The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Thought for the Day

At the end of a meeting with my confessor, he took me through an exercise that I found most helpful, we recited, slowly, in call-and-response, and with one alteration, Psalm 131:
O LORD, I am not proud;
I have no haughty looks.

I do not occupy myself with great matters,
or with thoughts that are too hard for me.

But I still my soul and make it quiet,
like a child upon its mother's breast;
my soul is quieted within me.

O Israel, wait upon the LORD,
from this time forth for evermore
Each repetition was slower than the last; by the third, I was feeling muscles unclench that I had not even known I was clenching. As someone who tends to overthink, and to worry (I know, Mtt. 6:24-35!), this exercise was tremendously helpful to me, and soothing.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Law, Grace and the Courts

The California Supreme Court's decision in the six consolidated appeals captioned In re Marriage Cases in which the state's fudamental constitutional right to marry was held to apply to same-sex couples as well as to heterosexual couples seems to me clearly appropriate as a matter of that state's jurisprudence--it builds on Perez v. Sharp (1948), which used similar logic to strike a state statute forbidding interracial marriage.

The arguments pressed on behalf of the right to marry were the same as those accepted in Perez; the arguments pressed against were very similar as well. So, clearly, the California Supreme Court was not breaking startling new jurisprudential ground. What they were doing, instead, was following the logic of the law, instead of (to paraphrase Holmes), experience, which tends to be its life. Where logic leads to bucking tradition, there is often a shocked reaction. But legal reasoning, which is not policy-making by judicial fiat, often can upset the status quo. (For a more extended doctrinal discussion of the decision, I refer you to Lady of Silences).

To put it mildly, the conservative Anglican blogosphere does not get this. Not at all. The many commenters who refer to the "sin" of gay marriage seem to think that that is suficient, in a pluralistic society, to justify a retention of the status quo. Now, I don't agree, even slightly, with the premise that same sex relationships are in esse sinful. But I think that there is a bigger philosophical issue I want to think about, the premise that the State should enforce religious doctrine. Simply put, this is an argument for theocracy; an argument that the secular law should reflect the law of God, as they see it.

I have to admit, I find this reasoning not just bad political theory, but also bad--very bad--theology. It's both unbiblical ( "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's"; "My kingdom is not of this world," anyone?), and unsustainable.

What I mean by that last part of this is that the fundamental concept of mirroring the law (civil) to the law (divine) is in error. As a lawyer, I know that law is a blunt instrument. It seeks finality, and a determination of right or wrong that can be reduced to a brief order. Law and Grace are inherently in tension. Not contradictory, but in tension. Where each can be afforded their rightful sway, this tension can be creative and dynamic, as I think St. Paul makes clear in Romans. It's not that Grace obliterates Law; it transmutes it from something externally imposed to the harmony of created with Creator.

In civil society, the role of Grace is severely circumscribed. Not entirely obliterated, mind you; the pardon power allows the Executive to forgive the offenses of convicted criminals, and in New York law a court may, under especially compelling circumstances, dismiss a criminal indictment in the interest of justice. But a civil court cannot forgive seventy times seven times. The decision to forgive belongs to the wronged person, not the neutral arbiter assessing guilt and, where required by the law, punishment. And Law is expressly seen as the application of force, socially authorized violence, to put it bluntly, to secure compliance with society's rules. So those who seek to pour Christian concepts into the civil law are in fact cutting them off from their source of spiritual power. Even if they were to succeed, they would uncouple Law from Grace, and end up with a harsh caricature of Christianity--as did the Puritans, and for much the same reason.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Neural Buddhism and the Trinity"

For Trinity Sunday, Andrew Sullivan engages his readers in some stimulating back-and-forth on science, mysticism, and Buddhism. The whole series of posts, not just the one linked, is recommended.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

All Shall Be Well...

Today is the feast day of Julian of Norwich, author of the Revelations of Divine Love. Dame Julian, an anchoress whose visions she compiled into a narrative combining robust common sense, profound mystical insight, and a calm, refreshing faith, lived from approximately 1342 to about 1420.

For me, Dame Julian's image of the world as a small thing, the size of a hazlenut,but still deeply cherished by its creator, began some serious reflections on getting life's problems into perspective. And her constant focus on the love and compassion of Christ, and her certitude that even sin will be redeemed--that sin is "behovable, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well" is one of the great mystical reassurances. See Revelations of Divine Love,
ch. 27.

Dame Julian is especially beloved for her clarity of vision, and her charity; for her, the soul has a kernel within that does not consent to sin, and so will be saved, and her vision of Christ's "courtesy" (a strange world by modern standrds, but accurately capturing the spirit of her time--and even today, a word to prompt reflection) is moving and potent.

The ripples from her book are still spreading today; within the Episcopal Church, The Order of Julian of Norwich, a monastic order open to both women and men, carry on her tradition of contemplative life, daily work, and thoughtful prayer, meditation, and preaching. (This sermon, entitled "The Mystical Christ," by order founder Father John-Julian, OJN, compellingly sketches in a few short paragraphs, the folly of religion "shrunken and withered into law, measurement, emotion, and/or overt certainty about those things we cannot even vaguely comprehend," and the resultant appeal of New Age thought which at least recognizes the need for mysticism--and then goes on to point out that it is in mystical experience of Christ, and the salvific work of the Holy Spirit, that Christ is ubiquitous to religion--even when not called by name. Fr. John-Julian prescribes, in words reminiscent of Inge, an embrace of greater openness to mysticism, and appreciation of all our differing gifts). (By the way, Fr. John Julian has published an extremely faithful, but accessible translation of the Revelations).

Speaking of Inge, in contrast to Julian's contemporary Margery Kempe, whom he found problematic in the extreme (he adopts, in quite a different spirit than Margery uses it, her epithet for herself, "a poor creature"), Inge celebrates Dame Julian in his Mysticism in Religion (1948).

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Vigilantism and Violence

According to Bishop Jack Iker, the Steering Committee North Texas Episcopalians, who wish to remain within the Episcopal Church, and not join in Iker's effort to lead Fort Worth Diocese out of the national church are "a self-selected vigilante group whose only stated purpose is 'to remain in The Episcopal Church' no matter what -- and regardless of what TEC believes or practices. They espouse a blind institutional loyalty that borders on institutional idolatry."

OK, let me see if I have this right. For Iker to scheme and take concrete steps in November 2007 to secede from the Union--oh, sorry, TEC--is perfectly appropriate behavior. Those of his flock who disagree (and whose consciences Iker has professed he would respect) and who prepare for the Diocese's attempted "departure", are to be derogatorily termed "vigilantes"--lawless actors who implement their own ideals by force--while he is a model of Christian rectitude?

Bishop? Mote-beam?

As for the ever-more-revolting comments at SF, I too am beginning to think that it is a toxic site. The splenetic condemnation of those who wish to remain with the Church, and who value diversity of views (remember when TEC was the "Bridge Church"?) as "idolators" is simply incomprehensible. It's not enough that they believe in the rectitude of their actions, the commenters assert, no real Christian could disagree with them.

Update, May 3, 2008: And they keep bringing the offensive, as shown here.

To take a more pointed and equaly noisome example, the jocular and vindictive responses--from clergy, such as Don Armstrong, among others--to threats against Bishop Gene Robinson have ratcheted up the level of hatred to a level that I cannot identify with Anglicanism--it's redolent of Fred "God hates fags" Phelps. Here's Rev. Armstrong:
What goes around comes around Gene...and you set about destroying the church our families have worshipped in for generations and it is bound to be costly...I know defending it from you has been costly for me…
Id. (ellipses in original).

Very Christian, Father Armstrong. In my Bible, Jesus used slightly different words on the Cross--"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." But, perhaps you have a new translation. Or are following a different Lord.