Monday, January 4, 2016

Blogging the GOEs, Question 2: A Visit to The Barbie Dream Chapel.

[Disclaimer #1:  You know, Crusty can be serious at times (well, often, actually) and here is a very special message from COD:  These blog postings are really about me arguing with the questions, and are not intended to be any kind of GOE forum.  Crusty welcomes comments and feedback, but please DO NOT discuss answers in the comments section, since the GOEs are a double-blind process -- readers aren't supposed to know who you are, God forbid any of them should stumbleacross this site.]
[Disclaimer #2:  Last year for some strange reason Crusty was elected to the General Board of Examining Chaplains. To prevent any appearance of conflict of interest, Crusty has recruited Dread Pirate Crusty to fill in this year as GOE blogger.  While COD is allowing Dread Pirate to remain anonymous, rest assured the Crust is strong in DPC.]

Christian Theology
Open Resources
Write an essay of about 1,000 words offering at least two Christian theological perspectives on wealth. Cite for each perspective at least one biblical or Book of Common Prayer passage and one Christian theologian. Of the theologians cited, one must be from the Post-Reformation Anglican tradition. Conclude the essay by describing how one or more of your theological perspectives on wealth would inform your work with the members of a Vestry faced with deciding what to do with an unexpected, substantial, and undesignated financial legacy gift.


When Dread Pirate Crusty was in seminary, there was a room set up as a chapel which the fellow students dubbed the “Barbie Dream Chapel.”  This room was used for practicing all sorts of churchy
The liturgical ordinary of the Dream Chapel.
things – masses, funerals, baptisms, etc – all within the safe confines of the unconsecrated Barbie Dream Chapel, where everyone knew nothing real would ever happen.  Occasionally, other seminarians would try out weird experiments just to see what would happen. A certain professor would show up in a giant clown wig to try to throw seminarians off their game. But hey, it was just Barbie’s church, so no harm, no foul.

Dread Pirate Crusty is pretty sure the GBEC lives in the Barbie Dream Chapel. (Which is unfortunate, because the heat up there was non-existent in the winter and overwhelming in the spring, enough to make anyone go loony, but again, I digress.)
Here we have, again, GBEC taking a valiant stab at what purports to be a real world scenario.  Good job, GBEC!  Many real (non-Barbie) vestries do, indeed, find themselves on the receiving end of large unrestricted gifts, and then manage to get themselves into a tangle when deciding what to do.

However, most non-plastic figurine vestries, also wrestle with things like endowments, budgets, outreach priorities, vision statements, and other factors which would guide their conversation of how to allocate the money.  It is the rare vestry which would open this discussion with “Well, goodness, what does the prayer book say?” And if a GOE test-taker were to run across this rare Vestry, they should be congratulated, for they have indeed found the equivalent of a church governance leprechaun. (Pots of gold notwithstanding.)

BUT!  (Dread Pirate Crusty hastens to add) this is not to say that constructing a theology of wealth is pointless.  Just that this question is phrased so badly as to make DPC want to summon the person in charge of writing this, and stare at them very severely.  
DPC, staring severely.

Dread Pirate Crusty surmises that what GBEC is actually trying to wander towards here, in a most ambling way, is a theology of stewardship. This is perhaps the single most important theological issue in the church today that next to no one talks about.  Throughout the Episcopal Church, parishes are on the verge of closing, burning through their endowments to sustain hopeless unsustainable ministries, burning through clergy - often moving from full, to half, to quarter, to hundreth-time clergy, and largely because they cannot figure out a theology of money, its right use in the service of God’s mission, and, even if they can, cannot work up the courage to practice it. So it is a commendable impulse to encourage seminarians to engage with one or two perspectives on wealth.

However, all theology is contextual.  To write a good theology of wealth, you need to know the full context of the parish in question.  Do they have a sizeable endowment, or any endowment for that matter?  Do they have a balanced budget?  Are they urban?  Rural?  Wealthy?  Struggling?  Single-clergy?  Multi-clergy? Yoked? Anxiety-prone?  Healthy? What are the clergy relationships like with the congregation?  The theological underpinnings of what a congregation should do with an unrestricted $10,000 gift will be, and should be, VERY different if the church uses that $10k to keep the doors open for a few months longer than they otherwise would be able to (as Dread Pirate Crusty has actually seen happen!), as opposed to if it uses it for a new ministry initiative in the midst of an otherwise healthy budget picture. Context matters in this question, and it matters acutely.
 
Otherwise, you are creating theology from a vacuum, or from a context foreign to present reality (a.k.a. a context of Old Dead White Guys from Many Years Prior) and applying it to your situation.
Hey if Crusty got elected to GBEC, anyone can, amirite?
 That usually does not go well, and usually ends in a Joel Osteen style disaster.  

This leads to the next problem with this question – the wording in it is confusing AF. (If you don’t get Dread Pirate Crusty’s acronyms, Urban Dictionary is your friend.) It took DPC two times through the question to see that the question asks for TWO different perspectives on wealth, and then FOR EACH PERSPECTIVE, requires the citation of ONE  theologian, and EITHER a Biblical or BCP reference.  AND then, of those perspectives shares, ONE of the two theologians cited must be a Post-Reformation Anglican. (Which leads DPC to suspect that some overtired student may actually try to cite Joel Osteen as their non-Anglican theologian.  SEE WHAT BAD WRITING DOES, GBEC?)  Toby Ziegler would be so mad at you. The average frazzled senior is probably going to breeze right past that nuance, which would lead them to fail.  

This is almost understandable, since, really… can you think of two different (legitimate) perspectives on wealth?  There’s tithing! And giving it away! And not hoarding!  And then there’s…. ::crickets::.  

Dread Pirate Crusty is having a hard time with this. Perhaps a student could use the perspective of Joseph’s instructions to Pharaoh to store grain for a coming famine - but even then, it’s in the context of common good. The test-taker could deliberately just answer knowingly with a crap Joel Osteenian theology of wealth and abundance - but is that really what we want our clergy to do? And for what it’s worth, DPC could only come up with a couple Anglican theologians who talk about wealth at any length.  (William Temple and F.D. Maurice, for what it’s worth, in Christianity and Social Order and the Christian Socialist movement, respectively.  So you should use that unrestricted gift to set up single-payer healthcare, I guess. Hope it was a big bequest!)  

So what we are left with is a confusing question, divorced from acutely necessary contextual clues that are so key to developing a good theological perspective on wealth, where the respondent is likely to be left searching for a quality second theology of wealth.

While GBEC again had a good impulse here, they also again have achieved a grade of Meh, which Dread Pirate Crusty further downgrades to a Meh Minus for the needlessly confusing phrasing, and the lurking possibility of a citation Joel Osteen as a theologian with trenchant insights on wealth.  

(Yes, in the spirit of innovation, Dread Pirate Crusty has decided to add some nuance to Crusty Old Dean’s system of grading and introduce some additional sublevels, should the situation require. Deal with it.)

Shame on you, GBEC.  Really. Don’t make me get all WTF-y up in here.

4 comments:

  1. Reminds me of the old time canonical exam question that got two of my clergy examiners into a serious argument (and spared me!): Question: "If you only had time to do half a service, which half would you do?" My answer was "I'd do Morning Prayer instead." (This was an anglocatholic diocese in the 60s).

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  2. The other thing about this kind of question is that, in an episcopal church, maybe it makes sense to address these issues in something bigger than a congregational perspective. Particularly in a big east coast diocese there are surely wealthy parishes receiving this sort of windfall while other parishes struggle along.

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  3. Yes these are some difficult questions to answer. If I only had the time to do one service it would be the morning service. My wife and I love to attend morning service together and have done for some many years. We actually met at morning service and got to know one another through the church. I am very blessed.

    Carson Coronado @ Old St. Mary's Detroit

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