analysis of core Christian teaching, one which proceeds on the basis that one cannot “reason in chains”, by which he means that reasoning toward a predetermined outcome is worthless—if you cannot in good conscience accept the teaching of the Church, than you must accept that fact.

14. However, he emphasized, you should understanding what it is you are accepting or rejecting. So the Creeds are not a statement of all we need to know about Jesus to be good Christians; they are a road ma away from the ancient heresies that would favor his human over his divine nature or the orther way around. In another book, Roman Catholic Claims, he points out that the problem of the heresies is not that they are entirely false; it’s that they use a true insight into Christ—he was fully man, say, in the case of, and then use logic to disclaim other truths that are in tension with the one truth they had grasped. The result: Arianism, which holds so fast to Christ’s humanity that it has no room for his divinity. Gore valued reason, but not logic-chopping. And oversimplification of complex phenomena was abhorrent to him. Not “either or”, he argues, time and again, but AND.

15. In The Recosntruction of Belief, the completed three volume work, he rejected the notion model of laissez-faire economic, sardonically writing that “[i]t must have been expressed originally in sublime unconsciousness that the whole industrial system, then in its glory, had been built up on a basis of profound revolt against the central law of Christian morality, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ There are few things in history more astonishing than the silent acquiescence of the Christian world in the radical betrayal of its ethical foundation.”

16. Gore firmly held that “the meaning of Church authority in doctrinal matters can never be understood till it is the life and not the doctrine which is put into the first place.” In other words, the Way, the “life of brotherhood”, “self-surrender, self denial, equality” above all else.

17. The climax of Gore’s leadership of the Anglo-Catholic Movement may be said to have been the first Anglo-Catholic Conference in 1920, when the newly retired bishop led the last panel of the international conference of self-identified bishops, clergy and laypersons within the Anglican Communion identifying as “Catholic.” Typically, Gore’s panel concerned itself with “The Church and Social and Industrial Problems.” He invited onto the panel with him G.K. Chesterton (not yet a convert to Roman Catholicism at that time) and a local union leader, listed in the report of the Conference only as “Mr. A. Moore.” Gore in his remarks described the “great revolt embodied in the Labour Movement” as “against the hideous injustice in principle as well as in practice of our whole commercial and industrial system. It id declared to violate humanity—the root principal of brotherhood, that is the principal of equal God-given right of every human being born into the world to have a fair chance to make the most of himself or herself. The cry of this revolt is, ‘Not charity, but justice.” Now this revolt I believe to be absolutely justified and rooted in the principles of Christ.”

18. Gore’s belief in the Way, and in the justice of labor’s right to be heard at the table is a reminder that a belief in labor’s right to a a voice in the ordering of the workplace is not simply predicated on pragmatism, or economic efficiency, or even in averting the harms caused by workplace disputes, but has its origins at a deeper level, in the simple justice that declares all human beings equal, and oppression of anyone for economic gain is a violation of that fundamental assumption on which the Declaration of Independence is grounded: that we are all created equal. One need not be a Christian, or even a theist, to follow Gore there; although Gore drank from the same stream that led Martin Luther King to support the workers of AFSCME Local 1722, the Founders reached the same general principle from Enlightenment Thought. But Gore overcame the blinkers so often fastened on those whose background is privileged to reach the conclusion so many have lost sight of today: That labor rights are human rights.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

In Memoriam: The Rev. Bruce W. Forbes

From St Bartholomew's Church:
Dear St. Bart's Family,

Our friend and colleague the Rev. Bruce Forbes died peacefully at home early this morning following a brief illness. He was 94.

A service is planned for Bruce at St. Bart's in September, on a date to be decided, when everyone will be back from summer travels and can attend.

Bruce served at St. Bart's over 50 years. He was a wonderful priest and friend to many in several generations. He will be deeply missed.

Please hold Bruce in your prayers at this holy and tender time.

May his spirit rest in peace and rise in glory.
So, two other things about Bruce.

First, after my ordination, I inherited one of his jobs--leading the choir in prayer before the 11:00 service. Bruce would come into the chapel where the lay ministers and choir would gather, and call them to attention with a roar of "CHOIR!" Then he would lead a short prayer, which he made sure I had just so when I took over. When I told him I included the bellow, he smiled. "Good," he said.

Second, Bruce played the curmudgeon to perfection--sarcastic, quick with a quip--but was also willing to explain his theological preferences with a gentle seriousness (I once asked him why he disliked incense, and received an erudite critique of Catholic theology of its use that was quite interesting.) He could be quite funny (for years, he presided over the 10:30 am chaos in the vesting room with a sort of Alan MacNaughtan comic weary resignation), but was genuinely kind.

Finally, he was a Trollope fan. I have in my collection several volumes from his library of the old World's Classics hardcover editions that were once his. I'm glad of that; it will remind me of him when I revisit them.

And when I bellow at the choir.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.