Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Why the Filioque Sucks: An Explainer

If you follow Crusty over the years, you may have picked up that he is not fond of the Filioque clause in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed: namely, that the Holy Spirit proceeds "From the Father and the Son" (in Latin, "filioque" means "and from the Son") instead of "From the Father."  Crusty listed it as No. 1 on his list of things that annoy him (whole list can be found here).

Apparently people in the twitterblogomyspacesphere have noticed, since several people sent Crusty the following linkAt its most recent meeting, the dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the so-called Oriental Orthodox Churches (those that did not accept the Council of Chalcedon in 451,
Photius had 99 problems but the Filioque wasn't one of them.
including the Armenian, Ethiopian, and Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox Churches, as well as Christians in Syria and India, among others) reaffirmed the intentions of Anglican churches to move towards reciting the Creed in its original format.

This has been something Anglicans have been saying in ecumenical partnerships for decades.

--The draft Book of Common Prayer at the 1976 General Convention did not have the Filioque in the Creed.  As part of a whole series of liturgical maneuverings, it was added back in at literally the 11th hour.  Bishop Otis Charles (of blessed memory!), who was on the bishops' legislative committee for the Prayer Book, once told Crusty the whole long, involved story.

--The 1978 Lambeth Conference called for the Filioque to be left out in future Prayer Book revisions

--The World Council of Churches affirmed that the Filioque should be dropped.

--General Convention affirmed that future revisions of the Prayer Book should leave out the Filioque, and that supplemental liturgical materials should leave out the Filioque.

--At Justin Welby's enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury the Creed was recited without the Filioque, leading to some hilarious stumbling from those folks unprepared for it --sadly COD could not find the full service on YouTube, only highlights, but here's a link to the service for the enthronement which contains the Creed without the Filioque.

1.  First, dear reader, you may be asking: "Why do we even have a filioque?"

Quick historical discursus:

--The Creed we call the Nicene Creed isn't really the Nicene Creed.  There was a Creed produced at the Council of Nicaea (though interestingly enough we don't have any extant copies of it for quite
some time, and when Hilary of Poitiers was exiled to the East in the 350s it was the first time he'd
These colors don't run, Westerners.
heard of it), but it did not say anything about the Spirit other than Christians believe in one.  The 325 Creed says, literally,

"And in the Holy Spirit."  Period.  Full stop.

Another church council was held in 381 (and lots and lots of councils in between 325 and 381, BTW) which issued a revised version of the Creed, in part to flesh out and reflect developing Trinitarian theology:

"And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father.  Who with the Father and Son is together worshipped and together glorified.  Who spoke through the prophets."

[Crusty's Literal translation from the Greek.  Yes, Crusty uses "who" instead of "he" for the Spirit which, interestingly enough, makes some people apoplectic.  But the Greek for "Spirit" is a neuter noun, not masculine.  The official Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Church English translations follow suit and translate "who" with regard to the Spirit as less awkward in English than "it" while also being faithful to the original Greek and more inclusive than the incorrect translation of "he."]

Now you're saying, "Thanks for the Greek lesson, but you didn't answer the question yet.  Is this going to be another thousands of words blog post?"

Feel free to go back to Facebook anytime, COD is just getting warmed up.

As COD mentioned, there had been many, many church councils held between 325-381 which dealt with trying to find the right language to discuss the Trinity and the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  On the one hand, Christianity always had to be careful about being perceived as tritheists: that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are separate, co-equal entities.  On the other extreme, there's the charge of modalism:  that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not somehow "real" but just external manifestation (or "modes") of a single divine essence.  Christians were not helped by the fact the Greek word for person, prosopon, comes from the same word for "mask" that actors wore in Greek dramatic productions -- thus for Greeks the word had associations of somehow not being real, but something that could be taken on and off.  Latin speakers simply didn't get this, and wondered why "three persons in one substance" wasn't perfectly fine.

These councils held between 325-381 produced all sorts of language and statements.  For lots of reasons, in the end, the Creed of 381 became the normative statement.  But it did leave Christians averse to constantly tinkering with language, since lots of Creeds and formularies circulated in the 300s.  So, at another church council called in 431, they decided: no changes to Creeds.  The prohibition was against "another" or "other" Creed ("heteran" in Greek).  This is, in part, why the Council of Chalcedon in 451 produced a horos, or statement/definition, instead of adding to the Creed or producing another statement saying "We believe."

[BTW, CODW (Crusty Old Dean's Wife) just said, "Are you blogging about the Filioque?"  Me: "How did you know?"].

So far, so good, right?

Christianity in the East got bogged down in issues other than Trinitarian theology, namely, the relationship between the human and divine natures in Christ.  In the West, however, issues of Trinitarian language persisted, in part because the migrating Teutonic peoples.  Crusty refuses to call them barbarians, which is pejorative term; some of these peoples were quite peaceful, and many had adopted Christianity.  These migrating Teutonic peoples had adopted, by and large, the non-Nicene form of Christianity, commonly called Arianism.  They swept through Western Europe and ended up ruling kingdoms in northern Italy, Germany, Spain, France, and England.  Eventually all of these Teutonic kingdoms adopted the Nicene form of Christianity, but there was lingering concern over the nature of the Father and the Son's relationship because they had been non-Nicene Christians for a couple hundred years in some places.  We don't know exactly when and where, but it is most likely that in Spain in the 6th century words "and the Son" were added to the Creed to make it clear that Jesus was not somehow inferior to God the Father, and had part in the procession of the Spirit.  Gradually, this spread north, and eventually Charlemagne, as ruler of the largest empire in the West, ordered that the words be inserted into the Creed (to the consternation of the Pope, who sent Charlemagne silver plates engraved with the Creed without the Filioque).

This caused consternation in the East, and it became a source of intense controversy, and reflected the ways in which Western and Eastern Christianity drifted apart in the late medieval period.  In the bull of excommunication against the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1054, the papal legate was so ignorant of the history of the Creed one of his charges was accusing the Eastern Christians of leaving it out -- when, in fact, it had only been added in the West a few hundred years earlier.  At councils held in 1274 and 1438-1439 to try to solve the schism between the Eastern and Western branches of Christendom, the question of the Filioque would be an important one.

2.  Now, dear reader, you may be asking, "Why does this matter?"

Well, for a couple of reasons.

A.  The action to add the words to the Creed was taken without any kind of consultation or discussion.  Before you scoff at this, COD  ask -- So consultation and discussion doesn't matter?  Really?  For Episcopalians who howled at the notion of any kind of centralization of authority in the Anglican Communion because we felt we needed to be in dialogue and conversation about matters instead of having things decided without our input?

Even if consensus cannot be reached, Crusty think at least discussion and consultation are important, even if to explain why a decision is made.  Are we really saying it's OK to impose something as central as a change to the Creed Christians have recited for over 1700 years without any kind of discussion or consultation?  Is that a precedent we want to enshrine going forward?

B.  It relates to the whole question of "common" prayer.  What does it mean for liturgical Christians to recite different versions of the same Creed?  Again, you may roll your eyes and ask, Does it matter?

--Does the baptismal formula matter?  Why can't we use whatever words we want instead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
--Does having the word of institution in a eucharistic prayer matter?  Why can't we just say, "Jesus then yadda yadda yadda"?
We have U2Charists, why not Seinfeldcharists?

So clearly at times words do matter; because it's not your ox being gored can be a bit disingenuous.

To profess a common faith we should profess common words.  The West changed the words for reasons which no longer have any kind of meaning.

C.  It matters theologically.  Let's go back to that central dilemma:  Are Christians polytheists, or is the Trinity just an elaborate card trick of some kind, and there's really just one God?

As part of the arduous theological discussions which helped shaped the Creed of 381, the following became crucial:

Theologians began to talk about God as being the beginning, or the source, of the godhead: the "arche" in Greek.  God the Father had to come first, otherwise Christians were polytheists.  So God the Father is the source of the Godhead, but, in a way we cannot understand in our linear, causal, time constraints, the first thing that occurred was the begetting of the Son and the Spirit.

It's kind of like the Big Bang:  overwhelming evidence points to the Big Bang as the way the universe was created.  Yet, in the moments after the Big Bang, it appears that the laws of physics as we know them were not followed.  Thus somehow, in a way we can't understand, the Big Bang happened.  Similarly, somehow, in a way we can't understand, God the Father came first but immediately  the Son and the Spirit were begotten.

The Filioque undoes this by making the Spirit God the Father and God the Son's love child instead of   preserving the notion of God the Father as the source of the Godhead.

D. It matters because much of the shrugging off of the Filioque discounts the witness of our Eastern Christian brothers and sisters.  Eastern Christianity has suffered through 1500 years of consistent persecution.  First there was the Muslim conquest beginning the 6th century.  Then, as if that was not enough,  in the 20th century we witnessed one of the longest and most sustained efforts
Icon of the 21 Coptic Christians martyred by ISIS.
to exterminate Christianity since the Diocletian persecution in the 4th century, namely, Communist occupation of Russian and Eastern Europe, which, coincidentally, contained large numbers of Orthodox Christians (though to be sure many others as well).

Orthodox Christians have died for the faith recited in this Creed.  They died at the hands of their fellow Christians when Constantinople was sacked in 1204, they died by the thousands in Tamerlane's near destruction of Christian communities in Persia and Syria in the 14ht century, died by the millions in the Turkish Armenian genocide, they died in Stalin's Gulags, they are dying at the hands of ISIS and Islamic extremists TODAY.  Twenty-one Coptic Christians were beheaded in Libya earlier this year.

We, in the West, many of whom have been coddled by establishment and cultural hegemony, can shrug more easily at whether words matter or not.  As the Egyptian Coptic Bishop Bishoy put in in the news release that prompted this whole blog post, "As a church that has been persecuted for most of its existence, our faith and faith issues are exceptionally important."

Crusty does not recite the Filioque on Sunday for all these reasons.  When forcing 10-year-old OCOCOD (official child of Crusty Old Dean) to follow along, Crusty puts his thumb over the Filioque.  (Crusty won't ask you what metaphorical thumbs you put over various words.)

The Filioque Sucks because:

Words matter.
How we understand God matters and language is all we have.
Common prayer matters.
The witness of our suffering Christian brothers and sisters matters.
Get rid of the Filioque.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

It's The End of the Anglcan Communion As we Know It - And I feel Fine

And Lenny Bruce is not afraid...

Like all GenXers, Crusty Old Dean prides himself on knowing when, exactly, to shout "LEONARD BERNSTEIN!" during the REM song "It's the End of the World As We Know It...And I Feel Fine." For COD, the key phrase in that song title has always been "as we know it."  The band isn't saying the
It's not the REM way. Let's recycle these shards!
world is ending, only the world as we know it, which is true.  The world as we know it is ending and changing all the time.  For example, as the song itself points out,  we sadly don't live in a world with Lenny Bruce or Lester Bangs anymore.  Yet also in the title, and in the manic exuberance of the song, there's also a sense of resignation, or outright relief, or even rejoicing, that world as we know it is ending -- because we feel fine.

This is what Crusty thought when he read the Archbishop of Canterbury's call for a meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion in Janury of 2016, which can be found here:  It's the end of the Anglican Communion as we know it, and I feel fine. In his call the Archbishop noted the need to "consider recent developments but also look afresh at our ways of working as a Communion."  He also wrote of the "way in which proclamation [of the gospel] happens and the pressures on us vary greatly between Provinces. We each live in a different context."  Notably, the call for a primates' meeting also includes the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, who will be invited to part of the gathering.

Some parts of the Anglican world melted down quickly, with (surprise!) the Guardian in the UK producing the hyperventilating headline that the Archbishop was "urging the breakup" of the Anglican Communion.  Some parts of the Communion greeted this with a shrug.

Crusty welcomes this announcement, for several reasons.

1)  As Gram Parsons once sang, "It's time to stop pretending things are real."  We do not need to be concerned about some sort of split or schism:  it has already happened.  It give me no pleasure to state that, but it's reality.  A third of the Primates did not attend the last meeting in 2011, hundreds of bishops did not attend the Lambeth Conference in 2008.  An alternate communion, the Global
Grievous Angel with Emmylou Harris -- sounds of angelic choirs.
Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) has already held several global gatherings, set up its own relief and development agency, and has talked about missionary work in other parts of the Anglican Communion.  There are at least half a dozen foreign provinces operating some kind of franchise in various parts of Canada and the United States.

And this division is not solely about human sexuality; we have had impaired communion for over forty years, since the ordination of women began in some provinces in the 1970s.  Hell, until the Church of England authorized the service of women as bishops, clergy ordained by women bishops were not eligible to serve in the Church of England.  The separation has been brewing for nearly forty years.

2)  The Anglican Communion is a lot more recent than we think.  Prior to 1867, there wasn't even any kind of mechanism for people in the Anglican world to get together.  From 1867-1960s, all we had was a once-every-ten-years bishop's conference that had no binding authority.  Starting in the 1960s, we had the Anglican Consultative Council, which coordinated ministries among the Communion but had no governing authority over member provinces.  Starting in 1979 we had the Primates' meeting.  The Anglican Communion, as a concept, is barely a generation old.  That doesn't mean outward signs of unity and coordination of ministries are not important -- just that we keep in mind we have done this in different ways over the past 500 years, and perhaps this can be part of visioning for how we can model how to cooperate and collaborate. 

3)  The Anglican Communion, if anything, is the last vestige of colonialism.  Can we really be taken seriously as a global communion when our titular head has to be a subject of the British crown?  Any male in good standing in the Catholic Church can, in theory, be elected Pope, and they elected an Argentine from the Global South.  For all of our huffing about ourselves as global church, the Englishness is still written into our systems.  From 1534-1789 there was exactly one province of the Anglican Communion -- the Church of England.  From 1789-1869, there were two  -- the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America and the Church of England -- until the Church of Ireland was disestablished and became a separate province.  (The Scottish Episcopal Church was duly ignored as a kind of aunt locked in the attic.  The Canadian church started holding synods in the 1850s and was granted self-governance, but didn't hold its first General Synod until 1893.) The formation of the structures of the communion in the 1960s were a direct result of postcolonialism and the creation of new provinces in the 20th century from former British colonial possessions.  We had to come up with something to hold this disparate group together other than being former members of the British Empire.  And hey: we did a pretty good job at it!  The Anglican Communion is widely dispersed, majority non-European descent, and has taken root in many places that were never part of the British Empire.  But the structures created are still heavily Western and European centered. 

4)  Hopefully it means we can finally put an end to the Anglican Covenant.  Amirite?

So Crusty welcomes the discussion.  He is all for a communion which reflects how member churches can cooperate and collaborate on mission and ministry where there is common ground, and agree to disagree where there are differences.  The Lutheran World Federation is often trotted out as an example, but that's not necessarily the best example.  The LWF, despite its name, has very close ties between member churches, and a mechanism for disciplining member churches (as the Lutherans in South Africa found out, when two LWF member churches were suspended for refusing to admit blacks as members).  Likewise, the LWF requires as membership that all churches have altar and pulpit fellowship (that is, full communion and interchangeability of ministries) with other member churches.  If anything, the better parallel are the Orthodox Churches, whose members churches are entirely autonomous, but connected to one another through a common ministry and by virtue of being in communion with one another.  There are fourteen different officially recognized Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States, for instance.  This isn't always the best model, however, since the Orthodox churches can bicker with one another and threatening to be in and out of communion with one another.  Heck, they've been planning the Great and Holy Synod -- a global meeting of all Orthodox bishops -- for nearly fifty years...on second thought, maybe having the Lambeth Conference once every fifty years doesn't sound so bad.

While Crusty welcome this discussion, he has the following MAJOR concerns at this time:

a)  He hopes this is not actually a back-door to a two-tiered communion, with some "full" members and some "double-secret probation", less-than-full members.  Either is it is a decentralized Communion for all member churches, or it the current Communion with member churches as full members.

b)  He certainly hopes that if it is a decentralized structure, with member churches agreeing to collaborate and cooperate on areas of common concern, then those churches who participate in those ministries bear the burden of those ministries  Right now, for instance, we have an Anglican Communion where The Episcopal Church would love to collaborate on ecumenical dialogues.  However, for five years we have not been permitted to do so solely because the Archbishop of Canterbury decided we should not be on them (by defining both what constituted a violation of the Windsor Process and by deciding what the penalty for that violation that he determined should be). Meanwhile, we have been funding those dialogues through our financial contributions that we would love to be on but are not permitted to be on.  A future communion should have a financing and governance structure that reflects the kind of decentralization and coalition-of-the-willing spirit that the Archbishop has floated.

I'm off to Lester Bangs' birthday party, maybe there's some cheesecake.  Crusty feels fine.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Why I'm Breaking Up with Football...As a Christian

Crusty is taking a break from his usual pedantic, insider-baseball, church-relations blog to give you an insight into other aspects of his life.  Crusty isn't all about church and matters theological.  He enjoys music (Replacements are the greatest band ever), is a runner (at age 46 ran a 26:09 5k on the 4th of July), and an avid sports fan.  This blog post is all about my difficult decision to break up with professional football, and on the basis of how I understand myself as a Christian.

It's been a long couple of months, but I've finally gotten to a place where I can say this out loud:  I will no longer support the National Football League, and this is because of who I am as a person of faith, as a Christian.

Now, full disclosure, for any haters out there.  Crusty grew up in Boston and my family were Patriots season ticket holders from 1971-1994.  Crusty suffered through innumerable losing seasons and humiliations, 1-15 campaigns and 46-10 Super Bowl blowouts.  Our "season tickets" were two stickers on a metal bench in the old Sullivan Stadium/Schaefer Stadium, and more often than not one was in the vicinity of vomit, at least one fistfight, and lots of profanity at some point during the game.  In 1994, my Dad canceled the tickets because he didn't like Robert Kraft and was tired of their years of futility (thanks a lot, Dad, in a StubHub world I could have sent my kid to college with the resale value of two season tickets).

So yeah, I'm a Patriots fan.  And yeah, I know the rest of the world can't stand them, and, honestly, I don't really care.  Part of what makes sports great are having someone to hate as much as having someone to love.  It's important to say from the outset my breakup with the NFL began well before the Deflategate idiocy and  actually has little to do with that particular melodrama.  If anything, this travesty of the past few months has only accentuated underlying tensions.  I want to be clear from the outset I'm not breaking up with the NFL because of the ridiculous nonsense of the past eight months and counting.  I'm breaking up with the NFL because, as a Christian, I could no longer square my beliefs and values with this organization and this sport. Here's three reasons why.

1.  As a Christian I believe in economic fairness and justice.  While many Christians spew out the ridiculous "prosperity gospel", so accurately lampooned by John Oliver here, and while many others associate free market capitalism with Christianity, the reality is that the Old and New Testaments speak pretty consistently about economic fairness and justice.  The Old Testament has concepts of jubliee (see Leviticus 25, where jubliee year involved  forgiveness of debts and freeing of slaves) of not cheating others and dealing with people less fortunate and marginalized (widows, orphans, strangers) justly and fairly.  In the New Testament, Jesus spoke regularly about the need for wealth to be used for the greater good of the community.  The Book of Acts talks of a Christian community that held property in common and redistributed wealth towards the poor. One cannot be a Christian and not address the just and proper use of wealth and other resources.

Professional football runs a shameless con game that seems solely to support the wealthiest of the wealthy.  Right now we are viewing charades in St Louis, San Diego, Oakland, and Los Angeles whose sole purpose is to extort as much public money to support stadiums for plutocratic oligarchs.  This is not solely confined to football, mind you -- in Wisconsin they're considering cutting public education by hundreds of millions of dollars while at the same time giving hundreds of millions of dollars to replace a basketball arena that's only 17 years old.  People in Miami will be spending generations paying off their baseball stadium, if they ever do at all (read about it here); people in New Jersey are still paying for the old Meadowlands stadium, even though it was demolished years ago and is now a parking lot (read about it here)  The sheer greed and price tag is what marks the NFL's process; over $1 billion for these stadium plans in San Diego, Los Angeles, and St. Louis, while owners keep all revenue associated with it.

This is just so utterly unjust, and opposed to biblical and Christian injunctions to the proper use of wealth for the common good.  There are numerous economic studies which show these handouts do not provide the economic return promised, and are, more or less, simply extorting public funding for billionaires could fund on their own.  You can read about it here and here,  just to pick two articles out of a hat, one from a liberal and one from a conservative organization.  (BTW for all the people who envision the Patriots as the embodiment of evil, Robert Kraft funded his stadium 100% prviately with no public funding.)  How can one be a Christian and be blind to the economic injustice in the public paying billions to billionaires, at the expense of necessary public services to the poor and marginalized?

2.  The NFL does not deal fairly with its employees (the players).  The stunning and utter incompetence of its labor practices is just astounding.  Here's a few examples.  In recent years, they have tried to retroactively apply new standards of conduct to prior offenses.  (This does not include the bumbling response to the original offenses, which included a man knocking his wife unconscious and a father whipping his son with a stick so hard his son's testicles bled.)  These attempts to apply standards of conduct retroactively to fix the incompetent way the initial offenses violated labor standards so egregiously they were overturned by arbitrators.  Not to be outdone, in the current Deflatgate charade, the due process was even more laughable.  Again, I really don't care about the initial offense, which, if it was an offense at all, involved tampering with equipment, which happens and previously had been treated quickly and judiciously (like with the San Diego Chargers in 2012, see here).  This is about complete disregard for due process.  And again, this is not just griping from a Patriots fan.  John Dowd, the attorney who got Pete Rose kicked out of baseball for life, poked numerous holes in the report it took the NFL months to prepare, and pointed out the utter disregard for due process, which can be found here.  These holes include the NFL's own report noting that perhaps one, and maybe none, of the balls were actually underinflated; refusing to share its evidence; and applying punishments utterly out of proportion to previous precdent (Brett Favre paid a $50,000 fine for refusing to cooperate with an investigation; Tom Brady gets four games).  Making a mockery of arbitration, the same commissioner who handed down the sentence appointed himself as arbitrator to hear an appeal (in part because of the way his previous incompetent judgments were inconveniently overturned by arbitrators not himself).

Christianity cares about issues of due process, contract, and labor.  Christianity, and especially the Episcopal Church, have had a long and historic involvement in collective bargaining and fairness in labor.  As early as the 1880s the Episcopal Church was supporting the rights of workers to be treated fairly.  Later the church supported the 40-hour work week, and end to child labor practices, the right to form unions, and the right to collective bargaining.  How can I as an Anglican and Christian support an organization that makes an absolute mockery of due process and labor rights?  If the NFL sold grapes or tomatoes, it's likely Christians would be lining up to advocate for a boycott, like churches did for years in support of Farm Workers Union, or against Taco Bell in the 1990s and 2000s. 

3.  But all of this pales to the real reason why I, as a Christian, cannot support the NFL.  I've actually come to the conclusion that the utter catastrophe that has been the NFL's disciplinary process for the past couple of years is part of an elaborate con, to get the world talking about anything other than this fact: professional football is killing its own players.  They know that football causes chronic brain damage.  They forced ESPN to drop out of a PBS documentary on the subject (see here; conveniently, in the past year ESPN has dumped Bill Simmons, Gregg Easterbrook, and Keith Olbermann, the three biggest critics of the NFL).  Its proposed settlement to former players was thrown out of court as being too low.  The NFL's product is killing its players, it knows it, and we all should know it.  Every person talking about Ray Rice, every Deflategate, every angry media denunciation of a father whipping his child, is a media frenzy that does not talk about this central fact.  Is it any surprise the NFL was leaking inaccurate information in advance of the Super Bowl?  When the world was turning its attention to football, the last thing they wanted was for people to talk about the obvious, and instead talk about Tom Brady's balls.

Christianity and The Episcopal Church have taken numerous stands against such exploitation of human suffering for financial gain.  We have a whole office in Washington, DC to lobby the government on questions of justice and fairness.

If the NFL were anything other than a sports organization with its millions of devoted fans, things would be different.  Seriously:  if Wal-Mart was killing its own employees with its working conditions, flouting due process in labor negotiations, and extorting money from local communities to build its stores while keeping all the revenue -- would communities of faith stand for it?  Of course not.

So I'm breaking up with the NFL.  Just like I protested against apartheid in the 1980s and  just like I marched with union government employees in Wisconsin in 2011, there are times when we have to get a grip on our cognitive dissonance, square our actions with our beliefs, and decide whether we are willing to be compromised.  Under the Roman Empire, Christians were expected not to participate in public events which would require them to compromise who they were: they didn't attend gladitorial matches, for instance.  When the Emperor Constantine founded his new city of Constantinople in 330, he deliberately did not build an gladitorial arena like all other Roman cities. This, for me, has become a time when I can no longer consider myself a Christian with integrity and blindly support such an unjust system.

There's no reason why football should always be this popular.  Boxing and horse racing used to be as popular as professional football is currently, and those sports faded in popularity in part because of the way they were perceived as unnecessarily brutal.  I can only hope in 30 years we'll look at football like we looked at smoking in the 1950s, or cock fighting.

They hate the one who reproves in the gate,
   and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.
Therefore, because you trample on the poor
   and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
   but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
   but you shall not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your transgressions,
   and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
   and push aside the needy in the gate.
Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;
   for it is an evil time.

Seek good and not evil,
   that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
   just as you have said.
Hate evil and love good,
   and establish justice in the gate;

I hate, I despise your festivals,
   and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
   I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
   I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
   I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
   and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. 

Amos 5: 10-15, 21-24. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Have Fun Storming the Castle! Crusty's GenCon Wrap-up

Like most people in the mid-late 1980s, post New Kids on the Block but pre-stockmarket crash, Crusty was indelibly shaped by Rob Reiner’s classic 1987 film The Princess Bride (and, to a lesser extent, the TV show, which was also called Fame).  One line which he has repeatedly endlessly over the years was Miracle Max’s final words to
Inigo, Fezzik, and the Man in Black as they get ready to attack Prince Humperdinck's fortress.  Miracle Max calls out cheerily as they walk away,  “Have fun storming the castle!”  Crusty has repeated this over the years as prelude to any kind of absurd, doomed, or hopeless endeavor.  Their plan is so outlandish; Inigo has already noted how many men are guarding the heavily fortified castle, and there are only three of them.  They are placing their trust in Miracle Max’s miracle pill to resurrect the (mostly! shows how much you know!) dead Man in Black, a pill whose efficacy Miracle Max even doubts.  When asked by his wife (she's not a witch!) if he thinks the pill to resurrect the (mostly) dead Man in Black will work, Max mutters, “It’ll take a miracle.”

As Crusty boarded his filght to Salt Lake City, this is all he could think about:  Have fun storming the castle!  As the handful of readers who slogged through Crusty's GenCon previews (such as they were...he just re-read them and they sound like the jazz odyssey stylings of the revamped Spinal Tap) may have gleaned, he had a lot of strum und drang heading into the triennial fandango in Mormon Central.  This was a moment, Crusty thought, for the church to get a grasp on the myriad challenges facing it – could we respond?
You are witnesses at the birth of Crusty's GenCon Preview, Mark 2!

Well, friends, Crusty has been to five General Conventions, and this one was, by far, the least soul-crushing experience of them all.  Rereading that sentence, Crusty wouldn't change a word of it, strange as it sounds.  Let's recap. 2003 was full of both exultation (we had taken a momentous step with consenting to the election of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire) and some dread (we had no idea what would happen, or what the consequences would be: were we going to get kicked out of the communion?).  2006 witnessed the upside of electing our first woman primate, followed by an epic legislative meltdown which made Crusty wonder if our structures were even capable of doing what we needed them to do, outlined in gory detail here and here.  2009 saw a dysfunctional budgetary process and financial bloodbath where we restructured without any strategic discussion, solely by defunding, in response to crisis.  In 2012, we witnessed a slow-motion budgetary train wreck in the months leading up to Convention and seemed to blink on the future, establishing a Task Force to restructure but didn’t fund it adequately.

Crusty found a strange feeling stirring inside him during GenCon 2015: much like Bart wondering what this strange feeling was for Homer (it’s respect, it turns out), COD felt a similar unexpected and unfamiliar emotion.  Hope.  Crusty has even cheekily decided to write this post all in Comic Sans, he is so giddy.

To be sure, however, while GenCon 2015 was much more encouraging than Crusty had expected, being Crusty, you can certainly expect that he will throw a turd in the punchbowl as well.  Heretofore follow Crusty’s Pro and Con from GenCon 2015.


MAWWIAGE.  The bwessed event. The dweam within a dweam.  MAWWIAGE is what brought us to Salt Lake City last June.  General Convention 2015 approved, overwhelmingly, to make available marriage rites for same gendered couples and revised the marriage canon accordingly.  As noted previously in this space, Crusty
Priest who presided at Crusty's wedding opened rehearsal with this quote.
wishes we would get out of the whole business of marrying people, and bless civil marriages, but he is certainly pleased by the actions of Convention.  Crusty sat down in secret with his first same gendered couple in 1995 and cobbled together a blessing service from various resources, which Crusty cut and pasted by hand and photocopied.  Crusty put the service together and presided at the ceremony because we were concerned about ecclesial authorities coming down hard, and, as a lay person, Crusty could not be defrocked and was beyond discipline.  COD would also like to point out that the ELCA did what we did six years ago, so he’s glad we finally have caught up to some of our ecumenical partners.  

PRO:  Election of Michael Curry as Presiding Bishop.  It may be a surprise to you that some people think Crusty is hopelessly cynical, sarcastic, and jaded.  When Crusty was in a creative writing class in high school, the teacher once said after handing back our short stories, "You kids are way to young to be so cynical."  Crusty replied, "We're way too old not to be."  (#GenerationX).   Yet even Crusty found himself moved by the election of Michael Curry as Presiding Bishop -- and will hasten to add he felt the same way in 2006 when Bishop Jefferts Schori was elected, he was present when her name was announced to the House of Deputies.  This election, however, was different in that there was such an overwhelming consensus behind the election: elected on the first ballot with over 70% of the votes cast.  After 1997, when a write-in candidate came in second, and in 2006, when it went five ballots and conservative bishops manipulated the election process (two bishops openly stated they voted for Bishop Jefferts Schori not because they wanted her to be PB, but that a woman primate would cause problems for the Episcopal Church in the broader communion), this election was almost a coronation the consensus was so strong.  However, just as in 2006, we need to look not only at the historic first.  True, Bishop Jefferts Schori was the first woman Presiding Bishop.  Yet she was also the first convert from Roman Catholicism to be PB, the first second-career clergyperson to be PB, the first person with a PhD in the sciences to be PB, and the first person to minister exclusively on the West Coast to be PB.  She was not just the first woman, and her election is indicative of broader changes in The Episcopal Church.  Bishop Curry is the first African American bishop, true, no doubt there.  But he's also the first to be elected on the first ballot since the current system was put in place, and brings such a clear focus on mission and evangelism that his election is also indicative a broader changes in the church.

As cynical and jaded as Crusty was, he was genuinely moved and choked up when Bishop Curry entered the convention hall.  As it happened, Crusty was also standing a few feet away.  Everyone though Bishop Curry would enter through the main entrance, and there was huge crowd on that side of the House of Deputies.  Then, suddenly, a door opened
Do they srsly need nametages?  Like they won't be let on the floor?
about 30 feet to Crusty's left and in walked Bishop Jefferts Schori, Bishop Curry, Bishop Curry's family, and representatives from the diocese of North Carolina.  Crusty was stunned and barely had time to pull out his phone and snap a picture before the crowd quickly realized what was happening and rushed over to his side of the hall, which is why it's so blurry and grainy, about 5 seconds after snapping this a huge crowd of people had swarmed and it was nearly impossible to see.  This is not to say that everything was perfect about this election process, Crusty had some thoughts on some things which need changing here.

MEMORIAL TO THE CHURCH.  Back in April, the Acts8 posse met in Columbus in to work on a Memorial to the church, seeking to revive something which had fallen by the wayside in terms of General Convention.  Luckily we didn’t try to revive absinthe, child labor, or phrenology, other things which last saw their heyday around the same time as the venerable Memorial.  While drafting, the other Acts8 members asked for his historical perspective on memorials, and Crusty replied, “Well, since the most famous Memorial, the Muhlenberg Memorial, was a colossal,
How we would have picked a Presiding Bishop in the 19th century?
Cassandra-like flop in terms of its impact, correctly presaging what needed to be done but the Convention didn’t do anything, sure, let’s do this thing.”  But lo and behold, over 500 people and 30 bishops signed on to what one wag referred to as a “Gassy Sermonette.” (Crusty loved that line and wished he had thought of it.  Crusty immediately said, “I have the new name for my next band: The Gassy Sermonettes.”  Srsly whoever you were in cyberspace who wrote that, the Crust is strong in you, that was awesome.)  We combined the Memorial to the Church with a number of resolutions, some of which Crusty thought had a decent shot at being addressed, some of which Crusty thought would die in committee and never see the light of day.  Then, lo and behold, it worked!  As my colleague Susan Brown Snook has pointed out, a group of people got together, with no money, drafted a memorial and handful of resolutions, and the bulk of them were passed and funded.

Crusty was particular astounded that the unthinkable happened:  the budget was successfully amended not once, but twice.  Like knocking over a Vegas casino in Oceans 11, many had talked about, and actively tried to, amend the proposed budget at General Convention.  Yet the budgetary process at Convention is Chinese Democracy at its finest:  a small group of people draft a document, relying on information largely provided by an even smaller group of people, which shapes the ministry of the church for the next three years and is presented with an often explicit demand for  approval, with barely 48 hours left in Convention, and the direst of apocalyptic scenarios invoked should it not be passed.  Crusty knows there were some who got their nose out of joint because the budget was amended; well, too bad: COD hates to break it to you, but this is what democracy looks like.  We can’t fetishize and laud our glorious democratic polity and then, you know, be angry when, you know, a democratic process plays itself out.  One of the resolutions crafted in Columbus, to “extravangtly fund” church planting, was passed but not funded, and, as part of the budgetary amendment process, was able to be funded. As one colleague opined, “I feel like the dog who caught the car.”  This will help fund new church starts, particularly among the Hispanic/Latino community.

In addition to these uplifting moments of Convention, however, they weren't all Happy Days. 

CON:  The at times bizarre, dysfunctional mistrust between the two Houses of Convention is embarassingly alive and well.  On two separate occasions when Crusty was present in the House of Deputies the phrase "bishops trying to take over the church" were uttered on the floor of the House during debate.  This, however, has nothing on the bizarre turn of events in the House of Bishops during discussion on the resolution proposed to clarify the roles of presiding officers, which included the inclusion of a stipend for the President of the House of Deputies.  One bishop actually spoke of a "concerted attack on the authority of bishops", while another talked about how the role of President of House of Deputies had expanded without any conversation or discussion, which, in turn, devolved into a snarky comment by one bishop that the current Presiding Bishop had expanded the role of the office of PB without conversation or discussion.  All of this on the floor, while the HOB was in session, streamed for all the world to see.  Crusty thought, "Good God, I wonder what they talk like when they're in closed session!"

This is yet another reason why Crusty argues for a unicameral General Convention: there continues to be mistrust and suspicion between the House of Deputies and House of Bishops.  Crusty knows one thing for sure, and that is meeting separately and regularly offering unchallenged caricatures of the other House is quite possibly the one thing which will never move us beyond the current mistrust.  When COD has dealt with conflict, one of the first things he tries to do is to get the parties to stop talking about each other, and begin talking to each other.

Crusty also realized, as he pointed out here, that the current bicameral structure has the added detriment of effectively disenfranchising either the House of Bishops or House of Deputies, depending on the situation.  Since we deal with complicated issues with barely hours left in Convention, the House of initial action gets to have a through debate and proposed amendments, while the House that is not the one of initial action is usually told, more or less, just to pass what is in front of them otherwise it won't get passed at all and trust us somebody somewhere will try to remember to fix it later.

CON:  No major substantive structural changes passed.  The Episcopal Resurrection group, which also includes some of the Acts8 posse, did propose a measure, which did pass, which allows for joint sessions of the HOD and HOB to be held, perhaps as baby steps for a potential unicameral (due for a second reading in 2018).  Otherwise, no major restructuring resolutions to General Convention -- which means any substantive change is now kicked down to 2022 at the soonest, since most would require constitutional changes, which require two consecutive Conventions to approve something, which will now mean 2018 and 2021 with any changes coming into effect for the 2022-2025 triennium.  True, they did vote to get ride of all the Standing Commissions, but a) actually added money to the meeting budget, so not sure how this is redirecting funds towards other mission priorities, and b) said that Executive Council would be "guided" by past commitments in determining which Task Forces to set up for the triennium, so I'm guessing we'll get a bunch of Task Force which look a lot like the current Standing Committee structure, only this time instead of being agreed upon and accountable to and reflecting the priorities as voted on by Convention it'll be whatever Exec Council feels like, and most likely just a re-creation of what we already have.  So even getting rid of the CCABs wasn't doing much.

CON:  Continued lack of clarity about what GenCon can do and/or should do, which, in turn, reinforces a tendency towards localism.  Crusty wrote extensively here that quite often resolutions ask conflicting and/or confusing things for GenCon to do, and picked a couple of resolutions for 2015, more or less at random, which exemplified this.  Neither of those resolutions passed in the format they were proposed, but, in Crusty's mind, Convention picked a doozy of a resolution to continue to show we don't really know what Convention is for sometimes: 

Here follows the saga of Resolution D050:

Resolved,  the House of Deputies concurring, That a bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority may authorize a congregation to use “An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist” (BCP pp. 400-405) at a principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist, if the Eucharistic Prayer is written and submitted in advance of its use to the Bishop; while the BCP states that the rite “is not intended for use at the principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist,” the BCP does not forbid its use in such contexts.

First off, there's the larger question of why this is even needed.  There are at least nine approved Eucharistic prayers that Crusty knows about; Crusty has served in settings as diverse as small rural congregation and campus chaplain; and always was able to find an approved Eucharistic prayer that more or less fit the situation.  I am not even sure why this resolution is needed, and frankly was unconvinced by any of the examples offered during debate

Regardless, Crusty initially argued that this resolution should be out of order since it contradicts the plain meaning of the rubric.  The rubric clearly states that "An Order for Celebrating Holy Eucharist" is "not intended for use at the principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist."  Yet the resolution proposes to allow the diocesan bishop to do exactly that.  Crusty had a deputy friend approach the parliamentarian, challenging whether it was in order.  The parliamentarian said it was in order, and then Crusty and his colleague pondered challenging the ruling, but, since it was approaching the end of Convention, this meant that the House could spend its time in endless parliamentary wrangling instead of actually doing its work.  So we made the decision not to challenge the ruling and instead try to express concerns about the resolution itself.  It didn't work, and it passed, fairly overwhelmingly, showing, yet again, quite often people don't even know what they're asking Convention to do.

So what did Convention do?

What Convention is authorizing here is mind boggling: here we have, in one resolution, sweepingly authorized that what the BCP does not explicitly forbid is permitted.  Think about that, one more time.  The resolution states that since "the BCP does not forbid its use in
Maybe the Sicilian is in the House of Deputies.
such contexts", the bishop has the authority to authorize the Order for Celebrating Eucharist, despite the clearest plainest most obvious meaning of the BCP that it should NOT be used in this context.

This shows a profound lack of understanding between a rubric and a canon.

Given our ecclesiological subsidiarity, General Convention, from its outset in 1789, very clearly allowed for leeway in local governance, and only laid out what MUST be done in the Constitution and Canons.  So long as they did not violate the Constitution and Canons or any civil or criminal laws, dioceses could organize their business as they chose, and, so long as they did not violate the diocesan Constitution and Canons or Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons, parishes could do the same.  Thus we have local pecularities, like the Tennessee dioceses requiring a 2/3rds vote to elect a bishop, and some parishes where only the Vestry votes on the budget, not the parish as a whole.  The local level cannot contradict any higher levels in terms of canons.

This resolution mistakenly extends that canonical subsidiarity understanding to the rubrics, namely, that anybody is free to do whatever they want so long as the BCP does not explicitly forbid it.  Well, guess what was the only thing the 1789 Convention excluded from local option?  Yes, that's right -- LITURGY.  It enacted a single Book of Common Prayer for use and required that it be used.  Violation of the rubrics are grounds for clergy discipline!  Subsidiarity was NOT assumed for liturgy.  Use of locally authorized liturgies is carefully defined circumstances in Title II and in the Book of Common Prayer, and, by the way, the use of "An Order for Eucharist" as a Trojan horse for local liturgies happens to be EXPLICITLY NOT PERMITTED in the Book of Common Prayer.  I honestly don't know how many times I have to keep pointing that out.

Not only do they not exemplify canonical subsidiarity, rubrics function differently than canons.  They lay out what SHOULD be done, and, when there are permitted options, they give those options, like "stand or kneel."  

Here's an example.  The Prayer Book mentions water in baptism.  But nowhere does it say that you HAVE to use water, and it does NOT EXPLICITLY FORBID anything else.  So why can't we use rose petals to baptize someone?  According to D050, we can, just like we can use Fresca and Ritz Crackers for communion, because, after all, they are not explicitly forbidden (though they are mentioned in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, which speaks of Baptism and the Lord's Supper and the elements "ordained by him", it just says they must be "used" and does not EXPLICITLY FORBID other elements.  Hey, we use bread and wine at our 8am spoken service, it just says they "must" be used, doesn't say "at every service and at every time").  While this resolution places the permission to authorize this rite to the diocesan bishop, it does not do so not under the diocesan bishop's authority as laid out on p. 13 of the BCP, or in Title II, but solely on the grounds of what it lays out here in this resolution, this authority is delegated to the diocesan bishop by this resolution because this resolution has determined what is not forbidden is permitted, and then qualifies that permission in this case to the diocesan.  It's the most circular and baseless argument I could possibly think of, but it passed overwhelmingly, with absolutely no clue as to what precedent it has established.  Convention is on record as saying what is not explicitly forbidden is permitted.  Great job, GenCon. 

Remember, this is the same body which has spent the better part of 20 years variously tying itself up in knots about and endlessly discussed rites of marriage, as well as at this very Convention discussing in addition a process for revising the Book of Common Prayer, and whether to authorize a list of liturgical commemorations.  The same body that did that also, with very little discussion or debate, decided that anybody can do whatever the f**k they feel like liturgically if it's not forbidden by the rubrics.  So why did we even bother to propose a process to revise the BCP?  Why even bother authorizing commemorations? Why even bother with authorizing rites for same sex marriage?  Sure, the BCP says "man and woman" but nowhere does it explicitly forbid same sex couples from marrying.  Mischief managed!  No need to debate anything liturgically anymore!

Apart this simply resolution being, in Crusty's eyes, at best out of order and at worst a bad idea that continues to erode any "common" aspects to "common" prayer, it continues to show that, at times, we simply don't know what we are asking General Convention to do.

CON:  Age discrimination is alive and well at General Convention.  In addition to the strange, simmering animosity expressed at times on the floor of one House towards the other, the other moment that caused Crusty's jaw to drop was the casual age discrimination that went on, practically unremarked. in both the HOB and HOD.  

In the House of Bishops, in the course of a session discussing the question of same sex marriage, one of the bishops joked that "We've been discussing matters of sexuality since before Bishop Rowe was born," referencing the youngest bishop in the House of Bishops.  Using someone's age as a punchline for a joke should be utterly unacceptable, yes there were some low-level chuckles and nobody said a thing.

Imagine this:  after a discussion about issues of race and racism, someone cracks, "Hey, we've been arguing about equal treatment of African Americans in the church since Bishop Curry's ancestors are slaves -- c'mon, Amirite, people?"

Or, instead of the Bishop Rowe crack, after that same discussion of same sex marriage, someone said: "We've been discussing matters of sexuality since Bishop Robinson was in the closet and married to a woman!"

Of course not.  Yet nobody said a f****g word.  In the House of Bishops, a roomful of old people, of course it's OK to make fun of the one person who is (barely) 40. 

Then, in the House of Deputies, the following occurred ON THE SAME DAY.  During the debate on developing policies towards use of alcohol at church events, a deputy stood up, asked the official youth delegation to stand, and implored the House to pass this for the sake of the youth.

This was so utterly, completely bonkers I had to look around and make sure it was actually happening.  Once I did, I tweeted out my astonishment that one member of the House of Deputies could use other members of the House as a prop for a floor speech.  Can you imagine what would happen if someone did this during the debate on authorizing rites for same sex marriage:

"I'd like to ask all the gay members of the House to stand, and implore you to pass this resolution on same sex marriage for their sake."

Or this when voting to consent to the election of Michael Curry as Presiding Bishop:

"I'd like to ask all the black members of the House to stand, and implore you to consent to Bishop Curry's election as PB for their sake."

Of course not.  But nobody said a f****g word.  Until Crusty tweeted about it.

My tweet got circulated quite a bit, and someone even stood up and referenced it from one of the microphones.  This propmpted a response from the Vice President of the House of Deputies, who tweeted me.  He noted that the action was out of order, Deputies should only address the chair and should ask permission to address anyone else in the House.  To which Crusty thought:  That's it?  Only noting that it's out of order?  Not noting that even if the Chair granted the deputy permission, it's utterly condescending and unacceptable?  

And we look around and wonder why there aren't more young people in the church.  The cold, hard, reality is that a good number of folks are so utterly tone deaf to the needs and concerns of youth and young adults, and the church has spent a generation abandoning any effort to reach out to them.  While we remain addicted to structure and ADDED money for meetings even while we cut CUTTING EVERY STANDING COMMISSION, the budget cut funding for youth ministry, on top of spending a generation gutting campus chaplaincies.  The cluelessness of the Convention as a whole towards age discrimination and marginalization of youth shows that the church is reaping what it sows.  

Well, friends, those are some initial thoughts.  It was the least soul-crushing General Convention I have attended, but, like all General Conventions, the real issues will be addressed in the triennium.  Crusty fully expects there will be those who seek to recreate the Standing Commission structure more or less as task forces of Executive Council, and those who will seek to undo the budget amendments to fund church planting.  It's in the interim bodies and work between Conventions that the things passed at Convention either thrive or die.  As Mad Eye Moody would say, "Constant vigilance!" 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Behold Tricameral: House of Twitter & Initial General Convention WrapUp

Crusty is flying back from General Convention, with a couple of major issues still to be resolved.  What follows are two of Crusty's initial reflections on GenCon 2015, a fuller recap will follow later.

1.  He has come away even more convinced of the need for a unicameral body.   COD has written about this issue before on this blog, and a recap follows at the end of this post of his previous arguments.  But a different perspective on unicameral slapped Crusty in the face at this Convention:

Our current bicameral system regularly disenfranchises one house or the other.  Because legislation must by be passed in the exact same form with exact same language by each house, matters get complicated as the Convention moves on.  Should time run out
New hit of the summer! "Shut up and concur with HOD!"

before the legislation is passed in the exact format, it is listed as rejected by "non-concurrence."  This routinely happens to dozens of resolutions at each Convention.

Two examples from July 1 should suffice to show how bicameral disenfranchises one house or the other. 

The House of Deputies was taking up the liturgical and canonical resolutions surrounding the marriage rites.  The House of Bishops had discussed these previously and extensively and amended them.  As the Deputies began discussion, it was repeatedly noted that if they amended the resolutions, they would go back to the Bishops, who could, in turn, amend them again, then send them back to the Deputies, and if they were amended, they'd go back to the bishops, with the danger of the resolution not being approved by both Houses before the Convention adjourned on Friday.  One deputy stood up to say he was arguing in advance against any and all amendments that might come up for the reason that any amendments could complicate completing the work at this Convention.  Though this seemed to be skirt the metaphysical with the parliamentary -- can you speak against an amendment -- the sentiment behind it was clear.

The result: So the bishops got to discuss an important matter extensively and amend it to reflect their discussion and concerns.  The Deputies did not have the same opportunity.  Their debate was focused around expediency of concurring with another House's decision.

Likewise, while the deputies were debating marriage, the bishops got the resolutions on restructuring Executive Council and the interim bodies of Convention.  The exact same conversation took place: amendments were proposed, but the conversation repeatedly came back to the fact that if amended, they would go to Deputies, who could amend them, and so on, and the entire package could die from "non-concurrence."  The bishops made one amendment, asking that the chair and vice-chair of any and all commissions in the new structure be of different orders.  Another was defeated narrowly, and would quite likely have passed had this dynamic not been in place.  Then the bishops moved to reconsider even the relatively small amendment they had passed, voted to reconsider (which takes a 2/3rds majority), then voted down the amendment they passed earlier, not because of anything contained in the amendment, just because of the crunch in getting legislation through both houses and because they had passed any amendment at all.

So the Deputies got to discuss an important matter extensively and amend it to reflect their discussion and concerns.  The bishops did not have the same opportunity.  Their debate was focused around expediency of concurring with another House's decision.

Our bicameral system bascaclly tells both houses in the final 72 hours: if another house has passed this, shut up and pass it or it won't go through.   [As a reminder, For Crusty's broader argument on unicameral, the end of this post.}

2.  There was another element from this Convention which smacked Crusty upside the head.  Despite his arguments for unicameral, Crusty realized, in some ways, we had already moved beyond the discussion: this was really the first tricameral General Convention: House of Bishops, House of Deputies, and the House of Twitter/Social Media.  Back in the days of flip phones, all-paper
Conventions, and the clear beverage craze, if you were sitting in one of the Houses the way you knew
@MadamePresident, what is the matter before the HiveMind?
what was happening in the other House was to get up, walk over to the other House, and try to cop the most recent paper version of the daily calendar so you could find out what was being discussed and what was likely to be discussed later.  And that was only if you were able to get up and walk over there; Crusty has been to five Contentions only as staff and/or visitor, so was never chained to a chair in one or the other of the houses, and had the freedom to get up and see what the other house was doing.  This Convention's move to an all electronic paperless convention, combined with the explosion in social media even since the last Convention in 2012, made it possible to know what was happening at any given moment in either house.

Apart from greater connectivity, the House of Twitter did some other things.

--It allowed for the broader conversation in social media to impact what was happening in real time.  Back in the stone age, when Crusty was ecumenical officer, there would be at times complex ecumenical and interreligious legislation before the Convention.  If an issue arose in one of the Houses that he had information on -- a question that needed an answer, a concern about parliamentary procedure -- Crusty would have to jump up, frantically wave down a page, hand them a paper note, and ask for it to be delivered if he had something he needed to communicate, all before an action was taken that that information needed to inform.  With the House of Twitter, this was able to happen proactively, not reactively, and instantenously.

Think of what the Oceans 11 gang could have done at GenCon.
--In addition, apart from debate in real time, the House of Twitter continued to meet even while the other houses were not in session.  A tremendous amount of networking, organizing, and strategery took place facilitated by social media in ways that were not even achieved in 2012.  For instance an
organized effort to network to amend the budgetary process consisting of numerous networks and
doznes of people was conducted almost entirely through social media and electronic means. And succeeded where previous efforts to amend the budget have failed (though at the time of this writing it still needs to go through the House of Bishops).

--The House of Twitter allowed the large number of people at Convention but not in either of the official houses to have some connectivity to what was happening.  Frankly, the HOD and HOB are not set up to include the broader attendees in any way, shape, or form.  For instance, the Convention spent nearly three hours in joint session which included sitting in in small group discussion that none of the hundreds of people in the gallery could hear or see.  Even alternate deputies weren't included at times. For a church that talks a lot about all the baptized, and hospitality and welcoming, unless you are a bishop or deputy, General Convention doesn't really care much about you.  When he was ecumenical officer Crusty had to beg just to get hard copies of the legislative calendar to give to invited guests so they could know what we were discussing.  But your input and participation are welcome in the House of Twitter.  While debating one question, a deputy quoted from tweets that people were sending in about a resolution on digital evangelism.  A tweet by yours truly was also quoted by a deputy.  Groups coordinated legislative strategy with people who weren't even present in Salt Lake City but watching livestream from home and connecting through social media.

The House of Twitter has the real potential to bring about exactly the kind of transparency we claim to be about in the church.  While social media is discussed almost to the point of becoming a meaningless shibboleth, at this Convention was saw its real and tangible impact.

These were just two initial reactions to General Convention 2015.  Once it's all over, Crusty will provide a more detailed recap.  A summary of his unicameral house argument follows below.  

To recap quickly from previous blog posts:


a)  All orders are in the same room together discussing and voting on issues in the life of the church everyplace else but General Convention.  Laity and clergy at the parish level; bishops, laity, and clergy at diocesan Convention level; and elsewhere at General Convention, clergy, laity, and bishops sit jointly in legislative committees.

b)  It will streamline the process, our bicameral system takes an inordinate amount of time.

c)  It has long term possibility of breaking down some of the other eccentricities of system, for instance:
    --the House of Bishops would need to stop meeting in private
    --it could help break down some of the suspicion and mistrust if we are talking with each other and not about each other.

Con (and counterargument):

i)  Clergy and laity might be concerned about speaking their mind if their bishop is present.

  --counterargument: it would be my hope we could move to a place where trust can be built.  If not, there are options: clergy, laity, and bishops could sit in separate sections in a unicameral.

ii)  bishops would dominate the discussion.
  --counterargument: frankly, in my experience in the church, dominating the discussion is not solely the purview of the episcopate, or even the clergy.  I've been in meetings where it's been laity who have not allowed clergy to get a word in edgewise.  Besides, there are ways to prevent this in unicameral rules of order, like saying that discussion needed to alternate between clergy, episcopal, and lay orders; or by always starting discussion with the lay order; and so on. 

iii)  it would remove checks and balances.
   --Counterargument: the checks and balances could be preserved in the system developed.  Crusty would never suggest one-person, one-vote on all issues.  We could write it so that a certain percentage of any one order (say 25% of any order?) could move to vote by orders, meaning all three orders needed to approve something by majority vote; write in that for Constitution and Prayer Book changes, a supermajority (2/3rds in each order) required.

iv)  unicameral, including a reduction in the representation in the House of Bishops, would reduce the diversity of representation.

This is an imporant and serious issue and deserves more extended discussion.  The issue of diversity in the General Convention breaks down for Crusty in two ways.

--The onus is on the dioceses to lift up, recruit, and put forward a diverse slate of deputies regardless of the size of Convention.  As consultants to episcopal searches has pointed out, slates in episcopal elections have shown diversity in recent years (though clearly it is room for improvement), the problem in diversity in the episcopate has been the candidates elected by the dioceses, which the search and nomination process cannot control.

--Crusty has said repeatedly he would be in favor of canonically legislating diversity and representation, as some other denominations have done.  If we reduce the size of Convention from 4 in each order to 3 in each order, we could, for example, legislate that at least one must be a person of color (clergy or laity) and one must be under 40.   (We also clearly must reduce the number of bishops with vote, to be sure -- COD has argued that only active bishops should have vote and seat, like in every other province of the Communion and every other episcopally ordered church in Christendom.)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Screw Our Courage: It's the Second Half of GenCon

Yesterday Crusty caught up with an old friend from his ecumenical days. COD asked how this person thought the Convention was going, and the reply was, "Except for the Presiding Bishop election --which was so incredible, don't get me wrong -- it seems most of the Anglican and ecumenical guests are leaving before the really interesting stuff comes up for consideration."  COD replied, "Oh yeah -- s**t is about to get real."

General Convention has a flow to it:  the first few days are the ramping up; there's orientation for new deputies, the opening worship and opening addresses from the PHOD and PB.  A lot of time is spent in legislative committees; there are short legislative sessions which often, frankly, don't have much to do and usually result in one or both of the Houses getting worked up over nothing because they need something to do.  In 2003, the House of Bishops spent an inordinate amount of time in one of their opening sessions debating a pretty straightforward resolution about Lutherans and confirmation.  The House of Deputies had an extended metaphysical discussion about applause in their opening session this time around.  The action is in the legislative committees, who are hearing testimony, combining resolutions on the same topic, amending other resolutions.  All that starts to change around the halfway point when the trickle of legislation starts to become a torrent.

This is where we are: this is the beginning of day 5.  We are at the halfway point, and the torrent of legislation is coming our way.  How we deal with it will define the legacy of this Convention, impact our own future shape as a church, and shape the beginning of Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry's tenure.

Crusty has been to five General Conventions; that's not nearly as many as some, but it's more than others.  COD has found that each General Convention sparks a theme for him.  For example, in 2006, Crusty went home with Judges 21:25 in his head: "In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes." Not that he was longing for a king; rather, COD felt
How Lady Macbeth would put it now.
we had a system of governance, but that it was either incapable of adequately addressing matters or that people simple ignored the processes that we did have.  Crusty lays it all out in more depth here.

Crusty is proud to announce it came to him yesterday, and he has his theme for 2015:  "Screw our courage!"
The following line from Macbeth popped into Crusty's head as he sat in various legislative committees and in sessions of the House of Deputies and House of Bishops over the first half of General Convention:

"Screw your courage to the sticking place, and we'll not fail!"  From Shakespeare's Macbeth, Act I, Scene 7.   On the one hand, it may not be in good form to crib a line from two people trying to psych themselves up to assassinate their close friend, but, on the other hand, Crusty thinks the sentiment behind it speaks to the particular place we are currently in at Convention.

Significant legislation is going to come pouring out of committee and into the House of Bishops and House of Deputies:  whether to amend the marriage canon and authorize a rite for same sex blessings; proposals around restructuring; whether to divest from companies involved in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank; and the budgetary process, just to name a few.

The reason this quote has been in Crusty's mind the past few days is that he is beginning to fear that the Convention may be unwilling to screw its courage.  Decisions are clearly before us, but is there a willingness to follow through?  To look at matters from a different way?  To stop talking about change and actually, maybe, trying some change?

Here's two examples so far.

There's been a proposal to eliminate provinces, Resolution D011.  [Disclosure: While Crusty was part of the group that helped to craft the Episcopal Resurrection Memorial to the Church, he did not draft this resolution and has not taken a stand on any of the resolutions.]  The debate in the testimony to the committee and in the governance and structure legislative committee's deliberations seemed to crystallize into two areas.  There were those who argued for efficacy of provinces, including particularly important and moving testimony from those in dioceses where a majority of Episcopalians have tried to leave and take property, noting the crucial role provinces played in helping the faithful, remaining Episcopalians stay connected.  There were also others who said that provinces functioned as spottily as they did effectively,

and were arbritrary: one person noted he could see Province IV from his house yet was in Province V which included a diocese hundreds of miles away.  Crusty found himself thinking that all the
No, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin was not testifying at the committee.
testimonies were absolutely correct -- cooperation and fellowship with nearby dioceses was and is essential, the boundaries don't make sense at times, and different provinces function in different ways.  While Crusty isn't wed to eliminating provinces,  he does think we need to free up as much energy for regional networking and cooperation -- if eliminating provinces does that, fine; if it doesn't, then don't eliminate them.  But his fear is that NOTHING will be done to answer the real question -- how to empower local and regional collaboration -- and we'll just stay with the exact same system we have, with all its effectiveness and ineffectiveness intact.

Another was the debate in House of Bishops on resolution C047, "to divest from fossil fuel companies and reinvest in clean renewable energy."  The issue at hand was clear, and addressed forcefully and passionately by several bishops: the imperative of addressing matters of climate change and environmental stewardship.  The resolution was then amended to strike out the request to the the Church Pension Fund to be included with the Episcopal Church Endowment Fund in the call to divest.  [Aside:  the debate did include a discussion of what, exactly, "call" means -- is it like urging or recommending, or is it a command?  Crustenfreude went through the roof, since Crusty spent 6,000 words blogging on these kinds of ambiguities here.]  Now, just like with the issue around provinces, Crusty understood the logic behind proposing the amendment:  it's dubious that the General Convention can order the Church Pension Fund to do anything, it's a not-for-profit organization incorporated with its own Board.  The General Convention elects the Board members of the CPF, but nowhere canonically does it say it can order those Trustees to do things.  Plus, it could raise a host of legal questions for an entity that is a not-for-profit and has to exercise fiduciary oversight to have some outside agency telling it what to do with its financial assets. 

So while Crusty understood the impetus behind the amendment, he also questioned our inability to find a way to actually address issues in effective ways.  Sure, maybe we can't order the CPF to do things -- but is the only option to simply strike out mention of the Pension Fund entirely?  Could we have come up with some language other than simply omitting any mention? And could we even possibly consider the irony of debating about divesting from fossil fuels given the massive carbon footprint it took to bring us all here to debate and pass a resolution with no teeth and which doesn't even mention the entity with the single largest financial holdings in The Episcopal Church?

So, if you're wondering why Crusty's mantra is "Screw our courage!" that's just two examples as to why he is concerned about our ability to best address issues before.  And these examples cited here aren't even two of the top 20 biggest resolutions coming before Convention, and already Crusty is a bit concerned by the lack of willingness to see past the problems presented and try to find new ways forward.  As we move towards the second half of Convention, and the way S**t Is Getting Real in the next 96 hours, Crusty hopes we can screw our courage to the sticking place:

On the budget:  can we find ways to live into the vision of our Presiding Bishop elect, and so many others, who are proposing robust, sustained, and innovative ways to do mission and evangelism?

On marriage equality: Crusty heard several people saying, "The Supreme Court has acted, it's time for us to act."  As someone who presided at his first same sex blessing in secret 20 years ago so nobody would get brought up on charges, COD wanted to shout: "We should be doing this no matter what the Supreme Court says or does!"  As we do, can we find a way to do so which emerges from our own perspective and is grounded in our call as Anglican Christians?

On restructuring:  Will we really walk away from this Convention with no major structural changes at all?  Will we look at the work and recommendations of TREC, the massive changes in society and how we look at and view institutions, and do nothing of substance?

Or, as in our liturgy this morning, we will only call out some of our sins?  We prayed to be delivered from "snarkiness."  Frankly, Crusty is neither pro- or anti-snark.   Can snark be mean spirited or unhelpful?  Of course.  He is opposed to snark for snark's sake, but also notes that snark, like sincerity or humor or satire, can also help point out deeper issues and concerns. Crusty is opposed to anger for anger's sake; but anger can also be prophetic and transformative.  Or, why not pray to be delivered from the sin of fear?  Crusty may criticize liturgy at times, but he doesn't selectively manipulate it.  This is at best lazy theology or passive-aggressive, or at worst a selective weaponization of liturgy.  Yes, snark has its downside.  So does pride.  So does despair.  So does, well, EVERYTHING.  Or, if they're going to pass along all the prayers that are tweeted, get ready for Crusty to request a prayer of “Thanksgiving for the transformative and life-giving gift of snarkiness, which mitigates our sins of self-importance and passive aggression, as well as a prayer of lament for our inability at times to be open to criticism."  But Crusty won't, because he doesn't believe in weaponizing liturgy, the one thing we shouldn't be messing with. 

In 2003, Crusty Old Dean was sitting in overflow seating in the worship hall, watching the live stream from the House of Bishops debate giving consent to the election of Gene Robinson.  There was 45 minutes or so of downtime while the bishops were engaged in private table conversation.  To kill the time, Crusty proposed everyone guess what the number of "yes" votes would be. [Aside:  This
As The Tick once said, "Hellloooo Reno!"
is why Crusty has regularly pushed for Reno, NV, for General Convention, precisely so we could bet on stuff.  If you ask why Reno instead of Las Vegas, you have not been to Las Vegas in June and July, months when Convention is usually held.  While Reno is far from cool temperature-wise, Las Vegas is Satan's microwave. And BTW, Crusty guessed first and guessed accurately that it would be 62.  Suck on it, haters.]  When the House entered into plenary debate, bishops began to stand up and speak.  One bishop stood up -- Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island -- and Crusty was watching closely: he was unsure of how she would vote on consent to Gene Robinson's election.  It's 12 years in the past, so Crusty is recollecting from memory what she said.  She talked about fear and hope, and her own struggles of whether to listen to her fear or trust in hope -- and she said she had decided to trust in hope, and was voting yes.  The first thing Crusty thought was, "That was really powerful."  The second was, "They're going to give consent if more people think like Bishop Wolf."

Twelve years ago in Minneapolis, the church trusted in hope and not fear.  Will we do so the same in the next four days?