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?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

#27PB Election: 5 Things We Must Do

Crusty just got back from the House of Deputies, where Presiding-Bishop Elect Michael Curry addressed the House.  He spoke forcefully and movingly, acknowledging challenges facing Episcopalians but also noting "we have a God" and quoting Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the power of God's presence.  Crusty also just happened to be standing a few feet away when Bishop Curry
XXVII and XXVI in tha house (of Deputies).
entered the hall; everyone was expecting him to come in the main entrance, and then suddenly he, his family, and the North Carolina deputation suddenly appeared out of a door to Crusty's left.  COD barely had time to fumble for his phone to take a blurry picture; he was applauding, figuring he would not be close at all, the main entrance was over a hundred years and hundreds of people away.  But then there they were, he grabbed his phone, and COD snapped what photo he could before the security people started pushing the crowd back that was closing in fast.

The words from Bishop Curry are hanging in the air, but, Crusty being Crusty, he'd like to offer some preliminary and initial thoughts on this election.  Here are five things we must do:

1.  We must reform the PB nomination process.  We spent over $200,000 and at least 18months to nominate the person who was the clear and obvious choice.  Curry was elected on the first ballot with over 70 percent of the votes.  (BTW This is the first first-ballot election that we can confirm -- 1997 was the first time ballot results were reported.  In 1997 it was the third ballot; in 2006, on the fifth ballot.) Crusty has said on this blog before that we should consider the ELCA process, in which every active bishop is eligible, and the first ballot is a nominating ballot.  Additional ballots are taken, with lower vote total persons gradually dropped until only two are left.  And don't say this would exclude or restrict who might be elected: the ELCA has more women synodical bishops than the Episcopal Church has women diocesan bishops and they have 65 synods compared to 109 dioceses, and their first woman Presiding Bishop was elected through an open ballot process.

2.   The House of Deputies must adopt a different process for giving consent.  The process used at this Convention, a change from previous Conventions, was long, drawn out, and needlessly complex, and hopeless in the face of world saturated with social media.  From start to finish, it is quite likely if not certain the House of Deputies took longer to given consent than the House of Bishops did to elect.  Lest you think Crusty is denigrating the role of the HOD, far from it -- Crusty called on this blog for a more robust confirmation process before the President of the House of Deputies announced the new process.  While Crusty decries the leaking of the name of the candidate, he also realizes that in an age of social media it is foolish to think otherwise.  COD would like the PB to be elected by both Houses, but, failing that, there must be a process that gives a more formal place to the consent and confirmation role the HOD has, but it must be less cumbersome.

3.   We must give the PB-elect some opportunity to help shape priorities during this Convention.  The issues facing our church are too complex and fast-moving, and we approve a three-year budget in a few days that will shape priorities before the Presiding Bishop takes office in the fall.  The United
It took the Great Depression to change the presidential inauguration date.
States changed the date for the presidential inauguration from March 4 to January 20 precisely because the nation could no longer wait four months between the election and inauguration.  We cannot wait until after this Convention for the PB-elect to help shape policy.  PB&F (program, budget, and finance) should have a consultation as appropriate with the PB-elect, and there should be a similar consultation, as appropriate, with the Governance and Structure Committee which is dealing with shaping what legislative for restructuring comes to the floor.

4.    We must hold the other bishops nominated, their families, and their dioceses in our prayers.  Crusty cannot even imagine how emotionally, personally, and spiritually exhausting it must be to put oneself through such a public process of discernment and discussion -- let alone to then not be elected.  All the candidates were fine candidates, Crusty would have been proud to call any one of them Presiding Bishop.  Crusty, in turn, apologizes for any way his comments in his prediction column from last May might have sounded dismissive of any of the candidates.  With this election over, we must not forget to hold them in prayer, as well rejoice they will continue to bless the church in the ministries where they serve. 

5.   We must see this as a beginning, not an end, to engaging in transformative discussions and actions on questions of race, racism, and our own privilege.  Electing Barack Obama did not usher in the post-racial America some dreamed would happen; rather, it has exacerbated and laid bare some of the systemic racism in America.  We cannot think that electing the first African American Presiding Bishop solves the problem of race, racism, and white privilege in the Episcopal Church.  We are still overwhelmingly and disproportionately old and white in reflection to the society around us.  This is not only a death-knell for the church in terms of growth, but much more importantly it is a sin against the gospel we claim to preach that sees no divisions in Christ.  The Episcopal Church often suffers from a collective amnesia of our own complicity in systemic racism, jumping from Absalom Jones to Jonathan Daniels, ignoring our own racist past, and seemingly unable to move past conversations on race to truly living as an anti-racist church.   This must be a new beginning, a continuation, not an end, to the work we are called to do.


PB Elections and HOD Parties: Past Informs the Future?

Crusty writes this from a very different perspective than nine years ago, the last time The Episcopal Church elected a Presiding Bishop.  In 2006, Crusty Old Dean was working for the denominational staff, and was staking out Trinity Church, Columbus, Ohio, from the Starbucks across the street.  This was in the days before the Twitterbookblogoinstasphere, and COD wanted to know who his new boss would be.  The bishops would come out periodically, in between ballots, to get fresh air, some were using their phones, though they all did observe the cone of silence and nothing was leaked.  COD could tell when they had elected someone, because the bishops began dispersing in twos and threes, either heading back to their hotels or back to the Convention Center.

COD learned about the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori when he saw someone from the communications office escorting her to the Convention Center.  Nobody leaked anything but COD would damn well tell she had been elected.

The process then was that the House of Bishops sent a delegation to the House of Deputies to announce the election -- and at that time, the representatives announced it to the whole house.  Crusty was sitting, waiting, since he knew who had been elected.  When the representative from the HOB announced the name, he didn't even get past the first syllable -- "The House of bishops has elected Kath--" when the House of Deputies first let out a collective gasp, then a cheer.  Consideration of the election was moved, there was short floor debate, and then a few deputations moved to have a vote by orders.  The whole thing was over in about 15 minutes or so.

A lot has changed this time around.  For one thing, COD isn't bothering to stake out the venue.  He doesn't work for the denominational staff, so it's not as crucial to know who the PB will be.  For another, with the explosion and advent of social media, it's not really necessary.  While he still full expects the HOB to respect the silence of not leaking this election, just like in 2006, Crusty believes somebody will figure out what has happened, just like I did when I saw Katharine Jefferts Schori with the communications officer.  That's how Crusty thinks the name will be leaked.

In addition, the whole process of the HOD giving consent has changed.  Rather than the admittedly informal and quick process of 2006, the process this time around has been designed to honor the HOD's role in giving consent.  Rightly so, COD thinks, he did think the whole thing was rushed last time around.  But the process does seem a bit overly complex.

The President of the HOD finished summarizing this elaborate bit of kabuki theater, down to secret entrance. The delegation from the HOB will be brought in through a secure and secret entrance and the HOD will get to them "when convenient."  They then will inform the President of the HOD, but that information will not be shared.  The HOD Committee to Confirm the Election will then meet in a nearby room in closed session to consider the name elected.  They will meet in closed session, but will not vote in closed session, so at some point, apparently, they will invite people in for the actual vote.  But will they be voting on a name, or just the choice, so as to preserve the cone of silence?  The committee will then return to the House of Deputies, where, at a convenient time, they will be invited to give their report and recommendation on whether to consent or not.  Then the recommendation will go to the House as a whole.

For the life of me, COD does not see the need for secrecy.  The name will get out before the Committee gives its report to the HOD as a whole.  The stated reason from the President of the HOD was out of pastoral sensitivity to the deputations from the dioceses of Connecticut, SW Florida, Southern Ohio, and North Carolina.  This really doesn't make any sense, for two reasons

a)  since COD believes the choice will leak out, is it better for these deputations to find out from other means?  Even if it does not leak out (And COD actually hopes it won't), then

b)  what difference does it make in terms of pastoral sensitivity if these deputations hear that their bishop has been elected by the representatives of the HOB, or to make them sit for 15-20 minutes and find out when the legislative committee issues its report?

Crusty thinks the process adopted has leaned way, way too far in the other direction, and needlessly complicated and prolongs the confirmation process.

COD stakes out this election from a different place - -the Salt Lake City Brewing Company.  Since there was no reason to stake out the HOB in a social media age, COD thought he would go to the House of Deputies.  The HOD, however, is spending the entire morning session (after doing some organizational business) from 11:15-1:00 celebrating its 230th anniversary.  Crusty stayed for the first half hour or so, then left, frankly because it was about as much fun not being included in someone's party as it was watching someone's small group conversations from afar.  They passed out hats to deputies but didn't even admit alternates to the floor of the House, once again caring little about any invited guests or people in the gallery.

Some initial thoughts on this celebration of the 230th anniversary of the HOD party:

--The last days of Convention are often busy ones, with legislation needing to be approved before adjournment.  Routinely many resolutions die from "non-concurrence," because they don't get passed in the same format by both Houses.  Is spend nearly two hours having a party the best way to structure legislative time?  COD will remember this when on the last day of Convention people are lamenting they don't have enough time to properly debate and consider legislation.

 --This frankly smacks as much of "if the House of Bishops is going to go off and do something on their own, we're going to do something on our own, too."  Newsflash: the HOB is not going off to do something on their own, they're going off to fulfill a canonically mandated requirement.  They're doing what they're asked of by the Constitution and Canons.

--The people being honored today are living legends, and people who have shown profound vision, courage, and leadership.  They are some of the most faithful people that I know: Louie Crew, Bonnie Anderson, George Werner, to name just a few.  However, I can only imagine if the House of Bishops ever did something similar it would be treated as a clerical, exclusionary, breach of collegiality, celebrating one aspect of our shared polity at the expense of others, if they spent an afternoon honoring bishops.  Are we in danger of clericalizing our lay leadership, where we honor some but don't even let alternates onto the floor?

Perhaps most importantly:

The President of the House of Deputies was spot on in quoting her predecessor Pam Chinnis' remarks that the House of Deputies was "revolutionary" for its time.  It was revolutionary to give laity equal say in the goverance of the church as all levels: not only among Anglicanism, but among other Protestant denominations.  Lay persons did not have equal representation in the Methodist Church for decades, for instance.


This was not the only revolutionary thing that emerged from the Episcopal Church's founding polity.  The vision of episcopacy the new church adopted was equally revolutionary: bishops in a catholic body elected by representative bodies.  Bishops who were considered to be "apostolic", serving as pastors and priests while also bishops.  Bishops who shared oversight with elected Standing Committees.  It is a warping of context to focus on certain revolutionary aspects of the church's founding polity and not others.

Our history should inform our future.  The PHOD also said the formation of the House of Deputies was "innovative."  I'm a historian by trade, and looking at the past is helpful only as much as it points us towards the future.  As we consider restructuring at this Convention, it's my hope that the formation of the House of Deputies was not its last innovation.

And Twitter is breaking with a PB election.  Let's see how the kabuki theater plays out with the secret entrances this afternoon.

Friday, June 19, 2015

General Convention Preview, Part 3: Episcopal Groundhog Day

Welcome to Crusty's General Convention Preview, Part 3.  Crusty was going to get into some specific reflections on resolutions, but found himself writing over 5,000 words on barely two resolutions after going down a deep, deep Groundhog Day hole.  Enjoy!

Back in the 2000s, Crusty Old Dean was working on the staff of the Presiding Bishop in ecumenical & inter religious relations, coordinating The Episcopal Church's official dialogues and relationships with other Christian communions as well as Muslims, Jews, and other ecumenical and inter religious organizations.  COD's specific are of specialization was dialogues with other Christian communions, specifically Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Moravian, and others.  As part of this, Crusty got to go to a LOT of church gatherings.  The Episcopal Church nerds out about GenCon once every three years, but, for me as ecumenical officer, Crusty ALWAYS had a church governance meeting of some kind or another to go to.  United Methodist General Conference (never a line at the hotel bar).  ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Presbyterian General Assembly. UCC General Synod.  And so on.  Then there were the magical summers when the calendar would sync up so that one or more of these would be held in the same year.  In 2003, Crusty went from General Convention in Minneapolis to ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee, with a weekend stopover at his in-laws in Madison, WI the only break in church governance stuff for a three-week period.

Crusty sat for many hours in many Convention halls.  In general, he's thankful for this, if only because it drove home for Crusty just how much we should be talking collaboratively with ecumenical partners about the challenges facing us.  Think the Episcopal Church needs 10 seminaries?  Guess what, the ELCA is asking the same thing about its 8 seminaries and the United Methodists about their 13.  Struggling with how to provide training and empowering of lay ministries?  What is the nature and scope of a churchwide organization should be? What should best be done at what level?  Many, many other Christian expressions are asking the same questions.

It being the 2000s, COD also sat through many, many a debate and discussion on issues of human sexuality, specifically the ordination of openly gay persons to the ministry and the blessing of same sex unions.  Crusty sat through Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Moravian, and Presbyterian
What would you do if you were stuck
Salt Lake City, and nothing that you did mattered?
discussions on these issues.  At times, it felt like a kind of ecclesiastical version of the Bill Murray classic movie "Groundhog Day," where Murray's character is doomed to repeat the same day, over and over again. (Exactly how many days Murray spent in Punxsutawney was an occasion of fierce debate among COD and his buddies back in the 1990s.  COD leaned towards the interpretation that Murray spent close to 1,000 years in Punxsutawney. I mean, come on!  It probably took him 10 years alone to learn how to master the piano!  He learned how to speak French!  One of Crusty's apartment mates at the time came downstairs, saw Groundhog Day on TBS yet again, and said, "I think my life has become like Groundhog Day because every day I come downstairs and you three are watching Groundhog Day.")  Crusty heard the same arguments, for and against, over and over, on these issues of human sexuality.

In a particular amusing exchange, in 2003, just after The Episcopal Church consented to V. Gene Robinson's election as bishop of New Hampshire, Crusty, as he noted above, trekked off through the farmlands of Minnesota and Wisconsin to go to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly.  At the Assembly, a motion was introduced to suspend full communion with The Episcopal Church because of its consent to the election, saying the Episcopal Church no longer held to the essentials of the Christian faith as agreed on in the Called to Common Mission agreement inaugurating full communion. After some debate, the resolution was soundly defeated, with about 90% of people voting to remain in full communion with the Episcopal Church.  Some of the rhetoric had gotten quite heated, with some delegates saying Episcopalians were no longer Christians or believed in the Bible, and were preaching a false gospel.  Mark Hanson, the presiding bishop of the ELCA, came over to Crusty in the ecumenical visitors section and said, "I was just checking in to see how you are doing, things got a little heated out there."  Crusty replied, "That's no big deal -- 90% of the Assembly voted to remain in full communion!  Getting an Assembly to vote on anything at 90% is pretty good.  Heck, 40% of our own bishops voted against giving consent to the election."

Sitting there, for all those Groundhog Day conventions, in all those hours in all those Convention halls, in all those hotels that looked the same, eating the same chicken dinners with rice pilaf, drinking bad white wine at receptions, COD heard the some of the same issues being debated.  In some ways, the debates also unfolded according to script.  Romans 1:28 here, Galatians 5 there, people who don't believe in Genesis literally quoting Genesis, Peter and Cornelius there, and so on, with, of course, nobody convincing anyone of anything.  As he sat, though, COD began to nice some differences amidst all the similarities of debate.  COD began to notice that different Christian expressions seemed to discuss many of the same theological points, but process them differently.  Sure, some of the same Biblical and theological themes came up tie and again.  Yet *how* these discussion took place were, at times, revealing.

Presbyterians, for instance, seemed to immerse themselves in their complex polity.  In the 2000s at one point they came, more or less, to a realization they would not agree, and so devised a process by which people could conscientiously object to certain matters of polity and theological confession, which they called "scrupling."  Yeah, "scrupling" is apparently a Presbyterian thing.  COD s**ts you not (would he ever do that to the people who for some reason read this blog?). Totally google "presbyterian" and :"scrupling" and you'll see how they at one point they came up with a workaround and way forward on questions of human sexuality.  Seriously, there's this.

Lutherans seem to want to know what the theological foundation or rationale would be before taking certain actions.  On the question of human sexuality, they commissioned a task force to produce an official statement on human sexuality, which would be the basis for specific recommendations to Churchwide Assembly.  At the 2005 and 2007 Churchwide Assemblies (Crusty was at both, gave greetings to the one in 2005, where the official release notes that his joke was a hit with the crowd; read about it here; I've always been a smartass) there were a number of proposals or resolutions put forward on human sexuality, which the Assembly declined to act upon until the commission had completed its work.  There was the repeated concern that the Assembly should not act until the Task Force had submitted its statement and any enabling resolutions.  The theological statement was duly released, with necessary enabling resolutions, and, once it had been submitted, in 2009 the ELCA took its historic votes fully authorizing the ordination of openly gay persons and permitting same sex blessings.

COD could repeat similar observations for how Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Moravians, and Methodists processed difficult issues in particular ways.  Roman Catholic discussions, for instance, almost always come back to a discussion about authority: the relationship between the authority of the Pope and the authority local and regional bishops' conferences, or between the differing levels of authority of magisterial teaching (what's the force of an encyclical vs. a decision rendered by a pontifical department vs. the infallible teaching charism of the Pope speaking ex cathedra?).   We could go on, but let's stop here at looking at the peculiarities of the ways other Christian communions process their junk and turn to how Episcopalians tend to function.

Sitting there, in 2009, watching the Lutheran take their own vote on same-sex blessings and ordination of openly gay clergy, it hit COD like a ton of bricks:  he realized how other Christians might look at how Episcopalians handled matters.  There's two observations from those years that fundamentally impact how COD looks at General Convention.

1)  We process matters liturgically.

--How did we (in essence) have a referendum on the ordination of openly gay and lesbian persons to the episcopate?  By deciding whether an episcopal consecration should go forward in 2003.  Our discussion was framed as much by the place and function of a bishop in the church as it was around biblical, ethical, moral, historical, or theological questions.  By the way, even though it consented to Gene Robinson's election to the episcopate, the Episcopal Church still has not authorized the service of openly gay and lesbian pastors at a churchwide level.  The only human sexuality language we have is that "access" to the ordination process cannot be denied on the basis of sexuality.  The ELCA specifically voted to change its ministry standards to permit openly gay clergy in committed partnerships to be ordained as pastors.  While The Episcopal Church has never had language specifically forbidding openly gay and lesbian persons from being ordained, we still, in 2015, have not adopted any canonical changes to permit it.  This is why, during the debate in 2003 on consent to the election of Gene Robinson, one deputy in the House of Deputies could say, "I can't believe I am being asked to approve a consent to the election of the episcopate from someone who would not be ordained in my diocese, and, if ordained in another diocese, not permitted to serve in my diocese" and have that be correct under our polity.  Crusty Old Dean was drinking scotch with some Reformed Episcopal Church clergy (we had a dialogue with the Reformed Episcopal Church from 2003-2004), and one of them said, "Well, while we don't agree with the decision to give consent to Gene Robinson's election, it was certainly within the bounds of your polity to do so."  Crusty asked, "Can I get that in writing?"  This is why, when asked by other primates of the Anglican Communion why he didn't "stop" or "pause" the whole Gene Robinson thing at Convention, former Presiding Bishop Griswold said, "I couldn't if I had wanted to."  When asked to "stop" the consecration, the reply by some was that could only happen with an objection at the consecration itself, you know, as permitted liturgically in the consecration service in the Book of Common Prayer.

So we have kinda, sorta, had a referendum on permitting the ordination of openly gay and lesbian persons to the episcopate but have not actually done anything in our polity to reflect the church's actual stand on this.

--How are we handling questions about the blessing of same sex unions?  By discussing proposed rites for blessing same sex unions, what they should be and how they should be authorized.  Not about what a sacrament is, or what it means to bless something, or talking about human anthropology.  These issues and more, to be sure, have been part of the discussions and have been included in the Task Force on Marriage and its report to General Convention. But far, far more ink and legislative energy has been spent on proposed rites themselves.

--We have spent the better part of a decade revising out liturgical calendar without coming to any kind of consensus on what, actually, a saint is and why we commemorate people liturgically.  But we sure do spend a lot of time proposing people to add.  This lack of clarity, and processing things liturgically rather than theologically, is part of the problem behind both Holy Women, Holy Men and Lent[sic] Madness, as Crusty has pointed out previously on this blog.

So we have a tendency to process things liturgically.  Makes sense, in a way, as Episcopalians and Anglicans, given the way in which we have expressed our theology in the lived, liturgical prayer life. At a meeting once with Lutherans, they spent a good deal of time talking about the Augsburg Confession, and the Book of Concord, and just how authoritative they were.  They then asked us, "OK, where are your theological documents?"  One of the Episcopal representatives pointed to the Book of Common Prayer sitting on the table. "Over there," she said.  The Lutherans asked, "Where in the Prayer Book are your theological, confessional documents?"  The Episcopalian replied, "It starts on the title page and goes through the last page."

Crusty realized, sitting through all those church gatherings, that Episcopalians  (often, certainly not always, but tend to) process things primarily through a liturgical lense.  This one way in which we need to reflect, as we approach General Convention, on how best to make decisions.  There is another thing we have to keep in mind.

2)  There's also the unsettled relationship between the General Convention and the local diocese (and, in turn, the local diocese and the individual congregation).  We seem to process things through an inchoate filter where we are unclear how has the authority to tell somebody else what they can or should or ought or must do.

Crusty Old Dean often found himself cackling during ELCA Churchwide Assemblies debating full communion with Episcopalians.  Some Lutherans painted doomsday scenarios of getting into a relationship with The Episcopal Church, adopting bishops and their catholic understanding of authority, that Lutherans would lose their freedom.  Crusty cackled because the ELCA has a far more centralized structure that the Episcopal Church.  ELCA congregations fork over more than twice what Episcopal congregations fork over to the Synod, who, in turn, fork over more than twice to Churchwide offices than Episcopal dioceses do to our churchwide structures.  The ELCA Churchwide Council (equivalent to Executive Council) has to approve any changes ELCA seminaries make to their bylaws.  ELCA synodical bishops have more direct authority over the clergy search process in their diocese than Episcopal bishops do.

There's two ways this second observation  impacts our discussions.

2a)  We have those who think General Convention is like Jon Snow, who sometimes talk like they think that General Convention knows nothing and can do nothing. Crusty was sitting in the House of Bishops once, and
a pretty anodyne resolution was being discussed.  A bishop stood up and asked that the language be changed from "directs dioceses" to "recommends to dioceses", and, when asked to speak to the
Do you have to ask for personal privilege to move this?

amendment, said, "General Convention can't tell dioceses to do anything."  The bishop did add that "except for the Constitution, Canons, and Prayer Book."  There was general murmuring and the amendment passed unanimously on a voice vote.  Crusty found himself wondering, "If General Convention can't tell anyone or anything what to do apart from Constitution, Canons, and Prayer Book, then this Convention should be a lot shorter than it is."

2b)  Being Episcopalians, there's naturally the exact opposite: that General Convention can, should, and ought to be able to direct anybody and anyone in the Episcopal Church on anything.  Many General Convention resolutions are drafted with cajolatory injunctions (Crusty just coined that).  General Conventions "urges" or "recommends" lots of things.  But there's also a fair number of resolutions which various entities are directed and commanded and told to do certain things, perhaps more often than we'd like to think.

Let's take just one of the TREC resolutions -- we can see some examples of this in A001, the first resolution out of the gate.  First off, it starts with a cajolatory injunction.  It "urges" Episcopal seminaries to do a bunch of things -- which, incidentally, many if not all of them are already doing (but don't get COD started) -- but then, in the last sentence, resolves that the seminaries report "their progress to Executive Council and to each succeeding General Convention."  Really?  General Convention is going to require something from independent, not-for-profit, incorporated entities that it has absolutely no canonical or constitutional authority over, apart from electing some members of the General Seminary's Board?  The General Convention might as well tell the YMCA to whom it should report as any of our seminaries.

And that's just the first resolved!  Its last resolved has a doozy of a two-fer:

"Resolved, That the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society develop a network to help Episcopal congregations, including clergy, vestry, organist, musical, lay, and other liturgical leaders, to become skilled in creating, nurturing, and developing spaces and moments for spiritual encounters that transform lives and unjust structures; and to have partnerships and practices with other congregations to become excellent stewards of spiritual, financial, real estate, and community resources; and to report their progress and learning annually to their Diocesan Convention/Council and Bishop."

TREC is asking General Convention to direct another not-for-profit incorporated agency, the DFMS, over which it has no direct control, to do something.  While there is overlap, the DFMS is a not-for-profit incorporated in the state of New York.  To be sure, the General Convention has oversight here  -- the General Convention can change the Articles and Constitution of the DFMS, the PB and PHOD are officers of the DFMS, and the Executive Council is its Board.  But the General Convention as a whole does not have the authority to direct the DFMS to do something.  The General Convention could be directing the Executive Council to direct the DFMS to do something.  Is this either sloppiness by TREC, or perhaps born from the impetus to have the General Convention direct and order anybody and any thing to do anything?

But that's not all!  The same resolved also asks every "clergy, vestry, organist, musical, lay, and other liturgical leaders" to work on a whole bunch of things, including "developing spaces for spiritual encounters" and "become excellent stewards of...resources".  Not only that, all of these persons and groups are "to report their progress and learning annually to Diocesan Convention/Council and Bishop." Whether giving this authority to General Convention, or thinking it has it, TREC is having GenCon order every single lay person involved in pretty much any position of lay ministry in the church to file a report every year to the Bishop.

So here's the confusing twofer: the General Convention is telling

1) an entity over which is has no direct control, the DFMS, to
2) tell every level of the church, from bishops to diocesan conventions to local congregations to your your 80-year-old volunteer organist what to do.

And we lament the universal, ordinary jurisdiction claimed by the Roman Pontiff.

That's pretty amazing for an organization which the House of Bishops at one point mumblingly agreed couldn't tell dioceses what to do apart from what the Constitution and Canons and Prayer Book stipulated.

That's just one example.  We could, undoubtedly, pull up dozens if not hundreds of resolutions where it's not clear what or how the General Convention is asking different entities to do.  If you don't believe me, here's just one resolved from one resolution, from D020 from 2006.  Crusty Old Dean remembers this one well, because, since he was assistant ecumenical and interfaith officer at the time, it was directed squarely at him.  Mind you, this is but one of eight resolved clauses in this one resolution of hundreds submitted every three years.

"Resolved, That the 75th General Convention call on The Episcopal Church to request the
Actual photo, Crusty and Bishop Epting, circa 2006
Ecumenical and Interfaith Officer to step-up dialogue with the Iraqi Muslim and Christian community to work toward nonviolent resolutions to conflict."

Let's break that down.

i)  The General Convention is to "call on".  Does that mean the same as "ask" or "request" or "urge", or does it have a more forceful impact, like Thor calling on lightning to strike down something?  Is this a cajolatory injunction or a command?

ii) Then there's who GenCon is calling on: "The Episcopal Church."  Who is this?  The Preamble to the Constitution defines what The Episcopal Church is, it's the entity over which the General Convention has authority by defining the Constitution and canons.  So is General Convention calling on itself?  Or what, or who, in God's name are they calling on?  The church as a whole? Do they want some form of plebiscite or referendum to authorize this?  This is important because of

iii) whoever The Episcopal Church is, there's clear required language about what they, or we, or it, or whoever is intended here, is to do.  The Episcopal is to "request the ecumenical and interfaith officer" to do something.  That's formal language of commanding:  "request."  So whoever or whatever the Episcopal Church is as understood here, it apparently has oversight of staff.  This is interesting because the staff thought they worked for the DFMS, which is not the same as The Episcopal Church, as least as defined by the Constitution and Canons.

iv)  then there's the whole matter of what is requested, which is only to have a dialogue with Iraqi Muslims and Jews and get everyone to work towards a nonviolent resolution to the Iraq War.

When this was passed, Crusty was sitting in the House of Bishops, and said, "I was just asked to do something impossible, but I have no idea who is telling me to do this."

That's just one resolved clause in one resolution from 2006.

So issues 2a) and 2b) also color how we process things at General Convention: by thinking it can and should do nothing or that it can and should do everything.  Crusty is here sidestepping the whole question of *whether* either of these is true, because that's largely beyond the scope of this blog post.  [However, since he brought it up, here goes:  personally, COD is convinced by the unitary argument for The Episcopal Church's governance: that, in effect, since all Episcopalians are governed by the Constitution and Canons and Prayer Book, and only General Convention has authority to amend the Constitution or the Canons or Prayer Book, then the General Convention does have authority over everything, and by action of entering into union with this body, parties become subject to the Constitution and Canons and Prayer Book.  So yes it does have authority, but it is properly exercised through the Constitution, Canons, and Prayer Book, and not through bizarre confusing resolutions.]

As Crusty has pondered the upcoming General Convention during his long exile this spring, writing a history of Christianity and The Episcopal Church ("The Episcopal Story: Birth and Rebirth,"  Church Publishing, due out this fall! Available for pre-order here!), he has found himself pondering how we might not get stuck between the Scylla and Charybis of one the one hand processing things liturgically, and on the other hung up on what the authority of our governing body is.  Because the end result of both Scylla and Charybdis is the same: on big-picture questions, it can prevent us from delving into the heart of the matter and instead leaving us with debating externals.  Or, to use the current buzzword, #1 and #2a and #2b above can keep us on technical changes when we should be addressing adaptive changes.  Or, put more simply,

--How can we structure the conversations we need to have to be about how we can best meet the missional needs of this time and place?

--How can we best use the governance structures we do have to bring about those changes?

Let's take just one example.  And this is just one of over 200 resolutions coming before GenCon next week.  Let's just look at one resolution and how our hangups on processing things through liturgy and lack of clarity about what our General Convention should be doing can prevent us from having a conversation we should be having.

We'll look at A044, which is curiously titled "Maintain the Centrality of the Eucharist." (Curiously titled because the resolution isn't specifically asking anyone to do anything about maintaining the centrality of the Eucharist, but more on that below.)  It's pretty short, so let's have it in full:

"Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 78th General Convention provide and authorize ways in which small congregations can receive the sacrament at the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day in the absence of a deacon, priest, or bishop; and be it further
Resolved, That the licensing of lay ministers be expanded to allow distribution of previously consecrated sacrament in the context of Sunday public worship in the absence of a deacon, priest, or bishop; and be it further
Resolved, That a liturgical rite be designed for the distribution of communion by such licensed lay ministers in the congregation at Sunday public worship in the absence of a deacon, priest, or bishop; and be it further
Resolved, That congregations provide education regarding distribution of communion by such licensed lay ministers."

This is also a two-fer, because it takes an important issue and processes it through what I've outlined above
#1) it processes an issue liturgically; and
#2b) General Convention can tell anybody to do anything.

But before breaking it down, let's talk about the problem it is seeking to address: how the Eucharist can be made available as part of the principal act of worship in "small congregations" that may not be regularly served by an ordained person.  This is a huge concern, and one Crusty knows firsthand. While Crusty isn't thrilled with this resolution, he in no way think that the issue it is trying to address isn't important.
The empty lot where church CODW was ordained and married in used to be. Ah, memories.
CODW (Crusty Old Dean's Wife) was born and raised in the diocese of Idaho, which has lots of small, rural congregations and not a lot of clergy.  When CODW was ordained transitional deacon, it was on a Sunday morning in her sponsoring congregation, and it was hard to find two presbyters who could be present.  One who was present was the rector of the congregation, but, in a diocese with not many clergy and lots of small congregations, it was hard to scare up a second presbyter to be present (remember, two presbyters must be present when a bishop confers holy orders, even if they don't lay on hands).  Crusty's mother in law was (is?) a Canon 9 deacon and served in a couple of rural western dioceses.  This is also a problem that is not just rural; there are small, struggling urban congregations which cannot afford regular clergy.  COD lived in a city once where a congregation had been existing with occasional Sunday supply, and no resident clergyperson, for over two years.

This is why the title of the resolution is either misleading or incorrect.  We're not being asked to maintain the centrality of the Eucharist, that's taken for granted and nobody is contesting that it isn't central (the resolution quotes the relevant language that the Holy Eucharist be the "principal act of worship" from the Prayer Book).  It's about how to make the Eucharist available, not maintain its centrality.  That's a real concern, and one which is going to become more widespread.

OK.  So we have a real concern.  But then we process it through liturgy and giving General Convention supreme authority but yet not exercising that authority in the way it can (that is, by proposing canonical or Prayer Book changes which are binding).  How are we doing this in this resolution?

#1: Liturgical processing: that a rite be designed for distribution of communion by licensed lay ministers

 #2b:  By General Convention ordering all levels of the church to do something.  The General Convention is the subject of all these resolved clauses.

--General Convention is to authorize "ways" congregations can receive the sacrament.
--General Convention is to "expand" the licensing of lay ministers (canonical changes), but here only  to allow for distribution of previously consecrated elements
--General Convention is to design a rite (collectively?)
--General Convention (since they are the subject of all these resolves) orders congregations to provide education regarding distribution of communion by such licensed lay ministers.

Thus we have a real and present issue: we are a body of Christians that has spent the last 200 years recovering our understanding of the centrality of the Eucharist as the principal act of worship.  Gone are the days with little-used communion tables for quarterly celebrations of the Eucharist with the presider in only a surplice.  In just the past century we have seen the dramatic upswing in celebration of the Eucharist replacing Morning Prayer as the principal act of worship.  We didn't have more ordained clergy than lay readers until around World War I.  Rural congregations used to get by with lay readers because they mainly had Morning Prayer and had an occasional supply clergy person, which was OK, because many, many congregations around the turn of the 20th century didn't have the Eucharist as a central act of worship.  This recovery of eucharistic ecclesiology is a good thing, Crusty's all for the grace of God present in the act of the gathered community.

But it's run square into another huge issue, which isn't discussed here at all in this resolution: the nature and understanding of ordained and lay ministry that we need for our missional time and place in a church where the Eucharist is and ought to be the center of our worship and nobody is contesting.  The understanding and development of lay and ordained ministries have evolved over time, though to be sure with the Prayer Book as the foundation and touchstone.  How do lay and ordained ministries need to evolve to serve not only small congregations, but fresh expressions groups, urban ministry, ministry to the unchurched, church planting, outreach to Hispanic/Latino and historically underrepresented groups?

We take a key issue and don't actually answer it in this resolution; we barely touch on it and propose a confusing response.  What we need to be asking is: What kind of lay and ordained ministries do we need for The Episcopal Church in the 21st century, and how will we discern and develop those ministries?  All we get here is asking for a way to license lay people to distribute communion, with absolutely no effort to address the deeper, underlying issue.

We could answer the issue raised in lots of ways, and in ways which, unlike blithely telling congregations to provide educational resources, are entirely within General Convention's purview.  One of the things Crusty hopes everyone would agree on is that one place we have clearly and unequivocally delegated to Convention are standards for the recruitment, training, and ordination, and licensure of lay and ordained ministries.  General Convention can legislate proposals reflecting adaptive change on the question of lay and ordained ministries.  What are some of the ways?  Here are a few, just off the top of COD's head, undoubtedly people could come up with other ideas.

--By fully embracing and committing to mutual/total/shared ministries.  We could do this by amending the ministry canons.
--We could adopt non-stipendiary ordained clergy; they're called NSMs in the Church of England. Over a quarter -- 27% -- of ordained clergy in the C of E are non-stipendiary clergy. These are clergy that could through an alternative track than seminary,  have age limitations (say, not younger than 50) and commit to not accepting a paycheck from the church because they can demonstrate source of income/support.
--By adopting/working towards regional ministry teams.  Other provinces of the Communion have these, as do some diocese in the Episcopal Church, where a group of congregations can be served by a priest, some deacons, a few NSMs if needed/permitted, and trained lay ministers.

The world's dreamiest human-otter hybrid, Benedict Cumberbatch.
We could do all sorts of things and undoubtedly more to address the real issue behind this resolution, which is really about developing and empowering lay ministry, and developing flexible processes for discerning and training of ordained ministries, than about maintaining the centrality of the Eucharist.

But this Resolution doesn't ask us to do any of that.  It processes the presenting issue through our penchant for liturgy and for General Convention directing everybody to do everything.

That's just one example.  As we move towards Convention, COD wishes we had this in the back of our mind:  is what we're considering really going to help us answer the questions we're asking? Or, for your Sherlock fans,  how much of General Convention is going to be about the dog that is not

Well, friends, this blog has officially reached Andy Kaufman-esque levels of obtuse, self-referential performance art.  (When Automatic for the People came out in 1992, young Crusty listed to the
See you in heaven if we make the list.
opening of "Man on the Moon" about 200 times trying to figure out the first line, in the days before Google, cell phones, and when REM included lyric sheets with their CDs.) I'm over 5,000 words in this blog post, which is the third in my General Convention preview, and Crusty has still only really talked about two General Convention resolutions.  As a frame of reference, by book on church history from Jesus to the present came in at 24,000 words.  Total.

Coming up over the weekend:  General Convention Preview, Episode IV:  A New Hope.  Crusty talks about actual resolutions!


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

GenCon Cosplay: Crusty's General Convention Preview, Part 2

As promised, Crusty Old Dean is back with his General Convention Preview, Part II: Electric Boogaloo (yes, like many middle aged Gen Xers desperately clinging to their efforts to be hip, Crusty
retreats to old school rap, though he does prefer Krush Groove to the Breakin' series of mid-80s efforts to mainstream rap to white people).

Crusty has recovered a bit from his blue period last week (part 1 can be found here), when, as one commentator suggested, it sounded like COD "needed a hug and some Scotch."  Never a good sign when a blog post is about Brian Wilson songs and Bergman films.  Perhaps it's because Crusty did just that and had a hug and some Scotch.  Perhaps it's the thought of being in lovely Salt Lake City, perhaps it's because General Convention brings together Crusty's love of church polity and continued hope in the future and is a big old reunion of old friends and colleagues, and that there's a Triple AAA minor league baseball team just down the street from the Convention Center on nights when suckers are stuck in committee meetings, but
COD calls Preacher for his GenCon cosplay.
Crusty Old Dean is back, friends.  How could he stand by the sidelines when General Convention is starting up?  First off, he is proposing that we go all-in on the church nerd aspect and change the name officially from General Convention to GenCon, to make it sound more like Comic-Con (but not BiMonSciFiCon since it's held every three years)  This would allow deputies and bishops to dress in appropriate costumes (or "cosplay" to well adjusted humans who don't know what I'm talking about).

Later this week, Crusty will come out with the third installment, making specific predictions about General Convention.  This time, however, we'll look back, to review my predictions from my June, 2014 General Convention preview.  The posers and bandwagon people start writing their previews when the calendar strikes 2015; COD was out there with his preview a full year in advance.  The full preview from June of 2014 can be found here.

So, how did Crusty do?  Let's break it down.

Crusty will use the following ranking system, taken from his eight years studying Russian:

молодец! From the Russian word meaning "well done!" or "good for you!" or "brilliant!"  Where Crusty nailed it.

дурак!  From the Russian word meaning "idiot" or "fool".  Where Crusty missed the boat.

ладно...  Roughly equivalent to "whatever," where the prediction wasn't neither right nor wrong, or particularly relevant.

Since Russian is an utterly transcendent and fantastic language in which to curse, be glad COD is keeping it to these three categories.

1)  Crusty made reference to one of the X-Men movies, "Days of Future Past," which he still hasn't seen.  It's sitting, unwatched, on his DVR.  Crusty faked this cultural reference because he is a comic  book nerd and had read the initial comic book version of this storyline from X-Men 141 and 142, which he bought at Myette's Country Store in Hanson, MA, in 1981, where he used to ride his bike with his best friend Bubba (who was not overweight, which makes Crusty wonder all these
I'm terrified to think of what the white dipping stick was made from.
years later how he got that nickname) on lazy summer afternoons to buy comics, Coke in glass bottles, and Fun-Dip, and hang out underneath the WPA-built bridge over the North River (though X-Men 141 and 142, the original Days of Future Past Timeline, actually came out in the winter, not the summer). 

For the X-Men movie reference that you still haven't watched one year later: дурак!
For not selling X-Men comics from 1981 (actually Crusty has more or less the X-Men run from issue #100 to issue #150, with only a half dozen or so missing):   молодец!
For the fact all the Fun-Dip and Candy Cigarettes consumed from 1977-1985 have not caused lifelong health problems:  ладно..., there's still time.

Lest this devolve into a GenX version of "Stand By Me," though, let's move on to the actual predictions:

2)  Crusty predicted "the current PB will let the committee know she will not be considered for nomination, but will wait as long as humanly possible to announce this." More or less what happened, though the PB didn't actually wait for "as long as humanly possible."  Theoretically that didn't come to pass until May 12, when the deadline for nominations from the floor passed.  Crusty gives this prediction: молодец! 

3)  As for the PB slate, COD predicted it would include "Mary-Gray Reeves (El Camino Real), Eugene Sutton (Maryland), Dean Wolfe (Kansas), Ian Douglas (Connecticut), Daniel Martins (Springfield), Andy Doyle (Texas), and Ed Konieczny (Oklahoma)."  A mixed bag here, in part because of the complexities of figuring out who would be willing to let their name go forward in nomination/discernment.

There's a pretty glaring omission here.  COD did not pick Michael Curry back in June of 2014. However, this is not because Crusty doesn't think he would have been nominated, but because his gut at that time told him Bishop Curry would not go forward with the nomination process.   For this, Crusty gets дурак! But, since he had no insider information and was guessing, this was a crapshoot, anyway.

COD has no idea if Eugene Sutton or Mary-Gray Reeves were involved at any stage, and will not really comment on their potential candidacies.  It cheapens the tragedies that have impacted their ministries to make those events fodder for church gossip like whether it affected their PB chances.  Crusty will not comment and will continue to pray for them and their ministries.

COD gets points for predicting Ian Douglas, who did end up on the slate.  A year in advance.  Suck on it, haters!  молодец!

He's surprised Andy Doyle or Dean Wolfe isn't on the list, and presumes it is because they would rather be Bishop of Texas or Kansas right now.   ладно...

Crusty will argue he deserves points for Daniel Martins and Ed Konieczny, since they were stand-ins for "right of center candidate as a token to three really liberal bishops" in his thinking -- and yea, Dabney Smith appeared as that candidate slot on the slate. молодец!

However, at the end of the day, the truth is COD only got 1 of 4 candidates correct.  He will give
You think 1 of 4 finalists is bad? This is a bad prediction.
himself a: ладно...If you don't agree, and want to give him a дурак! then how about you come out a year in advance with your picks?

4)  "COD predicts that the issue of divesting from Israel -- more specifically, divesting from companies that do business in the occupied territories and/or supply materials to the Israeli Defense Forces as part of the occupation -- will make it out of committee for the first time and to the floor for debate....Crusty doesn't think it will pass but thinks there's enough momentum for it to make it out of a legislative committee for the first time and thus derail all other business while we obsess over for a good 36 hours or so."

And yea, it came to be.   There is more than one resolution coming to Convention on this issue.  COD will talk about this a little more in his General Convention 2015 preview.  Remember, we're just reviewing stuff from over a year ago.  молодец!

5)  "There will be a much more reasonable and saner budgetary process, and no repeat of the utter fiasco of 2012...There's lots of reasons for this, first and foremost there's really no way to imagine it being more of an unspeakable, dysfunctional, clusterf**k than it was in 2012.  Nowhere to go but up, sadly."

And yea, it came to be.  молодец!  Hey, give credit where credit's due.  The budget process was an utter catatroph***k in 2012, and we did it much better this time around.

Though it could get interesting since there are a flurry of resolutions requesting from pretty massive appropriations that aren't in the budget.  This means we might have an actual budgetary debate instead of the Chinese democracy presentation of the budget to the joint session and being told we have to approve it or not because Convention is adjourning and the world will collapse if we don't.

6)  The Task Force for Restructuring the Episcopal Church.  Crusty wrote in June of 2014:

"The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC).  Put simply, nothing will come of this.  They have put out two study papers.  The one on networks was cover-your-eyes awful (see Crusty's thoughts here...The second addressed Governance and Administration (see Crusty's thoughts here), and received the kiss of death when the PHOD expressed her concern with structural reform limiting the prophetic voice of the Episcopal Church...They will, of course, play out the string.  They will release another paper or two (though have not done so for over three months), hold some kind of webinar or something in the fall since they don't have any funding for a churchwide conference, and duly file a report, perhaps even with some specific suggestions."

First off, a big  молодец!  Crusty didn't think TREC would hold a meeting in the fall, unless, as predicted in the next paragraph "TREC pulls Trinity Wall Street funding out of a hat and holds a churchwide gathering in 2014."  Which is exactly what happened.

Frankly, TREC did surprise Crusty and proposed more than "some specific suggestions."  Crusty thinks a couple of those suggested resolutions are utter gibberish, mandating people have spiritual encounters and report back to their bishops, calls for the creation of undefined networks, and has some proposals that are out of order constitutionally.  But hey, they did make lots of suggestions.

For those of you who love to see COD get worked up and rant -- and who doesn't, this is my COD writes this blog -- please not that while often identified as a TREC hater, COD has regularly also pointed out and lifted up things they got right.  We owe several very important things to TREC

--fulfilling a difficult mandate given to them;
--brilliantly diagnosing much of the current situation we find ourselves in;
--keeping the discussion of restructuring in the service of mission alive and present

However, Crusty still thinks very little that they have proposed will been enacted in any way, shape or form -- but will hold off on that until he gets to his General Convention preview, Part 3: The Search for Structure.  Stay tuned.

Monday, June 8, 2015

As Long as I Resist You, I Live: General Convention Preview, Part 1

Someone just signed off an email to me with, "See you in two weeks at General Convention." That can only mean on thing: Crusty's back, friends.

Yes, it's been a long, cold, lonely spring for you all out there in Crustyland.  COD was on deadline with church publishing to finish on a book on church history, from the New Testament to present, with particular emphasis on the history and development of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion -- and to do so in 24,000 words.  Total.  To any reader of this blog, you must know what kind of torture this was for me. Crusty sometimes spends 4,000 or 5,000 words on a blog post, and often takes 1,500 or 2,000 words just to get warmed up and work through a few Replacements allusions.  By the time COD has checked his stash in the trash by St Mark's Place...well, that's a whole chapter on the Middle Ages given those word limits.   But the manuscript has been delivered, so look sometime late summer or early fall -- seminarians, just in time for GOE cramming season! -- for The Episcopal Story: Birth and Rebirth, in the series Church's Teachings for a Changing World.  Crusty only hopes a preponderance of the book does not suck.  If the "doesn't suck more than it does", more-likely-than-not, preponderance of evidence standard is enough for the NFL to suspend the half-human, half-divine, godlike creature worshipped by all New Englanders, then it's a good enough standard to judge the success of the book.  While Arius may have been wrong about Jesus being some sort of quasi-divine figure below God but above the highest angel, he was just off on his timing, because that describes Touchdown Tommy exactly.

That's been a reason Crusty hasn't blogged much this spring, because he was on deadline.  But, to be perfectly honest, Crustyland, Crusty has found it hard to get his blogging juices back -- and he suspects it was not just due to the layoff.  COD has found it hard to get motivated to write about the upcoming General Convention, which one would think is right in his wheelhouse.  COD did, after all, get the entire reform train out of the station, blogging back in 2011 on structural reform when only people related to him by blood were reading this blog.  And anyone who's read my bordering-on-hysterical-did-they-drown-your-puppy responses to the TREC final report must think something has gone tragically wrong if Crusty can't get fired up for structural reform.

Perhaps it's not a good time to be listening to a lot of Brian Wilson, but COD has been, as he's been prepping for the release of Love and Mercy, the Brian Wilson biopic.  Crusty saw it this week, at an
Paul Dano absolutely nailed it as young Brian Wilson.  Spooky.
11 am matinee, along with a handful of mid-40s pasty-looking music nerds like himself (and one pair of women in their mid-1970s).  While a three-month layoff is nothing like Brian Wilson spending a few years in bed, Crusty began thinking, listening to Pet Sounds, that maybe we're in the same boat in some ways, as Brian once sang, "Can't find nothin' I can put my heart and soul into/I guess I just wasn't made for these times."

Crusty has pondered what this is about, and here's what he's come up with.  TREC, and much of our structure and restructuring discussions, have gotten something very, very, right.  Lots of folks, including TREC, diagnosed succinctly and clearly many of the challenges facing The Episcopal Church.  But while TREC got the diagnosis right, Crusty doesn't agree with their prescription or solution.  Some of their resolutions are borderline incomprehensible gibberish.  Sometimes they seem to show how little they have moved on from the structural problems they lament:  we can't legislate ourselves out of the decline Christianity in the West has entered.  As Lenin famously said "Imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism," arguing that capitalism had forestalled its eventual collapse through imperialist and colonialist expansion.  Despite its efforts to diagnose structural problems, perhaps TREC is, ironically, the highest stage of structure.  What better way to address question of structure than to form a blue ribbon task force to make legislative proposals?  Rather than ushering in anything new, is TREC -- and so much of our whole discourse right now -- just part of the death paroxysms of denominationalism in a post-Christian, secularized West?

We're going through a profound upheaval in religion in North America: as profound an upheaval as the reformation in the 1500s, as profound an upheaval as when Christian was trying to make inroads among Gentiles in the 1st and 2nd centuries and had to figure out whether men needed to be circumcised before becoming Christians.  Crusty's written about it on this blog numerous times, and plenty of people have been writing about it for decades; we are in a context in a post-Christian, secular West in which the Christian message simply is incomprehensible and unintelligible to much of the society around us.  The most recent Pew Research report shows that "unaffiliated" is now larger than Roman Catholicism.  We, in turn, still stand amidst the trappings and wreckage of Christendom and denominationalism while trying to figure out how we make the Christian message have any resonance or meaning.  We cannot respond to this challenge by bickering every three years about what to do about the location of the Church Center. New ways of being church are not brought about by slow, measured deliberative legislative processes.  Processes of change are often result of crisis, sometimes happen quickly, and often we do not tweak but throw out different ways of being.  The Episcopal Church was formed in 1780s when in the 1770s it was still the legally established state church; the occasion for the change was war and revolution; and structures were created that were radically different (electing bishops; giving lay people equal say in governance at all levels).  The Reformation in England didn't reform religious orders, they abolished them, and dismantled in a few short years dismantled an entire system of religious observance and popular piety that had been in place for a couple hundred years.  And on and on.

So this is why Crusty has been reluctant to get into the General Convention preview game:  because he is increasingly unsure there's very little that can happen in 2015, or 2018, or 2021, at any General Convention, that will impact what Christianity will look like in 2115.  This isn't to say there isn't important work to do: The Episcopal Church is doing great ministry on a number of levels, including our churchwide level, which we need to continue to figure out how best to do.  COD has just gone from thinking we can try to put things in place to prepare us for what a post-denominational, post-Christendom church is going to look to thinking the best we can do is not do anything to make things worse, and to focus on trying to effect change and transformation in the places we can.  To put another way (and this is an example COD has used on this blog before).  Crusty once had a friend who was in the running for bishop, and asked him for advice.  COD replied, "Well, you have to ask yourself if you want to close 20% of the congregations in that diocese."  One of the reasons Crusty was passionate about structural reform was trying to get ahead on the ability to shape the tidal wave of change heading our way.  Decisions we make in the next 10-15 years may determine if we close 10% or 50% of our congregations.  COD now finds himself thinking, "Let's just let the 50% close, and focus on the signs of life, mission, and vitality in the other 50%." This is, in part, why he is part of the group Episcopal Resurrection (it's also why, in part, he has signed on to the Memorial but not to any of the resolutions).

Let's take a specific example of what COD is talking about looking ahead to GC78, and, in doing so, address a big issue coming towards Convention: the Task Force on the Study of Marriage.  It released a 122-page report, and did some very thorough work in the triennium; COD commends the report, which can be found here.  The Task Force presents two resolutions.  One is to propose a substantive revision to the canon on marriage, the intent of which is to do things like streamline the process, and organize it around, in their words, "the commitments actually made by the particular couple who come to be married, rather than on the causes or purposes of marriage in general."  The second is to continue to work of the Task Force in the next triennium.

After reading this, Crusty found himself wondering, "That's it?"  The essays in the Report, and substantive historical and liturgical scholarship, show that despite the histrionic and ahistoricalconcerns of some, understandings and definitions of marriage have changed numerous times over the centuries.  One could even argue that each era redefines marriage in its own way, befitting its context.  The marriage that we have is, in many ways, the result of efforts to sacralize the institution in the Middle Ages: centering the service in the church, only permitting the priest to officiate and pronounce any blessing, the church defining who may marry whom, declaring it to be a sacrament, and supplying a theology to a rite which previously didn't have one (marriage is indissoluble because it is theologically a symbol of the union between Christ and the church).  While components of the service have changed, many of the core aspects date to the medieval reshaping of marriage.

Crusty found himself wondering, "We no longer require Jews to wear special clothing, or think that people's time in Purgatory will be lessened by receiving the viaticum, or that women need to be ritually cleansed giving birth before entering the church -- so why are we still propping up a particular theology of marriage from a particular period instead of discerning what it means to bless relationships in our own context while being faithful to the Christian story and faith we have inherited?"

What COD would have done?

--End the practice of clergy being agents of the state and having any legal function.  This is a relic we should have done away with long ago.  Render unto Caesar what is Caesar and unto God what is God's, and we will never be able to have holistic theology of marriage if we continue to have this abominable practice from when the church had a role in defining marriage for the state. Is it really because we are shills to the wedding industrial complex and want our $500 honorarium?  Can someone explain to me why we should continue to do this?  [COD freely acknowledges this is pastorally complicated.  The one time Crusty suggested this to a couple, that they have a blessing of their civil marriage in the church -- after explaining in full orchestration and five part harmony and with no trace of snarkiness -- the bride said in a halting and crestfallen voice, "OK, if you really don't want to do our marriage, I guess we could do that."]  But if the church as a whole acted on this, it would help with pastoral implementation, and not look like some individual priest not wanting to "do" a marriage.  And it would be putting to rest a vestigial practice that has no place in a church which needs to let go of its establishment.  How can we boldly claim our place in post-Christendom while clinging to the talismans of our former privilege?

--This would free us to do what we should be doing: developing a blessing for committed, lifelong, monogamous relationships, that is grounded in Scripture and the Christian tradition, but is not another effort to beat the dead horse of the medieval church's redefinition of marriage.   COD does not believe marriage is a sacrament (there are only two: Baptism and the Eucharist), does not believe it is solely defined as symbol of the union of Christ and the church, and thinks we simply sacralized and provided a theology to marriage in a particular historical context.  We don't think unbaptized babies go to limbo and (largely) don't hold baptisms in private anymore.  We thoroughly rewrote our baptismal liturgy, both taking into account ancient liturgical and historical practice, but also reflecting renewed emphasis on the priesthood of all believers in our own context.  What would it mean to rethink and revitalize our understanding of marriage in the same way we have done with baptism?  What would it mean actually to develop our theology for blessing partnerships?

Instead of doing either, we propose keeping the basic structure of the marriage canon, including the legal aspects, and then will tie ourselves in knots on discussing and debating a rite for marriage for same sex persons in the next three years, and repeat all of this going in 2018.

She's got a point.
Reflecting on the Task Force on Marriage got Crusty thinking it was a metaphor for how he is viewing the upcoming General Convention as a whole: are we thinking about how to communicate the Christian message in a post-Christian world?  Or are we just going to spend more time about whether diocesan asking should be 21% or 19% or 17% or 15%, and, if we don't put any enforcement measures in it, whether it makes any difference?
Or, as somebody else once put it, Are we pouring new wine into old wineskins?   COD doesn't want to look like he's picking on the Task Force; they've done good work.  But it just struck Crusty like so many things coming before this Convention, that we have diagnosed our problem but are still slow-walking through the structures that we have created trying to find ways forward.

You may find yourself thinking Crusty has gone from being angry into being some kind of ecclesiastical Debbie Downer.  But that's not entirely the case: keep in mind COD has said time and again on this blog as well that Christianity is not going to die: the Romans couldn't wipe out Christianity, Stalin couldn't, Mao couldn't.  When Christian missionaries were let back into Japan in the latter half of the 1800s, they found underground communities hundreds of years old, which had kept Christianity alive after missionaries had first been expelled in 1610.  The church won't die and
First time I saw this I said, "Hey, that's the guy from Strange Brew!"
Christianity won't cease to exist because it is not of us, it is of God.  But what Christianity has done is change dramatically in its outwards expressions and organization.  The best way to defeat death, as Crusty learned from Ingmar Bergman, is to resist it.  There's a reason the theme of this blog from day one has been "Let the dead bury their down dead."

Coming up:  Crusty reviews his predictions from his General Convention preview from June of 2014.  If he can somehow fool Death with the Sicilian defense.